In looking back to the days of “glory” in the town of Washington, we see that it was a thriving metropolis, and worthy of remembering during its heyday. According to research, Washington boasted four inns or taverns, two blacksmith shops, two cotton gins, a large tan yard (for tanning hides), a cotton market house, seven retail general stores, one hatter shop (a hatter makes and/or sells hats), two jewelry stores, two doctors’ offices, and a church house south of the courthouse square. (When Monmouth Church was begun, the building was also used by other Protestant denominations, except free lovers.) Also, there were wholesale business houses, a courthouse, and jail. It is said that Washington missed being the state capital by only one vote in the legislature; however, that fact has never surfaced in any of the state documents.
During those early days, many records were destroyed, or lost; and the records of the Presbyterian Church happened to be in that category. Facts about the Church happened to be from later records, which were kept by Caroline Waterhouse Darwin, of Evensville, whose ancestors were among the early members of the Church. Since Washington was the first County Seat of Rhea County, and a bustling, thriving town, it is not surprising that most of the prominent citizens of the community were members of the Presbyterian Church.
According to the writings of H.A. Crawford, the Old Monmouth Church and Schoolhouse was built in the early 1800’s and was on a plot of ground set apart for a cemetery near the part of Washington called Southern Liberties. Crawford states that it was a large log structure with a large open fireplace in the back and a wide door in front with a high pulpit in on side of the building. The Church also served as a school for a time.
This Church was organized, by order of Union Presbytery, under the name of Monmouth in 1820, by Rev. Isaac Anderson, D.D., and had thirty-seven members and five ruling elders. The elders were: John Moore, Patrick Martin, Rezin Rawlings, Daniel Rawlings and Dr. James Cosby. Daniel Rawlings was the first Church Clerk.
From the History of the Synod of Tennessee by Rev. J.E. Alexander, we are told that Matthew Donnell was licensed on May 28, 1802 by Union Presbytery. Donnell had moved to Rhea County several years before Monmouth Church was organized; the tax list shows that he paid taxes on a one hundred and ninety-five acre farm on Richland Creek in 1915. (Synod is a council of churches or church officials).
According to information stated in a write-up about the church, George D. Barnes (Barnes Collection) rescued a collection of early marriage licenses from a pile of discarded Court records just as these records were being taken to the city dump. One of these records, in particular, is of interest because it shows that Harriet Campbell and Dr. Carlisle Humphreys were married on March 4, 1816 by Rev. Matthew Donnell. Harriet was the daughter of Judge David Campbell, and came from a family of devout Presbyterians. Judge Campbell was one of the two first Supreme Judges of the state of Tennessee after its admission to the Union. Another of Campbell’s daughters, Penelope, married Dr. Thomas J. Van Dyke in Roane County before the Campbell family moved to Rhea County. Dr. Van Dyke also moved to Washington in 1811, and was practicing there before he entered the Army in 1812 as surgeon.
The following marriages were performed by Rev. Matthew Donnell, and are housed in the Barnes Collection:
Carlisle Humphreys and Harriet Campbell, March 4, 1816
Jesse Coffee and Ann K. Hackett, September 9, 1817
Thomas Hamilton and Peggy Kirksey, April 4, 1818
William Henry and Nancy McCandless, June 11, 1818
Allen Kennedy and Margaret Hackett, May 26, 1818
Thomas Jack and Polly Shoun, September 3, 1818
Edmund Bean and Eliza B. Haley, April 25, 1820
Benjamin Jones and Jane Lauderdale, January 14, 1821
Vredenburg and Mary Rawlings, September 12, 1822
John Greenwood and Nancy Lauderdale, December 28, 1823
Thomas Blackburn and Mary Rawlings, September 12, 1824
R.J. Meigs and Sarah K. Love, November 1, 1825
Dempsey Sullivan and Sally Mildham, September 20, 1825
Rezin Rawlings and Viney Miller, August 3, 1826
Other records in the collection show that some of the charter members of the Washington Presbyterian Church were: Judge David Campbell and Family, Major John Hackett and Family, Mr. and Mrs. Allen Kennedy, Mr. and Mrs. (Jane Bennett) William Long, Captain John Pomfleet Long, Mr. John Moore, Mr. Patrick Martin, Mr. and Mrs. Rezin (Viney Miller) Rawlings, Mr. Daniel Rawlings, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Haslerig, Mary Haslerig, Thomas Haslerig, Dr. Benjamin Stout and Mrs. Jane Conn Hazelrig Stout. Dr. Benjamin Stout, formerly of Roane County, married Jane Haslerig in Washington. (Samuel Houston was an attendant at the marriage; his signature is on the marriage license). Others who might have been charter members included the following: Robert McGinley Hooke, Abigail Alexander Hooke; Colonel Thomas McCallie married Mary, daughter of Robert and Abigail Hooke; Thomas and Mary had a son, Rev. Thomas McCallie, born in Washington in 1837; the family moved to Chattanooga in 1841. Robert McGinley Hooke, son of Robert and Abigail, married Mary, daughter of Rezin and Viney Miller Rawlings; their first child, Adelaid Louise, was born during January of 1832; this family moved to Alabama in 1833, then, later, to Chattanooga, where the family and all of the descendents were members of the First Presbyterian Church.
Another bit of history from Goodspeed in History of Tennessee, which was published in 1888, wrote that “The only church in Washington before the War (War Between the States) was a large hewed-log building erected by the Presbyterians on a lot now occupied by the cemetery, and used by all denominations; also occupied by Tennessee Academy for many years. In 1832 a large brick church was built, but just before it was entirely completed it was destroyed by a tornado.”
In 1830, Matthew Donnell died, and on February 19, 1831, his heirs sold his farm to Cain Abel. Also, in 1831, the Rev. Feilding Pope officiated at the marriage of Robert Hooke and Mary K. Rawlings. Then in 1832, the Rev. Benjamin Wallace of Soddy moved to Washington, and the Barnes Collection shows that he married most of the Presbyterians in Rhea County from 1832 until 1838. On August 18, 1832, the record was transferred to a new book, and showed Allen Kennedy and William Noblett as the only ruling elders. On that date James Berry was elected ruling elder; on March 22, 1833 he was made Clerk.
There is also a warranty deed dated October 6, 1883 in which the Washington Presbyterian property is sold to S.S. Franklin for two hundred and sixty dollars. R.W. Colville signed the deed as the only Officer and Ruling Elder of the church. The deed assigns the lots numbered 79, 80, and 81, known in the original plan of the town containing by measurement, forty and one half square poles each. (Pole is a unit of length equal to 5 & 1/2 yards, or 16 & 1/2 feet.)
Sometimes we think that a church history is very simple, concise, and dry reading material. However, that certainly is not the case with this Washington Church! Its record consists of many of the original families of Rhea County, along with much information which can be found if a person is looking for their ancestors. Much of the history of Rhea County can be found in our churches, because the churches and schools were the center of the community, as well as the sole social life of the area. Therefore, we all need to remember to learn from the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.