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Charles Pettigrew, one of the founders of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, was born in Pennsylvania in 1743. His parents moved to Virginia, then North Carolina, and eventually South Carolina where Pettigrew’s father, James, developed a medical practice. Pettigrew himself remained in Granville County where he became a student of Presbyterian minister Henry Patillo. Five years later, Pettigrew took a position as headmaster of Edenton Academy, a principally Anglican institution.
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Pettigrew’s service at the Edenton Academy had a profound effect on his religious convictions. Abandoning Presbyterianism, Pettigrew sailed in 1774 to England in order to study under the Anglican Bishop of London. He was ordained a priest under the Bishop of Rochester the following year and returned to North Carolina shortly before the outbreak of the American Revolution. Pettigrew then became rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Edenton.
As an Anglican Pettigrew’s loyalties during the Revolution remain questionable. Although he delivered several patriotic sermons, the local citizenry evidently believed that he had Tory leanings. The Blount family managed to have him drafted into the militia despite a state law against the impressments of the clergy. Pettigrew served during the summer of 1780, but escaped fighting in the Battle of Camden that August after paying for a substitute, Zachariah Carter, to serve in his stead.
After the war, Pettigrew was a member of the Episcopalian Church, the American form of Anglicanism. From 1790 to 1794 he helped develop the Episcopalian Diocese of North Carolina. At the first official convention held in Tarboro, the five Episcopalian ministers present elected Pettigrew bishop of the proposed diocese. However, Pettigrew, for reasons known only to him, did not attend the two consecutive meetings of the convention, and thus was never consecrated into his position.
Pettigrew dabbled in agriculture, education, and medicine in addition to his religious career. He owned two plantations in Tyrell County, and at the time of his death held thirty-four slaves. Pettigrew also aided his neighbor James Collins, Sr. in the Lake Company. Serving on the first board of trustees for the University of North Carolina, Pettigrew lectured against the absence of religious doctrine in the school’s curriculum. He also became known as a country physician, possibly having received some medical knowledge from his father.
Burying whatever animosity existed with the Blount family, Pettigrew married Mary Polly Blount of Mulberry Hill in the late 1770s. Mary died in childbirth in 1786. Eight years later, he married Mary Lockhart. His first marriage produced two children, John and Ebenezer who were both among the inaugural class at the University of North Carolina. Pettigrew died on April 8, 1807, and was buried at Mulberry Hill Cemetery beside his first wife. In 1831, his son Ebenezer moved the remains to the family cemetery at Bonanza Plantation near Lake Phelps. Charles’s grandson, James Johnston Pettigrew served as a brigadier general in the Confederate army and was killed in July 1863 at Gettysburg.
Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, VI (1907)
Dictionary of American Biography, XIV, 515-516
Sarah M. Lemmon, “Genesis of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, 1701-1823,” North Carolina Historical Review (October 1951): 426-462
Sarah M. Lemmon, Parson Pettigrew of the “Old Church”, 1744-1807 (1970)
Sarah M. Lemmon, ed., The Pettigrew Papers, 2 vols. (1971 and 1988)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 76-77—sketch by Sarah M. Lemmon