Elisha Thomas Horn: Primitive Baptist at Worship

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is At Worship.  To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


My family has a strong Baptist heritage dating back many generations and almost 200 years. On my paternal line, this heritage begins with my earliest known Horne ancestor, my 3x-great-grandfather Elisha Thomas — “Preacher Tommy” — Horn.

Elisha Thomas Horn, c. 1880

Photograph of Elisha Thomas Horn, ca. 1880, digital image, privately held by Thomas Ayres, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Texas. Thomas obtained the photo from Raymond L. Horne of Mississippi who found it among the items of Emmett Horne’s estate.

Elisha Thomas Horn was born about 1800 in North Carolina.¹ Although researchers have speculated about his origins for years, Elisha’s early life remains a mystery.

Elisha married Marilda Richardson, daughter of Samuel Garthon Richardson and Celah Hackney, in Greene County, Alabama, on September 5, 1826.² The Richardsons were also North Carolina natives, but it’s unproven if they knew Elisha before arriving in the area.

Elisha and Marilda’s family grew quickly. The 1830 census reports the household consisted of a male between ages 20-29 (Elisha), a female between ages 15-19 (Marilda) and two males under age 5 (sons Manassah Lee and William Lemuel).³ Sometime after this census — most likely after the Choctaw Cession of 1830 and the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek — Elisha’s family moved with their Richardson relatives across the Tombigbee River into lands previously occupied by the Choctaw. Elisha and the Richardsons settled near Sumterville in newly established Sumter County.⁴

Our first evidence of Elisha’s faith practices appear in the membership list of Sumter County’s Bethany Baptist Church. The church was organized in the home of Clarke Crocker on July 6, 1833.⁵ Near the top of the list of male members is “Elisha Thorne” (as transcribed by Frances Etheridge in the Spring/Summer 2003 issue of Alabama Genealogical Society Magazine).⁶ This person is undoubtedly Elisha T. Horn, as the list of female members also includes his wife “Merilda Horn” and several of her Richardson relations.⁷ In total, I’ve identified 11 people from the members list with ties to my family:

  • “Elisha Thorne” = Elisha T. Horn
  • “Merilda Horn” = Marilda Richardson Horn
  • “M. L. Horn” = could be Manassah Lee Horn, son of Elisha and Marilda, depending on age when baptized / allowed to join membership roll
  • “Wm. R. Richardson” = Could be William Bryant Richardson, Marilda’s uncle, if middle initial is transcribed incorrectly
  • “Uney Richardson” = Uney Ray Richardson, wife of William Bryant Richardson and Marilda’s aunt
  • “Kenny Richardson” = Curney Richardson, Marilda’s first cousin
  • “Matilda Richardson” = Matilda Wilder Richardson, wife of Curney
  • “W. R. Richardson” = William Ray Richardson, Marilda’s first cousin
  • “A. W. Richardson” = Applewhite Richardson, Marilda’s first cousin OR Apple White Richardson, Marilda’s first cousin, once removed
  • “Bryant Richardson” = Marilda’s first cousin
  • “Chery L. Bryant” = Cherry Lane Richardson Bryant, Marilda’s first cousin

Several other Richardsons appear in the list, but it is difficult to determine these individuals’ identities because the list is undated.

The order in which Elisha and Marilda’s names appear on the member list give clues about the dates they attended Bethany Baptist Church. Elisha is not listed as one of the nine founding members, but he is the third non-founding member on the male list. Marilda is the first non-founding member on the female list. These placements suggest Elisha and Marlida joined Bethany soon after it was formed.

In 1838, Bethany Baptist Church split over a disagreement about foreign missions.⁸ This split was part of greater movement now known as the Primitive Baptist and anti-missions movement. During the early 1800s, Baptists began adding institutional structures within their churches, including missions societies, benevolent organizations, formal seminaries, and Bible and tract societies.⁹ Primitive Baptists saw these innovations as replacing the true church with organizations based on — or seeking — money.¹⁰ Elisha and his family, along with some of their Richardson relatives and neighbors, separated from Bethany Baptist Church over these principles. They formed Old Side Baptist Church, named such because they were on the “old side” instead of the new side of missions.¹¹

Only the Old Side Cemetery remains where Old Side Primitive Baptist Church was once located.

