Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rev. William Jasper Cotter, 1846

The Rev. William Jasper Cotter was assigned by the Methodist Episcopal Church South to a circuit-riding charge that included twenty preaching stations, with one in North Carolina, one in Tennessee and eighteen in Georgia. From Rev. Cotter’s autobiography finished when he was ninety-three years of age and published posthumously, we learn much of early history of Union and surrounding counties.

Rev. and Mrs. Cotter (her name was Rachel) set out for their Blairsville charge from Walker County, Georgia. He told of “unforeseen difficulties and dangers on the way, rivers to cross and mountains to climb.”

The Cotters had their household goods and personal effects on a wagon drawn by a single horse. At the ford of the Conasauga River, rains had evidently brought the river to near-flood stage. In trying to cross, the horse hesitated but finally got the wagon to the opposite side. The vehicle was full of water. Mrs. Cotter had to spread out their clothing and bedding on bushes to dry before they moved onward.

Taking the best road available, called the Westfield Turnpike, the Cotters moved on across Cohutta Mountain. A jolt from a rock outcropping in the road damaged a wheel. Night was coming on. They sought shelter in a crude cabin with a floor of dirt and puncheon. The woman there received them warmly and provided the best she had of food and a place to lie down. Rev. Cotter remembered that her husband came home drunk at midnight. He wrote later of her,

“The scene of the lone young woman there impressed me as partaking of the morally sublime.”
Seeing that his wagon was beyond repair, and with no machine shop available to assist him, Rev. Cotter went back to the White Path Gold Mine in Gilmer County where he purchased a carry-all. With that vehicle and their faithful horse, they were on their way again. That night they arrived at Morganton, Georgia where they were warmly received into the home of Elijah Webb Chastain, who at that time was a member of the U. S. Congress and was a leading citizen of the area.

They reached Blairsville the next day and were welcomed by a local preacher, the Rev. Thomas M. Hughes, who took the Cotters into his home until they could get their own dwelling outfitted.

A cabin which had not been occupied for some time was secured for the Cotters’ first house at the Blairsville charge. Rent was twelve dollars a year. Since the cabin was in need or reroofing, the owner allowed the first year’s rent to go for roofing, which Rev. Cotter did himself. (At that time, he would have made the roof shingles by riving them from felled trees, splitting the shingles off one by one from sections of the logs cut the same length.) He also rechinked and daubed the house to make it more habitable. Rachel Cotter was able to purchase some feathers and made a feather bed. With the other household goods brought with them, they settled into life at their Blairsville charge. He wrote of their first day in the cabin: “We moved in, took our first meal, established a family altar, and, being tired, a good night’s rest followed.”

The cabin was on two acres of land, and soon the Cotters planted a garden and a patch of corn which did well that first year and helped with their food supply.

It was in that cabin that the Rev. William Jasper and Rachel Cotter’s first child was born, a son whom they named Goudey Halliburton Cotter.

During that first summer of 1846, Rev. Cotter attended Camp Meetings and preached at them. They were at Young Cane, Hot House, Cherokee (in North Carolina), Fighting Town, Gaddistown and Choestoe. Outlaws were prevalent, especially along the state line. He sometimes feared his horse would be stolen and he would be harmed as he traveled. He reported that the camp meetings were attended by great crowds and during that first summer “one hundred and twenty-seven members were added to the church.” About mid-year, an able local preacher, Brother Elrod, was assigned to assist the Rev. Cotter.

He wrote of problems at the Choestoe Camp Meeting in 1846. “Gold mines had just been discovered,” he wrote, “and soon many people were settling in the area where gold was mined. There was no law nor order. Large crowds attended the meeting and gave trouble.”

He told of circulating anonymously among the crowd and hearing vile language and threats. The vigilance committee for the camp meeting had discovered whiskey on the grounds and broken a large jug. Of course, that action did not sit well with the naysayers.

Saturday came, the time for the Quarterly Conference at Choestoe. The Rev. Reneau, who was assigned to Choestoe, could not be there, and so the Rev. Cotter had to preside. The conference proceeded well. Afterwards, Rev. Cotter was left alone in the arbor which sat on a little rise with open glade behind it. He saw seven men walk down the glade and approach the tent. One took a pistol out, fingered it, and put it back in his pocket. The men walked away.

Later, at the time for services, Rev. Cotter saw four of the seven men enter the arbor (tent) and take seats on the slabs toward the back. Rev. A. J. Reynolds was the preacher for that service. His subject, delivered with typical ‘fire and brimstone’ passion, was about the woes that came upon those who desecrated the place of worship. He used as illustrations a desperado in the Revolution who killed a Baptist preacher and cut out his tongue. The perpetrator was found, tried and sentenced to death. He was offered the opportunity to confess and pray before his death, but his tongue could utter no words. Rev. Reynolds proceeded with other examples of people who had not escaped the wrath of God. Rev. Cotter wrote that “The power of the Spirit came upon the congregation. Sixteen were converted that night.” But not the four men who had come to scoff and maybe even to use a hidden pistol. Later, hearing of their demise, Rev. Cotter learned that one of the men was blown up on a steamboat, one was killed by lightning, one was stricken blind, and the fourth perished in a miserable death.

[Source: The Autobiography of the Rev. William Jasper Cotter. Edited by Charles O. Jones, DD. Published in 1917 by the Methodist Episcopal Church South Publishing House. A copy is in the Emory University Library.]

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 29, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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