MAGISTERIAL RESOLUTIONS OF RESPECT AND OTHER RECORDS
MADISON COUNTY, TENNESSEE
By Jonathan K. T. Smith
Copyright, Jonathan K. T. Smith, 1996
DOCTOR WILLIAM EDWARD BUTLER; FOUNDER OF CITY OF JACKSON
(Paper read before Madison County Historical Society by Seale Johnson)
A biographical sketch of WILLIAM EDWARD BUTLER, 1790-1882 written by Seale Johnson (1893-1977) of Jackson, Tennessee; appearing in THE JACKSON SUN.
September 16, 1943
The old man who had outlived his era by 25 years was in his coffin. They lifted him tenderly and placed him in the black plumed hearse and started him on his last trek to Riverside Cemetery. There his daughter Jane is said to have been the first to be buried.
The old man, long deservedly called the founder of Jackson, "had been failing rapidly" for months and "only the strain of a slight cold was necessary to snap the thread of life," says the Jackson Tribune and Sun issue of July 1882. "Indeed he, seemed to flicker out like a candle that had burned in the socket, and so gradually. that his loved ones had to bend over his still lips to listen to be sure that life was spent." Thus came to an end the man who had once been the wealthiest and most influential man in West Tennessee. He had fought under Andrew Jackson in three wars. He had given most of the ground for the town of Jackson. He had contributed that schools, churches and railroads might make Jackson a great and good city. For over 60 years he was the town's No. 1 Citizen.
The big brick residence, once the pride of the town, left behind, stood as a monument to the man. The wall paper in the hall had been brought from Paris and pictured the gay French capital. The darkened parlor had been the scene of the funeral and from its walls looked down the famous oil portraits of the deceased and the bride of his youth. On the floor was an imported carpet, for William Edward Butler had loved carpets and fine things. The commonality had named the street in front of his house Royal street in derision, because there were carpets on these floors and the floors of his wealthy neighbors.
Across the street had once been the doctor's private race track, where Andrew Jackson had visited, and on it then was a Methodist school, symbol of Dr. Butler's many gifts for the advancement of the community. Little did the dead man realize as he was being carried to his grave that his procession was passing the spot where' the grateful citizens of Jackson would, one day after 60 years, plant a little tree as a memorial to him. But Dr. Butler was not a great believer in memorials. In the early days in the naming of the streets, many of the town's families had streets named after them, but Dr. Butler declined the honor.
So the black plumed hearse, followed by hacks and surries, buggies and barouches, carried the great man down Chester Street, named for his good friend and brother-in-law, Robert I. Chester, then into Church and Main, past Shannon Street, called after the Shannon Brothers, on whose land also a part of Jackson had been founded. The Shannons had sold :their part, but Dr. Butler had given his. The old doctor, later in life, had only remembered the cabins of these Shannon brothers as being here to relieves the gloom and solitude of the forest when he came to make his home.
And so we follow him into Riverside Cemetery. The Masons conducted the funeral at the grave. His body was covered with the good earth he had loved so well. A mound was made and. the mound remains unmarked to this day. "He disliked the show of monuments, and his grave is without a stone by his family, because of this lack of display." In this I am quoting direct from family records.
Surely no other citizen in the history of Jackson has done so much or contributed so liberally for the advancement of the town and its people. In return, we have done little to honor his memory and achievements.
William Edward Butler, son of Major Thomas Butler, was born in the barracks at Carlyle, Pa., January 8, 1789. His mother was Mary Semple of Philadelphia. Thomas Butler had been a distinguished soldier in the Revolution. Shortly after the war, he had been made a Colonel and sent to Tennessee to expel settlers from Indian lands. Here he made the friendship of Andrew Jackson. The courtesy and courage which the old soldier displayed in the discharge of his unpopular duties won "Old Hickory," and this friendship was passed on to Butler's sons, who later came to Tennessee to live.
William Edward Butler graduated as Doctor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and migrated to Murfreesboro to make his home. There in 1813, he married Mrs. Jackson's niece, (Patsy) Martha Thompson Hays. To complete the alliance, William's two brothers also married nieces of Mrs. Jackson, and the Butler sister, Lydia, married Stockley D. Hayes, a nephew of Mrs. Jackson. William Edward Butler was a resolute fellow and was useful to Jackson in many ways, though on one occasion he seemed to have been a thorn in Jackson's flesh, as we shall see. The course of true love with one's wife's kinfolks doesn't always run smooth.
In the war of 1812, Dr. Butler enlisted under Jackson on the staff of Col. Thomas H. Benton in the Second Regiment of Infantry under Gen. Andrew Jackson. Dr. Butler's personal reminiscences and letters of this period were destroyed by fire in 1905. Samuel Cole Williams, eminent Tennessee Historian, however, has furnished data on Butler's activities with Jackson s army, down the rivers to New Orleans. The items are from the Journal of one of Jackson's other officers.
The first entry is dated January 23, 1813. "McCarter, the fifer deserted last night and was taken up by Dr. Wm. E. Butler and returned to the boats the same evening."
As the flotilla was about to pass from the Cumberland into the Ohio,.many items show Dr. Butler had his hands full with those sick of fevers on the river, and later in the Natchez region, and on the return to Tennessee through the Mississippi territory.
Dr. Butler was with Jackson at New Orleans, arriving during the second day's battle. He lost his hearing in the engagement, being too near a large cannon when it was fired. It is presumed that he was attending the wounded at the time, but Butler was wont to get into the thick of battle and here are many references to his valor. In an interview given in his 91st year to the Jackson Sun and Tribune, Dr. Butler is stated to have carried Mrs. Andrew Jackson to her husband General Jackson. Rachel had made the trip down the river in a keel boat, with Andrew Jackson, Jr. Samuel Cole Williams writes that Mrs. Butler accompanied her on the visit to their husbands after the great victory on January 8, 1815. Mrs. Jackson had grown so fat that the French said she proved how far the skin can-be stretched.
The Samuel Cole Williams report on Dr. Butler's trip down the river to New Orleans is important, for it refutes the story so frequently told by local speakers that General Butler was in a group of Tennessee and Kentucky pioneers who marched along what is now Main Street in Jackson to fight the historic battle at New Orleans. Clearly the general went by boat down the Cumberland, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Another story to be refuted. He was not Surgeon-General to Andrew Jackson. A letter that I have from the Adjutant General in Washington reports him as Surgeon in the 2nd Regiment (Benton's) Tennessee Volunteers, War of 1812.
Hardly had the Tennessee Volunteers returned from New Orleans' when General Jackson had a pistol fight with Thomas H. Benton, Commanding Officer of Dr. Butler's regiment. Jackson was shot through the arm and his wounds soaked two mattresses with blood. I do not know whether Dr. Butler was present or not, but every doctor in Nashville tried to stop the flow of blood. The doctors, save one, declared for amputation of the arm. Jackson barely understood, said "I'll keep my arm."
Stockley Hays, Jackson pioneer, had been present at the fight and would have run Benton. through with his sword, but for a button deflecting the blade. Hays in turn would have been killed but for Benton's brother's gun failing to f:ire.
The feud with Benton was quickly blotted out by news of the uprising of the Creek Indians. 230 persons had been massacred at Fort Mimms in the Mississippi territory. The governor authorized an expedition of 2500 men. Jackson said, "sick or well I'll march in 9 days." Dr. Butler went to the war again, and Judge Williams writes in: his notes to me, that Jackson's kinsman, Dr. Butler, must have given the general medical attention many times during the arduous campaign, with Jackson having been seriously wounded so recently.
Dr. Butler's last military campaign was as surgeon of the Tennessee Volunteers in the First Seminole War in Florida in 1818. A brigade of New Orleans veterans had been called to arms by General Jackson who advanced $4,000 from his private purse for the expedition. Eleven days after receiving the orders from Washington, General Jackson was on the road with the advance guard of two mounted companies. As usual William E. Butler was with him, but Dr. Butler was beginning to feel the call of the West. The lands were soon to be opened and a new kind of adventure lay before him.
Dr. Butler's brother, Colonel Robert Butler was secretary for the commission signing the treaty freeing the Western District from the Chickasaw Indians. Andrew Jackson and Isaac Shelby being the commissioners, things were favorable for the Butlers. It was well known that there would be rich land grants and land speculators had been present when the treaty was being negotiated.
The Indians had until November of 1820 to evacuate, but the early birds were beginning to come in to look the situation over. Dr. Butler came in 1819, and returned with favorable reports of the Jackson and Madison County sites. The rich virgin soil and the fine flowing springs made a strong appeal to him. This looked like a good place to live.
In 1820 we find Dr. Butler in Memphis acting as agent for the first sale of lots for the founding and laying out of the town of Memphis. General Jackson was part owner of the land, for he had sold parts of it to Overton and Winchester, men famous in Memphis' history. The advertisement of the sale appeared in the Nashville Whig of July 13, 1820, appealing to prudent and discreet adventurers of all classes to settle and improve the place. The ad continues, "The proprietors have agents resident at the place, viz., Maj. Marcus B. Winchester, Dr. William Butler and William Lawrence.
But Dr. Butler didn't like Memphis. He was there long enough to see men shake with chills and fever and along with many others, he thought the mists from the river brought sickness and intermittent fevers. He held some lots for his own account, but figured that the center of the Western District would grow faster, because it was healthier and a finer place in which to live and do business.
On November 9, 1821, the general assembly at Murfreesboro, then serving as the capitol, passed an act providing for the organization of the Western District into counties. It was under this act that Madison, Henry, Carroll and Henderson Counties were created. Madison County, however, was not finally organized until December 17, 1821.
