HISTORY of the
Associate Reformed
Presbyterian Church
Union County, Mississippi

by John Percy Dyer

I have been requested to write a brief introduction to these records of Hopewell Church.I welcome this opportunity, for many of my happiest memories as a boy gather about this beloved old church and its worshipers.I think fully half the members of the congregation were and are my kinsfolk.Just what al the relations are, I'm not sure; for I have long since quit trying to figure out how the Reids, the Caldwells, the Snipes and the Spences are related.I do know, however, what fine substantial people they were and are an how much the memory of them has meant to me through the years.

I remember the old Hopewell - a plain white church with the session house a few steps away from a side door.There were no elaborate stained glass windows but there were colored panes which filtered the sunlight on Sabbath morning and gave a pastel glow to the plain pine pews, set in rows and on either side of the pulpit.I remember the congregation going to the communion table to eat the sacred bread and drink the wine from silver goblets.There were moments of sadness, too, as these pioneers stood with bowed heads around an open grave in the cemetery back of the church and committed a neighbor to the dust.I remember the Thanksgiving services and the great feast afterward under the trees.All this and much more is my memory of Hopewell.


But Hopewell was and is much more than a nostalgic memory for me.It was a pioneer church where our pioneer forefathers gathered to worship Almighty God and to go away filled with the comfort and strength necessary for their survival and well-being.It was a social as well as a spiritual institution.Here men and women gathered to worship, to see each other, to talk about crops and community affairs, to renew friendships.The pioneer church was the heart and soul of the pioneer community.Its ministers were prophet, priest and counselor and its influence goes on forever.

I am glad I can contribute this bit to perpetuating the memory of Hopewell.

Dr. John Percy Dyer

Dean of University College
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA

It has been a pleasure to write the History of Hopewell Church as gathered from the church records, the Centennial History of the A. R. P. Church and from the memory of many of your members.

Hopewell represents well, the thousands of pioneer churches all over America, whose beliefs are an important part of our great religious heritage.Their ideals under gird the best concepts of our Government and are the bulwarks against the aggressive enemies that would destroy our Nation today.

There may be minor errors in this record as well as some repetitions and omissions.They are inevitable over such a period of time, with fourteen Clerks of the Session and several session books.

The author appreciates the cooperation of all who has assisted in any way.The descendants of the early members, Mrs. Johnny Roberts, Walter Caldwell, Millen West and many others who have helped in gathering facts, and the distributing committee Mrs. Bessie Stevenson Williams, Mrs. Estes Snipes Foley, Miss Louise West, Mrs. Louis West, Roger Caldwell and W. B. (Bill) Foley, Clerk of the Session.

Annabel Wiseman Stephens

(Mrs. Edgar Stephens)


During the period of 1820 to 1860, there was a strong westward current of migration from the old South of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, to the rich uplands of the Gulf States.Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana shared in this tide of Immigrants, who left the worn out lands of the old South to seek newer, fresher lands farther West.

These immigrants consisted largely of Scotch-Irish (Scotch people who had lived in Ireland a generation or two) and English.They piled their household goods into covered wagons and leading or driving their livestock, they set off through the vast forests.They followed the dim trails first made by the Indians, then widened into rough roads made by settlers' wagons, going West.

It was such a group, which came in 1844, almost in a body, from Old Shiloh church in Anderson County, S. C. (organized in 1830), to what is now known as the Hopewell community, in Union County, Mississippi.Hopewell church is two miles north of Wallerville and six miles east of New Albany, both stations on the Frisco Railroad.These settlements formerly were in Pontotoc County until Union County was formed, largely from parts of Tippah and Pontotoc Counties, in July 1870.

On March 12, 1851, these pioneers gathered at the home of William Caldwell to hear Rev. Hugh Harris Robison preach.Rev. Robison, a young minister recently graduated from Erskine College Seminary in Due West, S. C., had been sent by Synod to preach at Ebenezer church in Tippah County and Shiloh church in Lafayette County.He also preached occasionally at Tardyville, a settlement at the present location of Wilkin's Chapel and cemetery.At this service, the worshipers voted unanimously to request the organization of an Associate Reformed Presbyterian church in the Hopewell community.This request was forwarded by Rev. Robison to the Alabama Presbytery, which notified Rev. David Pressly, pastor of the A. R. P. church at Starkville, MS, to direct the organization.

Rev. Pressly, assisted by Rev. Robison, effected the organization on May 24, 1851, in a schoolhouse near the site of the present church building.