Photograph of Old Side Cemetery, 2013, digital image 2013, privately held by Jessica Horne Collins, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Houston, Texas. Jessica took this photo on 23 May 2013, while visiting Sumter County, Alabama.

Listed among the founders of Old Side Baptist Church is “Elisha Thomas.”¹² I believe this person is Elisha Thomas Horn and that his surname was lost in the transcription or could possibly be missing from the original document. (I have not seen the original church minutes, but they are located at Samford University in Birmingham — time for a road trip!) I believe Elisha was a founding member for two reasons: (1) location of Old Side Baptist Church, and (2) his future role in another Primitive Baptist church.

The church building for Old Side Baptist has long vanished, but the Old Side cemetery remains. It is located at the dead-end of Old Sides Cemetery Road and straddles the line between Sections 23 and 24 of Sumter County.¹³ The eastern half is located in the SW1/4 of Section 24, Township 20N, Range 3W — and is part of the 160 acres Elisha patented on March 15, 1837!¹⁴ Elisha owned this portion of the land until 1843 when he transferred it to Evan N. Bryant, his neighbor and the husband of Marilda’s cousin Cherry Lane Richardson Bryant, for the sum of $1.¹⁵ The deed transfer agreement is complicated, but Elisha seems to have engaged Bryant as a trustee to sell his real estate and personal property and to settle his debts.¹⁶ Perhaps this arrangement was in preparation of Elisha moving further west into Mississippi. A profile of Old Side Baptist Church in The Heritage of Sumter County, Alabama, states Nathan Amason donated the land for the church and cemetery in 1859, but that it had been used as such for the previous 20 years.¹⁷ This date places Old Side Baptist Church and cemetery on Elisha’s property at the time he owned it — strong evidence he was a founding member.

In the meantime, Elisha and Marilda’s family grew even more. They added five children to their family while in Sumter County: Rebecca Frances and Henry, who both died in childhood, Samuel Garthon, Celia Ann Alice, and Joshua Lawrence (from whom I descend).¹⁸

Elisha and his family moved west into Neshoba County, Mississippi, after settling his financial matters in 1843.¹⁹ Elisha and Marilda’s final son, John Thomas, was probably born here in 1846.²⁰ Marilda died sometime after the 1850 census — maybe in 1852²¹ — either in Neshoba County or in adjoining Leake County, where the family moved by 1853.²² After his wife’s death, Elisha married Nancy Susanna Ray White, widow of Augustus White.²³ They made their home in the community of Coosa, in northeast Leake County.²⁴

Throughout these moves, Elisha did not forgot his Primitive Baptist faith. On July 4, 1857, Elisha and Nancy deeded three acres of land to form Zion Hill Primitive Baptist Church, which they constituted in their home.²⁵ The congregation licensed Elisha to preach, and he became its first pastor²⁶ — which is also how he earned his “Preacher Tommy” nickname. (It also distinguished him from the other Elisha Thomas Horn in the neighborhood: “Whiskey Tommy.”) The church’s first meeting house was a log structure which stood until a fire in 1893.²⁷ It was rebuilt and remained a centerpiece of the small community until an arsonist’s fire destroyed several Coosa landmarks on Easter Sunday 1970.²⁸ The church was not rebuilt for quite some time — at least through 1984²⁹ — but has since been reestablished as Zion Hill Independent Baptist Church and is currently an active congregation. (My father, older son, and I even visited in 2013!)

A congregation still bears the name of Elisha Thomas Horn’s church in Coosa, Leake County, Mississippi.

Photograph of Zion Hill Church, 2013, digital image 2013, privately held by Jessica Horne Collins, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Houston, Texas. Jessica took this photo on 23 May 2013, while visiting Coosa, Leake County, Mississippi.