Dr. Butler knew well what was going on in Murfreesboro. He was losing no time in getting ahead of the mob that was heading for West Tennessee. He came by water in a flat boat and brought his furniture with him. He was coming to stay this time, floating down the Cumberland into the Ohio and then past Cairo into the muddy wandering waters of the Mississippi. But the hard work had just begun, that of going up the river the Indians had called the Okeena — the early map makers called the Chickasaw — and which we know as the Forked Deer River. Pulling with ropes and pulleys, shoving with sticks and poles, at last they came into the head waters of the Forked Deer River. He looked the ground over again, found the fine spring that he had noted two years before — unloaded and called the "place home.
Settling here, he entered 640 acres of land, that portion of the present City of Jackson lying east of Shannon and South of Main Street. The entirety of the present City of Jackson was largely wooded. A memorial to Dr. Butler, which appeared in the Jackson Tribune and Sun of July 8, 1882, several months after his death, states there were but three log cabins on what is now Jackson and those were the homes of the Shannon Brothers who lived along the valley that runs by the present gas house. Thomas Shannon owner of the land, living near the old Greer house on Poplar Street.
We assume that this account was based on Dr. Butler's memories of the early settlement of the town and county. Mrs. Robert Hays, Mrs. Butler's mother, came out about the same time and settled on Miller Hill, the present site of the old Miller House. Dr. John F. Brown came next and settled the southwest corner of what is now College and Market Street. Alex Patton, who ran the first store and for a while was the partner of Doctor Butler, soon followed. This store was near a spring near the Gas works. Mr. Jesse Russell came next and with him Robert Lake, who opened a "small stock of goods." Col. Robert I Chester came about this time and settled near the town. Nearly all these settlers located near springs, and too much importance cannot be given these fine sources of water in the early settling of our town.
(To Be Continued In Tomorrow's Issue.)
September 17, 1943
Dr. Butler built his first house near an old tannery in South Jackson. The house was made of logs and in later years was used to house Dr. Butler's slaves.
Adam R. Alexander had charge of the registering of lands for the 10th District and was among the first to arrive, settling on the Forked Deer River, near Doak's landing about 2 miles north west of Jackson. His place quickly became a trading point and was known as Alexandria.
Adam Alexander was the first J.P. and it was at his home the county was founded on December 17th, 1821. Later he became the first congressman from the Western District; defeating the great backwoodsman, David Crockett in a heated campaign.
On March 19, 1822, the first session of the newly organized County Court appointed Thomas Shannon the first sheriff. Jos. Lynn, Bartholomew Stewart, James Trousdale with Adam R. Alexander and John Hardgrove as alternates, were designated to determine the site for a seat of justice for the county, with the power to erect public buildings. Neither Dr. Butler nor Col. Stokeley D. Hays were on this commission. The places put in nomination for the county seat were Adam Alexander's place, Golden Station, two miles west of Jackson at what was once the McClanahan farm, and the site of Jackson largely owned by Dr. Butler and the Shannon brothers. The present site was agreed upon on May 19, 1822, though the courts, both County and Circuit, were held at Alexandria in Alexander's land office for about a year.
It is said that a main inducement for selecting the Butler site was a large spring on the land, later occupied by Dr. Alexander A, Jackson. Another consideration was that a large portion of the settlers were living at Cotton Grove and vicinity. Jackson was nearer to these than the other points.
The land to be obtained for the new town was to be by donation or purchase on the most favorable terms. The 30 acres of the original plot of Jackson, lying east of Market Street was obtained from "John McNairy, Jos. Phillips and William E. Butler acting as attorney in fact for the three on April 9, 1822" said 30 acres were a part of entry No. 13 for 500 acres owned by the parties." The condition of the deed was that the lands were donated to two commissioners. Brewer and Fentress, but a lot of his choice was reserved by each of the owners in the sale of the lots. 19 acres and .a fraction lying west of Market Street were purchased from David Shannon at $10.00 per acre and again a choice of a lot was reserved by the seller.
The commissioners for the sale of the lots consisted of, among others, Stokely D. Hays, Doctor Butler, Robert Hughes and the one legged lawyer, Aaam Huntsman. The sale of the lots did not begin until July 4, 1822, when it was continued from time to time. The commissioners allowed themselves $4.00 a day for their services, said funds to be taken from the monies secured from the lots. To add spirit to the bidding the County Court allowed $20.00 for spirits — which was enough for a barrel in those days. Goodspeed reports that whiskey was selling for 18 [cents] a gallon in this period.
The new town was laid out on a liberal scale with streets ninety feet wide. 104 lots were sold on August 1st and 2nd, 1822, for an aggregate sum of $19,202.00. James K. Polk, afterwards President, paid $582.00 for three lots. Samuel Cole Williams thinks Polk intended to come to Jackson to live, but the turn of fortune was otherwise.
