History Leaves of the Methodist Tree
Compiled by Johnny Cordell
“A Time of Tribulation 1863-1884”
In the hot August summer of 1863, Federal soldiers destroyed Henniger’s Chapel (Present day Chapel Hill). The American Civil War had been raging since 1861, and Sequatchie Valley felt the full force of the war beginning in early 1863. Loyalties and sympathies were closely divided regarding the Union and Confederate governments. The battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga twice brought large armies from both sides traversing through the Sequatchie Valley to engage in battle, to reinforce existing armies, and also as a major backdoor supply route to Chattanooga. Since the regular supply chain was not always efficient, soldiers from both armies would raid and pillage the local farms and countryside, taking most of the livestock and grain available. The local population was reduced to subsistence existence and their young teenage boys were conscripted by both armies.
The Methodist Episcopal Church was also split into northern and southern factions, and the Holston Conference was also at times unable to provide a circuit riding minister. However, most communities had a church where local lay leaders could continue the mission of the church. Since Henniger’s Chapel (Chapel Hill) had been destroyed, this option was not available to this community. The community was suffering physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The community could have descended into apathy, but in times of great tribulation, Christ will raise up individuals among his people. In 1864, a young girl was brought under conviction while praying in an apple orchard. This created quite a stir in the community and eventually led to a great revival also led by three men under the guiding spirit of Christ. These three men were Josiah Rogers, William D. Deakins, and Stephen D. Thurman. These three men were mentioned by Dr. R.N. Price in “History of the Holston Conference”. William D. Deakins was an individual possessed of talents of high order; and when warmed under a good gospel sermon or a prayer meeting, he would seem to be aglow with the power and glory of God, and would almost, it seemed, bring heaven and earth together. When he arose from his knees, the whole congregation would be in tears, and be in a state of ecstasy.
Stephen D. Thurman was a man of great conviction and a fervent Christian. He was also able to move congregations with prayer, but his great talent was bringing the word through his untiring ability to sing his message of Christ’s love. He is credited with leading many souls to the Savior. That spirit continues today with a current member of Chapel Hill, his great-great granddaughter Lula Bess Hickey.
Josiah Rogers was the third member of this Christian trio of musketeers. A remarkable man, he was physically imposing, intellectually impressive, and spiritually a veritable giant. He was a great shouter, not only in church, but at home, in the fields, and along the roadside. In times of bereavement, his exulting soul would rise above every cumbering care in rapturous praise to God.
Under the direction of these three men, the revival began as a prayer meeting in the home of Josiah Rogers. A great crowd assembled and the meeting continued all night, breaking up after daylight the next morning. Fifteen young men and young ladies were converted that night. These three men announced that the meeting would be carried to Liberty Union Church. The meeting went on for three weeks, resulting in over 200 conversions and accessions. This prayer meeting revival of 1864 effectively brought the general community’s attention to real religion again and to prepare them for the trying days ahead following a devastating war. These three laymen, had given the spiritually worn an opportunity to lay hold upon God anew, to lay the groundwork for rebuilding the church in 1884, and to continue to “fight the good fight of faith”.
Sources: Dr. R.N Price “History of Holston Conference” and Mary Thomas Peacock “The Circuit Riders and Those Who Followed”
Last month’s question: What minister of Chapel Hill holds the record for conducting weddings and funerals? This record probably belongs to John Alley due to his long tenure at Chapel Hill and family connections in Sequatchie and Bledsoe Counties.
Next month’s question: How many conference certified lay speakers are members of Chapel Hill UMC?