Elisha and Nancy had three children together: Elijah Willbanks, Mary Elizabeth, and Rebecca Suzanne Frances.³⁰ Nancy may have died in childbirth with Rebecca in 1860.³¹

Widowed twice, Elisha married for a third and final time to Mary Jane Wells McCauley, widow of John McCauley, Jr., on August 21, 1860, in Leake County.³² They lived out their remaining years in Coosa, Leake County, Mississippi, faithful to their family, friends, and church. Elisha died sometime after 1880.³³ A memorial stone marking his believed burial place in Zion Hill Cemetery was erected on July 4, 1957 — 100 years after he deeded land for his beloved church.³⁴

Descendants of Elisha Thomas Horn erected this monument in his memory on the centennial anniversary of the Zion Hill Primitive Baptist Church’s founding.

Photograph of Elisha Thomas Horn Memorial, 2013, digital image 2013, privately held by Jessica Horne Collins, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Houston, Texas. Jessica took this photo on 23 May 2013, while visiting Coosa, Leake County, Mississippi.


As a Southern Baptist myself, I find my ancestors’ Primitive Baptist roots fascinating. How do their beliefs differ from mine almost 200 years later? Quite a bit:

  • Primitive Baptists, although they reject infant baptism, hold strongly to five-point Calvinism. Elisha would be pleased that my church and family follows believer’s baptism, but he and I would definitely disagree about the doctrine of limited atonement.
  • Foot-washing is an ordinance in Primitive Baptist churches. Me? I’d rather everyone keep their shoes on.
  • Primitive Baptists believe missions should be accomplished by individual ministers who feel led to evangelize specific people groups. I am a supporter of cooperative missions like the Southern Baptist’s International Mission Board and North American Missions Board and parachruch ministries that reach targeted groups locally and around the world. Elisha would give serious side-eye to my husband Joe for his trips to Costa Rica and Honduras.
  • Primitive Baptists reject the idea of Sunday School and support family-integrated worship instead. While I don’t completely agree with this view, I do find myself wanting more corporate worship for my kids than is possible with our church’s current programming schedule. Elisha would probably scoff at how separated our generations have become with worship styles, multiple service times, and concern over crying babies being a distraction.
  • Speaking of worship and music, Elisha would be aghast at all the musical instruments in modern worship. Primitive Baptists sing a capella and without any accompaniment; I prefer a big pipe organ and orchestra. While I can tolerate slightly more guitar and drums than Elisha could, neither of us would gravitate toward contemporary worship. I would actually love to learn the shaped-note music that Primitive Baptists use in their worship services. I also suspect Elisha sang some of the old hymns we still enjoy. In fact, popular hymns of the early 1800s are still in regular rotation at my church: “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” (1832), “Rock of Ages” (1832), “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” (1845), “Just As I Am” (1849), and “Fairest Lord Jesus” (1850).
  • Primitive Baptist pastors are not formally trained in seminaries; instead, they are lay leaders who have been licensed and ordained by the local congregation. Most churches in my area have senior pastors with seminary training — many with doctorate degrees — and the associate pastors more often come from a lay-minister background. But because I’m originally from a rural area, I do remember a time when it was rare to find a pastor who had attended seminary. Online classes are making it easier for rural pastors to receive formal instruction. However, in this current climate of “professional Christianity” and megachurch consumerism, I can somewhat understand the Primitive Baptist concerns over a professional clergy.

¹Elisha’s birth place and estimated birth year are consistent among the following censuses:

1850 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 121 (stamped), dwelling 101, family 109, E. T. Horn; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4200049_00247 : accessed 26 Apr 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 378.

1860 U.S. census, Leake County, Mississippi, population schedule, Carthage Post Office, p. 56 (penned), dwelling 360, family 360, Elisha T Horn; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7667/4233369_00060 : accessed 26 Apr 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication M643, roll 586.