The first board of Commissioners for the government of the town had as its chairman. Herndon Haralson and among its members were Stokely D. Hays, Dr. Wm. E. Butler, Robert Hughes and Adam Huntsman. The purpose was to name the town "Jackson" in honor of General Jackson. Capt.. Tom Gates and Judge Bond are reported to have believed the name was suggested by Dr. Butler. This also was the honor of tradition. However, so many officers and soldiers who had served under Jackson and so many relatives of his wife lived in the vicinity, the name "Jackson" could hardly have been anything else. Judge Williams in "Beginnings in West Tennessee" tells how nearly the town came to losing the name. In the Tennessee legislature of 1820 a bill was introduced for the establishment in Bedford County of a town by the name of Jackson. This was amended later by striking out the name of Jackson and inserting Royalport. It was felt that the then capital of West Tennessee was more worthy of the name of the great soldier and Indian fighter.
POLITICS — DAVID CROCKETT RUNS AGAINST DR. BUTLER
FOR THE TENNESSEE LEGISLATURE
One of the most colorful chapters in Dr. Butler's life was his campaign against the famous old Indian fighter and backwoodsman, David Crockett. This was the first time that this district was to be represented in the state legislature. Thanks to Judge Lamar Spragins, I have Col. Crockett's account of these events which I will abridge and reproduce in David Crockett's words as far as possible. This account is taken from Crockett's autobiography published in 1834.
Says Crockett, written from the Obion bottoms where he lived, "I had in hand a great many skins and so, in the month of February, I packed a horse x x x cut out for a little town of Jackson, situated about forty miles away. Got there well enough and I sold my skins and bought me some coffee, and sugar, powder, lead and salt. While in Jackson, says Crockett, I met with three candidates for the Legislature. A Doctor Butler, who was by marriage a nephew to General Jackson, a Major Lynn and a Mr. McEver, all first rate men; We all took a drink together, and some person present suggested that Crockett offer for the legislature. I told them that I' lived at least 40 miles from any white settlement and had no thought of becoming a candidate. About a week later, a man came to my house and told me I was a candidate, that he saw where I had offered in the Jackson Gazette. I told my wife that this was all a burlesque to me, but I was determined to make it cost the man dearly for his fun." There were three regular candidates in the race, but two of them scared of the wild campaigning methods of Crockett withdrew, so that Dr. Butler, the strongest man, might have the better chance to beat the great bear hunter. Said Crockett in his autobiography: "the doctor was a clever fellow, and I have often said he was the most talented man I ever run against for any, office." His relationship to Andrew Jackson, the great soldier, was a great help to Butler and Crockett said that he knew he must fight to win. "I met General Butler," says Crockett, "at a political meeting and he didn't speak to me at first.' Damn it, Crockett is that you', said the doctor. 'Be sure it is,' said I, but h don't want it understood that I came electioneering. I just crept in out of the cane to see what discoveries I could make among the white folks.' Crockett told the doctor how he intended to beat him. "I will have me a large buck-skin hunting shirt made, with a couple of pockets holding about a peck each, and that in one I would carry a great big twist of tobacco and in the other my bottle of liquor, for I knowed when I met a: man and offered him a dram, he would throw out his quid of tobacco to take one, and after he had taken his horn' (a drink of liquor), I would out with my twist and give him another chaw. In this way he would not be worst off than when I found him. Butler said I could beat him all hollow electioneering."
The two candidates spoke over the district together, Dr. Butler usually speaking first and then Crockett crying out against his wealthy opponent who was known to have carpets on his floors. Crockett said Butler didn't need the office, that he had so many fine quilts that he spread them on the floor to walk on. Crockett would drawl out "My fellow citizens, my aristocratic and wealthy' competitor walks every day on store goods finer than your wives and daughters ever wear."
Thanks to J. C. Carson. I am able to relate a story often told by Capt. C. F. Landis, who came to Jackson as a carriage maker prior to the Civil War. It has to do with David Crockett's visit in the Butler home: The old bear hunter was amazed at the beautiful flowered carpet on the floor. Crockett was used to dirt floors and was simply aghast at such finery. Capt. Landis reported, that Crockett hopped like a toad on the floor to keep from stepping on the carpet's beautiful flowers.
Capt. Landis tells another tale of Crockett's methods of supplying drinks for campaign purposes in Madison County. The old bear hunter brought coonskins to pay for his liquor. His tippling fob lowers soon drank up the skins. Crockett was not to be outdone, being an agile man, he flipped the skins by the tail back over the counter to buy more liquor. Proving in that early day, that the hand is quicker than the eye.
