Children’s Story – Tales of a Tennessee Chain Gang, Part III

Judge Parks left his question unanswered, but it was clear where he stood. He said in closing, “I have serious doubts as to the justice of the law, but the remedy is not to be found in disobeying it, but in having it repealed.”

He fined the defendants $2.50 each, suspended the sentences, but asked them to pay the court costs. The Sabbathkeepers refused to pay the costs, choosing rather to go to jail. They explained their reasons by saying that the State had taken them from their homes and work for no just cause, and they simply submitted to the powers that be, but they refused to become parties in any degree to the iniquitous proceeding by the payment of a fine. They were given prison sentences of 20 to 76 days.

Bill Burchard left behind a note in his daughter’s autograph album: “Dear Hattie, This is the 6th day of March in the year 1895 a.d., in the Cove in Rhea County, Tennessee, in the so-called free America. I go to Dayton today expecting to go to jail for the crime (?) of believing the Bible. I was found guilty by the court. . . . Yet these things and worse happened in all ages to God’s people—why not to us? Verse 12 of 11 Timothy 3 says: ‘all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.’ I want you to be a good girl and live for God and His truth. That is the only thing we can live for in this world, that is worth living for. Read and meditate on Hebrews 11:32–40 [a brief history of persecutions suffered by Old Testament heroes], and you can see what awaits us only a little way in the future.”

Jailhouse life was not severe, but there were hardships involved in the incarceration. Several of the men were nearly penniless, and their families were left without support. Then, too, with three key staff members gone, Graysville Academy had to send its 100 students home two months early, some of them without the diplomas they had expected.

Sheriff Darwin was kind enough to put the men up in the two-story house attached to the jail rather than in the cells. The quarters, the Sabbathkeepers reported, were not “offensively dirty.” They were allowed to have visitors and were given access to the well in the front yard, thus escaping the mucky water from the jail-yard pump.

The residents of Dayton petitioned the court to release the prisoners, but in spite of the uproar in the nation’s press, the court denied the petition by a narrow margin. Judge Parks recommended to Governor Peter Turney that the prisoners be pardoned, and finally the last two still serving sentences were granted clemency, even though they gave no evidence of repentance.

Scarcely had they returned home when 20 more indictments went out for Graysville Sabbathkeepers. . . . The court convened in July. Some of the cases were continued, a few dismissed, but eight Sabbathkeepers—including Burchard and Colcord again were convicted. This time, however, their enemies had succeeded in reinstating the county chain gang—a practice that had not been followed for years.

To be concluded . . .