Another favorite of our trip was driving around Sparta, Tennessee where the Robinsons came from in the late 1700's when it was first opened to explorers. Reuben Robinson, better known as Bud, is often mentioned in the White County history books we bought at the museum there. Although we don't know exactly where they lived, we do know he was born on a farm twelve miles north of Sparta, in 1860 along Calfkiller River near where Cherry Creek feeds into it. In this and the next post, I'd like to give a feel of the milieu he grew up in.
He was as rough as a cob, but was a product of the Tennessee-hollers-meets-religion. His well known prayer was...
"Oh Lord, give me a backbone as big as a saw log, and ribs like the sleepers under the church floor; put iron shoes on me, and galvanized breeches. And give me a rhinoceros' hide for a skin, and hang a wagon load of determination up in the gable of my soul, and help me to sign the contract to fight the devil as long as I've got a fist, and bite him as long as I've got a tooth, and then gum him 'til I die. All this I ask for Christ's sake, Amen!"
"White County's wonder evangelist" it is said, there are many old timers would know quite well. (This book was written in 1972) He traveled 200,000 miles, preached 33,000 times over sixty years, saw 10,000 people at the altar, he published thirteen books which sold over a million copies, gave $85,000 to provide education to help more than sixty young people get their college education. He also at one time held most if not all the shares in the Nazarene Publishing Company, which he gave back to them when they were in financial trouble on the brink of failing.
Close neighbors to the Robinson Chapel said, "When it was announced that Bud Robinson would preach at the church, the people far and wide would bring in food to spread for the occasion."
In his neck of the woods, there were churches early on established, especially the Cumberland Presbyterians, ones the Scotch-Irish often preferred, the first being on Cherry Creek in 1800 after a campmeeting there held by Lorenzo Dow. The first church, Episcopal Methodist was built of logs, the Mount Carmel Church. The first Methodist Church was the Bethelehem Church in 1818, then the one in Sparta itself, established in 1828. "Colonel Bill Stokes while holding Sparta tore out the floor and used the church as a stable for his cavalry horses. Camp Meetings were held where people came and stayed for weeks, even one where Bishop Asbury preached. The Asbury campground was up north near Kingston at Privett Springs, the Rock Springs Episcopal Methodist campground. Perhaps the best remembered one to the "White Countians is the Old Camp Ground near Pisgah." The original and most famous camp meeting was the Bean Ridge revival in Kentucky in 1814, the Great Awakening with preaching around the clock to the thousands who attended. Later after the Robinson Chapel was established in 1888, it was also a camp meeting site, even as a Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
"From the beginning of 1811 to the close of 1815 was a period of great excitement. In December, 181, there was an earthquake that startled our inhabitants. It had been raining for three months and the Calfkiller River was running muddy water. The earthquake was a night. There was a smell of sulphur in the air before the shock. There was a wave of the land accompanied by a roar, then the most frightful thing occurred in an accompanying crackling sound that sent terror to the stoutest hearts...Mud and steam shot out of the ground as high as trees. Water spouted up out of the ground. Up the Calfkiller River a knoll containing two acres was moved off its base without upturning a single tree, being moved from one to eight feet a day by the repeated shocks that came six or eight times a day. These were strong enough to rattle the dishes in the cupboard. These shocks continued for six months...There were the brightest aurora borealis ever known in this County. Excitement reached its climax when a blazing star spread its tail across the sky. When it arose, people could be heard praying in almost every neighborhood. They said it was a sure sign of war. When the War of 1812 broke out, our wise ancestors shook their heads and said, 'I told you so." ("History of White County, Tennessee")
Then again nature exhibited quite a display which happened when on November 13, 1833 the meteors fell. "It was a time of great excitement. Men, women, and children ran to and for. They thought the Judgment Day was at hand. People prayed. Negroes, especially the women, could be heard saying, 'Glory hallelu, de judgment day am come and I's ready to go, hallelu.' White men went and made friends with their enemies. It is said that the meteors falling had the appearance of snow...It is said that meteors that looked as large as the moon came near the earth and made it quake perceptibly. In 1836 there was another meteoric shower, but no such display as that of 183. There was a small shower of meteors in 1802." ("History of White County, Tennessee.")
Like the war issues I will address in the next post, there were contentious debates between denominations, even once becoming so personal that it caused the preachers to climb off their horses ready to fisticuff to settle their argument.. One such man was Rev. Issac Woodard, a Methodist minister .
