A Presbyterian minister, Campbell was born circa 1700 in Campbelltown, Scotland, and emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1730. Licensed by the Presbytery of New Castle in 1735, Campbell began questioning his personal salvation and ceased preaching in September 1739 shortly after moving to Philadelphia. Two months later, he witnessed a sermon by George Whitfield in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The experience completely reinvigorated Campbell’s devotion to his faith, and he returned shortly thereafter to his ministry.
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In 1755, Hugh McAden visited Campbell on his way to North Carolina to ascertain the religious needs of Highland Scots in the region. On McAden’s return he convinced Campbell to move to North Carolina, and preach to the Scottish settlers in their own native Gaelic. Campbell did so in 1756 or 1757, preaching in communities located in the present counties of Cumberland, Harnett, Hoke and Lee, and Robeson, as well as “other destitute settlements” in South Carolina.
Campbell remained the only minister to preach in Gaelic until the arrival of John Bethune and John MacLeod in 1773. He organized Barbecue, Bluff, and Longstreet Presbyterian churches.
During the American Revolution, Campbell, an outspoken Whig, ceased preaching in the Cape Fear River area because of Loyalist threats. He resumed his ministerial duties in Guilford County, only after having been rebuked by an elderly woman. Hearing the woman cursing, Campbell admonished her, to which she replied, “Is it any wonder the devil can make the mouth of a woman swear when he can stop the mouth of the minister.” In 1780, Campbell returned to the Cape Fear River valley, dying near his home that fall.
William H. Foote, Sketches of North Carolina, Historical and Biographical (1846)
Malcom Fowler, They Passed This Way (1955)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 314-315—sketch by James McKenzie
Grave of Rev. James Campbell