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Saint Jacob's Lutheran Church: A Lost but not Forgotten Piece of Sevier County History

by Sam Maner

In an area known as Fair Garden many of the early settlers known to the county as "Dutch" actually are Duch or Duchlanders in a true English translation German many of these families: Fox, Bird, Shrader, Keeler, Derrick, Layman and Rinehart.

These families coming to a new land brought with them their ways, their speech, their foods, and their religion.

From the first arrivals of the settlers came ministers to feed the little flock known as Saint Jacob's. The church, a simple one-room cabin, was at first a part of the Virginia Synod.

From records collected from several sources we will attempt in this article to piece together a part of Sevier County church history.

William Edward Eisenberg (1967) writes, "An early congregation of Lutherans existed in Sevier County named St. Jacob's. It was represented at the 1822 and 1823 conventions of the Tennessee Synod by Michael Brenner" (The Lutheran Church in Virginia, 1717-1962, Including an Account of the Lutheran Church in East Tennessee).

The Tennessee Synod was organized in 1820 out of the North Carolina Synod. It had several splits over the years, including those forming the Tennessee Synod (Reorganized) in 1848 and the Holston Synod in 1860. After the Holston Synod was organized, the Tennessee Synod had no congregations in the state of Tennessee. In 1921 it merged into the North Carolina Synod of the United Lutheran Church in America.

The earliest minutes we have from the Tennessee Synod are from 1827. In that volume Mr. Casper Reader from Sevier County represented his congregation. No mention of the congregation or its representatives appears in 1829, 1830, 1831 or 1835.

Most of the early congregations in this area were served by traveling ministers, who had a home congregation or set of congregations, but made their way occasionally to other parishes. Those that were unable to get regular service often faded away.

It appears that this may have been the case with St. Jacob's. Those records that were kept were probably recorded in a personal record book of the pastor, though the congregation may have had one. Possible pastors include Philip Henkel of Greene Co., Adam Miller of Knox Co. and Henry Zink or C. Z. H. Schmidt of Sullivan Co.

Paul Henkel's diary has been translated by Eugene Van Ness Goetchius, as "Tagebuch and Day Book," a 1948 M. A. thesis for the University of Virginia. It appears from some information found that either the St. Jacob's in Greene Co. or the one in Sevier Co. (or both) were served by Henkel's son, Philip Henkel.

Under the entry for Zion Lutheran in Knoxville, it states "Germans had settled in Washington Co., Va., and in Sullivan Co., Tenn., during the 1780s.  Some of them continued their westward move after a few years to new homes in Washington and Greene Counties of Tennessee. Toward the turn of the century others pushed on to Knox Co., or clung to the mountain counties that form the western border of the Great Smokies, particularly in Counties of Sevier, Cocke, and Blount.

Schools were few, education meager, and the keeping of records a practice no longer preserved. Congregations, however, were organized, log churches erected, and traveling preachers made their visits four, eight, or twelve times a year.

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