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Beginnings of Methodism in North Mississippi

The United States Government signed a treaty with the Chickasaw Indians on September 20, 1816 whereby all the lands in North Alabama and bounded on the west by the Tombigbee River were ceded to the government. By 1819 all of North Alabama had been formed into counties. The Tennessee Conference of the Methodist Church sent preachers to serve the settlers of the region.

As early as 1817 white settlers were established in the territory east of the Tombigbee River in what is now Lowndes and Monroe counties. In 1819 The Tennessee Conference appointed Ebenezer Hearn to the Buttahatchie Mission which embraced all of Marion County, Alabama and the territory in Mississippi east of the river.

In 1821 Monroe County, Mississippi was formed, including what is now Lowndes County, in what was the first county in north Mississippi. The other counties were in the Natchez country, far away across Indian territory. Also in 1821 the work which had been begun by preachers from the Tennessee Conference was transferred to the Mississippi Conference which already included South Alabama. In 1823 the church in Columbus was organized by Wiley Ledbetter: The First Methodist Church in Columbus is believed to be the oldest church in the north Mississippi region.

In 1827 Dr. Alexander Talley was sent as a missionary to the Choctaw Indians. His work was largely in Leake and Attala counties. By the time the Indians were removed in 1834 there were 4,000 Methodist Indians who went to the Indian Territory.

The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek transferred all of north Mississippi to the United States Government and by 1936 all of the region had been formed into counties. Between this time and 1870 the various circuits were established and changes occurred in the Memphis Conference, Mobile Conference later Alabama Conference and the Mississippi Conference which shared responsibility for the region and which would eventually lead to present day Conferences.

The Methodist Protestant Church

Although the beginnings of the Methodist Protestant Church in north Mississippi are obscure, by 1854 conference sessions were being held. The earliest minutes of the Methodist Protestant Church are for 1867. Evidence suggests at least 13 years of activity prior to this. Records of the work of these devout, though never large in number, individuals exist until unification in 1938.

Upper Mississippi Conference

From the time of the first Methodist work in North Mississippi around 1820 until 1865, the same Methodist ministers served both whites and blacks, often in the same congregations, with statistics kept separately.  In the plantation sections of North Mississippi separate "colored missions" were often formed, and most Methodist churches in the state were administered by the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, following the split from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844.  In 1865, the Mississippi Mission Conference was organized by the M.E. Church (the northern branch) to establish and administer churches for the black Methodists.  In 1869, the Mississippi Conference of the M.E. Church was organized with two districts, Holly Springs in the northern part of the state, and Jackson in the southern half.  In 1891, this conference was divided and the Upper Mississippi Conference was established at Holly Springs with 79 ministers and 18 probationers, encompassing the thirty eight northern counties of the state.  Those Negroes who remained members of the Southern Church in 1870 formed a separate body which we know today as the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (C.M.E.).

The North Mississippi Conference

In May, 1870, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South made provisions for a new Conference in North Mississippi, organized at Water Valley with David S. Doggett as Bishop. There were 124 preachers as charter members: 17 from the Alabama (former Mobile) Conference, 19 from the Mississippi Conference, and 88 from the Memphis Conference. The Conference boundaries, including counties north of the 33rd parallel  with only minor changes, was to remain until the merger of the Mississippi and North Mississippi Conferences in 1988./p>

Methodist Union

The two conferences were brought into the same national body with the unification of Methodism in 1938.  the M.E. Church, the M.E. Church, South, and the Methodist Protestant Church united to become the Methodist Church, with the Upper Mississippi Conference in the Central Jurisdiction and the North Mississippi Conference in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.  With the dissolution of the Central Jurisdiction in 1968, the two Conferences came under the same Episcopal leadership of the United Methodist Church.

Mergers with other Mississippi Conferences

In 1973 the North Mississippi Conference and the Upper Mississippi Conference merged under the name The North Mississippi Conference, bringing together in structure and function the white and black Methodist congregations in Mississippi.  A similar merger took place in the conferences in the southern half of the state at the same time, forming one Mississippi Conference from the former two.

In 1988 the Mississippi and North Mississippi Conferences merged, forming the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church.

*This article is an abridgment of an article with the same title which appeared in The Mississippi Methodist Advocate, December 2, 1959, with additional information from The North Mississippi Conference Journal, 1973.  Both sources and other information on this topic are available at the J. B. Cain Archives of Mississippi Methodism, Millsaps-Wilson Library, Millsaps College.