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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Betts, Alexander Davis

by Louise C. Smith, 1979; Revised by SLNC Government and Heritage Library, June 2023

25 Aug. 1832–15 Dec. 1918

Alexander Davis Betts. Image courtesy of UNC Chapel Hill Libraries. Alexander Davis Betts, Methodist minister and Confederate chaplain, the son of Temperance Utley and William Betts, was born in Blockersville (now Stedman), Cumberland County. At the age of seventeen, when he was playfully trying to ride a young steer, he was thrown and sustained an injury that left him with a physical disability. At the nearby Summerville Academy he began a classical education, and he entered The University of North Carolina as a member of the class of 1855. He received the A. B. degree and a few years later the M.A.; in 1895 the university honored him with the degree of D.D. Betts remained a loyal friend to the university and attended University Day and commencement a number of times. In 1882 he wrote a hymn for University Day, and he was a trustee from 1879 until 1895. Shortly before graduation day in 1855, Betts married Mary E. Davis of Chapel Hill, adopting her maiden name as his own middle name in her honor.

In Chapel Hill, Betts was converted to Methodism in 1853, and there he was licensed to preach in 1855. For a brief time, however, he taught in a Pittsboro academy. Soon afterward he became "supply" minister to the Methodist church in Martinsville, Henry County, Va. In gratitude for his warm reception there, he named his newborn son Henry for the county.

Before the Civil War, Betts served churches in Sampson County, Smithville (now Southport), Elizabethtown, and Smithfield. After the war he served in many places, as Methodist ministers customarily do. Among his assignments were churches in the counties of Anson, Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, Duplin, Guilford, Harnett, Jones, Nash, and Wilson. In 1908 he was superannuated but continued his work by preaching upon invitation and working with schools and prisons in various parts of the state.

After the death of his first wife (5 Sept 1879), Betts in 1881 married Priscilla M. Debnam. Six of his eleven children were living at the time of his death: the Reverend W. A., J. R., Sallie, Dr. J. S., Mrs. L. P. Wokins, and Mrs. R. L. Davis.

On 25 Oct. 1861, Betts was commissioned chaplain of the Thirtieth North Carolina Regiment; he served throughout the Civil War. General Robert E. Lee is said to have spoken of Betts on one occasion as "that model chaplain." Betts kept a journal, published in 1904 as Experiences of a Confederate Chaplain (Piedmont, S.C.), in which he recorded detailed and moving accounts of his work.


The Chaplain 24 (Mar.–Apr. 1967).

Daniel L. Grant, Alumni History of The University of North Carolina (1924).

Thomas N. Ivey, ed., Handbook of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in North Carolina (1905).

Thomas N. Ivey, ed., Southern Methodist Handbook (1913, 1919).

Methodist Church, Journal of the North Carolina Conference (1919).

James Paul Pegg, Tar Heel Chaplain (n.d.).

Trinity Alumni Register 4 (Jan. 1919).

Additional Resources:

A. D. Betts (Alexander Davis), 1832-1918, Experience of a Confederate Chaplain, 1861-1864. [Greenville? S. C.: s.n., 190-?], Documenting the American South, UNC Libraries:

Gerard, Philip. "Religion in the Ranks Chapter II of II." Our State Magazine:

Betts, A. D. (Alexander Davis). Experience of a Confederate chaplain, 1861-1864 [i.e. 1865]. [Greenville? S. C.]. 1900. (accessed April 19, 2013).

Summary of A. D. Betts (Alexander Davis), 1832-1918, Experience of a Confederate Chaplain, 1861-1864, [Greenville? S. C.: s.n., 190-?]:

Image Credits:

Alexander Davis Betts. Image courtesy of UNC Chapel Hill Libraries. Available from (accessed April 19, 2013).