Monday, September 30, 2013

The Church with the Golden Hand

Among the most recognizable and historic churches in Mississippi is the First Presbyterian Church of Port Gibson. Known for its unique steeple, adorned not with a cross but with a golden hand pointing toward heaven, the church is among several houses of worship located on Port Gibson's beautiful, tree-shaded "main street," officially designated as Highway 61 but still known by most, appropriately, as Church Street. Completed in 1860, First Presbyterian Church was likely constructed by a local builder James Jones, who worked on a similar church building in New Orleans. The interior of the Romanesque Revival church is simply elegant, and includes, among other things, three chandeliers from the Robert E. Lee, which was involved in the most famous riverboat race in history against the Natchez in 1870. For more than 150 years, the congregation has lovingly taken care of their beloved church, including the most famous finger in Mississippi. The story of how the golden hand wound up on the church's steeple (whether or not it is merely legend) is tied to the congregation's first pastor. And, as it turns out, he has an interesting family history.

The congregation that became First Presbyterian began in 1807 and was first called Bayou Pierre Presbyterian Church. Located several miles west of present-day Port Gibson, the original church building was far from the elegant edifice on Church Street. In fact, it was a crude log building perched on a bluff overlooking Bayou Pierre, built in response to the work of three missionaries sent to the Mississippi territory by the Carolina Synod to establish preaching stations. By the 1820s, the congregation had grown sufficiently to move to the new community of Port Gibson and built a larger church, which stood until 1860. A reconstructed log church (left) is now located at Point Lookout. The site of the original congregation at Bayou Pierre was the scene of fighting during the battle of Port Gibson on May 1, 1863. During the engagement, the right flank of Brig. Gen. Edward Tracy's brigade of Alabamians was anchored at Lookout Point, as it is now known. Soon after 8:00 in the morning, as his brigade began to trade fire with the advancing Federals, Gen. Tracy was killed in action. According to Sgt. Francis Obenchain of the Botetout Artillery (the only Virginia unit in the Vicksburg Campaign), "a ball struck him on the back of the neck passing through. He fell with great force on his face and in falling cried 'O Lord!'" Tracy (left) died instantly. His body was carried into town and left at the home of Judge Lemuel Baldwin after the Confederates retreated and then buried in the town’s cemetery. In May 1, 1866, on the third anniversary of the battle, Edward Tracy's coffin was disinterred and taken back to the Baldwin house, where the Presbyterian minister, a Rev. Price, performed religious services. After the service was completed, Tracy’s body was taken to the steamboat landing for the long trip back to Macon, Georgia, where he rests today.

The first regular pastor of Port Gibson's Presbyterian Church was Dr. Zebulon Butler. A native of Pennsylvania, Rev. Butler attended theological school at Princeton, after which he went as a missionary to southwestern Mississippi. Arriving in Vicksburg, he received a "cordial reception" and began organizing a prayer meeting and Sunday School. After a year in Vicksburg, he became pastor of the little church at Bayou Pierre. Upon arrival, he began "gathering the few professing believers together" and visiting house to house, where "he pressed the truth upon the attention of an unevangelized population." Some of the "unevangelized" no doubt included members of the Methodist faith, which had been established in the area by the pioneering circuit riders Tobias Gibson and Lorenzo Dow some two decades earlier. In addition to his evangelical zeal, Butler was also an advocate of the Colonization movement, which aimed to slowly dismantle slavery by relocating blacks to Africa, a position also espoused by the prominent Methodist clergyman William Winans, who, like Zebulon Butler, was a Pennsylvania native. Zebulon Butler remained in Port Gibson for the rest of his life and tended to his flock for thirty four years. He died in 1860 and is buried in Port Gibson's historic Wintergreen Cemetery.

