Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Baptists and Burns in Tennessee, 1800s.




The photograph above is of a classic Appalachian river baptism. Much colder than the warm immersion-heated indoor baptismal tank I experienced in a gospel hall in Bangor when I was 18! The Presbyterians get far too much coverage and it’s about time the Baptists got a look in. 

The flamboyantly-named Jesse Montreville Lafayette Burnett was born near Asheville in North Carolina in 1829. His paternal grandfather was known to be ‘of Scotch descent’ and his mother was a Montgomery, described as ‘partly Irish’. The family - two parents and 13 children - moved westwards to Cocke County, Tennessee, in 1835. J.M.L. was converted aged 13 and preached his first sermon at Pleasant Grove on the Pigeon River near today’s Pigeon Forge.

In Illustrated Sketches of Tennessee’s Pioneer Baptist Preachers, 1775–1875, by James Jehu Burnett D.D. (1919), it says that J.M.L. took delight in the poems of Robert Burns -

“he had the ability too to read the great poet in dialect… it was a revelation to me to hear him recite "Tam O’ Shanter” … I have never since heard anybody who could do it in his style … I sometimes hear his tones through these long years as he would say

Ah Tam! Ah Tam!
Thou’ll get thy fairin’
In hell they’ll roast thee
Like a herrin"

The extract continues ‘a charming interpreter of the Scotch poet and a delightful lecturer on “Bobby Burns”’. Now the abbreviation ‘Bobby Burns’ is prone to send a purist into orbit with rage, but it is significant that Burns’ works were so admired in rural Tennessee. 

Illustrated Sketches of Tennessee’s Pioneer Baptist Preachers, 1775–1875 contains biographies of maybe 100 preachers, many of whom are described as Scotch-Irish. I suspect that in fact the great majority of them were. Those who are specified as such have the surnames Anderson, McGinnia, M’Carrell, Smith, Russell, Love, Moore, Snead, Craig, Taylor, Montgomery, Bryan, Baker, McCallen, Snead, Ross,