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A Good Word for the Elders, 1884

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 22, 2008

[I have to read so much anti-Mormon rancor in my work that I’m a real sucker for any kind word someone had for us in the 19th century.

Thomas J. Berry, born at Lee Valley, Hawkins Co., Tennessee, in 1844, was a farmer and sometime Justice of the Peace. He married Cornelia Trent in 1881, and they became the parents of at least three children, one of whom, George Leonard, a free-thinker like his father, was a labor activist in the pressmen’s and railroad workers’ unions, served with the rank of major in World War I, was appointed by Woodrow Wilson as a member of the American Commission negotiating the peace treaty at the end of that war, and was appointed by Tennessee’s governor to serve out the term of a senator who died in office.

Berry’s “aged father” mentioned in this letter as offering hospitality to Mormon missionaries, was William Berry, born about 1804.

I have not yet discovered why a 17-year-old Berry was traveling to California in 1861.]

I traveled from the Mississippi Valley to California over twenty-three years ago and before the bull-team was superseded by the “lightning express” of the railroad.

Over twenty years ago I traveled the entire length of Utah Territory, from the Virgin River to Idaho, passing through all the Mormon villages on the main line of travel, and the friendly, liberal hospitality of the Mormon people is not yet forgotten. This attempt at a letter is intended as a grateful acknowledgement to them for kindness received at their hands long years ago.

I am aware that it is, and has been for years, quite fashionable and popular to abuse and vilify the Mormons, and that a good word spoken for them lays the speaker thereof liable to be insulted; but I never feared a mistaken public opinion any more than I fear narrow sectarianism.

I am no sectarian; I fall down and worship according to no creed or doctrine set up and taught by mortal man like myself, which would save a few and damn a million. I am a free-thinker, and have a reverent and abiding faith in the goodness, the mercy and the justice of the great unknown Almighty power we call God, to believe in the ultimate salvation of every good and honest soul on the earth, or that ever was, or ever will be on the earth. I care not in what church I find a man, or if in no church at all, so long as he is a good man. That is all I want to know, and all I believe that God wants to know about him.

I want to say, in defiance of prejudice and bigotry of Jew or Gentile, that I am acquainted with Mormon men and women who are as much entitled to respect as any people; and I believe them to be intrinsically as good as any people anywhere.

I don’t endorse the dogmas or doctrines of the Mormon Church any more than I do those of the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians or Roman Catholics, but I do say they ought to enjoy the same liberty under our free government, to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences as is enjoyed by any sect or denomination.

I have no excuses or apologies to offer in defence of polygamy, or plural marriage. It may be sin, vice or error in those who practice it; but if the Congress of the United States feel called as missionaries to purify society by legislating vice and error out of existence, they ought to begin the good work right in Washington city. And as they widen the circle of their pious labors they should clean up the filth of New York, Chicago, St. Louis and so on throughout the country. They would find an abundance of immorality which is winked at and tolerated, that compared to Mormon polygamy makes it appear respectable.

I will illustrate the inconsistent warfare waged against the Mormons by some facts that have recently come to my own personal knowledge, right here at Hawkins Co., Tennessee.

Two Mormon Elders from Utah, have been sojourning in this neighborhood for several months. Their names are Jos. S. Hunter and John A. Bevan. They preach when opportunity offers, generally in the open air, as bigotry closes the Baptist and Methodist Church doors to them. They visit where invitations are extended, and deliver their message in a kind and loving manner to any who will listen. They intrude on no one; they are modest, plain, well behaved gentlemen.

They volunteer their assistance in the manual labors of any one who offers them entertainment. I have seen them put their Bibles in their pockets and chop wood, haul wood, husk corn, etc., during the cold weather while they were visitors at the home of my aged father.

I have invited them to my humble home, and enjoyed their visits when they came. No more perfect gentlemen than they ever entered my door, yet there are people here who would, if they dare, drive them out, mob and tar and feather them. I am glad these violent fanatics are too few to be dangerous, and that some of the best men in the country have been kind to Hunter and Bevan.

The fact I wish to note is that those who curse and abuse the Mormons most, are generally men without any pretense to piety themselves, or branded hypocrites who wear a church mask to serve the devil in; men who violate their marriage vows, and beget illegitimate children by lewd and ignorant prostitutes.

I have written more than I intended to write when I began, but have not written half, nor the tenth I could write truthfully; so with good will to all, and malice to none,

I am respectfully,

T.J. BERRY.

Lee Valley, Hawkins Co., Tenn., February 18th, 1884.

Six months later, on 10 August, two elders and two local Latter-day Saints were murdered, and another was crippled for life, at Cane Creek, Tennessee, by “violent fanatics … too few to be dangerous.”



11 Comments »

  1. I marvel at the comment about “Too few to be dangerous” as well.
    Though Cane Creek was nearly unique in its loss of life for the period, there were many close calls recorded in missionary journals and the Southern States mission newsletter. Patrick Q. Mason wrote a dissertation of the violence against religious outsiders in the south. On page 281 he provides a table showing the incidents of violence against Mormons from 1876 to 1900. There were 5 murders during the period, 4 of which at Cane Creek. The table is too large to reproduce here. But as a sample there were 38 murder threats, 28 whippings, 27 shootings (9 wounded), 13 beatings, and 3 tar & feathering.

    Comment by BruceC — September 22, 2008 @ 9:00 am

  2. btw, Mason’s dissertation in over 3 MB, so use the link only if you have fast connection.

    Comment by BruceC — September 22, 2008 @ 9:04 am

  3. Was this Berry family related to the family of one of the murdered missionaries, also named Berry?

    Comment by Researcher — September 22, 2008 @ 9:42 am

  4. Thanks for the link, BruceC — Mason’s dissertation blows all earlier studies of Southern violence against Mormons completely out of the water.

    Researcher, it’s possible that there was a connection since the Utah Berry family had roots in Kentucky and Virginia, but the immediate past generations of their pedigrees are different enough that I doubt either man was aware of the other one.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 22, 2008 @ 10:29 am

  5. Thanks, Ardis.

    The experience of the missionaries who relied on the hospitality of the people in their mission field was so different from any of our missionary experiences during the past half-century.

    Comment by Researcher — September 22, 2008 @ 11:05 am

  6. Wow. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Ardis.

    Do we know what was T.J. Berry’s motivation for writing this testimonial?

    Comment by Hunter — September 22, 2008 @ 3:33 pm

  7. No, I don’t know whether there was an immediately prior incident that provoked it, or whether he just had some free time one day and felt like writing. He’s on my radar if his name ever pops up in anything else I’m reading, and I’ll report back.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 22, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  8. Ardis,
    Thank you for creating your blog. Each of your daily stories or accounts are priceless. I don’t know of another place where such information is available. You are great!

    Comment by Maurine Ward — September 22, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

  9. Aw, shucks, Maurine!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 22, 2008 @ 5:22 pm

  10. Mr. Parshall, Thank you so much for your blog. I was wondering if you would be willing to converse with me via email. My husband has ancestors that may have been members of the Branch in Cane Creek There is alot of family lore that we are trying to straighten out and you seem to have more info on the subject than I have been able to find. Any help would be appreciated.

    Comment by LM Jones — October 4, 2008 @ 4:34 pm

  11. LM Jones, I too would be interested in dicussing your family lore, though I’m not sure how to contact you. If you see this you can look contact me at my website.

    Comment by BruceCrow — February 16, 2009 @ 8:49 am

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