The Appalachian Druid Church

The term “Druid Church” is an archaic phrase used in the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries. If you have a good amount of Appalachian knowledge, you’ve probably already guessed this is a synonym for a “camp meeting.” Camp meetings, or outdoor church meetings, were known by a wide variety of names, including “grove service.” Today, they are known as “tent revivals.”

The term “druid church” came into use because of the old pagan method of worship. Druids were the only known pagan group to worship, not at stone monuments, alters, or even in temples, but in groves of oak. Their very name means “oak seer.” Camp meetings likewise occurred in remote locations and were held beneath large trees, usually for shelter, during warmer months. Camp meetings had to be scheduled for whenever they wouldn’t interfere with farming duties. There weren’t legions of spiritual advisors and counselors; usually just one or two traveling “circuit rider” ministers. The rest of the time was filled with singing and fellowship.

Appalachian areas were entirely cut off from civilization when first settled. Even the closest neighbors were often miles away. Naturally, there weren’t established places of worship. Areas fortunate enough to have the resources for a formal house of worship seldom had spiritual leaders to occupy them. Most had to suffice with traveling circuit rider preacher a few times a year.

Most towns wouldn’t see established churches with regular services for decades. Recent estimates state Appalachian churches weren’t common until the 1840s or 1850s. Camp meetings quickly grew so popular that several churches in England started observing them, and later became the Primitive Methodist Society.

The settlers were deeply religious, but needed an outlet for worship. These gatherings grew in fame and regularity during the 1790s. The first camp meeting was believed to’ve been somewhere between 1797 and 1800, by Dr. James McGreedy, of Logan County, Kentucky. From available information, it would’ve been in 1797, as one tremendous gathering happened in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, in 1798. Over 20,000 people, of all colors and ages, gathered to worship.

Camp meetings normally lasted around a week. Transportation was so unreliable that people needed camping equipment and provisions to attend. Many attendees traveled for days just to reach a meeting. A great supply of fresh water was necessary, so meetings were also held near streams and rivers.

Wise County had a common camp meeting area, near a sizable spring in Glamorgan. The meeting at this spot was often held by the Wise Methodist Church. Camp meeting traditions remained so popular that they were highlighted by the Federal Writer’s Project in 1941.


Article Sources:

  1. “Druids.” Santa Cruz Weekly Sentinel. Nov. 2 1872.
  2. “The Druids of Modern Wales.” The Red Cloud Chief. Sept. 11, 1899.
  3. “Tomorrow in Churches.” The Scranton Truth. Oct. 12, 1907.
  4. “U.A.O. Druids.” Richmond Dispatch. Jan. 1, 1881.
  5. “Druids Meet Here.” Richmond Dispatch. Aug. 17, 1902.
  6. Historic Magazine and Notes and Queries: A Monthly of History, Folk-lore, Mathematics, Literature, Art, Arcane Societies, Etc. Volumes 20-22. 1902.
  7. The Price of Peace. Stinson Jarvis. J.F. Rowny Press, 1921.
  8. Church Reform: the Only Means to that End, Stated in a Letter to Sir Robert Peel. Richard Carlile. R. Carlile, 1836.
  9. Specimen Of An Etymological Vocabulary, Or Essay By Means Of The Analitic Method To Retrieve The Ancient Celtic. John Cleland, 1768.
  10. The American Home Missionary, Volume 17. American Christian Missionary Society, 1911.
  11. History of the Free Methodist Church of North America, Volume 1. Wilson Thomas Hogue. Free Methodist Publishing House, 1915.
  12. Church Reform: The Only Means To That End, Stated In A Letter To Sir Robert Peel … To Which Is Prefaced A Correspondence With The Bishop Of London On The Same Subject. Richard Carlile and Charles James Blomfield. R. Carlile, 1835.
  13. The Religions of Britain: Or a View of Its Various Christian Denominations; the Tenets … of the Ancient Druids, and the History of the British Church … the Doctrines of the Greek … Church; a Display of Paganism, Judaism, Etc. Charles Hulbert, 1826.
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