Southern Weakley County
OF MERIDIAN CHURCH
Written by Gene and Wylodean Rogers for Homecoming 1986 Church History Book
Most of this Chruch History was taken from their book on Richard DREWRY, pub. 1976
Meridian church located six miles east of Greenfield Tennessee in the 15th district of Weakley County, Tennessee. This church was organized in 1826 by the reverend Cullin Green CRIBBS, who remained pastor until 1853. Meridian is one of the oldest churches in Weakley County and the main auditorium of the present building is also one of the oldest church buildings in Weakley County. The construction of this building began in 1872 and was finished in 1873. Square nails were used to erect the building. Two of the carpenters that helped build this church in 1872 were Thomas Addison OVERTON (1831-1903) and Horace GALLOWAY. The boss of the crew was a Mr. CHANDLER.
This old building is in excellent condition today, both inside and out. In the last 35 years several additions have been made to the building. Tradition has it that church services at Meridian were first held under the large old oak tree in the church yard and then under brush arbors. After that, log buildings were erected to have services in. Harve DREWRY told more than once, he well remembered the building that was in use when the present building was started in 1872, (he was 9 years old at the time) and it was called a shelter. This shelter was larger than most log church buildings and it consisted of a roof made of hand riven (split) wood shingles. This roof was supported by rows of wood poles set in the ground. The sides were open except for a wood paling fence about waist high around the outside to keep the livestock out of the building. Most of the livestock ran outside until about 1915. This shelter was much cooler in the hot summer months than a log building would be and church services were discontinued during the winter months. The open sided shelter could better accommodate the overflow crowds during revivals and camp meetings as those sitting and standing outside could still see and hear the preacher.
It has been said that log cabins were built on the church grounds for some of the people to stay in that had traveled a long distance to attend the camp meetings. The old records show that some of these meetings lasted as long as 12 or 13 days. Brother C. G. CRIBBS, who organized the Meridian Church and was the pastor for the next 27 years lived in northeast Gibson County, near Camp Ground C. P. Church, some 12 miles south of Meridian. Brother CRIBBS started preaching at Meridian only three years after Weakley and Gibson Counties were organized in 1823. No doubt his travels to and from Meridian were difficult much of the time as the roads were only trails in those days. We presume he rode a horse most of the time and he had to ford the South Fork of the Obion River for quite a while before other methods of crossing the river were available. In about 1829 or 1830 Shadrach Madison (a free man of color) started operating a ferry at shades crossing and in December of 1833 a bridge was built across the river and that should have made traveling a little better.
The pioneers that settled in the wilderness of West Tennessee near the Meridian areas had in most cases come here from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, middle and east Tennessee. That part of the country had been settled for quite some time and was reasonably well developed and those who could afford it could live fairly comfortable, but for many this was not the case. These developed areas were becoming crowded and the price of land was quite high for the quality of land available. The top soil was fast becoming badly depleted and fertilizer was hard to come by at that time. The federal government purchased West Tennessee from the Chickasaw Indians on October 19, 1818 and opened it up for settlement about two years later. Many of the poor people and some of the wealthy people could not resist coming to the wilderness of West Tennessee as it appeared to be the land of milk and honey for both the rich and the poor alike.
The price of the better land in West Tennessee was from one to three dollars per acre. If you didn't have any money and had plenty of grit you could lease a good tract of land from some owner that in many cases didn't even live here. Many of these leases were for five years with an option to buy at a set price. The settler could keep all that he could make off the land provided he would build the necessary buildings for a farmstead (log house and barn, etc) and clear a certain amount of land for farming. This would make the land more valuable for later sale if the settler didn't exercise his option to buy the land himself. Another method of getting some land was to settle on some poor land that still belonged to the government, (these people were called squatters) and enter a claim for an occupant grant. Some of the poorest and wettest land was granted in the 1840's for as low as 12 cents per acre.
