AN EARLY HISTORY OF THE ROANS
CHURCH OF CHRIST
CARROLL CO, TENN. (1820s to 1870s)
History Before the Move to Carroll County
In the early 1800s there was a great revival of interest in religion that has come to be known as the Second Great Awakening. One of the major leaders of that revival in the newly formed state of Kentucky was Barton W. Stone. He was very influential in a movement to restore New Testament Christianity. Among those influenced by Stone was John Mulkey, minister of the Mill Creek Baptist Church in Thompkinsville, Ky. In 1809 John Mulkey convinced his congregation to leave the Baptist Association and become a church using only the name Christian. Attending the Mill Creek Church at the time were Gist, Pinckley, Scott and Wood families. Union Presbyterian Church, in the same general area as Mill Creek, became a Christian Church by 1820. Families at Union included the Brandons, Gists, McWhorters, Pinckleys, and Mitchells. Members from both these churches would be among the earliest settlers in the new Western District of West Tennessee.
Carroll County, one of the new counties in the Western District, was formed in 1821. Settlers began pouring in from older sections of the country shortly thereafter. Sometime in the early 1820s, some of the new arrivals from the Barren County (now Monroe), Kentucky and Smith County (now Macon), Tennessee began meeting as the Roan’s Creek Christian Church.
The Charter Members of Roan’s Creek
There are five existing lists of charter members for the new church and they do not totally agree. Gideon J. Faulkner gave a list to The Christian at Work magazine in 1882; the Gospel Advocate published a listing in 1902 given them by William M. Abernathy and another list in 1925 submitted by J. R. Brecheen. At some point the state of Tennessee placed a historical marker in front of the church, which added yet another listing plus a new and different marker has been installed recently. Faulkner (1806-1884), who was baptized at Roan’s Creek in 1831 only five or six years after founding, was by far the list maker who attended the church closest to its beginning. Abernathy admitted he had no personal information but had talked to older members. Brecheen was also too young to have had personal information. The historical markers give no source for their lists and are obviously late. The Faulkner list would seem to be the preferred listing. All agree that there were only five to seven charter members. Only two members, Levi McWhirter and William Holmes, are on all five lists.
Faulkner List 1882: John Pinckly and wife, Christopher Gist and wife, Levi McWhorter and wife, William Holmes.
Abernathy List 1902: Christopher Gist and wife, John Brandon and wife, Levi McWhirter, Stewart Mitchel, William Holmes.
Brecheen List 1925: Historical Marker
Kitty Guest and wife, Billy Holmes and wife, Polly Holmes, Levi McWherter.
Historical Marker 1: William Holmes and wife, Levi McWhirter and wife, Polly Homes.
Historical Marker 2: Willam and Mary Billingsley Holmes; Daughter Polly Holmes; Christopher and Elizabeth Wood Gist; Levi McWhirter and wife.
Biographies of Those Listed as Charter Members
Christopher and Elizabeth Wood Gist
Settling near the southeast corner of Carroll County in Henderson Co. was Christopher Gist.(about 45 years old) He and his wife, Elizabeth "Betty" Wood Gist (about 42) came from Smith County, Tenn and attended the Union Church in Barren County, Kentucky. They had been married in Barren County on January 11, 1801. The Union Christian Church records say that Christopher and his wife Betty were members in 1820 but "removed their letter" which fits well with Roan’s Creek tradition. The couple had at least four sons and five daughters ranging in age from one to 20 years old at the time of their arrival and at least one more soon after arrival. Christopher was an Elder of the church at least by 1842 and probably from the 1820s. Early camp meetings took place on land owned by this couple.
Levi M. and Elizabeth White McWhorter
Although Levi McWhorter is not on the Union Church roll, the following letter found in the Union church records, which was issued to a Brother L. M., is probably his dismissal letter.
"This is to certify that Brother L. M. has been a member among us for a number of years and lived with us in love and fellowship and is now about to leave us by removal. We therefore commend him to God and the word of his grace to any society of Christians. Signed by order of the Church. Henry McWhorter."
Some lists do not mention a wife for Levi. The 1830 census, however, indicates that he was married and the will of Bartholomew White dated May 28, 1825, lists Elizabeth White, wife of Levi McWhirter, as executor. Levi, in his 30s, Elizabeth, in her 20s, had a son and a daughter (names unknown) by 1825. This couple was on the 1830 and 1840 census but moved out of Tennessee by 1850.
