The First Decades of A New County

G. Tillman Stewart

From Henderson County by G. Tillman Stewart, Tennessee County History Series, Joy Bailey Dunn, Editor, Charles W. Crawford, Associate Editor, 1979, Memphis State University Press.  Thanks to G. Tillman Stewart's son George Stewart for granting permission to publish this book.

On November 7, 1821, the state of Tennessee created by a single act four counties-Henry, Carroll, Madison, and Henderson. Signed by Governor William Carroll, the act to establish the new counties in West Tennessee contained 13 sections, nine of which dealt with Henderson County. Some of the provisions that determined whether a new county could be created included at least 625 square miles and a petition signed by 200 free male inhabitants for submission to the General Assembly. Henderson County had approximately 700 square miles and 235 signatures on its petition. Among the first to sign the petition were Absolum Brooks, John Bray, John Carnall, Asa Davis, William Dismuke, John T. Harmon, Jeremiah Ingrahan, George Powers, Joseph Smith, Abner Taylor, Philip Walker, John A. Wilson, and Samuel and David Wilson.

Henderson County was named for Colonel James Henderson, who commanded Tennessee troops at the Battle of New Orleans. He also was on General Jackson's staff during both the Creek and Natchez campaigns. Major John Harmon served under Henderson and in all probability influenced other leaders in naming the county for his commander. Colonel Henderson's military record was outstanding; he was called a soldier's soldier because of his uncompromising patriotism and loyalty to both his superiors and men.

Henderson and the other three counties created at the same time were placed under the jurisdiction of Stewart County, until each county had organized properly to meet the requirements. It was a long way to Dover, seat of Stewart County, across the Tennessee River and not far from the Kentucky line, where items such as marriage licenses and taxes had to be paid. Consequently the four counties moved with full speed to organize their governments.

County Seat

The Legislature appointed Sterling Brewer, James Fentress, and Abram Maury to select a site and a name for the seat of Henderson County. The site chosen was near the county's center, close to Wilson Spring Branch, and was named Lexington in honor of Lexington, Massachusetts, where the first battle of the Revolutionary War was fought. The commissioners appointed J. J. Hill, Job Philpot, James Purdy, and Abner Taylor as the governing body of Lexington. Taylor was elected chairman. Samuel Wilson sold the 63‑acre site, which was surveyed by John Harmon, to the commissioners on April 12, 1822. The four‑acre public square was reserved in the center of the site for a courthouse, stocks, and jail. Lots were laid off in rows around the square beginning at the northeast corner and numbered consecutively, resulting in a total of 104 lots. Wilson reserved lot number 20 for himself since his own log house was already built on it. A lot was reserved for each commissioner. As reported by John Stewart and Micajah Bullock, the first purchasers of lots were John Brooks, William Edwards, John A. Green, James Jordan, William Stoddert, Samuel G. Tate, Daniel Thomas, John Wilson, Samuel Wilson, and James Wright. The first lots were sold at auction with Robert Marshall who received $50 for his services as auctioneer.

The exact date the lots were sold is unknown, but it occurred between August 14 and September 1, 1822. The commissioners did not receive full possession of the acreage until August 14, and some work was begun by the first of September. The entire sale amounted to $6285.40. The expenses, which totaled $5483, included the sale of surety and public buildings "with certain incidentals" which were not recorded. Full possession of the land was not obtained until August.

Immediately after the sale of the lots, the first courthouse was built, perhaps as early as September of 1822. It was a one-story log structure that cost $142 to build. Prior to the building of the courthouse, all county and town meetings were held at the home of Samuel Wilson. Because the first courthouse was too small, a brick courthouse was constructed in 1827 by Wilson at a cost of $587.97. This two‑story building served the county's needs until 1863 when it was destroyed by fire.

The court square at Lexington is perhaps the only county seat courthouse in the United States that is laid out crossways. The north corner of the courthouse and court square point toward the United Methodist Church, the south corner toward Natchez Trace Street between the Princess Theater and Stewart's Drug Store, the west corner toward the First National Bank, and the east corner toward the telephone office. There are no north, south, east, or west doors in the courthouse. A map is inlaid in the center of the first floor of the courthouse.

The first county jail was a small log structure with one main room and a side room, built near the courthouse for a cost of $83. Years later, a brick jail was constructed on Purdy Street, now Monroe. The site is the parking lot now used by Pafford Funeral Home.

The first county offices were county and circuit court clerks, sheriff, and county register; these were the only offices provided for in the state constitution. The Legislature could and did create other county offices when deemed necessary. Later the offices of trustee, tax assessor, chancery court clerk, and superintendent of schools were created.

G. H. Buck, sheriff from 1846 to 1850, was a strict law enforcer and religious man who saw that no religious meeting was disturbed. It was said that he arrested seven people who were creating a disturbance one night at Mifflin and made them walk 15 miles to Lexington while he rode his horse behind them. Evidently the walk to jail deterred further interest in creating disturbances.

Lexington grew fast during the decade following its founding in 1822, at which time its population was estimated at 40. By 1830 it had increased to 260, and the city had two inns, one harness shop, one blacksmith shop, three saloons, three general stores, two churches, one wagon shop, one livery stable, and 42 dwelling houses. About the time that Dr. Brown established his store and office, John Greer built a store and saloon that occupied the same building. Lexington was incorporated in 1824 and operated under this charter for 50 years. Most merchandise was hauled by wagon from Perryville or Brodie's Landing on the Tennessee River; some came from Saltillo. It usually took three days for a wagon to make a round trip.

