Friday, November 28, 2008

Robert Edge - an introduction

There have been many stories of communities being prepared for the missionaries by an mysterious figure. In Tennessee, the most interesting of them is that of Robert Edge. In May 1878, in Lexington, Henderson County, Tennessee, a man came into town announcing that he would be holding a meeting that evening to preach. Travelling preachers were not uncommon in Tennessee, but this man was not dressed a well as these preachers tended to be. Plus he appeared to know the area very well. He would make appointments at homes of people he met without asking for directions, yet arrive on time.

He taught the same doctrines as taught by the Mormons: Apostasy, the need for Apostles, authority from God, Baptism by immersion, etc., but claimed to belong to the Church of God. His answers to more personal questions were frequently more obscure. For example:
Mr. Jones enquired, “My friend, where are you from?”
Mr. Edge—“From about six miles,” meaning the next neighborhood where he had just left.
Mr. Jones—“What church do you belong to?”
Mr. Edge—“The Church of God, sir.”
Mr. Jones—“Where is it?”
Mr. Edge—“In the United States.”
Mr. Jones—“You have been speaking about one being ordained before he had the right to preach. By whom were you ordained?”
Mr. Edge—“By Jesus Christ, sir.”
Mr. Jones—“Where?”
Mr. Edge—“In Eternity.”
Mr. Jones—“How long have you been preaching?”
Mr. Edge—“About eighteen hundred years.”
At this point Mr. Jones sprang to his feet and walked away in disgust.

Though he taught the importance of baptism, he refused to baptize anyone, saying that in the future they would have the opportunity to be baptized by those who had the right. He did perform marriages that he said would allow them to be together for eternity and gave them "tokens" so they would know when they entered true temples of God.

By July 1879, Mr Edge had collected a number of enemies. Some of them tried to have him killed. At which point he announced it was time for him to move on. While staying at the Reed home he awoke in the middle of the night saying a mob was on its way and that he should move on. When the mob arrived, he had gone and he was never seen again.

Members of Robert Edge's group continued to meet. At some point they saw a summary of the LDS church doctrine in the New York Sun. Being impressed they contacted the church asking for more information and were directed to Missionaries serving in Cane Creek, Tennessee, the nearest branch. Several of Robert Edge's followers joined the Church.

So who was Robert Edge? Well, readers will recognized all the makings of a Three Nephites story. I'm more of a sceptic. There are just so many other options to choose from. But to do that I'll need to sort out fact from myth. What really happened and what was the product of imagination?

8 comments:

Amy said...

What's your source for this story, Bruce? It's very interesting.

I'm sure you've heard the story of John Morgan in Heywood Valley (Georgia, I think) that's told regularly in Sunday School manuals, etc. I've been trying to find more details about that story for years since all the accounts of the story seem to be second hand.

John Morgan is my grandma's grandpa, so I have a personal interest in Southern States Mission-Three Nephites stories. This would be an interesting addition to his story.

BruceC said...

All of the documentation I have found traces back to Hyrum Belnap, a missionary who served under you ancestor, John Morgan, from 1879-1881. My particular source is his Autobiography which you can find at the Belnap Family website. Here is the link directly to the Hyrum Belnap page.
http://www.belnapfamily.org/hyrumbelnap.htm
Hyrum went as far as doing a lecture circuit in Utah to talk about Robert Edge. And Hyrum is quoted when even Henderson County historians talk about Robert Edge. So, truth be told, I haven't found a second independent source, yet.
There are a couple references to your ancestor in the story which is much, much longer than my introduction.

Amy said...

Thanks, Bruce! I'll take a look at it.

Ardis E. Parshall said...

This is a story I've wondering how far to trust, too. There are a whole lotta Robert Edges listed on the census for that region, and a lot of men named "Robert Edge Jones" and "Robert Edge Smith" as though Robert Edge were a famous man that lots of families named children for. The name goes back long before the 1870s, though.

I haven't thought of much to research from a non-Belnap point of view, though, as independent verification of any part of the story.

Bruce Crow said...

When I get back to this story, I'll start with the local papers in Henderson County. Robert Edge was there about a year based on Belnap's account, so there should be something. Problem is, for papers like the ones I need are not indexed. So it will go slowly.

I hadn't thought about people naming their children after him. Makes sense though.

The Tanners said...

I have several ancestors that named their children after Robert Edge. There is a Robert Edge Reed who died in Thatcher, Arizona who was named for him. One of my 2gg grandfather's (Sirenious Reed) brother (Ephraim Reuben Reed)Changed his name to Robert and was called Bob throughout the rest of his life.

lance said...

Historical Dept, 50 East North Temple Street, SLC, UT 84150
Story Published in Juvenile Instructor 1886. Referenenced in "Our Miraculous Heritage", Davis, Nelson, &Simons, Orem, UT, Cedar Fort: Cedar Fort, Inc., 1991, pp 5-33.

The Tanners said...

I continue to do family history research. I am a descendant of both Sirenious Reed and James Henderson Scott. I have been to Lexington, Tennessee many times. Have visited their graves numerous times. Have pictures and stories from other family members. I believe the story of Robert Edge to some extent. Not knowing how much might have been added as the story is retold. I met a man once in Lexington that knew James Henderson Scott while he was still alive. He called him Henderson and said that he was one of the finest men he ever knew.