"When Woodard was old he had three divisions to the sermon he preached, each division half an hour long. He had large audiences. Division One was on the Presbyterians: "There are the Presbyterians. They believe in the final perseverance of the saints. One of them, my neighbor got drunk last week and beat his wife. He was a nice saint, a wife-beating saint. He may have been a nice fellow before the devil shot the feathers off of him...I'd rather be under a Bishop who is a hundred miles away than be under an Elder next door pecking and spurring at me like an old dominecker rooster all the time. A Presbyterian deacon cheated his neighbor out of his horse, then went to prayer meeting and prayed for his neighbor's conversion. He thinks he is going to heaven, but there are three who know better. Down in his own heart he knows better, the Lord knows better, the devil knows better. When he dies he will try to go to Heaven, the devil will try to drag him to Hell. There will be an awful scuffle, until finally both will go kerflop right off into Hell.
Division Two was on the Baptists: "There's Ike Denton slandering the Lord, saying that there are infants in Hell (There was a famous sermon on this by the well known preacher Jonathan Edwards who put forth this theology almost with glee.)...Denton claims that the devil holds most of the world in spite of God, that God cannot get what the devil has. God is stronger than the devil, and if Denton was better acquainted with God than he is with the devil, he would change his mind. It is suspicious when a preacher knows too much about the devil. Denton knows more about the devil than any one I know." (It was Woodard who challenged Denton to fight it out with their fists.
Division Three, the Methodists. "There's your little two by four Methodist preacher. Your uncle Ike can preach three times on Sunday and go on about his business. Your little sissy preacher preaches once and he is so exhausted that when he reaches the house, he has to get some of the sisters to fan him. Some Methodist preachers are like Si Dugan's old red steer. They make noise enough to pull the world, but not a pound will they pull. There's your little sissy Methodist preacher who stretches up two or three inches taller, saying, 'I'm not afraid of the devil.' Well, I do not know about that, but I'm sure that the devil's not afraid of him. There are some Methodist preachers who will never create a flutter in the world unless it is the chickens getting away when he goes home with some one for dinner."
Sadly Rev. Issac Woodard's son got entangled in a murder-counterfeiting operation who was one who was embroiled, Fletcher Woodard. There was a son of a Methodist minister who was a murderous bushwhacker "whom no one would believe who tracked down and killed those on his hit list including his own uncle who he accused falsely of burning down his barn. Later Webb and his brother, another bushwhacker, were up in a tree and Federal soldiers shot them out of it.
During the Civil War, even church was not safe in White County. There was the time on Cherry Creek when Captain Burgess' men decided to attend services against his advice. While Rev. Jesse Hickman was preaching that night, the Confederate Bushwhacker Captain Champ Ferguson and his men opened fire. They were singing in the church and Sam Poteet was shot in his open mouth and a woman, Ann Gooch was accidently wounded." While the other soldiers made their exit out another door, one was trapped and left behind. He hid under the hoop skirts of the women who put their feet on him protecting him until the attack was over. ("It only took about twenty--hoop skirts--to fill a church.") This was in Uncle Bud's neck of the woods when he would have been a small boy.
Then there was the old preacher from the area, Rev. John Yates who fathered thirty-three children. One of his preaching points was seven miles from his home out on the Cumberland Mountains to which he always rode a steer to this appointment. He was also known for killing his horse under a poplar with a pocket knife. "No one knew why he killed the horse, but many people of the day believed that the tragic killing of the horse under that tree had something to do with the tree turning white, a white leaf poplar. He lived to be ninety-six. "Yates was endowed with a wonderful voice, so when Yates would reach the mountain top on the way to his appointment, he would practice on that part of his sermon that had to do with Gabriel blowing his trumpet. One fine Sunday morning while practicing thus, a man with a gun came out of the bushes and proceeded to curse the minister saying, "I came out here to kill a deer this morning for necessary meat for my family, while you came along bellowing like the Bull of Basham until you've scared every deer off the top of the mountain."
One of the sayings was, "A man had a full jug of liquor behind the door and a fiddle hanging on the wall. He would get converted at a meeting and go home and throw the fiddle out a back window, but leave the jug behind the door for future use." It was said of one early settler, "In the fall he would gather large ears and take a supply of them to a still up the river and bring back a barrel of whiskey. Then he would live happily until the spring planting time." One of the earliest distilleries was on Cherry Creek. Owing to the tax on liquor wildcatting became rampant. Liquor was sold in practically all stores. "The first drug stores in Sparta were really high class saloons." Rev. Seals says that he only knew of a couple people besides himself who didn't imbibe.
"In a personal letter to the writer Bud Robinson says, 'Well, I can thank God for ever being born in White County, Tennessee. It is a great county and filled with the finest people in the United States. White County has produced as many fine preachers and school teachers as any rural county in the nation. They have gone out from those beautiful hills to bless the world; may their tribe increase. In love to all the old White County boys and girls, I desire to meet them one and all in Heaven at the great marriage supper of the lamb.'"
It was a treat to be able to purchase two history books in the White County History Museum that I thought were out of print, from which the quotations and most of this information was gleaned from:
"History of White County Tennessee" by Rev. Monroe Seals, 1935, and "Memorable Historical Accounts of White County and Area," by E.G. Rogers.