1870 U.S. census, Leake County, Mississippi, population schedule, Carthage Post Office, p. 88 (penned), dwelling 624, family 624, E T Horne; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7163/4273790_00092 : accessed 26 Apr 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 736.

1880 U.S. census, Leake County, Mississippi, population schedule (1st enumeration), enumeration district (ED) 48, p. 13 (penned), p. 331A (stamped), dwelling 100, family 100, E. Thomas Horne in the household of Joshaway McCalley; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4241782-00668 : accessed 26 Apr 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 653.

²“Alabama, County Marriages, 1809-1950”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QKZ3-HSCB : 21 July 2015), Elisha T. Horn and Marilda Richardson, 1826.

³1830 U.S. census, Greene County, Alabama, population schedule, p. 799 (penned), col. 1, line 9, E T Horn; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8058/4410702_00789 : accessed 26 Apr 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication M19, roll 2.

⁴Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=AL1020__.130&docClass=STA&sid=xb12dzl2.shb : accessed 26 Apr 2019), entry for Elisha T Horn, Sumter County, Alabama, no. 2428. 

⁵Frances Etheredge, “Church Records: Bethany Baptist Church, Sumter County, Alabama,” Alabama Genealogical Society Magazine 35 (Spring/Summer 2003): 21-23.

Ibid.

Ibid.

⁸Nelle Morris Jenkins, Pioneer Families of Sumter County, Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Alabama: Willo Publishing Company, 1961), 38.

⁹James R. Mathis, The Making of the Primitive Baptists: A Cultural and Intellectual History of the Antimission Movement, 1800-1840 (New York: Psychology Press, 2004), 1-3.

¹⁰Ibid.

¹¹Jenkins, Pioneer Families of Sumter County, Alabama, 38.

¹²Jenkins, Pioneer Families of Sumter County, Alabama, 17.

¹³”Sumter County Alabama – 2018 – Public GIS,” Sumter County Commission, Flagship GIS (https://www.alabamagis.com/Sumter/frameset.cfm?cfid=1715484&cftoken=66570259 : accessed 26 Apr 2019), database with map, “Old Sides Cemetery.”

¹⁴Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=AL1020__.130&docClass=STA&sid=xb12dzl2.shb : accessed 26 Apr 2019), entry for Elisha T Horn, Sumter County, Alabama, no. 2428. 

¹⁵Sumter County, Alabama, County Court Deed Records, Elisha T Horn to Evan N Bryant, “Indenture,” 4 Apr 1843; images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSLX-MS96-1?i=160&cat=484694 : accessed 26 Apr 2019) path: Deed record, v. G (p. 166-end) 1841-1844, image 161.

¹⁶Ibid.

¹⁷Sumter County Heritage Book Committee, The Heritage of Sumter County, Alabama (Clanton, Alabama : Heritage Publishing Consultants, 2005), 56.

¹⁸Robert G. Horn, MD, Henry Horn of Contentnea Creek (Cornersville, Tennessee: self-published, 2006), 208-212.

¹⁹1850 U.S. census, Neshoba County, Mississippi, population schedule, p. 121 (stamped), dwelling 101, family 109, E. T. Horn; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/8054/4200049_00247 : accessed 26 Apr 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication M432, roll 378.

²⁰Ibid.

²¹”Elisha Thomas Horn,” Elisha Thomas Horn Centennial Celebration, 1857-1957, brochure, Zion Hill Primitive Baptist Church (Leake County, Mississippi), 4 Jul 1957, p. 3; privately held by Susan Pollard Caldwell, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Memphis, Tennessee, from the papers of George Joshua McCauley, electronic scan 20 Oct 2015.

²²1853 census, Leake County, Mississippi, “Mississippi, State and Territorial Census Collection, 1792-1866,” col. 11, line 6, household of Thomas Horn; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1125/v229_2-0410 : accessed 26 Apr 2019); citing HeritageQuest microfilm V229, roll 2.

