Benton County, Tennessee Genealogy


narrative of life on the farm in Benton county, TN
written in the 80th year of his life.

The following memoir has been generously contributed to the web site.

Otis Pafford - telling of his father, Virgil Pafford

The following is a memoir written by Otis Pafford, telling of his father, Virgil Pafford (1858-1916), a well known methodist minister. Virgil was the son of Lucinda Mitchell and Elcanah Pafford - one of the sixteen children of William Pafford and Mourning Melton. Otis was born in Benton County in 1884, and died in Fountain Valley, California in 1979. He began the memoir in 1973, in collaboration with his surviving brother, Clarence (1888-1974), and, I believe, his sister Mary Pafford Bartholomew. In addition to family information, the narrative mentions banditry in the 1840's, organization of Methodist circuit ministries in the 1880's and a small pox outbreak in Lexington in the 1890's.

Please note, the dates given by Otis conflict in a few cases with dates given by other sources. I am attempting to clarify these dates. Conflicting dates will be indicated by an asterisk. I do not know what sources were available to Otis in 1974, and so can make no guarantees about the accuracy of the information.

Isabelle Pafford - grandchild Clarence Pafford

The Narrative

Virgil Pafford was born in Benton County Tennessee, a few miles from Pilot Knob, on the spot on the Tennessee River where the Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest dropped some cannon balls on the fleet of Union Gunboats on the river, sinking one of them.

His parents owned 112 acres of land in the river bottom, on which during this teen years he raised corn. Periodically all this bottom land would be flooded when the river broke out of its banks. During one of these floods he was paddling in a small boat among the trees at the edge of the field, and with his axe, marked the water-line on one of the trees. Many years later, while on a visit to his old home community, he visited this tree and examined the axe mark which he had made. This mark was now about on a level with the top of his head., slightly less than six feet from the ground. After his father's death and his removal from Benton County, this land was abandoned, and "given back" to the river. All of that bottom land is now, of course, deeply submerged under the waters of Kentucky Lake.

Virgil Pafford's mother, Mrs. Lou M. Bryant, was born in Virginia in 1826,* and at age fourteen moved with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Mitchell to Carroll County Tennessee, adjacent to Benton County, to which the Pafford family had already migrated from Virginia. I have been told that she attended school at Lexington at one time, and she herself told me she had taught school in 1841 at age fifteen. She also shared with me, another of her memories of 1841. In that year bands of outlaws rode through the country, running off the farmers' horses and mules, and stealing anything and everything they could carry off. She was married about 1852* to Dr. Elkanah Pafford, who later served as a surgeon in the Union Army during the Civil War, and who died in 1878.* Besides her son Virgil, she had two daughter; Ellen, (Mrs. L. L. Stem) and Cora (Mrs. Joe H. Dillon). After 10 years of widowhood she married Alfred M. Bryant, of Huntingdon. Six years after this marriage Mr. Bryant passed away, - 1894. Of my own grandfather Pafford, I have no personal memories whatever, as he passed away several years before my birth. But I spent a good deal of time looking at a large portrait of him, - framed and mounted on a white easel, which was always in our home during my boyhood, so that I can say that I know how he looked.

My memories of Mr. Bryant are rather casual, being obtained from a few visits to his fine old comfortable home in Huntingdon, but I remember him as a highly admirable and kindly old gentleman, and I liked him very much, even as I was somewhat awed by him.

Grandmother was known and addressed as "Aunt Lou" by hundreds of people in Tennessee. During most of her adult life she was recognized as a leader in the religious and educational life of the state, and in all public affairs having any moral significance. She never hesitated to make known her opinion on any matter of right and wrong, or which affected the ultimate good of the people.

During the years of her second widowhood she traveled quite a bit over the state, frequently visiting the homes of her two daughters and her son. While on one of her stays with us at Dickson, she took me with her on a few-days trip to Nashville. I was 12 years old, and this, of course, was a great event in my life. Some of the impressions received, and the knowledge and awareness gained, remain indelibly in mind and memory to this day. But best loved of all is the image which I hold of the Grandmother herself. She was what could be called striking in appearance. She was rather tall and spare; her posture always perfectly erect; dressed in widows black and carrying an ebony walking cane with an ornate gold head. She walked with the step and air of a crusader, ready to meet whatever was to befall her, yet with the benign light of good-will and kindliness in her eyes and on her face.

My last personal association with Aunt Lou was in the winter of 1913-14, when both she and I spent some time with my father's family at McLemoresville. I had many pleasant and stimulating conversations with her, as she sat relaxed in a big rocking chair in front of the fireplace, smoking her little clay-bowl and cane-stem pipe.

This was only a few years before her death, but it seemed to me then, and as I remember it now, her physical posture was still erect, her mental powers still keen and active; and her spirit as bright and strong, as in the year of my memorable journey with her seventeen years earlier. (Note: another source gives Lucinda Mittchel Pafford Bryant's date of death as 7 March, 1903.)

Soon after reaching the age of 21, [Virgil Pafford] was elected to the office of Justice of the Peace, - a member of the county court. (Note: this would have been about 1879-1880). After a short period of service in this office, he resigned from it, having decided to become a preacher in the Methodist Episcopal church. During these early adult years, he also taught some terms of school in his home district

After being licensed to preach by the Methodist Conference, he began serving a number of rural churches in his home county of Benton for several years. In his early years as a minister, before leaving his home community, he had to fight and win an intense battle over the use of tobacco. In that time and era, nearly every farm grew some tobacco; for home use, and as a cash crop - and nearly everyone, including women, children, and preachers, used it in some form. Many times he told of how he would go out behind the barn, near the live-stock pasture about dusk of an evening, and there pray for strength; and exhort himself to "be a man" and overcome this thing! Then, firmly resolved, he would hurl his partially used "twist" of tobacco as far as he could send it, down into the pasture. A day or two later he would be out in the pasture searching anxiously for that tobacco! But he won the battle! It is possible that his oldest child may have seen him use tobacco, but none of the other children every did.

The annual sessions of the Central Tennessee Conference were held between the first and fifteenth of October, so it may be considered that November 1st. was the effective date for the changes which were made in assigned pastorates. At the session of October 1887, Virgil Pafford was appointed by the Bishop and the Board of Elders, to a "circuit" in Crockett County, comprising the villages of Friendship, Bells, and Alamo, and probably some rural churches whose names have disappeared. During this pastorate, he preached a few times at Dyersburg probably as a guest or substitute for another pastor. In the fall of 1888 he was appointed to Lexington; in 1889 to McLemoresville; in 1890 to Huntingdon; 1891 to Rover and a circuit in Bedford county; 1893 to Dickson; 1897 to Nashville; 1900 to Lexington; 1902 to Tullahoma; 1905 to Lawrenceburg, - as Superintendent of Lawrence burg District; 1911 to Lawrenceburg; as Pastor; 1912 to McLemoresville; as District superintendent; 1914 moved to Lexington.

In 1915 he was stricken with a malignancy, and before the year's end was almost totally disabled. But so great was his love for, and devotion to his ministry, that he delivered a number of sermons while seated in a chair, it being impossible for him to stand on his feet more than a few minutes at a time. Later that year he was offered the use of a small ranch-type home on the outskirts of Tucson Arizona, by a boyhood friend and neighbor, who was now a prosperous business man in Tucson. So in January 1916 he made the journey by train with his wife and two sons, arriving in Tucson on the 27th. During his stay there he twice underwent major surgery, and received every treatment available at that time, but his condition was evidently beyond help, as he showed no improvement but continued to decline.

Recognizing the probability that his earthly stay was nearing its end, he wished to return home to Lexington. He began this journey on October 5th, with his wife and two younger daughters, who had joined the family in Tucson, after the end of their school year in Athens in June.

He passed away on November 1st, about three weeks after his return to Lexington. His life span, April 18, 1858 - November 1, 1916.

In all the communities in which he had served, he was acclaimed as a good pastor, evangelist, sermonizer; a good neighbor and citizen and a good Christian man. All the members of his family can testify that he was a good husband and father. Among his associates in the religious world he was recognized as a builder. Through his influence and efforts, several church buildings and parsonages were erected, where none had ever been before. Most of the people who knew him, loved him, - all respected him. Be it said to his credit, he had at least one enemy in his life-time. A notorious "boot-legger" in Dickson tried to shoot and kill him one time, because of his part in prosecuting and convicting the said boot-legger, and thus ending, for a time at least, his illegal and harmful business.

Virgil Pafford never held a pastorate any farther east than Tullahoma, as that town was near the eastern limits of the conference of which he was a member. However, he visited the college at Athens, and the University of Chattanooga at least once, and was warmly received at both places. The University conferred upon him the honorary degree of "Doctor of Divinity," in recognition of his long and devoted service to the cause of Christian Education, and the Christian Precept, and the Christian community.

His marriage to Mary Emily Stem, also a native of Benton county, took place on December 15th 1880. To this union were born nine children: Willa Pafford Stewart, 1881, Benton County, Tenn. near her father's birthplace; Otis W. Pafford, 1884, same place; Willard M. Pafford 1886, same place (died 1896); Clarence F. Pafford, 1888, Crockett County; Virginia Pafford Adams, 1892, Bedford County; Lorena Pafford, 1895, Dickson (10 mos.) died 1895; Mary Pafford Bartholomew, 1897, Dickson, Helen Pafford Reed, 1898, Nashville; Ruth Evelyn Pafford, 1900, Nashville (3 mos) Died 1900.

Willa Pafford attended the Athens Branch of the U.S. Grant University in 1899, 1900-1901, in which last year she graduated there and rejoined her father's family in Lexington, where they had moved form Nashville the previous autumn. During the year and a half between her arrival at Lexington, and her marriage to John W. Stewart, she taught the school at Poplar Springs, a prosperous community about 11 miles northwest of Lexington. In later years the other three Pafford sisters also attended school at Athens. I can not recall exactly which girls in which particular years, but all the schooling there ended in the spring of 1916, when Mary and Helen left there and went to Tucson. Clarence (C.F.) attended school at both Athens and Chattanooga, but again I am not entirely sure of the exact dates. In some of his school years he did some preaching for one or more mountain-country churches in the area. As for myself, I never made it to Athens or Chattanooga. In fact my last real formal schooling was the first month of the first year of high school in Nashville in the fall of 1899. Actually I attended school at Lexington for a few months but it was rather a hit and miss program. The school was conduced by a Professor Sutton from Perry County, on something like a lease or concession basis, he being paid for running the school by the city, county or/and the school district. I made some advancement during these months in mathematics, for I really worked at that; but the pleasurable high-light of the period was the Latin class. Prof. Sutton's family was stricken with small-pox - along with several others, - and he was quarantined at home for several weeks. For some reason he appointed me as relief "teacher" of this class in his absence. The entire membership of this class, besides myself, consisted of 7 of the prettiest and nicest girls in Lexington., all in the same age group as myself. Those girls sure had a lot of fun with me, for I did not know any more Latin than they did, but I hope I at least held my own with them, and I certainly enjoyed it too.

Submitted by Isabelle Pafford

If you have a Benton County memoir you would like to contribute
please email
County Host

Return to Benton County Genealogy page