Philippi, West Virginia, Thursday, April 1953

County Historian Gives Facts. Concerning Formation of First Church Submitted By Charles F. Moore Sr
(By Eva Margaret Carnes)

One of the correspondents queried last week as to the location of the first church in Barbour County. That's an easy question. The first church in Barbour, in fact in all of Randolph County, for most of our county was included in Randolph at the time, is Bethel Chapel, the Primitive Baptist church just west of Meadowville. This church was established, and there are records to prove it, in 1795, under the leadership of Elder Phineas Wells and Elder Simeon Harris. The first church was built on the location of the present one and was a log structure with a huge fireplace in one end. It also had a high pulpit, sealed to such height that only the minister's head was visible to the congregation. There is a story in connection with this fireplace which may be of interest to some of the readers. One of the prominent early settlers of the Meadowville, section had a calf that suddenly developed a soreness in the lower part of its leg. Suspecting the worst the owner got on his horse and rode to the witch doctor. After explaining the symptoms the witch doctor assured him that the calf was bewitched and following a frequent prescription given in such cases, advised that he burn the calf on the leg in order to injure the witch. For, as is well known, if you injure something on which a witch has cast her spell, the witch will suffer the same injury in the same place. The witch doctor further advised him that, if he would go to the "old meeting house" for Saturday meeting and sit by the fireplace the witch would come in and he could identify her by the injury. So he did as he was directed. He went to the "old meeting house," pulled up a bench and sat down by the fireplace. He had no more than got himself settled when in walked a certain woman {incidentally she was the wife of a cousin of his} who walked up, pulled up a bench and sat on the other side of the fireplace. As she started to seat herself he saw that she had a bandage around her ankle. "How'd you hurt yourself, Polly?' he asked. "Hit my leg on a forestick," was her curt answer. Maybe so, maybe so. But any man in his right mind would know who the witch was in their community. Bethel Chapel continued under the ministrations of Elder Simeon Harris until his death in the 1850's. While Semple, in his History of the Baptists in Virginia lists Elder Wells as the leader I think that Elder Harris was the long-time minister. No doubt Elder Wells led in the organization work. He was the older man and had been a minister for many years when the church was organized, but so far as I can determine, he never resided in the Meadowville section, but was busy spreading the Gospel throughout the state. Simeon Harris, however, lived and died on his land which received from the Commission for Granting Claims to Unpatented Lands in 1783, at Meadowville. His home stood near the present Meadowville school and for many years the stone chimney stood after the house had fallen. He is buried at Bethel Chapel and his grave has been marked by the Daughters of the American Revolutions.

When the division in the Baptist denomination came in 1838-39, Bethel remained with the conservative group and hence is known as a Primitive Baptist church. The log church was used until 1870's when it was torn down and replaced by a frame church which in turn served the congregation until 1944 when it was leveled by the tornado. A new church stands on the same site.

Since Simeon Harris remained in the county and has many descendants here, his story is fairly well known. The other man, Phineas Wells, has been forgotten for only a few families in the county trace their lines to him. In fact, if you publish the following, it will be the first time, to my knowledge, that a biographical sketch of this famous preacher has appeared in print. The material has been gathered from court records, census records faded printed minutes of the various Baptist associations of the period, records of Baptist churches throughout a vast area and an old carefully kept family bible. I am copying this from a book prepared for my son, relating to his ancestors, so if it has a faint personal ring please remember that it is a mother talking to her boy.

Phineas Wells was born in New York, the son of James and Bethian ----- Wells, in 1742, He married [1] Prudence, daughter of Abraham and Christina Westfall Kittle, and [2] Jane Clark. The bond for this latter marriage is found on Harrison County and is dated October 15, 1815.

In 1778, Phineas Wells, together with his father, James Wells, Sr., and his brother, James Wells Jr., were residing in Northampton County, Pa., where all three served in Captain Anthony Shimer's Company, Col. Jacob Stroud, 6th Battalion, Northampton Militia, as is shown by the company muster roll for May 14, of that year. Other members of this company include Lt. Abraham Kittle and Simon Westfall. [Note: anyone desiring to use this military service for membership in a lineage organization should use the following citation; Pennsylvania Archives Fifth Series, Vol. 8, p, 428.]

