Goodspeed's History of Tennessee

The Goodspeed Publishing Co., Nashville TN, 1886-1887

Shelby Co. TN

History of Shelby County

transcription donated by Rose-Anne Cunningham Bray

(page 864 - part)

The city of Memphis is on the Mississippi River in north latitude 35° 61 and in 13° west longitude from Washington and on the fourth Chickasaw bluff. About the time of the treaty with the Chickasaws, by which the western district was opened up to settlement by white people, there were but a few white settlers at this point and none in the surrounding country. These few were the families of Patrick Meagher, Joshua Fletcher, Quimby, John Grace, William Irvine, John B. Moore, Anderson B. Carr, Thomas D. Carr and Tillman Bettis. All but the last three had lived here for a considerable number of years, trading with the Indians. In the spring of 1819 M. B. Winchester, accompanied by William Lawrence, came down the Mississippi in a flatboat from Cairo, Ill., to the fourth Chickasaw bluff. Upon their arrival, after a trip of twenty days, Mr. Winchester formed a copartnership with Anderson B. Carr and established a trading house, making the third house of this kind then at the Bluff, although the entire trade at this point at that time did not exceed $25,000 per annum.

(page 865)

The original proprietor of the town site of Memphis was John Rice, to whom North Carolina had granted 5,000 acres of land at this point by grant No. 283, as fully explained elsewhere in this sketch. This grant was devised by him to his brother, Elisha Rice, and sold by Elisha Rice to John Overton in 1794 for $500. This is a very remarkable thing, John Rice having paid £500 in specie to North Carolina for the same land. John Overton conveyed one-half of the tract to his personal friend, Gen. Andrew Jackson, who at various times sold portions of his interest, until finally the ownership of this tract settled down as follows; John Overton, one-half ; Gen. James Winchester, one-fourth; Gen. Andrew Jackson, one-eighth and William Winchester, one-eighth. In 1819 Judge Overton and Gen. Winchester came to Memphis and laid out a town which they thus named, Front, Main, Second and Third Streets being laid out from Bayou Gayoso to Union Street, not being extended farther south because the proprietors did not know where the survey would locate the south line of the grant. In 1820 it was thought by the most sanguine that Memphis was destined to become a populous city, and there were 362 lots laid off on the plat. The streets were designated as running to the four cardinal points, which they do very nearly, and are wider than is customary in southern cities. There were at first four public squares, Court Square being one of the four, and between the front lots and the river an ample promenade was Reserved. The place was described as being the only site for a town of any magnitude on the Mississippi River between the mouth of the Ohio and Natchez, no other place on either side being sufficiently high and dry, level and extensive and the country back of it was seen to be comparatively elevated, level and dry, of great extent and well drained, well adapted to the growth of blue and herd grass and clover and to cotton, corn, wheat and tobacco. The superiority of the bluff on which Memphis stands, over the few other situations of high lands along the Mississippi, had not been over-looked by La Salle, who in 1736 selected it for a trading fort and garrison. Spain also recognized the value of the position as a healthy and commanding place for a similar establishment. A fort and garrison had been built by the latter many years previous to the surrender of the place in accordance with the treaty of St. Ildefonso.

At this time, 1820, Memphis had fifty inhabitants, the following being some of the principal heads of families besides those already named: Isaac Rawlings, who came here originally about 1813 as a sutler with Gen. Jackson. He was also Indian agent up to the time of their removal. For a number of years he had a large quantity of Indian and army stores in the block-houses at Fort Pickering. He was in addition a kind of magistrate by popular consent, without the formality of an election or an official appointment, from which fact he was honored with the title of " Squire Rawlings," and it is written of him in " Old Times Papers," that "it is questionable whether justice was not more equally administered then than it has ever been since."

(page 866)

It is also said that after the extinguishment of the Indian titles he was appointed by the Legislature one of the magistrates, but did not give the satisfaction when administering justice by a written system as when governed by the dictates of his own honest heart ; somewhat on the principal probably that a violinist accustomed to play by rote cannot play equally well by note. But he became a great student of law, especially of the decisions of the most distinguished judges, and if he were not one of the most learned men of the day, he was certainly one of the most mistaken men of the day.

