Monday, October 27, 2014

Influenza Epidemic 1918

Seems like epidemics are on everyone's mind these days. Not sure why. In keeping with that, I was reading recently about the Influenza epidemic in 1918. Twenty to fifty million people (depending on who you ask) died world wide. In Tennessee, only 8,000 people died. I know of no figures on how many people caught the disease thinking they were going to die. But with a mortality rate of 2.5%, that comes to 320,000 in Tennessee alone. Most of the deaths were in October 1918 in densely populated areas; Memphis and Nashville. But other areas were hit too. Chattanooga wasn't far behind, though Knoxville was much less severe. By November the wave had passed. There would be a few more deaths, for the next year in fact, but because the disease transmitted so easily, nearly everyone had been exposed by then. Schools, churches, theaters, and the like that had closed in October began to re-open in November.

As for the LDS response and its effect on missionary work in the Southern States I can only find this notice from the Liahona.

October 26 1918. General missionary work, such as holding meetings and tracting, has been suspended during the epidemic of influenza. The missionaries, however, are visiting the sick, the needy, etc. and offering prayers to the Lord in behalf of the sick. Several of the Elders of the Southern States Mission are ill with the flu, but they are recovering rapidly. Liahona 16:1166

Interesting since there were still some meetings held, but the reporting was more subdued. Where in earlier reports in 1918, there would be names of missionaries and where they were assigned. In October there was nothing. In the months that the epidemic was beginning to let up, the reports only noted that a meeting was held but no names were listed. On the 17th of November a meeting of the East Tennessee Conference was held at Chattanooga, and on the 16th of December a meeting of the Middle Tennessee Conference was held in Nashville, but were quite subdued. The regular description touting the progress of the missionary effort was replaced with a perfunctory statement of fact. As for the missionaries themselves, none of the missionaries serving in Tennessee were sent home due to their illness, though it was likely many were sick.

More interesting was the change in missionaries being called. Quietly, the church stopped sending missionaries to the Southern States. The number of missionaries was already low because of the war, but between October 14th 1918 and February 24 1919  no missionaries were sent to the Southern States Mission; a gap of three and a half months. By then the epidemic had subsided.



Monday, October 20, 2014

The Early History of the Church in McNairy County

1888 Map of McNairy County Tennessee
Today, McNairy County is part of the Corinth, Mississippi Ward. But McNairy County's LDS history goes back almost to the beginning of the Church in Tennessee.

The earliest references I could find were pretty vague. In 1839, J. D. Hunter and Benjamin L Clapp held 25 meetings in McNairy County and baptized 14 people. (T&S 1:59) Then in 1840, Elder Norvel M. Head and Elder Sanders baptized 8 people, and organized a branch with total of 28 members. (T&S 2:339) I know; 14 plus 8 does not equal 28. Clearly there was something going on in McNairy county of which I don't have a record. In fact, I can't even find the names of the people involved. So I am missing a great deal. A few years later there is nothing. Did they emigrate? Did they join other churches? Not a clue. If only I had a name.

Elders Z. D. Wilson and David P. Rainey preached to Elder Rainey's "friends" in McNairy County in 1844. Elder Wilson described their efforts as "good success" though he also didn't give any names; only that he baptized 35 and organized 5 branches on that whole mission, which included other areas. He did not indicate whether any of the 35 were in McNairy County. But a little sleuthing reveals that Elder Rainey's friends might have been people he met through his relatives. His sister, Mary Ann Rainey had married David P. Howell in Hardin County and by 1844 they had moved back and forth across the McNairy/Hardin county line at least twice. Although none of them appear to have joined the Church, the family did host missionaries years later.

The fate of the Church over the next several years is one common to other areas in Tennessee. After the death of Joseph Smith, missionaries were called home. With the push to finish the Temple in Nauvoo, fewer missionaries were sent out, and none went to McNairy county. Then Brigham Young led most of the saints west, followed by the Utah war and then the Civil War. Missionaries didn't return to Tennessee to stay until the late 1860s, but it wasn't until 1881 that missionaries returned to McNairy county.

In October of 1881, Elder Joseph W. Thatcher & Richard C. Camp were sent to neighboring Hardin county. While there they expanded their efforts west into McNairy county. When B. H. Roberts visited them in November he found they were working with a couple of people who had relatives in Utah. Roberts did not mention any converts, or local members. But there were several who served as hosts. When they were able to persuade someone to let them use a building in which to preach, attendance was good. Robert did stay with Mr D Howell (probably the son of David P Howell) who shared that he was the nephew of David P. Rainey in Richmond, Utah. He treated the Elders well.