The twenty-two charter members were John Caldwell, Mrs. Margaret Caldwell, Mrs. Elizabeth Caldwell, Misses Mary and Martha Caldwell, John Pressly Caldwell, Margaret Ellen Caldwell, William Reid, Sr., Mrs. Mary Reid, Hugh Caldwell, Mrs. Mary Caldwell, Mrs. Elizabeth Caldwell, Isaac West, Mrs. Jane West, Hiram Gentry, Mrs. Jane Gentry, William Caldwell, Sr., Mrs. Martha Caldwell, all of whom were received by certificate from Shiloh, S.C., Mrs. Jane C. Buchanan, Obadiah Buchanan and Calvin E. Buchanan.John Caldwell, Obadiah Buchanan and Hugh Caldwell were elected the first elders.

Rev. Robison, who had been called as pastor of Ebenezer of May 1851, also served as supply to Hopewell until the coming of Rev. James L. Young in 1852.Rev. Robison is remembered as being tall and slender.His piercing black eyes, black hair and beard adde3d to his striking appearance.

In 1852, Rev. James Little Young of Providence, S. C., was sent by Synod to Hopewell as stated supply.Services were held in an arbor near a fine spring on William Reid's place.There was a great interest in building a house of worship.William Huston, a member of Mt. Zion, an Old School Presbyterian church only a few miles away, had come to the neighborhood in 1837.He generously gave the Associate Reformed Presbyterians a lot on three acres on which to build their church.He also gave the standing timber on it and sawed it into lumber, free of charge, when brought to his sawmill.Thus the congregation, with the help of the neighbors and friends, built their first church building in 1853.

Rev. Young was installed as pastor over Hopewell and Bethany, April 15, 1853.He was well educated and progressive and the church grew rapidly under his leadership.He served until 1q856 when he demitted this branch of his work in order to give his full time to Bethany.Rev. S. A. Agnew writes, "This was a sore blow to Hopewell and gave it quite a backset."

Following Rev. Young's ministry, Rev. Robison and Rev. J. L. McDaniel, a ministerial supply, served until Rev. S. A. Agnew began supplying in 1858.

Rev. Agnew was installed as pastor in 1870 and served faithfully and with marked success until 1899, concluding forty-one years of fruitful service.He was a sound theologian and scholar.He made constant use of his fine library, said to be one of the best in the Synod.His quick movements, his forthright and positive manner made his deeply spiritual sermons more emphatic.

He was seen every fourth Saturday on his house, Pocurus, with saddlebags tied to his saddle, riding from his home at Brice's Crossroads, to the home of a member of the congregation at Hopewell to spend the night.On Sabbath morning he rode to the church, tied Pocorus to a certain tree back of the session house and entered his pulpit promptly to begin the services.The evening services were announced thus, "The session will meet at the setting of the sun and preaching will begin at candle-lighting time."

While pastor of Hopewell, Dr. Agnew baptized ninety-eight adults and children, and added many new members by profession of faith and by letters.

In the early part of his ministry at Hopewell came the tragic Civil War years, when the hearts of the whole community were torn and troubled.The young men of the congregation marched away to the defense of the South and news of them came filtering back.The minutes of the session were not kept these four years, except for the records made by Dr. Agnew: such entries as "William R. West died as a prisoner of war; Calvin Buchanan died of wounds received in the battle of Chickamauga', and other messages equally heartbreaking.

1865 brought peace---or rather cessation from was---but the entire community was in sorrow.The land was laid waste.Happy families were broken with many husbands and fathers gone.Financial ruin stared them in the face.There people had never been wealthy; there were few slave owners among them.It was rather a community of small independent farmers, with a store and blacksmith shop nearby.They had earned their lands and homes by hard work and frugal living.

It is not to recall the bitterness of the Civil War years to remind the present day youth that their fore bearers were sometimes hungry and hard-pressed.Often they could not buy the quinine necessary to stamp out the malaria that stuck down their families.

The prosperous homes and farms now seen in the Hopewell community were held onto a great price, the price of self-denial and backbreaking toil of men, women and children who, in an effort to get started again, worked beside those men folk who were fortunate enough to return.

Dr. Agnew and the elders of the church visited among the people, urging their return to the church as a means of helping heal the scars of war.Sixteen new members were added and the scattered flock was again united in a common purpose that helped to strengthen it.

Before the war the Negroes who lived in the community were members of Hopewell Church, sitting together in a place designated for their use.Dr. Agnew preached for them exclusively only once a quarter and held a communion service with them, assisted by the elders of Hopewell.After the war most of them withdrew of their own accord and eventually formed their own churches.