William Holmes and Wife Mary
A William Holmes is also listed on the Union Church 1820 list and is said to have removed his letter. A member wife was not listed for him. There is, however, a marriage record for a William Holmes and Mary Wood on 28 Aug. 1805 in Barren Co., KY where Union Church was located. This Mary may have been a sister to Elizabeth Wood Gist. William was about 40 years old when he came to the county in early 1820s. In the 1830 census he had a wife (40-50) and nine children. In the 1850 census he was married to a Mary (age 53, seemingly too young to be the wife of 1830) who descendants identify with Mary Billingsly, listed on the current historical marker. By the 1860 census William is widowed. Holmes was an elder at Roan’s Creek by 1842 and probably by the 1820s.
Polly Holmes, mentioned on the 1925 list and the historical markers is a puzzle. Mary, the daughter of William, has been mentioned as a possibility but she would have only been 10-15 in 1825. That only one of the six Holmes children born by 1825 would have been mentioned does not seem logical. It is possible that Jesse Breechen in his list meant to say William Holmes and his wife, Polly Holmes. (Polly is a nickname for Mary.)
John and Jennie Wood Pinckley
John Pinckley (b. in Virginia about 1760) was restored at the Union Church in 1822 and removed shortly thereafter. He was about 65 years old when he and his wife Jennie came to Carroll Co. He died shortly after the 1830 census which is probably the reason that only Faulkner remembered him as an original member. His wife Jennie was a sister to Elizabeth Wood, the wife of Christopher Gist . Several of their grown children apparently followed them to the county and were members of the church by the 1830s.
[ If the Faulkner list is accepted and the identification of the members is correct then the charter members of Roan’s Creek were former members of the Union Christian Church in Kentucky who removed to Carroll County in the early 1820s. The following were named as charter members on lists other than Faulkner’s.]
John Brandon and Wife
John and Abigail Scott Brandon came from the same area as the members mentioned earlier. Abigail’s mother, Francis Wood Scott, was a sister to Elizabeth Wood Gist and a member at Mill Creek. John’s obituary says that he united with the church of Christ in the year 1826. Unfortunately it does not say if this were at Roan’s Creek or not. The obituary does say that the couple lived near Roan’s Creek in 1858 and had eight children. John would have been 28 and Abigail only 15 in 1825. Abigail’s obituary does mention that she was baptized at Roan’s Creek Camp Ground early in life by Brother DeWhit, a minister who preached at Union and Mill Creek. This couple seems too young to be members in 1825 although they certainly were later. The John Brandon and wife here could be Jonathan and Minerva Brandon, a slightly older couple from the same area on the Kentucky, Tennessee line and residents before the 1830 census.
Stewart Mitchell is mentioned without a wife. This is most likely James S. Mitchell who was an elder at Roan’s Creek by the 1840s. Although there is a marriage record for James S. Mitchell and Sarah Scott on 21 January 1813 in Barren Co., KY, a wife is not mentioned in Abernathy’s list. She was Sarah Scott, sister to Abigail Scott Brandon above and daughter of Frances Wood Scott, a sister to Jennie Pinckley and Elizabeth Gist. The Mitchells seem to have lived in northern Henderson Co. around Red Mound. A James S and Sally Mitchell are on the same page of the Union Church records as Christopher and Elizabeth Gist. James was made a deacon at Union in June of 1821.
The First Meetings
Although seven is the number most often given for charter members one should not visualize a meeting with seven people present. The Gists had eight children under 20. The Holmes had six and the McWhirters two. These three families alone would make actual attendance at twenty-two. All these children would seem to give credence to the tradition that the first gathering was a Bible school.
Various dates are given for the first meetings. Goodspeed Histories lists 1825, Faulkner said 1826. Abernathy said that "the church was organized in 1827 by John A. Mulky." Mulkey was minister at the Mill Creek Church near Union Church. It may be that he came down to set the church in order by appointing elders and deacons. It is not known who the first elders were but in 1842 they were Christopher H. Gist, J. S. Mitchell and William Holmes. The deed to some church property filed in the Carroll Co. courthouse in 1848 lists only James S. Mitchell and William Holmes, Gist presumably having died.
