Neil Graham Bethea Papers

Manuscript Collection #221
Bethea, Neil Graham, 1872-1957
Physical description
1.85 Cubic Feet, 5 archival boxes and 2 oversize folders [oversize folder 2 is in vault], consisting of correspondence, notes, clippings, sermons, ledgers, pamphlets, photographs, autograph books, publications, genealogical material, and miscellaneous journals
Preferred Citation
Neil Graham Bethea Papers (#221), East Carolina Manuscript Collection, J. Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina, USA.
ECU Manuscript Collection
No restrictions

Papers (1872-1987) consisting of letters, biographical notes, scrapbook, certificates, insurance policies, booklets, bulletins, journals, sermons, etc. of Dr. Neil Graham Bethea (1872-1957), a Methodist Protestant evangelist and minister in North Carolina.

Biographical/historical information

Dr. Neil Graham Bethea (1872-1957) was a Methodist Protestant evangelist and minister. The son of William Cameron Bethea and Mary Jane Harris Bethea, he was born in Little River near Fayetteville, North Carolina; but at an early age, his family moved to Burlington. He attended Catawba College, withdrawing due to failing eyesight. In 1897 Bethea joined the N.C. Annual Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church and served as Conference Evangelist for a number of years, traveling across the state holding one-day revivals. He was ordained as an Elder in 1902.

On December 6, 1899, Bethea married Hattie C. Warlick, daughter of Samuel M. Warlick and M. Frances Wood Warlick of Pleasant Hill, Cleveland County, N.C. Dr. Bethea's first pastorate was in Ellenboro, after which he went to Bessemer City, where " Bethea's Chapel" was later built and named in his honor. He also served in pastorates at Gibsonville, Yarborough, Granville Circuit, Halifax Circuit, Lexington, Asheville, Fletcher, Tryon, and Swannanoa, N.C. He served as Conference Missionary Secretary in 1915-1916. In 1926 he made an extensive tour of Palestine. His ministry covered fifty-two years, during which he reportedly preached 20,000 sermons and recorded 8,061 conversions. He helped to found High Point College and subsequently received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from that institution. Bethea retired in 1949 and died in Greensboro in 1957.

Scope and arrangement

Correspondence in the collection concerns Bethea's ministry, character, and evangelical efforts. There are letters about his trip to Palestine, references to the presentation of a portrait of Field Marshall Edward Allenby to Governor Starr of Jerusalem (1926), and commentary on the problems of organizing a National Committee in America to rebuild the Shakespeare Memorial Theater at Stratford on Avon. One letter makes note of his teaching methods at High Point's summer school of Leadership Education. There are also letters from members of his church serving in World War II, thanking Bethea for sending information from home and boosting morale. Of particular interest in this regard is a letter from a member of the Women's Army Corps (WAC), describing her work and the value of the Corps to the war effort. Correspondence for the year 1944 reflects Bethea's trouble in getting the years he spent as a trial minister counted into his pension fund. Also included are letters from Bethea's son, Lewis, giving brief descriptions of his work with the Inter-American Geodetic Survey in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Correspondence (1985-1987) between Edna Henderson and Ralph Hardee Rives concerns Mrs. Henderson's historical research into the Methodist Protestant roots of Harmony United Methodist Church and Bethea's ministry there.

Biographical information notes Bethea's work as an outstanding evangelist and his inclusion in the 1952 edition of Who's Who in Methodism. Also included is a paper entitled "Forty Seven Years Work- A Resume of N. G. Bethea's Activities" and a diary listing his experiences abroad. A scrapbook contains a series of articles authored by Bethea for the Methodist Protestant Herald in 1935. Some of these articles are found in the clippings which also accompany the collection. These clippings highlight much of Bethea's career and in particular his trip to Palestine. Financial records include bonds, mortgages, deeds, stock certificates, insurance policies, and receipts.

Among the primarily religious materials are a quarterly report for the Fletcher Charge (1943-1944) and a number of booklets and bulletins concerning the Western N.C. Conference of the Methodist Protestant Church and its affiliates. Notes and sermons- mainly from the 1940s- include a series of radio talks for WISE in Asheville and a four-part sermon delivered in November and December, 1950. The fourth part stresses the church's role in dealing with communism and is entitled "Let Both Grow Together."

Miscellaneous items include a student's progress report from Catawba College (Jan. 27, 1893), a statement of tuition and charges at High Point College (April 25, 1935), and "An Examination in Christian Stewardship" by Carl Hoyt Trowbridge. There are also a number of histories for churches Bethea either served in or had contact with as well as a history of Yadkin College. A large number of photographs, many reflecting Bethea's 1926 trip to Palestine, are included. Of special interest is a picture of Methodist ministers at a state conference (ca. 1912). Four miscellaneous journals comprise the rest of the collection. Two journals contain sermon notes, one gives baptismal records (1943-1948), and one lists conversion records (1897-1930) and where they took place.

Administrative information
Custodial History

February 19, 1973, 90 items; Papers (1897-1958) of Methodist Protestant evangelist and minister, including correspondence, notes, clippings, sermons, ledgers, and miscellaneous

April 18, 1973, 13 items; Papers (1891-1904), consisting of correspondence, a report, a certificate, scriptural material, and a clipping

April 22, 1980, 70 items; Scrapbooks, correspondence, sermons, and miscellaneous

February 22, 1982, 2 vols.; Photo albums. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Vance J. Bethea, of Greensboro, N.C., and Mrs. Pauline Bethea Willcox, of Enfield, N.C.

June 12, 2017, (unprocessed addition #4), 1.2 cu. ft.; This addition includes a looseleaf notebook containing sermons (dated from Oct. 11, 1872 to Feb. 24, 1957) written by Rev. Bethea; photographs of Bethea and Schoffner family members from Burlington, N.C., area, Warlick family members from Shelby, N.C., identified images whose relationship to Rev. Bethea is unknown, identified images (1910s) of schools and a church, and unidentified images of people; autograph books (1896, 1924); Masonic publications; receipts; correspondence; and genealogical material. Also included are travel booklets, a New Testament, religious booklets, and a notebook containing documents and mementoes related to a 1926 cruise to the Mediterranean and the Holy Land by a tour group including, among others, Rev. Bethea and other ministers. The donor's great-great-grandmother was a first cousin of Rev. Bethea. Gift of Deans Eatman.

Source of acquisition

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Vance J. Bethea

Gift of Mrs. Pauline Bethea Willcox

Gift of Deans Eatman

Processing information

Processed by J. Sarvey; F. Harrison, October 1988

Encoded by Apex Data Services

Copyright notice

Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.

Key terms
Personal Names
Bethea, Neil Graham, 1872-1957
Corporate Names
Inter American Geodetic Survey
Royal Shakespeare Theatre (Stratford-upon-Avon, England)
Yadkin College
Methodist Church--Clergy
Methodist Church--North Carolina
World War, 1939-1945--Religious aspects
Palestine--Description and travel

Container list
Box 1 Folder a Correspondence, 1891-1987
Box 1 Folder b Sermons and religious materials
Box 1 Folder c Miscellaneous papers
Box 2 Folder a Scrapbook
Box 2 Folder b Journals
Box 3 Folder a Biographical materials and legal papers
Box 3 Folder b Clippings
Box 3 Folder d Photographs
Box 3 Folder e Photographs
Folder os1 Photograph