Despite the many hardships of trying to tame the new frontier and having to live in a very crude way for the next several years these settlers soon wanted a public place to worship God. They selected a site on a hill, near a spring and they called this place of worship Meridian. Meridian Church got its name because it was built on or near a Meridian line. This same line also ran through the town of Dresden, Tennessee. In the early days the basis for the Meridian lines for this country was Washington, D. C., but in order to be able to measure longitude around the globe more accurately a convention was held in 1884 with many nations attending and they decided to make Greenwich, England the basis (starting point) for the world. This did away with the old meridian lines established by each nation or continent.
Many of the early settlers of the area had some connection with Meridian Church, cemetery or school,(the school was located some 75 yards from the church). To name all of the different families that attended Meridian Church in the early years would be impossible, but some of the names mentioned in the old church records are as follows; GALEY, MCCARTER, JOHNSON, HARROL, DREWRY, DUNLAP, RAY, DUDLEY, GROOMS, DAVIDSON, FEATHERSTONE, PERRY, BODKINS, CURLEE, STROUD, REDDICK, STOUT, RICHEE, ROBERSON, MOSELEY, OVERTON, TAYLOR, ELAM, WHICKER and SMITHSON. descendants of many of these early settlers are still attending Meridian Church today.
The church played a very important part in the lives of the people of the area. In the early days there was not nearly as many places to go and things to do as there is today, so for that reason the church was not only a place for christians to worship but also a social meeting place at the same time. Probably as a rule the people back in the old days were no better or worse than they are today and most want to take part in the worship services, but some went just to have somewhere to go. During revival meetings several people would be outside while the services were going on. Sometime during the alter call some of the elders or some interested persons would go outside and try to convince some of the sinners to come in the church and give their life to Christ. Once in a while this would work and many tears of joy were shed.
The old church record books show that the elders met on Saturday before the fourth Sunday each month and more often if the need arose to discuss the needs of the church. Much of their time in the session meetings were focused on trying to keep their flock in line, but many decisions were made. These included such things as building a church house, buying a stove, having the church property surveyed, selling a few dollars worth of timber, erecting a fence to keep the cemetery from encroaching on the church yard and clearing more land for cemetery use.
The old records show that the elders tried hard to keep a tight rein on its members. More often than not, one or more members would be ordered to appear before the session for some ungodly act that had taken place recently or sometimes these elders would go and talk to them. Most often the church trials would be for such offences as getting drunk, cursing, adultery, fighting or mistreating family members. The elders would lay the facts on the line and most of the time the accused would beg for forgiveness and promise to do better, but if they did not the elders would kick them out of the church.
The Meridian Church appears to have been a squatter on government land from the time it was organized in 1826 until August 1, 1848, when a land grant was issued to James B. Galey by the state of Tennessee. We don't know when the cemetery was put into use as a burying ground as many of the early graves are not marked at all or only have a sand rock marker. The oldest legible marker is dated February 23, 1841, the grave of Tempey Eliza, consort of Ellis W. SCATES. Another one that was legible years ago was on the grave of W. M. SMITHSON and dated 1838. On the 29th day of April, 1848, James B. GALEY entered a claim for a grant on ten acres of land bearing survey date of the 9th day of March, 1848. This land was located in range 1, section 5 in the 13th surveyors district. This places the land on the West side of the Meridian line that was in use at that time. The state of Tennessee issued a grant for this land on the 1st of August, 1848 to James B. GALEY.
