MAURY COUNTY TENNESSEE, BETHEL CHURCH HISTORY, SOUTHPORT
BETHEL CHURCH OF CHRIST
Any history of the Dugger, Smith, Matthews, McKissick, Murphy and Thurman families could not be complete without a history of the Bethel Church of Christ. From its very beginning these families, were Bethel Church. On the following pages is a 1908 or 1909 picture of the church building and the members then. I am indebted to Vinton Morgan, Melvin Dugger’s son-in-law, for almost all of the information about Bethel Church. He preached there for several years and located the “Church Book” which gave the entire history of the church. Following the picture of the building, I have included copies of the information which he so generously shared with me.
Added to this information I want to share some things which I remember about the building and the members of the church. The building had two doors as was common with church buildings of that time-the left one for women and the right one for the men. The seats or pews had a low divider down the middle so that women sat on the left side and men sat on the right. Under the seats there were boxes about a foot square, made of rough lumber and filled with dirt. These were “spit boxes.” The men chewed tobacco and the women “dipped” snuff and “spit boxes” were a necessity. Of course, there was no electricity, no running water, no restrooms, etc. Outhouses behind the building were necessary “fixtures.” A water bucket with a dipper was always provided on the back seat of the building for those who must have a drink of water. There were no screens on the windows so insects and flies usually found their way into the building. Preachers, who usually spoke for two hours or so, were provided with a glass of water with a piece of cardboard over it to keep out the flies and insects.
When I was there, Smith Dugger, my father was treasurer. Each month he “read out” the contributions for each Sunday and a list of the expenditures. There was never any “extra’ money in the treasury and when preachers were invited for meetings the men met outside of the building under a tree and decided how much they should be paid and who would. donate the money. Preachers who came to preach on a somewhat regular basis, usually once a month, were given that Sunday’s contribution. The treasurer usually had to take care of the small expenditures out of his pocket because there was no money for them in the treasury. While under modem-day circumstances, this seems like a peculiar way to conduct the “business” of a church, it worked quite adequately for that time.
By reading the following material on the Bethel Church of Christ you’ll enjoy a period of history of that time.
By Jack Dugger, born 1918, written in the year of our Lord 2002.
This next history was first compiled and written by Vinton Lee Morgan, minister of the Church of Christ at Westvue in Lewisburg, Tennessee 37091. April, 1998. It is not the work of his research but information collected from conversations with older Bethel members in the 1960’s and from other material in his possession.
In January of 1967 I was invited to preach for the Bethel church. As a newly married 22 year old, I had only one year of preaching experience and knew no one in the congregation. Services were only held on Sunday mornings. According to my records I was paid 30 dollars each Sunday. The money was taken directly from the contribution and given to me in cash. The last Sunday of each year I received 60 dollars. The Church Elders were Carmel Horn, E.P. Richardson and Garrett Thurman. In June of 1969 the Elders gave me one hundred dollars to travel to Heath, Ohio to conduct a gospel meeting. My records further indicate that the typical attendance was 85 and on Gospel Meeting Sundays would reach 114. The highest Sunday contribution during my tenure was $244. The greatest improvement to the building came in August of 1969 when central air conditioning was added. Along with two other members I signed the $3,500 note at the Middle Tennessee Bank. To my relief the debt was retired in less than a year. A goodly number were baptized into Christ while I preached at Bethel but only three are mentioned in my records: June Henson, Omie Gibson, and Mrs. Emmett Sands.
Our daughter, Katie, was born while I preached at Bethel and one Sunday as a two year old she got away from her mother and came bounding down the aisle during the invitation song. Needless to say she was a bit young for a response to the Lord’s call so we finally caught up with her.
In 1969, I was given the historical records of the Bethel church which began before the turn of the century and contained information up to the late 1930’s. I kept them for a few months but felt they ought to remain with the congregation and so I returned them when I left Bethel in December of 1970. Recently I have attempted to locate these records but with no success. In researching the history of my wife’s family in 1995, I was surprised, as was she, to find that her great, great, great, grandfather was Robert F. Matthews and most of the membership of the Bethel church at the time I preached there were related to her. More than any other congregation, the Bethel Church of Christ was the spiritual home of most of her ancestors beginning in 1835.