It is not known when the first building was erected but there was a plot of ground owned by Christopher Gist, Sr. that was dedicated to camp meetings at least by the year 1832. Barton W. Stone’s Christian Messenger announced that a camp meeting would be held there beginning on the first Lord’s day in September of 1832. The 1833 issue of the same journal announced a camp meeting for the 4th Lord’s day in September 1834 . The first minister was identified by Gideon Faulkner as Mansel Babb, who is on the 1830 Carroll Co. census but not the 1840.
On September 1st, 1834 the Millennial Harbinger, published by Alexander Campbell, mentioned that the Roane’s Creek Church was meeting in the neighborhood of Pleasant Exchange in Henderson County with about forty brothers and sisters living in "great union and harmony." John R. Howard, who wrote the report, did complain that the congregation had not yet commenced meeting together every Sunday for "fellowship, breaking of the loaf and prayer."
The following is an attempt, by no means authoritative, to reconstruct the heads of families who were at the church in 1834. Adding the wives would make the total about 42 which would fit Howard’s estimate.
J. C. Holloway
John L. Scott
James Tosh, Jr., Sr.
Gideon J. Faulkner
James S. Mitchell
John Pinckley, Jr.
William Jordan Wilson
The Millennial Harbinger reported a protracted meeting which continued for six days from the last of September through the first Sunday in October 1839. The preachers for the meeting were Carroll Kendrick, Christopher Gist, Jr., James Holmes, James Gilliland and J. H. Dunn. There were twenty two additions with twenty immersions. Prospects for even more were said to be "flattering."
On October 1, 2, and 3 of 1842 the "congregations of the churches of Christ in the Western District" held their annual co-operation meeting at the Roan’s Creek Campground. Bro. J. H. Dunn was called to the chair and brother C. H. Gist (Jr.) was appointed secretary. Thirteen churches sent messengers. At this time Roan’s Creek was the largest church in the district with 127 members. It was said to hold meetings to "break bread" twice each month. Christopher Gist, Jr. and James Holmes, both members at Roan’s Creek, were two of the five men appointed as evangelists for the Western District for the year 1843.
On October 2 during the cooperation meeting Christopher H. Gist , Jr. delivered a sermon. A transcription of this sermon was published in the Bible Advocate, a journal published by John R. Howard at Paris, Tennessee in Henry County. It shows the type of sermon preached at the Roan’s Creek campground in the year 1842. It is made up almost totally of scriptures with a few connecting thoughts. About six months after delivering this sermon Gist died unexpectedly. Having begun preaching in 1838, Gist was one of the first of many men who have gone out from this church as evangelists to other areas. Another very early preacher was James Holmes, a brother to William Holmes. He was said by David Lipscomb to be "one of the most efficient and safe teachers of Christianity in the southwest."
Happenings at Roan’s Creek were reported in religious journals throughout the 1840s. In October 1842 a meeting was "still progressing" at the time of publication but six had already been immersed and the prospect was good for more. James Gilliland, one of the evangelists for the district who preached on Feb. 19, 1846, complained, however, that he had nothing much to communicate as the members seemed more interested in other pursuits. By 1847, however, evangelists J. J. Trott and John Eichbaum visited and reported that the brethren seemed anxious to sustain the co-operation movement. In the fall of 1847 Gilliland and Van Dyke attended a camp-meeting that had 24 additions, two of which were "from the Baptist." In 1848, in the midst of a cholera epidemic, James Holmes reported five additions while John Van Dyke reported 16 more. Since the reported membership in 1834 was about 40 and the membership in 1842 was about 120, the church had tripled in an eight year period. This was were clearly a period of great expansion for the church.
Deeds to the Camp Ground Property
In the late 1840s the title to church land was being formalized. In Carroll Co. Deed Book H there is a reference to the deed for the church property. It was in Range #4, Section 1, part of entry number 4125 on Roan’s Creek and including a campground known as Roan’s Creek campground, west of Jesse Hardy’s southeast corner. The deed was given to James S. Mitchell and William Holmes and to the Christian Church of which they are elders on the 20th day of May 1848 in the presence of John L. Scott and William J. Wilson and was signed by G. J. Faulkner. It is not known when Faulkner acquired the campground, presumably from Christopher Gist. On February 1, 1851 Jesse Hardy, son in law of Christopher Gist, gave an additional half acre to the church which added to the two acre tract given by Faulkner. This deed was witnessed by John L. Scott and Thomas Wood Pinckley.
A Reading Church
Subscription lists from restoration movement journals indicate that the membership were avid readers of religious materials. Christopher Gist ordered Stone’s Christian Messenger in the 1830s then his son became an editor of the Bible Advocate in the 1840s. This latter journal was ordered by Levi M. McWhirter, John Sellers, A. Lorance, J. and E. Billingsley, G. J. Faulkner, James Tosh, G. P. Holmes, J. C. Holloway, Harrison S. Brandon, John Tosh, Sr., David Wilson, James Wilson, A. G. Wilson, Thomas Burns, D. H. Gist, S. A. Wilson, James S. Mitchell, John L. Scott, Joseph B(reed) Gist, and Jesse Hardy. In 1853 the following members from Roan’s Creek were receiving Alexander Campbell’s Millennial Harbinger: Jessie Hardie, G. J. Faulkner, Ezekiel Simpson, Miss M. J. Wall, Thomas W. Pinckley, Joberry Johnson (the preceding subscribers said to live near Roan’s Creek), plus David Wilson, James S. Mitchell and Kinchen McVay, who were said to reside at Red Mound. James Holmes was said to receive his copy gratis because he collected the money for the subscriptions. Harrison S. Brandon is known to have subscribed to the Gospel Advocate from its very first issue in 1855.
Roan’s Creek During the Civil War
By the 1860s the threat of civil war hung over the church. A slight majority of Carroll Countians voted twice not to secede from the Union but were outvoted by the rest of Tennessee. The church was in the section of Carroll County most opposed to secession. The overwhelming majority of the members were yeoman farmers who did not own slaves and most were pro-Union. At least thirty young men from the church families joined the Union Army, including one medical doctor. The highest ranking officer attending the church was Major Milton Hardy, son of Jesse and Hannah Gist Hardy. Most men served in the 7th Tennessee Cavalry or in Hardy’s Battalion in the 2nd Tennessee Mounted Infantry.
Though no known record exists for this period, if Roan’s Creek was like other churches in the area it probably did not meet together on a regular basis during the war. Small groups in homes would have been much safer. The records of the nearby Christian’s Chapel Church of Christ in northeastern Henderson County say that they continued to meet until the year 1862 when "owing to the troubled condition of the country, the members thought best for their personal safety and well being to absent themselves until more favorable opportunity should offer and there was no regular meeting until sometime in the year 1865 when the members that survived the gun again to come together..." Things were so bad in the neighborhood that the nearby Mud Creek Baptist Church reported that it had to postpone the communion service because no wine could be found. Some people left the county and went to southern Illinois near Metropolis and Moscow to wait out the war. The church in Metropolis was started by West Tennessee Christians, several of them from Roan’s Creek.
The End of the Civil War Through Reconstruction
By the end of the war most of the members from the early years were gone.
David Wilson, however, who had been baptized as a very young man in the 1820s and was still a member, was elected to the Tennessee Senate in 1866 during Reconstruction. By the 1870s the second and third generations with new additions made up the greater part of the membership. The downtrodden state of affairs in the South did not stop the activities of the church. David Lipscomb held a meeting in August of 1874 and E. G. Sewell in October of the same year. The church must have been large in the early 1870s because in 1879 one hundred twenty two members left to form the Williams Chapel Church. Just as Reconstruction was ending in Tennessee, Roan’s Creek completed its first 50 years of existence.
Some Obituaries of the Earliest Members
A history of a church of necessity deals mainly with facts and conjectures. It is hard to capture the spirit of the people by relating events. The following obituaries of some of the earliest members reveal, at least in part, the regard in which members were held and the faith they displayed.