Dr. Butler had only one speech which he made before every gathering. Crockett, a loose lipped fellow, finally demanded to speak first-when he gave Dr. Butler's speech word for word. This left the good doctor speechless. The Butler wealth and aristocratic manner was too much for the voters whose homes had only dirt floors. They didn't like such airs and Crockett was easy winner. Dr. Butler always felt that the people "let him down." Judge Williams writes in his notes to me, "Butler was too aristocratic to succeed in politics. His faithful and long service as a soldier had deserved for him a better fate." Dr. Butler never ran for public office I again, but he had his revenge on Crockett. The backwoodsman went to congress and deserted Andrew Jackson for Henry Clay. In the next election the full strength of the Jackson machine was put behind Adam Huntsman and Crockett was defeated. Crockett made his famous farewell speech to the, voters at the court house in Jackson: "They might all go to hell, and I would go to Texas." The speech had Dr. Butler's amen.
(To be continued in Sunday's Issue
September 19, 1943
Andrew Jackson and William E. Butler were close friends and had fought' in three wars together. An added tie was in their kinship by marriage. Andrew Jackson loved all of Rachel's kin apparently, and was their benefactor on numerous occasions. Two episodes' with his Butler kin are worthy of note here. I quote from Marquis James' Life of Andrew Jackson: "From New Haven arrived a letter saying that General Jackson's troublesome ward, Anthony Wayne Butler, a student at Yale, had neglected to honor a draft for $105.00. Jackson forwarded $100.00 and said that was all that he had authorized."
James continues, "From New Orleans came further light on the financial affairs of the widely distributed Butler family which Jackson had long befriended. A draft of Robert Butler and William E. Butler for $3,000.00 was protested, and Jackson was called upon as endorser to pay. Jackson immediately directed the Nashville Bank to place $1008.00 to W. E. Butler's account, and advised his New Orleans broker to advance another $1008.00 out of the sale of Jackson's cotton. Apparently, the Butlers themselves scraped up the remaining nine hundred and eighty-four dollars."
The trouble with amateur historians is that we dig up more questions than we can answer. This money was probably used for a business deal in which both the Butlers and Jackson were involved. Whether the money was paid back or not, I cannot answer. I can say on James' authority, the draft came when Andrew Jackson was hard up for cash.
According to Goodspeed's History of Tennessee (1887 Edition) Dr. Butler planted his first crop of cotton in the county in 1821, and that during the same year, he-erected a cotton gin which had been brought all the way from Davidson County.
This gin presumably was unprofitable as little staple cotton was raised during the first decade of the county's history for the reason that the cotton did not mature well. The virgin soil kept the plant growing too late to force maturity, This may have contributed to Dr. Butler having to draw on Andrew Jackson for the $3,000 aforementioned.
1840 — ANDREW JACKSON VISITS JACKSON
Conflicting stories have long been in circulation as to whom Andrew Jackson visited when he came to Jackson in 1840. He spent at least one night in the great Hays mansion located just back of what is now Preston Street. The great front yard of the Hays place consisted of ninety acres and extended all the way to Royal Street. The gate was at Lexington Avenue and the road up to the house is now known as Hays Avenue. The house cost $35,000 and was built with slave labor. The shrubs cost many thousands and there was a statuary brought from Italy to adorn the house and grounds. This was the show place of the town. (Authors note: After the Civil War, with fortunes swept away, the house was turned over to the Catholic Church and run as a convent school. Shortly after 1870 it caught fire from burning leaves and it was necessary to blow down the walls with charges of gun powder.)
Andrew Jackson had many things to talk over with Gen. Samuel Jackson Hays, who had been Andrew Jackson's secretary. There was the famous fight with Thomas H. Benton already mentioned. Then the historic occasion when Aaron Burr, under suspicion for treason, had had his boats impounded by the government. Burr persuaded Jackson against his better judgment, to release two of the boats — and he permitted Stockley Hays, Rachel's nephew, bound for New Orleans, to go on one of them. Hays carried confidential letters to Governor Claiborne of Louisiana.
But back to Andrew Jackson and his visit to Jackson. First and foremost, he came electioneering for Martin Van Buren against Harrison for the presidency. Jackson undertook the trip under great difficulties. His adopted son, Andrew Jackson, Jr., another of Rachel s kinsmen, whose real name was Donelson, had gotten himself deep in debt and the old general came west with a heavy heart. He wrote to his adopted son, "Sell all the beef you can spare — sell the fillies. If you can get for my riding mare as much as $200, let her go." Marquis James writes of the Jackson trip: "In the slightly conflicting capacities of public hero and electioneer, he travelled westward with James K. Polk as far as Jackson, Tennessee, blessing babies, giving autographs, shaking hands and haranguing enormous crowds at highly respectable barbecues — not a drop of hard stuff in sight." While in Jackson, the old ex-president looked after some business, talked horseracing and politics with Dr. Butler, ran down Harrison's military record and had a good time generally.
I have examined the Masonic records in Jackson for information about Dr. Butler's affiliation, but the old records of the lodge were destroyed in a fire shortly after the first decade of this century. His great granddaughter writes me, however, that Dr. Butler was liberal to the calls of his lodge and that the Masons assisted at his funeral. Andrew Jackson was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge when our Local Lodge No. 45 was installed on October 8, 1823. He visited the lodge on one of his trips to Jackson in about 1826.
