Family Tradition: Taylors of Tabernacle Kinfolk Camp Meeting in Brownsville

20 Comments By 

Taylor of Tabernacle

You might say the annual Taylors of Tabernacle Kinfolk Camp Meeting is the mother of all family reunions. Every July, roughly 700 descendants of the Taylor family converge at Tabernacle United Methodist Church near Brownsville for a weeklong reunion and spiritual revival filled with laughter, tears, hugs and lots of good old-fashioned, face-to-face conversation.

“Some families go years without seeing each other, but we make a point to see each other at least once every year,” says Mac Thornton, a descendant of family patriarch Howell Taylor. “It’s in our genes. People keep coming back because they always have. It’s been passed down from generation to generation, and it’s pretty high on the priority list of things to do.”

Rev. Howell Taylor (1754-1845) moved his family from Virginia to Tennessee in 1817. The Taylors established roots in Haywood County in 1826, setting up the original family homestead and Methodist church.

Like clockwork, hundreds of Taylor’s descendants have gravitated back to their ancestral homeland near Brownsville every year since. They camp in rustic cabins at the 11-acre Tabernacle Family Campground and attend three church services daily to hear well-known evangelists speak.


Richard and Lara Taylor at Taylors of Tabernacle

“The revival part of the reunion is so powerful and has been really instrumental in the lives of people who camp,” says Susan Thornton, Taylor family historian and a Nashville general contractor. “If we were just a bunch of people wearing matching family reunion T-shirts and playing horseshoes, we’d never have lasted this long. The reunion keeps the revival going, and vice versa.”

Mac Thornton likens attending Camp Meeting to getting your batteries recharged.

“You go away refreshed. It gives you a whole new perspective on life,” he explains. “There’s still a feeling of freedom. Kids can play barefoot in the dirt. It’s a holiday for them. I still have great memories of playing with my cousins every year at Camp Meeting. Everybody there has an interesting life, and you can just walk from cabin to cabin and visit with people.”

Many family members plan their yearly vacations around the Camp Meeting. Sarah Thornton Jenks, Mac Thornton’s niece, says finding an employer who would give her that week off every July was a prerequisite for accepting her job.

“It’s hard to articulate how important Camp Meeting is to us,” says Jenks, who lives in Memphis. “It renews our spirits. It’s about growing up with a sense of purpose and belonging, and people knowing who you are.”

Jenks has attended Camp Meeting since birth, and now attends with her husband, Jeffrey, and their children, 12-year-old Madison and 9-year-old William.

“If you ask my children, they’d rather go to Camp Meeting than Disney World,” she says.

One highlight of the week is the Sunday morning “Love Feast.”

“Everybody comes to church, and they can say whatever they want. People talk about what God is doing in their lives and just unload their burdens,” Mac Thornton says. “It’s very moving.”

Taylor family members walk throught the cemetery

A christening service is also held Sunday to baptize or dedicate any babies born that year. A memorial service follows, in remembrance of family members who died since the last Camp Meeting.

Between church services, there are games (softball, pingpong and “Who Sir, Me Sir” are favorites), a Heritage Walk through the family cemetery and lots of Southern comfort food. The campground is divided into 36 camps, each with its own open-air kitchen. Camps have anywhere from 10 to 50 family members. Each kitchen serves three meals a day, and many family units hire cooks for the week. Some of the cooks are descendants of previous cooks who worked at the Camp Meeting 100 years ago.

“They’ve become our family,” Jenks says. “They’ve helped raise our children, and we’ve seen their children grow up too.”

Tomatoes sit on the windowsill of a cabin at the Taylor Family reunion in Brownsville

A typical breakfast might include scrambled eggs, sausage, homemade biscuits, hash, cheese grits, fruit and coffee. Dinner might be fried chicken, cornbread, mashed potatoes and gravy, okra, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and peach cobbler.

“The food is farm-to-table,” Susan Thornton says. “The corn, tomatoes and okra are right out of local gardens. The meal is part of the convivial merriment of the place.”

Family members fly in for Camp Meeting from as far away as Ireland and Spain.

“You don’t want to miss a year, because you miss a lot. That’s like missing two years of a child’s or teenager’s growth,” Susan Thornton says. “The older people care about the young people. There’s so much of wanting to know who people are – wanting to be involved and engaged in their lives.”


