Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Charlotte Lee Hobby: “In Full Fellowship,” 1896
 


Charlotte Lee Hobby: “In Full Fellowship,” 1896

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 27, 2010

If your ward or branch has a normal member turnover, it’s a routine part of your ward business to “read in” the memberships of new people: Eery few weeks the bishop or his counselor will read names from a stack of printed membership forms recently received by the ward, ask people to stand as their names are read, and then ask the congregation to welcome the new members by raising the right hand.

Printed membership records transferred by a central Church office from a member’s old ward to his new ward are so routine that we seldom give them a second thought (unless, that is, you’re the membership clerk who has to deal with all those bits of data). Such printed records date only to the mid-20th century, however; for more than a hundred years, it was up to individual members to provide their membership information to their new wards. This might be done by a certificate sought by the member in his old ward and presented by him to his new bishop, or, in the earliest decades, by a simple handwritten letter from a clerk or bishop or missionary confirming the member’s status.

Relatively few of those transfer letters or certificates survive today – there was no need to keep them after the clerk in the new ward had made an entry in his membership book. I recently came across one such letter, though, for a woman named Charlotte Lee Hobby. It is undated, but was certainly written in 1896 or ‘97, when its maker, Joseph Stewart Geddes, was president of the Southern Alabama Conference of the Southern States Mission. The place of Charlotte’s membership is shown as “Pleasant Grove Branch,” a small branch near Birmingham, Alabama. And just to complicate things, the name of the man who baptized Charlotte is given as “Joseph A. Reid,” when in fact it was George A. Reid who both baptized and confirmed her.

The certificate:

.

Elder Geddes wrote about conditions in the southern part of Alabama in May, 1896:

Elders Ira Call and George A. Reid were laboring in Wilcox county, and held a meeting in the Goose Creek neighborhood, where they made some good friends, who began to seriously investigate the doctrine. In a short time the ministers came and stirred up the people to such an extent that the clerk of the church (one of our best friends) resigned his position, and other members declared their intention never to go to hear their preacher again. Shortly after this, we went there visiting and holding meetings with the Elders. We were kindly received by our friends and a meeting was appointed. Before the hour arrived, we were informed that a club had been organized to do us violence if we did not leave at once. Talk of powder and shot was profusely indulged in, but as we paid no attention to it, the meeting went on unmolested. We knew that the purpose of the organization was to frighten us out and cause our friends to forsake us. The plan was a failure, however, for we remained as long as our program would permit, and were not troubled. But the very morning we left, a cavalcade of about twenty-five horsemen came riding through the settlement inquiring for the Mormons and making big talk. They knew we were gone, but did it to excite our friends, which they succeeded in doing to some extent. One lady drew a gun on the justice of the peace (a prominent member of the gang) and told him not to open his mouth or she would blow his head off.

As a result of this little stir, some who were before undecided have now declared themselves on our side, and we feel fully confident that in the near future we will have the pleasure of recording some more names on our records.

[J.S. Geddes, “South Alabama Conference,” Deseret News, 30 May 1896]

A few weeks later, Elder Geddes confirmed that they had, indeed, recorded “some more names on our records”:

[Writing on July 1,] “Truth is mighty and will prevail.” We are holding more meetings to larger congregations, with more satisfactory results than ever before. During our short visit in Lowndes county … twenty-five meetings were held, and thirteen souls added to the fold of Christ. … We are fully persuaded that many of the Lord’s bright jewels are here being polished for the numbering.

[J.S. Geddes, “In South Alabama,” Deseret News, 25 July 1896]

Nine of those “thirteen souls” in Lowndes county were members of one extended family. The matriarch of that family was Charlotte Pace Lee Hobby Hall Hobby, age 67, thrice widowed (her second widowhood was to a casualty of the Civil War), the mother of seven. All six of her living adult children joined the Church along with her, or very soon after. Her “branch” existed more on paper than on the ground: no branch meetings were held, except when missionaries happened to be traveling through the area and stayed with members of the family. Charlotte didn’t need her letter because she was moving to a new branch; she remained in her Mt. Willing, Alabama home for the rest of her life. Rather than introducing her to a new branch, Charlotte’s handwritten certificate served only to document her baptism for herself, and it stayed in her possession until her death on 9 April 1901.

While the epitaph on her gravestone – “The truths you taught us are more precious than gold” – doubtless refers to more than her five years as a Mormon, I like to think that those words do refer in part to her leading her family into the waters of baptism, and to her remaining “in full fellowship” until the end of her days.

Charlotte is my great-great-grandmother, one of the “bright jewels” in my own gospel heritage.



8 Comments »

  1. What a beautiful account! Thanks for sharing it, Ardis.

    Comment by Alison — December 27, 2010 @ 7:29 am

  2. Great story, Ardis. As I was reading I had a hunch that this would tie into your Alabama kin. :-)

    Having served as a clerk, I cringe to think how chaotic such a membership record system was.