DR. BUTLER'S MEMPHIS REAL ESTATE
Thanks to Miss Emma Inman Williams' search of the State Archives in Nashville, I am able to throw light on Dr. Butler's Memphis holdings: It will be recalled that he acted as Andrew Jackson's agent in the sale of lots at the laying out of the city of Memphis. Dr. Butler had also secured land there in his own right. In 1847 we find him petitioning the Tennessee legislature against bringing his South Memphis property into the city limits. He complained against the revaluation of his property, stating that he was willing to take $22,000 for the property and that the $40.000 assessment was an "unprecedented and iniquitous system of taxation." Such an assessment, he stated, had prevented him from disposing of the tract without ruinous sacrifice.
THE LITTLE HERITAGE AND THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD
In the early 1980's [obviously wrong, but this was what was printed in 1943; probably should read 1830's] Dr. Butler erected his fine house on Royal Street. The house was built with great brick walls and four large rooms down stairs and four large rooms upstairs, with a wide hall running through the house upstairs and down. The dining room was spacious and the banquet table was made to seat thirty-six guests. The furniture had been brought by river to Jackson when Dr. Butler came with his wife to West Tennessee. It consisted of fine pieces of solid mahogany, rosewood and walnut. There was little room for such furniture in the Doctor's log house, but it fit perfectly into the great brick house on Royal Street. The famous Butler portraits and steel engravings adorned the walls. In front of the house there were rows of stately cedar trees on each side of the walk extending from the house to the street. A fine orchard was in the back. There were fine black horses in the stables. The lawn was beautifully kept and livened servants gave the atmosphere of luxury that the frontiersmen never learned to like. They called it "The Little Hermitage."
Dr. Butler was 71 years old when the war between the states began. He equipped and maintained a company of the 6th Tennessee Regiment throughout the war. His grandson was three times cited for bravery in battle and was made Captain of Lynch's artillery.
When the Yankees captured Jackson, the family silver had been buried by the darkies. The grandson, William E. Butler, Jr., was on leave at the time from the Confederate Army with a dangerous scalp wound. He was arrested in the yard. Granddaughter Martha Ann, clad in hoop skirts, was forced by a Yankee to play on the mother of pearl inlaid piano in the front parlor until she wept bitterly. The story of how the Yankee officer fell in love with her is one of the towns oldest stories — a Yankee falling in love with a Confederate girl was considered an insult. She did not return his affection but treated him with the disdain that he so justly deserved.
When Dr. Butler's son, William Ormonde Butler, married Martha Ann Hale, the doctor built for his bridal present the original home of what is now known as the McCorry place on West Main Street in Jackson. Martha Ann died very young, leaving three little children, Martha Ann, Mary Ormonde and William Edward, Jr. The old doctor took these three grandchildren to live with him and reared them as his own. The son, William Ormonde Butler, married the second time and there was another set of grandchildren, one of whom was Thomas Talbot Butler, the father of Misses Anna and Mary Butler, residents of Jackson. Grand-daughter Martha Ann married Chas. M. Chancellor, whose descendent, Phillip Chancellor of Santa Barbara, California, seems to have been the one individual who inherited Dr. Butler's capacity for making money. It is reported that Mr. Chancellor has expressed a willingness to pay $50,000 for oil portraits of Dr. Butler and his wife Patsy Thompson Hays. These portraits were done in oil by a celebrated European artist in the early 1840's. They are owned by Henderson Butler, a great-grandson who resides in Jackson. The portrait of Mrs. Butler was damaged by fire in 1905, but has been restored satisfactorily.
Old Dr. Butler lived to see his 93rd year and apparently was never in financial difficulties like his good friend Andrew Jackson. Dr. Butler was a sounder business man than Old Hickory. However, the Civil War, the reconstruction, many kinsmen and friends made a heavy drain on the doctor's once large fortune.
In the 1870's he loaned a good many people money at 7 1-2 per cent which was less than the prevailing rate at the time. A good many of these debtors abused his confidence and his losses were heavy. It is a tradition among his descendants that anybody could borrow money from him and nobody wanted to pay him back. I have examined the record of his suits to recover many of these debts in our Circuit Court. The books during the middle and late seventies are filled with such suits. His will specifically mentioned such judgments and these were left along with the great bulk of his estate equally to his son, William O. Butler, Mrs. Mary Henderson, Mrs. Martha Chancellor and Mrs. Sue P. Butler. Other items mentioned in his will were a number of back street lots in Jackson remaining in his estate to less favored relatives. One lot on Lancaster Street was bequeathed to Pleasant Lancaster (colored) designated as "My good servant". Many lots were mentioned in the will were situated in Jackson's "Irish Town", a section that Dr. Butler nicknamed after the Civil War.
