Mammaw Scott always wanted a preacher in the family. She wanted it so bad she dedicated her seventh child to the Lord, praying that he would become a preacher. He grew up and worked for IBM.
But there was a preacher on my mother’s side. He was the son of a Confederate veteran who had seen action with the 19th Tennessee Infantry of the CSA. The Reverend Dr. John Wiley Perry was born in Scott County, Virginia, on the eighth day of February, 1866. We’re not sure if the family was living at the old homeplace (the Akard homestead) or the Sandidge home over on Possum Creek (in Stanley Valley, near Waycross). The young family had already brought one young man into the world, John’s brother, Clifton Henson Perry. Little Cliff died in December of the year John was born. So by default, John became the oldest son of the family of William Marshall Perry and Elizabeth Ann Sandidge Perry. Little Cliff was buried in a cemetery down Stanley Valley, just across the Tennessee line, near the present day Alley households. His grandparents John T and Mary Henson Perry were buried beside him a few years later. There were six more children born to the family, all who lived to adulthood, four sisters and two brothers. Some time during the 1860s the parents of Elizabeth Sandidge Perry, Hasten M and Catherine Akard Sandidge, moved to the Akard homestead, to live with Aunt Polly Akard, sister to Catherine, who never married, along with Lewis, their brother, who was classified as a “lunatic.” The Akard lands were divided after the death of their father, Frederic, and Catherine and the other children had inherited pretty nice swaths of acreage. So when the Sandidges moved there, their child Elizabeth was not long in moving over, and soon they had a couple hundred acres in their influence.
It was on this Akard place that John W Perry grew up to adulthood. The family traveled over to Tennessee, going down Carter’s Valley to church at Morrison Chapel. This church was founded during the conversion of John’s mama Elizabeth in 1857, when she and James N Green both professed faith after some mighty preaching by an itinerant Methodist circuit riding preacher. In this little log church which stood in the cemetery among the graves of such pioneers as Peter Morison, Col. John Anderson, and the Reverend Dr Samuel Patton, the family grew to saving knowledge and sanctifying grace in their Lord, Jesus Christ, as did several of their neighbors and friends. At one time school was taught there.
A little crisis occurred at the church in John’s youngest days, as the veterans of the Great War tried to figure out how to get along in the aftermath of conflict. See, East Tennessee and sections of Southwest Virginia were strongly in favor of the Union. John’s uncle Clifton Perry (whose namesake was the same as John’s late brother) had joined union forces during the war, fighting against his brother, John’s dad, William. After the war, the family struggled to get back together, but the two brothers, William and Cliff, eventually married ladies who were cousins to one another, descendants of the Akard line. And they all attended church together at Morrison Chapel. In 1865, Governor William G Brownlow, who was a Methodist parson, organized a Methodist conference of Union sympathizing preachers, affiliated with the Methodist Episcopal Church (the northern branch of divided Methodism). The preacher assigned to the Kingsport Circuit used Morrison Chapel as a preaching place on his large circuit. Members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South conference, (the southern branch of the divided church), also used Morrison Chapel as a preaching place. An agreement was worked out that the northern preacher would preach one week, and the southern one would preach the next week. They even got to where they took turns each year rotating around each other’s Sunday School literature. So the church learned to live with divided loyalties, and modeled unity long before Methodism later merged into one (in 1939).
The Perry brothers (William and Cliff) got to work making a living for their families. William cleared the timber off the Akard land, and Cliff got busy learning his father’s trade, brick-laying. They employed a former slave who bore the family name, Benjamin Perry, as a worker to help them each with building their homes and livelihoods. Legend says that Benjamin died in a tragic accident when William was floating logs down the Holston to Knoxville for sale at market. John would have been in his teens at the time.
The newly gained timber money helped William send his children to college. John was the very first. According to his official biography in the Holston Journal, he was educated at a school taught by L. H. Copenhaver, who encouraged him to go to college. He was sent to the best Methodist school in the South: Vanderbilt. The school was built as a Methodist training ground, but after John graduated, there was huge controversy which culminated in the school going independent, and few southern Methodists felt comfortable going there later, but John was educated before that. He preached in the Nashville area while in school, and became acquainted with one of the leading Methodist families, the Tuckers. In the Tucker family was a young lady named Clara. Clara took John’s heart, and he soon propositioned her and she agreed, and they were later married. On the trip home to meet John’s family, the Perrys were constructing a new house. The chimneys were built and had scaffolding around them. A story survived to my teen years that Clara Tucker climbed the scaffolds and peered down the big chimneys of the house. This was in 1893. So we date the construction of the house to that year.
John had been licensed to preach in 1885 and sent to Erwin Mission as a supply preacher. He went to college the next year and graduated from Vanderbilt in 1891. He joined the Holston Conference in 1892, and was married to Clara Tucker on 19 October 1893. They had three children together: William, who died in 1916, while teaching at Emory & Henry College; Catherine, who taught for many years in Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Wiley, who was a metallurgist at Alabama Pipe Company, in Anniston, Alabama.
John served the following appointments: West Radford; Centenary (now Central) Knoxville; Highland Park (later St Andrews) Chattanooga; Sweetwater; Abingdon; Church Street, Knoxville; Morristown; Chattanooga District (as presiding elder); and Centenary in Chattanooga, where he was serving when elected Secretary of the Holston Conference Mission Board. He served as Presiding Elder of Morristown and Knoxville Districts, and then in 1922 was elected Secretary of the Division of Home Missions of the ME Church, South, where he served for 12 years. After serving in this denominational office, he returned to Holston and served as Presiding Elder of Chattanooga, and finished his work as pastor of Abingdon, where he retired in 1942.
He was elected to represent Holston at ten sessions of General Conference, including the Uniting Conference of 1939, when the northern, southern, and Methodist Protestant churches merged into one organization. It was told to me that Uncle John was receiving votes to be made a bishop of the church, but he politely withdrew his name from the balloting in order to help the church come to a resolution on who should lead it. He was also said to have been heavily invested in Payne College, an African-American school with relationship to the Methodists. He wrote a few missional treatises that helped the church in his era plan its work not only among the different races, but in the coal fields, and among the native Americans.
Aunt Clara was also very active in the Women’s organization of the Methodist Church. She led the Holston women with such grace that they honored her with a scholarship at their College in Nashville, known as Scarritt.
Uncle John left many of his books to his niece’s husband, Rev. Ray Haynes, whose widow, my aunt Edna, also passed some of them along to me. His grave is in the Holston Conference Cemetery on the hill above Emory & Henry College, in Emory, Virginia. I’ve visited it many times.