TNGenWeb Project
The Goodspeed Publishing Co., History of Tennessee, 1886
History of Decatur County

Also See: Biographical Sketches

Transcribed by David Donahue

        DECATUR COUNTY has irregular surface broken by deep ravines and hollows without any seeming order or system. The general slope is toward the Tennessee into which the entire drainage of the county empties. The watershed between the Tennessee and Mississippi lies west of the county. The only stream of any considerable size flowing through the county is Beech River, which empties into the Tennessee near the center of the county. Numerous smaller streams empty into the Beech. These received their names from early settlers who opened farms on or near these streams. Branches and creeks empty into the Tennessee every few miles from the southern to the extreme northern limit of the county. The valuable farming lands are found on the banks of the Tennessee, Beach River, and the smaller streams. The frequent inundations of the Tennessee render the land on its banks highly productive yet the farmers suffer at times from these overflows. Perhaps the largest area of valuable land is on Beech River. In addition to the excellent soil along this river it affords fine mill sites which have been used since the early settlement of the county. Very valuable timber abounds in great abundance in this county. Being isolated as it is, this product has not been exhausted as in many places. The most valuable of these timbers is the oak in its various varieties. Beech and other timber is also found. The getting out of cross ties has recently developed into an extensive industry, perhaps the most valuable of any in the county at the present. The soil on the stream above mentioned is dark and well suited for the growth of corn and other cereals while the soil on the ridge is much lighter and partakes of the general character of the soil of a large area of West Tennessee known as the sandy lands. These lands yield corn, wheat, oats, etc., but are liable to wash and without great care soon become badly worn and almost worthless. Considerable mineral wealth is found in this county. It consists of fine grained sandstone from which grindstones and whetstones are made; also there are deep ledges of limestone well suited for building material. Siliceous, cherty, flinty soils are common and numerous beds of fossil remains, crinoidal stems etc., are found. Deposits of galena have been found in some parts of the county but no effort has been made to develop these: also deposits of marble are to be found. The most valuable mineral which promises much profit is the iron ore. This deposit belongs to the immense area of Hardin, Wayne, Hickman and other counties of western Middle Tennessee. The Brownsport Iron Company own 12,000 acres of land about the old Brownsport furnace. The company consists of Napoleon Hill, G. M. Trigg, G. P. Thornton and others. Napoleon Hill is president of this company. The furnace was, operated successfully for a time and ore of fine quality and of great abundance was found, but an extensive lawsuit has involved the company in trouble, and work at the furnace has been suspended for a number of years, The richness and abundance of the ore and the great quantity of timber near, it is claimed will render this one of the most profitable of mines.

        The county originally belonged, or was a part of Perry County, which was cut off of Hickman County in 1819, and named in honor of Col. Oliver Hazard Perry. Owing to the inconvenience of having to cross the river in attending court, it was determined to form a new county out of that portion lying west of the river. Mr. Brasher was largely instrumental in forming the new county. The act creating the county passed the General Assembly in November, 1845. It was to form a new county out of "that part of Perry lying west of the river, to be known and distinguished by the name of Decatur County, in honor and to perpetuate the memory of Col. Stephen Decatur, of the United States Navy, of whose services our nation should be proud and whose memory should be revered." The county is bounded on the north by Benton County, on the west by Henderson County, on the south by Hardin County and the Tennessee, and on the east by the Tennessee River. The area as given by the assessors is 202,043 acres, valued at $645,750. This area seems to vary about 50% percent from that indicated by time boundaries. The committee to run the boundary line consisted of J. C. Barbrough, W.J. MeGee, J. S. Walker, Samuel Brasher and D. B. Funderburk. The county seat was selected by Samuel McLoed, Samuel Brasher, Balaam Jones and D.B. Funderburk on the lands of John McMillan from whom they obtained twenty-five acres, and ten acres was obtained from Burrrell Rushing, making thirty-five acres in all. The deed to this land was made May 7, 1847. After the division of Perry County, the new county was allowed the jail and the court square in Perryville for public purposes until a new site should be selected and new buildings erected. The first court met, it is said, in Decaturville in 1848, in a cabin on the west side of the square. This was used a short time till the erection of a two-story frame courthouse, which was burned July 3, 1869, with all the records except those in the registers office and the clerk and master's office. It is claimed that the fire was the work of an incendiary for the purpose of destroying the records On July12, 1869, the county court appointed J. W. Mayo, W. C. Fryar, D. M. Scott and others a committee on plans and specifications for the erection of a new courthouse. This contract was let early in October. The house is a two-story brick, having rooms for all the county officers on the first floor and the court room above. This house was erected at a cost of about $9,000. The county was allowed the use of the old jail as before stated, at Perryville, till the removal and establishment of the new seat of justice. The first jail stood on the present jail lot and was constructed of brick and logs. It was burned in 1855 and a new one after the same pattern erected in its place. A committee in 1869 reported this jail badly out of repair, and that the county was in need of a new one, but no definite action was taken till188, when J. W. Wiley, J. G. Hardin, W. H. Fisher and others were selected to supervise the erection of a new jail. Their report was filed April 7, 1884. A new jail was ordered. This is a fine brick structure and is used as the sheriff's residence as well as the jail. The cells are of the most improved pattern and are deemed entirely safe. The whole cost about $9,000.

