Harber’s History Lesson, Daily News Journal, January 17, 2015, Susan Harber
Beesley Primitive Baptist Church is a sparkling diamond placed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 1999.
The church and cemetery carry a rich history integral to the early Beesley settlers. The term “primitive” was strictly adhered to, and the congregation sought plain glass windows and wooden seating to accompany their pure way of living.
A stove once heated the building. The primitive church was never wired for electricity.
On July 4, 1804, John Beesley, accompanied with son Solomon and wife Casandra Acklen Beesley of Newbern, North Carolina, arrived to Rutherford County to create a permanent home. John settled on 1,200 acres in present-day Blackman; and he was a forefather of the Beesley dynasty, who faithfully worshipped in a primitive church.
The Beesleys were the first settlers on record in Blackman and later owned vast property in the county. To understand the Beesley church, one must know the Beesley family, who portrayed high character and excellent example for over a generation.
Patriarch Solomon Beesley (1777-1862) and wife Casandra, along with children Rachel (age 4) and son Durant, were pioneers.
On their first night, the men went hunting, while the women placed a kettle to cook on a rise 200 yards south of the coming edifice of Beesley’s Church.
The Beesleys labored hard and were ambitious as property owners of extensive holdings. Solomon’s large cedar log house (1804) was near the Beesley Church on Blackman Road.
Solomon and Casandra’s children included: Christopher (Kit), William, John, Mary Elizabeth, Rachel, Solomon, Durant and Lavisa.
Son Christopher Beesley is thought to be the first child born in Blackman (1804-1879). Christopher wed Susan Ridout, and they had 13 children. He also had a log home a half mile from Solomon’s dwelling in 1830.
His son (also Christopher) attended local schools in the county and was a farmer and member with wife Bettie Pope of the Primitive Baptist Church.
The long lineage of Beesleys in our county primarily descended from Christopher Beesley Sr. George Beesley, born 1846, was a son of Chris and Susan Beesley.
At age 18, he enlisted in Company I of Nixon’s Cavalry in the Civil War. During 1864, he was under Nathan Forrest’s command and in the battles of Franklin and Nashville.
After the war, George was a prominent farmer with a large cotton business on 375 acres. He built a beautiful home on Franklin Road that remained in the Beesley family until 1945. His children Jesse, Lucy, Mary Lou, Sarah, Lillian, Margaret and Susan were born in this home.
His grandson was a talented sculptor and predecessor of the Beesley Furniture Co.
William Beesley was the oldest child of Christopher and Susan Beesley. He was married to Alice Elliott in Rutherford County and had eight children. In 1861, he enlisted in Company I of the First Tennessee. He fought at Shiloh, Chickamauga, Perryville, Stones River and Franklin.
His two direct commanders were Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. William was wounded at Chickamauga and in Franklin but was able to return home to operate a successful farm.
His brother, John, attended Salem Academy and then enlisted in Company I of the First Tennessee and remained in the war through 1865.
In August 1804, Overall Primitive Baptist Church (initial namesake) was established with Elder John Beesley as first pastor from 1805 to his death in 1818.
Son Solomon was the original clerk of the church serving from 1814-1862. John’s father Solomon Beesley Sr. donated the land for this authentic congregation. After the passing of John Beesley, Peyton Smith was pastor until 1827.
In these early years, there were 150 members, including slaves. The congregants were solidly focused on faith and righteous living.
The church was constructed of roughhewn logs. A frame building was built a few years later only to burn in 1856. After a solid brick structure was in place, a tornado shortly thereafter destroyed the new site in 1913 only to be rebuilt and standing today.
During the Civil War, the church was battered but remained intact, while other congregations succumbed to fire and ashes. Union officers utilized the building during the war; yet not one Bible or hymnal was removed.
In the midst of the war, Dr. R.W. Fain was pastor, followed by Dr. John Watson, Dr. J. Bunyan Stephens, B.E. Mullins, Frank Agee and David Phillips.
From 1902-1912, a visiting preacher was present for services on Sunday. E.P. Russell was pastor until his death in 1928, and E.S. Fry was on board through 1940.
In the 135 years of this early church, there were 12 pastors. The church is a one-story common bond brick building. The tongue and groove wood flooring remains intact.
The cemetery contains graves dated from 1839 to 1950. Some of the headstones are hand-carved.
Elder John Beesley’s great-grandson Christopher was a clerk of the congregation through 1895. John’s great-great grandson John Haynes was a clerk for 38 years until his death in 1933. Sadie Beesley was the last descendant of John Beesley to serve as clerk. She served this role until 1940, at which time the original church disbanded.
Beesley Primitive Baptist Church abides today on Beesley Road and is a beautiful landmark with 24 historical, grained-wood pews within.
The fortitude of the Beesley originators breathed life into a community and church that is longstanding. The church is definitely a treasure that has been well-preserved for a new day.