The Old Jonesville Campground
By Anne W. Lanningham


The Old Jonesville Campground
By Anne W. Lanningham

There is a sacred spot about two miles west of Jonesville, the County seat of Lee, known as the Jonesville Campground. Here Methodist believers worshiped for almost one hundred and sixty nine years.
As you approach the grounds you are struck by the unique setting, canopied by large oak trees that have stood the wind and storms through the years. They seem to act as sentinels guarding the place.
Around the grounds is a sturdy rock fence, hand hewn of limestone. This fence was built in the 1980's long after the founding of the church there. George Rockingham Smith, a mason, cut the stones, rolled them into place, and secured them without mortar. Mr. Nathan Cox, a faithful member supervised the building of the fence. He was the grandfather of one of our Historical Society members, W. F. Cox. I can imagine in the beginning the grounds had a rail fence around it, as in early days the grounds were kept closed.
As you pass through the front entrance, there is a feeling of quietness and solemnity, only the singing of the birds break the silence. Perhaps if on a hot summer day you will hear the cooing of the doves as I remember them when living near by.
On this sacred spot, the first Church of Methodism in Lee County was organized. It was then known as being in the Lee Circuit and extended into Tennessee. It had its beginning in a log church, which was falling into decay when it was torn down to make room for the present brick church, which was dedicated in 1925.
This church was built by the work and sacrifice of the Campground members. My mother, Retta Browning Wynn, whose indomitable spirit with others, worked to see its completion and dedication. Rev. D. B. Wright was then pastor and Rev. D. A. Shugart was the presiding elder.
The donor to the Campground property came from Tazewell County to Lee about the time the county was formed in 1792. He bought land in this area in 1793 and settled on a branch just east of the Campground. This is known today as Wynns Branch, its head is in Fleenor Town. He was Elkanah Wynn, the son of William Wynne of Tazewell, Virginia.
One would assume the church here was founded soon after settlement was made and the log church built. Camp meetings began in 1810, deed to the Campground property was not made until 1831 and was not recorded until 1833, after the death of the donor. A brief follows:
Deed Book 6, page 533, dated 23 July 1831, a deed of gift from Elkanah Wynn and Mary his wife of the county of Lee and State of Virginia of the first part to the trustees of the Jonesville Campground; Robert Peery, Henry Hamblin, Isaac Thompson, Evans Peery, Abraham Still, Boyd Dickenson, William Wynn, Champ Hamblin, David Orr and George Morris trustees in trust for the use and purpose herein mentioned all in the County of Lee, State of Virginia of the second part...containing three acres and one hundred and two poles, the houses, waterways, with free privilege of the spring for members of the Methodist Episcopal Church...according to the order and discipline which from time to time shall be agreed upon and adopted by the ministers and preachers of the said church of their General Conference in the United States of America, to preach and expound God's Holy Word...as long as it is continued a place of worship by the Methodist Episcopal Church.
     Signed: Elkanah Wynn (Seal) and Mary Wynn (her mark)
     Witnesses: Justice Peace, John Fulkerson, Evans Peery
Camp meeting has been held here in August every year since 1810, except during the years of the War Between the States in 1863 and 1864. The Union soldiers were then encamped at Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, and the members did not feel safe to assemble here. So they met at the Long Hollow Church, about four miles east of Jonesville. This old church is still standing. It is the first church built by the Christian Church faith in Lee County.
The tabernacle or shed as it is called was built in 1824. Up until that time the people worshipped under a crude brush arbor, which protected them from the sun but not from the inclement weather.
Judge James Wesley Orr, a Confederate veteran and former clerk and judge of the Lee County Court, in his history of the Campground described the building of the shed. "In the year 1824 a permanent shed was built in the center of the grounds and covered with old clap boards and seated with split logs...The large posts, plates and rafters of this structure were hewn of logs. Henry Woodard and David Orr did the scoring and Robert Wynn and Joseph Haskew, the pastor, did the hewing. This shed still stands and if properly cared for and preserved will stand for years to come as a lasting monument to the memory of those servants of God.
"When D. V. York was pastor of the Jonesville Circuit from 1893 to 1896 he extended the old shed about twenty feet on the southwest end which gave added seating space. The choir, ministers and others are seated here."
