Monday, March 30, 2009

History of the Southern States Mission, Part 7: The Cowley-Barnett Mission

Feb. 24, 1898 [sic], Elders Henry W. Barnett of Payson City, Utah, and Mathias F. Cowley, of Salt Lake City, left the latter place as missionaries to the Southern States. They went direct, by instructions of President John Morgan, to Farmington, Graves county, Kentucky.

The inducement to visit that section was an invitation by Benjamin R. Turnlow, of the Campbellite church, who had relatives in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and who was desirous of seeing and hearing the Elders. The above named Elders were kindly received and well treated by Mr. Turnlow, and others in that vicinity. They spent one month in Graves county, entirely in Farmington and close proximity. They preached several times in a Campbellite church called Antioch, several times in the Farmington seminary, and once in the Josephite chapel. They found one member of the Josephite faith, Jefferson Turlow, who claimed to have been baptized in the early history of the church by President Wilford Woodruff. When he held Elders Barnett and Cowley he remarked that the preaching had the same good “ring” to it that first impressed him with the truth of the gospel. So far as known at that time these Elders were the first to visit and preach the true gospel in Graves county, Kentucky.

No great interest being manifest in their mission in that place, and an immediate necessity existing for Elders in Franklin county, Virginia, Elder Morgan had previously instructed them that in the event of little interest in Kentucky they could proceed to Virginia. They acted upon this suggestion, and left Kentucky by steamboat up the Ohio river, from Paducah, to Smithland and thence up the Cumberland rivers to Nashville, Tenn. They arrived in Virginia about the 20th of May. Elder Barnett preceding his companion one week. They went direct to the home of Col. Robert M. Harper, near Taylor’s store, Franklin county, Virginia, and in that neighborhood began missionary labor. They preached in a Union church in that vicinity and visited several families, but performed no baptisims [sic] in that immediate vicinity. From this point they went south about seventeen miles to Sontag, where they found a few members of the church and a number of others favorable and who afterwards embraced the gospel, during the ministrations of these Elders. From this point they returned by way of Rocky Mount, county seat of Franklin county, and Taylor’s store and went to the north east part of the county, and held meetings in a church called Ninever, visiting with Patrick Simmons, Wigton Richardson and other friends. From this point they crossed the Stanton river into Bedford county, where they found about five members of the church and a goodly number of friends. In these fields Elders Henry G. Boyle, Howard K. Coray, Thomas E. Daniels, Samuel Wosencroft, John D.H. McAllister, George Teasdale, John R. Winder, Jr., Moroni Reese and probably other Elders had labored and accomplished much good by sowing the seed, and reaping some fruit. Elders Barnett and Cowley labored as companions in Franklin and Bedford counties one year, held many public meetings in the woods, in private houses, in churches, and in school houses. They made new friends, strengthened the faith of the saints and baptised [sic] quite a number. About this time, May 1879, Elders Seth A. Langton and Frank A. Benson arrive from Utah. Elder Barnett took Brother Langton as a companion and continued in the same fields of labor one more year with encouraging success, bringing some into the church and extending the circle of friends.

In the mean time Elders Cowley and Benson went direct to Burk’s Garden, Tazewell county, Virginia, where they found a number of saints and hosts of friends. Burk’s Garden is quite historic in the southern mission, as having contributed many converts to the Church of Christ. Elder Jedediah M. Grant introduced the gospel into that place in 1839 or 1840 and performed a most wonderful work. His sermons and even the texts from which he preached were remembered by many people during the remainder of their lives from twenty to twenty-five years with great clearness, so deep and lasting was the impression of truth made upon their minds. One aged man, Col. Peter Lits, told Elders Benson and Cowley that he well remembered that Elder Grant read to them in manuscript the prophecy of Joseph Smith respecting the war of the rebellion which took place over twenty years after Elder Grant read the revelation to the people of Tazewell county, Virginia. They derided the prophecy, but lived to see its verification written in letters of blood and tears. This aged veteran, Peter Litz, [I’m typing straight from the Southern Star; I realize his name was just spelled differently] also testified that he received the evidence of the truth of the Book of Mormon by the appearance of a Heavenly messenger who commanded him to “Doubt No More.” Elders Benson and Cowley labored in Tazewell, Bland and Smythe counties, in each of which they held many meetings in public places and private houses: made many friends and baptized a goodly number of people, most of whom were the children or grandchildren of those who heard the gospel preached first by Elder J.M. Grant. In this field also Elders Boyle (this was his native county and he filled a mission in Virginia in the days of Nauvoo) Teasdale, David M. Stuart, Judge Dusenberry, T.B. Lewis and many other Elders had labored, Early in 1880 President Morgan visited Virginia and North Carolina and held conferences with the saints, Elders and people. Elder Cowley accompanied him to Surry county, N.C., wher [sic] they met Elders Beck, Spence, James H. Moyle and one other Elder and held a conference. During the winter and spring of 1879-80 Elders I.P. Helm and William W. Fife came to Virginia and assisted Elders Benson and Cowley in their field of labor. Elders G.R. Hill and R.A. Ballantyne, of Ogden, also spent a short time in Virginia. In March, 1880, Elder H.G. Boyle again returned to the south and succeeded Elder Barnett as President of the Virginia conference. Elder Benson went to West Virginia with Elder Aaron Thatcher. Elder Thomas Farr joined Elder Langton in his field of labor, and Elders Barnett and Cowley were released to come home. The last named Elders were in Virginia a few days less than two years. For the first year they were the only Elders in the state, the next year there were four Elders and for a few month [sic] in the second year, six Elders. The number of baptisms performed were 114, with about fifty souls emigrated. Many children were blessed, and the circle of friends to the cause of truth, greatly extended.

Latter Day Saints Southern Star, Vol. 1, No. 7. Chattanooga, Tenn. Saturday, January 14, 1899.


  1. When looking for information on the Harper family in Franklin County Virginia, I was very happy to find this well-made blog, which actually mentioned Robert M. Harper of Franklin County Virginia--the very person I was looking for! Thank you for posting this information.

  2. Glad you could find something here. There are several mentions of a missionary or missionaries named Harper in this series about the Southern States Mission, but it is unclear whether they are related.

    Good luck with your research!