Written by Dr. Tim Hudson
Elder Lawrence Scarborough arrived in the Bayou Corney area about 1825, the earliest American to settle there.
He chose a spot on the Corney where today’s Barnes Bridge Road crosses the bayou, then eastward to Ten Mile Creek. When he arrived on the Corney his only neighbors were a small group of Choctaw Indians whose village lay a few miles away. The closest white families, including the Honeycutts, Stows, Farmers and Colvins, lived along tributaries of Bayou D’Arbonne near modern Downsville and Vienna.
Scarborough was born in 1767 in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, the son of Major James Scarborough, an officer in the Patriot Army during the American Revolution. Major Scarborough led North Carolina militia troops in various skirmishes with the Tories. Lawrence Scarborough later told his children and grandchildren that as a young boy of 14 he made a trip to take some new clothes to his father, then participating in the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia. Lawrence happened to arrive in time to witness the surrender of Lord Cornwallis, commander of the British forces, to General George Washington.
In the latter 1780’s Lawrence Scarborough and many of his relatives joined the general migration from Virginia and the Carolina’s into Georgia, settling originally in Burke County, soon moving on to Bulloch County. After roughly two decades in Georgia, the wanderlust that characterized Scarborough’s life struck. In the fall of 1807 he applied for a passport from the Georgia governor to travel with his family through the Creek nation and into Mississippi Territory. Lawrence Scarborough moved his large family to Jefferson County, Mississippi Territory, located on the Mississippi River just north of Natchez, making them some of the earliest white settlers of Mississippi.
As a young man Lawrence Scarborough became a Baptist minister preaching in Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas. After arriving in Mississippi Scarborough actively worked to establish Baptist churches and associations among the few white settlers of that region and the Baptists of that region soon regarded him as one of their leading ministers. A Mississippi Baptist Association historian said that Scarborough was ‘…plain in person, manners and style of preaching, but was zealous and energetic, and acquired considerable influence as a preacher. His manner of preaching was rather boisterous and his gesticulation violent. He had acquired ‘the heavenly tone‘ in great perfection and could sing and wail out his hymns, prayers and sermons equal to any man we ever heard.” The Association twice sent Scarborough to Opelousas to constitute a church and ordain ministers. He continued to actively participate in the affairs of the Baptist associations and churches that he had helped form until 1822.
Lawrence’s first wife, Agnes Stringer Scarborough, died around the time he moved to Mississippi. He next remarried to Elizabeth Given, a widow with six children by her first husband, but she died by 1820. Her death prompted a recurrence of his wanderlust, luring Scarborough westward once more. He stated, “I intend to depart from this state and travel in other states, for a long time and perhaps forever and wish to make preparation for my children and step-children.” He distributed all of his lands and buildings, horses, sheep, cattle, hogs and household furniture among his children and step-children, retaining only one riding horse for his personal use.
Between about 1815 and 1840 the Baptists in the United States experienced much internal strife over the introduction of missions, Sunday schools, seminaries, etc. into their denomination. Both sides polarized against one another and in an era when religious faith governed much of people’s daily lives in the South, by the 1820’s and 1830’s these issues divided families and literally ripped apart churches. As the churches formerly split over the matter in the 1830’s the pro-missionaries became “Missionary Baptists” (later Southern Baptists), whereas the anti-missionaries became known as “Primitive Baptists” or “Hardshell Baptists”. When this matter came to the forefront of the Mississippi Baptists in the early 1820’s Elder Scarborough favored the anti-missionary cause and his stance caused him considerable problems among his fellow Baptists. His anti-missionary beliefs likely caused the harshly critical statements about him by Missionary Baptist historians of both Mississippi and Louisiana, primarily regarding an issue in Scarborough’s personal life. About 1821, Scarborough remarried the third time to a widow “apparently every way suitable for him as to age and circumstances in life” but their union proved unhappy and “It was not long…before they disagreed and parted”. The Mississippi Baptists charged that Elder Scarborough failed to justify himself in leaving his wife and without bothering to obtain a legal divorce he “hastily married a young woman, which brought down on him not only the censure of the Church but the indignation of the community”. Whatever the cause of the controversy, Scarborough tired of it and moved west into Louisiana, not even bothering to defend himself before the pro-missionary Mississippi Baptists. Primitive Baptist churches in Louisiana later accepted him as their minister despite knowing of these allegations and they had equally strong views about divorce and remarriage.
The Mississippi Baptists claimed that Scarborough left Mississippi in the company of a much younger woman, Sarah Cann, then aged 24, whereas Scarborough was 57. Scarborough did marry Cann after his arrival in Louisiana and they settled on Bayou Corney in what is now Union Parish. He began actively preaching in the few small communities that had formed across northern Louisiana, throughout Claiborne Parish and in particular at Black Lake Church near modern Minden. His ministry attracted a significant following in the area and on January 4, 1927 he joined the Pine Hill Baptist Church located between modern Downsville and Vienna on Bayou D’Arbonne, the earliest Baptist Church in northern Louisiana. When the Mississippi Baptists learned that Scarborough was preaching in Louisiana they sent representatives to investigate. The Pine Hills Church took no action. In fact, their investigating committee acquitted Scarborough of any wrongdoing. Dissatisfied with this outcome the Mississippi Association took the matter to the Louisiana Baptist Association which threatened to withdraw fellowship from the Pine Hills Church unless they excluded Scarborough, which the church did in 1830. Several members of the Pine Hills and Black Lake Churches attempted to withdraw in support of Scarborough but the churches excluded those members as well.
Afterwards, although he remained based on his farm on Bayou Corney, Lawrence Scarborough spent the remainder of his life traveling across north Louisiana and south Arkansas preaching and performing marriages as a Primitive Baptist minister. By the time of his death Elder Scarborough’s home church in Claiborne Parish had well over 60 members.
Three of Scarborough’s four wives bore him 19 children who survived to adulthood. His descendants scattered across Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas during his lifetime. Lawrence Scarborough remained in good health and continued preaching until his death in October 1846 at the age of 79. Sarah Cann Scarborough buried him on their farm on the banks of Bayou Corney. In later years she followed her children to Texas selling her farm to Henry Callaway Barron.
Dr. Tim Hudson is the mathematics department head at Southeastern Louisiana and an avid historian on Union Parish. Hudson is a Union Parish native and graduate of Farmerville High School.