Monday, April 27, 2015

Academy Tennessee Branch

Academy Branch took its name from the educational academy in which the early saints met. It was about 10 miles from Paris, Tennessee and was near the home of Colonel Solomon Copeland, possibly in a town called Sandy.

The first clear reference was in Wilford Woodruff's journal on May 17th 1835. "Preached at the Academy to A large congregation Also in the evening at Col Copelands." The reference is manner-of-fact, as though it was already a well known location. Woodruff had indeed been to Col Copeland's home the prior month (April 21-22) when he and Warren Parrish administered to Mrs Copeland, following which she recovered from her illness. It is likely that during their visit they arranged for the use of the academy building for their sermon three weeks later, and asked the Copelands to spread the word of their coming.

Woodruff returned to the Academy to preach a little more frequently than every month. In 1835, he and Elder Parrish were there on June 14th, and then by himself on July 12th, August 9th & 23rd, September 6th, October 11th, and December 13th. In each case Woodruff preached to a crowd and spent the night at the Copeland home.

Although Woodruff does not specify the organization of the Academy branch or people being baptized into the branch, by February 26th, 1836 the branch has 8 members. Abraham O Smoot, the only other source for the history of the Academy branch, described meeting twice in April 1836 at the Academy near Col Copeland's home. By May 28th there are 10 members.

Near the end of his mission in Tennessee, Woodruff included more names in his daily journal. On September 2nd, 1836 he recorded that "President Patten represents the sulpher well Academy Branch in good standing. Two been added since last Conference Lewis & Robert Copeland & one been Expeled from the above named Church by the name of Emily Dyer." 

That gives me the names of three converts:

Lewis Copeland
Robert Copeland
Emily Dyer

Although I can only approximate the baptism dates (summer 1836) for the Copeland men, Emily Dyer must have been baptized before that in order for her to have been expelled over the same time period. As for Solomon and his wife (Sarah Tippett) there is no indication either ever joined the Church. It is clear in 1844 when he was approached to be Joseph Smith's running mate, that Solomon was not a member. But the membership list is only one of the mysteries. The actual location of the Academy branch remains unknown. But I have a theory.

I knew it was about 10 miles from Paris. Missionaries of the period were great about recording how far they traveled and 10 miles was the distance given again and again. I also knew it was near the home of Col Solomon Copeland, and based on the journal entries of Abraham O. Smoot it was near a town called Sandy.

On Sunday, the 3rd, [April 1836] rode 11 miles to fill an appointment in Sandy, at the academy; spent the night at Col. Coperland's house. (Abraham Owen Smoot Journal, p 34)

There is however no town by that name in the area today. I thought that Sandy may refer to the community of Big Sandy, on the Big Sandy river near where it flows into the Tennessee River. It is a little further than I expected, being almost 14 miles from the center of Paris. But within an acceptable margin of error, I guess. But its location is set by the current shoreline of Kentucky Lake, a man made lake that did not exist in 1836. Could the original academy, and the town of Sandy, be today under water?

Woodruff, provided another clue. In his journal, he used the name Sulpher Well Academy, a name he used only one other time. Sulphur Well turns out to be somewhat famous, or at least it was at the time.

Sulphur Wells, Tennessee.
Could one of the buildings in the background be the Academy?

Henry County's first tourist attraction, Sulphur Well, was created by accident in 1821, when an artesian well of sulphur water was struck in an attempt to locate a large salt bed on a former Chickasaw reservation. Eventually a summer resort was erected at the site to accommodate the large numbers of people who came to drink the water, which was believed to have health benefits. Many sought refuge at Sulphur Well during the 1837 yellow fever epidemic. In 1944 Sulphur Well was covered by the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kentucky Lake, the largest man-made lake in the United States and the second largest in the world. (

Pre 1944 historical references place the well "near the bottom of the Big Sandy River, and nine miles from its mouth." (State Board of Health Bulletin, Vol.4, No.12, 15 July 1889)

Although I could find no reference to a town being flooded at the same time, there most certainly were communities along the river that were inundated like Sulphur Well.

I did find a road in Henry county named "Sulphur Well Academy Road." It runs for about a mile toward Kentucky Lake, stopping about half a mile short of the shore. At its terminus is a church, named Sulphur Well Church of Christ. It is no where near old enough.

To cement the deal, I dug up a map of the civil district of Henry county from before 1944. Situated clearly on the map was civil district 15 with the town of Sulphur Well hand written near the center. Using that map I can place Sulpher Well on a modern map. And you guessed it: very much underwater. I guess I'll cross this one of my list of historic LDS branches to visit.


gscoulson said...

Great deduction on finding the location of that underwater city! Who would have thought...

Anonymous said...

Sulphur Well is under water now. However, there is a creek known as Mormon Branch just north of Puryear on US HWY 641 and crosses Valentine Road heading east to the East Fork of Clark's River. Incidentally this is 10 miles north of Paris.

Anonymous said...

There is also the historical Spring Hill Academy which was located just to the south of present day Puryear.