Early Soutwest Mississippi Territory

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Another valuable accession was made in the family of Rev. Mattew Bowman who settled in the southwestern portion of Amite County.  Rev. Bowman was considered a very pious, active and useful preacher.  He was born in Sumter District, SC about 1757, where he grew up, married and converted, entering the ministry in his home place.  In 1804 with a wife and seven children, he moved to Bedford County, Tennessee, near Shelbyville.  After proving his worth in the community, Bowman's Chapel was named after him.  Mr. Axley approached Mr. Bowman after his converts had grown, and asked him to bring his community into the regular circuit.  He agreed, as Bowman had a taste for pioneering anyway.  He disposed of his possessions and headed for the waters of the Amite River, where he soon fitted up a house on the western boundary of the Amite.

There lived in the Amite community a clever, quiet and moral family who had been brought up among the Friends, or Quakers.  Having none of their own faith in the area, they soon joined with Mr. Bowman in public worship.  In this family there were two notable daughters already grown to womanhood.  Their religion had taught them not to kneel, but Mr. Bowman convinced them of the posture of the sinner, and they were soon converted to the Methodist practice, and became members of the faith.

Mr. Bowman soon collected enough members to form a Society.  He then encouraged the people to build a house of worship.  In a short time a wooden church was erected at a central place.  The settlement was midway between the older settlements in Wilkinson County to the west, and the new settlements on the Amite River to the east, which suggested Midway as the name of their church, which still existed at the time of this writing, except that the old log hewn building was replaced with a more elegant and costly structure.  Midway was taken into the Wilkinson Circuit and became a great center of Methodism in Mississippi.

It was at Midway that Bishop McKendree attended his first Annual Conference in Mississippi on Nov. 7, 1817, in conjunction with a camp-meeting.  The Bishop then spent a week with the Bowman family.  Mr. Bowman was a prominent figure here until his death in 1827 "at the age of three-score and ten years."  His funeral service was preached by his devoted friend, Rev. William Winans.  He was buried near his homeplace.  Bowman's son James was converted at the annual camp-meeting at "dear old Bethel" in Wilkinson in 1826 and soon after became a minister himself, preaching in Southern Mississippi and the eastern parishes of Louisiana for many years before he moved West of the Mississippi to Washita
Parish, where at age 75 he was still living, according to the author.

In the older settlements church building became common.  Most were of hewn logs and plainly furnished but of ample dimensions.  Good churches were built in Natchez, Washington, Kingston in Adams County, and several in Wilkinson by 1826, when the Selsertown community built Union Chapel.  The attendance was good.  This year there were 639 white and 150 colored members of the Methodist Church in the Territory.

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The Western Conference for the year 1812 assembled in Cincinnati on October 1, 1811. Bishops Asbury and McKendree were both present.  Asbury said in his Journal that there were 102 preachers at this time, 22 less than needed.  This was the last time that the Conference met as the "Western" Conference.  Another Annual Conference would be established in Mississippi in 1813, with Bishop R. R. Roberts.  Mississippi was isolated by the War.

Appointments made this year were:

Mississippi District- Samuel Dunwody, P.E.
Wilkinson- Sela Paine, Louis Hobbs
Natchez- John Johnson, Samuel S. Lewis
Claiborne- John W. Kennon
Amite- William Winans
Rapides- Frederick D. Wimberly
Washita- Thomas Griffin
Attakapas- John S. Ford
Tombigbee- William Houston, Isaac Quinn
New Orleans- Miles Harper

 The South Carolina Conference turned over the Tombigbee Country to the Mississippi District.  This gave us two of the most valuable preachers at this time in the Territories, John W. Kennon and John S. Ford.

John S. Ford was a native of Chester District, South Carolina, and was converted in his early youth.  At about 19 years of age, he was licensed and admitted on trial in the SC Conference, about 1809.  In 1810 he traveled the Appalachian Circuit as the junior of C. Harwell, and the next year he was sent to Tombigbee, a distance of 500 miles from his home, 300 of which was through an unbroken wilderness inhabited by savages.  His circuit took in 70 or 80 miles of settlements on the Tombigbee River, extended west to the settlements on the Chickasawhay River.  The next two years he was appointed to the Attakapas Country. In 1814 , he traveled the eastern part of Amite and Pearl River.  In 1815, Ford returned to the Tombigbee Circuit, with Thomas Owens as his colleague.  He was ordained deacon at the Conference at the end of that year.  He never returned to Mississippi.  He died at the age of 81 in Macon GA after a 60 year career as a minister.

Samuel Dunwody was admitted into the SC Conference in 1806, and traveled there for six years before his appointment as presiding elder in Mississippi, but if he ever came to Mississippi the author has no proof.  The Creek Indians now assumed a hostile attitude toward white people, and the occupied about 300 miles of the Territory through which Dunwody would have to  pass through to get to the Territory from Georgia, and that circumstance may have prevented the trip.  The following year it is noted that the Bishops would not allow the ministers to make the trip to Conference because of the danger.

Lewis Hobbs was a Georgian by birth, becoming a minister at the age of about 21.  At 25 he was admitted to the SC Conference where he labored 3 years on large circuits. He was then sent to recruit the small band of itinerants scattered through the territories. He spent a year in the Wilkinson circuit with Sela Paine, then became a missionary to New Orleans, where he became "consumptive."  After spending the following winter with his friends in Mississippi in 1814, he bid them a final farewell saying he was going home to die.  In a state of extreme feebleness he traveled a thousand miles, reaching his home in Georgia in June, where he died.  Hobbs had "a slender constitution" and was highly esteemed for his amiability, simplicity, gravity and zeal.

John Johnson was admitted to the Western Conference in the fall of 1808, and after traveling three years, north of the Wilderness, was sent to Natchez for one year before returning to Tennessee.  He traveled for a total of about 26 years, then located.

Samuel S. Lewis was admitted to the Western Conference, and immediately sent to Natchez as the junior of John Johnson. The next year he was appointed to form and travel Pearl River, "so famous in after-years as the hot-bed of primitive, out-spoken, and progressive Methodism."  At the close of his second year there, he returned to Tennessee and located after one year.

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The most remarkable man, according to the author, was Thomas Griffin.  He was attractive, and made a deep impression on the people in Mississippi and Louisiana.  He was of Welsh extraction, and a Virginian by birth, though brought up in Oglethorpe County, GA on the outskirts of civilization.  His mother was a Baptist, and his father was "what he called a higland, or dry-footed Baptist, one who said 'Go down to the Water,' but never went there
himself."  Thomas grew up familiar with hardships, rude manners, fun and frolic.  The warm hearted piety of his mother, who encouraged her children to attend the Methodist meetings with her, won Thomas over, and he was soon converted.  His father discouraged his calling to preach as an itinerant because of his lack of education, the moneyless  calling that would doom him to a life of poverty.  Nevertheless, he was admitted to the SC Conference in
the latter part of 1809, and traveled there for two years, until his third appointment sent him to the Washita Circuit.

Thomas Griffin created a sensation among the few Americans scattered throughout the Washita Circuit, with his peculiar style of preaching, direct and powerful, that made each feel as though he spoke directly to them.  It was said that he was "A diamond of the purest water, but he lacks the polish of the lapidary."  He was called "A son of thunder."  Some were offended at his plainness of speech, but returned to hear him when he came back to preach.
Griffin said, "Yes, men will degrade themselves to the level of the brute, and literally wallow in the filthy pools of the most offensive and damning vices, but if the preacher portrays their crimes in their native colors, and warns them of their dangers and coming doom without the speedy reformation, their ears are the most refined organs of their bodies, and they accuse him of using vulgarisms."  Yet he was the most successful preacher on the Washita circuit.

Several families joined the Church at an early date in the Prairie Mer Rouge, where Thomas Griffin formed a Society at the head of the Island de Seard, consisting mainly of Mrs. Judge McLaughlin, her two sisters Misses Jane and Nancy Morrison, and a few others of the McLaughlin family.  Griffin also had success in the pine hills west of the Washita River.  One conversion was that of Sylvanus Bascum.  Bascum had come at an early age from puritanical New England as a young adventurer in a young new country.  Upon his conversion by Mr.
Griffin, he invited him into his home and asked his counsel and prayers.  Bascum took Griffin's advice and became a prayer leader and a pillar in the church until his death about 1830.

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New Orleans was only visited at intervals since Elisha W. Bowman had been there in 1806.  It was again left off the list of appointments after 1813, and not assigned a preacher until 1819, then disappears again until 1824 when Rev. B. M. Drake sent a report of 23 white and 60 colored members.  Very little is known of history there during this time period.  In 1811 a worthy gentleman of Irish descent named William Ross of the Presbyterian Church, in which he later became a ruling elder, reported he had moved his family there form Ohio and permanently located there.  The following year he was appointed flour inspector for the port of New Orleans, by Governor Claiborne, which office he held until his death in 1832.  Mrs. Ross was a Methodist, and because of his love and appreciation for her, he contributed to the advancement of her church by means, and welcoming itinerant preachers to his home.

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The family of Adam Tooley was among the first members of the Methodist Church in Natchez, if not the first.  Adam Tooley was an Englishman by birth, and lived in New Berne, NC prior to 1760.  He came to Natchez as a Methodist prior to 1803, as that year he was mentioned as one of the trustees of Jefferson College.  He took an active part in all things pertaining to Adams County.  He subscribed and paid $50 to the building of the first Methodist Church in Natchez in 1807.

His son, James Tooley, born in New Berne 6-22-1760, embraced the faith at about the age of 25.  He lived in Natchez with his wife until about 1845 at his death.

Another of Adam's sons was Rev. Dr. Henry Tooley, M.D., born 6-27-1773 in New Berne, where he was converted at the age of 15, and he commenced the study of medicine at 18.  He appears in WiIliamson County, TN in 1804 as a local preacher.  Lorenzo Dow said in his Journal that he heard Tooley preach 10-21-1804 at Liberty Hill Camp-meeting "on the jerk and dancing exercises."  Mr. Tooley settled in Natchez in 1811 or 1812, where he acted as trustee of Jefferson College in Washington, six miles south of Natchez.  He was well-
educated in science and the classics, as well as his two professions.  The last interview the author had with Bishop McKendree was the mansion of Dr. Tooley in 1834.  Tooley was also a prominent and useful citizen, often filling responsible positions in institutions and government of the city. He died in 1848 at the age of 75.

The ladies of the Tooley family were also excellent church members. The daughter of Adam Tooley, Henrietta Tooley,  was the wife of John W. Bryan, who lived in Washington.  The author says they gave a rich fruitage to the Church in the way of pious and useful children.

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The church at Spring Hill in Jefferson County, under the labors of John C. Johnson was being developed at this time with the assistance of the families of  Baldridge, Forman, and Marble.  John J. Robertson and Thomas Owens Jr. had joined the church in 1808, and both were called on by their elder brethren to "do their duty" and use their skills for the church.

John J. Robertson was born in Sumter District, SC 11-16-1787  and came to Mississippi with the family in his boyhood.  He was about 12 when he was converted, of sterling integrity, moral, reticent and modest, with but little education.  In time he became  a local and traveling preacher, entering the itinerancy until he was over 50 years old, where he served a number of circuits and colored missions before returning to his family.  At the age of 79, he died on 11-8-1866.

Thomas Owens Jr. was the son of Thomas and Frances Owens, born near Charleston, SC 1-8-1787. His parents moved to Jefferson County and contributed to the building up of Spring Hill Church. Thomas Owens Jr. was " a peculiar youth", full of fun and frolic, with "the gift of nature."  In early manhood his exuberance led him to be "perverted to vicious purposes,"... "addicted to profanity, Sabbath-breaking and occasional drunkenness and horse-racing."   When intoxicated, he was rude and noisy.  On one occasion, while riding an
impromptu race near Selsertown, he was thrown over his horse's head, and fell with such violence on his face and breast that respiration was suspended, and had not his friends come up and turned him out of the blood about his mouth and nose, he would have never breathed again, according to the author.  Very unpromising material for a Methodist preacher was Thomas Owens Jr.  But the prayers of pious parents prevailed, and he was converted during a service of Miles Harper at Spring Hill.  His former companions did not want to give him
up, as he was a jovial friend.  They tempted him many times, but his determination to live right was stronger, and he joined the Church, forsaking his friends.  He lived for nearly 60 years in the Church.

Rev. Newet Vick, John C. Johnson, and the Baldridges at Spring Hill immediately put Tommy Owens to work in social meetings.  Tommy and John Johnson soon became "true yoke-fellows."  They conducted revivals where the higher the excitement, the noisier Tommy became.  The community soon became to small for Tommy and John.  They wanted to expand their usefulness.  The town of Greenville had become the county site of Jefferson, and was a thriving community, but the people were " decidedly wicked."  The two youths asked permission from several of the families to hold meetings and soon "a religious awakening was manifested in the community."  Tommy Owens led the singing, and was said to come as near to singing all over, with body and soul, as any man ever had.   John C. Johnson was compactly built, and had a fine Kentucky constitution, capable of great labor and endurance. On the other had, Tommy Owens was small and thin, with a sickly appearance in his youth, which made him look cadaverous by the time he was through his revivals at Spring Hill.  He was thought near to death, but lived to the age of 80 years.

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A church was organized at Greenville with about 60 members.  For about 12 years there was regular preaching there until the site was moved to Fayette.  Other places of trade opened in the county, and Greenville went utterly out of existence as a town.  In 1840 another church was organized near where the one in Greenville had stood, by the name of Bellegrove.  Six worthy young men were recommended by this church for license to preach;  George T. Vickers and John A. B. Jones were the only two living at the time of this writing.

The first meeting of the Mississippi Conference was held at Spring Hill in Jefferson County on Nov. 1, 1813. The appointments were as follow:

Mississippi District- Samuel Sellers, P.E.
Claiborne- John Phipps
Natchez- George A. Colbert
Wilkinson- Wm. Winnans, John Ira Ellis Byrd
Amite- Elisha Lott
Pearl River- Samuel S. Lewis
Tombigbee- Richmond Nolley, John Shrock
New Orleans- Lewis Hobbs

Louisiana District- Miles Harper. P. E.
Rapides- Thomas Griffin
Attakapas- John S. Ford
Washita- Miles Harper

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Samuel Sellers had traveled here in 1810, then one on the Barren Circuit in Kentucky, the other on Nollichuckie, on Holston Circuit.  He returned to Mississippi where he presided as elder for four years.  Sellers was of medium size, neatly put up, handsomely developed and capable of hard labor and endurance.  He was of light complexion and hair sandy.  His style of preaching was Wesleyan, his manner warm and exciting.  He would pause about halfway
through a sermon and put his hand over half his face and one ear.  When asked why, he could not tell.  The author notes that many ministers of the same generation had the same habit.  He was an excellent leader until Oct. 10, 1816 when he resigned the position to Bishop Robert R. Roberts.

John Phipps was admitted into the Western Conference in November 1810, after traveling two years in the central portion of the Conference area, and was received with deacon's orders.  He was assigned to Claiborne.  The author has no information on him during 1814, except that he traveled Amite Circuit that year and left the savor of a good name.   After two years, Phipps returned to the Tennessee Conference where he traveled two years, received elder's orders and located in 1817 in Hartford Kentucky.  Phipps was remembered as very popular, a man of below common stature, compactly built, full of life and with a tremendous voice.

George A. Colbert traveled two years in the western part of the Western Conference before he was ordained deacon.  For his third year he was appointed to the Natchez Circuit for one year, before locating. The author had no reliable information on him, or where he ended up.

Elisha Lott was admitted on trial in the Tennessee Conference, which met at Fountain Head, Nov. 1, 1812, and was sent to the Amite Circuit.  In 1814 he was on the Wilkinson Circuit, and in 1815 on Rapides in Louisiana, when he returned to the Conference where he was ordained deacon.  In 1816 he traveled the Dixon Circuit in the Green River District, and in 1817 he transferred to the Mississippi Conference where he labored on the Tombigbee Circuit for a year before locating.  After spending several years in difference areas of
Mississippi as local preacher, he settled his family in the NE part of Madison County, where he lived a good old age.  Lott had some oddities of a very innocent character, which made him appear eccentric.  In 1836 he caused a ripple at the Conference of Madison County by rising during the meeting and depositing his credentials on the secretary's desk, and declaring his resignation as a minister and member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, for reasons unknown to the other ministers. Mr. Lott soon affiliated with the Methodist Protestant Church, and continued as a minister for the rest of his life.

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Three transfers from the SC Conference were John Ira Ellis Byrd, Richmond Nolley, and John Schrock.

Richmond Nolley  probably came through the Wilderness in 1812 with Thomas Griffin and Lewis Hobbs.  The author thinks Nolley was in the Tombigbee Circuit with William Houston and Issac Quinn that year, but found no mention of him.  He did find mention of his preparation for the trip west with Griffin and Hobbs.  On the trip they passed through Milledgeville, the capital of Georgia to obtain passports from Governor authorizing them to pass safely on the US mail-road to Mississippi.  After obtaining the passports, Nolley said to the others, "Stop a minute, brethren.  The Governor has given us safe passports through the Indian Nation.  Let us now unitedly ask God to give him a safe passport from this to a better world."  The travelers soon entered the Wilderness and after the usual difficulties of bridgeless and ferryless streams, changeable weather, hard rides, crossing area inhabited only by savages, 350 miles in extent and camping out 11 nights, they arrived safely at
Tombigbee where they split up.  Hobbs went to Wilkinson, and Griffin to Washington.

John Ira Ellis Byrd "was a gem," having all of the elementary physical, intellectual and moral qualifications required.  Ira, as he was known, was born on Lynch's Creek, Sumter District, NC on May 15, 1791.  His father was Redden Byrd and mother was Ann Huggins Byrd.  They named him after Ira Ellis, the noted Methodist minister.  Redden died when Ira was 10 years old, and left a note for his mother to place Ira under the guardianship of some good man who would teach him a safe and profitable trade.  Ann put him in the charge of Paul
Severance, an uncle by marriage who taught him to make shoes.  When Ira was 19, he was saved on July 7, 1810.  In less than six months he entered the ministry on trial with the SC Conference, where he traveled two years before being ordained deacon.  He then went to Wilkinson as the junior of William Winans.  Byrd was not tall, but square-built, heavy and unusually muscular, with a large and well-balanced head, an aquiline nose and a contoured face, and an air of benevolence, fervent in spirit and fluent in speech.

John Shrock was a native of South Carolina, of German extraction, low in stature, short, thick neck and large heard," and put up like a regular old-fashioned Dutchman."  He was brought up as a "striker" in a blacksmith shop, attending camp-meetins where men like James Russell, the brothers Reddick, and Lovick Pierce, William M. Kennedy, Hillard Judge were leading ministers.  Here he was saved at one of the meetings, falling face forward then jumping up on a bench with an exhortation for others to join him.  The ministers put him to
work immediately and in a short time Schrock was as noisy and boisterous a little Dutchman as you ever saw in a camp-meeting.  He was admitted to Conference with Ira Byrd and traveled two years before graduating to deacon's orders and going with Byrd to Mississippi in early 1813.  Obtaining passports from Georgia's Governor, they traveled through the Wilderness on the usual route with all its hardships, arriving at the Tombigbee where they met Richmond Nolley.  Ira Byrd then made his solitary way west about 250 miles to Wilkinson.

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