BETHEL CHURCH OF CHRIST HISTORY-South Port Tennessee
By 1835 the movement to restore New Testament Christianity was well established
in Maury County, Tennessee. Numerous converts scattered throughout the county
were attempting to organize churches founded only on the Bible without human
creeds. No where was this effort any stronger than in the southern part of the
county near Southport on the Giles County line. Here one of the untiring pioneer
preachers lived. William S. Gooch was a farmer by occupation but dedicated much
of his life to proclaiming Christianity. Born in Granville County, North
Carolina, he and his wife, Aley Jones, came to Maury County in 1825. He lived
south of Mt. Pleasant and was known to be a great debater. When the Mormons
began to settle over in Hickman County near old Dunlap, they challenged the
Christians to debate. William S. Gooch was called, and gladly agreed, to meet
them. This debate was the most enthusiastically attended religious discussion
ever held in the area and ended the growth of Mormonism in southern middle
Tennessee. Along with L.A. Nichols who lived near Mt. Pleasant and preached some
for the church on Cathy’s Creek, Gooch established a congregation near his
home. Thus the Bethel Christian Church had its beginning in 1835. Dying at the
age of 51, his wife and five children buried him near the Bethel meeting house
in a cemetery which can not now be located. The year was 1851.
The Bethel congregation referred to themselves individually as “Christians” and collectively as the ‘Christian Church”. Thousands of other congregations scattered from the east coast to the new states of the west used the same terms. Following the creation in 1849 of the United Christian Missionary Society in Cincinnati. Ohio and the introduction of instrumental music in worship in 1859 in Midway, Kentucky, a division arose among the congregations. In 1906 the Census Bureau recognized the two distinct groups as the Disciples of Christ and the Churches of Christ. The latter were congregations who refused to use mechanical instruments of music and did not join the missionary society. Nonetheless, local congregations continued to be called ‘Christian Churches” in Tennessee until the 1920’s. When Bethel first used ‘Church of Christ” is not known.
The first meeting house of the Bethel church was built of logs with split log benches and lighted by oil lamps. It stood a few yards behind and west of the present house of worship. The history of the Bethel church of Christ is a history of the men and women who struggled to plant a congregation on the simple principles of the New Testament. One of the early stalwarts of the faith was Miles P. Murphy, Sr. The son of Nathaniel Murphy from Virginia, he married Eleanor Mack, from another early Maury County family. Like most of the first Bethel members, it can not be determined who was instrumental in his conversion. Joshua K. Speer and Wade Barrett were two early preachers who taught in Southport but perhaps the tireless William S. Gooch deserves the credit for introducing Murphy to the Gospel. Miles Murphy, Sr. would loyally support the Bethel church until his death in 1874. Like many of his neighbors who had no strong ties to the cotton plantation system, Murphy would remain loyal to the Union during the Civil War. At his death, burial was made in the Murphy Cemetery some distance west of the Bethel church. He also served as an elder of the Bethel church prior to the Civil War along with Robert Franklin Matthews.
In 1854 Robert F. and Sarah Eliza Bills Matthews moved to a small farm that
included Miller Lake. Prior to the creation of this lake, the property was
called the "Canal Place" because a visitor to the clear channel of
water liken it to one of the canals in the North. Most of the Matthews’ seven
children were born at the Giddens Place, four miles east of Mt. Pleasant. but
the Panic of 1837 forced this well-to-do investor to sell his plantation to his
brother Elisha and move to Enterprise. After several more moves he was finally
able to buy the ‘Canal Place’ with the help of his wife’s inheritance. To
supplement his income, Robert operated a freight business. One of the
Matthews’ nearest neighbors was the George W. Hubbell family, also Bethel
When the Matthews became Christians is unknown. Some evidence suggest that it may have been as early as the 1820’s or as late as the 1840’s. They were certainly influenced by Mrs. Matthews' parents, lsaac and Lillias Houston Bills. The Bills had been baptized at their plantation home 4 miles south of Columbia on the Mooresville Pike around 1814. Before moving to Maury County, this family had resided near Lexington, Kentucky, and often heard the preaching of Barton W. Stone. Robert F. Matthews’ parents, however, were Presbyterians and were instrumental in organizing the Hopewell Presbyterian church near McCains.
In addition to William S. Gooch, Matthews and Murphy did much of the preaching in those early years before 1860. A local tanner, William McConnell, also kept monthly preaching appointments. Many families were converted and along with other Christians who moved into the community the size of the church quickly increased those first twenty years.