²³”Elisha Thomas Horn,” Elisha Thomas Horn Centennial Celebration, 1857-1957, brochure, Zion Hill Primitive Baptist Church (Leake County, Mississippi), 4 Jul 1957, p. 3; privately held by Susan Pollard Caldwell, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Memphis, Tennessee, from the papers of George Joshua McCauley, electronic scan 20 Oct 2015.

²⁴Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=MS1570__.193&docClass=STA&sid=3szig2of.qus : accessed 26 Apr 2019), entry for Elisha T Horn, Leake County, Mississippi, no. 37300.

Bureau of Land Management, “Land Patent Search,” database, General Land Office Records (https://glorecords.blm.gov/details/patent/default.aspx?accession=MS1590__.349&docClass=STA&sid=3szig2of.qus : accessed 26 Apr 2019), entry for Elisha T Horn, Leake County, Mississippi, no. 38548.

²⁵”Elisha Thomas Horn,” Elisha Thomas Horn Centennial Celebration, 1857-1957, brochure, Zion Hill Primitive Baptist Church (Leake County, Mississippi), 4 Jul 1957, p. 3; privately held by Susan Pollard Caldwell, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Memphis, Tennessee, from the papers of George Joshua McCauley, electronic scan 20 Oct 2015.

²⁶Ibid.

²⁷Mac & Louise Spence, The History of Leake County, Mississippi: Its People and Places (Dallas, Texas: Curtis Media Corp, 1984), 37-38.

²⁸”Arsonist Destroys Church, 4 Houses,” The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi), 30 Mar 1970, p. 1, col. 1, cont. on p. 12, col. 8.

²⁹Mac & Louise Spence, The History of Leake County, Mississippi: Its People and Places, 37-38.

³⁰”Elisha Thomas Horn,” Elisha Thomas Horn Centennial Celebration, 1857-1957, brochure, Zion Hill Primitive Baptist Church (Leake County, Mississippi), 4 Jul 1957, p. 3; privately held by Susan Pollard Caldwell, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Memphis, Tennessee, from the papers of George Joshua McCauley, electronic scan 20 Oct 2015.

³¹Ibid.

³²”Mississippi Marriages, 1800-1911,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:V2ZR-PRP : accessed 26 Apr 2019), E. T. Horn and Mary Jane McCauley, 21 Aug 1860; citing Leake, Mississippi; FHL microfilm 891454.

³³Elisha’s last known record is his appearance in the 1880 census; therefore he died after his household was enumerated on 10 Jun 1880:

1880 U.S. census, Leake County, Mississippi, population schedule (1st enumeration), enumeration district (ED) 48, p. 13 (penned), p. 331A (stamped), dwelling 100, family 100, E. Thomas Horne in the household of Joshaway McCalley; image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4241782-00668 : accessed 26 Apr 2019); citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 653.

³⁴”Elisha Thomas Horn,” Elisha Thomas Horn Centennial Celebration, 1857-1957, brochure, Zion Hill Primitive Baptist Church (Leake County, Mississippi), 4 Jul 1957, p. 3; privately held by Susan Pollard Caldwell, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Memphis, Tennessee, from the papers of George Joshua McCauley, electronic scan 20 Oct 2015.


3 thoughts on “Elisha Thomas Horn: Primitive Baptist at Worship”

  1. very cool! i never thought I would see my name mentioned in one of your posts. i feel honored to be included, albeit in a small way.

  2. I wonder why our Scotts ancestors became Baptist in America, when they appear to have been-at least nominally-what we call Presbyterian or Calvinist?
    Also, I wonder if there is a tie with your McCauley, and Melinda McCauley, who IIRC married into the McKaskles or Johnstons?

    1. Yes! John McCauley, Jr. (abt 1794-abt 1857) and Mary Jane Wells (3rd wife of Elisha Thomas Horne) were parents of Malinda McCauley, who md. John Johnston 30 Jan 1844. Please let me know of any corrections to this, Jessica Horne Collins !
      Barb Stewart Johnston

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