Throughout his stormy life, the humble villagers of Scotland County puzzled over their Presbyterian preacher – a blustering man who cursed, sloshed liquor and even drove oxen on the Sabbath.
No one knew what devils drove the Rev. Colin Lindsay, a man so cantankerous he once threatened to have a church elder whipped.
But the clues to Lindsay’s temper can be traced to this ghoulish truth:
His mother was an reanimated corpse.
Sometime around 1740, Mother Lindsay took so ill, and lapsed into near-death so convincingly, that her Scottish clan threw a raucous wake around her body and buried it within the family vault.
Not long after, a trio of grave robbers pried loose the coffin lid and tried to saw off her ring finger to collect the jewelry. Before they could cut through the bone, the supposedly dead woman awakened and sent the thieves scattering into the night.
Thus revived, Mother Lindsay went back about the business of her life, birthing little Colin – the boy whose mother knew the darkness of the grave.
“Probably the circumstance surrounding his birth had something to do with his later life,” wrote Angus Wilton McLean in a 1932 edition of The News & Observer. “Is it not possible that a man born after burial of his mother should be different from the most of us?”
This child of the undead rests in Stewartsville Cemetery, a thoroughly ominous graveyard just outside Laurinburg thought to have started during the Revolutionary War. Legend has it that the first burial occurred when the pallbearers carrying a dead patriot decided they’d walked far enough and that this particular patch of cedar trees hung with Spanish moss would suit just fine.
About a mile east, there’s a man buried in a separate grave from his own arm. Further on, there’s a haunted “gravity hill” intersection, where motorists swear their cars roll backward uphill. So the Rev. Lindsay isn’t alone in this corner of the cursed.
When he immigrated in 1792, he preached his way inland to Black River, now part of Sampson County, where he ran seriously afoul of the congregations despite offering services in Gaelic. His offense: buying a yoke of oxen and hiring a man to drive them away from the sales lot on Sunday.
He moved on to Hoke, Cumberland and Scotland counties, drawing throngs to the pulpit with his magnetic personality, a man impossible to ignore. Still, the curse of his prematurely planted mother followed him. Church officials brought charges of intoxication, profane swearing and intention of dueling. To those charges, he later added conduct unbecoming an elder.
Though highly intelligent and skillful in oration, he could not tame the fires within.
“He was resolute, but indiscreet,” McLean wrote. “Fearless, but impulsive; talented, but tactless; his life lacked the commonplace elements that belong in the makeup of every normal, well-regulated man.”
A religious traditionalist despite his wild personal behavior, Lindsay further alienated himself as the church shifted toward more animated, evangelical services. This he could not abide, preferring sober, quiet prayer and reflection. In his last days, he distanced himself entirely from the local presbytery, preaching to his flock on commission from the High Kirk of Scotland.
“He declared that he would preach ‘in spite of presbyteries and their little devils,’ ” wrote Walter Richard Bullock Jr. in 1991. “During his later years, he spoke from a sitting position when unable to stand.”
I like to think Lindsay heard howlings from below all his life, a man tormented by the secrets of the dead. Whiskey and coarse manners were his crutches, his way of bearing the inherited knowledge of what it’s like to be shoveled under 6 feet of dirt.
And whatever road he walks in eternity, he casts a cold eye on us little people – the grave robbers and church elders and tiny-minded gnats who inhabit this foul world.