From Pennsylvania these families (with the exception of the two James Wells who remained in Northampton) moved to Hampshire County, Virginia, where they were listed in the census of 1780. By 1781 Phineas Wells had purchased land in what is now Randolph County, probably located on the Tygart's Valley above Elkins, from Ben Wilson, consisting of 100 acres adjoining Abraham Kittle. In 1785 he was listed as a resident in Jacob Westfall's district. On March 3, 1785, a marriage bond was obtained in Harrison County for John Kittle and Elizabeth Wells, a sister of Phineas. In 1790 Phineas Wells was ordered into scout service against the Indians in Randolph County, and served for two months---March 1 to May 1, 1790.

In 1795 Phineas Wells, assisted by Elder Simeon Harris organized Little Bethel Chapel, a Baptist church, near Meadowville. At the same time he was organizing the Chenoweth Creek Baptist Church in what is Randolph, and was preaching in Upshur and Lewis counties (then Harrison) and in Harrison County. He was a member of the Redstone Baptist Association and served that organization frequently as moderator and preacher. I've seen one notation in the association minutes that he preached to a weeping, attentive audience at the association meeting. He may have resided for sometime in Upshur or Lewis counties for his name appears frequently on the marriage records of Harrison County. In 1817 he organized the Mount Olive (Primitive) Baptist Church on what is now U. S. 250 north of Philippi and was pastor of that church for a year or two. He then removed to Wood County and, in 1819, organized the Mineral Wells Baptist Church and at least one other church in that section. He bought land there. He died there March 4, 1825, and his will is recorded in Wood County. He is frequently mentioned in the old church records of this section, including Broad Run in Lewis County. I think he is one of your most interesting ancestors and I'm sure that some day we will find that this line runs back to the New England Wells line. Those names, Phineas and Bethiah, are in every generation of the New England family.

How did he become a Baptist when the line is definitely English and the New York family were members of the Church of England? Well, in his trek south he probably lived for awhile in New Jersey and became involved with the Baptist movement which had its center there. When the division came in the Baptist denomination in 1838 many of the churches he organized were against reform and remained in the old faith and are known as Primitive Baptists. I have heard Phineas Wells spoken of as a "Primitive Baptist preacher" but this is wrong, as there was no division in his time. His son James became a minister but he too, died before the division came, Phineas must have been well educated, certainly devout and had a great missionary spirit for he preached through a vast territory in a day when roads were only trails through virgin forests, nor did ministers of the Baptist faith receive any pay-their living was earned on their own farms. He must have had a definite organizing ability from the number of churches he organized or helped organized..

When his father-in-law, Abraham Kittle, died in 1816, although he had a large family of sons, he named Phineas Wells as his executor." Since some of our county people may be interested in the children of this early preacher I will in spite of the fact that this is much longer than I planned, their names. [Dates for this family may be verified from the family Bible which is in possession of Grover Phillips at Meadowville.]

Phineas Wells and Prudence Kittle had issue; Bathiah, born Sept. 18, 1775, married John I. Phillips; Johannah born February 12, 1778; Abraham, born July 18, 1780, married Mercy, daughter of Holdridge Chidester, Harrison County; James, born January 25, 1783, married [1] Anne, daughter of Holdridge Chidester, and [2] Margaret Bennett; William K, born June 15, 1785. Sara, born June 15, 1790, married Samuel Tolbert; Daniel, born January 31, 1788, married Elizabeth -----;Christina, no dates; Lydia, born April 14, 1795, married Robert Bartlett; Elizabeth, no dates; David, born May 10, 1799, married Mary Minear. By his second wife, Jane Clark there was one child Jane, born February 26, 1819.

From Randolph County Museum in Beverly, WV, 1990

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