With the long line of travelers continually moving through the old frontier town of Newbern, the county courthouse being located there, and the stagecoach passing through regularly, one would naturally expect some pretty fast night life going on.
No doubt there was, but there also was an active religious life.
Very early in the history of the town, there was a Methodist Church, perhaps the second oldest church of that denomination after Page’s Meeting House.
The church in Newbern was called Dug Spring Church. It was dedicated Oct. 10, 1854, and on the night of July 12, 1912, during an electric storm, its steeple was struck by lightning.
The church burned to the ground, and flames spread to cause one of the most destructive fires in the history of the town.
This church had been established as a result of earlier work by Phillip Woolwine.
Woolwine was a young Christian when he came to Newbern in the year 1826, or thereabouts, making saddles that they said lasted “forever.”
He was also known as Newbern’s professor of religion.
At the time there were not more than two dozen Methodists in the entire county, and Woolwine decided to start a Bible class. Many of the names in Newbern are listed as members of this first class, including the Wygals, Joerdans, Caddalls and others.
About the same time Woolwine organized the first Sunday school in the county. In those days Sunday schools were all day meetings.
The class met in an old schoolhouse near Newbern, and the people took hymnals, Bibles, and spelling books with them to school.
Dr, R.N. Price, in his history of Holston Methodism, said no preacher that traveled the Newbern circuit had a better friend than Phillip Woolwine. He didn’t mind telling preachers when they were wrong, but he did it in a loving way.
He continued as a teacher and class leader as long as he stayed in Newbern
He kept so many preachers in his home that it was said he kept a special flock of chickens just to feed them. A neighbor once told a group of people that he could tell when a preacher was visiting Woolwine because all of the chickens would fly over to his side of the fence.
Woolwine replied, “Yes gentlemen, and they would never fly back.”
He left Newbern in 1874, moving to West Virginia, then to Ohio, where he continued as a religious leader.
He died in 1887 after a brief illness. It is said he had a vision as he was dying, in which he told his wife he could see innumerable people coming to him, and that among them was his mother.
Whether he was suffering from a deterioration of the brain, we don’t know, but from all of the good things that were written and said about this man, he was certainly worthy of such a gift.
Newbern is a better place today because Phillip Woolwine lived there 48 years. Some of his kin still live there as living memorials to the great leader.
Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.