This was only three months and two days after the claim was entered. This is by far the shortest amount of time lapse that we have encountered. In many cases after the entry claim was made it was from two years to over twenty years before the land grant was issued. The only cost for this land was a charge by the entry taker for the paper work involved and the cost of having the land surveyed. On November 2, 1847, the law was changed to eliminate the charge of 12 cents per acre that had been in effect for several years before that time. The land that was being granted for 12 cents per acre or no charge was considered to be poor land at the time, either hilly or wet land. Claims for the better land had been entered many years before. On September 19, 1860 James B. GALEY deeded to the elders of the Meridian Church the last ten acre tract mentioned above that had been granted to him by the State of Tennessee (grant number 6450). A rectangular plot 33 poles by 48 poles. The church paying only the entry fees and cost of survey, this may have been paid by the church when the entry was made. Why he waited 12 years before deeding it to the church we don't know. In 1874 the elders appointed a committee to look after the title papers granted by the State of Tennessee for the land upon which the church now stands.
This leaves the impression that the church received the land grant but apparently that is not the case. A short time later the committee reported that it had located the deed to the church property (grant is not mentioned). In 1959 Atlas and Louise Summers gave a plot of land to the church, for this we are indeed grateful. This land is located on the south-side of the church near the Old Meridian School site and is used for drive way and parking area. We also hope to soon procure a small lot where the Old Meridian School was located.
In 1872, some 12
the elders of Meridian Church got title to the church property, they
to build a better place to worship. The decision to build a new church
building was made at the session meeting in March of 1872. The
present for this meeting were william MCCARTER, P. S. DUNLAP, J. E.
J, M. GALEY, M. G. PERRY, R. C. DREWRY, W. T. DAVIDSON, W. B. JOHNSON
Bennett RAY. On motion made, the following persons be appointed, a
to try and secure means and build a church at this place, Meridian. to
wit: W. B. JOHNSON, P. S. DUNLAP, Bennett RAY, J. M. DREWRY AND T. S.
The committee being vested with authority to superintend and build such
a church as they may in their judgement
Throughout the 173 years of interesting history that made the Meridian Church has endured, many changes in the life style of it's people have taken place and many rough times have been overcome. It was organized as a place to worship God in 1826 in the Cumberland Presbyterian faith and it still remains so today. Its location has remained at the same place. How many other churches in Weakley County have a record like that?
Meridian Church was born in the wilderness of West Tennessee at a time when our adventurous forefathers were eating more deer and bear meat than pork or beef. Most of this area was covered in fine timber but there was no market for it in the early days, except for the timber used in the farm buildings. The logs were cut and burned to clear a place so crops could be grown. Most everybody did some farming for a long time after this country was settled as there were no factories. Even people with other ccupations such as black-smithing or preaching did some farming to aid in making a living. The second preacher at Meridian was also a county surveyor. This was W. H. MCKLUSKEY. He lived in the Meridian area and the marriage records show that he tied the knot for many couples.
Since the church was organized 173 years ago, several epidemics of deadly diseases have hit the people, killing many people in a few months. A couple of these diseases were smallpox and yellow fever. The church has endured many wars and a lot of the veterans of these wars are buried in the meridian cemetery. Probably the Civil War disrupted the lives of the people most of all as many lives were lost and the people of this area were badly divided and furnished men for both north and south. This created hate among neighbors and of course had to be a severe problem in the churches as well.
Times have changed greatly since 1826. Most people today are working in factories or some other business besides farming. For a long time the fastest way to travel was by horse. In the last few years we have sent people to the moon traveling about eighteen thousand miles per hour. We also have all kinds of modern conveniences to make life better. The Meridian Church has also received its share of improvements. The cemetery is also being maintained in good condition. A picnic and homecoming has been held on Saturday before the fourth Sunday in July from 1908 up until today with the exception of the period from 1981 through 1994. During that 14 year period just a homecoming was held. The proceeds go for the upkeep of the cemetery. We now have a perpetual care fund to help maintain the cemetery. Through the years many distinguished speakers have spoken at the Meridian Picnic. The present pastor, brother Eddie Holmes, came to Meridian in December of 2001 replacing brother Keith Pence who moved on to greener pastures . It is our desire that enough young and old alike will see fit to worship God at Meridian so that it may live another 173 years.
Submitted by Joe Stout
List of EARLY
MEMBERS taken from 1986 Meridian History book