Elizabeth Wood Gist, Charter Member, written by her son, Christopher H. Gist, Jr. Evangelist
Permit me to inform you, and those whom it may concern, of the death of my ever dear mother! She departed this life on the 15th of June, in the 60th year of her age, after a lingering illness of more than five months. She has been a member of the Christian Church for more than 30 years, and such heavenly calmness as she manifested in her expiring moments I have scarely ever beheld. Truly "the righteous have hope in their death." She has left behind her an aged companion and numberous friends and relatives who all mourn her loss. But "we mourn not as those who have no hope" for by her life and by her death, she has given us the strongest possible assurance, that she has but exchanged a world of sorrow and suffering, for a world of bliss. C. H. Gist Published in Bible Advocate 1843.
Christopher H. Gist, Evangelist, one of the Charter Children
It is with feelings of no ordinary character, that we take up our pen to record the death of our much beloved brother C. H. Gist, one of the publishing committee of the Bible Advocate, and extensively known as an efficient proclaimer of the "Gospel of Christ" and an able writer for our periodical. He departed this life on the 19th of March, at the residence of his father, in Henderson County, Tenn and now "sleeps in Christ."
Having been intimately acquainted with brother Gist for several years, and much with him, in paying this last tribute of respect to him, it becomes us to speak of his character, in which were many traits worthy of imitation. Not many men can leave behind them more agreeable recollections, and fewer of an unpleasant character. It has been observed, "The good that men do dies with them, and is Interred--The evil lives remembered." But, not so with our beloved and lamented brother. It is the reverse with him; and if any evil is interred with him it is more than we know. We attempt not to write an eulogy on him, but to pay that tribute due to his character.
Bro. Gist was born in 1813--immersed in 1832--and commenced preaching in 1838. Though of a slender constitution and weakly habit, he manifested great zeal in the cause of the Redeemer. He was a sound, logical reasoner, contended "for the faith once delievered to the saints" with mildness and firmness; and although greatly afflicted with a pulmonary affection, he spent the last three or four years of his life (whenever able) proclaiming the Gospel of the Son of God. He was a dutiful son, an affectionate brother, smooth and affable in his manners to all, not exhibiting that excitability too common to many, but always calm and collected, manifesting a deep interest in the welfare of his fellow creatures. Although measurable confined to his room the last five months of his life, he bore his afflictions with unusual fortitude. Never would he murmur or complain, but with that calmness & resignation which characterises the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, bore all patiently. (He said) "I would rather live five years, and be of service to my fellow creatures than to live fifteen and be of none; and if I cannot recover my health so as to be useful, I prefer to die. I have the brightest prospects before me." The night before we left him, being but two before his death, after having engaged in prayer and singing several songs (in some of which he united with us) he requested us before we quit, to sing his song on page 189 of our Hymn Book. "In all my Lord’s appointed ways, My journey I’ll pursue," & c. When we left him he appeared considerably improved and we entertained hopes of his being able once more to be up; but the second mail brought the intelligence of his death. His brother, in a letter to us, says; ‘He was as well as usual, eat supper as heartily as common, and walked into the other house. I then stepped out to the lot (leaving him alone) had scarcely reached it, when he stepped to the door, and called me. I returned immediately, and found him vomiting blood. He looked up at me, and said--"Hardin, I am dead," and died instantly! But "blessed are the dead that die in the Lord, from henceforth,--yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors--and their works do follow them."
The death of bro. Gist has created a vacuum in the congregations in this country, not easily filled, and an irreparable one in the family from which he was taken. He has left an aged father and several brothers and sisters, to lament their loss. He was instrumental in calling many "from darkness to light" and long will he be remembered by those who were accustomed to listen to his voice as it poured forth the glorious truths of the Gospel!--Often with the telescope of memory will we look back through the vista of time to his brief existence among us, until we shall all sink into the tomb with him!
On returning from the interment of bro. Gist, the family had their distresses redoubled, by receiving the intelligence of the death of an elder brother, J. P. Gist of Missouri, whose afflictions for years had been great, but in the month of January he was released from all his sufferings by that busy messenger, who will, ere long, give each of us a call! O may we all be prepared for his reception. Bro. J. P. Gist had been for years a worthy and faithful disciple. He has left a disconsolate widow and children to mourn their loss.
May father Gist and his bereaved family be comforted in their afflictions by the promise of the Lord, and in view of that great day, when all the saints shall be resurrected unto eternal life, look forward in happy anticipation of again uniting with those kindred spirits who are gone before, and in the language of the poet, cry out-- "O blessed day, O glorious hope! My soul rejoiced at the thought, When in that holy, happy land, We’ll take no more the parting hand." S. B. Aden. Published in 1844 in the Bible Advocate.
