By Victor T. Jones, Jr.
Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, Moses instructs the children of Israel to remember all that God had done for the Israelites from their exodus from Egypt to their preparing to enter the Promised Land. In his instruction, Moses told the children of Israel to “Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations. Ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee” (Deuteronomy 32:7). what will they show and tell you? They will show and tell of God’s protection and blessing, as long as you trust in Him. What follows contains a history of God’s protection and blessing in the Caton community (called Zorah from 1881 until around 1930) from the earliest day to the present, culminating with New Haven Free Will Baptist Church.
Baptists could be found in Craven County on the North side of the Neuse River as early as June 1740, when a group of 15 men petitioned the court to build a “house of devine [sic] worship for themselves at their own proper charge and expense.” It must be remembered that in 1740, the Church of England (Anglican) was the established church, and everyone paid tax for the upkeep of that church. These fifteen men offered to build their own church at own expense so they could worship as they believed. Instead, several of the leading men behind the petition were arrested “for several misdemeanors committed by the s[ai]d petitioners contrary to and in contempt of the laws now in force.” According to John D. Whitford in his “Home Story of a Walking Stick”, Nicholas Purifoy, John James, William Fulsher, and Francis Ayers were jailed then publicly whipped before they were released from jail and allowed to return home.
Not to be outdone by this unjust punishment, the same men with others (22 in all) petitioned the court in April 1742, to hold church services in the houses of Robert Spring and Nathaniel Draper. The justices of the County Court eventually agreed to this petition, these Baptists enjoyed the freedom to worship as they believed. More on these very early churches can be found in William F. Davidson’s An Early History of the Free Will Baptists. 1727 – 1830 (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 1974), Michael R. Pelt’s A History of Original Free Will Baptists (Mt. Olive: Mt. Olive College Press, 1996), and John D. Whitford’s manuscript history of the Biblical Recorder called “Home Story of a Walking Stick” (New Bern, Ca. 1909).
A church known as Little Swift Creek Chapel (believed to be Kitts Swamp Christian Church now) served the religious needs of the people living in the Caton area following the founding of the 1742 Baptist churches. When David Whitford died in 1847 at the age of 84 years, his obituary stated that: “For sixty years he [Whitford] has been a member of the Baptist Church; and for nearly thirty years has had the pastoral charge of the Baptist Church on Little Swift Creek.” From this account we can assume that there was a Baptist Church in the area as early as 1788, when David Whitford would have joined the Baptist faith. This same David Whitford is the ancestor of all Whitfords now in the Caton and Ernul areas. William Davidson further states that Little Swift Creek was one of twenty-six churches in the Bethel Free Will Baptist Conference in 1829.
In 1848, Peter Howell, a Baptist missionary from Virginia, passed through Blounts Creek. Elder Bryan Whitford, who lived in the current Caton area, invited Howell to his home following the preaching at Blounts Creek. In his Life and Times of Peter Howell (1849), Howell states:
Tuesday, June 20  After preaching [at Blounts Meetinghouse], I rode with friend Bryan Whitford home twelve miles; spent the time at his house pleasantly till evening, when I walked with him and others to a schoolhouse, where I preached at candlelight to a very large and orderly congregation. After preaching returned to Mr. Whitford’s and staid that night.
So, it appears that the community used the schoolhouse in the Caton area for church services before building a proper church building.
The earliest known Free Will Baptist Church in what is now Caton joined the General Conference of Free Will Baptists at Elm Grove, Pitt County, in 1876, by the name of Good Hope Free Will Baptist Church. The next year William Joyner Stilley and William Henderson Dunn represented the church at the General Conference meeting held at Kitts Swamp Church, where they reported 1 member received, 2 baptized, and a total of 20 members. For the next twelve years, Good Hope continued to be represented at the General Conference by letter, except for two years when William Joyner Stilley represented them. Church membership averaged 20 members per year and contributions to the Conference averaged 75 cents per year. Quarterly meetings were held in February, May, August, and November.
Around 1889, Good Hope was dropped from the statistical lists of the General Conference, but the name of Friendship replaced it. Did the church split or just change names? Available records do not tell us the answer. Friendship Church was located on the Hills Neck Road about one-half mile from the Guinea Mill Road as you travel toward the High Bridge and Core Point Roads.
The community built Friendship with the understanding that it serve as a Free Church—meaning that it could be used by all denominations. Besides the Free Will Baptists, Primitive Baptists also used Friendship on a regular basis. Ministers just passing through would often use the church for “protracted meetings.” One such minister, Rev. Mr. Potter, passed through Zorah in May 1901 and preached at Friendship. A correspondent from Zorah to the New Bern Weekly Journal commented, “we do not know what church he [Rev. Potter] represents. He denies everlasting punishment, but says eternal happiness is promised to all the faithful.”