    This post is so descriptive of the way the Church operated in the mission field. The term “conference” was used as a forerunner to “district”. This also underscores how critical the missionaries were to the Church in the mission field at the time, serving in the local leadership positions. Finally, this underscores once again the hostility and prejudice directed toward the Church in this area. (I’m sure that Bruce C. could elaborate more on that.)

    Thanks for sharing, Ardis.

    Comment by Steve C. — December 27, 2010 @ 9:54 am

  3. Loved this. And I didn’t know about individual members having to provide their membership information to their new wards. Informative and inspiring post. Thanks.

    Comment by David Y. — December 27, 2010 @ 9:55 am

  4. How rich such little bits of paper are with history!

    Comment by Mina — December 27, 2010 @ 11:41 am

  5. Today, you can get a printout of your family’s individual ordinance summaries (IOS). It has the membership record number, ordinance information, etc. Without it, it’s easy enough for the clerk to request the record using a full name and birthdate or membership number (birthyear is always required).

    If your clerk hasn’t given you a copy of your IOS statement, ask for one (our ward sends a PDF file to families when they leave to take with them)…

    Comment by queuno — December 27, 2010 @ 12:56 pm

  6. What a nice addition to your family history!

    The certificate and the accounts in the Deseret News raise a few questions, though–maybe you know the answers and are saving them for later.

    Lowndes County is south and slightly west of Montgomery, and surely qualifies as “South” Alabama. But there’s no way that Birmingham could qualify as “South” Alabama, except by the same sort of reasoning that put the Utah Jazz in the old Midwest Division of the NBA, or the Atlanta Braves in the old National League West.

    And it’s a long way from Mt. Willing to the village of Pleasant Grove which shows up on Google Maps about 10 miles west of Birmingham.

    So, was the Pleasant Grove Branch located in the village of that name, just west of Birmingham?

    Did some of the branches in those old missions cover huge areas? It’s 130 miles or over two hours, mostly by freeway these days, but a week’s journey back in 1896.

    Comment by Mark B. — December 27, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

  7. The only answer I have, Mark, is that there were precious few organized branches *any*where in Alabama in that era. If there was a requirement (and I don’t know whether it was requirement, or tradition, or something else) that someone must be assigned to a branch and not be a member-at-large, Pleasant Grove may have been the nearest branch, far away as it was. Certainly Charlotte lived in and around Mt. Willing/Braggs/Fort Deposit her whole life, and never lived outside of Lowndes County. I don’t know enough about the history of the Church in Alabama to speculate beyond this. (I’ve concentrated on my dad’s New York family since my mother’s sister was so heavily into the southern branch; now that I’m all there is left, I’ll be learning a lot more about the southern family and maybe can revisit this later. I do remember my grandmother saying they never went to church, except that the missionaries would meet with them in their home, and they held a home Sunday School for a while. They could as easily have been members of the Chicago branch as any branch at Birmingham!)

    Thanks to you all for reading, and especially to Steve for broadening this beyond the story of an individual woman.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 27, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed this account of this faithful sister and the brethren who taught and baptized her. The fortitude of the Alabama, and virtually all southern Saints, seems to be a consistent thread that runs through their character. I remember Dr. (Sister) Melanie Benton, recollection of when her father and brothers faced off another gang of hooded Mormon haters from the front porch of their home. Brother Benton told them that the missionaries were his guests and friends in his home and that he would not give them up. He told them that he could recognize every one of them by their voices, saddles and mounts so their klan robes didn’t hide a thing. He warned them that they were on his land and that they had better clear off right now or he and his boys would open fire. Brother Benton concluded by saying, “You might get me and a few of us, but we’ll get a hell of a lot more of you before it’s over.” With some curses, threats and swearing the mobbed mob turned their horses and left the Benton lands. This occurred in Barbour County, Alabama, sometime around 1910-1914, I believe. I didn’t know Sister Benton’s exact age when she treated me for pneumonia while on my mission in Dothan. Sister Benton’s practice was in Enterprise, Alabama, a town known for it’s monument to the boll weevil. She had studied medicine at Johns Hopkins University with one of President David O. MacKay’s sons. Every afternoon, after about 3:00pm, Sister Benton would have her “clinic”. The poor of the area, both black and white, would fill her living and dining rooms, often with some form of payment in kind, (preserves, peanuts, pecans, eggs, bread and even chickens), and she would diagnose their ills, and treat them with the pharmaceutical samples that the reps would leave her. She always seems to have what they needed. Although inactive, she never denied the Faith and resisted the entreaties of the local Baptist ministers to forsake her “evil cult” and return to the fold. Sister Benton would smile and say, “Thanks for your concern, but I just can’t do it. I don’t want to go to hell!”

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — December 27, 2010 @ 9:34 pm

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