Monday, December 29, 2014

Baird's Mill Branch of Wilson Co., Tenn. 1881-1888

Like most of the handful of LDS branches that dotted the late 19th century Tennessee landscape, Baird's Mill branch was in a rural area. In this case it was in Wilson County, about 8-9 miles south of the city of Lebanon (in Tennessee it's pronounced "LEB-nun" with only two syllables).

The small community came to be in 1874 when the US Post Office at Ponville (there was a beautiful clear, naturally formed two acre pond there, fed by an underground river, though the "d" was silent and left out of the original name) was renamed Baird's Mill after the Baird family which figured prominently in the area.

In September 1880, five elders (John N. Price, Daniel Densley Jr., Alexander B. Kidd, William S. Hume, and Joseph Ford) were traveling from Salt Lake City to the mission home (Rome, Georgia) to receive their assignments. On the train the group met a fellow passenger by the name of Irving Sanders. Mr Sanders was a wealthy magistrate from southern Wilson County. Open and friendly, he talked freely with the Elders on the train. Their conversations lasted most of the day, and when it came time for them to part, Mr Sanders invited them to visit him at his home about 30 miles east of Nashville. Of the five only Elder Ford was assigned to work in Tennessee. Ford was paired with George Carver, whose area included Wilson County. They stayed at Sander's home and preached in the area.

At about the same time William C. Denison found two missionaries, probably Ford and Carver, hiding in the saw mill from a small mob. William agreed to help them hide, obliterating their tracks so the mob would not search for them in the mill. When the disturbance subsided, William agreed to let them use the mill for a meeting. Although he forbade his wife, Mary, from attending the meeting, he went himself out of curiosity only to find Mary was already there. Both of them were later baptized though the exact dates have been lost.

In January 1881, B. H. Roberts, recently transferred from Iowa, joined Ford and Carver in Wilson County. There were a few baptisms early in 1881. William A Gwyn, and Thomas Smith were baptized on February 14th, 1881. Their wives, Betty Gwyn and Elizabeth Smith were baptized less than two weeks later on February 25th, 1881. Another convert, Sarah Vaughn, the wife of Dr. Richard Vaughn, asked to be baptized in a series of events that were previously shown to Roberts in a dream. Unlike the dream, Dr. Vaughn objected to his wife's wishes. Roberts went to great lengths to prove to Dr. Vaughn that he would not allow any of the Elders to baptize Mrs. Vaughn without the Doctor's permission. In a matter of weeks, Roberts' deference won over the good doctor, and Sarah joined the Church. Dr. Vaughn would 15 years later join the church himself. Also baptized that day, September 4th, 1881, was Ben P. Bright.

The flurry of conversions was enough to convince Roberts to form the Baird's Mill Branch on September 12th, 1881. William Gwyn was ordained a Priest and set apart to preside over the branch. Elder Alphonso H. Snow wrote in a letter to the Deseret News that the branch had 13 members when it was formed. Records reveal only about 10-12 of the 13 people.

By February, opposition to the Church became more pronounced and organized. A three day debate was held between B H Roberts and a local minister.  The minister used as his reference material, Alexanders Campbell's critique of the Book of Mormon, and Roberts claimed to come out on top. By the end of the year there were at least two more baptisms, both on 2 December 1881; John R Robinson (age 30) and J R Robinson (age 74).

In 1882, Joseph Ford and Alonzo H Snow were assigned to Wilson County, recording on February 24th, 1882 the baptism of Elizabeth Huddleston. The Huddleston name thereafter became commonly used in missionary journals. Elizabeth's husband became a favorite host of the missionaries; they called him "Uncle Perk". He never joined the Church.

By March 1882 there were 30 members 25 of which, according to Elder Snow, were baptized after November 1881. That leaves for some attrition. By those numbers, only 5 of the original 13 were still around. Either they left the church or they left the area. Emigration to Utah was certainly a possibility, though without names that would be hard to track. At least two more baptisms followed; Franklin Pierce Simmons (1852-1897) was baptized on 15 March 1882, and Charles Andrews baptized Sarah Clark on 25 March 1882.

In 1883, on May 4th, 5th & 6th, the East Tennessee conference met at Baird's Mill. Attending were B. H. Roberts, Louis Kelsch, and James A. Eldredge (all three visiting), and Samuel Jackson (East Tenn Conf Pres), William H. Joseph, Joseph S. Hunter, Thomas Godfrey, Thomas Griffin, Jacob F. Miller and Brigham Holbrook.  At the conference F P Simmons was ordained a Teacher and set apart to preside over the Branch and William Barrett was sustained as Sunday School President. Jefferson Davis Simmons was baptized on 25 August 1883. On September 2nd 1883 B. H. Roberts baptized three; Mrs. Gwyn and two young brothers named Schneider.

