Monday, October 20, 2014

The Early History of the Church in McNairy County

1888 Map of McNairy County Tennessee
Today, McNairy County is part of the Corinth, Mississippi Ward. But McNairy County's LDS history goes back almost to the beginning of the Church in Tennessee.

The earliest references I could find were pretty vague. In 1839, J. D. Hunter and Benjamin L Clapp held 25 meetings in McNairy County and baptized 14 people. (T&S 1:59) Then in 1840, Elder Norvel M. Head and Elder Sanders baptized 8 people, and organized a branch with total of 28 members. (T&S 2:339) I know; 14 plus 8 does not equal 28. Clearly there was something going on in McNairy county of which I don't have a record. In fact, I can't even find the names of the people involved. So I am missing a great deal. A few years later there is nothing. Did they emigrate? Did they join other churches? Not a clue. If only I had a name.

Elders Z. D. Wilson and David P. Rainey preached to Elder Rainey's "friends" in McNairy County in 1844. Elder Wilson described their efforts as "good success" though he also didn't give any names; only that he baptized 35 and organized 5 branches on that whole mission, which included other areas. He did not indicate whether any of the 35 were in McNairy County. But a little sleuthing reveals that Elder Rainey's friends might have been people he met through his relatives. His sister, Mary Ann Rainey had married David P. Howell in Hardin County and by 1844 they had moved back and forth across the McNairy/Hardin county line at least twice. Although none of them appear to have joined the Church, the family did host missionaries years later.

The fate of the Church over the next several years is one common to other areas in Tennessee. After the death of Joseph Smith, missionaries were called home. With the push to finish the Temple in Nauvoo, fewer missionaries were sent out, and none went to McNairy county. Then Brigham Young led most of the saints west, followed by the Utah war and then the Civil War. Missionaries didn't return to Tennessee to stay until the late 1860s, but it wasn't until 1881 that missionaries returned to McNairy county.

In October of 1881, Elder Joseph W. Thatcher & Richard C. Camp were sent to neighboring Hardin county. While there they expanded their efforts west into McNairy county. When B. H. Roberts visited them in November he found they were working with a couple of people who had relatives in Utah. Roberts did not mention any converts, or local members. But there were several who served as hosts. When they were able to persuade someone to let them use a building in which to preach, attendance was good. Robert did stay with Mr D Howell (probably the son of David P Howell) who shared that he was the nephew of David P. Rainey in Richmond, Utah. He treated the Elders well.

Missionary work continued in 1882, in this case by Elders Richard C. Camp and George Bartholomew. Camp was by then President of the West Tennessee Conference and had organized a branch in McNairy County. The branch included Hardin County, though I only have two possible names with no indication in which county they lived. I also find it hard to believe the branch would have comprised of just two people, which leads me to believe there may have been some people who still lived there who had been baptized in 1839/40.

Julia Josephine Howell (1882) Possibly a relative of David P. Rainey
Martha Winters (1882)

Later in 1882, Elders William S. Geddes, Joseph W. Thatcher Jr. and Thomas H. Merrill baptized a few more.  Now I have names, and partial baptismal dates.

Mary Eveline Thacker (1882)
James Henry Thacker (1882)
Anni Bell Thacker (1882)
Wm Richard Eddins (1882)
Nancy Ann Eddins (1882)

In 1884, the Southwest Tennessee conference was formed and McNairy county was part of it. Elder J. J. Fuller and L. A. Shepherd baptized five more.The record says NcNairy and Hardin County, but as near as I can figure it, everyone was living in McNairy county.

Wm Asbury Gunter (22 Jul 1884)
Martha Adalie Gunter (22 Jul 1884)
Ptolemy Virgil Irvin (22 Jul 1884)
Wm Riley Thacker (23 Jul 1884)
Barbara Catherine Thacker (23 Jul 1884)

Between 1884 and 1888, the tone of missionary work in West Tennessee changed. The Elders were assigned elsewhere and the branch faded into history. It would be after 1900 that missionaries would return to West Tennessee and 1908 before missionaries returned to McNairy County. But that is a story for another time.

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