Faith of our Fathers (and mothers): Part II-1820 to the present

Larry Pearce
8/23/01 rev. 5/9/13

In Part I of this series we looked at our family’s possible connections to various religious practices in Britain, from the Celts and their Druid leaders to the Roman Catholics to all manner of Protestants: Quakers, Baptists, and Methodists, to name a few. Where direct history wasn’t available we considered the research done on families with our same names, such as other Austens, and famous people of the day, such as poet William Blake, to get a feel for the religious and political contexts that must have been present then. A natural dividing line between these two parts seems to be 1820 when, as the Original Family Narrative (OFN) suggests, brothers-in-law Richard Pearce and Charles Austen came to America to find land so that they could return to England and bring their wives and families back with them. From all appearances, Richard and his twin sister Sarah, who became Charles Austen’s wife, were “conformists” to the Church of England, having been christened and married there. However, Charles and his sister Susan, who became Richard’s wife in the same Anglican ceremony in the same church in 1813, were probably products of the “non-conforming” Baptist tradition, of which their father, Ambrose Austen, Sr. was an Elder if not an ordained minister. Nevertheless, both Charles and Susan later claimed that they were Anglicans, probably if for no other reason than to be married in “The Queen’s Church,” St. Marylebone in London. We are fortunate to have written records of these proceedings, but we are less fortunate when it comes to the seven years after the wedding and the years immediately following their settling along Pine Creek in Pennsylvania.

Richard and Susan Austen Pearce must have attended services at the Cross Roads Presbyterian Church, which was founded in 1826, just east of Pearce Mill Road’s intersection with the Wexford-Gibsonia Road (now Rt. 910). However, they are not listed as charter members. They, along with Charles and Sarah Pearce Austen and many relatives and Pine Creek neighbors, are buried at Cross Roads Church. The Original Family Narrative says of Richard and Charles, “they both lived to a good old age and were gathered to rest, and both are buried in the old grave yard at the Cross Road[s] Presbyterian Church, where they and their families were wont to worship.” This may be so, but we know that Richard and Susan’s youngest sons, Edwin and Charles, my great-grandfather, became charter members of the nearby Salem Methodist Church upon its founding in 1868. We’ll relate more about that connection in a minute, but first, let’s look at Presbyterianism and its establishment in the Pine Creek valley of the early 19th century. This denomination was developed during the 16th century Protestant Reformation in Switzerland and Germany simultaneously with other mainline forms of Christianity such as Lutheranism and the Anabaptist Movement. Founder John Calvin believed that his form of church government was biblical in that all believers were equal under Christ, the head. All who hold office do so by election of the congregation. Four levels of elected rule exist:
1. The congregation, comprised of elders, who meet in “session;” deacons, who care for the poor and less fortunate; and the trustees, who have charge of the property and fiscal and legal matters of the church. My immediate family has held all of these offices and others in the church at one time or another.
2. The Presbytery, which is formed by all the ordained ministers and elders in a given area, having religious, financial, and legal authority over all congregations within its boundaries.
3. The Synod is made up of several presbyteries and serves to coordinate programs among them and acts as a court of appeal in judicial matters.
4. The General Assembly is an annual meeting of commissioners, ministers, and elders elected by all the presbyteries according to their total church membership. (WWW.BRITANNICA.COM)

Presbyterianism was carried to Scotland by John Knox, and it became the State Church there in 1648 with the creation of the Westminster Confession of Faith. This Reformed Movement became main competition to the Anglican Church in the Protestant British Isles. The Scots and Scotch-Irish, that is transplanted Ulster Scots who came from Northern Ireland, soon became the second leading ethnic group to settle in Pennsylvania over the next 200 years. They came primarily to Pittsburgh and Western PA while the Germans settled Eastern and Central PA [see earlier article for incentives to come to America]. According to a sesqui-centennial brochure published by the Cross Roads Presbyterian Church:
Early settlers around Pittsburgh called the North Hills “Indian Country” and few ventured to build homes there before 1800. However, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, canny by nature, soon took advantage of the low price asked by the Commonwealth for this land – 20 cents per acre – to anyone willing to cultivate, improve and settle thereon. By 1826 a group of them had cleared farms in Pine Township. That year they built themselves a meeting house. For security in this life they depended on their skill with a rifle, the helping of each other, and their firm faith that all events are predestined by God, who is good.