        The poor that were not farmed out to individuals were kept at a small place on the original town plat till 1878, when a farm lying in the Fourth Civil District was purchased by J. Garret. D. M. Scott, James Jennings and George Morgan from Robert S. Brasher and others. The farm consists of 200 acres and was purchased for $300. The only outlet for market for the product of Decatur County at present is by way of the Tennessee River as the county has never had a railroad or turnpike. A proposition is now before the county asking for $2,000 stock in the Tennessee Midland Railroad, which, if built, will greatly enhance the value of the property of the county.

        The settlers in this County were mainly from Middle and East Tennessee or North Carolina. These began to arrive soon after the extinguishment of the Indian titles in 1818. A few perhaps came earlier as hunters and trappers, but were not permanent settlers, as the possession by the Indians would preclude a permanent residence. Traditions among old residents make the first entry into the county as early as 1808 or 1810, but this is hardly true. In 1822 Thomas Shannon with his wife, five sons and three daughters, left Davidson County for West Tennessee. Mr. Shannon himself, four negroes and two white men passed down the Cumberland and Ohio Rivers and up the Tennessee to the southern part of Decatur County. The family came through by land and crossed the Tennessee at Shannonsville. Mr. Shannon settled near what is now called Point Pleasant. This portion of the county was a portion of Harden County till 1856. Uncle Jimmy Harris came down the Tennessee and landed at the mouth of a little stream which be named Cub Creek, doubtless from the number of young bears killed there. The date of his arrival is not known, but he is generally conceded to have been the first settler in the county. He was soon followed by others who settled in different parts of the county. They usually chose sites near the Tennessee or the smaller streams of the county. Ephram Arnold settled in the vicinity of Harris a few years later than Mr. Harris. Reuben White, Wm. Yarbro or Yarbrough, the Rushings, Smiths, Dennisons, Pettigrews, McMillans, Houstons, Rains and others soon followed. These families have been identified with the county since its first settlement. Others soon followed but it would be impossible to follow all as the increase soon became rapid. The names of the first settlers at Carrollville, Shannonsville and Perryville are given in connection with these places.

