Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 117 - 120)

J. W. H., son of J.H. and Elizabeth Coker, was born, June 4, 1847, in Yancy County, N. C. He was converted early in life, and commenced preaching before he was 19. He was licensed and ordained by the Protestant Methodists, and preached two years for that denomination. Reading the New Testament and contact with "Uncle Dicky" Evans, of Sevier County, made him a Baptist. I have heard this version of his change from Methodist to Baptist views, and the cause thereof, and am now confirmed in the belief that it is a true version, since the story has been circulated and been published in the papers for twenty years, and. I have not heard of any denial. Anyway, Brother Coker, being rather belligerent in his younger days, and perhaps feeling himself under the necessity of "whistling" some "to keep up courage," was anxious  - so the story goes -  to have a debate with Brother Evans over the mooted questions of "baptism, close communion and falling from grace." Time, place and subjects for discussion were agreed upon. But Evans was a seasoned veteran, and Coker but a tender youth. What would be the result of the debate? Before the crowd had fully gathered, imagine the surprise and amusement of everybody - Brother Evans had already converted his opponent and was leading him down into the water to baptize him. He was received and ordained by the White Oak Flats Church, Sevier County, November 12, 1871.

He was pastor of White Oak Flats, Evans' Chapel, Friendship, New Salem, Allen's Grove, Pleasant Grove, Jones' Chapel, Red Bank, Powder Spring, Henderson's Springs, White Church, Sugar Loaf, Ellejoy, Shady Grove, Beech Spring, Bethel, and other churches, in the counties of Sevier, Jefferson, Knox and Cocke. He was pastor of Bethel for thirty years.

Brother Coker was almost uniformly successful in holding protracted meetings. In 1878 he made a six weeks' evangelistic campaign in Western North Carolina, in which great numbers were converted and added to the churches. In a ministry of forty-five years he witnessed 5,000 conversions and baptized some 3,000 into the fellowship of Baptist churches. He preached a full gospel and used no "clap-trap" methods. He was a "strong and fearless preacher, always standing for the right. His life was devoted to the ministry; he was always working for the Lord. He contended earnestly for New Testament and Baptist principles, and was opposed to pulpit or other affiliations that would compromise the truth or weaken the Baptist conscience."

March 15, 1865, he was married to Miss Matilda Ogle, of Sevier County. This union was blessed with a family of eleven children. Some of them are dead, but the father lived to see nearly all of them converted and become members of a Baptist church. One of them is a preacher, now in Oklahoma.

Brother Coker had often expressed the wish that he might fall in the harness and not outlive his usefulness or be laid on the shelf. Accordingly, May 18, 1911, "he was taken ill at night and the next morning departed to be with Christ." His mortal remains were buried in the cemetery of Red Bank Church, tender memorial services being conducted by Elders D. R. Mullendore and S. C. Atchley.


Burnett, J .J.  Sketches of  Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers.  Nashville, Tenn.:  Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.


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