yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee
History of Henderson Co.

From Auburn Powers, History of Henderson County, Tennessee, 1930. Reproduced with permission for personal use only. No further reproduction can be made without written consent of Andy E. Powers and Sherode B. Powers.


Chapter III

Henderson County was created by an act of the Legislature on November 16, 1821, and was named in boner of Colonel James Henderson of North Carolina of Revolutionary fame. It was carved out of the Western District and placed under the control of Stewart County until its formal organization in 1822. The County is bounded on the north by Carroll County on the east by Decatur County, formerly by Perry, on the south by Hardin and Chester Counties, and on the West by Chester and Madison Counties. The County was reduced in 1845 by cutting off a strip about three miles wide and attaching the same to Decatur County. In 1868 a small area lying west of Forked Deer River was attached to Madison County, and in 1882 a considerable portion of the southwest corner was attached to Chester County. It now has an area of 536 square miles.

On the creation of the County, Sterling Brewer, James Fentress, and Abram Maury were appointed by the Legislature to select a site for the county seat. The place selected was the present site of Lexington, on the Wilson Spring Branch, and was named in honor of Lexington, Massachusetts, where the untrained American pioneers completely rioted the British Regulars in the first battle of the Revolutionary War. The site was near the center of the County and contained sixty-three acres of the 726 acre track of land deeded by the State to Samuel Wilson, April 12, 1822; who in turn conveyed the sixty-three acre plot for the county seat to the commissioners on August 14, of the same year. For the consideration of $100.00 and one choice lot on the square--lot no. 20--on the above date Samuel Wilson did "give, grant, bargain, sell, alien, convey, and con6rm" the track to said commissioners.

The place was surveyed by John T. Harmon, who laid it out giving the streets a bearing north 47 east. The public square containing four acres was reserved in the center for a court house, stocks and jail. The streets were made eighty feet wide with the alleys forty-two feet wide. The lots were laid off in rows around the square, beginning at the northeast corner and numbering 1, 2, 3, and so on around the square to the place of beginning. Then another row started and numbered in the same order, the total number of lots amounting to 104. The town commissioners were authorized and empowered to sell town lots and with the proceeds of the sales to erect a courthouse and other public buildings. The first purchasers of these lots were John A. Green, John Brooks, Samuel C. Wilson, James Wright, J. A. Wilson, W. I,. Petty, Samuel G. Tate, William Stoddert, Daniel Thomas, James Jordan, and William Edwards. The lots were sold at auction, the auctioneer being R. Marshall, for which service he was allowed $50.00 by a report of John Stewart and Micajah Bullock. The entire sale of lots amounted to $6,285.40. The expenses of the sale; surety, and public buildings amounted to $5,483 with some incidentals. There was a surplus of $529.03-1/2 left.

The first courthouse was a small log house one story high and stood on the square near where the present house stands. It was built in 1822 at a cost of $142.00 and served its purpose about five years. The second was a brick house and was built about 1827 by Samuel Wilson at a cost of $4,595.97. This house was not a very good one, and in 1832 Robert Baker, E. H. Tarrant, and G. Kerherdon were selected to let the contract for remodeling the house. It was let to James Baker for about $1000.00 and was completed October 1, 1833. In 1844 the house was again remodeled, the walls being taken partly down and rebuilt. The work was done by James H. Watson, during which time the court met in the Masonic Hall. This courthouse stood until 1863, when it was accidentally fired by some of the third Michigan Calvary, who were quartered in the house. Most of the County records were consumed in the fire. After the war the courts met at the store house of William Brooks, the office of T. C. Muse, and other places until 1866, when H. G. Threadgill, A. H. Rhodes, J. P. Fuller, J. R. Teague, and Samuel Howard were appointed as a committee for the erection of a new courthouse. The contract was let to Robert Dyer for $7,450.00 to be completed October 1, 1867. The house was a two-story brick building with double gables. It had offices on the ground floor and a large court room above. This was a good building and lasted until 1896, when it was mysteriously burned. J. R. (Bud) Wilkerson was accused of burning it. People thought that because there were charges against him, he burned it in order to destroy all evidence and proof. Mr. Wilkerson died, however, before he had trial, and the public never knew whether he was guilty or whether an innocent man was accused. The following year the present courthouse was erected. It was overhauled about four years ago and again last year; and is now a fine building. The court square, with the new building upon it and the well kept shrubbery and lawn, is one of the most beautiful in the State or elsewhere. Many people of the County fail to appreciate its beauty as they should.

The first court held in the County met on the fourth Monday in December 1822 at the house of Samuel Wilson. What was done at this court or of whom it was composed cannot now be learned, as most of the records previous to 1840 have been destroyed. The appointment of County officers and the approval of their bonds doubtless received their first attention. John A. Wilson was chosen the first County Court Clerk and held the position until 1835. Others holding that position since are Jesse Taylor, A. H. Rhodes, C. R. Scott 18761884, J. A. Teague 1854-1890, D. A. Griggs 1890-1898, Asa Davis 1898-1906, J. W. Page 1906-1922, and Paul Parker from 1922 to August 19, 1930, when he suddenly died of hemorrhage of the brain. "Sid" Rhodes took the office September 1, 1930.

The first jail was a temporary log jail and was built by William Patton at a cost of $83.00. This served until 1827 when a brick jail was erected on Purdy Street near the Kizer Hotel. It was used as a jail until 1887, when it was sold to E. Flake for $480.00. He in turn, sold it to a Mr. Elkins who occupied it for some time as a private residence. It is yet occupied as a residence by Mrs. W. M. Sweatt. In 1881 a new brick jail was built in the eastern part of town. This was built by L. A. Stanford and M. A. Hare at a cost of $8,400.00. It was remodeled some fifteen years ago and is now a good and substantial jail.

John T. Harmon was chosen sheriff at the organization of the County and served until 1826, when he was succeeded by Robert Marshall. Others serving in this capacity are given below in order of their service; S. M. Carson, R. B. Jones, John Howell, G. H. Buck, John Howell again, W. B. Hall, W. H. Shelby, A. H. Rhodes, J. H. Gilbraith, Levi McEwen, A. E. Aydelott, R. J. Dyer, G. W. Moss, J. A. Teague, E. A. Aydelott again, J. M. Wadly, A. G. Douglass, G. W. Essary, H. C. Lindsey, Bill Azbill, Bud Carlton, G. W. Goff, Jasper Tate, John Franklin, S. F. Rosson, J. F. Martin, W. H. McBride, W. R. Wright, T. R. Sisson, and Dorsey Stewart, who is now serving.

The first County register was perhaps O. H. King, who served unti1'1832, when he was succeeded by S. A. Orton who was succeeded by John H. White, who was succeeded by John Smith in 1844, who was, in 1856 succeeded by J. A. Henry, who served until his death in 1884, thus serving twenty-eight years. Major T. A. Smith was appointed to fill out his unexpired term, and was re-elected in 1886. Following him were J. A. Jones, J. C. Peterson, J. L. Sullivan, J. R. Dennison, and C. L. Scates, who is serving at present.

On the organization of the Chancery Court May 6, 1844 J.W. G. Jones was appointed clerk and master and held the office until 1866. Following him and in order were Owen Haney, J. W. G. Jones again, W. F. Brooks, Charles R. Scott, E. F. Boswell, and W. V. Barry, who is serving at present. Mr. Barry has received four appointments-appointments from both Democrats and Republicans.

Perhaps E. H. Tarrant was the first circuit court clerk in the County. He served until 1836, when he was succeeded by Addison Tyle. Others holding that office are R. B. Jones, James Priddy, E. J. Timberlake, I. T. Bell, J. A. Teague, W. R. Britt, J. R. Wilson, "Bob" Lewis, P. O. Roberts, W. F. Appleby, John B. Scott, A. R. Wallace.

