Lately the Rhea County Courthouse has been in the forefront of our local news because it has needed some tender loving care called “restoration.” A building which is used every day by many people has to be given proper attention in order for it to continue in “good health” on the National Register and as a Historical Landmark. Probably the most remembered event for which the Courthouse is famous happens to be the Scopes Trial held there in 1925. Even though this trial is usually the first occurrence which comes to mind, there was another very important happening which brought visitors to the Courthouse. This event was the 1912 United Daughters of the Confederacy State Convention hosted by the Dayton Chapter, UDC.
According to historical documents, and a history of the Chapter written by Shirley Gaskins Thomison (wife of Dr. Walter Agnew Thomison), Chapter Historian, the V. C. Allen Chapter Number 1270, United Daughters of the Confederacy, was organized in 1910 in Dayton, Tennessee. Mrs. Fannie Allen Broyles was the first president of the new chapter, which honored her father, Valentine Collins Allen as a Confederate soldier.
The charter of Incorporation was signed by Mrs. Virginia Faulkner McSherry, President-General, and was dated May 4, 1910. Thirty-one charter members were listed and included the following: Birdie Waterhouse, Mary Acuff, Mary Neil Rodgers, Gertrude Summers, Florence Robeson, Ethel Blevins Gillespie, Jennie Darwin Abel, Fannie Allen Broyles, Nell Darwin Gass, Maggie Sharp Darwin, Della Tallent, Mae Cash Thomison, Mary Elizabeth Allen, Emily Allen, Sarah J. Kelley, Clark Haggard Robinson, Pauline W. Storey, Arrena Clark Haggard, Jennie King Allen, Hannah Darwin Swafford, Ella Darwin Thomison, Effie Bell Haggard, Claudia Frazier, Alex Arrants, Dora Wheeler, Delta Johnson, Jennie Gillespie, Adelia Crawford, Anna Gillespie, Jennie Thomison and Daisy Blevins.
This UDC Chapter was unique in the fact that, at that time, it was the only chapter named in honor of a private soldier. Also, Judge V. C. Allen was still living then, and helped in the organizational process. Another special accomplishment for this chapter was that it hosted the state convention of 1912. This was almost unheard of for a chapter which had just been chartered for two years! Ladies of the local group opened their homes to the out-of-town guests, and also provided meals for them in the true fashion of southern hospitality.
Another item of interest from that particular history was that the V.C. Allen Chapter had furnished three Division officers who were: Mrs. James R. Darwin, Division Registrar 1913-14; Mrs. J.Brown Swafford, Third Vice-President 1916-17; and Mrs. W. Agnew Thomison, Division Recording Secretary 1946-47. (She was still serving in that capacity when she compiled the chapter history in 1946.)
The convention itself must have been an exciting time for the women of the V. C. Allen Chapter. According to one of the newspaper articles about the convention, the Honorable Ben G. McKenzie gave a welcoming address to the United Daughters of the Confederacy on Wednesday during the convention. In his speech, McKenzie referred to the “young ladies company” organized in Rhea County during the War Between the States to minister to the local soldiers. Also, another newspaper article has an address by Maggie McKenzie, daughter of Ben; this speech was given at the Sunday Memorial Service, and is a tribute to the heroes of the 1860’s. Headlines from a third article about the convention inform the reader that many social courtesies were planned by the ladies of the hostess chapter and that the program would cover three days.
Expenditures recorded in May of 1912 according to Florence M. Robeson, Treasurer included the following: cleaning Court House, $8.63; convention badges, $11.50; flags, $15.25; fee for board of delegates, $53.00; W. W. Shields for printing historical programs, $1.25; printing page and welcome badges, $.50; to Darwin Bros. for fruit, mops, ribbon for welcome badges, $2.82; to Marvin Williamson for use of surrey for two delegates, $.50. This is only a partial list of convention expenses taken from the original chapter minutes and treasurer record of 1910-1932. Also, by 1912, the chapter had grown from thirty-one original members to forty-three.
About Valentine Allen—he was born in Tippah County, Mississippi, and married Nancy Emily King of Meigs County on February 13, 1866. Nancy and Valentine Allen had five children: Fannie, Jennie, Ann, Will, and Maude. (Fannie married Nicholas Broyles; Jennie never married, but looked after family members; Ann married Floyd Cunnyngham; Will married Lucy Hennegar; and Maude married Walter Haywood Worth.) After practicing law in Decatur, Tennessee, the Allens moved to Dayton in 1887; V. C. served in the Tennessee Legislature. In 1911, he was appointed by the governor as Chancellor of the 12th District Chancery Court. He also wrote the book Rhea and Meigs Counties, Tennessee, in the Confederate War.
My great grandmother, Ella Darwin Thomison (wife of Dr. W.F. Thomison), a charter member of the V.C. Allen Chapter, served as president for a two year period. She was classified as a “Real Daughter” which meant that her father was a Confederate Veteran. Her father was William Perry Darwin, Captain of Company C, 16th Battalion, Tennessee Cavalry of the Confederate Army.
Even though this was a very active chapter, and enjoyed many honors, the charter was returned to UDC headquarters in Richmond, Virginia during 1962. The V.C. Allen Chapter 1270, United Daughters of the Confederacy became inactive for lack of participating members. However, this group of Southern women kept Confederate history alive for fifty-two years in a manner which all of us can be proud.
Reading the books of minutes from that UDC Chapter is like taking a trip through history. There are so many familiar names and much information that show us a picture of life during the time in which this chapter was active. Naturally, not every year is represented, but enough of the records have been saved so that we can remember those who lived before us and we are able to recognize many names which are listed in those writings. This chapter had a unique history in that it was asked to host the 1912 State Convention after being an active chapter for only two years! That Convention was held primarily at the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, and from all research found, proved to be a success. We learn from reviewing the information from this UDC Chapter that our past shapes the present and influences the future. Therefore, we should learn from the past in order to live in the present and preserve our future.
Pat Guffey can be reached at email@example.com