Strengthened by the Storm: The Early Mormons of Harkers Island, NC, by Joel G. Hancock.
President Rich’s Letter To The Governor
Feb. 16, 1906.
Hon. Robert F. Glenn, Governor
Raleigh, N. C.
On the night of January 16, 1906, a church belonging to our organization was destroyed by fire on Harkers Island, off Beaufort, in your State, by persons unknown to us. The act was the direct result of an agitation worked up by a minister named Morgan, who incited the lawless element there to commit the dastardly act. Not content with destroying the place of worship erected by members of our Church, they have since threatened the lives and property of those who entertain and shelter our Elders. Why they even warned a non-member of our Church, who is in business there, that if he did not discharge the young lady employed by him as a clerk, and who is a member of our faith, that they would burn him out. The young lady was immediately discharged.
There had been no school on the Island, and the children there were growing up in ignorance. As President of the Southern States Mission, I was appealed to for help and asked to send one of our Elders there, who was competent to teach school. I did so, and the children of both members and non-members to the number of nearly forty, were enrolled, and our Church was fitted up for school purposes. The outlook was fair for excellent results, no charge being made for tuition, and all parents being free to send their children and have them educated. No religious instruction of any kind, in the least degree, was imparted, but the school was conducted as the most exacting would require. With the burning of the Church, school had to stop temporarily. An empty house was secured from a friend, and our Elders commenced to fix it up until something better could be done, making benches, desks, blackboards, etc., so that it was only a few days before school re-convened. Threatening letters were then sent the parents, warning them to take their children out of the Mormon school, or their homes would be burned down, as the church had been. They also threatened to burn the school building down, if school was not stopped.
Fearing the results of these threats, the heads of families receiving these letters have continuously guarded their homes at night with guns, not knowing any moment when all that they possess of worldly goods would be destroyed by fire. Such a sense of terror did the conditions there become, that I sent Elder James H. Wallis, as my personal representative, to investigate conditions on the Island, and take what steps he considered necessary. He reached Beaufort on Monday night late, February 5, and the next morning he waited on the sheriff, Mr. Hancock, who told him that he was powerless to render any help, that if he incurred any indebtedness in running down the perpetrators, he would have to pay the expenses out of his own pocket. He said there was no officer on the Island, nor even a justice of the peace or a constable; that there were about 400 people there; that the Island lay several miles out from the mainland, with neither telephone nor telegraph communications.
Elder Wallis next hunted up the County Attorney, Mr. Charles L. Abernethy, and that gentleman said he had no jurisdiction in criminal cases, that he was simply employed by the county commissioners to give that body advice in civil matters. Consequently Elder Wallis failed to get any promise of help or future protection from the county officials there, but did authorize the Sheriff to offer a reward of $50 to be given to any person imparting information leading to the arrest and conviction of the guilty parties. He then crossed to the Island, and made a thorough investigation of conditions there. He found the people, as already stated, guarding their homes at night, and fearful of results. He concluded it best to withdraw the two elders from the Island until the excitement abated, and something had been done to arrest and punish those who were responsible for the conditions there.
On his way back to Chattanooga, Elder Wallis stopped at Raleigh in the hopes of being able to meet you and lay the situation before you. Failing in this, I now present herewith a brief statement of the matter, and appeal to you, as Governor of a great State, as an upholder of law and order and good government, as the sworn defender of the Constitution of our glorious country, which guarantees every man religious freedom, to give the members of our faith on Harkers Island the protection they are entitled to.
We feel that our earnest petition will not be ignored, but that with the cooperation of the Attorney-General of your State, some measures can be taken by you, looking to a peaceful solution of the trouble.
The matter is urgent, and we plead with you that there be no unnecessary delay in taking what steps are best in the accomplishment of the ends desired, so that no further crime may be committed, and that those who have outraged the law may be promptly dealt with.
Most respectfully yours,
Ben E. Rich