Benton County Tennessee
The Goodspeed History of Tennessee Illustrated - Carroll, Henry and Benton Counties
The Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1887
HISTORY OF BENTON COUNTY
BENTON COUNTY belongs to the western division of the State. It extends fifty miles along the west bank of the Tennessee River and is bounded on the north by Henry County, on the west by Henry and Carroll Counties and on the south by Decatur and the "Panhandle" of Carroll County. Including one half of the Tennessee River along its border, it has an area of about 400 square miles, lying partly in the Western Valley and partly in the plateau of West Tennessee. It has an average elevation of about 370 feet. The character of the surface is extremely varied Near the center of the county, in the vicinity of Camden, it is gently undulating while along the margin of the river valley are found many steep bluffs and spurs. The valley has an average width of about two miles and contains the most productive land in the county. Along the creeks which thread the county, are usually found flats or bottoms, averaging about one-half mile in width and fringed by low, but distinctly marked ridges. Along the ridges, especially in the southern part of the county, limestone is found at various depths and in the Third Civil District on Birdsong Creek, there is found a variegated marble of handsome appearance, and capable of taking a fine finish. Some iron is also found along the Tennessee River but no effort has ever been made toward developing it. A marble quarry was opened and worked for some time, near Rockport, but was abandoned several years ago. The soil on the bills is mainly argillacious while that of the bottoms is sandy and black loam. The county is exceedingly well watered possessing innumerable small streams fed by springs of pure water. The creeks emptying immediately into the Tennessee River are Eagle, Birdsong, Harmony, Sulphur, Crooked Lick and Cypress. The Sandy River forms the dividing line between Benton and Henry Counties. Its principal tributaries from the former are Rushing Creek, Ramble Creek and Sugar Creek. Cane Greek and Beaver Dam Creek are tributary to Cypress Creek. Sycamore Creek, Wolf Creek and Seventeen-mile Creek empty their waters into Birdsong Creek. The beds of the creeks flowing into the Tennessee River, with the exception of Cypress Creek, are covered with flinty rock. The timber supply of the county is good. The most abundant variety is oak, but distributed over nearly the whole are found some poplar, while in the southern district chestnut abounds. Hickory, gum, beech, cypress and other varieties are found in greater or less abundance. The principal agricultural products are corn, wheat, oats, hay, peanuts, tobacco, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, rye and cotton in small quantities.
The first settlement in Benton County, was made by Willis and Dennis Rushing, on Rushing Creek, six miles north of Camden, about 1819. A year later Nicholas and Lewis Brewer settled in Ramble Creek, twelve miles north of Camden, and at the same time M. Mimms located on Birdsong Creek. During the next four or five years the settlement went on quite rapidly, many coming from Hickman, Stewart and other counties lying on the east side of the Tennessee River. Among those who located along the Big Sandy River were David Watson, John and Wm. Pierce, Lewis Graham, Wm. Cottingham, George McDaniel and James Craig. The Arnolds (Wyatt, James and Wyly) settled on Beaver Dam while in the neighborhood of Cowell Chapel were Joseph Cowell, Charles Benjamin, and Matthew Williams, Zachary Barker, Thomas Jones, Wm. Thompson, Benjamin Holland and James Lee. The last two named were the first to locate. Ephraim Perkins, Dorsey P. Hudson and William Woods settled about two miles north of where Camden now is. On Eagle Creek were William Hubbs, John Lomaner, Michael Frey, John Barnett, "Cos" Matlock and David Lewis. Among the first settlers on Harman Creek were George W. Farmer, David and Samuel Benton, William Wheatley, Joseph Melton, Si Melton, John Phifer, Daniel Mason a "store keeper", and an old man from whom the creek took its name; Charles [J.] and Thomas [sic. William W.] Wheatley and Simon Nobles, located on Sulphur Creek; John Anderson, near Chalk Level; James Wyly, below Birdsong Creek; John Jackson, Charles Burratt and John B. Carnes, near the present site of Camden.