In 1856 Bethel received a sizable addition to its membership. The eleven year old congregation in Bigbyville disbanded. Like so many other churches in Ohio and Kentucky, the Bigbyville congregation was debating the use of instrumental music in worship services. The contention became so divisive that the building was sold to the Methodists and the membership was dispersed. Most came to Bethel. During this period of growth new names began to appear on the Bethel church roll: Morrow, McKissick. Thurman, Haley, Foster, Garrett, Dugger, Seagraves and others. These families developed close ties of a spiritual nature as well as blood kinship to earlier Bethel members. James M. Haley married Martha Hubbell and a daughter of Robert F. Matthews, Frances Olivia, married William McEwen McKissick. These were two of dozens of family connections. By the time of the Civil War, the Bethel church was a congregation consisting of one extended family.
The war that tore the nation apart in 1861 to some extent divided the families of the Bethel church. Not all of its members were united in their support of the Confederacy. Although the best of friends and fellow disciples, the Murphy and Matthews families did not agree on secession. In the end. however, their loyalty to the cause of Christ was greater than that to human government. The Bethel church was not divided by the Civil War.
By 1863 the opposing armies moved frequently through Maury County taking what they could carry. They were followed by bands of thieves who stole what remained. Young men of military age either joined or were drafted into service leaving households of women, young children and aged men. Every Bethel family had someone in the army or knew those who were in military service. After major battles, the older church members would walk to Bigbyville to hear of the latest casualties. Sometimes the battles were so near that the roar of cannon could be heard. Frances Olivia Matthews McKissick stood on the balcony of the McKissick farm house with her four year old daughter and listened all evening to the clash of arms coming from the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864. No doubt she wondered what kind of world the child she was carrying would enter.
Bethel church members suffered much during this time and worship services were held on an irregular basis from 1863 to 1866. Local law enforcement finally ceased to exist in the county in early 1865 and private property was fair game for those with no moral principles. These conditions would cost the Bethel church one of her elders. Early in the evening just after darkness on March 19, 1865, a thief made his way up the hollow to the barn of Robert F. Matthews. At that same moment Elder Matthews was seated near his fireplace reading the fourth chapter of the book of Ephesians to his three grandsons. (The Matthews’ daughter, Mary Dulcania, had married Doctor Ben F. Smith, a widower from Giles County. After giving birth to three sons in less than three years, she died in childbirth in 1856. Since the death of their mother, Albert N., Robert and Charles Smith had been living with their grandparents. The previous year on January 4, 1864, Doctor Smith had been murdered by an unknown assailant outside of his house in Waco. The only parents the young Smith boys had known were their grandparents.) The thief opened the barn door intent on stealing the family horse. The noise at the barn aroused the family and Elder Matthews, armed with only a stick of fire wood, attempted to stop the thief. Pulling out a pistol, the robber fired once at the approaching preacher. The Bethel Elder fell dead. Although the murderer was identified, he was never arrested. Just one month before Frances Olivia Matthews McKissick had given birth to a son. William Robert McKissick, who never knew his grandfather Matthews. The Smith boys had suffered the loss of another loved one and now the only adult remaining in their lives was their sixty year old grandmother. With the help of fellow church members the body was prepared for burial. The following day it was taken to the Matthews Cemetery overlooking Bigbyville. The grave was dug and Elder Murphy spoke a few words over the body of his friend. Times were painful for all.
Eliza Bills Matthews lived twenty more years in difficult circumstances, rearing her three grandsons in the faith. The oldest, Albert Newton, married James M. Haley’s daughter, Margaret, a fellow Bethel member. They were the parents of five daughters, two of which died in infancy. Laura married Nat Rae, Bernice married Clarence Dugger and Ethel married Smith Dugger. The second grandson, Robert, married and moved to Big Creek in Giles County to a farm that he inherited from his father’s estate. His son, Charles, married Ezella Morton and they were life long members of the Big Creek congregation in northern Giles County. Ezella Morton Smith’s grandfather, James Morton , had been instrumental in organizing the Big Creek church. The third grandson, Charles, became a banker in Franklin, Tennessee.
By 1885, the poverty created by the war was retreating and the Bethel church felt the need for a larger modern frame house of worship. A new 32 toot by 50 foot building was completed at the cost of $1,600. This new building was symbolic of the new congregation. The first generation was rapidly passing on to their reward. Eliza Bills Matthews was one of the last of that generation to die in April of 1885 and probably did not see the completed structure although it has been suggested that her funeral was the first to be held in the new house of worship.
