north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

      Burnt Swamp Baptist Church was founded on October 2, 1877, by twenty Lumbee Indians. They received encouragement from two local white churches, Raft Swamp and Clyburn Baptist. David Caswell, the first pastor of Burnt Swamp, came from Raft Swamp. Prior to Burnt Swamp’s organization, impromptu religious meetings and revivals had been held among the Lumbee for perhaps two decades, but no organized religion was available to the community.

      Four years passed before the congregation’s size required expansion of the structure. Two new churches, Reedy Branch and Magnolia, formed from Burnt Swamp in 1879-1880. On January 21, 1881, the elders of the three churches met at Burnt Swamp to form what became the Association. The following day, they adopted a resolution stating, “that this Association be denominated and known as ‘The Burnt Swamp Missionary Baptist Association of the Mixed Race.’”

      At their 1885 meeting, they resolved to remove “mixed race” from the title, and became the “Burnt Swamp Indian Association of the Croatan Indians,” the first in a series of name changes over the years. In 1924, in an effort to join the Baptist State Convention, the group changed the name to the Burnt Swamp Missionary Baptist Association of the Cherokee Indians of Robeson County, being strongly encouraged to do so by the white leaders of the Convention. After five years of struggling to gain acceptance, the Association finally was admitted in 1929. The title “Cherokee” subsequently was dropped.

      The Association was instrumental in the effort to develop Native American schools in Robeson and surrounding counties. In 1887 members helped organize Croatan Normal School. The academy became a source of Native American pride in the area, and was the forerunner to the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. The Association oversaw the development of a Native American orphanage in 1942 and a cultural heritage museum in Pembroke. The Association has continued to expand. Today the Association includes Indian churches in nine counties in North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as in Baltimore, Maryland. Having begun with three Indian churches, the Association now consists of sixty-nine churches and a mission. The Native American tribal groups represented include the Haliwa-Saponi, Lumbee, Pee Dee, Coharie, Waccamaw-Siouan, and Tuscarora. With the exception of two congregations, the churches are served by Native American pastors.

Michael Cummings, “Native American Baptists,” Baptist History and Heritage, XLIII (2008)
Burnt Swamp Baptist Association, History of Burnt Swamp Baptist Association and its Churches, 1877-2002
Adolph Dial and Davis K. Eliades, The Only Land I Know: A History of the Lumbee Indians (1975)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

The original Burnt Swamp Church. Image courtesy Burnt Swamp Baptist Association.

© 2008 North Carolina Office of Archives & History — Department of Cultural Resources