        As Decatur County was a part of Perry County until the organization in November, 1845, the records of the county to that date were a record of Perry County and the destruction of nearly all since that date up to 1869 renders a review of the courts impossible. Judge James Scott was doubtless the first circuit Judge after the division of the county and Robert A. Hill, the attorney-general. Judge Scott was followed by Judge Elijah Walker. Both Judge Scott and Judge Walker were from Savannah. The former died it is believed, in 1850, and the latter in 1873. Both men were recognized as men of ability and integrity; Judge Walker served as Judge till the outbreak of the war. Robt. A. Hill was succeeded as attorney-general by Lee M. Bentley. Fielding Hurst was from McNairy County and was appointed circuit judge at the reorganization after the war and served till 1867 and J. W. Doherty till 1869, when Judge Walker was again elected and served till his death in 1873, when he was succeeded by Judge T. P. Bateman who served till 1886. Among the later attorney-generals are J. W. Doherty and John M. Taylor. The chancery court was established at Decaturville in 1854 with Stephen C. Pavatt as chancellor, who served till 1866 or till the close of the courts by the war. R. H.. Rose was chancellor from 1866 till 1870, when Geo. H. Nixon was elected and served till 1886, when he was succeeded by A. J. Abernathy, the present chancellor. .Judges Rose and Nixon are both residents of Lawrenceburg and Judge Abernathy is a resident of Pulaski. D. B. Funderburk was appointed clerk and master and served till 1872, when D. C.. Kennedy succeeded him and served till 1879, when J. A. English was appointed and still holds the office. The first county register was John A. Rains, who was defeated for re-election in 1848 by A. M. Yarbro who served till 1856, when he was succeeded by W. B. Bright and he by J. J. Lacy and he by W. H. Milam. Then came Wm. Pratt for three terms, when ho was succeeded by P. H. Brasher, who gave place in 1880 to G. B. D. Rushing. The first county court clerk was Samuel Yarbro, who served till 1856 and was succeeded by M. J. Fisher, who served one term and was succeeded in 1860 by J. R. Carmack, who served till the outbreak of the war. J. C. Roberts served from 1866 to 1866, when he was succeeded by J. P. Rains, who served till 1870. John McMillan was then elected and held the office till 1882, when the present incumbent. J. B. Dees, was elected. The first circuit clerk was D. B. Funderburk, who served till 1856, when he was succeeded by Hiram Lacy, who held the office till 1860. Samuel Akin was then elected and held the office till the war. After the reorganization C. S. Brandon and P. O. Roberts held the office until 1870, when D.N. Scott was elected the two following terms. J. P. Rains was elected to the office in 1878 and still holds it.

        The first county sheriff was Hiram Lacy, who held the office from 1848 to 1852. John McMillan then held the office from 1852 to 1856, and G. W. Hanes from 1856 to 1862. Benj. F. Tuton was sheriff from 1865 to 1866 and J. C. Barnett from 1866 to 1868. J. B. Houston served from 1868 to 1870, when D. C. Kennedy was elected for one term. Isaac McMillan served from 1872 to 1874 and W. R. Tuton from 1874 to 1876. Isaac McMillan was again elected and served from 1869 to 1882, when he gave place to E. B. Arnold, the present incumbent. The majority of suits before the Decatur Courts have been comparatively uninteresting to the public; being as it is, away from the great money centers the suits have not involved vast sums of money. Peaceful as the county has been, the records show that about one indictment for murder has been returned every year since the organization of the county. This number is not over the average perhaps in the State, startling as it may seem. A case exciting considerable interest was the killing of .M. J. Fisher by Carroll Graves in October, 1862. This grew out of political differences and Graves made his escape and has never been brought to justice. On November 30, 1873, Geo. W. Tate was killed by George Lyle or Lisle on the southeast corner of the public square. Lisle made his escape and first went to Kentucky, but was afterward apprehended in Missouri and brought back to Decaturville for trial. After a very exciting trial of several years be was convicted and sentenced to the penitentiary for a term of fifteen years. He is now doing his term of service. The present bar of Decaturville is composed of J. W. Doherty, John McMillan, J. A. England and D. B. Scott.

        On the question of the war Decatur was much divided in opinion and sentiment. On the vote of the question of "separation" or no separation" there were cast 310 votes for "separation" and 558'votes for "no separation." There was no such thing as neutral ground on the question of the war and few able-bodied men escaped the army either for or against the Union. The county being isolated from the great lines of travel except by way of the Tennessee River, it was comparatively free from the march of the armies, but what was worse it suffered terribly from predatory bands of irregular cavalry or roving bands - too often robbers under thc name of soldiers. The first troops raised for the Confederate service was the company of Capt. Isham G. Hearn. This company became Company F of the Twenty-seventh Tennessee Confederates. The company Was called the "Blind Tigers" or simply "Tigers." The regiment was organized at Trenton in 1861 by the election of C. H. Williams, colonel; B.H. Brown, lieut.-colonel; and Samuel Love, major.

