Monday, October 26, 2015

Hagoth's 1883 Mission to Tennessee, part 1

In 1883, a missionary then serving in the Southern States Mission, wrote at least two letters home to the Utah journal from west Tennessee. He did not, however sign his name. Instead he used a unique pen name found only in the Book of Mormon: Hagoth.

For those of you who don't know  Hagoth was noted as a very curious man who took a group of his people north on ships away from the central Book of Mormon community and disappeared from the narrative altogether. Someone with better sociological training can guess why this missionary picked that name, but I digress.

The letters are nearly illegible, but working with multiple copies of the same document I was able to decipher most of it. And perhaps with a little detective work we can figure out who Hagoth was.

In Tennessee
A Little Missionary Experience of the Old Sort
     Editor Journal – On the 19th of March I first set foot on the shores of Tennessee, the former home of Old Hickory and others who have figured conspicuously in the history of our republic. I was not a little disappointed, for I expected to find a rolling country, well cultivated, here and there dotted with the residence of a rich planter, with  its broad plaza and hall; the negro huts, two I thought might be visible. But in place thereof I found a rough hilly country. The log hut of my “ideal planter” was almost hidden from sight in every low ravine or by the forest, and instead of well cultivated farms I found poor soil and that only half cultivated. The farming implements of our mountain home are things of the far future in this part of Tennessee. The people as a whole are very poor, with little education. Corn bread and bacon, with them, is the staff of life, while milk and dried peaches are the luxuries. I did not think it possible that Utah could be so far ahead of these old states in the matter of education, much less in public and private improvements. But so it is.
     On the 20th I walked 10 miles from the place where I [landed] out into the country, where I met Elder C. F. Martineau1 and companions who seemed pleased to see me, and kept me busy the remained of the day answering questions.
     On the 22nd Bro Martineau and I crossed the Tennessee river into West Tennessee for the purpose of opening a new field of labor if possible. We did not let and opportunity pass without informing the people who we were and the nature of our business. We stopped them on the road, invited ourselves into their houses, went to them in the fields, that all might know who we were. One old lady suggested that we should keep our [kindness] to ourselves saying “I reckon they’ll [flail] (flog) you. Another told her husband he [would] not get wood to warm us for she “vow’d she’d have no Mormons around her.” Next day as we sat on a log by the way-side to rest, our ears were greeted with “sic-um, sic-um” from a house a quarter mile distant. A glance in the direction was enough to convince us it meant “move on” and we moved. In the evening we came to a little town and as we passed by the first house a gentleman opened the gate and kindly invited us in. “Walk in! Walk in! Take seats there, and I’ll be in in a moment.” Were words we were not used to listening to, but we obeyed. We succeeded in securing a good house and preached to a pretty fair audience that evening, giving out an appointment for the next Sunday. Saturday passed of pleasantly , until we were seated at dinner when our host commenced to enquire(sic) about our business, which we answered as well as time would permit for we saw a gathering storm. He finally broke out with “Do you preach polygamy?” “No sir.” Do you believe in polygamy? Because if you do you can pay your bill and leave my house.” We left. A gentleman by the name of Austin took us in and said we might stay as long as we pleased.
     Our meeting failure on Sunday, on account of the rain; but we gave out an appointment for the 8th of April and left the place. On Friday the 6th we attempted to recross the river to fill our appointment when a wind storm suddenly arose and drove us back into a creek, when we had to patiently wait for about two hours before a lull took place, when we succeeded in crossing. We stayed that night with a man name Sebolt, who appeared interested in our doctrine and kindly invited us to call on our return. As we entered the village in the evening we felt a depressing influence. Our friend Austin, too, was changed, but we thought we would stay it out and hold the meeting. We attended early the appointed place, rung the bell and waited. The hour drew near but no one came. There were a few leaders on the street, who
“Were a scaly old set, and wherever we’d go, 
We’d find then in groups or strung out in a row – 
sitting around.”2
     When the time had really elapsed, Bro. M suggested that we leave, but ten minutes yet remained and we sat down to wait, that the inhabitants might be left without excuse. Just the two men came up and warned us to leave as our doctrine did not suit them, and if we remained we would be put down upon, so to speak. We tried to reason with them, but it had as little effect as water has when poured upon a goose’s back, all they wanted was our room. They had not come to argue with us. If we had any misgivings about their intentions a glance at the hickory withe they held in their hands would convince us. Our friend Sebolt received us kindly and we had a pleasant time talking to a few friends he [asked] in to spend the evening.  On the 9th we crosses back into our old field in safety.
New Era, Tenn., April 11, 1883

To be continued next week here.

1 Charles Freeman Martineau (1861-1935) of Logan Utah.
2 Here the author quotes a portion of a poem called Sitting Around. It describes men who have no employment and spend their time drinking and gossiping with their friends. I have found two examples of the poem, one from 1877 and another from 1880, neither of which indicate who wrote the it


gscoulson said...

That's quite the narrative. Great job on interpreting his poor handwriting, it seems no small task. Interesting to have a contemporary comparison between budding Utah and established Tennessee at the time. Lots of details and thoughts. Interested in reading more!

BruceCrow said...

Thank you. You will get to read more. Hagoth continues with a second letter next week.