During this period the Lexington‑Clifton Road was built by way of Scotts Hill. Taking the contract to construct the road were William White and Milt Buck. Together with slaves, they felled trees and cleared the right‑of‑way for the road. They did not grade or plow the road. Stumps were cut low, and the road was rough. The Clifton Road then became the most used road to the Tennessee River.

Pleasant Exchange

The settlers of Pleasant Exchange built a brick schoolhouse in 1822, known as the "college." It was possibly the first brick building in Henderson County. H. J. Bolen, in his Henderson County's History, gives the following account of Pleasant Exchange:

William D. Carrington established a business at Old Pleasant Exchange about 1824. He built the first hotel or inn, perhaps that was built in the county. He bought his goods or merchandise out of New Orleans and had them shipped to a point on the Tennessee River, since called Brodie's Landing. A little later two men named Philpot and Fairbanks came and bought up a large tract of land and built a mill on Dabbs Creek, since known as Philpot's mill. They also established a distillery that ran full time the entire year. At one time there were three stores, three saloons, one tailor shop, one blacksmith shop and two shoe shops.... Pleasant Exchange up to the Civil War was a noted resort for horse racing and gambling. But after the war it ceased to exist as a town....

The Leslie family, relatives of Andrew Jackson, moved to Pleasant Exchange in the early 1820s. During Jackson's business trips to West Tennessee, he reportedly spent several nights with the Leslies. It was also said that he raced horses at Pleasant Exchange. The remains of the school building and race track are on the land now owned by Claude Roberts.

A powder mill operated in the community before and possibly during the Civil War. Veterans and local residents have said that General Forrest replenished his army with powder from the mill prior to the Battle of Parker's Crossroads.


By the end of 1831, Mifflin, a fast growing village in the west part of the county between Jackson and Lexington, had a population of 138. Many farmers were wealthy slave owners. The town contained one horse‑powered cotton gin, grist mill, blacksmith shop, wagon shop, harness shop, and two stores and saloons. Wagons carrying merchandise from Lexington to Jackson usually stopped at a local inn. There were two churches, one a Primitive Baptist and the other a Missionary Baptist. Prominent early families were the Reids, Teagues, Hendrixes, Joneses, Butlers, Alexanders, and Browns.

Politics and Government

The first national election in which residents voted was in 1824. General Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Crawford of Georgia, and Clay of Kentucky were candidates for president. Although Henderson County gave a majority of its vote to Jackson, no candidate received an electoral majority, and the election was thrown into the U.S. House of Representatives where Adams was chosen.

In the Legislature, the county was represented in both the House and Senate by the same men who represented Stewart County. In the election of 1823, Henry Hill Brown from the county was elected to the Senate and served the counties of Henderson, Carroll, Henry, Humphreys, Perry, and Stewart. It was certainly a compliment to a new county to elect one of its citizens the first time such an election was held.

David Crockett probably had more influence on the political thinking and public opinion of early Henderson County than any other person. As a frontiersman, soldier, politician, hunter, and raconteur, he had few equals. While living in the Reelfoot Lake area, Crockett was elected to the Legislature In 1823. He represented the district that included Henderson County, and, during his unsuccessful attempt for the U.S. House of Representatives, he carried the county.

During his years in office, Crockett maintained loyal followers in the county, and, as a result of his fight against Jackson and the Democratic party, the majority of residents became Whigs. An example of this is shown in the election of 1836 when the Jackson candidate for president, Martin Van Buren, received 81 votes in the county and the Whig candidate 831. In 1840, Van Buren received 277 votes and Harrison 1318.

As early as 1830, there existed some sentiment for changing the state constitution. Governor Carroll advocated a revision or a completely new constitution. John Purdy was elected to represent the county at the Constitutional Convention of 1834. The constitution adopted that year provided that all counties would be divided into districts with two magistrates and a constable elected from each district and an additional magistrate elected from the county seat. The Nashville Whig, a leading party newspaper, furnished the following brief biography on the local delegate: "John Purdy, Resident Henderson County, born April 16, 1798, in Millin County, Pennsylvania. Emigrated to Tennessee in 1819. Occupation: farmer." In the commission meeting at Mifflin on January 7, 1836, the county was divided into 15 districts. The names Ross Ferry, Patton's Ferry, Reynoldsville, Shannonville, and Natchez were used frequently in the location of various district lines.

The leading Whig speaker and campaigner in Henderson County was Crockett's close friend Christopher H. Williams of Lexington, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 25th, 31st, and 32nd Congresses. Williams was a man of party influence not only in Tennessee, but also nationally, and obtained a national reputation as a speaker.

Williams assumed a lead in a rally held at Lexington for William Harrison during his presidential campaign. A wagon with a miniature log cabin placed between two kegs of cider mounted on it, was paraded on what is now Main Street and around court square. Other wagons followed, also with plentiful "hard" cider. Each wagon boasted signs which read: "Cider free to all Harrison men." The free cider increased the number of Harrison supporters. Great excitement filled the crowds, estimated from 1000 to 5000 people.

During the gubernatorial campaign of 1841 between James K. Polk and James C. "Lean Jimmy" Jones, the county was visited by Polk and 74‑year old Jackson. Polk and Jackson arrived at Lexington before dark on October 6, 1844, and went immediately to a hotel, later known as the Lawler home. Tired, both men retired early. During the night some "devilish Whigs" were accused of putting a Whig flag on the window of the room where Polk and Jackson slept.