Judge Orr continues with his history: "The first presiding Elder whom I remember was Thomas Poteet, a one-eyed Irishman. I have heard four Bishops preach at the Campground, two of whom were Bishops and two who became Bishops afterwards. These were Bishops Atkins, Waterhouse, Duncan and Dubose. I remember when attendance at Campmeeting was four or five thousand people, many coming for miles. Great has been the work done here for spreading the gospel and the upbuilding of the Christian Kingdom on Earth.
"The number of camps before the war were thirty or forty arranged around inside the fence in a hollow square and were of log construction. In the time of the War Between the States the 64th Virginia Regiment, C. S. A. camped here in these camps. When leaving some forgot to put out their fires, which broke out and destroyed the camps. The shed only was saved." After the war the camps were rebuilt of weather boarding all joined together in a hollow square. These were used for many years until progress, better roads and automobiles came. Modes of travel became easier; time and the weather took their toll and the camps were torn away.
Early Campground minutes kept by Rev. William W. Woodward, who lived on Sugar Run, gives the names of the first presiding Elder, the ministers, leaders and campers at the Campground. Elbert Sevier was presiding Elder when the shed was built. Pastors given were Thomas Nixon, James Witten, David Cummings, Abraham Murphy, Abraham Still, Branch Merriman and Joseph Haskew.
Abraham Still once pastor at the Campground was both a preacher and doctor. He came from Tazewell, Virginia to Lee County to pastor the church and lived near the Lee County Natural Bridge. Among his nine children one was destined to become famous, Andrew Taylor Still, born in Lee County. Dr. Abraham Still served in different churches and eventually was sent to a Shawnee Mission in Kansas where he preached and doctored the Indians. His son, Andrew Taylor Still, studied medicine and became a doctor. Later he discovered the science of Osteopathy and in 1892 founded a school of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri.
Other members at the Campground were Henry Thompson, Drury Fletcher, Robert Ely, John Russell, Job Crabtree, Noble Covey, Thomas Blakemore, Champ Hamblin, Elkanah Wynn, David Ely, Robert W. Wynn, Nicholas Speak, John Burgan, Henry Woodward, Nathaniel Muncy, Nathan Hobbs, Valentine Woodward and John Miles. Other early campers not named above were Boyd Dickenson, Jessee Woodward, Joseph A. Blakemore. David Orr (father of Judge Orr), Alexander Orr, John Hamblin, William Marshall, Matthew Warren, Willis Kirk, Ailsey Wynn, Joseph Ely, colored, and Henry Goins, colored.
The last families to camp here were the Cox's, Wagals, Penningtons, Spurriers, Poteets, Elys, Woodwards, Flanarys, Rosenbaums, Hyatts, Yearys, and others perhaps not remembered. There was always a camp provided for the ministers.
Knowing the country and where many of these people lived; it seems incredible that they traveled so far. Up until 1830 man could not travel faster than by horse. Yet they came by wagon covered or not, by oxcart, horseback or walked over rough and dusty roads. 
Besides the campers who came and stayed for the duration of the meeting many came from all over the county and from other sections even from Tennessee and Kentucky. They had great crowds on Saturday and especially on Sundays. They came with baskets and trunks of food for their families, relatives, friends and even strangers. Country ham, chicken, beef and mutton with all kinds of cakes and pies all spread on a cloth on the ground, enough and more for everyone.
Dr. John C. Orr in his early recollections of the campmeetings wrote: "It was one of the religious events of the year, to which all, both saint and sinner looker forward to with equal interest. People made plans, all matters on the farm were so arranged that the whole family could go away for a week or two. The social life at the meeting was hardly less valuable than the religious value. The reunion of friends and families and acquaintances, reacted upon the religious experience deepening both love for God and fellow man."
The early promoters of the Campground Church believed as did the great founder of Methodism, John Wesley, and tried to live according to the method laid down in the Holy Scriptures as best they could. Broad as this definition seems, it gives a foundation and organized system of faith, doctrine, and conduct the success of which is one of the most notable int he religious annals of the world. When John Wesley decided to give himself to the church work, he wrote that famous phrase: "Leisure and I have taken leave of each other." Many of us today tend to take the opposite course. He certainly proved this decision true as his Journal gives the most amazing record of human exertion penned by man. His methodical life can be exemplary for us today.