Bethel was now a second generation congregation. A. A. Morrow, son of early converts, was an elder until 1898. M.L. Seagraves, a Confederate veteran, served with him until his death in 1907. The Bethel church was growing. Much credit was due to the son of Miles P. Murphy Sr., William N. Murphy, for reviving the congregation after the Civil War by serving as a regular preacher beginning in 1866. Murphy was married to Catherine Dugger and was the motivating force behind the establishment of the Ephesus Church of Christ in June of 1904. Other men who preached by monthly appointments were James Morton, and later his son Will Morton, A. S. Derryberry, Samuel Sewell and nearly every preacher in Maury County. James T. McKissick began preaching in the 1880’s at Bethel, following in the steps of his grandfather Matthews. His sister, Lucy Bills McKissick, married E. P. Richardson from Stiversville in 1900 and they lived the remainder of their lives on the McKissick farm. E. P. Richardson served Bethel as an Elder until the late 1960’s. His daughter, Eunice, married Garrett Thurman who would also serve in the office of Elder.
The Thurman family was another large Bethel family. John Mark and Mary Frances Hubbell Thurman grew up in the Bethel church and counted among their relatives nearly every family in the congregation. They had eight daughters and their four sons would be life long members in the Bethel church. One son. Amon, would serve as a Deacon at the time his brother Garrett held the office of Elder.
Bethel church aided the Cause of Christ by welcoming young preachers to her pulpit thus giving them much needed experience in proclaiming the Word. Dozens of Bethel children would marry and move away or take employment elsewhere and place their membership with other congregations from Texas to Michigan. Many churches of Christ in America have members who can trace their spiritual heritage to the small church meeting near Southport, Tennessee.
This section resulted from an effort to research the genealogy of some of the early church founding members which was done by Mary C. Buckner.
William S Gooch was born May 4th 1800 and died June 24, 1851. He came to Maury County in 1825 from Granville County, North Carolina. Mr. Gooch was one the founders of the Bethel Church of Christ. He is buried in the family graveyard ½ mile from Bethel Church of Christ on the south side of Preacher Holt Road. Today in 1991 this road is known as the Mack Benderman Road. His grave is the only tombstone marked with an inscription. There are ten fieldstones in the cemetery around William’s grave indicating other members of the family are buried there. On William S. Gooch’s stone is written this tribute of respect: “Erected to his memory by his wife Ailcy and five children. He was for many years a consistent member of the Christian Church and a faithful teacher in the same.”
William S. Gooch, born 1800 & died 1851 married Alley Jones (called Alley, and in some places spelled Alsey).
The Federal Census of 1850 of Maury County finds the following record:
Surname Given Age
Gooch, William S. 50
Barton S. 17
Mary J. 8
Nancy H. 6
Lucy A. 1
July Ann 15
The Federal Census of 1860 of Maury County finds the following record:
Surname Given Age
Gooch, Alsey 55
Mary Josephine. 19
Nancy H. 15
In the 1850 Census there was seven children one of whom does not appear to be an immediate member of the family. She was listed at the bottom of the list and the age does not line up.
In the 1860 Censes there was just Alsey and three children remaining. Since the tombstone records mention five children from the ages it appears at least two or more children were grown and had already established separate homes or maybe they were deceased and were buried in one of the graves marked only with field stones mentioned above thus leaving five surviving children.
We know from other records that there was already matured children living away from home. In the book Century Review of Maury County p. 288 we find this information on Roland Gooch, the third child. “Roland Gooch, b. Aug 14 1836, at Southport, Maury County, is the son of William S. & Aley (Jones) Gooch who came from Granville County, North Carolina to Maury County in 1825. Roland married Nancy Jones daughter of Henry and Manerva (Corsort) Jones also from North Carolina”.
The Tombstone records used above were copied by Mrs. E. J. “Dot” King and her son David. Notes & Census research here were conducted and written by Mary C. Buckner and transcribed by Wayne Austin.
Bethel Church of Christ, 1908 or 1909.
