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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

From Revolutionary toddler to longest living Methodist preacher ever - Rev. Thomas Hardester Tennant

A Methodist minister who was born in Virginia four years before the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776 and died approximately 20 years after the conclusion of the Civil War was said to be " a great hunter of deer, a man of great strength, with a voice voice in that would carry seven miles in the hills.

When the Reverend Thomas Hardester Tennant passed away in October 1886 at the age of 114, he was laid to rest in the historic Bethleham Cemetery in the Cane Hill Community of Washington County with the distinction of having been the longest living Methodist preacher ever, a record that stands to this day.

Very little is is known of his early childhood and youth. He had a limited education, and nothing is now known of his formal schooling, as to where and when he obtained it.

Tennant left Virginia when he was between seventeen and twenty years of age, and went to Kentucky, where he remained for some time before moving to Tennessee. It was there he was converted and joined the Methodist Episcopal church and was licensed to preach, and presumably he was received on trial in the Tennessee Conference.

He was transferred by Bishop George to the Missouri Conference and in the fall of 1818 was appointed to the Arkansas Circuit. The Arkansas Circuit lay on both sides of the Arkansas River from Arkansas Post to Fort Smith.

In the fall of 1819 he was appointed to the Pecan Point Circuit, on the Mississippi River about fifty miles above Memphis; the circuit extended to Little Rock. This was in the Black River District, and a W. Stevenson was the presiding elder.

According to family Bible records, Tennant was on this circuit when he was married to Miss Christine Hacker. She owned a few slaves. One of these was very stubborn and unruly and Tennant could not control him.

But he also could not free him, because the law required one freeing a slave to give bond for his good behavior and when the situation worsened, Tennant sold the slave to a third party.

Some time after this event, charges were preferred against Tennant for selling a slave, and he was expelled from the ministry. He felt that great injustice was done him in this matter, and he never asked to be reinstated.

He retired to Washington County where he secured a little farm near Evansville , and lived out his life. US Census information indicates he lived in both Cane Hill and for a while in the community of Vineyard.

He held family prayers, regularly "without variation" every night and morning as long as he was physically able to do so. He preached occasionally as opportunity presented and took an active part yearly in the Bethlehem Camp Meeting near his home.

By his first Wife he had eight children—three boys and five girls.

After the death of Tennantʼs first wife, he married Mrs. Clarisa Isabel Sloverwith whom he had five children. One died in infancy, leaving two boys and two girls.

According to a genealogical timeline, Tennant would have been almost 88 years of age when he impregnated his second wife with his final child, which also speaks volumes about his long and productive life.

Upon his death, Tennant was buried in what is now known to be the first public cemetery in Washington County, a distinction which earned this Stone Garden a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. The earliest documented gravesite in the cemetery dates from 1832.

( The Bethlehem Cemetery is located about four miles south of Canehill, near the junction of Arkansas Highway 45 and County Road 442.)

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