Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Phoebe Church: Convert at 18, and then what?

From Elder Hyrum Belnap's journal we read about the baptism of a young girl named Phoebe Church, age 18.

Monday, November 3, [1879] we gathered at the water’s edge, near Garden’s Ferry, Duck River, where I had the pleasure of baptizing Phoebe and Paralee Church, daughters of Bro. Emmons Church. Although these girls were the first persons I ever baptized in my life all went off pleasantly.

Later that year Phoebe showed perhaps a little interest in the young, and single, Hyrum Belnap.

Sunday, September 26, [1880] I went to E[mmons] Church’s. Obtained my change of clothes from the girls. Sister Phoebe Church also presented me with one of her photos.

Tuesday September 28, [1880] Gave Sister Phoebe one of my photos in return for hers.

I bet you think you know where this is going. But you would be wrong. It isn't always obvious at any one point how one's life will turn out. But lets start back at the beginning, Phoebe Ellen Church was born on March 17, 1861* at Duck River, Tennessee to Isaac "Emmons" Church and Mary Ann Miller.

In 1884, Phoebe makes an appearance in the writings of B. H. Roberts. She runs an errand for him to bring back the young Mr. Coleman so that he could help drive the wagons to retrieve the bodies of Elders Gibbs and Berry.

She may have been a part of the exodus of Mormons from Tennessee following the Cane Creek Massacre, because on February 25th, 1885 she was in Utah where she went through the St. George Temple. But she didn't stay there long. For reasons that aren't clear she returned to Tennessee. Could she have left after being asked to enter into a polygamous relationship? Could she have left after the Manifesto made her marriage prospects dimmer? Maybe she just hated the climate. I don't know. But she still had relatives in Tennessee.

Once back home on December 15th, 1892, at the age of 31, she married Joel Ray Hicks, who was 4 years her junior and was not a Mormon. Joel was a widower who owned his own farm free and clear. He had a daughter from a previous marriage; one year old Emma C. Hicks. Together they had two sons of their own; Isaac Emmons Hicks and Joel Craton Hicks. In the 1900 census she noted she also had two other children that had by then passed away.

In the 1910 census they were living in Justice Precinct 6, Grayson County, Texas, where they rented a farm. Her name was mispelled Puebia Maks, but this was only a transcription error. The names and ages of her husband and children, as well as an examination of the original handwriting confirm this was indeed her. In addition, her Tennessee LDS membership records in 1910 have a note next to her name "gone to Texas - Reported July 09"

Farming in Texas obviously did not work out well for them. By the 1920 census they had moved to Tunstall, Pittsylvania, Virginia, where Joel found work in a cotton mill. He was a textile worker of some kind, and their younger son lived with them and worked with his father in the same mill. A two year-old granddaughter lived with them as well.

There was no evidence any of her children were baptized in the LDS Church, though with as frequently as they moved around, it would be a project to track down.

Phoebe died in February 15th, 1929 in Draper, North Carolina. Again her name was poorly transcribed, but the death certificate could be easily read if you knew what you were looking for. Her father's name is scribbled but recognizable. The cause of death is equally scrawled, looking something like "Mitral Regurgitation", a condition where a heart valve does not close properly. A secondary condition listed was senility. She was 67 years old. Phoebe was survived by Joel Hicks, who was either her husband or her son, who filled out the death certificate.

*Her death certificate said she was born in 1862.

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