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.

Monday, October 6, 2014

A Sailor Boy Writes His Branch President - 1943

Excerpts from a letter received by President Stanley J. Bennion of Independence, Mo. Branch from Elwood Sharp, 17 years old, enlisted with the navy, stationed in Memphis, Tenn.

I have really missed the Church services we used to have at home. But most of all I believe I have missed my Priesthood work. When I was at the training camp I was very fortunate in having the chance lo attend the only Mormon services in the armed forces there. Many is the talk I've had with Chaplain Richards concerning the Gospel. I believe he has done more to help me understand the Gospel than anyone I have ever come in contact with. I want to bear my testimony that I know the Gospel is true and Joseph Smith was the True prophet of God. Tell the boys at home lo lake every advantage of the Priesthood work that they can. We don't realize until we aren't active in it just how much it means Io us. I have found it easy to live a clean life in the navy because of the teachings of the Gospel and I owe a lot of it lo my mother and the way she has helped me with my 2 &1/2 minute talks and things like that, explaining and leaching the Gospel to me. It's funny but the little things I learned in Ihe Primary and Sunday School keep coming back to me — Things that I though I had forgotten long ago. When Mom sent me my Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Bible, I was so glad to get them I actually cried. Tell all the fellows to lake every advantage while They can. I am sending you this $10.00 for tithing.

[Clark Elwood Sharp Jr. Born February 26, 1926 Missouri. Died January 10, 2005 Missouri.]