Catherine, these comments are of course only about the Connecticut Churchills, and it's of course tricky to generalize about large numbers of people over several generations.
The early generations of Connecticut Churchills were strong Puritans. As denominations formed out of the Puritan tradition, Churchills were to be found among several of the resulting denominations. We know this primarily from "Churchill Family in America's" identification of the denomination of those who became ministers. There were, as I recall, about seven or eight ministers, which I would judge to be a fairly high number in relation to the total number of family members. One of these ministers was James Bryan's next-younger brother Orrin, who was a Baptist mnister in North Carolina.
The Connecticut Churchills appear to have been strong supporters of the American Revolution. Many participated, and in families where sons did not, it appears to have been because they were too young or too old. I have found no evidence of British Loyalists among the family members.
Many New England men went south as traders over a considerable period of years. This appears to be what drew James's father Benjamin to North Carolina. Other members of the Connecticut family went south as ministers, but this appears not to have been the case with Benjamin.
Loyalties of those in the South during the Civil War remain for the most part an intriguing unknown. Fortunately, we have some insight into this from a descendant of Rev. Orrin.
As you may well know, all the Appalachian Mountain areas tended to be relatively unenthusiastic about joining the Confederacy. West Virginia, of course, broke away entirely over this issue, but there were many who supported the Union in the mountains of North Carolina as well. History has been reinterpreted so that today most of those in the mountain areas of North Carolina assume that their acestors were all enthusiastic supporters of the Confederacy, though often the actual history is quite different.
If you are interested in delving into this topic, I suggest you contact Rev. Orrin's descendant Perrah Yarborough, whose e-mail is email@example.com. In brief, Rev. Orrin was a member of a secret society called Heroes of America, whose goals were to protect Union sympathizers and their families, provide information to the Union forces, and to organize all those supporting the Union cause. His membership was discovered and his confession was published in a NC state publication in July 1864. There apparently were few repercussions, as in 1869 he was the first pastor at Jonesboro Baptist Church.
What makes this even more interesting is that Rev. Orrin's son John was a private in the Confederate Army. Perrah has records on a number of other family members who were also in the Confederate Army. He also has information from the service rolls that indicate some of them were deserters at one time or another. This, too, raises, interesting questions. Did they desert because of mixed loyalties, or did they desert out of discouragement and hopelessnes as the fortunes of war turned against the South?
As to your question on community involvement, I would say that the Churchills in general were respected members of their communities and that this reflected the considerable emphasis they generally appear to have placed on education. In the early generations in Wethersfield and Newington they held public offices, though not the highest. As they moved outwards from the home area, their fortunes naturally varied. Some families, even in remote pioneering areas, remained prominent and prosperous, with education clearly an important part of their identities. Others were of more modest means and more modest educations, but that they acquired some kind of education appears to have been a defining chacteristic among virtually all of the Connecticut Churchills as nearly as I can tell.
James Bryant Churchill is described in CFA as "prosperous in earlier days," and it would appear that he fit the Churchill patterns described above. One may wonder if "in earlier days" refers to pre-Civil War days, for as a "tinman by trade" his livelihood must surely have been disrupted during the war years.
I have spent a bit of time looking at the locations in North Carolina where members of this family lived. Perrah Yarborough has information that Rev. Orrin was married in Rockingham County, and Madison, where one of James's daughters lived, is also in Rockingham County. I suspect that if you had more extensive information on all the children and grandchildren of Benjamin, which perhaps Perrah has, you might find family connections that explain James and his family's movements westwards and northwards in North Carolina. It might also throw more light on some of the questions you are asking. Madison is just south of Ridgeway, Virginia, where another of James's daughters lived, and my guess would be that James moved to Ridgeway to live with his daughter rather than the other way around.
My final comment would be that the New England cultural heritage would likely still have been very strong as far as James was concerned. His father Benjamin was born in Connecticut and lived through young adulthood in the Black River country of New York where in all likelihood many of the other settlers were also from New England. While everyone is shaped both by their family and their environment, in my branch of the Churchills we often joke about Churchill stubbornness, which is closely related to determination, persistence, and a strong will. I would suspect this was characteristic of many Connecticut Churchills. Rev. Orrin's stand on principle appears to reflect this sort of character, and James may well have shared these traits.
I hope all this is helpful.
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