Missionary work continued in 1882, in this case by Elders Richard C. Camp and George Bartholomew. Camp was by then President of the West Tennessee Conference and had organized a branch in McNairy County. The branch included Hardin County, though I only have two possible names with no indication in which county they lived. I also find it hard to believe the branch would have comprised of just two people, which leads me to believe there may have been some people who still lived there who had been baptized in 1839/40.

Julia Josephine Howell (1882) Possibly a relative of David P. Rainey
Martha Winters (1882)

Later in 1882, Elders William S. Geddes, Joseph W. Thatcher Jr. and Thomas H. Merrill baptized a few more.  Now I have names, and partial baptismal dates.

Mary Eveline Thacker (1882)
James Henry Thacker (1882)
Anni Bell Thacker (1882)
Wm Richard Eddins (1882)
Nancy Ann Eddins (1882)

In 1884, the Southwest Tennessee conference was formed and McNairy county was part of it. Elder J. J. Fuller and L. A. Shepherd baptized five more.The record says NcNairy and Hardin County, but as near as I can figure it, everyone was living in McNairy county.

Wm Asbury Gunter (22 Jul 1884)
Martha Adalie Gunter (22 Jul 1884)
Ptolemy Virgil Irvin (22 Jul 1884)
Wm Riley Thacker (23 Jul 1884)
Barbara Catherine Thacker (23 Jul 1884)

Between 1884 and 1888, the tone of missionary work in West Tennessee changed. The Elders were assigned elsewhere and the branch faded into history. It would be after 1900 that missionaries would return to West Tennessee and 1908 before missionaries returned to McNairy County. But that is a story for another time.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Jacob F. Miller at Laurel Hill - May 1883

Laurel Hill, Saturday May 26th 1883 Left Samples and came to this place yesterday calling on Mr. Chaffin at Buffalo Valley on the way. We stopped last night at Samuel Smiths. It rained heavily last night and has been raining today. Dr. Cyper tells me that Mr. Chaffin told him yesterday that he was going to arrange the time for the debate but he (Mr. C) did not mention it when we called on him yesterday.

Laurel Hill, Sunday May 27th 1883 Stopped at the house of Felix H. Smith yesterday to inquire our way as we were in a part of the country new to us. Were urged to stay all night and accepted the invitation. T. H. Smith is a justice of the Peace in this District. I had heard of him before but did not know where he lived. He told us he had not been to meeting for over a year but would go with us today. We had a good attendance. Bro. Holbrook spoke first, I followed and had been speaking half an hour when it commenced storming heavily and seeing that the congregation were afraid of getting wet I dismissed the meeting. I asked Samuel H. Smith who had gained us permission to use the house if there would be any objection to our holding a meeting the next Sunday. He hesitated, spoke of a meeting at the Baptist Church at that time and then referred me to another Trustee who was present. He told me that the Church objected. I announced the result to the audience and thanked the Trustees for the use we had of the building. F. H. Smith at once spoke to me telling me that the Baptist Church, the only other one in the vicinity would be at our service when not otherwise occupied. I remained in the building answering questions until the storm subsided when we accepted invitation of S. H. Smith to go home with him for dinner.

Laurel Hill, Tuesday May 29th 1883 Leaving Smith's we met Dr. Hardcastle, a stranger who had been questioning me after the meeting. He expressed regret at the conduct of Clark and invited us to call and see him. We went to the residence of one W. E. Bartlett who had joined with F. H. Smith in offering us the use of the Baptist Church and unvited us to call on him that evening. We stayed there until this morning. Mr. Bartletts wife, a sister of F. H. Smith's, died recently. Bartlett has been a user of Morphine and is now trying to quit the habit. I learn that he and F. H. Smith are two of three members of a building committee which has charge of erecting the Baptist Church yet uncompleted, also that Mr. B. has advanced about $150.00 above his subscription for which the Church is owing him. Mr. B. is a Campbellite in religion and a Republican in politics, but moderate throughout. He commenced life in poverty and has gathered means enough around him for comfort, seems to be a man of influence and spoke in our conversation of having declined nomination as Justice of the Peace. Dr. Sypert Sunday invited us to come to his place as to a home and bring any of our people with us. We are at his place now writing letters.

Laurel Hill, Wednesday May 30th 1883 Went to see the Clemmen's yesterday and stopped overnight with them. It rained very hard last night, rained some this morning and is still cloudy. Writing in the schoolhouse. Visited Andrew Carr day before yesterday. Obtained permission from the Trustees of the Garner schoolhouse to hold meeting there next Sunday at 3 P.M. Stopped overnight at Wade Jones' in Buffalo Valley. Yesterday took dinner with Dr. Hardcastle. Stopped overnight with George Jones.