History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
“John Henniger, Builder of Churches”
In 1817 Circuit Rider John Henniger was assigned to the Sequatchie Valley where he served present day Chapel Hill community that was the northern end of Marion County which was also created in 1817. Before 1807 the Sequatchie Valley was part of Roane County until Bledsoe County was formed that year with Brush Creek as its southern boundary. The lands south of Brush Creek was generally regarded as the Indians Lands of the Cherokee and were protected by Federal Troops until 1817 when the Cherokee were pressured to cede their lands with the Jackson-McMinn Treaty. It was against this backdrop that the Reverend John Henniger was assigned his charge.
John Henniger was born in Virginia in 1784. He joined the Western Conference in 1807. He served charges in Mississippi, Ohio, and Kentucky as well as Tennessee, where he was very popular. John Henniger was a member of the western, Tennessee, and Holston Conferences without transferring, serving each as it was carved out of the former. He did his most important work as presiding elder. In this capacity, he served French Broad, Knoxville, and the Washington Districts. He was presiding elder of the Washington District from 1830-1834 and again in 1835-1937, where he finished his faithful and brilliant career. He died December 23, 1838. His loyal wife had died six days earlier on December 17th.
The Washington District covered Sequatchie Valley; hence John Henniger was well known and beloved there. He lived for a few years near Pikeville. Four of his daughters were married there. Five of his grandchildren resided in Bledsoe County and one granddaughter lived in Chattanooga.
The wife of John Henniger was formerly Jane Anderson of Virginia, aunt of Louise Anderson Kirklin. The Kirklins resided in the house currently occupied by Lynn and Katherine Allen. Mrs. Kirklin was the daughter of John Anderson, Jr. (who was a brother of Jane Anderson) and Elizabeth McNair Anderson of Bledsoe County, where Mrs. Kirklin was born September 8, 1806. She was the first child of European descent born in the Sequatchie Valley. Jane’s brother was Col. Josiah Anderson, a member of Congress; and two of Jane’s great nieces were married to circuit riders, John Alley and Mitchell Swaim. John Alley was the longest serving minister of Henniger’s Chapel and Chapel Hill until that record was broken by Tom Tucker in 2018.
In 1852, the Kirklins donated land for a new church. Adding to the popularity of John Henniger, these blood ties helped to determine the name of the church fourteen years after his death.
Compilers note: During my research, I found 4 different spellings of this individual. Mary Thomas Peacock “The Circuit Ride and Those Who Followed” list him as Henninger. Edna Susong Jackson “Chapel Hill” list him as Henniger, which is the spelling I utilized in this article. The history of Beth-Car Methodist Church list him in 1814 as John Hennigar, known as “builder of churches”. However John Henniger is interred in Fort Hill Cemetery in Cleveland, Tennessee where the family name is listed as Henegar.
Next month’s question: Who is the longest serving pianist/organist in Chapel Hill history?