Taylors of Tabernacle

Despite being the oldest continuous family camp meeting in the world, she insists the Taylor family isn’t all that different than other families.

“Everybody has the same number of ancestors. We just happen to know a lot more of ours,” she says.

Mac Thornton puts it in simpler terms.

“We have just stuck together,” he says.

Calling All Taylors of Tabernacle

The 2013 Taylors of Tabernacle Kinfolk Camp Meeting happens July 12-18. Only Taylor family descendants and their guests are permitted to camp overnight, but church services are open to the public.

Respectful visitors are welcome to visit the family cemetery and campground at their own risk. Neither cars nor pets are allowed on the campground. Lodging and meals for visitors are available in Brownsville, about 6 miles from the church and campground.

For more information, visit


  1. Betty Cole

    May 23, 2013 at 9:51 am

    A wonderful article and appropriate photos. Kudos to those who did them.

    • Dick T. Cole

      February 14, 2020 at 3:37 pm

      Hi Betty Cole. My name is Dick Taylor Cole. My father was Dick Taylor Cole Sr. He was from Arlington, Tennessee. His father was Roscoe Douglas Cole and his mother was Cornelia Battle Cole. I am 69 and must confess did not really know much about my father’s family. Now I’m dying to know everything. Are we related? I’m planning on attending the Taylor Tabernacle camp meeting.

  2. Diane Sanford

    May 23, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Mary Taylor Ware was my grandmother. She and her family lived in Stanton, TN until her nephew, “Buddy” Bruhn, son of Susan Taylor Bruhn, was moved to an assisted living residence in Collierville, TN. several years ago. The family home and land was sold at that time. I have been to something similar to Taylors of Tabernacle in Stanton. It definitely was a gathering of the old family and generations of the new. Grandmother and many of her family are buried in the Stanton cemetery. I do know my mother, Will Gracey Ware Seacat, spoke of going to Tabernacle when she was a little girl. What wonderful stories. If I were to come to any of the meetings, how would I go about doing this?

    Diane Seacat Sanford

    • Jessy Yancey

      May 23, 2013 at 1:49 pm

      Hi Diane,

      Please visit and click on “Planning a trip to Camp Meeting?” on the righthand side. That document has some details that should probably answer your questions, and it also provides contact information for people wishing to visit the Camp Meeting. Hope this helps, and thanks for reading Tennessee Home & Farm!

      Jessy Yancey, editor

    • Nick Thornton Crafton

      May 24, 2013 at 10:13 am

      The ‘other’ campground near Stanton is a younger ‘spin-off’ but is over 110 years in itself called ‘Joyner’s Campground’. My father, Joe Reeves Crafton and his sister, Averil Coppedge Crafton Taylor grew up in Stanton attending Joyner’s and married into Tabernacle Kinsfolk. Several young couples today attend BOTH with their whole family, (lucky children).

      I remember Mr. ‘Buddy’ Bruhn and my family would love to host you and yours for a meal (or two) at Taylor’s of Tabernacle.

      • Nick Thornton Crafton

        May 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

        In the previous post I misstated my aunt’s name. She was born Leila Averil Crafton in 1906, and Married Uncle Edmond Wilder Taylor in 1927.

        I should have checked ‘the book’ of genealogy that SHE STARTED. I went home for lunch and now have an extra copy of volume III at my office desk!


        • James Taylor

          June 1, 2013 at 8:31 pm

          Nick, you could have just stuck with Miss Averil per convention.

  3. Carolyn Thornton

    May 23, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Thanks for a well written article about our beautiful tradition of Kinfolks Campmeeting. I married into the family in 1967 and it has been a blessing to me and our children. My husband, Cole Thornton and our two children, Cole Jr and Cydnie, and now their children, our four grandsons, Cole III, Ben, Jack, and Sam, are all a part of this great family gathering — as well as 500+ of our closest cousins!

    • linda deverell huffman

      July 13, 2019 at 7:44 pm

      i graduated with Cole at Byars-Hall n Covington. Want to send best wishes to Cole hoping all is well with him n his family. This reunion sounds wonderful. Tell Joe hello also as he was n school with my brother, Bill Deverell

  4. Meriwether Willie

    May 27, 2013 at 2:27 am

    I was two weeks old when I attended my first Tabernacle Camp Meeting.It was always the most important week of my life as a child and still feels that way now 63 years later. I was privileged to live across the road from the campgrounds during my childhood years and cried for days after it was over and all of my cousins had gone home.It is where I renew my faith and feel my soul restored. I could not imagine a life without Camp Meeting in it!!!! It truly is an amazing place and I feel so blessed to be a part of our family. We love to share our experience with our friends and we don’t know a stranger!!! Thank you for a great article!!! Our ancestors truly left us a legacy of love that has abounded through the generations and shows no signs of diminishing one iota!!!!

  5. Jackie Taylor Johnson

    June 5, 2013 at 11:18 am

    I attend Joyner’s Campground in Somerville (the one that was referred to as being close to Stanton) that is very much like Tabernacle, just a little smaller. My dad is Rhea “Skip” Taylor, the great great (I think) grandson of Rev. Robert Venable Taylor who liked Tablernacle so much he wanted to start one closer to his home in Somerville. This is such a great article and I recommend that if you are interested in something like this to plan a visit! Being born into it, it’s one of those things you just have to experience. It’s not something that can be easily explained. Campground is typically the last week in July. Email me if you’d like information on visiting!

  6. roxanna jones

    September 9, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Years ago I was on staff at Cokesbury UMC in Knoxville. Our layleader at the time was Macon Thornton. He would always tell me during the summer about “getting ready for campmeeting.” Then one year he and his wife invited the minister, his wife and me to attend. I sang for one of the worship services, we had great fun watching the children’s activities and enjoying terrific food. Don’t remember the name of the place but I am wondering if this is the campmeeting – it was in middle Tennessee. look forward to hearing from someone – what a MARVELOUS heritage your family has!

    • Jessy Yancey

      September 10, 2013 at 2:52 pm

      Hi Roxanna,

      I believe this is the place, as Mac Thornton is quoted in the article, though it’s not in Middle Tennessee. Thanks for sharing your experience at Camp Meeting!

      Jessy Yancey
      Tennessee Home & Farm

  7. Jackie E. Brown

    December 22, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    I am searching for the Book “The Taylors of Tabernacle”
    The History of a Family, Including The Genealogy of its descendants
    with biographical sketches and family journals with daily accounts of life in Haywood County Tennessee” by The Taylor Kinfolk Association.

    Can anyone help me locate a copy of the above book. I would like to
    purchase for the Granville County North Carolina Library

    Thanks Jackie Elliott Brown

    • Nick Crafton

      October 29, 2015 at 7:53 pm

      Volumes of the original “Taylors of Tabernacle” are hard to find and harder for anyone to part with. But there has been a vol. I (revised)a vol. II and vol. III with updated genealogy sketch/journal reprints and NEW biographical sketches and old Journal information. Some editions are still available from the family (committee)

      It has been several months since your post but if you are still needing information, you could sent me a note.

      -Nick Crafton

      • Liz Bellamy Johns

        April 7, 2016 at 9:07 pm

        Aren’t the books to be updated every 25 years? I have I – III somewhere but seems like the IV should be coming up

  8. Katrena

    December 24, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Hi! I have volume 2, but I do not have the British geology insert. Where can I get a copy of that?

  9. Dana Anderson

    August 3, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    Hello, Thorntons! My name is Dana Anderson, my mother was born in Lisle TN. Her father was Jesse David Thornton, her mother was Sina England Thornton. A lot of my relatives are in the Centerville area. I would love to know if we are related! How can I see your family tree?

    • Matthew Thornton

      November 25, 2018 at 5:13 pm

      Hi Dana! Hard copies of Volume 1 of “The Taylors of Tabernacle” are hard to come by, but I found it online at the following site:;view=1up;seq=9

      Volume 3 uses a more modern genealogy database, but I don’t believe it is online anywhere. You can purchase Volume 3 in book form by contacting Joe Thornton. Here is the email address I have for him:

  10. Amanda Hathcock Sammons

    July 7, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    Dear Ms. Roxana Jones, Yes, Macon Thornton was my great uncle. It was the Taylors of Tabernacle Kinfolk Camp Meeting mentioned in this article which he attended every year. Thanks for the lovely article, Tennessee Home and Farm, about this very special place.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Stay Connected

Made in Tennessee giveaways, exciting events, delicious recipes and more delivered straight to your inbox.