Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Song of Tennesse keeps back the Mob

[Marianne, an AMH reader, sent some missionary recolletions written by an ancestor of her's: Peter E. Johnson. Although Elder Johnson served his mission in Mississippi, it was a song of Tennessee that stilled a mob just long enough for them to escape. The mob, intent on preventing a mission conference from being held, had gathered at the meeting location: a farm belonging to a friend of the Elders, Mr. Martin, who lived about one mile outside the small village of Mechanicsburg, Mississippi. The mob followed them to the nearest railroad station which was at Bentonia, Mississippi, about 9 miles from Mechanicsburg.]

July 29, [1898]
took train for Bentonio where there was a mob for the purpose of not letting us get off the train but they stopped before reaching the depot and we get off our car out in the sticks. We walked to Mechanicsburg, going past the mob at the station and speaking kindly to them and out the road we went in peace. We rode in wagons 7 miles out to the place of conference (a cotton field) but didn't hold it. There were 32 Elders, President Ben E. Rich and a large number of saints and friends. There was also a mob of from 150-200 who swore they would open fire on us if we attempted to hold meeting and also we the Elders, must leave the county' immediately. There were quite a number of our friends carrying shoe boxes under their arms, I asked one, why the shoe box, he said he had just received them and hadn't taken time to change.

There were also a number of very choice bundles being carried about. This was all new to me and a question brought out that the shoe box and the choice bundles contained pistols and ammunition also that guns concealed close by. The mob was armed with shot guns and rifles and it looked as if things might happen. President Condie, Maycock and Flake together with a committee of three from the mob met between the two forces and tried to get a compromise. President Condie asked that in-as-much as we were there and all arrangements made to hold Meeting that we be allowed to hold conference and then we would leave the county. This the mob would not agree to, but that the Elders had to go right then. President Condie asked his counselors what they said, they each said to stay and take the consequences. All three agreed to this and said we would go and begin our conference.

Col. Bell, one of the mob committee, said his only object in coming here was to avert bloodshed and was very sorry at this decision for as sure as they undertook to hold a meeting the mob would fire upon them, but if they insisted, then he couldn't be responsible for the damage. It had been all he could do to keep the mob from firing until now. As they started to separate Pres. Condie turned and said; 'We are looking for Pres. Ben E. Rich about 11:00 and asked to not be molested until he got here. When he comes we will put the question up to him, if he says go, we'll go and if he says stay we'll stay. Col. Bell said we will grant that providing you will not try to hold a meeting until then. This agreed to, so we all waited. One of our friends a Mr. Martin met Pres. Rich at the station at Bentonio and of course had told him of the condition he would meet. It was necessary to drive through the mob in order to reach us. As the driver came up he called "Gentlemen the road please” As no heed was given to the request he repeated it and giving the horses the whip passed to the other side. Pres. Rich greeted them in his characteristic way, kind words and a smile.

The committee was still between the two forces although each had reported their decision to their group. After the introduction was over each committee told him their decision but stated that it was up to him to decide. President Rich turned about and with the toe of his shoe kicked in the sand a bit, then turned and said to the committee, “We’ll go”. Col. Bell expressed his appreciation at this decision. Pres. Rich said of course you’ll give us two hours but they still said no. Pres. Rich said now be fair and let the Elders gather up their belongings which are scattered around, for 25 Miles. They finally agreed to this, but we must be gone before 1:00 o’clock. This was agreed to. For 45 minutes Pres. Rich talked to those assembled the most powerful sermon I ever heard. He told them conference would be continued at Jackson, then asked if someone would loan him money to take the Elders there. He then asked for teams to gather up the Elders belongings and catch the company on the march to Bentonio. I was one of the ill so rode in the wagon. [Yellow fever was endemic among the missionaries at about this time] There were 25-29 Elders took the road led by Pres. Rich and Condie, two commands were given, 1st, not to break the ranks and 2nd, to smile and greet the mob pleasantly as they marched through. They still had 10 minutes. The wagons gathered the bundles and ill Elders then continued on. The weather was very hot and when they were within five miles of Bentonio we began to pick up the exhausted ones. The sick had to exchange places: walked the last four miles.

We were a sorry looking group that met at the rail road station. Thirteen miles isn't very far, but when it is to be done on the double quick and the temperature is 1000 that is something else.

The mob was on hand for a lynching and doing away with the Elders and they were fully prepared to carry out their threats. Pres. Rich bought the tickets then asked protection of the rail road agent who appealed to the sheriff, governor, marshal and mayor but each denied him. The agent sent a telegram on to the next station saying there were 33 U.S. Citizens lives that were in danger and that it depended on the trains' speed. They were becoming noisier, threatening and demanded the agent to turn the Elders over to them. In the midst of all this Pres. Rich told the boys to go outside get on a pile of logs and sing Tennessee. This is the Chorus:

We love the old plantation; we love the Lorrowe Tree,
We are going-we are going-many voices say to me.
We are going-we are going-from the land we thought was free,
We are going-~ are going-till we find our liberty.
Then farewell, O, farewell, old home and Tennessee.
O land of freedom grant us, a freemen’s right to be
By the rolling Mississippi and the rippling Tennessee.

After the singing the mob seemed to halt or at least quiet down. The announcement was made that train time was nearing. We could hear the wave of voices again calling for ropes and threats of doing away with the Mormons before the train came. I could feel the cold chills down my back as I listened to the howl of the mob. You bet we all prayed that the train would hurry for there was yet 15-20 minutes. It seemed that the fury of the mob would break upon us when the toot of an engine was heard. The last car passed the depot before the train stopped and while the agent was telling the conductor about the trouble we were getting aboard in the least possible time. Pres. Rich was the last one to get on. We all felt like singing "Praise God from whom all blessings flow,"

We reached Jackson in the night but reporters were there and we pointed out Pres. Rich and he gave the report. One of the reporters remarked, "Had it been me, I wouldn't of left" Pres. Rich replied, “Well, you see shot guns and rifles were trumps and as they held a full hand we passed it" Someone in the crowd yelled, ''Whoopee! That feller hasn't always been a preacher".

Our conference was continued July 31, August 1, which was well attended and enjoyed by all.

The Conference was noted by the President Rich in a telegram snet back to the mission office at Chattanooga dated at Bentonia, Miss., July 30th, 1898:

"Don't send mail here. We leave tonight to hold conference at Jackson. Have been driven out by one hundred and fifty men with rifles and shotguns."

President Rich then relates very much the same story as given by Elder Johnson, although without nearly the detail, and most importantly, without any mention of their singing about Tennessee. Too bad. President Rich also names two other members of the mob, Major Dill and Captain Lee, both were considered moderating influences on the mob's violent intent.

The LDS Southern Star does say that one Jackson, Mississippi newspaper printed a fair account of the event. The Daily Clarion Ledger on August 1st, 1898. I have not been able to track down the article. Nor have I been able to find the song from which the chorus above comes.


Amy said...

"Whoopee! That feller hasn't always been a preacher"

What a story! I don't know too much about President Rich, but he must have been quite a character.

BruceCrow said...

You are right Amy. President was definately a character.