Methodists met at their own church building in the pasture across from the present-day High Bridge Cemetery. The Methodist Church, a two-story building known as Bethel, served Zorah from 1887 until 1910. Bethel Methodist Church held a revival service from August 17 through August 22, 1892. Newspaper reports at the time read as follows: “Bethel Church Camp Meeting. The camp-meeting at Bethel Church closed Monday, the 22d inst., with beneficial results. There was preaching while it was in progress by the pastor, Rev. J.W. Gurganus of New Berne; Rev. R.B. Jones of Greenville, the presiding elder; Rev. David Porter of Cove, and Rev. Henry Powell, of Vanceboro. There were several professions of religion, but the general influence was what was aimed for principally, and an impression for good was made throughout the entire neighborhood. The attendance was excellent, people came from the surrounding country from 25 to 30 miles away. It is considered that the congregation on the Sabbath numbered fully 2,000 people. All the denominations of the neighborhood took an active part in favor of the meeting and excellent order prevailed; there was no disturbance of any kind on the ground at any time.” (New Bern Weekly Journal, September 1, 1892)
Friendship Church building was a simple frame building looking similar to the Old Caton schoolhouse at the end of the Caton Road. At one time the church had no music, but the congregation eventually purchased an organ placed it in one corner of the church. The older men sat on one side of the choir, the women on the other; members sat in the front pews, while visitors sat in the rear. The building was still standing as late as 1940 and supposedly had a cemetery.
In 1889 Friendship reported by letter to the General Conference of Free Will Baptists that they received one member with 19 members on roll. The next year, delegates reported 6 baptized with 26 on roll. By 1895 the church had 41 members on roll, with 8 baptisms that year. After 1897, membership declined unexplainably, reaching a low of 15 members in 1909.
During this period of decline, a controversy arose concerning the secretary of the church, Alfred B. Morris. On April 2, 1899, Morris wrote an open letter to the church informing them to read several verses in the Bible “and if you Believe them you Believe like me if not we differ. ..Still I am no morman [Mormon] you call me what you choose. I truly desire to be a Christian.” While he may not have been a Mormon in 1899, by 1906 Morris and his family moved to LaVerkin, Utah, near Salt Lake City. In his letter, Morris also stated he would return “the church record that I have been keeping,” unfortunately no such record for Friendship Church has been located.
Membership quickly rose between 1909 and 1922, reaching a high of 87 members, 42 of those being baptized between 1912 and 1914. During this period of rapid growth, correspondent “M.W. [Mary Whitford?] wrote to the New Bern Weekly Journalin August 1910, that “it is getting time for our annual picnic, we are going to have it at the Zorah baseball grounds, Saturday before the 4th Sunday in August. Everybody [is] invited to come and bring their dinner. The proceed of the cool drinks will go towards helping to pay for the painting Friendship Church.” Folks from neighboring Blounts Creek, Olympia, Small, and Truitt attended the picnic. With Truitt winning the baseball game.
Sunday School classes were being held as early as 1891. In August of that year, Friendship reported 104 scholars to the township meeting of the National Sunday School Union held at Kitt Swamp Church. In 1904, the Sunday School purchased new songbooks, while a singing school, taught by Mr. Emmett Stapleford of Truitt, began in October 1904 lasting until January 1905.
Evidently, the Sunday School membership declined between 1891 and 1908, as the newspaper correspondent from Zorah sent a notice that “Our people are requested to meet at Friendship Church on the second Sunday in May, 1908, at 3 o’clock, p.m., for the purpose of organizing a Sunday School.” By 1913 Sunday School classes contained 34 members meeting in a church valued at $150. The year 1914 saw a rise in Sunday School membership to 75 (39 males, 36 females) meeting in a church valued at $500. Mr. Lorenzo Lewis Toler held the office of Sunday School superintendent while Mary Whitford performed duties as secretary. Two years later, 80 Sunday School members met in 4 classes with David P. Whitford superintending and Mary Whitford Toler acting as secretary.
About 1922 a controversy arose in Friendship Church. During those days, Christmas trees and parties were not allowed as functions in the church. One group decided to erect a Christmas tree (probably in 1921). Dissension arose among the members of the church and on August 21, 1922, twenty-two members of Friendship Church broke away and formed St. Luke’s Free Will Baptist Church under the pastoral charge of Rev. C.B. Jones. The members met in the new Caton schoolhouse until a church could be built in the forks of the road on land donated to the FWB Conference by Lewis Robinson “Rob” and Verda Whitford. Joshua I. Stilley donated the same land, plus a little more, to the Eastern Conference of the Original Free Will Baptists, in 1964.
