Sugg Fort was Pastor of Red
River Baptist Church during the time of the Bell disturbances and, along
with other area clergymen, tried to comfort the Bell family throughout their
terrifying ordeal. He, along with
Rev. Thomas Gunn,
comprised the "committee" tasked with
determining Kate's origin and purpose. Reverend Fort's unquestionably
strong involvement in the legend is somewhat overshadowed, however, by his
brother's dealings with John Bell -- which will be discussed, shortly.
youngest of nine children born to Elias and Sarah Sugg Fort, Reverend Fort was born in Edgecombe County, North Carolina and moved to
Tennessee with his family in 1788, settling between the Red River and Elk Fork Creek in what would later be known as the "Fort Settlement."
His father, Elias Fort, was actively involved in the Tar River Association, a
religious advocacygroup in North Carolina whose membership included the church
attended before they moved to
Union Baptist Church (aka Towne Creek Baptist Church).
Fort married Elizabeth Diggs in December of 1801, and they had two children before her
death in February of 1805. He
never remarried. His father was the Pastor of Red River Baptist Church during this time,
while he and his brother, Josiah, served as the clerks. About 1816, Sugg Fort became the Pastor of Red River Baptist
the years, mainly as a result of his father’s having known the Bells in
North Carolina, Reverend Fort developed a good friendship with
Bell, often visiting him to discuss the "old country" and hold
prayer meetings. The same could
not be said about the relationship between Reverend Fort’s older brother, Josiah,
a church service in August of 1815, a deacon was unable to distribute
Bell had privately
expressed to him his dissatisfaction with Josiah Fort.
Because both men were at the table and ready to partake, the deacon
refused to proceed because not all present were "in fellowship." Confusion arose among those present, including
Bell, who quietly
got up and went home.
church conducted a private hearing some weeks later to determine why
“Brethren Bell & Fort do not appear to be in fellowship.”
The outcome of this hearing is not documented in the church minutes;
however, at the church’s next meeting, Josiah Fort requested and received a letter of dismissal from the
church and joined nearby Drake’s Pond Baptist Church.
 Ironically, this meeting also brought the news that his wife, Piety Horn
Fort, had recently died. Josiah
Fort would eventually return to Red River Baptist Church, but not until
John Bell’s death.
nature of the Fort-Bell dispute is not clear because it was marked-through
in the church records. An examination of real estate and court records
involving both families during the same timeframe gives the author reason to
believe that a property-line dispute was at the heart of the matter.
the issue of
John Bell’s excommunication from
the church in 1818, Reverend Sugg Fort continued to maintain a good
relationship with Bell and his family.
Reverend Fort died in 1829 and is buried in one of the three Fort
cemeteries in Robertson County, Tennessee.
In addition to his dealings with the church, Josiah Fort was very active
in civic affairs. He became one of Robertson County’s first
trustees in 1796, and was in that same year appointed to serve as one of
the county’s three presidential electors. Ten years later, he
was appointed by the General Assembly to serve as a trustee of "The
Liberty Academy," a local school that was proposed and mulled over
until 1811 but never materialized. See: Albert Virgil Goodpasture,
Goodspeed History of Tennessee – Robertson County, 1886, pp.
837-838, 860. Some of his slave records can be found at
web site. The first listed generation, up through
"Queen," were associated with Josiah Fort; the remaining
generations were associated with his (and their) descendants.
Kehukee Baptist Association
River Baptist Church Minutes (1791-1826), pp. 165-166.
River Baptist Church Minutes (1791-1826), pp. 167-169.
Red River Baptist Church
pp. 172-173, 201.