Seeking to Serve

At Worship – 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

As I look back into my family, the influence of worship and my ancestors’ Christian faith is unmistakable. Sometimes (well, actually, pretty frequently), I might take issue with some of their methods of sharing their faith or some of the things that they believed. But, in no way can I doubt their devotion to the central mystery of faith – Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

I find many, many ancestors who were pastors, or were active lay people and Christian educators. Some lines were staunchly Baptist and others just as staunchly Methodist. Kathleen’s family even has Puritans and Pilgrims.

This is a short story about the Reverend John Walker Deshazo. J.W. Deshazo was born 11 Nov 1837 (or 1835) in Alabama to Larkin Deshazo and Lecy Lewis Deshazo. His parents had moved to Alabama by 1832, when they married, he from South Carolina and she from Tennessee. By 1850, the family had moved on to Choctaw County, Mississippi.

Rev. John W. Deshazo, 1837-1918

There has been some debate about John’s middle name. He signed things J.W. or John W. Deshazo. Some folks have claimed that the W was for Wesley since he (and the family) were Methodists. This was a pretty common thing. Others say Walker, since so many of his descendants have a middle name of Walker. The documents tend toward Walker when they say anything at all.

In 1855, John married Mary Phelps, the first of his three wives and my third-great-grandmother. He and Mary had at least seven children, including Mary Susan Druscilla Deshazo, my great-great-grandmother.

Mary Phelps Deshazo died by 1872, when John W. married Mary V. Redden, his second wife. They had no children that I know of. Mary died in 1889.

In 1890, John married Fannie Cole, his third wife. He and Fannie had another four children.

Side note: Here’s a point of research I need to pursue. In the 1910 Census, Fannie is listed as his second wife, not his third. Moreover, there is a J.W. Deshazo married to a Mary in Tennessee in the 1880 census that looks suspiciously like I may have a spurious marriage here. It makes sense for there to be a longer period between Mary and Fanny since John was an itinerant preacher during those years. Most circuit riders were not married, due to their being on the road pretty much continuously. I think I will dig into this and see what’s the truth.

John entered the ministry during the Civil War. He had enlisted in Company G of the 33rd Mississippi Infantry in March 1862. Toward the end of the war, having heard the call to ministry, he was detailed as the chaplain at the Watts Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama. Not a lot can be found about this hospital. It appears to have been a tent, field hospital.

I’ve always been fascinated that he appears to have heard the call to ministry during the War. According to his service records, he was, himself, in and out of the hospital throughout the war, the last time, with blood poisoning in August 1864.

After the war, he entered the itinerant ministry of the Methodist Protestant church. The Methodist Protestant church had split in 1830 from the Methodist Episcopal church, primarily over the role of the laity in the governance of the church, the election of bishops, and of the presiding Elders (District Superintendents as the rest of Methodism called them).

Letter from John W. Deshazo to his children in 1880

John’s preaching took him across Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. He spent five years as the Presiding Elder over the state of Mississippi. Ultimately, late in life, he “located” and left the itinerant ministry. Basically, that means that he retired. He set up a small farm, but it appears that this was hard. I get the impression that his health was poor and that made both the itinerancy and locating and farming really hard on him.

Letter from J.W. Deshazo lobbying for position as Chaplain of the Legislature

By 1900, they are living in Crawford County, Arkansas and times appear to be difficult. I am not certain exactly when this letter was written. Apparently, in an effort to continue his ministry and to ensure a position for himself, J.W. Deshazo lobbied members of the Arkansas legislature to appoint him as the Chaplain to the Lower House of the Legislature. He got many of the notable men of Crawford County to vouch for him in hopes of securing this position. There’s no evidence that this succeeded. It seems that he and Fannie ended up moving back to Tennessee to be with their children. There, he and she both died and were buried.

What do I learn from J.W. Deshazo? I think the big thing is that he found his call and his moments of worship in the midst of terrible things. Both on the battlefield and in the field hospitals, he would have seen things that caused many men to lose their faith. Instead, he found his call to reach out to his fellow soldiers and to take care of those who were sick and wounded. I think that there, he found his true worship.

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