yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


Gen. Marcus J. Wright


History of the Presbyterian Church of Bethel-Sketches of the Families of Joshua Ferguson,
Charles H. Dorion, Sr., Thomas W. Melugin, Samuel D. Pace, John L. Wilkinson,
Thomas Prather, Stovall, John Rains, Allen Sweat, D. Hill, Sr., James M. Huggins,
John Hamin, A. Houston, Samuel Chambers.


Bethel Church, situated in McNaiiy county, Tenn., was organized by Rev. John Gillespie, on the 7th day of September, 1828.

It consisted of 11 members, as follows:


Alexander McCullar,
George Kidd,
Wm. B. Wilson,
John Gilliam
Alex M. Brown,

Jane McCullar,
Ann Kidd
Lydia Wilson
Rosanna Gilliam
Nancy Brown
Mary Houdon.

Alexander McCullar, Geo. Kidd, W. B. Wilson, John Gilliam, and A. M. Brown were elected and ordained ruling elders.

Mr. Gillespie preached a portion of his time to the infant church. With what degree of success his ministry was attended there is no record. But there were additions to the church at various times, and it seemed to do well and promised to prosper for a few years. But a proselytizing spirit from another branch of the church broke in upon it, and well nigh swallowed it up.

After the Rev. Mr. Gillespie ceased his labors among them, the Rev. John L. Sloan ministered to them for two or three years. His services were discontinued in 1836. The Church was then vacant, with only an occasional supply, until the spring of 1840. At that time Rev H. M. Kerr commenced preaching to them regularly.


Joshua Ferguson was long a citizen of McNairy county, settling in the Second Civil District, on the water of Mosses Creek, soon after the county was properly organized, and living there until his death, near fifty years afterwards. He was a son of James Ferguson, who came to Tennessee from South Carolina, and settled in Warren county, Tenn. James Ferguson was in the American army in the Revolutionary War. The Ferguson family were related to Col. Ferguson, who fell on the battle of Kings Mountain, fighting gallantly for the British cause.

Joshua Ferguson was a farmer by occupation. He was a soldier in the war of 1812 to 1814, which is popularly known as Jackson's war. He was under General Coffer, and participated at the battle of the "Horse Shoe." He was at New Orleans, but was not in the battle.

While quite a young man he lived awhile among the Indians, and "plowed and worked on the farm for an Indian family," and while staying there an Indian maiden fell in love with him and managed to get him unwillingly to promise to marry her. She would roast potatoes and carry to him in the field. But when she had invited the neighboring Indians to the wedding, and he saw them from the field gathering around the wigwam to witness his marriage, he mounted his horse and left the settlements.

He lived in Warren county and married Mary Herring there, and afterwards moved to McNairy county, raised a large family and lived to be 86 or 87 years old. He was an ideal farmer, and was always in politics an "Old Line Whig." He counseled against secession, and was always a Union man during the War of the Rebellion. He was a great reader of the Bible, never held to any specific views as to christianity, was never a member of any church nor of any secret society, was a great lover of the Bible and a moral and honest man. He died in the year 1872, and was buried at Sulphur Springs Graveyard, surrounded by friends and relatives, who had known him long.


Charles H. Dorion, Sr., was born in the parish of l'Assumption, Lower Canada, on the 10th day of April, 1801. He came b Tennessee in 1825, and at Calhoun, McMinn county, on December 17th, 1825, was married to Hannah Sanders, who was a member of the Sanders family of McNairy county, mentioned in this book. In 1832 he move to McNairy county, and settled at Adamsville, in the western part of the county. He entered into business here, which he continued until some time in 1835, when he removed to Purdy. He remained a citizen of Purdy until October, 1848, when he removed with his family to Bolivar, Hardeman county, where he died the 7th of March, 1870. Mrs. Dorion survived him until the 16th of September, 1875, when she died, and was buried by his side in the graveyard at Bolivar.

The children of the family were two sons - Charles H. Dorion, Jr., and W. C. Dorion. Charles went to California in 1849 or 1850, and after spending a year or more there in mining, returned to Tennessee. He settled in Memphis afterwards, and married Miss Ellen Morrison, and went into business as a cotton and commission merchant, in which he was quite successful. He was born in Calhoun Tenn., November .12th, 1831, and died in Memphis June 1st, 1871. He was a schoolmate and classmate of the author of this book, and was in all respects a man of admirable character.

W. C. Dorion, the younger son, was born at Purdy the 27th of June, 1838. He now resides at Bolivar, Tenn., is (at this writing) unmarried. He has held the responsible office of clerk of the County Court of Hardeman county for twelve years or more, and has discharged the duties to the satisfaction of his people.

Mrs. Dorion, the mother of Charles and Willoughby, was a woman of great beauty, and noted for her charity. The elder Dorion was a man of impulse and warm temperament, fond of his family, charitable to the poor, and upright and honest in all his dealings.


Thos. W. Melugin came to Purdy at an early time after the settlement of the county. His eldest son, Wm. Washington, went to California in 1850, but died in a few years. The next son, James, died at an early age of dropsy. The eldest daughter, Elizabeth, married twice. The second daughter, Mary Ann (Mrs. Riddle) is now living in Colombia, Tenn. The youngest daughter, Louisa, died at an early age.

Mr. Melugin was the most popular man among the boys in Purdy, during his day, being always ready to help them in their sports. Both he and his wife were charitable and highly respected people.


Samuel D. Pace was an early settler in Purdy. He came from Georgia. He was a tailor by trade but inclined to be a literary man, and indulged a great deal in writing poetry (?) He was an enthusiastic Whig in politics, and a leader in Whig demonstrations on public occasions.

His eldest son, John, a promising young man, died early. Samuel, the second son, died also at an early age. There were four daughters in the family.

by C. F. W.

John L. Wilkinson married Martha W. Wynne, in Wilson county, Tenn, March 20th, 1828, and moved from there soon after to Purdy, Tenn. George Wilkinson was born December 28th, 1828, I think in Purdy. I think my father was one of the first settlers of Purdy. He was a merchant tailor. I think all six of his children were born in Purdy. He lived there for many years, and was said to he a good man, a strict member of the Methodist church. My mother was also a member of the Methodist church 47 years. I have often heard my mother since my father's death, speak of old John McFerrin, and many other old preachers that once sheltered under my fathers roof, in time of big camp meetings and revivals. My father once owned the old Wilson Biggs Place, which stands on the road leading east of Purdy. The old mansion yet stands with its moss covered roof.

After many years in Purdy, my father started to move to Texas, and on his way he and my oldest sister Almeda died. I believe they died in 1845 or 1846, in Shelby county, Tenn., and were buried near Green Bottom. After their death my mother with five little children moved back to Purdy. George was the oldest, about 14 years old then. My mother worked hard day and night for her children; sent me to school every chance, mostly to free schools. George Wilkinson, after he became of age, went to Mexico, returned from there, stayed in Purdy a few years, and then went to California; died in Stockton, Cal., and was buried in Sacramento City. John L. Wilkinson was born January 7th, 1845, and died in 1845. Martha W. Wilkinson was born April 18, 1810, and died in Bolivar, Tenn., the 25th day of July, 1871. R. C. Wilkinson was born November 9, 1836, died April 19, 1871. Bettie married in Bolivar, Tenn., to Booker B. Hodges, of Virginia, and after his death married John M. Mitchell. She had three children by Mitchell - two girls and a boy. Some ten or fifteen years after my father's death my mother married in Purdy Henry Swann, of Virginia. Col. Henry Swann was once editor of the Jackson Whig. She had two children by Mr. Swann; the oldest, Mollie, married A. P. Piller, in Bolivar; the boy. Booker, or George Booker, died at Grand Junction with yellow fever February 19, 1878. He was about 21 years old, a telegraph operator and a nice and good boy.

Mrs. Wilkinson still lived in Purdy after her son George went to California with her three boys, _________ [blank space in text for names]; though we soon left and went in the Confederate Army. We lived in Purdy until after the surrender, and then moved to Bolivar, Tenn. P. F. Wilkinson, B. P. Wilkinson and Bettie Mitchell are the only three remaining children of John L. Wilkinson's family. P. F. Wilkinson was married to L. B. Moon September 11,1865, in Purdy, Tenn. He had two children; only one living, about 15 years old - Edgar Hodges. Cub Wilkinson was born March 28, 1842. Bettie Mitchell was born May 8, 1834. Jack Wilkinson was married to Sallie P. Moon January 5, 1870, at Camden, Tenn. C. F. Wilkinson married at the older Fountain Duke Place a daughter of W. C Moon.



Thomas Prather, (his wife was Rachel Jeanes,) an early settler in McNairy county, came from Lawrence district, South Carolina, and located in the south part of this county. Their children were:

Brice who married Martha Driver.
William married Unity Garrett.
Thomas married Hariett Sears.

Nancy married John Ray.
Mary married William Jacks.
Jane married William Grant.
Elizabeth married Josiah Jeanes
Rachel marries William Lamer.

All of their children (except Mary Jacks) raise families in McNairy county and quite a number of their descendents remain here, and are generally successful farmers. They dlied some years since at an advanced age (dates not remembered)


The Stovall family have been residents of McNairy county for many years, coming from Middle Tennessee. Their remotest ancestors, of whom they have any account, was Bartholomew Stovall, who was horn May 15th, 1755. He was in the Revolutionary War, and took part in the battle of King's Mountan, under Col. Williams. He was one among the early settlers of Davidson county, was in the Frontier Fort at Nashville, then known as "French Lick," and while living there and protecting themselves in the fort, two of his boys, mere children, wandered too far from the fort "hunting cows," and were slain by the Indians. He had married Agnes Nolew, and raised a family; and after her death he was again married to Mary Ham, who was born May 18, 1753. He died September 6, 1829. George Prior Stovall was a son of Bartholomew Stovall, and was known to many citizens of McNairy county. He was born in the year 1797, and lived near where his father settled, in Middle Tennessee, until some time after he had married Elizabeth Shull, and several children were born unto them among the number John M. Stovall and W. W. Stovall, who were afterwards well known in McNairy county. The family emigrated from Middle Tennessee in about the year 1827, first settling in Madison county, at the then village of Jackson. Moving from there in a few years afterwards, they settled in McNairy county, in the Second District, on Mosses Creek, and raised a large family. He was a poor man, and never accumulated much property, but succeeded in educating his children above the average at that time. In politics he was a strenuous Whig; He believed strong in maintaining the unity of the nation and the perpetuation of our institutions. He died at the place where he had lived for many years; the place is now known as the old Stovall place." Leaving Elisabeth a widow with several children to care for and educate, she did well her duty, living most of her time with John M. Stovall, who aided her in maintaining herself and family. Elizabeth Stovall was born November, 1800 married January 29, 1818, and died at the residence of Nancy E. Stovall on the 27th day of March, 1878. John Milton Stovall was born July 20, 1825, came to this county when a mere boy; married Nancy E. Ferguson on December 16th, 1846. Soon after his father's death he quit farming and moved to Springfield, Mo , engaging in house carpentering, but he returned to McNairy again within twelve months to help care for and provide for his widowed mother and family, which charge he met like a hero, though he was a very poor man, so far as property was concerned. In 1855 be moved to Purdy, then a flourishing town of several hundred inhabitants. Here he worked some time at this carpenter trade, and also kept grocery, run a livery stable, &c.; he did some work on the Purdy college. In politics he was always a Whig, and was once the Whig candidate for Register against Maj. Benjamin Wright; his party being in the minority, he was defeated by a slight majority. At the outbreak of the war he was opposed to secession and in favor of the Union. But when Tennessee, his native state, seceded, he sided with her afterwards and twice enlisted in the Confederate Army. He raised a company of volunteers, and was elected captain, but was never received in the service on account of the scarcity then of arms and provisions; he did not become a soldier, but went to farming to support his family. After the war he engaged in merchandising, as he had been immediately preceding the war. He studied law after the war and was admitted to the Bar as a practicing attorney on the day of ________ 1867. [blank space in printed text] At his death be was an attorney for the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, having acted in that capacity for some time previous. He died in the town of Bethel Springs, on the 28th day of November, 1870, where he had lived for some time previous. He left a large family, but few of whom were grown. Among his children that were well known in McNairy, county, was David Jerome Stovall, who was born on the 21st day of April, 1851. He was very apt at study and soon procured a good education and studied telegraphy. He opened the first telegraph office at the now flourishing town of Henderson, Madison county. He held the position of railroad agent and operator at Kenton, at Troy station, and at Bethel; was at the time of his death railroad agent and operator, and express agent at Bethel, getting a good salary, having the utmost confidence of his employers and the public. He had a brilliant mind and doubtless would have attained distinction had he have lived. He originated the idea of joining the interests of Falcon and Bethel in an effort to move the county seat to this railroad. He died greatly lamented on the 4th[?] day of August, 1876.


came to McNairy county in 1826. John Rains married Ann Gavin in 1798. Their children were:

William married Elizabeth Etter.
John married Jane Hammer.
James married Elizabeth Hughes.
Robert married Rebecca Cattangame.
Hugh G. married Margaret McCaron.

Elizabeth married Jacob Mace.
Nancy married Robert Luttrell.
Lucinda married John A. McAlpin.
Louisa married James Warren.

The elder Rains married in Randolph county, N.C. They located three miles south of Purdy. All their children, except Elizabeth Mace, raised large families in the county, and their offsprings at their death numbered (in grand and great-grand children) more than one hundred; many of them are yet living in the county. John Rains died in 1858, supposed to be 50 years old (no date of birth;) his widow died in 1864, fully up to that age. In the main they were farmers.


Allen Sweat, who married Nancy Ivens, came from North Carolina and located in McNairy county, four miles west of Purdy, in the year 1827. Their children were

Sons -
William married Elizabeth Trupe
Dallerson married Jane McAlpin
Dawson married Susan Hunt
Ezekiah married Sally Owens
Terrel married Lucy Cannon.
Hilsman married Peggy Murry

Daughters -
Cyntha married Zedariah Ivens
Cary married Alfred Pryor
Candes married Ward Gray


There are many things to admire and imitate in the character of the Hill people. In the history of the whole generation, not one ever gazed through a prison bar or brought disgrace in any manner upon the name. They are generally happy and contented, with a determination to win. Their education, generally, is upon an average, though it has been much neglected. Their chief occupation is farming, and not many have ever left it to follow any other. Their home is considered their place of retreat; and preferring the warmth of their firesides to the leisures of the outside world, they are never happier than when surrounded by those whom they love. Being of English and Irish descent, they are well developed men and women. They are noted for their longevity. Their average duration of life is 65 years. Many have lived far beyond it - not many beneath it.

They have been citizens of McNairy ever since the first settlements; they having moved to this county in the year 1828. They cams from Jefferson county, East Tennessee, and settled three miles north of Purdy, on Cypress Creek. Then McNairy presented a wild and desolate appearance. Wolves howled in the wilderness, panthers screamed in the jungle, large herds of deer grazed undisturbed on the sandy hills, while smaller game, such as squirrels and rabbits, played "bast" along the mossy streams. There was nothing of a civilized nature to be seen. Purdy, itself, only contained a few huts, and a rude log court house. There were no churches, no mills, and in fact, nothing that denoted an upward tendency; but, however, they found such land as best suited them, and, as was the custom then they were contented, (notwithstanding the deficiencies,) to wear patched clothes, and to hope for a better future.

The first mill that was erected in the settlement was built by Anthony Street on Cypress, on what is now known as the McCallum place. Some of the old debris is yet visible. The first church and school house was built near Cypress, at what is now known as Plunk's mills, in 1830. The first school was taught by Daniel Griffin. It was composed of students from all the surrounding settlements within ten miles. Then it was not considered a hardship to go ten miles to school; but now it is rather a difficulty for the boys to go one fourth of a mile. Some of the leading men, in McNairy today, were educated at this school. In the same year, and at the same place, a church was organized under the management of the Primitive Baptists, Franklin Beard acting as pastor. This settlement, known today as the Hill settlement, was among the largest then in the county. It was composed of old man Daniel Hill, Sr., and his eight sons and families, together with his sons-in-law, Isaiah Coffman, Thomas Griffin, and their families, and old Ben Walker, William Beatty, Samuel Houston, the Wilson and Rankin families.

The old generation has passed away, leaving their work in the hands of their children, which number seventy-five, now living in McNairy. Great changes have taken place since then. Instead of carrying our cotton to Memphis, (as was the custom then,) we find a market at home. The new age has brought many revolutions. The old one was buried in the "sweet long ago." The future opens her fields for improvement.



 James M. Huggins was born in Buncombe county, State of N.C., on the 27th day of May, 1801, and moved to McNairy county in the year 1839, and settled in the southern part of the county. He was married in 1823 to Elizabeth Robertson, in Lauderdale county, State of Alabama. They bad four children - three boys and one girl: Leroy M. Huggins, now residing at Corinth; John S. Huggins, McNairy county; J. L. Huggins, Corinth, Miss.; Elizabeth Cates, Kossuth, Miss., wife of R. C. Cates, son of Pleasant Cates, formerly of Purdy.


John Hamm, Sr., was born in South Carolina, and was 16 years old at the commencement of the Revolutionary War; served four years in the war. At the close of the war he married Phoebe Blasengame, and moved to Kentucky and shared the Indian troubles in that State, then moved to Middle Tennessee, lived some time there and, in 1826, moved to McNairy county and lived there until his death, which occurred in the year 1835. His wife survived him twenty years.

They had eleven children, most of whom moved to this county in the years 1826 and 1827. Their names were as follows: Mary Flat, Nancy McBride, Blasengame Hamm, James Hamm, Jacob Hamm, Thomas P. Hamm, John Hamm; the balance remained in Lauderdale county, Alabama. Thomas P. Hamrn, my father, was born in the State of Kentncky in 1798, and in 1818 married Tabitba Huggins, who was one year his senior, and at this date is living, moved to the county in 1826, settled on Muddy Creek, and shared all the hardships and trials incident in the settlement of a new country. His children's names are as follows: Jacob, Elizabeth, Phoebe, John M., Nancy, Sarah Benton, James M., Philip, Thomas J., Jane, Mary and Eliza; the following are the only survivors of the grave: John H. Hamm, Phoebe Fisher, Sarah Black, Nancy F____ [Fields?], and James H. Hamm. Thomas P. Hamm died 1856.


Arch. Houston was horn in the State of Pennsylvania, served through the Revolutionary War, and married Rosanna Cunningham, and at an early day moved to Kentucky, and two of his children were born in a fort. He moved to Middle Tennessee, lived there a few years and moved to McNairy county in 1822; lived in said county until his death, which occurred in the year 1837. The following are the names of his children: James, Nancy, Jane, John, Archibald, Rebecca, Robert C., Cyntha, David, and Andrew. They married as follows:

Sons -
James Houston married in La. (name not known)
Archibald married a Stephenson.
R. C. Houston married Rebecca Chambers.
Basil Houston married Harriet Eleander
Andrew Houston married Emily Barnhill.

Nancy married unknown
Jane married a Thomas
Rebecca married John Chambers
Cyntha married Henry Kirkland

Archibald Houston's family are all dead but Andrew, who lives in Texas.

R. C. Houston was born in Kentucky in 1799, moved to this county in 1822. Soon after married Rebecca Chambers before this county was organized; he had to go to Savannah to have the rights of matrimony solemnized. He with a number of other honest men knew what it was to contend with horse thieves at well as wild beasts. His children's names are as follows: Nancy, who died 6 years old; John, who died in infancy; Elizabeth J.; Archibald K.; Lucretia, died in infancy; Cyntha A.; Rosannah, who died in infancy.

Robert S., James T., all married as follows: Elizabeth J. married John M Hamm; Cyntha A. married James M. Hamm; Robert S. married Syrena Michel; James T. married, first, Margaret Meeks, lived with her until they had three children and she died; he married Josephine Michel. Robert C. Houston lived in this county 44 years, and in the year 1866 departed this life.


Samuel Chambers was born in South Carolina, in the year 1781. At an early day he moved to Middle Tennessee and married Nancy Mackey, and in 1822 moved to McNairy county, settled on what is called Chambers Creek, in the south part of this county, and lived in said county until his death, which occurred in 1858. His first wife died in 1839, and he married a widow, Watson. but survived her a few years. His children's names are as follows: John, Rebecca, Anna, Thomas, Elizabeth, Mary, Samuel, and married as follows: John Chambers married Rebecca Houston, Rebecca Chambers married R. C. Houston, Anna Chambers married Jefferson Eclam, Thomas Chambers married Elizabeth Barnhill, Elizabeth Chambers married John N. Barnhill, Mary Chambers married K C. Ribbard, Samuel Chambers married Sarah Arnold.

John Chambers was born 1798, in South Carolina, and was brought to Middle Tennessee at an early day; came to McNairy in 1829; in the later part of winter he went back to Middle Tennessee (1821) and married Rebecca Houston, and first settled on Owl Creek, afterwards on Chambers Creek, in the south part of this county; lived in said county until his deaths, which occurred in 1857. His children's names are as follows C. L. Chambers, Lucretia, and Lavina, who married as follows: C. L. Chambers married Francis Atkins, Lucretia married O. L. Meeks, Lavinia married W. C. Meeks. John Chambers' children are all dead but one, whose name is C. L. Chambers.

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