During the first few years, the settlers depended for a subsistence upon deer, turkey and other wild game, which was very plentiful, and upon bread made from meal ground either in hand-mills or horse-mills. The first water-mill in the county was built by Matthew Williams, on Cypress Creek in 1824. Another was erected at about the same time on the banks of the Big Sandy, by a man by the name of King. About 1832 a mill was built by James Hogg, on Birdsong Creek, not far from Chaseville. It was afterward owned and operated by Green Flowers. The mill on the same creek, now owned by John Allen, was built by Pleasant Mullinix, early in the thirties. The first cotton-gin in the county was built by Dorsey P. Hudson, on his farm northeast of Camden, in 1828. William Thompson also built one at very nearly the same time. The mills mentioned above were all grist mills at first, but later saw-mills were attached to them. Several other mills have been built on the various creeks of the county, but they have been most numerous along the Big Sandy. No other manufactories with the exception of a tobacco factory at Camden, have ever been established.
Previous to the year 1836, the greater portion of what is now Benton County, constituted a part of Humphreys County. The remainder, including about one civil district, was taken from Henry County. The county was established by an act of the General Assembly, passed November 24, 1835. A postoffice named Tranquility had been established on the great stage route from Memphis to Nashville, about one mile west of the present town of Camden, and there at the house of Samuel H. Burton, contracted from Samuel Haliburton, on February 7, 1886, the county was organized by the commissioners, Green Flowers, Ephraim Perkins, Lewis Brewer, John F. Johnson and George Camp. The magistrates constituting the first county court were George W. Farmer, chairman; John D. Rushing, Hezekiah Greer, William Barnes, John Pope, John H. Williams, Charles W. Wheatley, John Anderson, William Hubbs, Lewis Brewer, Pleasant Mullinix, Jesse D. Hall, William Wright, Burrell Beard, David Benton, Edward W. Lynch, Robert H. Hawthorne, John Kilbreath, and Mansfield Barnett. The first term of the circuit court was held at the same place on April 11, 1836, J. W. Cook, judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit presiding. Dorsey P. Hudson, qualified as clerk, giving the following persons as sureties: Dennis, Robert, Able and Willis Rushing, Lewis Brewer, G. W. L. Hudson, Ephraim Perkins, Robert Holmes, and Hosea D. Browning. James B. McMurray was the attorney-general. The grand jury empaneled was Robert Rushing, foreman, Matthew Presson, Robert Holmes, Samuel Presson, Willis, Dennis and Abel Rushing, John Presson, C. C. Poe, John Merritt, Hosea D. Browning, Wilson M. Surratt and John Jackson. The house in which court was held during the first year, was a one-story log structure with one door and with big cracks for windows. The next year a two story brick building thirty by thirty-six feet was erected on the public square. It was well arranged for the times, having a court-room above and offices below. This house was occupied until the latter part of 1853, when it was torn down, and a new building similar in size and arrangement was completed about January 1, 1855. Meanwhile court was held in the Baptist Church. This building in 1877 was found to be unsafe, and was torn down to make room for the present fine brick, which was erected at a cost of about $9,000.
The first jail was a log building erected in 1837 on the lot where the present jail stands. It was about twenty feet square with double walls eight inches apart, the space between being filled with upright poles. It was built by Irwin B. Carnes. About 1840 a brick jail was erected upon the same lot. It was used until about 1866, when it was burned by the prisoners confined within it, with the expectation of making their escape. In this they were disappointed, and it was with the greatest difficulty that they were rescued. Immediately afterward a second brick jail, similar to the one burned was erected. This was used until 1883, when the present excellent brick building was completed at a cost of about $8,000.00.
