Encyclopedia Sam|Got a history question? Just ask this fella

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Did you know that James Porter didn’t give the land for Porters Chapel Church? The property belonged to his father-in-law, a Mr. Hatcher. And what were the other names before Thomas Redwood gave his to the settlement on the Yazoo? — It was Cardiff, then Anthony’s Ferry — and Andrew. Andrew? — that’s right.

These are just some of the trivial tidbits of Warren County history that James Earl “Sam” Price has uncovered in his research. And, if a history of the county is ever written, it won’t be complete unless Sam’s name is among the credits and his work is in the bibliography.

Sam is a researcher extraordinaire, concentrating on times and people and events mainly connected to the history of the Methodist Church in Warren County, though he doesn’t stop at county or state lines.

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He inherited some of his love for history from his mother, a lady who put herself through Whitworth College in Brookhaven and taught in a one-room school in that area where the counties of Hinds, Claiborne and Copiah meet.

“She was always interested in history, and inspired it in me,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough that I had jobs where I had plenty of time to prowl around through the countryside and look and wonder — Why did these people do this? Why did they do that? You know they had reasons for doing things. What happened here? Why this big hole in the ground? Did they dig it for buried treasure?”

Sam’s quest, always a hobby, was moved to the front burner when he retired several years ago and he waked in the middle of the night — “That’s when I do my best thinking and praying — and I said, ‘You better figure out what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.’ I decided I was going to write some stuff. I got a book or two compiled and published and couldn’t figure out what the next step would be.”

The answer was to turn to his love of research. What he would do was gather information on various and sundry things so that somebody else could use it. He has not only compiled the data, but he’s made sure his sources are listed so that “if you want to go back and check, you can do so and see if that is really what it said.”

In research, he said, “You look everywhere, not just one place, and you don’t call it up on the Internet, though that is a good place to start.” Land deeds are vital, he emphasized, for, “When someone signed something that was notarized, they at least thought it was correct. Names were usually spelled however the clerk thought they should be spelled.”

Lately he’s been delving into the origin of Gibson Memorial Methodist Church which began in the 1880s in one room of the old Naval Hospital which stood at the foot of Speed Street. First called South Vicksburg, the church remained in that area until in recent years when it was relocated to Oak Ridge Road. The impetus to organize the church, he said, was led by members of Crawford Street Church, located downtown. It was feared that the town would move south, after the river changed course, and a church would be needed in that section. It was also thought that the ferry landing might be moved to the new part of town. The minister of Crawford Street, who preached in the afternoons at South Vicksburg, was the Rev. R.S. Woodward. He also preached the memorial service here when Gen. Ulysses S. Grant died in 1885.

Sam’s family roots in this area, especially in Claiborne and Copiah counties, go back to the American Revolution when Caleb Potter, an ancestor, was living at Grindstone Ford on Bayou Pierre in 1786, “and we’ve been around here ever since.”

“I came out of Scutchalo,” he said, a beautiful spot best known for the waterfalls in the edge of Copiah County. He went to school at Wise, Carpenter and graduated from Utica High School in 1955. The day he finished school, he came to Vicksburg looking for a job and got it — working for the Illinois Central Railroad. He stayed with the company until 1968 when they wanted to move him to Chicago “but my wife balked,” so he got a job with Anderson-Tully. Though he had no background in forestry, “they taught me everything they wanted me to know.” He retired in 2001.

Sam still owns the family homestead in Hinds County and has vivid memories of growing up near Carpenter, a booming community with several stores, a school and a Methodist church where his mother took him “when I was just a babe in her arms. I joined the church in 1944 when I was 8 years old. I did it the way you were supposed to do it back then, when they held a protracted meeting.”

In Vicksburg, he met, courted, and married Carol Ann Tuccio, and to them were born a son and a daughter. Sam and Carol Ann were married in the old sanctuary of Hawkins Methodist Church. They lived for a time in north Vicksburg but moved to Roseland Drive where they could walk to church and their children could easily attend the youth programs.

Among the works that Sam has completed is a history of the Utica Methodist Church and the Masonic Lodge, which once shared a building. He’s also compiled data on Confederate soldiers from Claiborne County and has republished John G. Jones’ two-volume history of the Methodist Church in Mississippi, adding a new index because the old one “was so incomplete you found most things by accident.”

He has served as chairman of the Mississippi Conference on Archives and History and is president of the Mississippi Conference Methodist Historical Society. The Bishop has appointed him to represent the Archives and History of the southwest jurisdiction of the church, a job that Sam isn’t sure is important, “but I get to go to Lake Junaluska in North Carolina for the meeting.”

He’s done considerable genealogy and said his family has been Methodist since the American Revolution, and with that Wesley tradition in his past, “I can’t imagine being anything else — Methodist born and Methodist bred, and when I die I’ll be Methodist dead” is a good way to put it.

Sam’s wife is deceased, and his daughter is a penal system judge in Dallas and his son a structural engineering professor at City College in New York, and “they don’t really get excited about history, so I’ve got to find something to do with this stuff I’ve gathered up before they throw it away.”

He’s found several depositories including Millsaps, Ole Miss and the Old Court House Museum.

Sam sees no end to his research, for there is no end to history, and he said, “I’ve reached the age and the point in life now where I am trying desperately to get my stuff together so that I can do whatever I’m going to do with it, and it will be available and won’t be lost. I don’t do this for profit, I do it for fun. And my goal is to make my research available so that other people can use it and continue the pursuit.

“I’ve chased some history and found some stuff,” he said. “I don’t want to do all this and that be the end of it.”

Gordon Cotton is an author and historian who lives in Vicksburg.