Born in 1803, Zebulon Butler came from a prominent family. His grandfather, also named Zebulon Butler, was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1731. A soldier and a Colonial leader, he fought in the French and Indian Wars and then led a group of settlers into the Wyoming Valley, an area claimed by both Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Butler was a Connecticut Yankee in the intermittent fighting which occurred throughout the valley among settlers from the two colonies who made claims to the same land (in addition to the various tribes who still lived in the valley). The skirmishing over the land claims, sometimes referred to as the Pennamite Wars, would not be resolved until long after the American Revolution, when the area was finally granted to Pennsylvania. During the Revolution, Zebulon Butler represented the Wyoming Valley in the Connecticut Assembly and served as a colonel in the Connecticut Line. In 1778, he was defeated in battle by a Loyalist force under the command of John Butler (apparently no relation). The Loyalist force included men from the Iroquois and Delaware and some British regulars. After the battle went against Butler, his men retreated to a fortified position at Forty Fort. What followed is still described as the “Wyoming Valley massacre,” depicted in the painting above. According to the account, the Indians executed and then scalped many of the prisoners and by dawn the "carcasses floated down river, infesting the banks of the Susquehanna." Zebulon Butler escaped, however, and returned to his home in Wilkes-Barre, where he died in 1795.

Among Col. Zebulon Butler's sons was Lord Butler. Although born with an exceedingly patrician name, 'Lord' was his mother's maiden name and would be used several times in the family tree. Lord Butler served in numerous offices in Wilkes-Barre and the region (by then a part of Pennsylvania), including county treasurer, state senator, postmaster and clerk of courts. He was also appointed as a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania militia and, as such, is known as "Gen." Lord Butler. In a history of Luzerne County (Pa.) published in 1893, he was described as "tall — more than six feet — straight as an arrow, his countenance manly, with bold Roman features, his manners grave and dignified." He was apparently quite strict and humorless, as no one dared approach him "with a joke or a slap on the shoulder." Although he was praised for his republican ideals and noble character, he was "decided in his political opinions, and free in expressing them" and would "neither shake hands with nor smile" when meeting anyone with whom he disagreed, even when running for office. It is little wonder, then, that his son Zebulon would choose to go to the wilderness of Mississippi to spread the Gospel and, perhaps, to escape his father's overbearing personality.

As already noted, Rev. Butler's time in Port Gibson was fruitful, as he remained pastor for thirty four years. In addition to his work with the Colonization Society, he was also actively involved in the dissemination of religious tracts and literature, becoming an agent for the American Tract Society and the Calvinistic Magazine. Admired as a pastor, at least one family chose to name their son after him. Zebulon Butler Gatlin (left), born in 1832 in Pike County, served in Co. H, 39th Mississippi Infantry. Along with the rest of his regiment, he was captured during the siege of Port Hudson and served time in prison. Out of six Gatlin brothers who served in the army, three died in the Civil War. Zebulon Butler Gatlin died in 1893. Ironically, although named for a Presbyterian minister, he joined the Methodist Church and even had a son who became a Methodist preacher.

Rev. Zebulon Butler in his day was known as a great preacher “who depicted the fiery furnaces of hell in terms scorching enough to make the most hardened sinner quiver.” During his sermons, he often raised his fist with a “quivering index finger jabbing toward Heaven.” In the years just prior to the Civil War, he urged his congregation to build a new church and it was almost complete when he died on December 23, 1860. The first service held in the new church, ironically, was his own funeral. Wishing to find a suitable memorial for their beloved preacher, the members of the congregation decided to erect a hand pointing toward heaven on top of the steeple to mimic his oft-seen gesture in the pulpit. According to other accounts, the hand was first carved in 1859, prior to his death. Either way, it is likely in recognition of Rev. Butler’s influence and dedication to his congregation. The first hand was carved from wood and covered with gold leaf. Eventually, time (and perhaps woodpeckers) took care of that one and it was replaced about 1900 with the current 11-foot tall metal hand. Today, the church with the golden hand is recognizable the world over, a fitting tribute to a pastor who served his congregation well for more than three decades.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The South's Super Cow-Man

In 1959, a Senatobia, Mississippi, man was named "The South's Super Cow-Man" by a nationally-syndicated publication. Although the designation sounds like the subject of a "Far Side" cartoon, the recognition was well-deserved.