Before the meeting house was built, the settlers held “Social Worship” in their cabins, Bible reading, singing, and praying. Rev. Richard Campbell, considered a missionary, rode on horseback between the Plains Church of nearby Cranberry Township, mother of the Salem Church of which the Pearces became charter members, and the Pine Creek Church, downstream in Fox Chapel. He would stop for weekday services at various cabins along the way. Eventually, Rev. Francis Herron, from Pittsburgh’s First Presbyterian, rode out to conduct “real” Presbyterian services. Ironically, my maternal grandmother was a Scotch Campbell, very much a Presbyterian with origins in Fox Chapel, but I haven’t made the connection to the early missionary. My grandfather, Wesley Pearce [see earlier articles including his Move to Mars], although a Methodist, may have carried the middle name “Herron” after the much admired Presbyterian minister who visited Pine Creek. My grandmother Bessie Reed (Hill) Pearce’s family were all members of the Cross Roads Church. Because the Presbyterians believed so strongly in education, they used the meeting house for teaching reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic until a separate one-room school house was built in 1870. The early Pearces and Austens may have attended classes there before the German Lutheran Walters family arrived and donated land for a church and school overlooking the Pine Creek settlement [see “Settlement at Pine Creek: Part II”]. My Great Aunt Hulda Hill taught at the one-room Cross Roads School until it was closed in 1931.

I’ve already presented the general story of Methodism in Part I, so now, as I promised, let me relate the religious convictions of the Pearce family and the story of their local church as told in “The Passing Years and Memories of the Salem Methodist Church,” which was published in 1941. Four families began meeting in a barn near Pine Creek as early as 1844. It’s not known if any Pearces or Austens were among these first worshippers. In 1852 a plank road was constructed between Allegheny, now known as Pittsburgh’s North Side, and Harmony [see the article on The Pearce Blanket]. The worshippers built their first building, sixteen feet square, along this road, what is now Rt. 19 at the edge of the booming Cranberry Township. They called it the Little Plains church, and it was part of the Butler Circuit, which required Reverends Crouse and Keagal to serve eight to ten churches around Butler county on horseback. Within a short period of time two men, Agnew English and Charles Pearce “became very anxious and considered the possibility of erecting and supporting a church in their own immediate neighborhood.” In the spring of 1868 seventeen charter members of the new organization were enlisted: Pearces, Englishes, McClintocks, Rigbys, and a Lurting. They met weekly in the English home, but soon with the increasing number of members, the barn had to be used. In good weather everyone moved outside to the grove. In 1871 a half acre of ground was donated by the Emmet family on the hillside overlooking the intersection of Pearce Mill Road and the Wexford-Gibsonia Road. The sturdy white wooden building was complete within a year and the name “Salem,” which means “peace,” was chosen [after an ancient city in Canaan mentioned in Genesis 14:18 and Psalms 76:2, the predecessor to Jerusalem, according to WWW.ALLWORDS.COM].

Great-grandfather Charles and Great-grandmother Permelia both died within four days of each other in 1914, but son Wesley and his wife Bessie and other Pearces took up where they left off as Salem members. However, after World War I the congregation was aging, dying, or moving away. There was talk of closing Salem Church. But, some of the members had a better idea: move the congregation up the hill to the heart of Wexford where the streetcar stops along Rt. 19. In 1924 the cornerstone was laid under the traditional brick structure at the new location. Two of the beautiful stained glass windows that were dedicated that day had the Pearce name on the gold plaque below:
Mr. And Mrs. Charles Pearce

(Symbolic of St. Paul’s Christian Armour, the open book of the Gospels and the cross-hilted sword, symbolize the “Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.”) and

The Pearce Grandchildren

(The stem with three white Easter lilies is usually symbolic of the Holy Trinity in the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The stem of lilies is also the traditional symbol of the Archangel Gabriel, herald of the Incarnation of Christ.)