The will was contested in the circuit court, but all objections were set aside and the will confirmed as Dr. Butler's valid last will and testament. The charges made for setting the will aside are not contained in the record book and I made no effort to find them in the dusty archives stored in the basement of the Courthouse in Jackson. Mr. Benjamin Richmond was the executor of the will without bond. Attorneys Mallory and Caruthers acted in the unsuccessful effort to set the will aside.
(To Be Continued In Tomorrow's issue)
September 20, 1943
THE FATE OF THE LI'ITLE HERMITAGE
William Ormonde Butler, the old man's son, died a year after his father. The fine old house fell into disrepair and soon the family was taking in genteel roomers. Mrs. John Williams lived there for a while a few years after Doctor Butler's death, in one of the mammoth upstairs rooms. The place was drafty and cold. There were no carpets on the floors then and Mrs. Williams relates that she had to buy a whole roll of matting, 40 yards, to cover the floor. Soon the house was sold to the Bufords and before the family could move out, in moved the Bufords. They didn't like the fine Parisian murals in the hall grown old and soiled with the years. They called in local paper hangers and covered the once beautiful Parisian murals with fancy, tan ingrained paper. Later, the Bufords moved away, and before long the house was being rented by the month. Soon it was vacant and deserted. The depression of the early 1930's brought the dispossessed sharecroppers to town in broken down Ford cars. They moved in and without regard to ownership squatted on the property. Teeming families lived in each room. "Tobacco Road" had come to Jackson. The city cut off the lights and the water. The neighbors began to complain. The house was torn down and two small efficiency apartments were built of the brick from the house that the father of the town once occupied. The rich Phillip Chancellor had turned down the opportunity to make a museum of the house as memorial to his famous forebear.
THE RAILROAD ENTHUSIAST
Dr. Butler was early an enthusiastic booster for railroads to come to Jackson and donated the land for the old Mobile and Ohio Railroad shops on Chester Street.
Samuel Cole Williams writes in his notes to me, "the first hope and chance for a railroad was in 1836-37 when the legislature of Tennessee by an act provided for a survey of a railroad to run through the center of West Tennessee as nearly as practicable from a point on the Mississippi to the Tennessee river, recommending that the line run from Ashport or Fulton on the Mississippi to Perryville on the Tennessee. The engineer seemed to assume that the line would run through Jackson, and open and develop the entire Forked Deer River Basin. The engineers report reads — "a very few facts will be cited to show the very great local conveniences of such a road. It is only about three months in the year that the Forked Deer River is navigable as far as Jackson; and frequently the people of that vicinity are forced to wagon their exports and imports to and from the Mississippi River at an enormous expense. But when chance does favor them with water, it never costs less than $2.00 per bale to get their cotton from Jackson to the Mississippi River. But by the railroad, it may be taken for 50 [cents]. A traveller wishing to go to the Mississippi River takes the stage for Memphis, travels continually for thirty hours and pays $10.00 for the trip. By railroad, he could do so at an expense of one twelfth the time and one third the money."
This scheme was brought to failure through the influence of Memphis and Nashville leaders. But the railroads were not to be held back, and Dr. Butler was to take a leading part in their coming. In addition to giving land for its repair shops, there is a tradition in the family that he had the contract for laying the rails in this county for the M. & O. Railroad.
A DEVOUT CHURCHMAN — BUT NO PLASTER SAINT
Doctor Butler was devoutly religious and a member of the Presbyterian Church, as were most well-to-do settlers who came to Jackson. The early rolls of the First Presbyterian list as members the Campbells, Chesters, McClanahans, the Greers and many others.
In January 1825, Reverend Hare, Presbyterian pioneer preacher and missionary spent a week in Jackson, preaching at the Jackson Male and Female Academy Hall. Dr. Butler had given the ground on which this school was located. The Jackson Gazette, June 11, 1825, described the academy as situated on the east side of the public square on a lot beautifully set with oaks, which tree "has a peculiar potency to absorb deleterious gases, thereby rendering them perfectly harmless."
During this week of preaching. Rev. Hare had married Robert L Chester and Mrs. Butler's sister, Elizabeth Hays. Mrs. Jackson seems to have had an inexhaustible supply of nieces.
The lot for the church was donated by Rev. Augustus W. Campbell, who became the first pastor of the Church in 1832 (some say 1834). A building committee appointed at the time consisted of Dr. Butler, James Greer, Phillip Warlick, John Campbell and others. These men were for the most part, the first elders of the church. A large brick building was built under their direction on the Campbell lot on the corner of what is now Main and Church Streets. The building was painted gray, and a bell hung in the tower atop the building. John W. Campbell donated a very beautiful pulpit to the church. Dr. Butler was a regular attendant and his gifts both in money and lands were bounteous.
