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



Marker Text:

      Barbecue Church, named for nearby Barbecue Creek, was founded in 1757 and formally organized the following year by Presbyterian Scottish Highlanders who had settled in the region. Services initially were held in the backroom of John Dobbins’s Ordinary, but in 1765 the first sanctuary, a log building, was constructed. Ten years later a larger, wooden frame structure was completed.

      The first services were overseen by the Reverend James Campbell of the Philadelphia Presbyterian Synod who had settled near Cross Creek. He ministered to the congregations at Bluff, Longstreet, and Barbecue. Under his tutelage the first sanctuary was constructed. During the Revolutionary War, Barbecue Church congregants served on both sides, and Scottish heroine Flora McDonald and her husband both were members on the eve of the conflict.

      In 1813, the congregation left the Orange Presbyterian Synod and joined the newly-formed Fayetteville Synod. Twelve years later the Fayetteville Synod voted to dissolve Barbecue, since the mother church had lost so many members to its “daughter” churches. However, upon the pleas of Reverend Colin McIver, Barbecue Church was allowed to continue in operation. In 1845 the church building was rebuilt and refurbished. That construction remained the central facility until a new, brick building was completed in 1895-1896.

      There are numerous myths and legends surrounding the history of Barbecue Presbyterian Church. The first involves the name Barbecue. Some histories have claimed that Cornwallis’s troops camped on the church grounds in late April during his march to Wilmington following the Battle of Guilford Courthouse in the spring 1781. These accounts claim that British soldiers, witnessing fog on the nearby creek, stated that it reminded them of the smoke from barbecue cooking. The only problem with the account is that Cornwallis’s army could not have camped at Barbecue Church, as their maneuvering took them much further north of the site, and by late April Cornwallis was already in Wilmington. Furthermore, several deeds from 1753-1754 already call the local creek Barbecue.
      Another legend, perhaps from which the Cornwallis camping legend developed, is that on April 29, 1781, a party of local Whig militia attacked Cornwallis’s troops at Barbecue Church in a minor skirmish. Cornwallis’s men had already passed through the area. Therefore, if such a skirmish occurred, it only involved parties of local Tories and Whigs.

      A story better substantiated within the historical record, is that of “the stranger.” According to tradition, a stranger to the congregation, caught in a winter storm, attempted to enter the church building after hours for safety. Finding the doors locked he huddled near the front door, but succumbed to exposure, and was found the next morning. He was buried in the “stranger’s grave” in the cemetery, and the congregation vowed from that day forward to never lock the church door’s again.

James D. McKenzie, History of Barbecue Church (1965)
Victor E. Clark, Louise D. Curry, and James D. McKenzie, Colorful Heritage Documented: The Story of Barbecue, Bluff, and Longstreet Presbyterian Churches (1989)
Patrick O’Kelley, Nothing But Blood and Slaughter: The Revolutionary War in the Carolinas, III (2005)
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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