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Three Forks Baptist Association enjoys a long, rich history in the High Country. A church by the same name began in Boone, North Carolina in 1790. This church sponsored a large number of churches west of the Blue Ridge, becoming the founding body for the Association which bears its name. There were likely three churches founded prior to this church. These were Old Fields Church (1779) and Beaver Creek Church (1782), both in Ashe County plus a church in the Holston River area of Tennessee. The three forks of the New River was a base for early settlers and Wilkes County encompassed the area west to the Tennessee line. Watauga and Ashe Counties later formed in the New River region. ​​

Many of these Baptist pioneers fled the piedmont section of North Carolina because of the Regulators War forced on them by Governor Tryon. In 1768, three years before the Battle of Alamance, the Baptists “had despaired of seeing better time and therefore quitted the Province.” According to historian George Paschal, the only known settlers in the Holston River area were Baptists who began a church there about 1774. [1] The Jersey Settlement near Salisbury was the origin for settlers who formed the Three Forks Church. These were people from New Jeresey who sent an agent to locate the “best land still open to settlement.” [2] Many families traveled the “Great Road from Philadelphia” to enter the region. Most were from England, Scotland or Ireland and too poor to buy land in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. Settlers from Rowan County in North Carolina came as a result of their conflict with Gov. Tryon who attempted to establish the Church of England as was done in Virginia. They objected to marriage taxes and other forms of payment which went to the ministers of the Established Church by the Marriage Act of 1766. After the passage of said act, many secured the services of a Baptist minister or justice of the peace for their marriage. This was one of several reasons that Gov Tryon sent his troops to lay waste the Jersey Settlement and adjacent Baptist settlements. Some 1,500 families migrated west because of this action. [3] ​

For several years eleven churches met as “a branch of the Virgina (Strawberry) Association. [4] The Yadkin Association was organized in 1790 with a division into the Yadkin and Mountain Associations in 1797. Ministers McNeill and Baker had little income from the families where they traveled. Log cabins and log churches with no more than two rooms were in use until about 1850. Rev. George Austin served about twenty churches in the Three Forks Association after 1885. He farmed to support his family of ten children and rented land to farm. He served as many as five churches at once, yet none felt obliged to pay him a salary. His daughter says he opened his Bible and balanced it on the saddlehorn so he could study on the way to a church. [5] By 1850 the population of Watauga County was 3,348, including 3,242 whites, 129 slaves and 29 free Negroes. [6]




In these early days every man “did what was right in his own eyes” so there was much drinking and fighting, especially at elections and sales. The State had no schools in the region and there was no means of “promoting temperance” among people given to hard drinking. Constables and sheriffs had little means of preventing fighting. This state of affairs left ruin in many homes which preachers addressed by calling men to repentance and forming them into churches to teach discipline. This section of the state later became home to industrious, moral and religious people. [7]




Music and entertainment were rare in the New River area. “The fiddle was almost the sole musical instrument available. A young man who owned a fiddle and could play was welcome in any company, but if he played it for people to dance, he was in trouble with the church.” “Frolicks were held occasionally and church members often participated. Older people were usually present to chaperone, still young adults were cited by the church for attending and they normally “gave satisfaction.”




In 1838 the Mountain Association declared itself an anti-missionary body hostile to the Baptist State Convention and other institutions of the day. These groups of churches declared themselves against all “modern, money-based, so-called benevolent societies.” [8]




They tried to win others to their view and worked in the Mountain Association as early as 1836. Three Forks Association formed in 1841 from a day of prayer and fasting and three years of keeping the peace with the churches of the Mountain Association. Ten churches supported missions and Christian education and formed the new association. The Association moved forward assisting churches and acting as a center of information by exchanging letters with surrounding associations of churches. In 1861 the Association set the first Thursday of November as a “day of fasting and prayer to Almighty God to remove the heavy judgments that appear to hang over our country and that peace and prosperity may again abound.” [9]




Population and churches multiplied and the Association confined itself to Watauga County with the added Associations in the area. Most churches in the Association continue as family churches with bi-vocational pastors. Some in larger communities grew to support full-time pastors. First Baptist Church of Boone began a training school which developed into the present Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute now located in Hendersonville, NC. Present ministries extend aid to needy families through offering home repairs by volunteers, jail ministry and the Christian Outreach Center which gives groceries to about 130 families each week. Training for church leaders and activities for children and youth are also part of the Three Forks Baptist Association.








[1] George Paschal. A History of North Carolina Baptists . Raleigh. Edwards and Broughton. 1955. II. P. 57.




[2] William Saunders. The Colonial Records of North Carolina . Raleigh, State of North Carolina. Ten volumes. 1886-1890. IV. 1311-1314.




[3] Paschal, Baptist History. Vol II. P. 81.




[4] Ibid. p. 244.




[5] Larry Howard Penley. “A Baptist People and the Events Leading to the Formation of the Three Forks Association.” Abstract of Thesis presented to Appalacian State Teachers College. 1964. p. 17. [Was this the precedent for using cell phones while driving?]




[6] Ibid. p. 38.




[7] Ibid. p. 39.




[8] Ibid. p. 62.




[9] Minutes of the 21 st Annual Session of the Three Fork Baptist Association. August 30, 1861. p. 2.






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