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Ancestor of the Month 

November 2006

 

Elder Israel Alexander Hatcher

b. 30 May 1860                                       d. 11 Mar 1950

 

Sometimes we don’t know what causes a man or woman to become the person he or she finally becomes.  Maybe it is in the cards, or maybe the person chooses what he is going to become.  Israel Hatcher’s life shows us that a person can change, and even though he may have started his life’s journey one way, he can make a turn that totally changes his destination.

 

Family Life

 

Israel Alexander Hatcher was born 30 May 1860, in Sevier County TN right before the Civil War broke out.  His parents were James H. (2 Apr 1839-after 1900) and Mary McInturff Hatcher (11 Nov 1837-24 Jan 1915).  Israel was named for his maternal grandfather Israel McInturff, Jr. (1803-1851).  Not long after Israel’s birth, his father had to leave the family to serve as a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War.   James was a private in Companies H and E of the 9th TN Cavalry

 

The family lived in the Wears Cove section of Sevier County, TN, and Israel (or I. A.) grew up there on a farm with his brothers and sisters:  Reubin (1857-1894/1900), James Alfred (c.1864-?), Peter Marion (25 Jan 1866-12 Feb 1937), Hulda Jane  (1870-?), Sarah Elizabeth (Betty) (4 Oct 1871-23 May 1945), Martha Lucinda (Sylvie) (12 Jul 1873-29 Jun 1957), Mary Caroline (3 Jul 1875-15 Feb 1896), Salina Edna (c1878-?), and William Aaron (26 Aug 1882-20 Jun 1945).  Wears Cove was once called Crowson’s Cove and is today called Wears Valley.

 

Childhood

 

As a boy Israel attended the schools of the area and read widely.  Schools of that time were often “subscription schools” wherein the parents had to pay for their child’s education.  In addition, school sessions often lasted only two or three months each year since children were needed to work on the farms. Nevertheless, Israel had a good brain and good voice and was considered a good singer, reader, and speaker. 

 

Marriage

 

Israel met Susan Sutton (1 Mar 1867-11 Aug 1903) and the two began a courtship.  Susan was the daughter of Russell Merritt Sutton (1835-?) and Elizabeth Ann “Betsy” Headrick (1836-?) of Blount County.   When the young couple wed on 23 Aug 1884, Israel was twenty-four and Susan was eighteen.  They lived in Wears Cove and had a farm of their own.  In the 1900 Census, Israel described himself as a farmer.

 

The “Experience”

 

Israel had been brought up in a hardworking, religious family who attended the Methodist Church, but he described himself as “very wicked.” and “an able curser.” Others said, “He was pretty much a rounder.”   Around 1890, about five or six years after Susan and Israel were married, he had an experience that changed him—maybe the experience was Susan’s influence.  In any event, after the experience he went to the Primitive Baptist Church in the area and joined the group, telling them of his experience, and vowing to change his life.  He said he was “determined to put a stop to all that [his old lifestyle].”  The very next day Israel was out in the fields “grubbing.”  He was using a mattock to dig up stubborn roots and bushes so that the field could be prepared for crops.  Suddenly a stubborn piece of root flew up and struck him in the face.   Without thinking, the young man burst into a rage of curses.  Realizing what he had done, he fell to his knees and asked for forgiveness.  From that time forward his life was truly changed.  He devoted himself to becoming an Elder in the Primitive Baptist church and pastored at least nine different churches during the rest of his life.

 

Church Career

 

Israel was a member of the Primitive Baptist Church for sixty years and as an Elder was pastor of the Laws Chapel Primitive Baptist Church for about twenty-five years.  For a number of years he also was pastor of the famous Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church which has since been preserved as a historic landmark.  Other churches where he served included Millers Cove Primitive Baptist Church at Walland, TN, Chilhowee Primitive Baptist at Chilhowee, and others.  He also preached at revivals, tent meetings, decoration days, and so forth for many years after he retired.

 

To get to church on Sundays, Israel rode on horseback, for some of the churches he served were quite a distance away.  This necessitated getting up very early or in some cases spending the night with a church member.  After he became older and unable to travel by horseback, church members would come to Wears Valley to pick him up.  In some cases church services were only held once a month.   One of his former church members who himself became a Primitive Baptist preacher, recalls that when he was a little boy, “Elder Hatcher spent many nights at our home.” Israel’s wife Susan and daughter Betsy attended the nearby Methodist church so that they could simply walk there.

 

Betsy, Israel’s daughter and our matriarch married a preacher herself.  Recently one of Betsy’s grandchildren was ordained as a minister.  He made his final decision alone in the Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church where his great grandfather had preached so many years before.

 

Political Life

 

In addition to holding the title Elder, Israel was also given the title, Squire.  Squires in rural areas in the late nineteenth century were usually justices of the peace, constables, deputy sheriffs, magistrates, and so forth.  The term comes from the word, Esquire, and signifies respect.  Israel was active in public and political life in both Blount and Sevier Counties.

 

One of the pleasant public events Israel enjoyed was attending the annual “Old Timer’s Day” in Gatlinburg, TN.  Held in the summer, the event was a day-long program of pioneer mountain culture including old harp singing, hog calling, mountain music, speakers, contests, and the like.  I.A. always came to Old Timer’s Day and then went to his daughter Betsy’s nearby house for a meal.  Betsy usually had thirty or forty people for dinner on that day.  She was known for preparing wonderful meals.  No matter what she had for the meal, however, she always made sure that one dish was placed on the table right in front of her father.  It was a food that her father loved—bologna!

