The Diary of Sue Austin








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Knotts Island Diary

by Sue Fentress Austin

Preachers, Revivals and Background Facts

Henry Harrell was an Island favorite, a preacher that the people seemed to like. He was a big man, some said "huge." During his first years (1924-27) he came to know and love the Knotts Island people. When he was again sent to the Island in 1932-36, Preacher Harrell was just as happy again. He was young, enthusiastic and considered a very good man at preaching the "Word." The preacher had a wonderful personality and was out-going and very sociable. He had a clear, resonant voice and was an excellent speaker. Years later, in the ’50s, the author can remember him being sought after still as a guest speaker for Homecoming services at the Methodist Church.

The preacher and his family would often eat meals at the different homes on Knotts Island. During his second tenure on the Island he heard something outside in the direction of his hen house, took his gun and went out into the darkness. A shot was heard, but it wasn't a fox that was hit .... it was the preacher! He had accidentally shot himself in the knee. He was laid up for a very long time and walked with a limp from then on. His wife was a fancy dresser and was also well-liked.

Henry Harrell and his wife were the parents of a son, Hugh Allen (Alan). This little guy apparently was not impressed with his father's preaching talents, or else the whole affair was just too lengthy. Hugh misbehaved frequently. Mildred White Strawhand in 1998 still remembered Preacher Harrell coming out of the pulpit, scooping up his son for a walk outside to "wear out" his bottom. Then back into the church they both would come. This little scene replayed itself more than once! During this time the men sat on the left side of the church and the women on the right. Preacher Harrell preached at the Methodist Church during the 2 o'clock afternoon service, but only every other Sunday. The Island Church was part of a Virginia Charge. The preacher lived in a lovely 2-story house at the foot of West Neck Road (VA) and he served Charity, Beech Grove and Bethel Churches too.

The youngest Brumley son, Paul, also had only happy memories of Preacher Harrell. Often when this godly man visited their home (frequently to eat with them), he would give young Paul a special ride. There was a pond in front of the house that contained a little boat that Paul liked to play inside of. The preacher would take the time to tie the little boat to his car and pull young Paul around in the water. The little guy just adored playing that game.

Occasionally though, even preachers get talked about in a negative fashion. Once on the "cut-through road" close to where the old Post Office Building was/now a Sheriff Deputy’s Office (a few house down from the parsonage) a man was attempting to navigate the road. He was obviously drunk and was doing the "zigzag" walk. Preacher Harrell invited the man to get into his car and drove him to his home, went in and assisted the drunkard’s wife in putting the fellow into his bed. Believe it or not, this little episode caused considerable talk around the Island because the preacher had been seen riding around with Mr. Zigzag! The word was if you wanted a free ride home, just do the "zigzag" walk! The young preacher got into the pulpit and actually announced that he didn't care about the criticism and if he found anybody else in that condition, he would do the exact same thing! Preacher Harrell had taught the Islanders a wonderful lesson without a sermon. Even now, almost three-quarters of a century later, some folks can still recall the event.

During the ‘30s the Methodist Church had a railing around the front of the altar, but no kneeling pad. People coming up to the altar had to kneel on the hard wood. The church had stewards who kind of ran the church. They were also responsible for paying the preacher's salary. Families paid $1 apiece on a quarterly basis. Most likely Preacher Harrell was paid on the quarterly system too. People in the community went to each Church family and collected the $1. If the stewards were to come up short, they would have been expected to come up with the money themselves. Some of the men who held this respected position during yesterday years were Eddie Munden, John Jones (Herman Jones' father), Morrison Williams and Bill Bonney. Collecting this money was a chore. The different areas of Knotts Island were "collected" by members - Lath White had the South End area (Mildred White Strawhand's father). Ed Brumley had the area from Brumley Road down to Blackfoot Road. This task fell on the Brumley girls who were, let us say right now, not enthusiastic workers for the Lord! It was tiresome and the people wouldn't have the money or they wouldn't be at home and they would have to return over and over again - or so it seemed to them. Once when finances weren't so good, Preacher Harrell gave up his salary for one month to aid the Knotts Island Church. Just think about that hardship - no wonder he endeared himself to his church family. The little diary had several entries regarding the money collections, such as:

19 Jul 1934: Ruth & I went around to get money for the preacher (Harrell)
20 Jul 1934: Nita went to Mrs. Sena & Maudes to get money for the preacher. It rained this PM
20 Feb 1935: Collected Preacher's money with Pa. Went to Maude Litchfield, Linda, Scenes, Alice, Viola Litchfield and Lucilles
21 Feb 1935: Got R from bus stop and went to Dena's collecting money

Revivals were then, as they are now, a vital extension of the church. Actually these protractive meetings served not only to enhance one's religions experience, but they enabled people to socialize, sing and praise the Lord together. Revivals were held by both the Baptist and the Methodist churches each summer and often they were two weeks in length. Paul Brumley, the author's uncle, remembers only too well his feelings about the revival meetings - he got mighty tired of going. He said his family were always going to either one church or the other the entire time he was growing up. Very weary for a youngster. He also remarked that sometimes people simply went because they had no place else to go. Church events enabled folks to exchange gossip and see their friends. As a youngster, Paul remembers the churches "almost full most Sunday mornings". Adell’s comments certainly echo’d the socialization that went on. She frequently tells us who sat with whom, what young man accompanied her and her sisters and where they went afterwards. In 1932 she wrote, Went to church. I came back w/Jim (Earl was back of us). And one week later she writes, Went to church with Colin & Jim. Earl got on seat I was on. They teased me after I got home. I acted as if I was mad.

Yet, Adell sometimes wrote down which book in the Bible and even down to the exact verses the preacher used in his sermons. Here are excepts regarding the protracted meetings, lasting two weeks during the summer years of 1933 and 1934:

16 Jul 1933: Went to church 3 times. We went with Melford & Bill F tonite-Jessie Melf came this afernoon, Refus & Alma. She went to church w/Nita. Meeting started.
27 Aug 1933: Went to church 3 times. Mosquitoes ate us up almost.
17 Jul 1933: It rained today. We went to church tonite. (Jer: 6) Frances told me the remarks made tonite. Next July 27 - what? where!
17 Jul 1934: Albert came twice today. I showed him my tadpoles. Ruby W went to church with us Tonite. Ruth, May W & I sat on front seat. 11 Chrim 7 Chap (Adell was a bad speller!)
18 Jul 1933: Ruth, Mama & I went to help Miss Pat to clean up Bapt. Church. I drove - We got the spoons. Nita, Vivian & Lester came to go to preaching but Nita, R & I walked. Melford & Bill F came back with us-Ha!
18 Jul 1934: Papa wed corn to Mr. Bonneys this AM. This PM Mildred White came, we were asleep. Nita cut her hair & I rolled it up on paper. Went to meeting with Kermit., Bill brought me home & we carried Irma home. Ma was mad cause I didn't tell her.
19 Jul 1933: Ruth fixed my hair today "Vaseline” The sheriff came here. Bill F & S came tonite we went to preaching (Harrell) How to fan! Ruth had the new fellow (Mac).
20 Jul 1933: Ruby & Birty brought the beans today. It rained. We picked beans & mosquitoes so thick. We went to preaching tonite -talked with Bill F. They were too slow & didn’t come in-ha!
21 Jul 1933: (Fri) Mr. Caleb Gordon, Mama Ruth, Hazel, Emitt & Tully & Melrose came brought watermelon. Nita & I walked to church with Bill F & S tonite. Harrell preaching – but we rode back. Then ate watermelon.

For the year of 1933, there were no revival meetings held on a Saturday night and in fact, there did not seem to ever be revival meetings held on a Saturdays. The night before Sunday was a busy time – baths were usually given to the younger children for sure, and perhaps extra cooking for family friends who might stop by and eat after Church the next day.