In 1884 Henry Huddleson was baptized on 1 Jan 1884, (again on 25 Feb 1886, though that was likely a rebaptism when he arrived in Utah). On April 19th & 20th a meeting of the East Tennessee Conference was held at baird's Mill at which Teacher F P Simmons was again sustained to preside over the branch.Others present were B. H. Roberts (visiting), Samuel J Parrish (East Tenn Conf Pres), Thomas Godfrey, Orson M. Wilson, Jacob F. Miller, Brigham A Holbrook, James A Eldredge, George A. Black, John N. Bevan, William A. Hess, and Josiah Richardson.

The situation in Baird's Mills turned for the worse after the Cane Creek Massacre in August 1884. Someone posted notices demanding that all the missionaries and members at Baird's Mill leave. Deadlines varied from a few days to a month. A copy of one notice made it into the paper. Note how the note writers clearly connected their demands to the tragedy at Cane Creek, even though they were over a hundred miles away.

Another was recorded by a missionary and printed in the paper when he returned home.

One member, Linard Burke, recorded being told directly to leave within 20 days. James Eldredge, one of the missionaries serving at Baird's Mill was confronted by a mob at the home of Brother Simmons. They gave him ten days to leave the state.

Some members left, a few stayed, but the branch survived.

By 1887 it was known as the Wilson County Branch. On October 8th & 9th a conference was held there and another in 1888 (September 29th & 30th). That same year a Sunday School was reorganized at Baird's Mill, apparently just one part of a larger branch. By then the East Tennessee Conference had split in two creating a Middle Tennessee conference of which Baird's Mill was a part. Soon afterwards missionary efforts were scaled back. Other acts of violence against missionaries in Tennessee late in 1888 proved too much. The threats and violence led to missionaries being sent to other areas. One missionary recorded that in 1888 Wilford Woodruff counseled the Elders to focus on strengthening existing members instead of baptizing converts. Twelve members emigrated to Colorado in one year. After the principle member families at Baird's Mill left, there were few things attracting new member families to move in. References in Church records to Baird's Mill disappear altogether after 1888.

The post office was closed in 1903, and very little differentiate the community from the surrounding countryside; a dollar store at the crossroads, a small community church next to it, a modern subdivision with maybe two dozen homes a quarter mile away, and several farms. Development has been kept at bay because of the Cedars of Lebanon State Park which is just to the south east. In an obscure historical foot note, local folklore claims that in 1925 the pond, after which the community was first named, disappeared when an overly clever man tossed some dynamite into it to quickly harvest the fish. He inadvertently opened a hole at the bottom and drained the pond.


Members (baptism date & Name)
11 Feb 1881 William A Gwynn (1846-1913) husband of Betty Gwynn
11 Feb 1881 Thomas Smith (1831-1911) husband of Elizabeth Smith
25 Feb 1881 Mary Elizabeth "Betty" (McHenry) Gwynn (1849-1902) wife of Wm Gwynn
25 Feb 1881 Elizabeth Sanders Smith (1842-1866) wife of Thomas Smith
1 May 1881 Charlotte Varshti (Herron) Barrett (1846-1901) wife of William R Barrett
4 Sep 1881 Ben Bright (1839-)
4 Sep 1881 Sarah C Smith Vaughn (1846- ) E J Huddleston's daughter
4 Sep 1881 Hennietter Bottoms wife of Charles Bottom
4 Sep 1881 S. Daniels
4 Sep 1881 (not 6 Jun 1880) William Riley Barrett (1842-1914) husband of Charlotte H Barrett
12 Sep 1881 Branch formed with 15 members (ie there were 3 additional unnamed members)

[11 Oct 1881] James Wilson McHenry (1864-1931)
11 Oct 1881 Susan Catherine (Barrett) McHenry (1869-1940)
2 Dec 1881 John R Robinson (1851-1940)
2 Dec 1881 J R Robinson (1807-)
24 Feb 1882 Elizabeth J (Smith) Huddleston (1828-1890)
 Mar 1882 Mary Jane (Blankenship) Denison. (1857-1926) wife of William Denison
 Mar 1882 (unverified) William Carol Denison (1850-1935) husband of Mary Blankenship (
Bef 1883 Mary Cummings (1812-1880?) E J Huddleston's cousin
14 Mar 1882 Branch has 30 members (at least 12 more unnamed members)

15 Mar 1882 Franklin Pierce Simmons
25 Mar 1882 Sarah Clark (1854- ) a servant of  GP Huddleston
1 April 1882 Edward Riley Gwynn (1872-1956) son of Wm & Betty Gwynn
11 May 1882 Mary Ruth Smith (Barrett) (1871-1953) wife of Robert L Barrett
20 May 1882 Robert Lee Barrett (1868-1948) husband of Mary Barrett

25 Mar 1883 Jefferson Davis Simmons (church records say 25 Aug 1883)
25 Mar 1883 George Monroe Burke 
6 May 1883 Thomas Lane 
8 May 1883 Raphael Neil (1828-)
8 May 1883 Neal, S. E. (1831-) Wife of Raphael
8 May 1883 Mrs Schneider 
8 May 1883 Maggie Schneider (daughter)
9 May 1883 William Burke
9 May 1883 Mrs William Burke  
14 May 1883 daughter of Br Smith
  2 Sep 1883 Jane Wright Gwynn, mother of William Gwynn
  2 Sep 1883 1st son of sister Schneider
  2 Sep 1883 2nd son of sister Schneider
16 Sep 1883 Eliza Ellen "Nellie" Gwynn, daughter of William Gwynn
  Oct 1883 [unnamed #1] by Elder Jackson
  Oct 1883 [unnamed #2] by Elder Jackson
4 Nov 1883 McGuire, Hugh
10 Nov 1883 Mr Schneider

Bef 1884 Leonard Burke
Bef 1884 James Riley Barrett (1865-1924) Husband of Sarah Avery
Bef 1884 Sarah Irene Avery (1868-1919) wife of James R Barrett

1 Jan 1884 Henry Huddleston (also on 25 Feb 1886 likely a rebaptism)

   Jan 1887 Helen Nora Barrett (1877-1906)
9 Feb 1887 John Taylor Barrett (1879-1963)
4 May 1887 Samuel Bell Barrett (1873-1949)
17 Jun 1887 Nokes, Sarah
28 Aug 1887 Smith, Victoria
28 Aug 1887 Smith, Cephas J.
28 Aug 1887 Smith, Rachael J. S.

COR Marjorie Johanna Denison (1874-1972)
COR William Henry Denison (1878-1960)
COR Laura Elizabeth Denison (1881-1953)
COR Ruby Beatrice Ketura Denison (1884-1941)
COR Alice Ellen Gwynn (1883-1948) daughter of Wm & Betty Gwynn
COR Eudora Gwynn (1880-1935) daughter of Wm & Betty Gwynn
COR Robert James Smith (1881-1937)
COR Minnie Cora Barrett (1882-1950)
COR Nettie Mora Barrett (1884-1947)

27 Aug 1896 Richard Daniel Vaughn (1842-1916) Sarah Vaughn's husband but only after they moved to Murfreesboro.

Ambiguous Reference but probably not members
Emma Cumming
William Daniels
James Robertson
Robert Gwyn
Harietta Daniel, daughter of  E J Huddleston
William C Smith, son of E J Huddleston
John Daniel, son-in-law of E J Huddleston
Barnet Smith, son of E J Huddleston
W H Wetmore 

Not members
Irving Sanders
Grandison Perkins Huddleston (1824-1907)

Brigham Henry Roberts 1881-1885 (Journal & Autobiography)
George Henry Carver 1879-1881
Joseph Ford 1880-1882
James Thaddeus Hammond 1881-1882
Charles Andrews 1881-1882
Samuel Jackson 1881-1883 (Biography)
Alonzo Houtz Snow 1881-1883
James Jamison Adams 1882-1883
William H. Joseph 1881-1883
Samuel Parrish 1882-1884
James Alonson Eldredge 1883-1884
Brigham Angell Holbrook 1883-1884
William A. Hess 1883-1884
Josiah Richardson 1883-1884
Jacob Franklin Miller 1883-1885 (Journal)
John A. Bevan 1883-1886
Orson M.Wilson 1883-1885
George A. Black 1883-1885
Nathan Tanner Jr. 1884-1886


Ardis said...

I love your "biographies" of the Tennessee branches and their members! Yours are far better than the entries in Andrew Jenson's Encyclopedic History -- granted, he had far more units to cover, which maybe accounts for the formulaic entries there, but your sketches bring to life whole communities. You're doing something really special here.

Tod Robbins said...

I agree with Ardis: this is special.

I almost cannot believe that newspaper notice. Wow.

Auburntown, Tennessee, Historical Society said...

Excellent research Bruce! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and efforts.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks to all of you. These kind of blog post are really fun, but they are time consuming. So there will be more but I'm not sure when.

gscoulson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gscoulson said...

Ditto praising the depth and quality of research, and also the alarm towards the threatening newspaper articles. They make me want to hang the 1st and 5th Amendments in the Bill of Rights out the upstairs window, declaring the right to free speech and religion, and the protection against being deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

It's unfortunate that at the time the Bill of Rights was not enforced very well and terrible things were allowed to happen. Even today in our post-9/11 world we see people make (and follow through with) similar threats against those they disagree with, on both sides of the fence. We need to ensure our laws are enacted equally towards people's individual actions and not labelled by belief and religion.

Amy T said...

Wonderful! And what the others said.

Take your time... we can wait awhile for wonderful resources like this, particularly if (hint, hint) it's eventually going to be a book about the Church in Tennessee.

BruceCrow said...

GSCoulson, we still aren't there yet, but we're getting closer. [said with far more optimism than is justified]

Amy, eventually it will be, but by then it might be my grandchildren who publish it. ;)