Joshua Haskell was perhaps the first circuit Judge. In 1838, John Read of Jackson became judge and served until 1861, when he resigned on account of failing health. He served twenty-three years. Courts were held by special judges until they were closed by the war. On the reorganization, Fielding Hurst was made judge, and was succeeded by F. P. Bond, who was succeeded by L. L. Hawkins in 1867. In 1873 T. P. Bateman became judge and served until 1868, when he was succeeded by Levi S. Woods. In turn, Woods was succeeded by D. W. Herring, who was succeeded by N. R. Barham. Judge W. H. Dennison is the present circuit court judge and is a Henderson Countian…

Some of the first lawyers that we have any record of in the County were H. H. Hopkins, William L. Petty, and James A. Heaslet. In 1826'or 1827, Micajah Bullock began practice at the Lexington bar, where he was prominent for nearly half a century. The prominent lawyers about 1850 were Hawkins, Bullock, Alien, Brasher, Huntsman, McClannahan, McDougal, Scott, Walker, Scurlsk, Totten, Brown, Doherty, Swayne, Beloate, Foster, Williams, Gillespie, Shrewsbury, and others. At that time it was not imperative for a person to spend so much time and money to become a lawyer as it is now. The attorneys of Lexington about 1885 were Hen. John M. Taylor, Judge L. S. Woods, R. H. Thorn, W. T. Logan, W. B. Ware, T. Davis, and Arthur Pearce. The present lawyers in Lexington and Henderson County are, P. M. Davis, E. W. Essary, W. H. Denison, John F. Hall, W. H. Lancaster, Joe C. Davis, J. L. Jones, E. L. Stewart and E. W. Essary, Jr.

The County Judges were W. M. Taylor, T. A. Lancaster, W. H. Lancaster, W. F. Appleby, L. B. Johnson, and F. M. Davis.

Previous to Taylor the chairman of the County Court acted as Judge. After Davis the judgeshipi passed back to the chairman of the County Court, this time to P. O. Roberts.

In 1866 the first trustee of the County was elected. Previous to that date the sheriff collected taxes and did other work that the trustee now does. The Trustees. of the County are as follows;1866 Charlie Rodgers, 1870 Felix Henry, 1874 Buck Priddy, 1878 William Carral, 1882 Sam Howard, 1886 Sam Howard again, 1890 Andy Long, 1894 Bud Essary, 1898 T. Edwards, 1902 T. Edwards again, f906 W. T. McPeake, 1910 S. F. Rosson, 1914 W. F. Appleby, 1918 Carl Edwards, 1922 Carl Edwards again, next Ernest Reed (by appointment), 1926 T. R. Sisson, 1930 T. R. Sisson again.

The present doctors of the County are: G. A. Brandon, Lexington, Tennessee, C. H. Johnson, Lexington, Tennessee, J. F. Golf, Lexington, Tennessee, Wm. I. Howell, Lexington, Tennessee, W. F. Huntsman, Lexington, Tennessee, J. P. Joyce, Lexington, Tennessee, W. F. Watson (retired), Lexington, Tennessee, C. E. Bolen, Wildersville, Tennessee, W. D. Bradfield, Wildersville, Tennessee, R. L. Wylie, Scotts Hill, Tennessee, Gib Howell, Sardis, Tennessee, C. B. Chaffey, Luray, Tennessee.

The first marriage license in the County was issued to H. H. Hopkins and Sophia Greer, and bears the date of January 8, 1822. Others were issued to John A. Null and Hester Humphreys December 22, 1822, Calvin Gillum and Susan Reeves, 1828; B. H. Tate and Polly Chambers, July 26, 1825; James Phillips and Martha Rutlege, 1826; Robert Carter and Lydia Mathews, 1826; William Potts and Elizabeth Rodgers, October 24, 1823; Robert Rhodes and Lucy Redges, January 24, 1823; and Silas Mathews and Elizabeth Snell, J;inuary 24, 1824. The minister officiating most frequently was John Darnett, a Cumberland Presbyterian minister.

  1. When was Henderson County created, and in whose honor was it named?
  2. Give the boundaries of Henderson County.
  3. How many times has Henderson County been reduced in size, and what is its present area?
  4. In whose honor was Lexington named?
  5. Tell of the surveying of the town of Lexington.
  6. What did the sales of the town lots amount to?
  7. Describe the first courthouse.
  8. When was the present courthouse erected?
  9. When and where did the first court in Henderson County meet?
  10. Who was the first county court clerk? The present one?
  11. Describe the first jail.
  12. Who was the first sheriff? The present one?
  13. Who was the first county register? The present one?
  14. Who was the first chancery court clerk? The present one?
  15. Who was the first circuit court clerk? The present one?
  16. Who was the first circuit judge? The present one?
  17. Who was-the first trustee? The present one?
  18. When and to whom was the first marriage license issued?

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