Charles Wesley, brother of John, was associated with him in religious work, wrote about 6,000 Hymns. Many are in the Methodist Hymnal and other song books and many of them have been sung at the Jonesville Camp Meetings until the rafters rang with shouting and praise to the Lord. Francis Asbury was converted in England under John Wesley. He came to America as a missionary. His leadership in the church was outstanding; which led to his being made the first Bishop in the Methodist Church. He was ordained Bishop at the famous Christmas Conference in the Lovely Lane Meeting House in Baltimore, Maryland. This is known as the Mother Church of Methodism in America.
Few know that Bishop Asbury traveled on his preaching missions to the southwest Virginia counties. He preached at the Jonesville Campground and went all the way to Cumberland Gap, preaching and teaching. Bishop Asbury was called, "The Prophet of the Long Road." He was one of the greatest leaders of Methodism in America. He was never married, he never had a home, his home was on the back of tired horses and his bride was the open road. On his preaching missions he traveled 275,000 miles, crossed uncharted Appalachians; in rain and sleet, in snow and high waters. He died by the side of the road he traveled near Fredericksburg, Virginia in 1816 at the age of three score and ten.
Since its inception the Campground Church has been under three branches of Methodism. First the Methodist Episcopal, under which it was organized, the Methodist Episcopal Church South, and now the United Methodist Church.
In the year of 1844 at the General Conference in New York a heated discussion arose over slavery. The laws of the southern states prohibited the freeing of salves and the nation was driving headlong to the tragic days of the War Between the States. After days of prayerful and tearful discussion the plan of separation was adopted June 7, 1844. The next year May 1, 1845, about one hundred delegates, duly elected by the Annual Conference of the Southern States met in Louisville, Kentucky. After a thorough and prayerful consideration of all questions involved, on May 17, 1845, a resolution was adopted by which the Annual Conference of the slave holding states were constituted a separate ecclesiastical connection under the Plan of Separation. Thus the Methodist Episcopal Church South was organized.
It was then the Jonesville Campground became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church South as did many of the southern churches. For about ninety-two years after the separation a commission worked to form a suitable plan of union. Finally in 1939 one composed of representatives of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Protestant Methodist Church formulated a plan of union which each of the churches adopted. At the General Conference in 1939 the three branches of the Methodist Church joined and became the Methodist Church. A Uniting Conference was held in 1968 in Dallas, Texas at which time the Evangelical United Brethren Church joined the Methodist Church and the name, United Methodist Church, was adopted.
"So great a crowd of witnesses," have filled the pulpit at the Campground. Records name Richard N. Price who authored "The History of the Methodist church." David Sullens who was president and founder of Sullens College in Bristol, Virginia: J. N. Hillman who was president of Emory and Henry College in Emory, Virginia; Bishops Allen and Finger; and District Superintendents Wiley, Patterson, Dawson, and Ball; and in addition, through the years the Lee County pastors have kept the spiritual flame burning that was lit so long ago.
Several years ago a dining hall and kitchen service were added to the grounds and the social life and reunions of the past are recalled. In more recent years a modern brick parsonage was erected on the northeast part of the grounds. The ground breaking for the parsonage was August 24, 1958, when Mrs. W. B. Davidson and Mrs. Mae Wynn Gibson turned the first shovels of dirt for the foundation. Rev. Claude B. Quillen was then the pastor and Rev. C. D. McHaffy was the District Superintendent. Rev. Jeff Calahan, a vivacious young man, is now pastor of the Jonesville Parish and occupies the parsonage at the Campground.
In the summer of 1978, just inside the front entrance of the grounds, there was placed a marker with this inscription:
     "The Jonesville Campground established in 1810 has been placed on the National Register of Historical Places of the United States Department of Interior."
This marker has a unique setting, placed on an old mill stone from the Browning-Wynn Mill. No more fitting foundation for the marker could have been erected than the old grind stone that ground the grain that contributed to the physical needs of the people and placed at the old Campground, where through the years it has brought spiritual strength to the hundreds who have worshiped there.
Anne Wynn Laningham (Mrs. James E.) The great-great-granddaughter of Elkanah and Mary Muncy Wynn who donated the grounds to the Methodist Church. When a child she became a member of that
Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia, published by The Historical Society of Southwest Virginia, publication 13 - 1979, pages 20 to 25.

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