        The second company raised in the county was that of Jonathan Luton which company became part of the thirty-first Confederate (West Tennessee) Regiment. The officers of this regiment were A. H. Bradford, colonel; C. M. Cason, lieut.-colonel; and. John Smith, major. Four companies were raised for the Fifty-second Tennessee (Con federate) Regiment. These were the companies of N. A. Wesson, W. R. Akin, J. H. Thomas and John McMillan. The other commissioned officers of the last company only are remembered. They were J. L. Buck. first lieutenant; P. R. Brasher, second lieutenant, and S. L. McClure, third lieutenant. The regiment was organized on January 4, 1862, at Henderson Station by electing B. J. Lea, colonel: John Esle, lieutenant-colonel, and J. O. Rundle, major. After the battle of Shiloh, about the last of April or first of May, the Fifty-second was consolidated with the Fifty-first. Col. John Chester, of Jackson, became colonel of the consolidated regiment, and Col. Lea was assigned to duty elsewhere. Henceforth the consolidated regiment operated as one body

        Decatur County furnished two companies for the Federal Army The first of these was raised by Capt. Elisha Roberts. This was done about the first of October, 1862. Elisha Roberts, Wm. Chandler and Wm. C. Webb, were each captain of this company in the order named. The lieutenants were J. L. W. Boatman, first; Wm. F. Bright and Isaac J. Shull, second lieutenants. The operations of these men are given elsewhere in the history of the Sixth Union Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry. The second company was raised by Capt. Andrew Roberts. These men were a part of the Second Union Regiment of Tennessee Mounted Infantry. The nucleus of this regiment was Company A which was mustered into service October 1, 1883. By February 1, 1864, at which time the regiment was organized, it numbered seven companies. John Murphy was then elected lieutenant-colonel. On the completion of the Regiment Lieut.-Col. John Murphy was promoted to Colonel. The operations of the Second were mainly in doing fort duty and scouring the country, in picking up stragglers, and in preventing recruiting for the Confederacy.

        The principal church denominations in Decatur County are the Methodist Episcopal South, the Missionary Baptist and the Cumberland Presbyterian. The Methodists of this County belong to the Decaturville Circuit and the Jackson District and the Memphis Conference. In the Decaturville Circuit there are eight classes or church organizations and four local preachers. By the report for 1885 there were 735 member belonging to the Decaturville Circuit. Among the earlier churches of the denomination is Gray's Chapel, which was built in 1853; the trustees at that time were W. T. Brasher, Wm. Ivy, Wm. Brigance, Henry Jackson, Thomas Hays, Wm. L. McKenzie and Phillip Ivy. The Methodist Church in Decaturville was built in 1854 in connection with the Masons. New Liberty was built on the land of Curtis O'Neal in 1855. The trustees at that time were L. B. Stanfield, Lewis Garret, S. Singleton, Henry Singleton and Joseph Kelly. The most of the church house now standing has been erected since the war. A. Cumberland Presbyterian Church was built at Mt. Joy in 1848. The trustees at that time were L. E. Davis, Wm. May and Robert Campbell. The church at Liberty was built in 1838. The trustees at that time were W. W. G. Rushing and John W. Bennett. The membership of the former congregation is given at twenty-eight, and of the latter at thirty-six. Perhaps the oldest and strongest denomination in the county is the Missionary Baptist, but no date of that church is at hand.

        The schools of Dccatur County were first organized while it was yet a part of Perry County. The academy at Perryville was built in 1825. Soon after the organization of the county Lot 99 was purchased in Decaturville, for the purpose of building thereon an academy. The trustees of the academy were J. L. Houston, J. A. Rains, H. C. Fryar, Wm. Henry an David B. Funderburk. A building was soon erected and a school opened. This institution has been under the control of the trustees appointed by the county court since its inception. Among the early teachers of the county may be mentioned Elias Blunt, familiarly known as "Gov. Blount," Elias Deaton, Geo. W. Beard; Green B. Rushing, Houston Roberts, Calvin Rushing, W. M. Dalton, B. H. Southerland. These men possessed the characteristics of early teachers they had industry, knew how to wield the birch, and could teach the three "R's." The academy above mentioned was quite prosperous, and some able instructors taught in it. A college building was erected but was unfortunately destroyed by fire before ready for use. The scholastic population of the county is given at 2,019 white, and 340 colored. The enrollment for the year was 1,733 white and 231 colored. The length of school term is sixty days; the salary of teacher is $28 per month: the number of schoolhouses is forty-nine, and the total amount expended for schools was $2,815.31.

