May 20: Hezekiah Balch & the Mecklenberg Declaration

Hezekiah James Balch graduated with the A.M. degree from the College of New Jersey (later, Princeton University) in 1766. While a student, he helped to found the Cliosophic Society. After leaving college, he studied for the ministry and was licensed to preach the Gospel in 1767 by the Presbytery of Donegal.

In 1769, he took charge of two congregations in North Carolina, Rocky River and Popler Tent, which he continued to serve until his death. He was ordained in 1770 by the Presbytery of Donegal. Together with Dr. Ephraim Brevard and William Kennon, graduates themselves of the College of New Jersey, he drew up the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, on 20 May 1775, and on this occasion Rev. Balch was one of the speakers before the assembled delegates and one of the signers of the declaration.

But the greater story is that of his ministry to his congregation. It seems amazing that a man, so moved of the Holy Spirit to minister so effectively, could so impress a congregation in the space of but seven short years, so as to elicit such admiration and love. Clearly it was the Lord’s work, and not man’s.

MR. BALCH’S GRAVE.

“The first Pastor was among the first, whose mortal remains were laid to rest in Poplar Tent grave yard. We know not that the Minister had ever followed the sable hearse of any of his beloved people to that sacred repository of the dead, as no memorial stone is there dating further back than 1783; but we do know that a weeping congregation gathered round the grave of their revered pastor cut down in the strength of manhood, and rolled the clods upon his coffin lids. That he might sleep in the midst of his flock in death, as he had moved and labored among them in the active duties of life, they buried him in the centre of the sacred ground. I heard the faithful Elder tell his venerable Pastor, Dr. Robinson, as the two sat by a newly opening grave, that when Mr. Balch died, his people struck diagonal lines across the yard, and where they crossed in the centre, they buried him, that they might sleep around him, dust guarding dust, and rise with him in their midst in the morning of the resurrection. The first burying ground was enclosed by a ditch, the vestiges of which are still visible. In 1849, two persons instituted a search for the grave; the lines were run as they had been 73 years before, from corner to corner, and in the centre a small stone was discovered in the grass almost covered with earth; and this humble memorial was all that remained to mark the grave of Balch. Some years later, in 1855, a handsome monument was placed over the unconscious remains of Hezekiah James Balch. On it is the following inscription:

BENEATH THIS MONUMENT
REPOSE THE MORTAL REMAINS OF
THE REV. HEZEKIAH JAMES BALCH.
First Pastor of Poplar Tent Congregation and one of
The original members of Orange Presbytery,
He was licensed a Preacher of the everlasting Gospel,
By the Presbytery of Donegal in 1758, ordained to the full
Work of the Holy Ministry in 1769, and rested from his
Labors, A.D. 1776, having been the Pastor of the united
Congregations of Poplar Tent and Rocky River about 7 years,
He was distinguished as one of the Committee of Three,
Who prepared that Immortal Document, the Mecklenburg
Declaration of Independence:
And his eloquence, the more effectual from his acknowledged
wisdom, purity of motive and dignity of character, contributed
much to the unanimous adoption of that instrument, on the
20th of May, 1775.

[excerpted from The Davidson Monthly, Vol. III, No. 1 (March, 1871): 21-22.]

Words to Live By:

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