Front row: Pinckney Harris, preacher (name unknown), song leader (name not known). Mrs. James Haley with children, Adrian & Granville Haley, Mrs. Lula (Robert) Thurman, Mrs. Marshall McKissick, Mrs. Lee Weatherford, Mrs. Eliza Dugger (my grandmother, wife of J. Smith Dugger), Miss Cora Harris, nurse for the McKissick children, Charles and Seth McKissick, Mrs. John Seagraves, child-Alene Murphy, Mrs. Maynard Murphy, Mrs. Smith Dugger, Mr. E.P. (Buddy) Richardson, Mr. John L. Seagraves, Mrs. C. J.(Bud) Dugger, Mr. Robert Thurman, Mr. Maynard Murphy; right steps: Mr. Marshall McKissick, his baby son, Alton McKissick, Mr. James Haley, Mr. Smith Dugger (my father), unknown man.
Left Steps: Mrs. John Seagraves, Mrs. Bud Dugger, Mr. Robert Thurman, M (two or three names unreadable), Mr. Maynard Murphy.
Right Steps: Mr. Marshall McKissick & baby Alton, Mr. James Haley, Mr. Smith Dugger, unknown man,
We are sorry for the quality of the photo but this is the what we were left with. If you know of anyone with a better copy of the photo we would like to hear from you. Wayne Austin. 1/14/2004
BETHEL CHURCH OF CHRIST-Author Unknown
The Bethel Church of Christ is twelve miles southwest of Columbia, TN near Southport, just off the Campbellsville Pike, turning west on the Miller Lake Road going about .4 of a mile. It faces Miller Lake Road but one turns up Preacher Holt Road to enter the parking lot. The Church was established about 1835 by William S. Gooch, L. A. Nichols, William McConnell, R. F. Matthews and M. P. Murphy Sr., early believers of the faith in this section of Maury County.
This Church has been very active since it was first organized. The present building is the third building to be built on or near the present site. The first and second buildings were of log as were many of that date. All information seems to show that the first building was near the second building and also the present building. The second building was just past the present building, one fourth of a mile up Miller Lake Road just before coming to the yard of the old John Wyatt Lovell place, now the Ervin Hindman place. All that remains of this building is a few big stones. This likely is the building where the members of the Bigbyville Congregation united with the Bethel Congregation (about 1855 or 1856) after selling their building. This building remained standing for several years before its deterioration, after the present building was built in 1885.
Two of the men that established the Church are buried within 1½ miles of the present building. William S. Gooch died in 1851 and is buried in Gooch graveyard and Miles P. Murphy, Sr. died in 1874 and is buried in the Murphy Harris graveyard. Both graveyards are on Preacher Holt Road.
The present church building was erected in 1885 by A. A. Morrow, M. P. Murphy, JR., and William N. Murphy. M. P. and William N. Murphy were sons of M. P. Murphy Sr. The building was 32’ by 50' and cost $1,600. The sills underneath are of logs that ran the full length of the building. Brother Brown Foster of Columbia said he was told that the logs were hauled by A. J. Foster on a wagon to the location. He also said that he attended there in his boyhood days and thought it was one of the finest congregations that could be found anywhere. He was baptized by Brother J. T. Harris who lived in Lawrenceburg and was holding a meeting August 18, 1918. Brother Foster moved away in 1922. Since then he has helped in meetings by leading singing. He also has held a meeting.
Some of the early families that attended here were: W. R. M. McKissick and family, E. P. Richardson and family, F. M. Murphy and family, J. M. Thurman and family, Robert Thurman and family, Tolbert Dugger and family, Pink Harris and family, Bud Dugger and family, Smith Dugger and family, Jim Haley and family, John Garrett and family, Leroy Weatherford and family, John Seagraves and family.
Miss Adrian and Miss Mary Haley have a picture of this church made in 1909 with several of the above families in it. All of the people in the picture are deceased except for two children. These are Miss Adrian Haley and Aline Murphy (Wilson). Both were about three years old at the time.
Note by the original compiler
Jack Dugger: Now 2003 these ladies are deceased also and we have not as yet
located the photo from their heirs.
Author unknown, but from the ages of persons and looks of original as an old typed document it is believed to be the 1960s or 1970s. The above documents were assembled by and presented to me by Jack Dugger, Nashville Tennessee a Southport and Broadview native and former resident. I have digitized, edited and translated them into a format for publication on this site. Our thanks to Jack and the persons mentioned above and including others unknown who were careful enough to preserve these writings. Wayne Austin of Madison Alabama, 1-14-2004.
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