HENDERSON ONCE ENFORCED LOCAL PROFANITY LAW
By JUDY JENKINS
In the latter 1700s, a great revival spirit swept over this entire territory, turning many a backwoods, hard-living cuss into a Bible-reading, totally reformed character.
Circuit-riding preachers went from settlement to settlement, warning pioneers of a hell-fire fate if they didn't repent. The vast majority did convert, and in their new zeal were responsible for ridding the area of some of its meaner, law-breaking villains.
The religious fervor that washed over the county also resulted in some laws that didn't survive Henderson's evolution but did succeed in fattening the town's coffers.
In 1800, the community made it illegal for anyone to use any form of profanity, and those who did had to go to court and pay a fine.
Historian E. L. Starling reported in the last century that the law, unfortunately, seems to have revealed more than a few hypocrites who didn't hesitate to tattle on neighbors.
Starling wrote, “A grand juror, who one half hour before had taken the name of the Lord in vain, was willing to sign an indictment against his less fortunate neighbor who had done the same thing, but in public.”
Obviously, no one was above the law.
At one court, three illustrious town fathers had to appear before peers and answer to charges of public swearing.
One of them was General Samuel Hopkins, the first chief justice of the court, under whose authority juries were impaneled. Another of the three was Eneas McCallister, the second chief magistrate of the county court. The third accused party was Andrew Roman, the third high sheriff of the county.
Each man was indicted for “profane swearing” and, Starling said, “Like old patriots, confessed the fact, and paid their fines without a murmur.”
Henderson's religious foundation has stood firm, not giving away even during the “Roarin' 1940s” when some called the town “Little Chicago” because of the rampant gambling and related crimes centered along the U.S. 41 North strip.
It was partly because of Christians banding together to fight the element of organized crime that the era was relatively short-lived.
In the next decade, the town proved that the revival spirit of the 1700s still was firmly ingrained here.
In 1958, the city established a Decency Committee whose purpose was, according to newspaper files, “to investigate the type of pictures and literature on sale in Henderson.”
The committee was set up as an outgrowth of an ordinance prohibiting the sale of obscene and indecent literature. The ordinance called for a fine of $50 to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for 10 days to a year.
The decency board was to make regular reports to the chief of police and commissioner of public safety. The five members were appointed by Mayor Hecht S. Lackey to serve a three-year term.
Newspaper records no not indicate if new members were appointed at the end of that term.
Progress Edition, The Gleaner, Saturday, April 24, 2004
Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS