The Bethel, FL Sub-Alliance: Farmers Organizing in the Bethel, Oak Grove & Laurel Hill Areas

A good place to start is probably how these records came to light. As many of you who read this blog regularly know, many of my ancestors helped to found and serve the Yellow River Baptist Church from 1840 through my grandparents. I’ve been working with the church for a while trying to digitize their early records and preserve the originals. When I first started helping the church, the older records prior to 1902 were missing. Then we accidentally found out that they were still intact and someone had them but we were not told who. A year or so went by and one Sunday after services a young man appeared at the church and handed the records to the pastor. Maybe not a miracle but certainly an answered prayer and a blessing.

Bethel AllianceWhen I started going through them I discovered that the pages of the older church records were inside a ledger that wasn’t church records. At first it seemed it was just a lot of odd references to money and a list of names that seemed to make little sense. The more I reviewed it, the more it appeared to be a social group that was mostly farmers. Then I discovered an embossed area on one of the pages, scanned it and blew it up and discovered a plough and the words “Bethel Alliance”. That rang a bell and with a little research I found that the plough was a symbol for the Southern Farmers Alliance, or more accurately the National Farmers’ Alliance and Industrial Union. While there are not a lot of meeting minutes, there are some and there is a list of what I assume are members. There were some prominent members of the Upper Yellow River communities listed and some overlap with Yellow River Baptist Church members. We have no idea how these two separate sets of records came to be together. One of the Church’s clerks from the late 19th century is also in the membership list of the Alliance so that may be how they came to be together.

Last month, I spent time providing a bit of history on the farmer unrest that built through the end of the 19th century and into the early 20th and the organizations that sprang up across the country to give voice to the farmers. Some of these were social organizations with cooperative purchasing and buying-power that tried to coerce buyers and sellers of farm supplies to work with the groups and provide lower prices for inputs and better prices for produce. Others were more like fraternal organizations, though most of these farmers alliances allowed women as members. The Bethel Sub-Alliance did have both male and female members and it would seem they leaned toward a quasi-social fraternal organization with some buying cooperation and discussion of farming issues. They mention a Constitution and appear to have had rules for conduct for members. Members were referred to as “Brothers” and “Sisters” like most of the churches during this time period. Most of the minutes from the 1890s mention ”assisting the President in advancing signs” at the end of the meetings. And the meetings opened and closed with prayers by the Chaplain which was common with the Farmers Alliance groups. Some of the minutes also mention appointing committees to investigate new member applicants or disputes between members. There are a number of mentions of sending delegates to the County Alliance meeting.

022AOne member appears to be very active and may have been a local merchant that worked with the group, and he was a Commissioner of some kind during part of the time the book pages cover. John J. MOORE’s (also listed as J. J. Moore) name is scribbled on pages as if he, or someone else, was practicing his signature and he appears on a number of the pages of minutes as the Alliance’s Secretary. After a number of pages of minutes the document appears to become a book keeping track of debts owed, work done (mostly road construction, I think) and occasionally references to the County Clerk and then it shifts again to be record keeping for money collected for road maintenance and names of men who were to help with the work. I suspect there may be any number of tidbits of information on folks in the general area of Oak Grove/Bethel/Laurel Hill once I manage to transcribe and read all of what is there and try to make sense of each page and what it contains. It is unfortunately in poor shape. Pages are torn and there is some writing over writing, including some upside down on the page, so it is taking some time to completely transcribe and interpret.

But I do have what would appear to be a member list for the Bethel Sub-Alliance that is at the front of the book. There are names scattered among the minutes that may not yet be included in this list. I will have those added to the list and hopefully more detail once I complete the book I am working on that is a history of the area around Oak Grove in what is now Okaloosa County.

Officers
J. S. Steele, President
J. S. Moore, Vice President
U. B. Steele, Secretary
P. W. Steele, Treasurer
W. J. Cutts, Chaplin
W. M. Richbourg, lecturer
M. H. Davidson, asst lecturer
J. C. Steele, doorkeeper
Charles Gavin, asst doorkeeper
Campbell Annie 
Campbell R. A. 
Carter John 
Carter J. W. 
Clark A. J. 
Clary Davis 
Clary J. A. 
Clary J. B. 
Clary J. B. S. 
Clary J. L. 
Clary J. S. 
Clary J. W. 
Cockcroft M. E. 
Coon M. J. 
Cutts E. J. 
Cutts J. A. 
Cutts M. L. 
Cutts Missie 
Davidson Amanda 
Davis N. J. 
Edenfield Marion 
Fowler S. R. 
Gaskin J. M. 
Gaskin J. W. 
Gavin S. B. 
Gordon M. A. 
Harrison John 
Henderson William 
Howard F. M. 
Howard G. W. 
Johnson H. A. 
Johnson L. S. 
Johnson Malissa 
Johnson W. M. marked through
Kelley J. D. 
Kelley Nancy 
Kelley R. M. 
Kilpatrick J. D. 
King J. L.[?] 
Moore Catherine 
Moore J. J. 
Moore Lizzie 
Richbourg J. L. 
Sandes [?] W. P. 
Senterfitt A. 
Senterfitt Peter 
Siglar William 
Steele [?] 
Steele A. W. H 
Steele Amanda 
Steele Elizabeth 
Steele H. W. 
Steele I.A. 
Steele J. A. marked through
Steele J. D. 
Steele Johnny D. 
Steele Joseph 
Steele Julin 
Steele M. C. 
Steele Mary 
Steele N. A. 
Steele U. B. 
Steele Rachel 
Steele Rudy 
Steele S. S. 
Steele W. L. 
Summerlin J. J. 
Taylor Daught [?]
Tucker B. F. 
Tucker Carrie 
Tucker J. R.

This small set of records may provide us a glimpse into the time period and the farming area around the upper Yellow River, the difficulties that yeoman farmers faced during the late 19th century and possibly some other activities that someone recorded in this long lost book.

The end of the year is just a few weeks away. I am seriously looking forward to 2020, if for no other reason than to be past 2019, but on a positive note I am hoping to finish up several large projects, increase my garden and finish decluttering the house so there is more room for living, playing and enjoying. The old adage about troubles coming in threes has been magnified a bit in our household this year. We seem to be on our third cycle of troubles in threes! I am reminded of my Grandfather’s adage about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and I am blessed to still be above ground, as is my Mom (blessed to be above ground). I hope everyone has a blessed holiday season, filled with joy, family and lots of love. Merry Christmas Y’all!

Until Next Time

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