At the organization of the county it was divided into nine civil districts, and so continued until 1850, when the Tenth District was formed from a portion of the Fifth. to the remainder of which was added a part of the Fourth and Sixth Districts. In 1860 the Eleventh District was formed from fractions of the First and Third, and in 1872 portions of the Fourth and Sixth were constituted the Twelfth District. In 1883 two additional districts, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth, were formed. The former was composed of a fraction taken from Decatur County, added to a portion of the First District; the latter was constituted from part of the Second, Third and Fourth Districts.
The commissioners appointed to organize the county and fix the county seat located it upon forty acres of land occupied by John Jackson who had no title to the land other than occupancy. He was allowed however a few choice lots for his own use as compensation for the land appropriated. The survey was made by John Doherty and Burrell Beard in December, 1836, and a public sale of the lots took place during the following month. The first dwelling in the town was erected by Irwin B. Carnes, a carpenter. At about the same time Thomas H. Burton built a small log store house on the northeast corner of the square which for a short time was occupied by Burrell Beard. Anderson Lashlee also erected a log store and dwelling-house combined on the southeast corner of the square. Edward and James Haywood opened a store on the south side of the square. In 1838 C. K. Wyly began selling goods in the house formerly occupied by Beard; just previous to that time Samuel H. Burton had built a brick hotel on the adjoining lot, the site now occupied by the Stigall House. The first physician to locate in the town was J. L. Williams, who was among the earliest residents During the decade from 1840-50 the town continued to improve though somewhat slowly. Among the principal merchants of that period were C. K. and T. B. Wyly, Crawford and Alfred Rushing, Anderson Lashlee, John H. and Cave Farmer and John Phifer. In 1843 three or four young men of more than ordinary ability were added to the population of the town. Alvin Hawkins, afterward judge of the supreme court and governor of Tennessee, came as a young attorney just admitted to the bar. W. P. Morris came to take charge of the office of clerk of the county court, and M. L. Travis, for thirty years the leading physician of the county, came to engage in the practice of his profession. D. F. McElyea, afterward register of the county, also located during the same year.
The next decade, although a fairly prosperous period, witnessed no material increase in the population of the town. In 1850 the firm of Pickett & Morris engaged in the mercantile business, and since that time the latter has been one of the most successful men of the county. C.K.Wyly, as he has done since that time continued to be a leading merchant. Others engaged in the mercantile business during the fifties were T. K. Wyly, Hall & Sharp and Lewis Lashlee, who succeeded Anderson Lashlee. From 1855 to 1860 a tobacco factory producing chewing tobacco in considerable quantities was operated by William Pickett & J. C. McDaniel. Besides those already mentioned the principal physicians were B. B. Travis, James Moses and Thomas Douglass.
Since the war the business interests of the town have continued the same as before. Several firms and individuals have been engaged in merchandising for short periods, but with the exception of C. K. Wyly and W. P. Morris, none has remained for many years. In 1872 the People's Company was incorporated with forty members, mostly farmers; two years later it had 175 members with a cash capital of $6,000.00 divided into shares of $25 each. At the present time it has about eighty members. It is reorganized every five years.
The present business interests of Camden are represented by the following individuals and firms: C. K. Wyly, W. P. Morris, Joseph G. Hudson, W. T. Hubbs, Bateman & Herrin, and a stock company, general merchandise: George Shelton, and James Jeffrey, family groceries; J. E. Totty, drugs and groceries; Revins & McAuley and R. M. Hawley, groceries and liquors: T. B. Totty, drugs; Aaron Arnold, saloon and hotel; Henry G. Stigall, hotel and livery stable; A. G. McDaniel & Bro., livery stable; F. G. & F. A. McElyea, blacksmiths; E. M. Cornell and John Arnold. shoe-makers; Mrs. L. E. Davis, millinery; Daniel Markham, jeweler; E. M. McAuley and J. W. Drain, dentists; W. T. Hubbs, R.B. Travis, F. C. Whitfield and W. R. Haman, physicians; C.N. Travis, Camden Herald.
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