Question: What experiences did James Greer Camp and his family have after becoming members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tennessee in 1843?
Answer: James Greer Camp was born 12 January 1828 in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the oldest son of fifteen children of Williams Washington Camp and Diannah Harriett Greer.
James’ father, Williams Washington Camp, was born in 1800 in Georgia. His unusual given name comes from his mother’s maiden name, Margaret Williams. While traveling in Alabama, Williams met Diannah Greer, a wealthy Southern Belle. They married there in 1822 and later moved to Tennessee in 1832. They had a large home near Dresden, Tennessee on 95 acres. They, with the help of many slaves, raised cotton, cattle and ran a blacksmith shop. He also joined the Campbellite church and soon became a preacher there. About 1842, while living in Dresden, Tennessee, the Camp family heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached and became members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Brother Camp offered shelter to the missionaries, opened his home for preaching, accompanied Elder Smoot at one time, preached himself at least once, and even provided armed protection at times. The Mormon missionaries suffered intense persecution while preaching the Gospel in the Southern States.
Brother Williams Washington Camp shows up in Abraham Smoot’s mission journal beginning in May 1844:
Abraham O Smoot May 18, 1844
… A pistol was fired at the window like a thunder storm and was followed in quite succession by a shower of brick bits against the window glass. The congregation seemed much frightened & immediately began to leave the house. I hastened to inform them that if they wished to stay that I would protect them…Also Brother Williams Camp, … somewhat noted as a fighting character, arose and called on the fleeing people to stop. He told them if they would only sit and listen to the preaching, he would go out and look after the persons who were creating the disturbance. About two thirds of the audience again became seated, and he went outside and procured a shot-gun with which he patrolled around the court-house the remainder of the evening,… (A. O. Smoot, “Early Experiences of A. O. Smoot,” Early Scenes In Church History, Eighth Book of the Faith Promoting Series. p 23)
Williams was a blacksmith by trade. Just before the family moved to Nauvoo, he was fixing a wagon with the help of Ike, one of his slaves. His daughter Catherine was there as well. According to Catherine a mob of about 15 men arrived with panted faces. They said they were there to give him some tar and feathers. William responded by first throwing or swinging the hammers he was using at them, which reportedly knocked down two of them. Then he picked up hot “irons swinging them in every direction and went after them.” Ike [black slave] and Catherine hid behind the bellows. In short order, Williams had routed the mob and returned to the shop. When he got back he said to Ike: “Ike, you black rascal, why didn’t you help fight those men?” Ike didn’t look up but said, “Well, Massa Williams, I thought you was enough for them few men.” My father laughed and said no more to him. (Catherine Ellen Camp Greer, Autobiography, BYU)
The family then made preparations to join the Saints in Nauvoo. James, being the eldest son, went first with a small group in the charge of the missionaries. The father and mother and remainder of the family left soon after. They reached Nauvoo about 1844/45 and lived there just a short time before having to leave due to the persecution.
In 1846, the family moved to Council Bluffs where James, then nineteen years of age, volunteered to be a member of the Mormon Battalion. He was assigned to Company B. James made it as far as Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then was assigned to the Battalion Sick Detachment. The Sick Detachment made it to the Salt Lake Valley on July 29, 1847, just five days after Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company.
In 1848 James journeyed back to Council Bluffs. In June 1850, James’ father and mother, Williams and Diannah joined the Shadrach Roundy Company with six of their children and two slaves. They arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in September 1850. Their one little six-year-old daughter, Emma, died on the journey.
Instead of going West with his family, James’ father sent him back to Tennessee to settle up on some of the family’s property. While staying in Tennessee, James was stricken with cholera. He died 13 January 1852 in Dresden, Weakley, Tennessee and was buried there. He was only 24 years of age. He was buried in the Sunset Cemetery in Dresden.