Born April 28, 1905, Maurice Paul Moore was named for his grandfather, who was a Confederate Veteran. The elder Moore joined Co. D, 18th Mississippi Cavalry at age sixteen and served throughout the Civil War. A "staunch Democrat" and a Baptist, he was "straight as an arrow, rode a black horse and carried a big black umbrella" until his death in 1936 at the age of 90. In 1877, Moore entered into the mercantile business in Senatobia in an existing firm established by James Tate Gabbert (right), a native of Oxford. The business, known appropriately as Gabbert and Moore, sold all of sorts of goods and livestock, including horses, mules, wagons and even sewing machines, all on credit to paid in monthly installments. Gabbert also established a cotton gin and a bank in Senatobia and even expanded the mercantile company to Grenada. Maurice Moore's only son was Edwin Earle Moore, born in 1881. After graduating from Union College in Jackson, Tennessee, E.E., as he was known, worked for a cotton firm in Memphis before moving back to Senatobia to work with his father at Gabbert and Moore. After both his father's death and James T. Gabbert's death, E.E. Moore ran the company with Gabbert's son, Meriwether W. Gabbert. Eventually, the business partnership ended and Moore ran the mercantile company on his own and renamed it (not surprisingly) the E.E. Moore & Co. He was still at the helm when he died in 1938 of pneumonia at age fifty seven. 

Edwin Earle Moore had three sons, one of whom was Maurice Paul. After graduating from Senatobia High School in 1922, M.P. Moore went to college at the University of Alabama, where he played baseball for the Crimson Tide. During his college career, Moore was known for his fastball and earned the nickname "Hot" because of it. As a pitcher for Alabama, he lost just one game in three years' time. After graduating in 1926, Moore played for a few years in the minor leagues. "Hot" Moore wasn't the only athlete in the family either. After lettering at Senatobia High School, Buchanan Moore played at Ole Miss. Tragically, he was killed in 1935 when his Chevrolet Coach left the highway west of Grenada and he was impaled on a bridge piling. He was just twenty five years old. One of "Hot" Moore's teammates at Alabama was Grant Gillis, who went on to play shortstop in the big leagues with the Washington Senators and with Boston after a stint with the Birmingham Barons. He also played football for the Crimson Tide, and was a halfback in the 1926 Rose Bowl (above) against the University of Washington. During the game, Gillis, weighing in at just 165 pounds, threw a fifty yard pass, intercepted a pass late in the game to end a scoring threat by the Huskies, and punted five times for an average of 40.8 yards per kick. It was at the 1926 Rose Bowl (played on New Year's Day in 1927) that Alabama's Crimson Tide players stepped off the train sporting luggage from Rosenberger's Birmingham Trunk Company with the company's red elephant logo on the tag. According to some, this was the origin of Alabama's elephant mascot (although the University cites a different story).

With his earnings from playing in the minor leagues, "Hot" Moore bought a 380-acre farm in Tate County in 1926 and started raising cattle instead of growing cotton. Moore felt that the South had relied too heavily on cotton and decided to use the land to produce cattle instead. To that end, he purchased his first cows and bulls in 1933 from nationally-known breeders out west. Then, in 1940, he spent a whopping $3,500 on a breeder cow (the same amount of money he earned playing baseball) in hopes of producing a champion herd on his own 'Circle M Ranch.' He would not be disappointed. With his prize bulls and breeder cows, Moore began building his own herd and by 1951 was recognized at Mississippi's Man of the Year in Agriculture. In 1959, Reader's Digest, with a circulation of nearly 20 million, proclaimed him "The South's Super Cow-Man" and featured him as one of the May 1959 cover stories. It would be one of many honors and awards he received in more than sixty-five years in the cattle business. In 1963, he set a world's record for an average price for cattle when he sold fifty Herefords for an average of $7,965 per head. Six years later, he was inducted in the American Polled Hereford Association Hall of Fame and served as president of the association three times. He was also elected a member of the Mississippi Cattlemen's Hall of Fame. 

