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 IV

After pioneers once got a sound footing, they made great advancement. Even though there were no railroads, turnpikes, or navigable streams in the County, it developed rapidly. Soon farming took a step forward. The wooden plows that the earlier pioneers used were replaced by plows with iron points and other iron parts. The rapid progress and the abundant crops from the fresh lands brought about a demand for marketing these crops and still other products.

A road was opened up from Lexington to Clifton by way of Scotts Hill. William White, the father of Marion White, and Milt Buck, the father of the late Milt, John, George, Henry, Jurdon, and Wilse, took the contract for building the road. They and their slaves felled trees and cleared the right-of-way for the road. They measured the road with a grapevine, there being no chains or ropes available. They did not grade the road or even plough it. All they did was to cut the stumps low and move the fallen trees. It was a rough road. There were no bridges. The only way that there was to cross a stream was to ford it. And the larger streams could not be forded when they were up.

This was not the first road in the County, but it was an early one. The account of the first road is unknown. Other early roads were the one from Lexington to Perryville and the one from Lexington to Jackson. Almost all the roads ran perpendicular to the Tennessee River, for most of the freight and passengers were brought up or down the river.

The opening up of the roads made travel much easier and faster. Cotton was hauled in wagons and carts to Perryville, Saltillo, and Clifton, where it was loaded on boats and shipped, usually to New Orleans. Live stock was driven to various places for market.

The roads were gradually improved year by year until finally transportation was revolutionized. The stage coach was brought into use and with the introduction of it came the development of the inns. An inn is a kind of a hotel prepared to take care of travelers. It would be rather amusing to us to see four or six gay horses hitched to a gaudy colored stage coach dash up to a wayside inn and stop at the front gate. The coach driver would dismount from his seat, which was usually on the front end of the coach, and open the coach door for the stranger to get out. The proprietor of the inn would welcome the stranger in and share the best he had with him. he stranger felt free to request any service he desired, and the proprietor saw that his requests were complied with. The stranger ordered a fire built, dry clothes, food or drink, or whatever he wished. The servants, hurrying in and out and showing their large, rolling eyes and broad rows of snow white teeth, obeyed his orders very gracefully. After supper he and the proprietor would talk of the news of the day and tell jokes. He was a source of information and amusement. When he was ready to depart, he would pay for his lodging, which was usually a very meager sum. He was bid good by and wished a good journey. This mode of travel was considered very fine. Governor Brownlow came through the County in such a manner and ate dinner with James W. Hanna near Sardis. Innkeepers were always glad to have a stranger, and more especially if he was some distinguished "gentleman."

Even before the stage coach was introduced the County was progressing by leaps and bounds, Grist mills and cotton gins were being erected throughout the County. Perhaps John and William Brigham built the first grist mill in Henderson County, in 1821 on Mud Creek. Daniel Barcroft built one about the same time on Forked Deer River. These mills were turned by water power. The first horse mill was built about 1822. Major John T. Harmon, who was the most distinguished man at that time, built the first cotton gin in 1823 on Beech River. By 1830 there were at least six mills and two cotton gins in the County.

The assessments of 1836 show 108,123 acres of land in cultivation valued at $450,469; eighty six town lots valued at .$30,880; 558 slaves valued at $525,000; and nine pleasure carriages.

In 1851 the County bought from Absalom McGee 273-3/4 acres of land with a house for $900 and made of it a home for the poor and unfortunate. Previous to that date, these helpless paupers had been taken care of by private families or were farmed out to the lowest and best bidders. The new home for the paupers lies about three miles south of Lexington on Beach River, and is a part of the track entered by Solomon West in the settlement of the County. The paupers are kept on the farm and cared for. Those who are able work. The steward receives $5.00 per capita together with the use of the farm for his services. The paupers, of course, do not get out of life what many of us do, but they have plenty of comfortable clothes, common food, and a fairly decent place to stay. The County, in preparing even this, did a kind deed.

  1. Tell of the opening up of the Lexington-Clifton Road.
  2. In what direction did most of the roads run? Why?
  3. What were inns? Stage coaches? How were strangers treated at inns? What governor once passed through the County, and with whom did he eat dinner?
  4. When, where, and by whom was the first grist mill built in the County? The first cotton gin?
  5. What do the assessments of 1836 show?
  6. When and at what cost was a house for the poor provided?
  7. Previous to 1851 how were paupers cared for?

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