Rev. Nathan Lytle Clarke
By Harold Graham, Ed. D.
No single figure has contributed more to the introduction and development of the Baptist religion in Newton County and much of east Mississippi than the Rev. Nathan Lytle Clarke.
Rev. Nathan L. Clarke, a native of North Carolina, came to Mississippi in 1840 to begin his ministry. A descendant of Israel Boone, brother of Daniel Boone, Rev. Clarke maintained in his work the same level of commitment and determination of his Boone ancestors, and over the course of more than sixty years, preached in virtually every county in east Mississippi. He served as Moderator of the Mt. Pisgah Baptist Association for 54 years (51 years in succession). He was responsible for creating the Baptist General Association and served as its president for 51 years. According to a grandson, Tracy Gallaspy, Rev. Clarke organized more than 100 churches, ordained more than 150 ministers, converted more than 3,000 souls, administered the rites of baptism to more than 1,600 people, and traveled more than 75,000 miles by horseback or buggy to conduct his work. He performed 3,000 marriages and presided over an almost equal number of funerals.
Rev. Clarke was born in Burke County, North Carolina on February 7, 1812, a child of Jeremiah and Eleanor Boone Clarke. As a young man, he ventured to Alabama where he worked as a clerk with W. Carleton and Company. He soon saw that this was not his lifes calling. While in Gainesville, Alabama, he was baptized into the Baptist Church on June 10, 1838 and shortly thereafter committed to a life in the ministry. He returned to North Carolina on horseback, a distance of 600 miles, where he spent the winter months of 1838-1839 in schooling and preparation for the ministry. He was licensed to preach on May 11, 1839 and delivered his first sermon on May 12, 1839 at Lower Creek Baptist Church, Burke County, North Carolina.
In the months that followed, he continued to study and prepare for the ministry. Rev. Clarke married on November 14, 1839 to Eveline Delia Powell. On February 3, 1840, with his new bride, he left North Carolina, never to return. They lived briefly at Gainesville, Alabama, then moved to DeKalb, Kemper County, Mississippi, in April 1840. According to Rev. R. L. Breland, the trip was made by horse and buggy and took four weeks to complete. Rev. Clarke was accompanied by his wife and a servant named Jane. Their stay in Kemper County was brief and in October 1840 he found a home in eastern Neshoba County and began the process of building churches in the area. His first church, Sulphur Springs, met in a log cabin, as did most of the early churches. During these early years he also preached at Unity Springs and Black Jack Grove, Kemper County, and New Hope in Neshoba County. In 1842, he helped with the organization of Rock Creek Church in Newton County and became its pastor.
In November 1847, Rev. Clarke moved with his family to the Chapel Hill community east of Decatur in Newton County. There he raised his family and devoted the better part of fifty years to the ministry. During his tenure here, he was pastor of Decatur Baptist Church for a period exceeding 50 years and pastor of Newton Baptist Church for 35 years beginning in 1869. In a day when rural churches normally employed a minister only one weekend monthly (with services on both Saturday or Sunday), Rev. Clarke maintained several church assignments concurrently. His most distant assignment may have been Sylvarena Baptist Church in Smith County, Mississippi, where he traveled the 50 miles on horseback monthly to minister to this congregation, an assignment that lasted 15 years beginning in 1869.
In many ways, Rev. Clarke would be regarded as conservative in his religious views by modern standards, but in the era in which he preached he was often regarded as liberal, the one exception being his opposition to piano playing in the church, an event he first witnessed at Canton, Mississippi, in 1860 and to which he voiced his immediate displeasure.
Rev. Clarke entered the ministry just at the time when church leaders were debating the question of missions, an issue that eventually split the church into the separate camps of Regular Baptists and Primitive Baptists. Rev. Clarke strongly supported mission work and did his part to hold congregations together on this issue.
Rev. Clarke was deeply disturbed by the institution of slavery but saw no end to it, short of war. During the troubled days of the Civil War he suspended many of his regular preaching assignments and visited with soldiers in their camps in Alabama and Mississippi. Following the Civil War he was instrumental in training the first Negro ministers and helping them start the first Negro churches. He also ministered to the needs of the Choctaw Indian population and served as mentor to the first Choctaw ministers.
For several years following the Civil War, Rev. Clarke suspended some of his ministerial duties to provide missionary work in ten Mississippi counties Newton, Scott, Neshoba, Kemper, Lauderdale, Smith, Jasper, Jones, Simpson, and Covington. He established a number of churches in each county, and in doing so, traveled from two to three thousand miles each year, crossing swollen streams and enduring many hardships.
Rev. Clarke believed that the ministry was a full-time vocation and that ministers should be adequately prepared and compensated. His college experience in North Carolina helped train him for a life of ministry, but he never succeeded in achieving his ideal of adequate compensation. The rural churches of Mississippi simply could not afford to pay their pastors more than a meager salary. To supplement his income he farmed, as did his neighbors, and with the help of his family and neighbors, he also built the family dwelling house, his first house being a log cabin with a dirt floor. More than an adequate carpenter, he built much of the furniture for the house.
Rev. Clarke also raised a large family who were also part of his Christian ministry. Only once during his lifetime did he fail to have morning and evening worship while at home and this was at the death of his first wife, Evaline Powell. His marriage to Evaline Delia Powell produced nine children. Evaline was born 12 January 1823, Burke County, North Carolina, the daughter of George and Lucinda Powell, and died 8 September 1859, Decatur, Mississippi. Evaline died four days after the birth of her last child and namesake. Issue:
Andrew Clarke, born ca. 1841, Neshoba County, Mississippi died Oceola, Texas shortly after the Civil War; married Mattie _____
George Powell Clarke, born 22 March 1844, Neshoba County, Mississippi died 28 June 1918 and buried in Decatur Cemetery; married Martha Ann Puckett
Mary Clarke, born ca. 1846, Neshoba County, Mississippi; married Richard Williams and moved to Texas
Julia Lucinda Clarke, born ca. 1847 died ca. 1937, Texas; married Pleasant Terry Williams
John Boone Clarke, born 2 January 1851, Newton County, Mississippi died 30 November 1912, Laurel, Mississippi; married Harriet Elizabeth (Cross) Johnston
Cyrus Poore Clarke, born 21 November 1852, Newton County, Mississippi died 6August 1925, Beaumont, Texas; married Julia Ann Jordan
Susan Minerva Clarke born 16 October 1855 died 15 March 1942, Decatur; married James Asa Gallaspy
Nathan Lytle Clarke, Jr., born ca. 1858; married Carrie Melton. Physician in Meridian, Mississippi.
Eveline Delia Clarke, born 4 September 1859, Newton County, Mississippi died 8 July 1936, Los Angeles, California; married John Isham Parks
Rev. Clarke married (2) to Emily Ann (Lee) Puckett, a native of Choctaw County, Alabama, and daughter of Daniel Lee and Eliza (Reed) Stephens. Their marriage produced one son:
Lee Murrell Clarke, born 8 November 1865, Newton County, Mississippi died January 8, 1940, Pelahatchie, Rankin County, Mississippi; married Frances Delia Jones. Lee was a physician.
Emily Ann Lee married (1) to Richard M. Puckett, who died ca. 1857, Mt. Sterling, Choctaw County, Alabama. From this marriage, she brought the following children to Newton County to live with the Clarke family:
Martha Ann Puckett, born 26 May 1850, Choctaw County, Alabama died 17 November 1917, Decatur; married George Powell Clarke (See above)
John Presley Puckett, born 7 March 1852, Choctaw County, Alabama died 9 August 1940, Chunky, Mississippi, and buried in Oakland Baptist Church Cemetery; married Victoria Anne Day
Eliza Frances Puckett, born 27 February 1856, Choctaw County, Alabama died 7 December 1936, Decatur, and buried in Decatur Cemetery; married Samuel Marion Day.
In 1890 Rev. Clarke moved from the Chapel Hill community to Newton and began publication of the Mississippi Baptist, the forerunner of the Baptist Record. It was never a successful business enterprise, but it helped to circulate the Baptist message throughout much of the state. In January 1904, then in poor heath as was his second wife, Emily Ann Lee Puckett Clarke, he returned to Decatur to live with his son George Powell Clarke. He died on 11 September 1906, but the religious waves he started with his Baptist ministry would ripple for all generations to come.
R. L. Breland. The Story of Neshoba, The Neshoba Democrat, ca. 1936
Scott County Register, September 19, 1906
The Eastern Clarion, September 29, 1859, Jackson, Mississippi
1850 Federal Census, Newton County, Mississippi
1860 Federal Census, Newton County, Mississippi
Alice H. Boone, Descendants of Israel Boone, McCann Publishing Company, 1969
Clarke College Memorial Edition, 1992
Tommy Thrash, Personal Research Papers Regarding Rev. N. L. Clarke
Harold Graham, Lee-Puckett Family Records
History of Rock Creek Baptist Church. Author unknown. Undated.