From the Jackson Sun, March 7, 1912
JESSE RUSSELL, SR.
(BY CAPT. T. M. GATES)
In writing the biography of the pioneers of Jackson, your readers must know that what I shall say is partly from tradition and family records.
Events that I shall mention occurred a quarter of a century before I was born.
The subject of this history, Jesse Russell, Sr., was a man advanced in years when the writer was a boy. When I became old enough to leave home without asking permission of my mother, boy, like, it was only a very short time before I knew every one in Jackson. I remember Mr. Russell well, and in my mind, I can see him just as he looked sixty-five years ago. He was tall, but not robust, and his facial expression was of that type that would impress you that there was no guile in him, but an honest, upright, brother-loving Christian man. Whenever I was near him or passed him on the street, in my young heart I felt a profound respect for him. Mr. Russell and my father were warm personal friends, and this fact made me respect him the more. Mr. Russell, a few months before his death was interviewed by a newspaper reporter, and in his own words in response to questions asked him, will be far better than I or any one could tell.
The following are his own words to the reporter:
"The town of Jackson was laid out in 1822. Dr. Wm. E. Butler and Thos. Shannon gave the land when the town was laid out for a town site. After the lots were laid off they were put up and sold. The proceeds to the amount of $10,000.00 were turned over by Butler and Shannon to build a court house. I myself came to Jackson in the early twenties. When Jackson was laid off, perhaps there were not more than half a dozen houses in the limits of the town, if so many, the owners of which I do not recollect.
"Dr. Butler, Stokely Hays, Tom Shannon, John Shannon, and other prominent men lived near but not within the city limits.
"Work on the first court house was begun in 1823 by a contractor by the name of Golson. He failed and was unable to finish the court house according to contract, and his securities had to take it up and complete it. This house did not stand many years until the present court house was built.
"One of the chief inducements in locating the town was a large spring in the rear of the old residence of Dr. Jackson, (The writer remembers this spring in 1847 which was located just north of the residence known as the Lindsey and Robertson residence; this spring ran a branch to where it crossed the Denmark road.)
"Judge Haskell, father of Wm. T. Haskell, was the first circuit judge who held a court in Jackson. A man by the name of Harris was his clerk. Roderic McIver was the first county court clerk. I got the first license to marry issued by him from the county and it was to marry Miss Nancy D. Sevier, a daughter of Major Chas. Sevier, who was a nephew of the first governor of Tennessee, John Sevier. Our first son, Robert S. Russell, now living in Brownsville, was the first male child born in the corporation of Jackson, though there has been some dispute as to whether he or Mr. John L. Brown was the first. A Miss Swan was the first female child born in the corporate limits. She married F. B. Fogg.
"I joined the Presbyterian church in 1831, under Rev. A. A. Campbell, the first pastor, and soon after was elected a ruling elder, which office I held in the church ever since. I am the only living member of that church who was a member at that time, all of the others having long since passed away.
"At this time only one congressman was elected from the western district. Alexander was the first member elected after I came to Jackson and he served just one term. At the same time Alexander was a candidate for congress, Dr. Wm. E. Butler and David Crockett were candidates for the legislature. It was during this campaign that Crockett told his constituents about Dr. Butler being so wealthy and that he had bed coverlets (carpets) on the floor to walk on. Dr. Butler never ran against Crockett for Congress, as he never wanted to tackle him any more. Crockett was elected to succeed Alexander to Congress. A man by the name Hess ran against him the first time, but he had no opposition the second time he ran. Crockett served two years in Congress. I knew him well and have heard him speak a number of times. He was not a good speaker, but abounded in fun and anecdotes. The third time he ran, he was defeated by Adam Huntsman. Huntsman was a better speaker than Crockett. The last appointment they had together was at Huntingdon, which was to wind up the campaign. Crockett then lived in Obion county. After the speaking was over he started to Dresden to court. They had agreed not to speak any more. Huntsman was about to start for home, but remembering that a large crowd would be in Dresden, and reasoning that they would call on Crockett for a speech, he turned his horses head towards Dresden. When he arrived there, he found his surmise correct.
"Crockett was up speaking to a large crowd around him. Huntsman rode off a short distance and hitched his horse. He got down and pushed his way into the crowd, right up in front of Crockett. When the eyes of the latter fell on him, he stopped in the midst of his speech. For a moment he eyed his opponent in silence and then exclaimed, 'Adam Huntsman, I believe if I were to go to Hell, you would follow me there.' Huntsman was elected and Crockett, unable to bear his defeat, went to Texas, where he took up arms during the Texas revolution and shortly afterwards was slain at the Alamo."
Mr. Jesse Russell, Sr., was a paint contractor, and did most of the work in Jackson for years. When the Gayoso Hotel in Memphis was built, Mr. Russell received the contract for painting the same, and after the work was finished, the company offered him four or five nice building lots near the Gayoso in part payment for the work, but he declined the offer. (The same lots today are worth several hundred thousand dollars). Mr. Russell was the father of eight children: Robert S., Margaret C. (Marks), Elizabeth (Prewitt), William, Jesse, Jr., John, Mary (Allen) and Sarah (Barr). The father and mother, together with all their children except Mrs. Mary Allen of Mason's Wells, this county, and Mrs. Sarah J. Barr of Memphis, are united together in the Great Beyond, which is the final destiny of us all.
Mr. W. A. (Pat) Marks and his sister, Mrs. W. H. Mayo, Chas. T. and Yancy M. Russell and Miss Martha A. Russell of this city are grandchildren of Mr. Jesse Russell besides whom there are a number of others in this county and state, as well as several in other states of the South. These grandchildren are also great-grandchildren of Major Charles Sevier, whose biography will appear in Sunday's issue.
The subject of this sketch died October 31, 1889, at the age of 86 years, and was laid to rest beside his wife in Riverside Cemetery.
From the T. M. Gates scrapbook, Tennessee Room, Jackson-Madison County Library. Transcribed by Laurel Baty.
[I am extremely grateful to Mr. J. K. T. Smith for sharing this article with me and for the vast amount of genealogical research he has done in Tennessee and shared so freely with the world. I am a descendant of Joseph Myler Russell who was the eldest son of Jesse Russell, Jr. — Laurel Baty]
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