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Early Poplar Tent Leaders Pivotal in County History

Written by:  Tom Davidson - Staff Writer
Concord Tribune
Sunday, September 6, 1992

As in many other areas in Cabarrus County, the Poplar Tent community found its beginnings centered around church and Christian Fellowship.

In 1775 the Rev. Hezekiah James Balch, Poplar Tent Presbyterian Church's first full-time minister, and five other members of the congregation signed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.  Those memebers were John Phifer, David Reece, Benjamine Patton, Zaccheus Wilson and Robert Harris.

At the time the Poplar Tent community was considered part of Mecklenburg County but later was drafted into Cabarrus County limits.


Balch was instrumental in the Charlotte convention, held May 19, 1775 which called for the colonies succession from Britain.  The late pastor and other significant Poplar Tent community leaders are buried at the church cemetery.  Balch's grave is marked by a tombstone erected by the congregation in 1847.


According to "Sketches of North Carolina," an historical account of the area written by the Rev. William Henry Foote, Poplar Tent found its origin under a tent where occasional services were lead by missionaries and visiting ministers.


Resembling what is called camp meetings today, many agreed this congregation's worship tent was the most ornate in the United States.  The Scotch and Scotch-Irish immigrants to the area used this temporary structure throughout all seasons until a more permanent worship site could be built.


Foote wrote that the area was first named Poplar Ridge after the unusually large trees which grew there.  After the worship tent was put up, a group of men gathered together for the purpose of finding a proper name for the area.  One suggestion was Poplar Springs.  Another man close by took a cup of water, threw it against the tent and shouted, "Poplar Tent!"


The name was adopted by the Presbyterian institution in North Carolina, and it has remained ever since.


According to an account published in 1953 by the Tribune, a Scotch-Irish immigrant, a Mr. Clark from Pennsylvania, came to the Poplar Tent area in the early 1700s.  He was said to have been gifted with extreme amounts of energy and courage.


While no records exist of the very first person to have settled the area, Clark is known to have settled down in Poplar Tent with others around the year of 1732.  He also brought with him his wife, said to have been full of youth and beauty.


The account says that after Clark built his cabin, a group of Cherokee Indians killed and scalped Mrs. Clark while her husband was busy in the fields nearby.


Clark and his neighbors, William Black and Dr. Charles Harris, were unable to apprehend the Indians after it was known what had occurred.  A proper coffin could not be made, as there were no saw mills in the area.


The body of Mrs. Clark was wrapped in a blanket, taken out on a sled about two miles from the cabin to a buff on Rocky River and was buried by an Irish bondsman and an African slave.


This allegedly was the beginning of Poplar Tent Cemetery, though no grave marker for Mrs. Clark can be found to date.  But many gravestones dating back to the time of her death are still in tact, such as a marker for W.A. Clark, who died May 9, 1778.  Many believe this to be the marker of the late Mrs. Clark's husband.


Records indicate W.A. Clark was born in 1714.  If the two Mr. Clars are one and the same, Clark first settled the area at the age of 18.