23 Jul 1933: (Sun) Went to church Johnnie Lassite taught lesson this PM. Foxie, Lucille & boy came to dinner. We went to church tonite with Bill F & I rode to South end & restaurant – first Preacher Harrell talked about stores on Sunday (boys)
Jul 1934: Very hot. Ruth went to PO & Nita to Clara’s to carry supper. Nita & EW caught lots of fish. Bill took me to church tonite. The Preacher talked with me about services then we took Irma & Edmund home.
25 Jul 1933: (Tues) All except Papa went to Mrs. Lillie Brumleys & to Foxie, but he wasn't home. Stopped to Aunt Clara ’s when we came back. Grandmother came to Uncle J with us. We went to church tonite. Asked Preacher to come here.
27 Jul 1934: Papa cut the weeds around the pond. We had our first cantaloupes. Nita, Ruth & I joined the church tonite. Ruth & I came back with Bill & Harold C. We went to Casies store but was closed.
28 Jul 1933: It rained nearly all day. Got dressed for church & Ruth got the rouge on my dress. I went to church with Bill F. Vivian W. sat beside me. Meredith came back with NLB.
30 Jul 1933: Went to Bapt church, taught a class. Nita & I came home with Bill F & S. Elsie Mae came here to dinner. Went to church tonite. End of meetings (Harrel) Oh! How hot it was

Tunis Corbell, now of California, shared his feelings with the author of seeing the teenage Brumley girls enter the Methodist Church, now so very long ago:
“I was especially impressed by the romance of your father and mother. I saw it all unfold but was never aware of the tugs of heartstrings going on at the time. I remember once in 1933-35 when I was impressed one August night at a Protractive Methodist Meeting Service when Nita, Adell and Ruth showed up with Ulysses, Bill and Harold Capps. They were undoubtedly the prettiest girls on KI at that time. They were all walking abreast of each other and giggling and holding onto the arms of their escorts. As a youth of 11 or 12 years old, I was quite impressed by their beauty and show of affection.”

Of course, two of the Brumley girls, Nita and Adell, would within the decade marry their sweethearts. Ruth chose another, Scott Etheridge, and they, too, married around the early l940's.

Attending the Baptist church was just as dear to the hearts of the Brumley family as was the 2 o'clock service at the Methodist church. In later years, some of the family became Baptists and others, Methodists. Even on excessively cold mornings, their father's deep faith and love of God was an example to all.

27 Jan 1935: Very cold. Didn’t go to church. Pa went this AM. Wore his boots. This "AM" notation meant Ed Brumley went to the Baptist Church and obviously walked, wearing his boots for added warmth. He lived halfway up Brumley Road and probably was able to use a shortcut path through the woods that came out close to the schoolhouse. Still it was a long walk, in heavy boots.

The older girls sometimes taught classes at the Baptist church. Adell speaks of teaching a class of little boys.

Other diary notes give glimpses of the family's love and caring for the little Baptist church.

28 Jim 1933: Papa helped fix lights today at Bapt Ch. Bill F came tonite.
18 Jun 1933: Ruth, Mama & I went to help Miss Pat clean up Bapt Ch.
27 Jul 1933: Rode Bapt Ch. Took Miss Pat and polished seats. To Miss Pat's and ate peaches & apples.

"Cabe” Gordon was head of the Baptist church during a certain period of time. Not exactly sure what being the "head" meant, could have meant he was responsible for opening/closing the church or perhaps he was somewhat like our Sunday school superintendents of today. Anyway, Mr. Cabe stands out in Tunis Corbell's mind because as a child, he found Mr. Gordon's dead body in his cabin which was located alongside the school property. "Many of us kids viewed the body through the window, and it was the first dead person I’d ever seen except at church, in a coftin," Tunis relayed to the author in 1999.