John C. McLemore was another of those heads of families. He purchased Gen. Jackson's interest in the town site, and thus became one of the proprietors of the town, as also one of its most active and liberal friends. It was through his exertions that a large number of settlers was induced to make the Bluff their home. Isaac Rawlings, as has been before stated, was an Indian trader years before the establishment of the town of Memphis, and after its establishment he continued still in the commercial line, his principal competitor being Maj. Marcus B. Winchester, one of the handsomest and courtliest of men, whose stock of goods was far more extensive and valuable than anything that " Ike " had ever had. Maj. Winchester's place of business was on Front Street just south of Jackson Street, where he erected the finest house in the town. Rawling's establishment was at Anderson's bridge, a favorite camping-ground, particularly with the Indians, in consequence of which he had carried on the most extensive trade; but after Winchester's fine store was put up on the Bluff, the trade was gradually transferred to the latter place, and to change this condition of affairs, Rawlings determined to change the location of his store. He selected a lot on the west side of Second Street, between Jackson and Winchester Streets, for which he paid some $10 or $15. The selection of this position was considered by him a fine strategic movement, as the place was high, overlooking the camping-ground at the bridge and also Winchester's store at the Bluff, and would, he thought, enable him to retain all of his trade at the former place and draw off a good deal of that of his rival, Maj. Winchester. But in order to secure the full benefit of his new position it would be necessary to have the alley on which his new store stood widened, but this he could have done without going to Winchester, who represented the proprietors, and asking him to have it done. Putting a bold face upon the matter, as is usually the better way, the haughty Rawlings made the proper request of the proper party, and much to his surprise the request was readily and politely granted and he himself given the privilege of conferring a name upon the widened street. Rawlings, therefore, named it " Commerce Street."

(page 867)

The new store, erected at greater expense than would have been the case had not Winchester had such a fine store, is still standing with a basement added on account of the grading down of the street. A large stock of goods was put in, a portion of which remained on hand unsold in 1844, eighteen years later, because of his resolute resistance to marking down his prices in order to compete with his rivals. The fact that everybody else was underselling him, and that his custom was for this reason steadily leaving him, was in his judgment no reason for taking the only practical method of retaining his trade. His store therefore at length became little else than a magistrates office, in which he delighted to sit for hours every day arguing legal questions and giving advice upon all subjects pertaining to agriculture, commerce or law, while the simple principles upon which to conduct his own little business of merchandising, were either entirely ignored, or were as pro-found a mystery as was the origin of the pyramids or of the Sphinx. It was thought then by some, and it must have been true, that the retrograding movement which Memphis then underwent was due in great part to "Ike" Rawlings' persistent opposition to everything in the way of improvement, although it is also said that the general impression abroad that Memphis was a very unhealthy place very much retarded her growth. Like all new towns in the South and West, her citizens were subject to malarious fevers, which nothing can prevent but the improvements gradually introduced by civilization. The larger part of the sickness afflicting Memphis from her origin to the present time, except the special epidemics of yellow fever and small-pox. have doubtless been caused by the existence of large areas of unclaimed wild lands, ponds, and lakes across the Mississippi River in Arkansas.

When the town of Memphis was laid out the proprietors of the original plat were John Overton, Andrew Jackson, Gen. James Winchester, of Tennessee, and the devisees George and William Winchester, of William Winchester (deceased), of the city of Baltimore. In the sale of lots which went on from time to time in Memphis from 1819 to 1829, John Overton and Andrew Jackson were represented by their attorney, John Overton; James Winchester acted for himself, and M. B. Winchester was attorney for the devisees of Winchester. The first sale of lots by the proprietors through their attorneys was made in March, 1822. Lots No. 1 and No. 2 were sold to Patrick Meagher, the following being the form of deed in each case:

(page 868)

WHEREAS John Overton, Andrew Jackson, James Winchester, of Tennessee, and the devisees of William Winchester, deceased, of the city of Baltimore, owners of a 5,000-acre tract of land upon the Chickasaw Bluff at the mouth of Wolf River, have laid off said tract into a town known by the name of Memphis, and