 

White Caps

 

On the more serious side of public experience, in 1898 when he was thirty-eight years old, Israel participated in an infamous murder trial involving the notorious White Caps of Sevier County.  The White Caps had started as a group to punish wrong doers in the Emert’s Cove area but had grown county wide and had degenerated into a means of almost foolproof robbery, coercion, and murder.  People were afraid to speak out against the group because of fear of reprisals, and in the beginning since many of the victims were indeed somewhat “undesirable,” the White Caps had originally had some support.    William and Laura Whaley, however, were not typical White Cap targets.  They were poor, hardworking, good people.  In 1898 William and Laura were in their home with their newborn child and Laura’s sister.  Two hooded men burst into their house and with no explanation, shot William the head.  Laura, holding her baby, begged to be spared, but she handed her baby to her sister and was also shot in the head.  Reports of over five hundred people coming to view the murder scene helped spread the growing unrest and disgust with the Whitecaps.  Laura’s sister was brought in disguise to the courthouse in Sevierville and was able from her hidden position to point out in the courthouse square the men who had killed the Whaleys.  (Why the killers let her live is a mystery.)  The trial of the accused murderers was a mile marker in Sevier County.  It was notable first of all because the men were actually arrested and brought to trial.  That done, the eyewitness sealed their fate. Secondly it marked the beginning of the end for the White Caps in general.

 

Whaley Jury

 

Israel Hatcher was one of the twelve men chosen to be on the Whaley murder jury.  With no automobiles, he had to ride horseback from Wears Cove to Sevierville, and later, when the men were found guilty, Israel rode horseback to Sevierville to observe the hanging.  His wife Susan was so scared of reprisals that she lit every oil lamp in their house while he was gone.

 

Israel’s Family Life

 

Israel and Susan’s life was generally happy, but it was spotted with sadness.  Their first child, Minnie Bell Hatcher, was born 9 Apr 1886, but lived only until July of the following year.  She died at fifteen months.  Their second child, Mary Elizabeth (Betsy) Hatcher, born 25 Feb 1889, survived and became our ancestor.  (Perhaps Betsy brought about Israel’s life change.)  The third child, Sariah Alice was born 2 Apr 1903 and died two months later on 5 Jun 1903.  Israel’s wife Susan died two months later on 11 Aug 1903. The couple had been married almost twenty years.

 

Israel, of course, was bereft.  The next year he turned to a daughter of Thomas Hill and Marriah Reagan McCarter and asked her to become his wife.  Ironically, Israel’s new bride was named Sariah Alice, the same name as his recently deceased daughter.  The two were wed in 1904.  Alice, as she was called, was twenty-one years old; Israel was forty-four.  The two were married for forty-six years and had three children, Wade, their first son, lived only seventeen months (14 May 1911-3 Oct 1912). Their daughters Etta Inez (6 Jul 1905-24 Dec 1999), and Hazel Melinda (10 May 1908-28 Aug 1999) grew to adulthood.  Betsy, Etta and Hazel all married and presented Israel with a flock of grandchildren.

 

Appearance

 

As he grew older Israel was a striking figure.  Always handsome, he became even more distinctive with a shock of silky white hair and a white handlebar moustache.  One of Israel’s granddaughters remarked that when she was a little girl she told people she wanted to be “white-headed like her Grandpa Hatcher.”  Several family photos show him dressed in a black suit, holding a black Bible, and displaying his trademark white hair and moustache.  In addition, until the very end of his life, he kept in good shape.  For example, Israel Hatcher always gave his grandchildren a silver dollar when they graduated from eighth grade.  One of my aunts remembers that when she received her silver dollar in the early 1940’s, her grandfather jumped up into the air and clicked his heels.  He was about 80 years old at the time.  He was still spry enough to do this until he was in his late 80’s.

 

Death

 

In late February of 1950, Israel seemed to know that his time had come to die.  He called the grandson who had been named for him, Thomas Israel (Pete) McCarter, and asked him to come and stay with him.  Pete agreed, wanting to be with his grandfather and knowing that Alice would need help.  Other family members also came and stayed or visited as they could.  About three weeks later, on 11 Mar 1950, Pete sent his youngest sister home, saying that she needed rest.  She later said that she believed Pete knew his grandfather was about to die and wanted to spare her.  In any event, Israel Hatcher died that night.  He had lived a full life of almost ninety years.

 

At the end of each church service he preached during his lifetime, Israel always sang the same Doxology

 

Together let us briefly live

Together let us die

And each a starry crown receive

And reign above the skies.

 

Hopefully Israel received his crown and is reigning above us, showing that a life can indeed be changed.

 

 

Israel Alexander Hatcher was Mary Elizabeth Hatcher’s father.  If you are Mamaw’s great great grandchild, Israel is your 3-great grandfather.

 

Sources:

 

Hatcher Family group sheets

 

McCarter/Hatcher traditions

 

Telephone conversations and interviews with living acquaintances and relatives of Elder Israel Alexander Hatcher

 

1860 US Census for Sevier Co., TN

 

1900 US Census for Sevier Co., TN

 

NPS Soldiers and Sailors Search System

 

 

 

 

  

 

(c) 2006-2010 Eli and Betsy McCarter Family. All rights reserved