The 'Circle M Ranch' brand of cattle remains one of the best known in the world. Maurice Paul Moore started his cattle empire at age twenty-one. Building on a business foundation first established by his grandfather, "Hot" Moore (left) excelled in his chosen profession through hard work and determination. Along the way, he helped organize the Mississippi Farm Bureau Insurance Company, served two terms as director and board chairman of the Memphis Federal Reserve Bank and was on the board of the Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis for twenty years. "Hot" Moore died at his home in 1992 at age 86, leaving behind a proud legacy which continues today. 

And that's no bull.

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) Gabbert:
(2) Rose Bowl:
(3) Moore:
(4) Reader's Digest:

Monday, September 9, 2013

Two Towns, One Engineer

Two towns, one in Georgia and one in Mississippi, share a common history. Both towns are approximately the same size and both are county seats. Both of the county courthouses were built at the turn of the twentieth century, and both towns owe their existence to the railroad which brought commerce and industry to the area. And both towns, as it turns out, are named for the same man, a railroad engineer. The Mississippi town began when the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad was located a short distance east of the original county seat, which was incorporated in 1829 and known for having a “killing every week.” With the coming of the railroad, the “new” town grew rapidly and the old county seat began to wither away. In April 1872, the Mississippi Legislature allowed the county board of supervisors to hold a vote to determine whether the county seat should be moved. Naturally, the fast-growing railroad community won and the original brick courthouse was disassembled and moved (it would later burn). In Georgia, the Macon & Brunswick Railroad Company built the railroad line in from both ends of the termini, from Macon southeast and from Brunswick northwest. The railroad was completed in 1869 and a town sprang up at the place where the two lines met. Previously a small hamlet known as Handtown (named for a local family), the growing community, incorporated in 1877, became the county seat of Jeff Davis County in 1905. A county courthouse was constructed the next year. In both cases, the new county seats were named not for a local politician or prominent citizen but for the railroad engineer who gave the towns life by placing the railroad there. The engineer's name was George Hazlehurst.
Born in 1824, George Hall Hazlehurst (left) was one of sixteen children and the son of Robert Hazlehurst, who was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Educated in Pennsylvania, Hazlehurst's first engineering job was as a surveyor in Florida, but soon found his specialty was in railroads. Among his earliest and more important appointments was as the engineer in charge of selecting the route of the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad in Mississippi. Commissioned by the State of Illinois in 1851 (with support from both Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln), the railroad was intended to connect Chicago and New Orleans. Completed just prior to the Civil War, the railroad, as it turned out, was extremely valuable to the Confederates, who used it to transport troops and supplies (and, ironically, thousands of Illinois soldiers fought throughout the war to disrupt the line). Hazlehurst took the job knowing the difficulties which lay ahead, including the very real threat of disease, as his predecessor had died of yellow fever while constructing the railroad. Hazlehurst completed it, though, and earned enough credit to be hired for similar jobs across the South, including the Macon and Augusta and Macon and Brunswick railroads in Georgia, the Montgomery and Eufaula in Alabama, the New Orleans, Shreveport and Alexandria in Louisiana, and the Pensacola and Atlantic in Florida. Along each line, depots like the one pictured above in Milton, Florida, were constructed and towns sprang forth like mushrooms. Thanks to industrious men like George Hazlehurst, the South, before and after the Civil War, was being transformed - for better or for worse - by the new rail network.