WHEREAS the aforesaid John Overton and Andrew Jackson, by John Overton, their attorney, and James Winchester, for himself and the devisees of William Winchester, de-ceased, by their several powers of attorney, dated the 22d day of April, 1822, and registered in the office of the register of Shelby County, Tenn., did authorize and appoint William Lawrence and Marcus B. Winchester, their respective and joint attorneys, for them and in their names, to execute conveyances to purchasers of lots in said town of Memphis, which have been or may hereafter be sold by direction of the aforesaid attorneys, therefore

Know ye that we, William Lawrence and Marcus B. Winchester, as aforesaid, by virtue of the powers and authority aforesaid, in consideration of valuable improvements put upon Lot No. 1, in said town, by Patrick Meagher, citizen of said town, etc., do give, grant, enfeoff and convey unto the said Patrick Meagher, all the right, title and interest of the aforesaid owners of Lot No. 1, lying at the intersection of Jackson and Chickasaw Streets, beginning at a stake marked N. 1, the southeast corner of said lot. at the intersection of said streets; thence running north 91° east, with the west line of said Chickasaw Street37 feet 11 inches to a stake, the south corner of Lot No. 2; thence north 801° west with the south boundary of Lot No. 2, 1481 feet to a stake the southwest corner of Lot No. 2; thence south 91° west 37 feet 11- inches to a stake; thence south 801° east, fronting on the public promenade, 148-i feet to the beginning.

Lot No. 2 was also sold to Patrick Meagher for $140, the deed to both being dated February 6, 1823, and signed by William Lawrence and M. B. Winchester for John Overton and Andrew Jackson, and by James Winchester for himself and the devisees of William Winchester. Lot No. 53 was sold to Benjamin Fooy (Foy) of the Territory of Arkansas. This lot was at the intersection of Winchester. Street and Mississippi Row, and the consideration was valuable improvements made upon the lot, the deed being dated October 13, 1823. Lots Nos. 50, 185 and 186 were sold to Anderson B. Carr, February 13, 1825, the consideration for the three lots being $612. Lot No. 50 was on the corner of Mississippi Row and an alley, and Lot No. 186 at the corner of Main and Jackson Streets. Lot No. 49 was sold to Marcus B. Winchester June 30, 1824, for valuable improvements made thereon, services as agent and $1 in hand paid, at the corner of Jackson Street and Mississippi Row. Lot No. 148 was sold January 5, 1825, to John R. Kent, in consideration that he erect a good frame or brick house with two comfortable rooms, each room to be at least fifteen feet square, within eighteen months. One-half of Lot No. 40 was sold September 3, 1825, to Charlotte Fordan for $94, and the other half of the same lot was sold to Anderson B. Carr, on the same day for the same amount. Lot No. 32 was sold January 6, 1826, to E. Coffee for $25, and Lot No. 147 was sold May 3, 1826, to S. Rosebrough for $140.50.

(page 869)

The sale of lots went on slowly in this way until 1829 when the attorneys for the proprietors made application to the county court for a division of their different undivided interests in sundry unsold lots in Memphis and a tract of 1,200 acres of land. In this petition which was dated April 20, 1829, the petitioners state their respective interests to be as follows: John Overton's, one-half; John C. McLemore's, one-eighth; the heirs of Gen. James Winchester, one-fourth, and the devisees' of William Winchester, one-eighth. It was signed by William Lawrence, attorney in fact for John Overton and John C. McLemore, and by M. B. Winchester, attorney in fact for George and William Winchester. The court in accordance with this petition ordered that Anderson B. Carr, Nathaniel Anderson, John Ralston, David Dunn, Tilman Bettis, James H. Lawrence and William Lawrence, or any five of them, be appointed commissioners to set apart to the petitioners their several portions in severalty of said town lots and land and report to the next court. The next court of pleas and quarter sessions was held at the courthouse at Raleigh July 20, 1829, to which the commissioners reported that they had made a particular examination of the unsold lots and of' the 1,200-acre tract, lying northeast and south of the town of Memphis and usually known as the town Reserved, and had parcelled the said lots, etc., into eight divisions as nearly equal in value as they could make them, and that John Overton was entitled to four of said eight divisions, John C. McLemore to one, George and William Winchester, together, to one, and that the estate of the late Gen. James Winchester was entitled to two of the said eight divisions. The particular division which should belong to each interest was determined by ballot, and the entire proceedings of the commissioners signed by Tilman Bettis, John Ralston, William Lawrence, Anderson B. Carr and James H. Lawrence.