The next day Jackson spoke to a large crowd which, although strongly Whig, treated Jackson courteously. Polk followed with a speech that did not criticize Jones as bitterly as had been done at other places, nor did he lash out at the Whig party.

In spite of Jackson's efforts, Jones was elected governor, with Henderson County providing its usual Whig majority. Two years later both candidates met again with the same results; within two more years, Polk was in the White House.


In 1836, there was a false war scare that called Tennessee volunteers to defend the country's borders. The Henderson County volunteers were placed under the command of Captain Nicholas H. Darnell. For an unknown reason, Captain Darnell's company and that of a Captain Totten from Carroll County failed to attend a rendezvous at Jackson and were then ordered to rendezvous at Fayetteville. Governor Cannon reported the event to the Legislature as follows:

The companies of Captain Darnell of Henderson County, Captain Totten of Carroll County, Captain Lauderdale of Sumner County and Captain Curry of Weakley County also attended the rendezvous at Fayetteville, but were all reported too late and consequently could not be received into the service. They encountered the sacrifices and expenses of going there and returning to their homes. Twenty companies were received and organized in accordance with the laws of the state, into a brigade under my orders to report to General Armstrong. The estimated number was 1550 at Fayetteville. Total of all companies was 106 containing 8685 volunteers.

The entire operation was cancelled as suddenly as it was mobilized. All volunteers were discharged with pay, except those companies that had been late which included that of Henderson County.

In 1848, a war developed between Mexico and the United States concerning the boundary between the two countries. President Polk called for volunteers, and Governor Aaron V. Brown issued a call for 2600 volunteers. Thirty‑thousand men volunteered, providing Tennessee with the name Volunteer State. It is estimated that 250 county men were among these volunteers.


The Reverend John Carrant, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister, is thought to have been the first recorded ordained minister. Traveling on horseback, he preached in homes and under brush arbors. Other early ministers in Henderson County were John Darnett and John Barrett, also Cumberland Presbyterians. Methodists soon followed with much enthusiasm, winning many converts. The Missionary Baptists, Free Will Baptists, and Primitive Baptists came next.

Among the first organized churches were a Baptist church in 1827, at what is now known as Old Jack's Creek, and a Primitive Baptist church, organized at Mud Creek near the Carroll County line in 1830. A community building was constructed near the present Beech River cemetery between 1825 and 1830, and all denominations worshipped there.

In 1824, G. H. Buck, a devout Cumberland Presbyterian leader, settled on what is known as the Odell Buck farm. Through Buck's efforts, the Mt. Gilead Church near Shady Hill was organized in 1826. It is still an active church although the membership has dwindled. Buck helped to organize revivals in various parts of the county which led to the establishment of other churches.

Palestine Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized in 1837 or 1838 but did not affiliate with the presbytery for several years. The Reverend Henry Wadley was instrumental in the organization of the church and was its first pastor. A dedicated man, he died in the pulpit of this church and was buried in its cemetery. On his tombstone is inscribed, "Died In The Service." Other leaders of this church were Elias Stewart, his sons, and J. L. and S. E. Britt. A few years later, Big Springs Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized only three miles northwest of Palestine. The McAdamses and Wallaces were the leading families in its organization.

Among Methodist ministers preaching in the county were the Reverends Renshaw, J. Kelly, and R. S. Swift; no official records verify the presence of others. The first Methodist church was built near the mouth of Olive Branch in the northern part of the county. This log church was constructed on a two-acre lot deeded by Solomon Milam to Ramson Cunningham, John Cooper, James Hart, and Thomas Johnson on July 9, 1832. Early members of this group, as recorded in 1887 by the Weston A. Goodspeed Company, were Elizabeth Ewing, who joined at Knoxville in 1824 and later moved to Lexington, joining the church there; R. B. Jones in 1839 with Renshaw; Mrs. A. A. Warren in 1838 with J. Kelly; and Bettie Bell and E. E. Smith with Swift in 1840.

Shady Grove was another of the early Methodist churches. It was established between 1835 and 1840 and was a well‑known campground. Among those connected with this church were the Cogdills, Corbets, Hamlets, Hunts, Renshaws, Sherwoods, and Youngs. Methodist churches were also established at Holly Springs in 1845, New Prospect in 1850, and Bethel at about the same time.

 The first Missionary Baptist church was built in Lexington in 1847; however, an organized membership existed as early as 1842. The exact location of this church is unknown; according to papers kept by the late Will Lawler, it was possibly near the current site of Jones Machine Shop. The first church structure stood until the Civil War, when by "neglect it fell into decay." In 1880, a lot was purchased from J. S. Fielder, and a brick building was erected.

A Baptist church was built at Chapel Hill in 1846 when the community was thriving with a post office, two stores, a blacksmith shop, a gin, and a saloon. A Missionary Baptist church was built at Hepzibah in 1847, at Ridge Grove in 1842, and at Union in 1842. The Union Church was originally erected as a place of worship for any denomination, hence the name, Union. Soon thereafter, it became a Missionary Baptist church and over the years has grown into an outstanding rural church.