Our beloved brother, John Brandon, who died at his residence near Roan’s Creek on the 8th of September, 1858 aged sixty one years. He united with the church of Christ in the year 1826, and lived a Christian life for thirty-two years, and now sleeps in the Lord." He leaves a wife and eight children. James A. Carter From Gospel Advocate, December 1858, p. 384.
Abigail Scott Brandon
Died at residence near Roan’s Creek Campground, Carroll County, wife of John Brandon, who departed Sept 8, 1858, her death occurred the first of the month due to an attack of appolexy. She was 57. She engaged in Christian warfare early, confessed the Messiah and was baptised at Roan’s Creek by Brother DeWhit. J. M. Selph in Gospel Advocate 1859, p. 288.
William H. Brandon
Son of brother and sister John and Abigail Brandon who reside near Roane’s Creek Camp-ground, Carroll County, Tenn, died January 13, 1857. Baptized at fifteen year of age, William continued a faithful and worthy member of the church of Christ at Roane’s Creek. R. H. Trimble From Gospel Advocate, April 1857, pages 127-8.
Elizabeth Gist Tosh, one of Charter Children, daughter of Christopher Gist
Old sister Tosh, wife of Bro. John Tosh, deceased is no more. Sister Tosh was born Feb. 18, 1816, and died May 25, 1890 being seventy four years, three months and seven days old. Sister Tosh obeyed the gospel early in life under the preaching of Bro. Allen Kendrick. For many years her membership was at Old Roans Creek, but a few years ago she went to Crockett County to live, and from Crockett to Gibson, and when she died her membership was at Concord, Gibson Co.
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from henceforth, yea saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors and their works do follow them." Clarksburg, Tenn. J. W. Johnson. Gospel Advocate, July 30, 1890.
Nancy Tosh, daughter of James and Ellender Brandon Tosh
"Aunt Nancy" Tosh was born on July 21, 1831; died on Frebruary 17, 1910 in Lake City, Florida at the home of her niece, Mollie Roark Barnes. "She had been a member of the church of Christ at Roan’s Creek, Carrroll Co, Tenn for more than half a century. She was a woman of few words, but of many faithful deeds to others. For many years whe read the Gospel Advocate without stopping. Her honesty, truthfulness, and industry were manifest in her everyday life. Her two brothers and sisters are gone on before." Aunt Nancy " possessed a deeply implanted desire to attend strictly to her own business. To know her was to love her." J. W. Johnson, Clarksburg, Tenn Gospel Advocate, June 16, 1910.
Silas Pinckley, one of the Charter Children, son John and Jennie Pinckley
Our beloved brother, Silas Pinckley, died in January last, while on a visit to his brother, in West Tennessee. He left us in December, contemplating also to visit his son and daughter in Kentucky but was seized by that dreadful disease, Pneumonia, and after a few days of suffering, departed to the land of spirits to await the resurrection.
His family was expecting a letter that would bring the glad news of his safe arrival at the home of his son; but, instead, it bore tidings, sad tiding, that bowed their heads and rent their hearts in mourning.
Brother Pinkley was almost 75 years old; was born July 3rd, 1785. He was for 52 years a member of the Church, and was one of those who organized the Church at Antioch, Denton Co., Texas; was elected one of the Elders, and served the Church in that capacity till the time of his death.
He was truly a shepherd of the flock. He raised eleven children to man and woman-hood but seven of them had passed from earth before him, as had his beloved companion. Both wife and children were Christians.
His affable disposition and honorable life won him a large circle of friends. For more than half a century a member of the Church, his walk was ever worthy; his love for the Savior was "not in word only but in deed and in truth. His home was the home of the Gospel preacher. Terrell Jasper, Gospel Advocate, April 7, 1870, Vol. 12:330.
Suffice it to say that many, many good and faithful men and women have worshipped God on these "camp grounds" for the last 175 years. It is hoped many more will continue to do so until the Lord returns to take us to meet with those who have gone on before us to a far better "camping place."
Written by Peggy Scott Holley for the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Roan’s Creek Church of Christ in May, 2000.