In December, 1826, as is elsewhere stated, the Legislature passed an act incorporating the town of Memphis. This took the citizens generally by surprise. Some were pleased, others were indifferent, and still others were very much opposed to having to support an incorporation. At a public meeting at which " Ike " Rawlins presided, the incorporation was denounced as a trick of the proprietors, and the chairman of the meeting himself made a strong speech against it, showing how severe it would be on several of the poor people living in the outskirts of the proposed town. Speakers on the other side as strongly favored the incorporation as being a necessity and proposed, in order to satisfy Rawlings' temporary prejudices, to leave out the poor people in the outskirts. Not-withstanding the opposition to the incorporation it was a success. After two years of charter life, Memphis having experienced meantime considerable improvement, the charter was amended so as to give to the town all the powers of Nashville, and providing that the mayor should not hold any office under the Government of the United States. This without anything else in his favor would have elected Isaac Rawlings mayor of the town, M. B. Winchester being at the time both mayor and postmaster, and he was elected and re-elected a number of times, serving in all many years

(page 870)

For the first few years of the town's existence its growth was quite slow. From the nature of the soil on which it was built the streets were very muddy, at times almost impassable. Trade was light and confined almost exclusively to river craft. The first receipts of cotton in this market were in 1826, when 300 bales were sent in from Fayette and Henderson Counties. In four years the growth of this business was so rapid that in 1830 the receipts were 10,000 bales. In 1836 they were 50,000 bales; in 1845, 75,000 bales ; in 1850, 150,000 bales ; and in 1854, 180,000 bales. The population of the place which in 1820 was 50, was in 1830, 704; in 1840,1,700; in 1850, 6,427; in 1854, 12,687. The increase of population during these earlier years was so steady and great that enthusiastic prophets ventured to predict in 1854 that at the end of the next thirty-five years, the population would be over 800,000. In 1845 proper measures were taken to improve the streets, and since then large sums have been expended, especially since the yellow fever epidemic of 1878-79, and as a consequence the streets are at this time (1887) in a better condition than are those of most other southern cities. In 1834, when W. A. Bickford came to Memphis, there were but two physicians, M. B. Sappington and Wyatt Christian. In 1838 Mr. Bickford made a list of the adult male white citizens, containing 209 names, which was thus the first directory of Memphis. Not more than nine of this number are now living.

After the failure of numerous special projects to build up the city, the navy yard project came up in 1843. In 1841 Congress had appointed commissioners to locate a navy yard somewhere in the Mississippi Valley, and after a careful examination of the Mississippi River throughout its entire length, from the mouth of the Ohio to New Orleans, these commissioners reported that at the mouth of Wolf River was the best location. When this subject was first broached it was regarded by many as a huge joke; but it was as necessary then as now for congressmen to do something for their constituents. Helena, Ark., had a Government Hospital, and Vicksburg had a lighthouse, which was, it is believed, actually lighted up during one entire month, and Memphis, to stand on a par with her sister cities of the valley, must have a navy yard, though hundreds of miles from the sea. It was however a much more easy matter to get through Congress the bill providing for its establishment, than it was afterward to secure appropriations for its support. In 1843 three young officers of the navy visited Memphis for the purpose of examining into its adaptability for a naval depot and dock yard. The space of ground devoted to the navy yard was bounded on the north by Auction Street ; on the east by Front Street ; on the south by Market Street and on the west by the Mississippi River.

(pages 871 & 872)

This tract of land was in part or wholly donated to the United States Government for the purpose of securing the location of the navy yard. The, first action taken by the board of mayor and aldermen looking to this end was on September 23, 1841, when the following preamble and resolutions were adopted.

WHEREAS the Government of the United States has passed an act promising the establishment of an armory on the western waters, and believing the local situation of Memphis is advantageously situated for such an establishment, therefore
Resolved, That the mayor be authorized to appoint a committee of five citizens to draw up a memorial to the President of the United States setting forth the claims of Memphis and the advantages she possesses for such an establishment.

