Early Faith Development
As early settlers brought their faith with them to the new world, they found a receptive audience in Indian communities. Presbyterians and Methodists, and then Baptists, brought the gospel message to Indian people in Carolina. In the beginning, the Baptists may have been the least influential in their missionary outreach among the Indians. By the start of the nineteenth century and the decades to follow, the witness of White Baptists spread in the region and their numbers increased. White Baptists in Robeson County organized their own Robeson Baptist Association in 1883. Previously, White Baptist churches in Robeson County belonged to a wider and more regional Cape Fear Baptist Association.
According to some church records from the early to middle years of the 1800’s, White churches also included people of color from both African and Native American descent. Some of the oldest churches in Native American communities trace their beginnings to the time when they sought to start congregations for their own people no longer welcomed by neighboring White congregations. Indian communities then responded by establishing churches by Indians and for Indians. A few Indian men responded to the call of God upon their own lives for gospel ministry. Rejected by White churches but not entirely by the White missionary preachers, Indians continued the worship of God and accepting the Christian faith in indigenous churches.
At the time Indian communities began providing for their own Christian spiritual needs, they also assumed responsibility for educating their own Native people. No state assistance for public education was available for Carolina Indian communities. In 1835, the North Carolina State Constitution was amended to disenfranchise Indians along with Blacks. Indians lost important citizenship rights as a result of that act. The state constitution restored those civil privileges after the Civil War in 1868. And even after citizenship rights returned to the Indian people, their community leaders kept pressing arduously for improved education opportunities provided by their own limited community resources.
The Civil War era proved to be a turning point for Indian people socially and spiritually. Indian churches for Indian people emerged as well as Indian schools for Indian students. Brush harbor gatherings gave rise to worshipping congregations meeting regularly and our first Baptist churches came into existence. Indian preachers were in short supply but many good-hearted White preachers reached out to preach the gospel wherever it would be received by Indians. The account of White preachers evangelizing Indians certainly includes the names of two prominent Robeson County preachers who affiliated with the Cape Fear Baptist Association. Rev. Furney Prevatt and his son Rev. F.A. Prevatt demonstrated genuine interest in the eternal salvation of the Indians of Robeson County. Not only did they preach among the Indians but also witnessed the progress of the gospel in the start up of local churches. God used the ministries of these men and the corresponding zeal for the gospel within Indian communities to sow the seeds for what later would become the Burnt Swamp Baptist Association. God called out preachers from among the Indians instigating indigenous leadership. "Against popular opinion, the Prevatts persisted in their influence among their Indian friends. As a result, many Indian ministers responded to God’s call to lead their people out of sin’s wilderness. Among those were such men as J.W. Blanks, Carey Wilkins, John S. Wilkins, A. Oxendine, Gilbert Locklear, John J. Bell, James Jacobs, J.D. Hunt, Alfred Hunt, William Canady, Seymore Bell, Dolphin Hardin and Henry Jones whose names are recorded in early Baptist documents."