Philip Vickers Fithian had the opportunity to visit the Presbyterians in the new settlements in Appalachia, but he did not take it.
In 1776, the Hanover Presbytery gave him and his friend Andrew Hunter the option of traveling as far west as possible–into the North Carolina and Kentucky backcountry–to minister to the the growing number of Scots-Irish settlers moving into this region.
Philip and Andrew, however, were homesick. They were both newly married and wanted to get home to their wives in New Jersey. Moreover, duty was calling them. A few months after they returned home they would answer the call of their country and join the Continental Army as chaplains.
Even if Philip did decide to follow the Wagon Road into the backcountry, it is doubtful he would have gone as far as Tennessee’s Sequatchie Valley. And the town of Pikeville, TN, where I am heading today, was still a few decades away from its early 19th century settlement.
For the next several days, I will be helping to conduct a seminar for U.S. History teachers in the Bledsoe County School District. Bledsoe County Schools was awarded a prestigious, three-year, Teaching American History Grant. I am working for the Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History, the organization that is partnering with Bledsoe. For the next three days, thirty educators will be immersed in colonial American history. I am providing the “content” part of the seminar and Anthony Napoli of Gilder Lehrman is serving as the “master teacher” who will try to help the attendees translate the conversation and lectures into their classrooms.
The educators are getting graduate credit for this seminar and one of the books they will be reading is The Way of Improvement Leads Home.
It looks like Fithian made it to Appalachia after all!