At a congregational meeting in 1876, a new songbook containing the revised version of the Psalms was adopted for us in the song service of the church.It was also resolved to dispense with "lining out" the Psalms as had been the custom of the early churches.In following this practice, the minister announced the psalm to be sung.He read the first stanza, pausing while it was sung; he then read the next stanza, continuing in this manner until the entire psalm was sung.It is said that good singing resulted from this method.Bob Haynie and John Haynie were two of the early, valued song leaders.They organized and taught the first singing school ever held at Hopewell and kept alive the interest in singing by holding sing schools as often as possible in the summers.

During the periods in which Dr. Agnew was pastor, Abijah Davis, Abram Thompson, Isaac West, James Wiley, William Henry, John C. Snipes, Joel M. Snipes (who served for forty years), W. J. Caldwell, J. R. Haynie, William S. Spence and Hugh Snipes were ordained as elders.Hugh Snipes, who had served as an elder at Richland, Tennessee, came to Hopewell in 1892.

On the whole, there was in the Hopewell community little dissention that had to be settled in the County Court.When differences arose, as was natural in any community, the troubles were taken to "Uncle Hughy" Caldwell, "Uncle Joel" Snipes and in later years to "Uncle Spence", as these beloved elders were called.These troubles were talked over, prayed over, and settled out of court.

For many years, William Spence and J.Y. Neal operated a sawmill.It was their custom to select and lay aside the finest black walnut planks to be made into caskets.When a neighbor passed away, William Spence and Joel Snipes, both excellent carpenters, built the casket and dressed it out in fine material from the store.The price charged the family was about $2.50.

The memories of the different occasions for which the congregation gathered are deeply etched in the minds of all who attended.The services at funerals of loved ones were usually the same.The Ninetieth Psalm and verses from the fourteenth chapter of John were read.The Twenty-third Psalm and a portion of the One Hundred and Third Psalm were always sung.

Communion Sabbath, when the sacrament of the Lord's Supper was observed, was another solemn occasion.The older members were seated at long tables, covered by linen cloths.The younger members said on the front seats, near the table.The unleavened bread was passed and the wine in big silver goblets went from hand to hand, as the minister explained the significance of this sacred sacrament.The Twenty-third Psalm was again used and other Psalms of thanksgiving and worship were sung.The individual communion service has now been in use for many years.

The Sabbath School was organized in 1883 by Major James Wiley.He was elected to serve as the first Superintendent.Captain W. J. Huston, son of William Huston, Charlie Snipes and Mr. McCloud were three of the first teachers.Mrs. Margaret Caldwell Fisher taught the little children.Captain Huston offered prizes to the pupil who memorized the most Psalms and for naming all the Books of the Bible.Annie Snipes (Mrs. Johnny Roberts) won the prize for memorizing the Psalms, which was a Moroccan bound boo of Psalms.Joe McCloud won the prize for naming the books of the Bible.

In 1890 the log church was ceiled, weather-boarded and painted white.A new roof of hand split boards or shingles was put on and a plank fence was built around the cemetery.The session house and pulpit stand were built in 1892.

During all these years the women of the church had worked untiringly in every project u8ndertaken by the congregation but they had no separate organization for their own.In 1898, Synod requested Miss Mattie Boyce to visit the churches throughout the Synod and organized Missionary Societies in the churches which had none.

Among the members of this first Society were Mrs. Ann Snipes, Mrs. Florence Snipes, Mrs. Corra Snipes, Miss Dora Galloway, Miss Allie Martin, Miss May Neal, Miss Missies Caldwell, Mrs. Mag Spence, Mrs. Addie Snipes, Mrs. Ester Caldwell, Mrs. Eula West, Mrs. Laura Caldwell, Mrs. Fannie Snipes, Mrs. Annie. Roberts, Mrs. George Ann Snipes, Mrs. Rachel Caldwell, Mrs. Lula West, Mrs. Mattie Caldwell, Mrs. Mary Luke, Mrs. Lillie Reid, Mrs. George Snipes, Mrs. Cornelia Speck, Mrs. Fannie Luke, Mrs. Vina Reid, Mrs. Bettie Snipes, Miss Donie Phagan, Miss Macie Gibson, Mrs. Etta McMillan, Mrs. Lena Speck Purvis and possibly others.

This group of women set to work at once to carry a larger part of the church work.Mrs. Florence Snipes, Miss Donie Phagan, and Mrs. Ester Caldwell called the young people together at the home of Mrs. Caldwell and organized them into a junior society.Thus the children of the church began early to receive special training in church work.