Preacher Liddell was an evangelist, a Baptist, and he was preaching a sermon on adultery. The Methodist preacher was also in the audience and took offense at a statement Liddell made. This Methodist preacher, by the name of Jordan, called the Baptist reverend "down." Preacher Liddell got very excited and invited all who wanted to follow him up to Ben Smith's house. The Smith house in that day was located very close to the church. This event caused quite a stir and much talk in the community for days afterwards. Mildred White Strawhand in 1998 said years afterwards she saw Mr. Liddell in a local hospital, no longer a minister and an ex-bootlegger to boot! Mr. Reddy Capps was the singing leader in the Baptist church at the time of Preacher Liddell.

There are other interesting little tidbits of church-related fact; such as: Not only did Sally Bowden remember this fact many years earlier, but Jim Ward, of Wards Road, told a young William (Billy) Fentress, Jr. in the l960's that masted schooners used to dock in a canal east of the United Methodist Church. This area is very, very low and the scenario is, even today, very believable.

Levy Miller (Jim Miller's father and the husband of "Miss" Pat) and Walter Beasley were two men who did "finish" work. They did a substantial amount on the Methodist church. They helped to make it the beautiful place of worship we enjoy today.

There was a large watering trough near the Methodist Church for horses. This trough was thought to be an artesian well - a deep well in which the water is forced up by pressure of underground water draining from higher ground.

Most families did not allow card playing by their children. Mildred White Strawhand said she and her sister, Nina, were allowed to play a game called "Pollyanna" which was played with dice.

Deaths and Shrouding:

Littleton Rosser Fentress died in the early moming hours of Monday, January 7th in the year 1935 (Mr. Ross Fentress died early this A.M Uncle John came here & told us). The next day Adell says Ma went to Mr. Fentresses. On the 10th, Ruth came home from school & we went to Mr. Ross F funeral. Bill & Frances stopped by today. Albert & Bill came tonite & I went to his house. The body stayed in church tonite. And on the 11th there is one more mention of her "wou1d have been future father-in-law" I went to burial. The funeral was not held until Thursday to allow one of the sons, Eddie, and his wife to return in time to say goodbye and attend the burial. Eddie Fentress drove home from Idaho in his Chevy convertible. His father had died of pneumonia after attending Billy Newman’s funeral. Billy, too, had died from pneumonia. Ross wore something new to the funeral, a “no-no" as country-folks superstitions went. He was the next to die. When bodies were laid out, quarters were placed over the eyes of the dead. Adell's diary notes that the couple (Eddie & Ethel) was present at the Fentress home later that night. However, since the body was left in the Methodist Church overnight, most likely it was because the son did not get home in time for the viewing and funeral. The actual burial took place the next day, Friday. (Whenever funerals were being attended, the author remembers her father being adamant that no new clothing would be worn by his children-of course this author did, just didn’t let him know!)

Shrouding was frequently done by Mrs. Vaudelia Bonney when someone died. Sometimes the body was washed in salt water. It was laid out in a casket, at home and the funeral soon held. In winter, cedar and pine boughs were tied up with ribbon and used as flowers. Anything like that was considered appropriate for displaying at a funeral. Often times family members or just friends were called upon to help shroud a body and get it ready for burial. Nita Brumley Dixon helped to shroud the body of one of their neighbors, Mr. Crane. It was not a task she asked to partake in; her parents sent her to "help out."

Mr. "Ferd" (Ferinand) Bonney had a hearse that was used during the Depression years. Mr. Ginn, located at Back Bay also had a "burying" business.

Frank Hughes recalled to the author that a funeral wagon was kept on Knotts Island, in a buggy shed which was next to the barn. One mule or horse was used to pull it. There was a seat for the driver and there was glass which sort of wrapped around the bottom of the wagon used for taking the casket to the cemetery. The casket was removed from the middle of the back of the wagon. He remembered that years later the funeral wagon was stripped down and used as a farm/field wagon and used to haul corn and such.

11 Jun 35: Two Mormon preachers came today.

Interesting that even in 1935, the Mormons were able to find tiny, little old Knotts Island to seek out converts! Never heard of them finding any though!


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