On May 1, 1843, the board received from the commissioners of the General Government a plat of a survey made by them with a view of reporting to Congress on the practicability of establishing a naval dock yard and depot. The plan included a part of the Promenade and Batture, lying north of Market Street, and also town lots belonging to private individuals from No. 1 to No. 24 inclusive. A committee was appointed to act with the mayor to obtain from the owners of said lots by purchase or otherwise the right and title to the same with a view to transferring them to the General Government if the national works should be located at this point. On the 4th of May succeeding an act was passed by the board of mayor and aldermen enacting that for and in consideration of the sum of $20,000, when paid, the mayor would under the authority of the act they were then passing make a deed conveying to the General Government of the United States the ground surveyed by the committee for a navy yard and depot, if the same should be required within three years, for the establishment of such navy yard and depot. After some difficulty over the title to the property, on the 23d of December, 1844, the committee appointed to close up the titles to the property was instructed to take the deed of Seth Wheatley for twenty-three lots, and the corporation would then make a deed for the whole, including streets and Batture, to the General Government, and that the committee should go on to perfect the titles excluding the twenty-four lots west of Chickasaw Street. After the completion of the transfer to the Government, a wall was erected, twelve feet thick at the base as also a rope walk, a large store, a commandant's house, a blacksmith shop, a carpenter shop, a saw-mill, an office building resembling the Coliseum at Rome, with columns all around. Commodore Shields and Commodore Lavalette were the successive commandants at this famous naval depot. After struggling along for a number of years with increasing difficulty to secure the necessary appropriations for its support, the navy yard and its buildings were abandoned, the amount of money spent theron having been from $1,200,000 to $1,500,000. The only creditable piece of work turned out of this novel navy yard, was the great iron steamship of war, "Alleghany," which was entirely built and equipped here with the exception of her hull. This was a most wonderful war vessel! Her speed is said to have been four miles per hour down stream, that being about the ordinary rapidity of the current, and four hours to the mile up stream, and after a brief but entirely unsatisfactory history, having cost the Government nearly $500,000, she was totally condemned. The navy yard itself was overtaken by a similar fate. In 1853 Senator (ex.-Gov.) James C. Jones, incensed at the parsimony with which Congress made appropriations for the support of the Memphis navy yard, made a demand that the property be returned to the city. The Senate, as if hoping some such way would present itself to get the elephant off its hands, instantly took the senator at his word, and thus ended one of the greatest failures in the shape of a navy yard this country has known.

In 1841 the city extended but little below Poplar Street, and there was but one brick house in town. It was not until 1844 that much business was transacted below Madison Street. In 1842 and 1843 the Gayoso House was built, and in 1844 a store was erected at the corner of Front and Union Streets, and South Memphis was built up after 1840. In 1847 W. A. Bickford erected at the corner of Front and Poplar Streets, extending to Exchange Street, a large business and office block, known then and ever since as the Exchange building. It contained the City Hall, 52x106 feet, besides a number of smaller halls for various public purposes, such as the mayor's office, the council's office, and a lecture hall. In 1849 the large building on the corner of Main and North Court Streets was commenced, and completed in 1850. In 1853 the city contained the following numbers of business houses: nineteen groceries; four hat, cap, boot and shoe stores; thirty-seven dry goods stores; fifteen clothing merchants; four auction and commission merchants; two book stores, one musical instrument store, two dentists, five merchant tailors, three millinery establishments, three saddleries, seventeen foundries, plumbers, etc. ; one flouring-mill, five hardware stores, eight drug stores, two real estate agents, nine hotels, among them the Gayoso kept by J. M. Fletcher, three factories, two daguerreotypists, three printing offices, six painters, ten furniture stores, etc., three banks, forty law firms, thirty-two physicians, three livery stables, three jewelers, Memphis Medical College with eight professors, and four newspapers. The population, as has been seen, was 12,687 in 1851.