        Decaturville, the present seat of Justice was selected and deeded to Samuel McLoed, Samuel Brasher, Balsam Jones and David B. Funderburk in 1847. The site embraced an area of thirty-five acres. The first settler in the place was Gilbert McMillan, who built a house, where Decaturville now stands, in 1835, and it was known as McMilllan's shop for a number of years. At the first sale of lots the following were purchasers: Pettigrew & Coat, John Garret, L. G. Friedley, Daniel McLoed, P. H. Fisher, E. E. Pate, Lawson Kelley, E. B. Jones, John McMillan, W. H. Bennet, J. W. Delaney, O. N. Gains, H. C. Fryar and a few others. Daniel McLoed built a house on the northeast corner of the square where the Dennison Hotel now stands, which was the first business house built in the place. Here he sold groceries for a time. Samuel Yarbro and Johnathan Luton were the first dry goods merchants. They did business where John Tate is now located. Soon after Young & Johnson opened business on the southwest corner of the square, and Pettigrew & Coats on the northwest corner of the square. Others were J. J. Sharp & Co., and later Storm & Smith, J. M. Fryar, Kendrick & Roberts and Blythe & Bondurant. The present business men of the place are Stout & Scott, Reuben Smith; J. L. Tate, J. T. Rodgers, Roberts & Moreland, W. F. Stout and J. L. Welch & Co.; hotel, the Dennison house. The Methodist Church and Masonic Lodge Hall, No, 218, was built in 1834. The town of Decaturville contains about 500 inhabitant, and is without a charter.

        Perryville, the old county seat, was selected as the seat of justice in 1821. On November 14, 1821, the Legislature selected Charles Miles, John Reaser, James Dickson, Charles Graham, W. S. Britt and Wm. Patterson to locate said seat. The place selected was the present site of Perryville. The town was incorporated in 1845, and in November of that year Joseph Brown, Wm. Jarman, J. S.. Allen, J. W. Crowder, Jacob Johnson, James Kelough and John McClover were made the town board and, also, trustees to establish an academy at Perryville. Samuel McClure was the first merchant in the place, and perhaps in the county. In 1821 he was succeeded in business by J. M. Pettigrew, a native of Ireland, but a man of great business ability. In the following year Pettigrew was joined by a brother, and in a short time by a half brother. Their business grow to immense proportions, and Perryville became one of the most extensive shipping points on the Tennessee River. While Perryville was the county seat it was not only the commercial but was also the political center of the county. Here met the early courts. The operations of the notorious John A. Murrell's band were through this portion of the county about 1830-32. While Perryville was still the political center it was visited by the great political lights such as James K. Polk, Andrew Jackson and a host of others. Among the early ones was the eccentric David Crockett. With the division of the county began the decline of Perryville so that now it contains but low houses, one commission or store house, one general store and one hotel.

        On October 17, 1821, the Legislature appointed John Blackburn, John Johnston, Worley Warrington, J. W. Nunley and Wm. B. Ross commissioners to lay off a town "to be called Carrollville, in honor of His Excellency Wm. Carroll" at Reeves Ferry. This town was on the lands of John Blackburn, John Johnston and Worley Warrington. It lay a short distance above Perryville but is now a town more in name than in reality. At the time of fixing the permanent capital of the State, Carrollville was one of the many contestants for the honor of being selected as the fortunate place.

        The place known as Shannonsville was laid out in October, 1824, on the land of Robt. Shannon. It contained twenty acres in the original plat, and was laid out by James Wright, Fred C. Holland and Jackson White. There is little left to mark the site of the old town.


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