Several years ago the church added a fellowship hall and Sunday school wing, but the pastor recently told me that the Pearce windows are not only still in service but have been restored with the promise of many years to honor Pearce family members who contributed time, talents, and resources to the life of the church. One irony is that the original Salem church site and Salem Cemetery, which is on the hilltop behind where the church stood, is now surrounded by very expensive new homes. The developer, we were told, even offered to move the cemetery to build more homes, but the church leaders, out of respect for the founders buried there, declined the offer. Seems that had the old Salem church stayed put for 75 years, the people would have come to it! This explosion of housing and business development in the Pine Creek area can be at least partially attributable to the natural beauty of North Park, once the Pearce and Austen homesteads. Incidentally, none of the Pearces or Austens chose to be buried in the Salem Cemetery. As we said earlier, Richard and Charles and their wives set the precedence for burial at Cross Roads Presbyterian. There are now four generations of my Pearce line buried there: Richard and Susan, Charles and Permelia, Wesley and Bessie, and Uncle Dale and Aunt Helen [see recent stories of these Bourne descendants].

Outside of our immediate family, the following are some of the famous Pearces, living and dead, active in Christian ministry over the years since 1820:
STEPHEN AUSTEN PEARCE (1836-1900), British-born organist, composer, and writer who taught at Columbia and Peabody.
DR. McLEOD MILLIGAN PEARCE (1874-1948), born near Pittsburgh, and after serving Presbyterian churches in Philadelphia and St. Louis, was appointed president of Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA. [See separate article.]
DR. E.K. VICTOR PEARCE (d.2010), contemporary British writer and world-wide radio evangelist who was raised in Bourne, Lincolnshire [see “Bourne” article].
BILL PEARCE (1926-2010), Pennsylvania-born trombonist, recording artist, and producer-talent of Night Sounds, a world-wide Christian radio ministry.
MARCY MORRISON-PEARCE and son MATTHEW (?), duo who produced and announced a daily radio program of religious features over the world-wide Family Radio Network.

Now and again, distant “cousins” with the same Pearce name write to tell me about their relative’s religious preferences. For example:
• Valarie Pearce Crockett of Eastern Maryland, who is Methodist, tells of her ancestors who started two Episcopal churches in Kent County, MD.
• William “Bill” Pearce of Texas, who is not a Mormon, tells of Pearces who joined the Latter Day Saints as early as 1840 in Mississippi and traveled to Iowa to follow Brigham Young’s trail to Utah. A story goes in Bill’s family of one of his 42nd cousins years ago who had heard about a new religion and walked 40 miles to hear it preached. While he was gone, several Mormon missionaries knocked on the door of his house and converted his wife to the Mormonism. The cousin was on his way back home when he heard of the conversion, and he himself was also baptized into the faith.
• One of the “E-Gen: Pearce” readers, Rev. Kenneth Marsh, a descendant of a Pearce family, has been a pastor in the Christian Churches of the state of Indiana for over 30 years.
• Terry Jones, an aspiring singer/song writer from Slippery Rock, PA and a descendant of Ambrose Pearce, has a hobby of studying the Civil War. He says that Isaac Pearce, brother of Austen and son of Alfred, of Harmony Hilton fame [see the “Pearce Blanket” story], was a lieutenant in E Company of Pennsylvania. After being wounded at the Battle of Salem’s Church, VA [there’s some multiple irony in light of our earlier discussion], in the Wilderness Campaign of 1864 [read The Wilderness Campaign by Penn State’s Gary Gallagher, a collection of essays offering various perspectives on this series of deadly battles], “he was promoted to Chaplain of the 139th, which is interesting because [the title of] Chaplain was voted on by the men of the regiment, and it was an honor reserved for very honorable and popular men.” Terry believes that Isaac moved to Florence, KY after the war where he lived to a good old age.
• We know from the Pearce Blanket article that Isaac’s Uncle John, founder of the Pearce Woolen Mills of Harmony, PA, married a Lutheran and belonged to that denomination when the mill later moved to Greenville, PA, home of the Lutheran Thiel College. After the fire of 1904 that destroyed the Greenville mill, the Pearces moved the operation to Latrobe, home of some rather famous Presbyterians [see “Pearce Blanket”].
• We believe that some of the other Pearces married into the prominent Zieglar family of Harmony, PA, who were Mennonites.

The bottom line is that our family, as every other American family, is represented in nearly every branch of Christianity. Comparing my father Ralph’s siblings with my own [see earlier stories of his brothers], I find irony in the fact that Dad’s brothers and he were, in order, Baptist, Methodist, and two Presbyterians; and my siblings and I are/were two Presbyterians, a Methodist, and a Christian Church (independent denomination) (although I married a Lutheran and we spent time in both Presbyterian and Lutheran churches as professional musicians. Our membership is with the relatively new Evangelical Presbyterian (EPC).

