Local author to present program on historic Carter County court case

Published 7:12 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A local author will present a little-known story from Carter County history on Thursday evening at the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library.

Ruth Knight Bailey began her work researching the story of a pair of Mormon missionaries in Roan Mountain who found themselves at the wrong end of the law for a college class paper. After long hours of research, writing, and revisions, Bailey’s work was not only turned in for her class, but it was also published in the Journal of East Tennessee History said Joe Penza, the archivist for the Library.

“It really is an interesting story,” Penza said.

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In the late 1870s, John Hamilton Morgan, a leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints visited the mountainous border between Tennessee and North Carolina and noted that “no new fangled notions of modern religious ideas have found foothold here,” according to Bailey’s paper.

By the mid-1880s, Mormon missionaries had located friends and converts in the highlands in and around Roan Mountain. The highlands may have seemed a safe refuge the violence and oppression experienced by Mormons in the Middle Tennessee area, presumably over some of their beliefs regarding marriage.

In 1885, two Mormon missionaries were arrested in Shell Creek due to the passage and enforcement of an anti-polygamy statute. The indictment said the men allegedly “committed the crime of teaching polygamous principles or inducing Tennesseans to emigrate to a place where they could embrace the same beliefs,” Bailey said in her article.

Penza said he had read the article and the story is a fascinating one.

“The people in Roan Mountain were so nice to these Mormon missionaries, but you had a sheriff hell-bent on prosecuting them,” Penza said.

Bailey will present her paper “Liberty Trampled in the Dust: State v. Christensen and a Mormon Community in the Roan Highlands” on Thursday, June 29, from 6-7:30 p.m. in the meeting room at the Library. She will also host a question and answer session following her talk.