The land on which Union University stands was secured for a Presbyterian school in 1834. I do not know how this land was acquired. In 1837, Dr. Butler gave the lot on which the old M.C.F.I. was, located for a Presbyterian School. It was later taken over by the Methodist and operated for many years. It is now the site of the Jackson Armory. 'The land was supposed to revert back to the Butler heirs when no longer used for school purposes, but no suit was instituted for its return to the Butler heirs. There were too many heirs and they were too widely scattered for effective or profitable action.
Dr. Jerre Witherspoon was pastor of the Presbyterian Church at the time of Dr. Butler's death. I have found a record of his funeral or of his pall bearers. The Masons assisted in the rites and it is a tradition in the family that the funeral was conducted from the house, this being Dr. Butler's request.
Dr. Butler was throughout his life proud of Jackson, and frequently carried visitors over the city, showing them the schools and public buildings. He was active as a citizen and served on the first jury of the Circuit Court in 1821. Adam Alexander was foreman. The jury consisted of Dr. Butler, Duncan McIver, Ezekial B. McCoy, Wm. L. Davis. W. C. Love, W. C. Mitchell, Benjamin White, Wm. Doak, Roland Chandler and Drury Belter. Dr. Butler was interested in public roads, and according to Goodpasture, built one of the first roads in the town, the road from the Alexandria settlement. He was the first banker in the town, being the agent of the old State Bank.
In 1832, St. Luke's Parish of the Episcopal Church was organized on July 2nd at the Masonic Hall. Dr. Butler, while a Presbyterian, used his good offices for the parish, signing the articles of the association along with Major Andrew L. Martin, Robert Hughes, Jacob Perkins, J. H. Rawlings, Dr. Lewis Penred. Dr. Erasmus D. Fenner, John M. Fenner, William Taylor, Col. Jos. H. Talbot, James Miller, Dr. Atlas Jones, Hon. Joshua Haskell, Wm. Stoddert, Micajah Antrey, Mrs. Sophie Perkins and Mrs. Eliza G. Vanix.
I have interviewed old Jackson settlers for stories about Dr. Butler. John Stribling, now nearly 103 years old and a. lifetime resident of this county tells of the old doctor's devout profanity. He was very deaf, talked in loud tone of voice and sprinkled his conversation with "Hells" and "damns". Of his personal habits, we know that he was evidently a sober man, though Davy Crockett tells of having a drink with the doctor in 1824. He was no plaster saint. Nobody thought anything about taking a drink in those days, particularly a Jacksonian democrat.
Miss Anna Butler, a great grand daughter, remembers the story of the old man as a devout Presbyterian, who had family prayers twice daily. The doctor had called his young grandson for devotions several times without results — when the Irate doctor cried out — "You know damn well it's time for family prayers."
Dr. H. E. Hawkins, Jackson physician, remembers Doctor Butler as a stubby, heavy set man, extremely deaf, with his cupped hand to his ear trying to hear — who carried a big walking cane and had a great booming voice. Dr. Butler loved to talk of Andrew Jackson and the battle of New Orleans. The last published interview with the Doctor was in 1880 when he gave the lie to the story in a Nashville paper, that the Americans didn't fight from breastworks made of cotton bales in the battle of New Orleans. Stormed the old Doctor, "Hell. I was there behind the damn bales and I ought to know."
Mrs. Rose Williams tells another story that adds to the old Doctor's cussing ability. Almost everybody had a cow, and almost everybody had a horse. There were flies by the millions. Dr. Butler rigged up a device from the ceiling over the big dining room table which would swish back and forward to shoo the flies away. On this occasion, with many guests, the old gentleman said the blessing long and devoutly. A negro boy was swishing the flies lackadaisically, but not to suit the doctor. He stopped his invocation to deity — "Damn, you boy, get out of my way." He then demonstrated to the colored boy how flies ought to be put on the wing.
I have checked up on Dr Butler's old neighbors and find that Mrs. Maggie Bray lived behind Dr. John Chester's house in 1875 She is still alive and remembers a joke that was prevalent for years in the neighborhood, "Each morning at breakfast" she reports "the doctor would ask his colored servant 'Well Boy, have you sanded the sugar and watered the whiskey?'"
As far as I can learn, Dr. Butler did not long continue in the practice of medicine after coming to Jackson in 1821. No record that I have examined mentions his practice in Jackson, tho several sources say that he was well known as a doctor in Middle Tennessee and an account in the Tom Gates historical scrap book says that he made a lot of money from his practice at Murfreesboro. Mr. John Stribling doesn't remember ever hearing of his practicing here and Dr. H. E. Hawkins is undecided. The number of physicians signing the papers of Association for the founding of St. Luke's Parish includes three physicians and presumably Dr. Butler found business more profitable than the practice of medicine.
Dr. Butler has now been dead over 80 years. He left behind an enviable record that leaves no doubt but that he was an able man, a colorful personality and one whom Jackson may well be proud of as its founding father.
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