Dry Fork History

Beacon on the Hill-
People Have Worshipped At Dry Fork For 151 Years

By Theda Pond Womack

Reprinted with permission

A little white church sits atop a hill overlooking the picturesque valley of Dry Fork Creek. On this hill people have gathered to worship for 151 years.

The present Dry Fork Cumberland Presbyterian church building was erected in 1896 but an earlier building was located nearby. The tradition is that a group of men attending a Presbyterian meeting in Dickson, Tenn., were unable to accept some of the doctrine of their church and, after praying all night, their unanimous decision the next morning was to organize a new church and become Cumberland Presbyterians.

The first session book of this new church was dated Aug. 30, 1831, and shows Francis JOHNSON was the preacher and Thomas C. BEARD, James MARTIN, Henry DOBBINS, Britton J. NEEL and Robert W. GUTHRIE were elders, the latter also serving as clerk. Families included on the first membership list were BARR, BEARD, CAMPBELL, DOBBINS, DRANE, EVANS, FOSTER, GUTHRIE, JOHNSTON, LACKEY, MARTIN, MAXWELL, MCLIN, NEEL, PAYNE, TURNER and WRIGHT.

The first order of business to come before the session was the case of a servant who admitted that he had been guilty of theft. Even though he "expressed his sorrow and a hope that God had forgiven him," he was suspended. Several other slaves were suspended for adultery and for pregnancy.

In 1835, William EVANS, after admitting to "drinking wine to excess" and promising to reform, was continued as a member. The next year he was again cited for being drunk and this time he was suspended. After a lengthy trial and much testimony, Betsy NEEL was suspended for pregnancy and John W. WRIGHT was suspended for "un-Christian conduct," he apparently being the father of her child. Also her brother, Britton J. NEEL, an elder, was suspended because he had known of her conduct and had kept it a secret.

Another elder, Henry DOBBINS, sold a horse to John TYREE which he recommended to be sound. Witnesses for TYREE attempted to prove the horse had poor eyesight. After a second trial, the verdict was that DOBBINS "had not acted with the prudence and caution which becomes a Christian," but it was recommended he be restored to the communion of the church after "some words of admonition".

The 1837 records show that after numerous suspensions, plus letters of dismission and recommendation to those transferring to other churches and addition of new members, there were then 80 members in the communion. By 1840, even after a camp meeting, the membership had declined to a low of 55. Then over the years, it gradually increased to more than 100 members in the late 1880's.

The session book shows members who were killed in battle in the Confederate Army, as follows: John M. DOBBINS and Charles OWENS were killed in Richmond, Ky., William H. DOBBINS was killed at Murfreesboro, and James DOBBINS was killed at Missionary Ridge. Emmaline MCWHIRTER was at a church service here when a messenger came to tell her of the death of her step-son, James MCWHIRTER. He had been wounded at Shiloh and died a few days later in Corinth, Miss.

The salaries of the earliest preachers are unknown, but in 1873, Rev. J. B. JACKSON was hired to serve Dry Fork Church half-time, to preach two Sabbaths per month for a salary of $200 per year.

It was customary for the session to pass resolutions upon the deaths of members. The August 1872 minutes contain a resolution regarding the death of Brother Robert Wesley GUTHRIE, who served for many years as a ruling elder. An 1874 resolution notes the deaths in the past year of Brother John W. WRIGHT, a deacon, Mary Catherine WRIGHT, his mother, Mary Ann WRIGHT, his sister, and Hannah BEARD. The three WRIGHTS had died during a typhoid fever epidemic.

In addition to the first session members the following men served their church as elders during the 19th century: J. B. NEEL, Joseph W. BEARD, Aaron Smith NEEL, James Irving GUTHRIE, Robert C. PARKER, Joseph B. MCNEILL, Robert B. WRIGHT, R. G. HILL, J. P. PARKER, M. H. DOBBINS, T. D. PEYTON, S. C. TRIGG, and A. J. MAYS. During these years, Gideon V. WRIGHT, Thomas NEEL, John W. WRIGHT, D. M. DOBBINS, Porter GUTHRIE, William T. MCWHIRTER, Z. K. GRIFFIN and James C. WRIGHT were deacons.

Evidence of the enthusiastic loyalty of members to this church is shown by some personal letters. In 1880, Emmaline MCWHIRTER wrote to her son, Abram, then living in Illinois, and asked, "Are there any Cumberland Presbyterians where you now live?"

A few years later, Abe's wife wrote from Missouri to her mother-in-law of how she missed church at Dry Fork and concluded her letter by saying, "I will live and die a Cumberland Presbyterian."

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