In 1858, George Hazlehurst married Irene Wingfield Nisbet. By doing so, he became distantly related by marriage to Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820), the architect of the second United States Capitol in Washington and the "Father of American Architecture." Though Latrobe died before Hazlehurst was born, both wound up working on public waterworks projects. In fact, Latrobe died of yellow fever in 1820 in New Orleans while working on that city's waterworks.  Almost fifty years later (in 1868), Hazlehurst purchased the Chattanooga Water Company (right), which had first been established in 1856 and improved by U.S. Grant's army during their occupation of the city in 1863. After purchasing the Chattanooga Water Company, Hazlehurst constructed a nine-million gallon reservoir and a pumping station to supply water to the local citizens. Remnants of Hazlehurst's Lookout Water Company are still in operation today.

While working in Chattanooga, Hazlehurst lived near his brother-in-law, James Cooper Nisbet, in the vicinity of Rising Fawn, Georgia. Nisbet, like Hazlehurst, was born in Macon, Georgia. Before the Civil War, he and a brother moved to the Chattanooga area to run a large plantation called "Cloverdale." In 1861, he organized a company in the 21st Georgia and served as captain until promotion to colonel of the 66th Georgia Infantry. During the Chattanooga campaign in the fall of 1863, "Cloverdale" was briefly occupied by Union troops. With his regiment stationed in the area, Col. Nisbet (left) went to visit his plantation and narrowly avoided capture while enjoying a lunch of "chicken-fixings and flour-doings" at Hazlehurst's home. Wounded at Antietam, Nisbet was later captured during the Atlanta campaign on July 22, 1864, near Decatur, Georgia, and was sent to prison at Johnson's Island. After the war, he returned home and served in the state legislature and in Georgia's constitutional convention. A devout Presbyterian and an active Confederate Veteran, Col. Nisbet died in 1914 after working for the Acme Kitchen Furniture Company in Chattanooga. He is perhaps best known today for his memoir Four Years on the Firing Line, published in 1914. As for George Hazlehurst's service in the Confederacy, however, the record is a bit murky. Although Hazlehurst is frequently referred to as a "Colonel" and is given credit in some sources with designing the defenses of Vicksburg (in reality it was Maj. Samuel Lockett), there is scant evidence that Hazlehurst served to any great extent in the Confederate army. Hazlehurst is listed a Confederate engineer (with the rank of captain) and likely served in some capacity with the military railroad in Georgia and perhaps elsewhere. However, his rank of "colonel" appears to be a post-war (and perhaps self-made) promotion.

George Hazlehurst was not the only member of his family with a career in engineering. James Nisbet Hazlehurst, born in 1864, studied under former Confederate general Kirby Smith at Sewanee and followed in his father's footsteps as a civil engineer. The younger Hazlehurst established a solid reputation across the South working on railroads and public utilities in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, where in the late 1890s he designed the water systems for both Grenada and (oddly enough) Hazlehurst. He was also a prolific writer and published a book called Towers and Tanks for Water-Works (right) in 1907 (no doubt a best seller). When the United States entered the First World War, Hazlehurst volunteered his services and was given the rank of Major. Assigned at first to Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood's staff, Hazlehurst was sent overseas in September 1917. As a civil engineer, his duties in the army frequently involved water supply systems, but in the fall of 1918 he was assigned the task of examining damages to buildings in Brussels, Belgium. While on this duty he died of disease on February 9, 1919

George Hazlehurst continued working on railroads and other engineering projects after the Civil War, and in fact was working on the Mississippi Valley railroad when he died in 1883 of malaria. George is buried in Macon's city cemetery alongside his first wife, who died in 1873 and his second wife, Josephine, who died in 1882, along with most of the Hazlehurst family. Hazlehurst had a career filled with construction and engineering projects and in the process had a hand in building the modern South. Most importantly, perhaps, he left behind his name for the people of two Hazlehursts.

Photo and Image Sources:
(1) New Orleans and Great Northern RR:   
(2) Hazlehurst:
(3) Milton depot: 
(4) Chattanooga Water Works: http://www.loc.go
(5) Nisbet: 
(6) Book:
(7) Hazlehurst grave: