Monday, March 9, 2015

Family Lore about Abraham Church: Meeting David Patten

Abraham Church was the first in his family to settle in Middle Tennessee. He chose to build a home along the Natchez Trace (go look it up) where it crosses the Duck River. There he also built a ferry to serve the traffic along the Trace which thrived before the introduction of riverboats to the area. The family also farmed, raised horses, and built a race track. The family roots are deep in the area today. There is an annual reunion of his descendants in August. Every year I have been there are easily a hundred people there. Very few of them are Mormon.

I have struggled with the family lore about Abraham Church. Family historians disagree about whether or not he joined the Mormon Church. Part of the argument is one of identity. The story, as it has been told as far back as the 1880's (B.H Roberts recorded it) was that the family's first encounter with missionaries was with David Patten. The tradition was that Patten went hunting with the family while he was on his mission to Tennessee. He does not appear, however, to have joined the church at the time.

But did it really happen? Did the family really meet with the first President of the Quorum of the Twelve, the first missionary to Tennessee, and one of the earliest LDS martyrs? Or was this lore fabricated to make a better tale. The window for such a story is small. Patten arrived in Tennessee in Oct 1834 but was there for only four months. He returned again in March 1836 and stayed through September before heading to Missouri where he died in 1838 in the Battle of Crooked River. All the stories of his missions to Tennessee describe events in Henry & Benton counties. Abraham Church lived in Hickman county, about 75 miles from Benton county, so it is easy to dismiss the "hunting with David Patten" story as fanciful.

But even though there are no accounts of preaching in Hickman county, there is solid evidence that Warren Parrish & David Patten were in Hickman county from June 23rd to June 28th, 1836, and probably longer than that. Although Parrish wrote little about their time in Hickman county, records show he performed a marriage there on the 23rd of June 1836 between Mr. E. Matlock and Miss Susan K Fry. On the 28th of June 1836, Parrish wrote a letter describing persecution in Benton county, but posted the letter in Hickman county. In a different letter written in November 1836, Parrish wrote that after the persecution in Benton county ...

"the brethren immediately sent us away to Middle Tennessee; and we entered into their synagogues and preached the word. These were more noble than those of Benton county, for they searched the scriptures daily whether these things were so; ... there seemed to be many believing, and a vast field open for laborers in the vineyard of the Lord in the south." M&A Vol 3 No 2 pg 404-406

Of course where in Middle Tennessee they went is unclear. Certainly Hickman county is in Middle Tennessee, and Abraham Church lived in Hickman county, so while the evidence makes it plausible, and it may be a smoking gun, it isn't a slam dunk.

So while I once thought that this particular family story was more myth than history, there are enough pieces in the right place that I can't dismiss it out of hand. So I will continue to look for clues. Just the other day I ran across one more piece to the puzzle. Abraham subscribed to the Times and Seasons by letter, in the fall of 1841, sending $2.00. What this means I will leave until next week...

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