At the 1922 Annual Session of the Eastern Conference, “the new organization known as St. Luke, Craven County, [was] held over for further investigation, and that J.A. Hardy and M.C. Prescott make the investigation.” Since the church was not accepted into the conference, the church decided to use the money collected for the Union Meeting on the church building.
Elder R.F. Daugherty, at the 1923 Annual Session, reported that St. Luke’s “was not regularly made, [and] a motion was made for Elders. RE Daugherty and A.H. Outlaw to go to Friendship, Craven County, and bring about a re-organization, and then if they see fit, make proper arrangements for moving to the new site now occupied by St. Luke’s.” Daugherty and Outlaw met with 15 members of Friendship Church on November 1, 1924; elected church officers; decided to build a church in the forks of the road; and changed the name of the church from Friendship to New Haven. The name change probably reflects the “New Haven” that the churches had found following their disagreement and reconciliation. The congregation of New Haven elected Rev. Outlaw to serve as pastor. At the next Annual Session, 1925, Outlaw and Daugherty recommended that St. Luke’s be received into the conference as New Haven.
The original New Haven Church building at the forks of the road was completed about 1925 and was a simple frame building with no steeple. Over the double doorway was a wooden sign with the name of the church painted on it. This sign can be seen in a photograph of Marie Harrington and Beatrice Whitford standing on the church steps. A wire cable fastened from one wall to the opposite wall kept the building from falling down. Visitors often would look worriedly around, for the creaking walls sounded as if the church would come tumbling down at any moment! James Robert Toler purchased an organ for the church; years later a piano replaced the organ.
A subscription to help pay for a chimney took place in 1926, and a fund raiser to pay the costs of sawing lumber to make the pews took place in 1928. In 1930, the Ladies’ Society purchased the material to build concrete steps. [These steps are the ones now used for the parsonage.] The church agreed upon the “practice of carrying dinner to each yearly meeting” in September 1932, thereby starting the celebration of Homecoming.
The church purchased the present communion set in 1947, replacing the cups, saucers, and wine decanter that had been in use since 1922. Mr. Azariah Price donated the cups and saucers to the church while Mr. William Joyner Stilley gave the wine decanter. Originally, homemade wine, made by Stilley and unleavened bread, made by Penny Toler Stilley, were used in communion ceremonies. These sacraments soon gave way to grape juice and crackers.
The church voted on October 17, 1951, to build a new church building, the vote being 27 to 4. The building committee consisted of Rodman Whitford, Graham Lane, Bryan Knox, D.A. Jones, Odias Hughes, A.C. Toler, Ronald Wetherington, and Ernest Heath. On December 8, the church accepted the smaller of two plans, choosing white shingles over brick. New pews were added in 1954 and red carpet in 1955. The next year chimes were purchased, but they were soon removed due to mechanical problems. The church started building the fellowship hall in 1965, which opened for use by the entire community by 1969. A single-wide mobile home for the parsonage was purchased in 1975, and a newer home in 1987. The present pulpit was purchased in 1978 in memory of Jeffrey Van Anderson. The church decided to build a gym/activity center in 1980. After eight years of fund-raising, the building was completed in 1988 and dedicated in memory of Marie F. Whitford. Stained glass windows depicting the life of Christ were installed in the church in July 1998.
Over the years, several attempts were made to install a baptistery in the church. After much discussion, the church membership decided to enlarge the church building and add a baptistery in 1999. The renovations began in January 2000 and were completed in late June 2001, with the first service held in the refurbished church on July 8, 2001. A special church dedication service was held on August 5, 2001.
The history of New Haven Church is a record of God’s faithfulness in guiding and blessing those who seek to serve him. The darker spots of our church history should remind us to keep our goal of God’s ministry firmly in view, refusing to allow Satan to divide God’s people and hinder them in this goal.
[Sections of this paper are from the previous histories of New Haven Church prepared by David Cauley in 1983 and revised in 1988, and by Victor T. Jones, Jr. prepared in 1992. Interviews with Mr. Luther Lane and Mrs. Diccie S. Ipock provided additional information. Also helpful in the preparation of this booklet were the minutes of St. Luke’s / New Haven Church and minutes of the General and Eastern Conferences of Original Free Will Baptists. New Bern newspapers from the turn of the twentieth century provided names of ministers and church related activities for Friendship Church that could not be found in other places.]
The above originally appeared in A Taste of Heaven: A Collection of Recipes by New Haven Ladies Auxiliary, ©2004 Morris Press Cookbooks, and is reprinted here with permission of the author.