Following Dr. Agnew's pastorate, which ended 1899, Rev. R. S. Harris came as supply preacher.He was called and installed in 1900, giving half time to Hopewell and half ti9me to Bethany.Under his capable leadership the work prospered.He was the first minister to live in the community.He and his lovely wife, Mrs. Margaret Brice Harris, soon endeared themselves to everyone.They visited in the homes of the people and shared their joys and sorrows.Brice Harris, only son of Rev. and Mrs. Harris, was born in the Hopewell community.A few short years after, Mrs. Harris was called home and the entire congregation mourned with the pastor in this great loss.

The year 1903 brought many changes.An organ, costing $47.50, was bought and used.As in many of our early churches, some heartily opposed using instrumental music in church worship and could hardly reconcile themselves to it but it was found to improve the singing.

A new wire fence was built around the cemetery at a cost of nearly $30.00.Two years later the Woman's Missionary Society bought a new carpet for $17.10 and a settee for the pulpit stand, for which they paid $14.50. During the summer, Joel Snipes and John R. Haynie made new seats for the church.Beautifying their house of worship seemed to bring great satisfaction to the members.

In 1905, Rev. Harris and Miss May Neal were married.Miss May was the daughter of J.Y. Neal and had been active in church work for years.The wedding was performed at 2:30 o'clock in the afternoon, by Dr. J. W. Carson, Pastor of the New Albany church.Mrs. Alec Caldwell and a committee of women transformed the church into a scene of beauty with white locust blossoms and greenery from the woods.

Chester Neal accompanied his sister to the altar, which Willie B. Harris served his brother as best man.Little Estelle Snipes (Mrs. Rod Harmon, Sr.) and little Myrtle Caldwell (Mrs. Leonard King), daintily dressed in white dressed, were flower girls.Mrs. Rebecca Cullins played the organ, using the traditional wedding music.Rev. and Mrs. Harris served this charge until 1907.

Rev. and Mrs. John Boyd and family came to Hopewell in 1908.He was pastor of the Mt. Carmel Associate Reformed Presbyterian church in Marshall County, near Byhalia, at the same time, preaching there one Sabbath each month.Rev. Boyd's genuine liking for people made him a real friend to eve3ryone whose troubles reached his ears.He made no distinction in denomination but when sorrow came, he immediately went into the home to bring comfort and courage.The present manse was built while Rev. Boyd was pastor.

He rode his bay horse, Roy, to make all his pastoral visits.One Sabbath morning when he arose to preach, he noticed that George Speck and Artie Snipes were not in their regular places.After services were over, he went to the door and looked out.There stood his horse, Roy, hitched to a shining new buggy, a gift from the congregation.After this, Mrs. Boyd and the little girls, Mildred, Ruth, Edith, Mary Frances and Dorothy often went with him.

Soon after coming to Hopewell, Rev. Boyd announced that a singing school would be held, as had long been the custom in this church.Lee Reid, E. Frank Cox and Tom Pannell from the Baptist church nearby, joined the Hopewell song leaders, Luther Spence, Doyle Speck and others of the congregation in making the occasion a success.Susie Caldwell Haynie, Eula Martin West, Clara Speck, Lille and Allie Luke and Audrey Moffatt from the Mt. Carmel church served as organists.

This enthusiasm for singing led to the organization of the Union County Singing Convention, in July 1910, at Hopewell.Tom Pannell was elected President and E. Frank Cox, Vice President.

These singing schools were not without their romantic side, for on December 14, 1910, Rev. Boyd presided at a triple wedding in the Mt. Carmel neighborhood which was of great interest to the Hopewell people.Those married at this time were Luther Spence and Audrey Moffatt, Tom Galloway and Birdie Moffatt and Oliver Roberts and Clara Speck.

When Rev. Boyd was called to other work in 1915, Dr. T. H. McDill, who was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in New Albany, preached for the Hopewell congregation two Sabbaths in each month.He was earnest in manner and his sermons were deeply spiritual.He entered was zest into the affairs of the community.When the neighbors had a barn raising to celebrate "Uncle Joel" Snipes birthday, Dr. McDill was spotted on top of the barn driving nails as hard as anyone, right along with the best carpenters.

Rev. Walker Parkison supplied the pulpit through the summer of 1917.He was a Seminary student at Erskine College, going back there in the fall for further study.He has since held revivals here and his sincere preaching is always earnestly attended

Dr. Earnest Orr, who in 1912, succeeded Dr. Strong as pastor of the New Albany church and subsequently served Hopewell also, effected a tither's organization.This plan helped the finances and led many into the habit of systematic giving to the church.

Rev. J. B. McFerrin came in June 1925 and served both Hopewell and Ebenezer.He boarded in the home of Mr. And Mrs. Lee Reid, until he was married on December 24, 1925 to Miss Velma Smith of Fayetteville, Tennessee, after which the couple lived in the manse at Cotton Plant, Mississippi, near Ebenezer church.