The first plows used in Henderson County were wooden and only scratched the surface; however, this was all that was needed in the county's rich topsoil. Iron points used on turning plows came into use about 1829 and became popular as they increased the furrow depth. A larger, wooden wing could be added to the plow above the point. Section harrows were made by placing wooden pegs through holes in split logs and were used to pulverize soil. The wood beam shovel plow and the wood beam turning plow were the main farm equipment with the exception of the hoe, which was used constantly in the cultivation of cotton and corn. Without the use of the hoe, grass would have damaged or ruined the crops. Hoes also were used to thin cotton.

Principal garden crops were corn, beans, whippoorwill peas, onions, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, turnip greens, squash, cabbage, and carrots. Before sugar became available, wild honey was used as a sweetener. Some early farmers made beehives, captured bees, and produced honey.

Some corn was used to make whiskey, and local distilleries provided a market for the surplus corn. During the 1820s there were distilleries at Independence, Jack's Creek, Lexington, Mifflin, and Pleasant Exchange with local saloons providing waiting markets.

Homemade drum planters were being used for cotton by 1850. A wooden drum with holes one and one‑half inches in diameter, four inches apart, dropped the cotton seed into small furrows made by the plow in front of the drum and attached to the same wooden frame as the drum. A small drag or roller was attached behind the drum to cover the seed. Such a planter was crude and heavy, but it planted cotton.

By mid‑1840 cotton was king in Henderson County. An estimated 13,000 bales were produced in 1850 and sold at four and one‑half cents per pound (seed cotton). Approximately 1500 pounds of seed cotton yielded a bale of lint cotton, and an average of three acres yielded one bale. A farmer who could produce one‑half bale per acre was considered to be a "real" farmer and one who owned "mighty rich land."

Swine production supplanted wild game for the farmer's meat supply. Hogs were allowed to run wild, subsisting on nuts and roots. Each fall the farmer put in a pen those hogs planned for slaughter. They were corn fed until the weather was considered right for slaughter. A hog usually had to be two years of age to be large enough for slaughter. Hog killing day was a festive occasion when farmers helped their neighbors.

Trapping was an additional source of food for the farmer. During the winter, furs were prime; beaver, mink, muskrat, and raccoon furs commanded good prices. Wild pigeons were plentiful during the migration period, and their flesh was considered a delicacy.

Although farm tools were crude compared to modern equipment, Henderson County produced such outstanding farmers as John Anderson and his son Jack of Poplar Springs; John W. Cawthorn of Mifflin who had 1000 acres and more than 30 slaves; Columbus Davis of Browns Creek noted for fine livestock, excellent corn and wheat, and soil conservation practices; John Gray in Lone Elm Community; Ransom Cunningham and his son, A. B., who owned over a 1000 acres, noted for cotton, near the Sand Ridge Community; Moses Diffee, a cotton grower of White Fern Community, with 450 acres, fine livestock and pastures; Thomas M. Dodds in what is now Chester County, an outstanding farmer who owned several slaves; Joshua Foster, a successful farmer who later moved to Arkansas and then to Texas; and Ephriam Fuller, near Lexington who accumulated more than 1000 acres.


The home of Henry M. Powers, built in 1845,
has been occupied ever since. Powers, a Union soldier,
was imprisoned at Andersonville Prison in Georgia
during the Civil War.

M. J. Galloway, a good farmer, who first lived in various sections of the county, was also a school teacher, a member of the Legislature, and served as steward of the county poor farm. William B. Hall, who lived in the 3rd civil district, in addition to being a successful farmer, served as sheriff and as a member of the Legislature. William Howard settled approximately four miles east of Lexington in 1825 and was known as an agriculturist before coming to the county. He owned over 1000 acres of land and 35 slaves. Edmond Knowles settled six miles west of Lexington in 1824 and became one of the most prosperous farmers in the early history of the county, owning at one time over 3000 acres and some slaves. His farm had cattle, sheep, hogs, mules, horses, chickens, geese, turkeys, and guineas. Andrew McCall, Sr., settled east of where Chesterfield is located and purchased 300 acres.

W. C. McHaney developed a western portion of the county and immediately became prosperous as a farmer, merchant, and community leader, owning over 1000 acres. His brother, Lafayette F., owned 800 acres in the same community and later served in the Legislature and as deputy sheriff. Peter Pearson, political leader, owned 808 acres that were considered to be a model farm. Pearson became a member of the Henderson County Court and the Legislature. Shadrach Pearson located north of Lexington in 1836 on 200 acres of land that produced above average crops; in 1848 he moved to Carroll County. Benjamin Smith, whose farm was considered model, moved to the 6th civil district in 1827 but later relocated in the 11th district. His two sons, T. A. and John A., were also considered good farmers and political leaders. John owned over 700 acres of well‑cultivated land.

Economy, Industry, and Business

According to the Goodspeed history the first mill built in the county was constructed in 1821 on Mud Creek by John and William Bringham and was evidently used to crush corn into meal and wheat into flour. Primitive hand mills were also used to crush grain. Another mill was built later on the north fork of Forked Deer River, During the summer of 1822, a mill powered by horses was constructed on what is now known as the Old Lexington and Trenton Road.

The first cotton gin was built in 1823 and was located on Beech River near Lexington. Several mills were built between 1823 and 1830: Shackleford's mill, five miles east of Lexington on Haley's Creek; McGee's mill, the forerunner of McHaney mill, on Beech River; and Trice's mill near the same vicinity. McClure's cotton gin also was built during this period, but its exact location is unknown. In 1830 or 1831, a gin and mill were built on what is known as the Buckley farm, located south of Luray where cotton was sold in seed.

A cotton mill was established in Lexington between 1835‑1840, probably located across from the home of Samuel Wilson. Lint cotton was purchased at the gin and made into thread and cloth. As many as 20 people reportedly worked there at one time, receiving $2 a week in wages. At one time, R. W. Hall, who had some connection with the mill, was the payor.

The economy of Henderson County in 1831 through 1851 was sound with 12 cotton gins operating. By 1850, the gins were converted to steam power, except for Harmon's gin on Beech River and Shackelford's gin and mill on Haley's Creek. These gins had no suctions and were fed by hand.

Grist and wheat mills were located in every community. Some were operated by horse power, others by water power. Some, such as the Harmon, Shackelford, and McHaney 'mills, were operated in conjunction with cotton gins. Thomas Barrow operated a mill in the Smith Schoolhouse Community. Area millers included William Gately at Mt. Gilead; William Foster in the east part of the county; Andrew Davidson in what is now Shady Hill Community; William Collins in Reagan Community; David Sparks at an unknown site; Martin Douglass at Jack's Creek Community; Alcy Hamilton and Thomas Brown in the 15th civil district; and William Leonard in northeast Henderson County.

According to the 1850 census there were 29 blacksmiths in the county: J. H. Alexander, Thomas Arnold, Pleasant Austin, James and John Bennett, G. B. Birmingham, Henry Blankenship, Abner Brown, Wiley Carrington, Henry Goodman, William Hefley, John B. and David Kizer, Carter Madison, Francis McAlister, John McCall, John McCarroll, John McGuire, Robert Moffitt, Joseph Moore, John Pursser, William Read, Absolum Reding, Andrew Selzer, William Shaw, David Spain, John Tull, Gordon Webb, and James Williams. Blacksmiths were essential to the economy of the county until motor‑driven farm equipment replaced mules and horses. The blacksmiths shod horses and mules, sharpened plow points, set wagon tires, and repaired and made all kinds of farm equipment. Frequently they served as veterinarians.

The census included the following wagoners: Duncan McMiller, John A. Montgomery, and Bridges White of the southern county; Joseph Coleman of Crucifer Community; William S. Dollar of Independence Community; Caleb Woods of Pleasant Exchange; Joseph Pike of Jack's Creek; and Charles Roberts of Wildersville Community.

The same census also indicated that the county was one of the largest manufacturers of pottery in the state. Eight heads of families listed their occupation as "potters." Only White and Green counties had more potters listed. Mark Mooney operated a kiln in the 13th district from 1850 to 1880. According to members of his family, Mooney primarily made salt glazed stoneware like grease lamps, dishes, churns, and pitchers. A pottery located in Lexington, possibly operated by Alex W. Fesmire and Thomas Craven, specialized in making quality whiskey jugs that were shipped to distilleries in Kentucky and Ohio. Engravings on these jugs read, "Made in Lexington, Tennessee, by Lexington Pottery Works."

Thomas Craven, grandson of the famous Randolph County, North Carolina, potter Peter Craven, his sons‑John M., Tinsley W., and William‑moved to Henderson County between 1829 and 1830 and began the family's prominent pottery businesses. Tinsley's sons, Malcolm M. and Thomas E., later joined the family tradition. The Cravens operated kilns in several county districts through the 1880s. Research has indicated that one of the Cravens operated near the confluence of Black Bottom and the Beech River. Pieces of pottery and ruins of the kiln were present until the headwaters of Beech Lake covered most of the site.

Several tanneries existed in 1850. Due to the bad odors produced by tanneries, they were located at distances from dwelling houses. Operators of area tanneries included William Houston near Middleburg Community, Elias Stewart and sons in Palestine Community, and Asa M. Wilson at Pleasant Exchange and Wildersville. There were also tanneries at Mifflin and Jack's Creek; however, their owners or operators are unknown.

Shoemakers traveled through the communities once each year to make shoes for various families; David D. Strain and Jeremiah Grisson were near Lexington and Robert Kizer at Wildersville. Saddlers who owned their own shops or repaired saddles in the county were George Bird, Addison Hall, Felix Henry, and Thomas Roach at or near Lexington; Cyrus Wilson at Pleasant Exchange; and John Littell in the southern part of the county. Area gunsmiths who made or repaired muzzle-loading muskets were Christopher Stutts, who lived in the Lexington area, and J. W. Teague in the west part of the county.

Thomas Bartholomew, R. T. Fringer, William Hill, Edmund Lessenberry, Harrison McClamock, Ralph Mason, James Napier, Thomas P. Oliver, John Tillmore, and Andrew Scott were carpenters. Calvin Webb was cited as both a carpenter and a cabinetmaker, while Isaac Baskins, W. W. Derryberry, and George B. Gilliam were listed as cabinetmakers. Other businessmen cited were W. T. Edwards and D. J. Birmingham, carriage makers; John W. Hawks, brickmason; Ivan Smith of Lexington, a hatter; Moses Christenberry, a painter; and James Ford Mifflin, a ditcher.

R. W. Hall was the town banker at Lexington and received money for safekeeping in his iron vault. Money deposited into savings accounts was carried by Hall or his employees to Jackson, where it was deposited into another savings account.

As the county developed, its citizens began to improve their houses and life‑styles. The more wealthy citizens, especially the slave owners, began to build frame houses by 1840. Crude sawmills provided lumber dressed by hand, and merchants stocked paint and square nails by 1845. Most frame houses were painted white. Candles furnished the light, and candle holders came in all shades, colors, and sizes. The coal oil lamp was used later. Although cloth could be purchased at stores, most families still depended on the spinning wheel or home loom for making cloth. Ready‑made clothing and sewing machines were extremely rare. Howe invented the sewing machine in 1844‑1845, but there is no record of any being in use in the county until after 1875.

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Travel and Transportation

As the population increased in Henderson County, it became necessary to construct better roads. All roads were dirt, and the most frequently traveled were those from Lexington to Clifton, Trenton, Jackson through Crucifer and Mifflin, and Huntingdon. By 1840, the Lexington and Purdy Road also became well traveled. Road improvements made travel easier and increased the hauling of cotton by wagons and carts to Perryville, Clifton, Saltillo, and Brodie's Landing, where the cotton was loaded on boats and shipped to Paducah, Memphis, or New Orleans. These improvements also led to the use of the stagecoach, which in turn encouraged the development of inns.

The first stagecoach to serve Henderson County was the Lexington and Clifton Stage that traveled by way of Scotts Hill and Bath Springs. A small inn was built at Scotts Hill to take care of the travelers. The stage made the entire trip from Lexington to Clifton in one day and returned the next. Later, this route was extended to Jackson. In 1850, I. W. Norweed advertised a reduced round‑trip fare from Jackson to Nashville for $16 or a one‑way fare for $9 via Lexington, Scotts Hill, Clifton, Waynesboro, and Columbia in 34 hours. The advertisement concluded with the following sentence: "This line is now successful, being stocked with new four‑horse tray, superior teams, and careful sober drivers." The Jackson Hotel sold tickets for this trip.

About 1845, the Lexington to Perryville stage was established with stops at a settlement where Beacon is now located and at Lone Elm. Passengers who traveled the Tennessee River found this to be an improvement. Mail service from the East was reduced from a month to a week or ten days. Stages continued to operate between Jackson and Lexington even after Jackson had the benefit of a railroad, some 35 years before Henderson County had one.

 Railroad fever invaded West Tennessee around 1835. Forked Deer River was navigable to Jackson, and Hatchie River was navigable as far as Bolivar only part of each year. Consequently there was a large territory existing between the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers without the benefit of transportation. The transportation of merchandise was essential to the development of such counties as Henderson, Carroll, and Madison.

The impetus for a railroad was taken by energetic businessmen, farmers, and professional men from Jackson. In 1833, they succeeded in obtaining the Western Railroad charter, the purpose being to build a railroad from Jackson to the Mississippi River by the most practical route. The state appropriated $506 to survey a route. In October of 1837, the state's chief engineer, Albert Miller Lee, made a report known as the Forked Deer Valley Railroad Proposal to Governor Cannon recommending a route from Ashport to Fulton on the Mississippi River, to Perryville on the Tennessee River. This route would have included Jackson and Lexington and would have accessed the entire Forked Deer Valley and Beech River Valley.

As a part of the overall project plan, the Legislature chartered the Tennessee and Jackson Railroad to build from Lexington to Perryville. Meetings were held in the courthouses of Bolivar, Jackson, and Nashville to discuss the building; one such meeting was held at Jack's Creek in Henderson County. The name of the company was changed to the Jackson and Mississippi Central.

Despite pleas for the road, the effort failed to subscribe the $50,000 of stock necessary for the project, a situation pleasing to prominent businessmen from Nashville and Memphis. Fifty years later, the railroad was finally built from Jackson to Perryville. According to an eastern syndicate, it was the intention of the company to make Perryville "The Pittsburg of the South."


Henderson Countians have always been noted for their interest in education. Of the 235 men who signed the county's petition, all were educated and could sign their names. In addition to the schoolhouse at Pleasant Exchange, other buildings were constructed for worship and educational activities. Bobby Jones, who taught there for eight years, was known to be the first teacher.

In 1808, the U.S. Congress passed the Compact or General Sessions Act which required states to provide 100,000 acres of land for two colleges in the state and 100,000 acres for an academy in each county. In 1838, the state set aside $18,000 to help support each county's academy and $100,000 to support public schools. The amount of funds actually received in Henderson County is unknown.

Subscription schools, those financed by payments made monthly by parents for students' tuition, existed in practically every county settlement. These schools operated from 60 days to six months, depending on locality, density of population, and the ability of subscribers to pay. Hours were from eight to four o'clock six days a week, and fees ran from 50 cents to $1.50 a month. Special rates usually were given to families with more children. A letter in the files of the late Will Crook mentions such a subscription school located at Mifflin as early as 1822. John Purdy was instrumental in the organization of a good subscription school at Jack's Creek, now located in Chester County. In 1823, Hardy Birmingham organized and taught at a school in Lexington.

After these schools, the Lexington Academy was established in 1825. Its school term ranged from five to seven months each year. At the time of its organization, Purdy, John Harmon, James Haslett, Richard McCree, and J. W. Philpot were appointed academy trustees. The fact that these men lived in various sections of the county indicated that the school was intended to serve the entire county, as well as students who lived outside the county. In 1826, Harmon, Haslett, J. J. Hill, C. H. Miller, and Ruben Wilcox were authorized to organize a lottery to raise a sum not in excess of $10,000 to be used for the academy. The trustees were to have perpetual succession until 1865. In 1827, B. Cook, C. M. Haskins, and Samuel Wilson also became trustees. The lottery resulted  in the acquisition of a considerable amount of property, primarily located in or near Christmasville in Carroll County. No other results are known.

In 1832, the trustees sold a house and lot at Christmasville and purchased 50 acres at Brigance Creek from R. C. Blair for $1500, 50 acres from S. B. Orton for $440, another parcel for $1000, 220 acres from B. Gillespie for $550, and 50 acres from S. M. Carson for $ 1000. Thus, the academy appeared to be well financed. It is believed that two brick buildings, each with two rooms, were erected on the land purchased and that one was used as a dormitory. Richard Barham, Francis Ray, and George Stewart taught at the academy, and William Brooks served for a number of years as its headmaster.

An academy for females was established sometime between 1843 and 1847 with Helen J. Colburn of Fairfield, Vermont, as its head. Colburn later married Lexington attorney Willis G. Jones. The academy was located near the present J. T. "Gaggy" Stewart home. An advertisement in an early Jackson paper stated that English, Latin, and French were taught. The academy operated successfully until it burned during the Civil War. From 1830 until the Civil War, Lexington could have been considered an educational center with the Lexington Academy, Colburn's Female Academy, and two elementary subscription schools located there.

By 1850, almost every community in Henderson County had access to a school. Outside of Lexington and Mifflin, all schools were subscription and consisted of log buildings. Salaries for teachers ranged from $ 10 to $25 per month, and there were no regulations concerning teacher qualifications. Teachers living outside the community had to board with parents of the school children, frequently traveling from one family to the next.

Law and Lawyers

The first circuit court was held at the land office of Samuel Wilson, before the courthouse was completed. Joshua Haskell was first circuit judge and served until 1838, when he was succeeded by John Read of Jackson. Governor Carroll named James Baker, John Crook, John Essary, John Halburton, Jerry Hendrix, Dewey Middleton, John Purdy, William Ray, Abner Taylor, John Wilkes, and Samuel Wilson as magistrates. Hendrix was chosen court chairman. One year later, Taylor replaced him.

The bar of Lexington and Henderson County has been outstanding. In 1826, Micajah Bullock began practice in Lexington and gained prominence throughout the state. Bullock refused appointed offices but was elected to represent Henderson and several other counties in the Legislature from 1835 to 1837. Even after his move to Jackson about 1845 and his election to the House to represent Madison, Carroll, Gibson, and Henry counties, he still continued his Lexington practice. James A. Heawslet, William L. Petty, and H. H. Hopkins began practice in Lexington prior to 1835.

The Hawkins brothers, Alvin and Isaac, began their practice at Lexington. Although they never moved to Henderson County, they maintained an active practice. Alvin was elected governor in 1881, and Isaac became a colonel in the 7th Tennessee Cavalry Union Army during the Civil War, the Union outfit in which most Henderson Countians served.

Among other lawyers who lived and practiced in the county at this time were Albert Shrewsbury, who represented the county in the House for three terms and was a presidential elector on the Whig ticket of Winfield Scott and William A. Graham; Joseph Gillespie; Christopher Williams; Samuel McClanahan; J. C. Trotten; and James Scott. Milton Brown and Adam Huntsman from Jackson appeared frequently before the bar at Lexington as did William T. Haskell, the son of judge Joshua Haskell. Young Haskell, a hero in the Mexican War, also represented his congressional district in the U.S. House for one term.

Haskell was also a nationally reputed orator. In the 1844 national campaign, he spoke for four hours to an estimated 20,000 people in Knoxville. Reportedly, not one person left. He was such an eloquent speaker that one reporter stated that women fainted and men shouted upon hearing Haskell. When he spoke on behalf of the Whig party to 5000 people at Jackson, C. H. Williams shared the speaker's platform with him.

When the Henderson County Courthouse was built, a whipping post was placed in the yard where men were whipped publicly. Each offender was tied to the post, stripped to the waist, and received ten to 30 lashes with a bull whip from the sheriff. The sentence for the first offense of public drunkenness was ten lashes; second offense, 20 lashes; third offense, 30 lashers.  There were few second offenders. The offender suffered physical torture as well as public derision. For nonsupport of his family, a man would receive 30 lashes in the presence of his family. If that was ineffective, he was placed in stocks for an indefinite time. The stocks consisted of a three‑legged stool on which the the offenders sat; in front of the stool was a five‑foot by five‑foot wooden wall with holes in which the arms and feet were locked. These methods of justice were obviously cheaper for taxpayers than that of maintaining a jail.

The jail was primarily used for criminals who had committed murder or theft valued at more than $50. A person could be hanged for stealing either a horse or a mule. Drunkenness was a common offense since liquor was both cheap and legal. Saloons were located in every community, and many stores operated saloons in connection with their regular business.

One of the most exciting trials ever to occur in the county was in 1849‑the State of Tennessee versus Milton Reily  for the murder of William "Bud" Willis. The killing occurred at Independence, a flourishing village, 12 miles northwest of Lexington, with two stores, two saloons, a post office, blacksmith shop, school, and a church. Community unrest forced a change of venue to Jackson. While in a drunken condition, Reiley confessed to the murder; however, when sober he denied to the last any connection with the murder. Despite his claim of innocence, Reily was convicted and sentenced to be hanged.

The hanging ground was located where U.S. Highway 70 crosses the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad tracks west of Jackson. Reily supposedly prayed for a miracle to save him, and ironically while he stood on the trap door waiting for the placement of the noose, a sudden storm fell with full fury. The large crowd that had assembled to witness the hanging fled. Throughout the storm, Reily stood on the trap door, perhaps believing his miracle had occurred, but the execution finally took place. Several years later, a man on his death bed in Obion County was said to have confessed to the crime, proving Reily's innocence.

During the early 1830s, groups of criminals infested river traffic and towns. Perryville, Brodie's Landing, and Clifton on the Tennessee River were victimized by such criminals. Other gangs operated on or near such major roads as the Natchez Trace. The Mason gang frequented this road, as did the notorious Harp brothers. Travelers and passengers of stagecoaches were their usual victims.

Perhaps the worst of these gangs was that of John A. Murrel. The gang's main headquarters was at Denmark in Madison County, and another was located in eastern Arkansas. Murrel first became famous as a land pirate with an organization that covered an area from west Kentucky to New Orleans. A man with polished manners, intelligent, and well‑educated, he was born in Middle Tennessee.

Murrel was well versed in law and used that knowledge to his advantage. A student of the Bible and a pulpit orator, he frequently entered communities posing as an evangelist, won the confidence of the residents, and held revivals. The final night of each revival, while Murrel preached and admonished sinners to repentance, his gang would steal horses, slaves, and other valuables. Frequently, Murrel even took part in tracking the criminals, naturally steering the law and the owners from his gang and the "plunder." Palestine, Cross Plains, now Crucifer, White Fern, Mifflin, and Jack's Creek were communities victimized in this manner.

Following the robbery and murder of a traveler at Lexington, it was said that Virgil Stewart from Madison County began a hunt for Murrel and his gang. Stewart managed to gain the confidence of Murrel and joined his gang, visiting even the Arkansas headquarters said to be located under a cottonwood tree near the Mississippi River. Stewart learned of the gang's operations and reported them. Eventually, Murrel was tried and sentenced to prison, but only for stealing slaves. While in prison, Murrel wrote or caused to be written the details of his operations, claiming that he did not steal slaves for profit but carried them to freedom since he was an ardent abolitionist. He also claimed that Henderson County was a main line of the underground railroad. Five of his gang tried to take over Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 4, 1835, but were caught and hanged without a trial.

Chancery Court was organized on May 6, 1844.  The first chancery district consisted of Henderson, Perry and McNairy counties, and the first chancellor was Judge Andrew McCampbell, who served until 1848. J. W. G. Jones was the first clerk and master, continuing in that position until 1866.

Doctors and Medicine

Doctors who established early practices in Lexington were Drs. R. A. Brown, Cochran, Pierce, Aired W. Tabler, John West, John A. Wilson, and William W. Warren. Dr. John Parsons served the southeast part of the county that later became Decatur County, actually covering two counties. Dr. A. Middleton, an ancestor of the prominent family in Shady Hill, treated patients beginning in 1845 at the Shady Hill and Ebeneezer communities. Dr. M. B. Outlaw attended the Cross Plains Community, and Dr. P. Mackey practiced in the eastern part of the county. Dr. Stephen Chosen practiced near Lexington, and Dr. A. D. McKainey practiced in what is now known as the Luray Community. Other physicians and the areas they served were Duke Williams, Palestine and Middleton communities; William Brigance, Reagan and Hickory Flat; John W. Anthony, Mifflin and Jack's Creek; Charles W. Hays, Browns Creek Community; Thomas E. Jordan, Bargerton and Mt. Gilead communities; John Autry, Pleasant Exchange and Christian Chapel communities; and James Holland, also the first postmaster there, at Juno. In spite of the lack of formal medical training of early doctors, they were real pioneers. Drs. Brown, Cochran, and Outlaw were considered to be well‑read for their day, and Outlaw was listed as both surgeon and physician.

During the mid‑1800s, G. L. Laws came to the county from Carroll County and settled near Parker's Crossroads. He studied medicine under the guidance of Dr. Henry McCall of Clarksburg and continued his education through graduation by attending the medical department of' Nashville University. Laws was one of the first practitioners to have a medical degree in the county. Dr. William A. Warren was another physician with a medical degree who practiced in the county. He graduated from a medical college in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1934, and began his practice in Lexington. Dr. Warren had a long and successful career and was well respected by all who knew him in the county.


Early records name The Lexington Eagle, which began publication between 1829 and 1834, as one of the county's first newspapers. Its editor, owner, and publisher was W. W. Gales, who is said to have advocated the principles of the Whig party as propounded by Crockett so much that Democrats accused him of running a "Crockett paper." It appeared that Gales wrote more stinging editorials against Andrew Jackson and the Democrats than he published news. Soon after Crockett's defeat by Adam Huntsman, Gales folded his "Crockett tent" and moved to Jackson, where he stayed until the turn of the century. Gales was reported to have lived to be the oldest editor in West Tennessee.

The Lexington Dispatch was established later and was edited by H. C. Henry until the Civil War. The Lexington Advance was published by G. B. Davis, and later the Advance News was published by W. T. Hawkins. These early papers, of course, set type by hand, which was a slow process.

Local news and that obtained from Jackson was published even though it would be as much as two or three weeks old before the reader had an opportunity to read it. Subscriptions usually cost 50 cents a year; however, these were frequently paid by produce instead of money. A "coon skin" could equal one year's service. Red sassafras roots, beeswax, beef tallow, roasting ears of corn, poke salat, and sometimes, corn cobs were used.