Monroe, Peter (1812-1888)

Peter Monroe (December 12, 1812-January 17, 1888), a carpenter and builder active in the Scots-settled area of the Upper Cape Fear region, is best known for building several of the region’s antebellum Presbyterian churches.

During the 18th century, settlers from the Scots Highlands arrived in large numbers in Wilmington and other ports and made their way up the Cape Fear River into the area that encompasses present Cumberland, Hoke, Scotland, Robeson, and Moore counties and beyond. Fayetteville was the head of navigation on the river and a principal center of Highland Scots settlement. Of special fame in the extended community was Flora McDonald, the Scotswoman who had helped “Bonnie Prince Charlie” and who settled in this area. These Scots and their many descendants, who spoke Gaelic as well as English for many years, were predominantly Presbyterians, and their Scots traditions and names continue to the present. The settlers soon founded Presbyterian congregations, which prospered in the 1840s and 1850s and built new churches, generally in frame and generally in simplified versions of the Greek Revival style. (See Gilbert P. Higley.) Peter Monroe, a strong Presbyterian of Scots descent, was among the leading builders of these churches.

There were many Monroe families in the area, and Peter Monroe’s parents have not been established. In 1841 he wed Isabella Jane Cameron (1815-1886) of Cumberland County. According to the history of his home church from the 1850s, Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church, Peter and Isabella Monroe were deeply religious and long active in the church. Monroe “was an architect and contractor in the early days of his life and a considerable portion of his work in that line was the construction of churches and school buildings.” Among the buildings credited to him in this account were the Montgomery County Courthouse, Pee Dee Presbyterian Church, Spring Hill Baptist Church, Montpelier Presbyterian Church, Bethel Presbyterian Church, Laurinburg Academy, Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church, and Galatia Presbyterian Church. Most of these have been lost. Examination of church records is needed to confirm and expand information on Monroe’s work. Also attributed to him is “Old” Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church near Laurinburg, a large, frame building with pedimented front, paired entrances, and broadly spaced windows.

Galatia, the last of the churches built by Monroe, was constructed in 1858-1862, during the pastorate of the Rev. J. C. Sinclair. Typical of Monroe’s work, it was a simple weatherboarded building with a pedimented entrance façade, a pair of entrances, and simple Greek Revival detail. According to the church history, Galatia was the last church in the area where sermons were still preached in Gaelic as well as in English to please the older congregation members. Indeed, in 1858, Galatia called J. C. Sinclair, a native Scotsman, as pastor, and each Sunday he preached one sermon in Gaelic and one in English, in the old-fashioned way, the last minister in the area to do so, and a source of local pride. With Sinclair’s departure in 1863, “the last of the native Scotch preachers disappeared from among the Highland Scotch of the Cape Fear Section. The Gaelic language was no more heard from the pulpits of this section.”

Peter Monroe was a leading member of Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church, a congregation established in 1855 in the section of Cumberland County that later became Hoke County. He built the frame church for the young congregation. In 1860 Peter Monroe (aged 47 and identified as a farmer and owner of real estate and 23 slaves) headed a household that included his wife Isabella and seven children, from 18-year-old Evander down to 3-year-old John. Dougald Monroe, a master carpenter aged 28 in 1860 who was probably a relative, lived next door to Peter and Isabella. Three Monroe sons served in the Civil War, and Evander, the eldest, was killed during the conflict. Several other children established themselves as distinguished citizens, including physicians and ministers, and most were active in church and educational activities. Peter Monroe continued his leadership, often as an elder, in Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church throughout a long life, and was buried along with family members in the Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church cemetery.

  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Eastern North Carolina (1996).
  • Catherine W. Bishir and Michael T. Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003).
  • “The Galatia Presbyterian Church,” typescript history (ca. 1966).
  • M. A. Patterson and A. D. Carswell, History of Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church (1925).
  • Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church Cemetery Records.
  • United States Census.
Sort Building List by:
  • Bethel Presbyterian Church

    Contributors:
    Peter Monroe, builder
    Dates:
    1852
    Location:
    Raeford, Hoke County
    Street Address:
    SR 1139, Raeford vicinity, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Religious
    Note:
    Like a few other Cape Fear region Presbyterian churches, Bethel had the pulpit against the front wall; it was later moved to the opposite end and a portico and belfry were added.

  • Galatia Presbyterian Church

    Contributors:
    Peter Monroe, builder
    Dates:
    1862
    Location:
    Fayetteville, Cumberland County
    Street Address:
    Galatia Church Rd., Fayetteville vicinity, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Religious
    Note:
    The handsome Greek Revival church burned in 1959, and the congregation continues in the church built in 1961. The church takes its name from the early Christians in Galatia, Turkey, to whom Paul wrote an epistle.

  • Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church

    Contributors:
    Peter Monroe, builder
    Dates:
    1856
    Location:
    Laurinburg, Scotland County
    Street Address:
    SR 1321, Laurinburg vicinity, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Religious
    Note:
    The large Greek Revival church is the most intact and most accessible of Monroe's churches. A portico was added in the 20th century.

  • Laurinburg Academy

    Contributors:
    Peter Monroe, attributed builder
    Dates:
    1852
    Location:
    Laurinburg, Scotland County
    Street Address:
    Laurinburg, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Religious

  • Montgomery County Courthouse

    Contributors:
    Peter Monroe, attributed builder
    Dates:
    Ca. 1845
    Location:
    Troy, Montgomery County
    Street Address:
    Troy, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Public

  • Montpelier Presbyterian Church

    Contributors:
    Peter Monroe, attributed builder
    Dates:
    1850
    Location:
    Wagram, Scotland County
    Street Address:
    Wagram vicinity, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Religious

  • Pee Dee Presbyterian Church

    Contributors:
    Peter Monroe, attributed builder
    Dates:
    1840s
    Location:
    Mount Gilead, Montgomery County
    Street Address:
    Mount Gilead vicinity, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Religious

  • Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church

    Contributors:
    Peter Monroe, builder
    Dates:
    1854
    Location:
    Fort Bragg, Hoke County
    Street Address:
    Junction of Sandy Grove Rd. and Plank Rd., Fort Bragg vicinity, NC
    Status:
    Standing
    Type:
    Religious
    Note:
    Monroe was a member and elder in the Sandy Grove Presbyterian Church; the frame building gained a vestibule and tower and other changes in the early 20th century.

  • Spring Hill Baptist Church

    Contributors:
    Peter Monroe, attributed builder
    Dates:
    1850
    Location:
    Wagram, Scotland County
    Street Address:
    Wagram vicinity, NC
    Status:
    No longer standing
    Type:
    Religious

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