(page 873)

Previous to laying out the town of South Memphis there was considerable strife and hard feeling between the two sections, a complete history of which however is not deemed appropriate in this work. The north part of the town or rather Memphis was known by the not very euphonious designation of " Pinch," and South Memphis was in retaliation named Sodom. The feeling went so far that the names of Sodom and Gomorrah were applied to the Methodist Churches in the two places. In the north part there was a bend in the bayou, which constituted a considerable lake, one known by the name of Catfish Bay. The abundance of fish in its waters and the cheapness of lumber in the vicinity induced a number of poor families to build shanties and settle upon its. banks. One group of very poor houses, noted for the destitution of its occupants, was named by Craven Peyton "Pinch Gut." This name was of course distasteful to the occupants of the row, and they insisted that it belonged to the other side of the bay. The latter people were much displeased at the attempt to fasten upon their locality such , an opprobrious epithet, and the feud thus created was much enjoyed by those living outside of both localities. However, their enjoyment was to be only short-lived, as the application of the name continued to expand until it finally took in the entire north end of town. But the extension of the name was of great value to those people as it served to bind them together with a common tie, and caused them all to work together for the advancement of the locality known as " Pinch." The bitterness of feeling however had a lasting effect upon the destinies of South Memphis. A glance at the map of Memphis as now incorporated shows that the most of the north and south streets in the city are not continuous below Union Street, the object of the people of South Memphis being to restrict as much as possible communication with the detested residents of Pinch.

During the early history of Memphis great trouble was experienced in collecting wharfage. Wharfage could not, in fact, be collected previous to 1841. There being no railroads the products of the Southern and Western States were carried down the Mississippi River in flatboats, which frequently came in fleets. The managers of these flatboats were opposed to paying wharfage, and when they banded together in resistance to the wharf-master it was only discretion which he exhibited when he abandoned all attempts to collect it, and retreated with becoming celerity up the hill. The income from wharfage for several years was out of all proportion to the trouble and annoyance of the wharf-master, who, together with some of the best citizens of the place, was frequently assaulted and shamefully abused by the boatmen. But this state of things could not last forever.

( page 874)

In 1841 a reform board of mayor and aldermen was elected, William Spickernagle being elected mayor. Mr. Spickernagle attempted a thorough reform in the kind of men elected to office. Two voluntary military companies, known as the Guards and the Blues, were encouraged to organize and equip themselves; and upon the completion of their organization they offered their services to the mayor, to assist in the enforcement of the laws. The board of mayor and aldermen was placed in a particularly trying situation. The three towns of Memphis, South Memphis and Fort Pickering were doing what they could to injure each other, and in this way it was hoped to build up themselves. The board was fully impressed with the necessity of selecting a good man for wharf-master, as they were well assured that some hard fighting must be done, and to encourage the wharf-master to do his work thoroughly they offered him twenty-five per cent on all collections. His administration proved to be a success, but not without some severe tussles with the boatmen. Since then wharfage has been a considerable item in the revenues of the city, but the victory was not won until May, 1842. At this time—when the water in the river was low—about 500 boats were lying at the Memphis landing at one time. Among them was one commanded by a noted desperado named Trester. He was going to see whether the wharf-master at Memphis was to have his own way, and to test the matter armed himself with a big club, which he trimmed so that the limbs stuck out about one-half an inch from the stem. When. the wharf-master appeared before him in the regular performance of his duty Trester exclaimed: "Who are you?" "The wharf-master," was the reply. Grasping his stick Trester exclaimed: "Do you see this? I cut this on purpose for you and I am going to use it on you if you show yourself here while I remain, and if you don't leave quickly I will give it to you now. I am the master of this wharf." As Tester was cheered on by a considerable crowd, the wharf-master thought it prudent to withdraw. Obtaining a warrant from the mayor, he got the town constable, G. B. Locke, to attempt to serve it. " I have a warrant for you," said the constable. " And I have one for you," said Trester, advancing with his big stick. A crowd of boatmen soon collected, and the two officers thought it best to again withdraw. They soon returned, however, with Capt. E. F. Ruth of the Guards with ten or twelve of his men, well armed. Trester and his men now attempted to escape, but as his two boats were heavily loaded he could not keep out of the way of the small flat which carried the small company of Guards in pursuit. An attempt was made to board Trester's boat, but his heavy club came down with such force on the wharf-master as to lay him sprawling on the flat. Capt. Ruth, Constable Locke and another man tried to board the boat, but were each knocked down, when some one called out to the Guards: " Fire! fire! " which order was obeyed by four of the soldiers, and Trester fell dead upon the deck. After this, though with considerable difficulty, the rest of the boatmen were taken prisoners. In course of time a board of magistrates upon investigation fully justified everything that had been done to enforce the law, and this was the last resistance to the collection of wharfage.