Monday, January 02, 2012

Followers of the Reverend William Crabb

I’ve come across many good stories since I started working as Archivist of our local Historical Society. This one was one of those that intrigued me, so I had to delve into it more. An article from the local newspaper, the Brown County Democrat, of Sept. 5, 1907 gave the report of an unconventional religious leader and his followers. Reverend William N. Crabb had quite a following in the early 1900s. His church was called the Church of the First Born and had many a strange belief. William Crabb was a man of little education, but a forceful and convincing speaker who seemed to have obtained a strong hold on his 300 followers. As a summer attraction in the wilds of Brown County the Crabbite service had proved very popular. Crabb himself asked no pay for his work, and even scorned to use a regular meeting house. He preached from a stump in the woods. Pastor Crabb asserted that he could handle snakes without danger to himself, and he had been giving free exhibitions to help draw in his audience.

The Church of the First Born began on Goose Creek in Morgan County when two men from Indianapolis came to teach the people marvelous things. Soon the people became wild with excitement and the little old log church was crowded day and night with seekers after the new faith. Sometime afterwards the church on Goose Creek was destroyed by vandals and the congregation scattered to other locations. The majority of the people transferred their membership to the Brown County leader, William Crabb, who had established an open air church in a grove on top of a hill near Nashville. “Reverend Crabb had become a zealot and carried his people with him. He is the father of thirteen children, twelve of them girls.”

This was an interesting article so I decided to see if there was any proof in it. The first and easiest thing to check would be for an obituary for him or any of his family. In the Brown County Democrat of Dec. 15, 1927 it states, “William Crabb - Died Saturday at his home near Mahalasville at age 70. A son of A. J. Crabb, he formerly lived near Nashville. His is the father of Mary A. Satters.” It was a very short obituary so I decided to check for one in Morgan County as well. That one read, “William Crabb, age 71, died at his home southwest of town Sunday, having suffered a paralytic stroke on Wednesday. Surviving are the wife and ten children. Funeral services were held at Mt. Zion church Tuesday morning at ten o’clock. Burial was in Mt. Zion Cemetery.”

From the first obit it affirmed he had lived near Nashville. It also gave his father’s name and a daughter’s married name. That could be helpful later on. The second obit affirmed that he had at least ten children that survived him, so he did have more children at one time. This one also gave his burial location and possibly the last church he was associated with. Neither one stated though that he had been a pastor.

While checking obituaries I decided to look for one for his daughter, Mrs. Mary A. Satters. One was found in the Morgan County dated July 18, 1959. Hers read, “Mrs. Satters was born in Brown County 68 years ago, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Crab. She had lived in Morgantown community for the past 40 years and was a member of the Church of the First Born in Martinsville. She was married to Anthony Tony Satters who died a few years ago. Survivors include . . . [besides children] seven sisters and one brother . . . Burial will be in East Hill Cemetery.” This one held a lot of good information; it confirmed who her parents were and also that she was formerly from Brown County. It also confirmed she came from a large family mostly composed of sisters as stated in Reverend Crabb’s newspaper article. But most importantly it confirmed she indeed was a member of the same church, The Church of the First Born.

A lot of good information can be obtained from old newspapers. But you just need to use your own good judgment and make sure to look for other documentation to support it. From mine and others’ research William Crabb’s family data is below.

William Crabb was born 1858 in Barren Co., Kentucky and died Dec. 3, 1927 near Martinsville, Indiana. He was the son of Abraham J. Crabb and Mahala Tanner. He was married to Mary Ann Petro on Oct. 19, 1879, the daughter of Joseph Petro and Jane Hawkins. Not much is known of their 13 children, but by checking in the census one can get a list of names. In the 1900 census their children’s names were: Jemima, Martha, Anna, Liza, Minnie, Lillie, and Frank. We know he had one daughter from the obituary, Mary Ann Crabb (the Anna listed above). From the 1910 census we can add two more children: Tuchulia (not sure of the spelling) and Idela.

It is characters such as this that make Brown County history interesting. I’ll probably run this story in our little newsletter so I can share it with all our members. I’ve been trying to share stories of historical figures with a genealogical twist. After all, I am a genealogist first, but the stories intrigue me. After all my research I decided to add this information and start memorial pages on for this family.

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