Rev. Ralph Hunter came in 1931.He served as pastor of Hopewell and Ebenezer and lived at Cotton Plant.His ministry of fifteen years was filled with untiring labor.He was joined in every undertaking by Mrs. Hunter, who was Martha Moore.Her teaching in the Sabbath School and her work among the young people and with the Missionary Society was of invaluable aid in carrying on the church work.

The church was dedicated in the summer of 1943 during the annual revival held by Rev. Murray Griffith of Rosemark Associate Reformed Presbyterian church.After the regular morning service, a bountiful noonday dinner was served.The afternoon was given over to the dedicatory service, Dr. A. J. Ranson, of the New Albany church, preached the sermon and the choir from the New Albany church assisted in a special song service.The neighboring churches of all denominations joi9ned in bringing greetings, Wallerville, Center, Union Hill, Bethany and New Albany, each had representatives who spoke briefly.Rev. Hunter formally dedicated the church to the service of God and offered the dedicatory prayer.

Rev. Kenneth Seawright, pastor of New Albany church, began supplying the congregation in June, 1947.He and his wife, Mrs. Alma Weir Seawright, have shown genuine interest in the work of this church and of the people who comprise it.They are held in great esteem and affection by the entire community and the work has prospered.None new members have been added to the church roll and nine baptisms have been administered.

As the date of the hundr3edth anniversary approached, Rev. Seawright planned a homecoming program in celebration of the occasion.For one hundred years the names of Caldwell, Snipes, West, Roberts, Wiley, Haynie, Spence and many more had been prominent in this community.Others had come and joined with these in making Hopewell a church to be proud of, in upright and substantial citizenship.

Four young men of this church had become Associate Reformed Presbyterian ministers.They were John Pressly Snipes, Earl Snipes, Franklin Snipes and Ralph Gibson, while three others, Tom Beasley, Jake Grubbs and Frank Snipes have serviced in other churches.Many Sabbath School teachers, church officers and community leaders had their training at Hopewell.A long time record of service had been set by Mrs. Lille Reid, who has taught in the Sabbath School for over fifty years.

On May 20, 1951, over three hundred members, former members, relatives and friends came from near and far fro a centennial celebration, to worship together again and to talk of bygone days.Old photographs were displayed.Among them was the picture of the first little white church, with its colored panes of glass, pictures of the congregation at various times in its history, and of the first Missionary Society Group.

At the morning services, Rev. Seawright presided.Rev. R. T. Kerr, pastor of Ebenezer church offered the pastoral prayer.Dr. R. C. Grier, President of Erskine College, preached the morning sermon.He recalled the steadfastness of the early members of the church and challenged the congregation to a greater faithfulness and loyalty.

In the afternoon, Rev. Seawright introduced the Centennial Program.Time was turned back as the beloved old Psalms were sung and memories fraught were sadness, as "other voices of other years" seemed to swell the music.Mrs. Edgar Stephens, a granddaughter of Rev. H. H. Robinson, gave a historical sketch of the church since its organization.Mrs. Bella Agnew Waldrop, youngest daughter of Dr. S. A. Agnew, was recognized.Four daughters of Joel M. Snipes sat together near the pulpit.They were Annie (Mrs. Johnny Roberts), Laura (Mrs. Billy Clayton), Lula(Mrs. Jeff Clayton), and Vina (Mrs. W. O. Reid).Expression of appreciation of the great influence for good this church had exercised for so many years were brought by prominent members of the neighboring churches.

There was a feeling of great gratitude to God for His mercies to this people in the century just completed and an expression of faith in His guidance for the coming years.

The close association of the A. R. P. churches of Mississippi during this hundred-year period has added to the individual strength of each church.The Starkville, Miss. Church was organized in 1842, Ebenezer in 1842, Hopewell in 1851 and Bethany in 1852.Mt. Carmel in Marshall County was organized in 1842 and Shiloh in Lafayette County about 1851.

Since their founding, these churches have had well-educated, Seminary trained ministers, who influence has inspired the settlers to lead wholesome, sober lives and to make the churches their community center.In neighborhoods such as these, permanent homes were established and today we find many of their descendants living there carrying on stable, industrious communities such as lies about the Hopewell church.

In considering the faithful work of all those who have labored together for the past one hundred years, we are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews, Chapter 12, 1-2, "Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin, which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Melissa McCoy-Bell
Union County MSGenWeb Coordinator

© 2002,  by Melissa McCoy-Bell.  All rights reserved.

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