Benton County, Tennessee Genealogy

Early Benton County Settlements


The county seat, Camden (named for Camden, South Carolina) is the oldest town in Benton County. It was located on the Cane Creek tributary of Cypress Creek in 1836. Centrally positioned in the county, Camden has always been the focal point of both county commerce, government and politics. Although Paris in Henry County lays claim to the "Biggest Fish Fry" in the country, the best fried catfish in the country is in Benton County, particularly in Camden.


The town itself owes its existence to the Memphis and Ohio Railroad, that was built in 1859 and completed in the spring of 1861. This was later to become the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and ran East and West, about one mile North of the settlement of Sandy Springs. On land belonging to Dr. Elijah Alsup, a water tank and fuel yard was established and the town grew up around it. The first recorded business being a log saloon belonging to J.B. Lindsey, according to some historians, and/or Silas W. Bullock, according to GOODSPEEDS HISTORY.

There were settlers in this area, who came inland from the river for the abundant resources: timber, game, salt, land and water. They were here, shortly after this part of the Western Territory was ceded to the United States by the Chickasaw Indians in the Jackson Purchase of Oct. 19, 1818. There was in this treaty a provision that the Indians would not relinquish 4 square miles of 10,240 acres for a salt lick. This area was located just Northwwest of today's town of Big Sandy. William Lewis of Nashville and Robert Currin of Franklin, however, leased this land for 750 bushels of salt per annum. They proceeded to dig a 400 foot artesian well, in what is now Henry county, producing no salt; only sulpher water. The water from this well was believed by many to have medicinal value and therefore their well became the gathering place for people of the area until the present Tennessee Valley lake covered it.

Early settlers in and around Big Sandy were: Daniel Buchanan, who filed for the first 160 acre tract of land in what was to later become Benton County on Nov. 29, 1820; Dennis, Willis and Abel Rushing, who erected the first house built by a white man in Benton County in 1818 on the creek that now bears their name; Nicholas and Lewis Brewer, who settled on Ramble Creek; Isham Jones, Malcomb McKenzie and Alexander McRae who settled on Sugar Creek. Zachariah Wyatt built and operated a grist mill on the Big Sandy River, at the edge of the settlement. Colonel Daniel Mason, a Revolutionary War soldier, operated a successful ferry and merchantile business on the river, at what is now known as Point Mason.

The first businesses in the town of Big Sandy were: a saloon, grocery and hotel operated by John Burwell Lindsey, Big Sandys' first postmaster and one of Elijah Alsups sons-in-laws. William "Buck" Caraway owned a sawmill and cotton gin. J.T. Dowdy operated a hotel while Silas Bullock and George W. Cantrell owned a drug store. Blacksmiths were: A. Bell, John DeBruce and J.E. Wilson and his son. Robert Graham was an attorney. Granville T. Morris while a physician also owned a general store. J.R. Young was a physician, a collier and farmer. Dr. James Moses was a physician who organized the Farmers Bank and served as president of it until it closed in 1925 for lack of business. The First National Bank opened in 1925 and closed in 1929. There had been a Citizens Bank that failed in July of 1911 after operating for some time. At present, the town has the Bank of Camden-Big Sandy Branch which opened for business on Oct. of 1972, and is now named Apex Bank-Big Sandy.

At its peak in the 1800s Big Sandy was a thriving railroad town boasting a canning factory, cotton gin, stave mill, pencil factory, retail stores, bank, dentist, funeral home, two millinery shops, a hardware store, poultry house and a cattle yard. Since the decline of the rail transport and the subsequent removal of the tracks, the town changed dramatically. At present, living in Big Sandy means relaxation and getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life. There is ample opportunity for hunting (deer, turkey, rabbit, squirrel, dove, quail, raccoon) and fishing (Bass, Catfish, Crappie, Bluegill) and musselling, skiing, boating, swimming, sailing, camping, etc. The town has been and will ocntinue to be a religios area. There are churches still in existence, which were formed before the town itself. Some of the early churches were: Rushings Creek Missionary Baptist established in 1825, Ramble Creek Baptist in 1835, Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian in 1849, McRae's Chapel, on Sugar Creek, Methodist in 1863, Mount Carmel Methodist in 1893, Bakers Chapel United Methodist before 1874, Big Sandy Methodist, 1902 and First Baptist Church in 1914.

The longest running establishment in the town was the Wilson Brothers' Grocery. Joe Wilson and his sister "Girlie" owned and operate the family business established by their father, John Wilson in 1929.

The original settlement in the area of Big Sandy was once on higher ground. It was apparently located closer to the present site of the school and more South and West than now. When the railroad came into existence the town began to move closer to it. In 1944, the Tennessee Valley Authority flooded much of the surrounding land. It was suggested to relocate the town on higher ground, but the city fathers refused and an alternate plan, to build a levee or dike around the town was used.

The town of Big Sandy was incorporated in 1903. Although there are ony 650 persons living within the city limits of Big Sandy, the local Post Office serves 1141 households, with approximately 3425 people who identify with the town itself. Those people living in the outlying communities of Faxon, Danville, Lick Creek, Granny's Branch, Rushings Creek, Bakers Chapel, Sulphur Creek, Point Mason and Crooked Creek now identify with the town of Big Sandy.

Information Taken from Benton County Genealogical Society Families and Histories Vol. 1
Transcribed by
Norma Lewis


Originally Bartlett's Switch, Eva is located near Pilot Knob on the west bank of the Tennessee River. Eva was named after Miss Eva Steele who was a girlfriend of Lola Lowery, daughter of the towns first postmaster, Thomas Lowery.


Faxon is located six miles east of Big Sandy, and was settled by Irish immigrant families including Harney, Murphy and Fitzsimmons. The town was named after its first postmaster, George B. Faxon.


Holladay lies 15 miles south of Camden in the Birdsong Valley. The Mt. Carmel Cumberland Presbyterian Church was formed here in 1848 on land donated by Robert J. Lawrence. The town was named for school teacher John Milton Holladay who distinguished himself in the Civil War and local commerce.


Currently a ghost town, Chaseville is located on Wolf Creek about 14 miles south of Camden. Two miles further is current day McIllwain, which dates from 1890.


Chalk Level, named for the local rock outcrops, was first organized in 1831 by John D. Camp. It is about 7 miles southwest of Camden, and is considered one of the earliest communities in the county.


Point Mason was one of the earliest settlements in the county. Named for Colonel Daniel Mason who arrived in 1819, he developed a highly successful ferry and store at the location. He later sold the area to Holden Rushing who further improved the business on his way to local prominence.


Other Early Communities

Coxburg, Point Mason, Doherty's Landing, Pavatt's Landing, Rockport Landing, Gismonda, Sawyer's Mill, Eli, Thompson's Point, Eggville, & Claud were all riverboat landings or settlements that contributed to the early history of Benton County.

Some of the above information was summarized from Jonathan K.T. "Smith's Benton County
volume of the Tennessee County History Series"
by Memphis State University Press (1979).
If you have suggestions and/or additions for these pages, write Mike Stockdale

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