The Rev. Samuel Edney rode a big horse and carried a Bible, a Watts hymnal and a pistol in his saddlebag as he traveled throughout Western North Carolina preaching and holding services for early pioneer settlers.
Francis Asbury, considered the founding father of the Methodist church in America, attended several of Edney's camp meetings. Asbury, who set up the circuit-riding system, was a close friend of Edney and visited him in his home, according to journals by Asbury and Edney. Edney was ordained by Asbury in 1813.
Edney and Asbury pioneered the camp meeting movement, which sprang out of the Great Revival of 1800. The first such gathering west of the Blue Ridge was at Edney's homeplace in Edneyville, according to Edney's journals.
"I have served God over 50 years and have never seen the moment when I regretted it," Edney said shortly before his death in Henderson County.
In 1790, Edney received a license to exhort and preach. In 1792, he traveled to Western North Carolina, where he met Eleanor, daughter of William Mills, to whom he was married in 1793. By 1794, the couple was living on land that Edney received from Mills on Mills Gap Road. He is buried in what is known as the Coston Cemetery between Mills Gap Road and Coston Cemetery Road. A marker erected in his memory by the United Methodist Church in America directing descendants, historians and others to his grave from U.S. 64 East has disappeared.
The Edneyville United Methodist Church traces its history back to Edney and the services held at his home.
Recently, Marlene Conner and Mittie Justus Hull, who are descended from the Maxwell, Justus and Edney families, toured the historical cemetery.
Hull stood before the grave of her mother, Jeanette Wells Justus, 1900-1944.
"She was killed by lightening up on the mountain," Hull said. "She was going milking and put the feed down for the cow to eat."
Hull pointed out other family members of early pioneer settler John Justis Sr.
John Justis Sr.
The earliest records found of John Justis Sr., the ancestor of the county's Justus family, are in the Ninety-Six District of Newberry County, S.C., where he married Anna Gilliam. In 1799, he and his wife sold land in Newberry County, S.C., and on May 4, 1800, he bought 115 acres, including a house and orchards, from William Mills and James Miller. Over the years, he bought additional acreage.
Part of his land is where the Edneyville United Methodist Church was built.
The children of Justis changed the spelling of the name from Justis to Justus. There is no documented evidence that this early Justis (Justus) family is related to another family of early settlers who spelled their name Justice.
In Justis' obituary it states he was "a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church and an eminent minister of the gospel, in which he labored about 50 years. He was never known to deviate from the rules during the time he resided in the church."
Some of his sons have marked graves at the Edneyville United Methodist Church Cemetery. It is thought John Justis Sr. and his wife were buried there, too.
"Here's the grave of A.L. Maxwell," Conner said. "He was a surveyor. He went to the Civil War in place of his father, Samuel. He was injured in the shoulder with a mini-ball and still walked home from Virginia. He was only 14.
"His sister, Molly, heard him whistling as he came down the road," Conner said.
The cemetery is divided into three sections. The oldest section contains the grave of Andrew Maxwell, the patriarch of the Maxwell clan in Henderson and Buncombe counties.
Maxwell received a North Carolina State Land Grant issued on Clear Creek near Edneyville in 1803. He bought several hundred more acres. Most of his land was back of what is now the Edneyville United Methodist Church Cemetery.
This is also the graveyard where he and his two wives are buried. Some of his children and other descendants are also buried here.
Maxwell was married twice. The grave of his first wife, Jane, who was the mother of his 15 children, was seen in the graveyard and documented by genealogical researchers. A few weeks ago, the grave could not be located. There is a marked stone for his second wife, Hannah or Hanner, whom he married after the birth of his last child.
Conner and Hull said members of the church removed most of the old field stones and replaced them with new markers.
"Marble markers were bought for all the graves that didn't have names," she said.
Sometimes it is hard to read names or dates carved in old field stones and it may take experts to decipher or find them. Archaeologists and historians do not recommend removing old field stones.
As they strolled through the historical cemetery, Hull and Conner told story after story.
Luther H. Merrell, who served in World War I, died Jan. 29, 1942.
"He was my mother's brother," Conner said. "He had gone across Main Street to get his daughter some ice cream when he was hit by a vehicle."
Conner stopped at the grave of her brother, Marine Corps Pvt. 1st Class Luther L. Rhodes, who died Oct. 17, 1942, during World War II as he served with the 1st Marines, 5th Division.
"They never recovered his body," Conner said. "He was only 17 and begged my father to sign the papers for him. A sniper shot him in the Solomon Islands during the fighting at Guadalcanal. A sergeant came and talked to Mom and Dad. He said the jungle grew so fast they couldn't find the bodies."
"We do have a lot of memories in this cemetery," Hull said.
Conner and Hull said the cemetery is owned and managed by church trustees, but descendants are requested to help with maintenance costs.
"It costs $2,000 to mow the grass each year," Hull said.
Information was obtained from personal papers of descendants, genealogical research, journals, obituaries, early deeds, Heritage of Henderson County Volumes I and II, Henderson County North Carolina Cemeteries, church records, interviews.
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