But, whatever became of the Austens, whom we last mentioned in the introduction? Cousin Margery Austen believes that Great-great-great Grandfather Ambrose Austen, Sr.’s new home of Jeromesville, Ohio, only had three churches in the early 1800s: Lutheran, Methodist, and Disciples of Christ. She says that, to her knowledge, the Austens didn’t join any of those. Ambrose, Sr. and wife Susannah are buried in the cemetery in Jeromesville, which we believe was started by the Presbyterians. We don’t know where their church went, but Marge thinks that there was a building where some of the graves are today. While she is researching that, we are attempting to contact Austens who stayed in the Pittsburgh area. Memoirs of Allegheny County (1904) lists John Thaddeus Austen (1864-?), son of Charles, Jr. (1818 -?) and Anna James Austen as Baptists. John ran Austen Brothers Feed Store in Etna in the late 19th century. Incidentally, the Pearces who moved on to East-central Ohio, and specifically Edwin who ran the mill in Shreve [see “Tice Heritage”], were all Methodists, according to church records there. We don’t know where there descendants have gone or what they believe, but perhaps someday we’ll learn.

Obviously, this is an on-going story. If you’ll allow me a moment here at the end of this article to share a philosophical thought, I promise you a general, tangible schema that you can refer to in the future as you consider the relationship between ideas of “truth” and the “real world.” As a former teacher of Communications, I have developed a simple model based on the popular Cadbury Egg that represents the relationships among behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and core values, and I believe that it can be applied to our discussion of religion. The thin, pliable aluminum foil covering the egg is similar to our behavior, very changeable and not necessarily in keeping with the rest of our being, and yet others tend to “label” us by our behavior because that’s all they can see. The narrow chocolate covering on the egg represents our attitudes, our likes and dislikes, subject to melt away under any number of suggestions. The third level, the sickening-sweet white layer, is our beliefs, our ideas of true and false, right and wrong. Prove empirically that something isn’t true and we change our beliefs, although that’s harder to do compared to changing attitudes. Now, as we approach the center of the egg, the yellow yolk, we have the inner-most convictions of right and wrong, of good and bad, our core values. I think that these are more permanent than what some refer to as “religious beliefs,” but certainly a “religious experience” may help form our core values. There are many factors, positive and negative, that can change or maintain a person’s religious convictions. There is one psychological theory that argues that these values are formed and solidified during our adolescent years through a process of physical and emotional maturing, hormones and trauma. They only way to change values later is to inflict new trauma, which again can be a positive or negative experience. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is older her will not depart from it.” So much of our church and school training is geared to reaching young people before they leave adolescence. One of the best aspects of doing genealogical research is discovering the excellent role models found in our ancestors. At the beginning of this series I promised a story about some family “scoundrels” in a future article to balance this one on religion, but far and away it seems that most of our forefathers and mothers were noble, honorable, and religious people. So much of the goodness found in them was “forged” in the furnace of their everyday struggles, both in Britain before 1820 and in America through the present day. My hope is that future generations will look back and realize that theirs was a better way to live than following the secular-humanistic influences that surround us today. I believe that my job, then, is to make their stories available to the generations to come.

In closing, I’m reminded of the work of Sir Francis Galton of a century ago who developed statistical methods making it possible to rank human beings in terms of physical and intellectual powers and thus compare one to another. With these tools he was able to support the theory that professional accomplishment had a genealogical basis. This certainly seems to apply to our family. Harvard intellect Howard Gardner in his revised introduction to Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1993), which deals with seven human intellectual capacities such as linguistics, music, math, art, body movement, etc., claims, “I continue to think that some form of [personal] ‘spiritual intelligence’ may well exist” (xviii). We agree completely and close with his quote from the Austen patriarch and father of Faith, St. Augustine, who said:
The prime author and mover of the universe is intelligence. Therefore, the final cause of the universe must be the good of the intelligence and that is truth . . . Of all human pursuits, the pursuit of wisdom is the most perfect, the most sublime, the most useful, and the most agreeable. The most perfect, because in so far as a man gives himself up to the pursuit of wisdom, to that extent he enjoys already some portion of true happiness. (6)


Last revised 5/12/21

2 Responses to Faith of our Fathers (and mothers): Part II-1820 to the present

  1. sharon Williams says:

    I am related to the Lurtings of Pine Township, PA? This is a nice website – very interesting. Which Lurting do you refer to in your article?

    Sharon Williams

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