Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Can the Name of An Old Hometown be Misremembered?

A few weeks ago I was tracing the travels of William S. Berry for the several weeks before his death. One of the interesting side trips he took was to Wilson County, where he visited with his mother's relations. During that visit he went to see his the home his parent had lived in when he was born in a place he called Dresdon.

But no such place exists in Wilson County, at least not on records kept by the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The Berry family maintains that the Dresdon in question was actually in Weakley County, an assertion that does not bear out with the evidence, mostly because of the distance between the two counties and the impossibility of William making the round trip in two days.

The current line of reasoning I am working on is that William's journal was either mis-transcribed (I only have a typed copy, not a photo copy of the original) or that William misspelled the town’s name. The question is what could he have meant. I could find nothing even close to the spelling of Dresdon around which to form a theory.

That is until last weekend. In a local newspaper I found the following article about Mormons in Wilson County in September of 1884. The article started....

“The Drennan Settlement, more commonly known as the Hurricane district, is in Wilson county. and about sixteen miles south of Lebanon. The name Hurricane was bestowed on the district many years ago on account of its having been swept by a terrific hurricane, [probably a tornado] destroying many thousands dollars worth of property. The name Drennan was given to the neighborhood because an old man by that name lived for seventy years in the very heart of the district.”
The Hurricane district was a relatively successful area of Mormon proselyting. According to the article there were about 60 Mormons living there in 1884 when news of the Cane Creek massacre fueled threats of a similar violence in Wilson County. The local branch was at Baird’s Mill, described in the article as being about 7 miles north of old man Drennan’s house.

Today, much of the Hurricane district has been converted into the Cedars of Lebanon State Park. The park was formed from land that was purchased from local farmers who were in financial distress during the 1930’s era depression. The soil was generally of poor quality to start with and poor soil management had taken its toll.

However, as a possible candidate for the Berry home I rate this only as "fair". It is certainly within the range of a two day round trip, from Shop Springs, even if he walked. And the name is a close match. Even the presence of an LDS community nearby lends credibility to the theory. But all this is very circumstantial. The article did say Mormons had started preaching there in about 1878. And William Berry's parents joined the Church in 1842. Although the two date aren't necessarily incompatable, it does mean that I will need better than circumstantial evidence.

My next step is to find a photo copy of William Berry's journal.

No comments: