Submitted by Nancy S. Bell
Source: “Historical Sketch of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of Bethany; Lee County, Miss.” By the Pastor, Rev. Samuel A. Agnew; Louisville, KY; Brewer’s Printing House; 80 Fifth Ave., 1881. (photocopy of entire article available from Erskine College Library in Due West, S.C.)
The Associate Reformed Presbytery of Memphis, at Mt. Carmel Church, Marshall county, Miss., in May 1876, enjoined on Pastors the duty of preparing historical sketches of their churches. In obedience to this injunction, this historical sketch of Bethany was prepared, and submitted to Presbytery, at Shiloh, Lafayette county, Miss., May, 1880, and is published in compliance with the desire of the congregation of Bethany.
Samuel A. Agnew
From Providence Church, Laurens District, S.C.: Thomas and Martha Bryson, Jane Bryson, Mrs. Elizabeth A. Bryson, Mary Bryson, Eliza Bryson, Emily Bryson, Hampton Bryson, Samuel and Jane Bryson, David and Martha Jane Lemmon, Mrs. Margaret O’Shields, Mrs. Margaret I. Young.
From Generostee Church, Anderson District, S.C.: James and Nancy C. Turner, John and Sarah Watt, Mrs. Martha E. McGee.
From Ebenezer Church, Tippah County, MS: John K. and Rachel Crockett.
Four colored members: Lunnon, Patience, and Joseph, servants of Rev. J. L. Young from Providence Church; Nelly, servant of John Watt.
Thomas Bryson, Samuel Bryson, and John K. Crockett were elected Ruling Elders.
James Turner had moved to MS in the winter of 1845. John Watt moved to MS in the fall of 1847. Both came from Anderson Dist., S.C. The remainder of members moved to MS in 1851 with Rev. J.L. Young (James Turner’s brother in law) from Laurens Dist., S.C.
Ebenezer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church was organized several years prior to Bethany’s organization. The churches were about 20 miles apart. Rev. D.P. Robinson and Rev. S.P. Davis were the earliest ARP ministers to preach in the area. Other churches in the area during this time were Cumberland Presbyterian, which had a campground about 1 ½ miles from Bethany, and Providence, a Methodist church, several hundred yards from Bethany. The early ARP ministers used a small, log cabin not far from Brice’s Cross Roads, owned by Providence.
Rev. Young preached to the Bethany congregation twice a month at the log cabin. The rest of his time was spent at Hopewell church, which had been recently organized in Pontotoc County.
In 1853, 3 ¾ acres of land in Pontotoc County were donated to the church by Maj. John T. Humphreys and his wife Jane in the area generally known as the “Cross Road” neighborhood. The land was surveyed by Samuel Bigham, who was the county surveyor of Pontotoc County. John K. Crockett, James Turner, and Dr. A.G. Smythe were Trustees. It is believed that Rev. Young suggested the name “Bethany” for the church.
The building committee members were: John K. Crockett, James Turner, and Dr. A.G. Smythe. The church was built by Obadiah Buchanan. It was a framed building, “measuring thirty by fifty feet, weather-boarded and unceiled - comfortably seated”. The cost was approximately $800.00. The first worship service in the new building was on July 31, 1853. Rev. Young preached from Isaiah 56:6-7.
In 1858, the Trustees were James Wiley, F.A. Young, and H.H. Hickey. L.F. Gentry was Justice of the Peace and D.J. Pitts was clerk of the court in 1858.
In April 1853, a new Presbytery, called the Presbytery of Memphis, was formed by the Associate Reformed Synod of the South. Prior to this Bethany had been included in the Presbytery of Alabama. The Presbytery of Memphis included North Mississippi and West Tennessee. In July 1853, Dr. Enoch Agnew and Mr. Matthew Hunter were elected Ruling Elders. On August 5, 1853, Rev. H.H. Robinson, in accordance with the order of Presbytery, moderated a call, and Rev. James L. Young was called to be Pastor. On the same day, Rev. Youngs’s little daughter, Margaret Isabella, died. John K. Crockett, Dr. A.G. Smythe, and James Turner were elected to the first Board of Trustees. The Trustees had legal custody of the church property.
In 1854, Mr. Matthew H. Bryson, a Ruling Elder from Ebenezer church, transferred membership to Bethany. The first Sabbath school was organized during that year. On Jan. 1, 1855, there were 91 members of the church.
In 1855, the first member of the church died, Mrs. Mary Hunter, wife of Matthew Hunter. James W. Agnew and James Wiley, Ruling Elders at Prosperity Church in Lincoln Co, TN joined the membership.
Mr. Agnew died Aug. 10, 1856. On Sept. 1, 1856, there were 115 members on the church roll and 7 Elders. During this year Rev. Young began preaching every Sunday at Bethany. Mr. Matthew Hunter returned to S.C. Mr. F.A. Young and Mr. J.H. Walkrup joined the congregation. They had been Ruling Elders at Generostee Church in Anderson Dist., S.C.
The year 1857 was a memorable one in the history of Bethany ARP Church. During August and September of this year, 20 church members died of flux (dysentery). 1857 was known as “The Flux Year”. In a Sept. 2, 1857 congregational report to the Presbytery, it was written:
“As a congregation, and as a community, our God, in his inscrutable wisdom, has seen fit to cause us to pass through the furnace of affliction. For more than two months past, dysentery, or flux, as it is usually denominated, has prevailed to a most alarming and fatal extent – the angel of death has been sweeping over us, hurrying from our society and our sight in rapid succession, many of our friends, neighbors, and acquaintances, consigning them to that narrow house appointed for all the living.”
During the months of August and part of September, burials were of almost every day occurrence, and the burial-ground was filled up wondrously fast.
In 1858, Mr. Elijah Willbanks, a Ruling Elder from Generostee Church, Anderson, S.C. moved to the area and joined Bethany Church. Mr. Thomas Bryson, the senior Elder of the session, died April 9, 1859. On July 24, 1860, William Brice, John Haddon, Thomas E. Watt, and Joseph Agnew were ordained to the office of Ruling Elders. In August 1861, there were 31 families and 108 members of the church.
During 1861, the men
of the country had been summoned to arms. Several of the youth
During the last days of May, Gen. Beauregard evacuated Corinth and moved the Southern army to Tupelo. Gen. Chalmers, in command of the cavalry, had a picket line at the church and along the Pontotoc road, and no one was permitted to pass without permission of the military authorities. In this state of affairs the church was closed.
During this time, Thomas E. Watt, a pious and promising young man, who had been ordained to the Eldership only two years previously died. Gen. Price made an attack on Tu-ka, and Van Dorn was defeated at Corinth. This was a time of general alarm. Citizens fled the country.
In Jan. 1863, small-pox was brought into the area. Several good citizens died, among whom was Dr. Washington Agnew, a member of Bethany. The year 1863 was known as a year of raids. Raids from Corinth were common. There was a cavalry fight at Birmingham on April 24, 1863. The next week another raid passed down the railroad, burning the Guntown Steam Mill (May 4, 1863). As a result of the raids, the citizens hid their stock and valuables “to prevent them from falling into the hands of a foe as ruthless as the vandals of the middle ages.”
On Sept. 9, 1863 the residence of William Brice, at the Cross Roads, was “pillaged”. The Battle of Chickamauga, in Sept. 1863, brought sorrow into some of the church families. Raids became more frequent, possibly due to the presence of Hams’ Battalion of State Troops in this area. “Citizens - non-combatants - were arrested and taken off. Some were carried to northern penitentiaries, and others were released after a detention of a few days, and some were shot at in the highways.”
During 1864, Gen. N.B. Forrest and his cavalry were in North Mississippi. On June 10, 1864, a battle was fought immediately around Bethany. This battle has been called the Battle of Guntown, the Battle of Tishomingo Creek, the Battle of Brice’s Cross Roads, and Sturgis’s Defeat. The battle finally ended at the residence of Dr. W Agnew. The federal dead were buried generally where they fell (many were buried in a trench north-west of the graveyard). In July 1867, the remains were removed to the National cemetery at Corinith by Lt. Dutton’s attachment.
“More than 30 soldiers who fell in that battle now lie in Bethany burial ground, and for several years it has been customary on the recurrence of the 10th of June – the anniversary of the battle – for the ladies of the country to meet and decorate these graves with flowers. The monuments in the burial ground were marked by minnie balls. Several balls penetrated the walls of the church, and a hole was made by a minnie ball in the pulpit, passing through the seat on which the minister ordinarily sat. The dead and dying were lying in the church-yard and on the burial ground.
Battle field may seem on the historic page to be a field of glory, but in reality they are most horrid scenes. The church was occupied as a hospital, and many federal soldiers lay wounded on benches in which worshipers had been wont to sit in the days when peace reigned the land. The presence of this invading army was ruinous to those citizens by whose homes they had marched.”
“On the 22nd of July 1864, the good women of the community met and cleansed the sanctuary, and public worship was again resumed on Sabbath, July 31, 1864, when Rev. J.L. Young preached from Psa. 87, 2.”
Rev. James L. Young died suddenly on Thursday, Jan. 31, 1867. The congregation adopted a tribute in respect of his memory, which was signed by E. Agnew, H.L. Holland, Samuel Bryson, and Freeman Dixon.
In 1868, Rev. S.A. Agnew became the new minister. At that time, he resided in Guntown and was in charge of Guntown Academy. The following were the only church members: Samuel Bryson, Dr. E. Agnew, Francis A. Young and Joseph Agnew. Mr. Brice had withdrawn from the church in 1865 and Mr. John Haddon died in 1868. John Magill, John Martin, and John B. Galloway were elected ruling elders in Aug. 1869.
On May 7, 1870, the ladies of the church appointed Samuel Bryson, Dr. E. Agnew, and H.L. Holland to a committee to erect a plank fence around the burial ground. The bid was awarded to Mr. W.J. Peterson on Dec. 3, 1870, who agreed to do the work for $17.50. On Jan. 2, 1871, Samuel Bryson, F.A. Young, A.M. Galloway, and Hiram Gentry determined the boundaries for the yard. It was a custom of the people in the community to meet in the latter part of every July to clean the burial ground. On March 2, 1871, Dr. Enoch Agnew, a Ruling Elder, who had been the clerk of the session for 18 years, died. Joseph Agnew was elected clerk on April 15, 1871.
The old church had become too small for the congregation and it was decided to build a new church. R.A. Bryson, S. Bryson, T.M. Bryson, J. Agnew, and H.L. Holland were appointed to raise money. J.W. Youngblood, H.L. Holland, H.M. Willbanks, Samuel Bryson, and W.E. Caldwell were appointed to a building committee. Mr. William Brice donated 2 ½ acres for the location. Mr. C.A. Bigham surveyed the land on July 18, 1872. On July 25, 1872, Mr. Brice gave the title to R.A. Bryson, Freeman Dixon, and H.L. Holland, Trustees of Bethany Church.
The deed was acknowledged by L.J. Copeland, the mayor of Guntown and ex-offcio Justice of the Peace of Lee Co. Mississippi. It was recorded by S.W. Hawkings, Chancery clerk of Lee Co. on Dec. 22, 1874 in deed book No. 13, pages 542-543. A Mr. O’Callaghan built the church and it was completed in Dec. 1872. The cost was approximately $2,000.
The old church was sold to the Corona Grange of the Patrons Industry to be used as a Grange hall. The old pulpit was donated to Mount Pleasant, a preaching station about 8 miles west of Bethany. On Dec. 15, 1872 the first service was held and the Rev. D. A. Todd preached. In 1876 a new plan was adopted for the collection of the pastor’s salary. The following were appointed to be collectors: John H. Holland, John B. Galloway, Thomas P. Milam, and Thaddeus M. Bryson. Later, David A. Holland was appointed in place of John H. Holland and John W. Bryson was appointed in place of John B. Galloway.
On April 14, 1877, a Missionary Society was organized. The first officers elected were: President: Rev. S.A. Agnew; Vice President: John Magill; Secretary: H.L. Holland, and Treasurer: Henry Branyan.
In 1878 several church families moved to Johnson Co, Texas, near Alvarado. In 1879 they were organized into an Associate Reformed Church named Prairie Valley. The Sabbath school has been in existence since 1854. The following were superintendents of the school:
1871: Alexander M.
Of the twenty-one original members, all but eight were dead by 1880. Six were still members at Bethany; a Mrs. Lemmon (later Mrs. Marks) lived in Washington Co, Minnesota and a Mrs. Turner lived in Johnson Co, Texas. The pastor in 1880 was Rev. S.A. Agnew. The ruling elders were Samuel Bryson, F.A. Young, Joseph Agnew, John Magill, John Martin, and John B. Galloway. The trustees were David A. Holland, John B. Bryson, and Rutherford A. Bryson. Mr. William Brice renewed his membership and was re-elected a ruling elder on May 16, 1880.
Deceased Members of Bethany Church from its organization, June 5, 1852:
Mrs. Mary Hunter Dec.
List of the Trustees of Bethany Church Each Year, From Its Organization, Beginning September, 1853, when the First Trustees were elected:
1853: John K. Crockett,
Dr. Anson G. Smyth, James Turner
January 6, 1881