John Bethune was born in 1751 to a respected family on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Encouraged to enter the ministry by a local reverend, Bethune followed his suggestion and attended King’s College, Aberdeen, graduating in 1772. He then returned to his home and was licensed as a minister in the Church of Scotland. However, almost as soon as Bethune returned home to establish himself in the community, many of the local Scots had decided to immigrate to the American colonies, particularly to North Carolina, a refuge for Scots escaping poverty and oppression in their homeland. Bethune followed his community to North Carolina in order to serve their religious needs, arriving in 1773.
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Bethune settled in North Carolina with his mother and grandparents and began to minister to the local Scots in their native Gaelic. As part of his activities, he was one of the first ministers in the region and he helped establish Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church in Moore County. The arrival of the Scots in North Carolina was at a tumultuous time since Revolutionary sentiments were stirring throughout the colony. The Scots decided to remain loyal to the crown and worked to help the cause of the British in North Carolina. As loyal subjects of the Crown, the Scots prepared to march to the aid of Governor Josiah Martin on the coast in 1776 in response to a call for assistance by the British forces. As their chaplain, Bethune accompanied the men as they headed east through potentially dangerous territory. The march ended at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in which a number of Scots were killed. A large number of the Scottish Loyalists were captured and imprisoned, including Bethune, by the victorious Patriots but were shortly thereafter released. The released Scots then decided to relocate to Nova Scotia where Bethune was made chaplain for the First Battalion of Royal Emigrants.
After the Revolution, Bethune moved to Montreal and worked to establish the first Presbyterian congregation in the area, forming St. Gabriel Street Church. Bethune subsequently moved further north into modern Ontario, serving as the first Presbyterian minister in the region, forming several churches through his work. Bethune died in 1815 and was buried by his children at Williamstown, Ontario.
William Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 148—sketch by James MacKenzie
David J. Caliri, Pine and Thistle, Two Hundred Years: Bethesda Presbyterian Church (1989)
Rassie Wicker, Miscellaneous Ancient Records of Moore County, North Carolina (1971)
Duane Meyer, The Highland Scots of North Carolina, 1732-1776 (1961)
Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online: http://www.biographi.ca/EN/ShowBio.asp?BioId=36388
Bethune Family history website: http://www.rootsweb.com/~qcmtl-w/Bethune.html