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.


Before we begin to study the history of Henderson County, it will be well to review briefly some parts of the history of America and of Tennessee in order that we may better understand the people and progress of Henderson County. Therefore, I give this introduction.

Long, long years before Henderson County was ever seen by a civilized person, a wandering sailor, whom most people called a fool, roamed Europe in search for aid to make a great voyage. He searched, but searched in vain until he laid his wants before Queen Isabella of Spain, who, it is said, pledged her crown jewels in order to raise the money necessary for the voyage.

This sailor, known as Christopher Columbus, set sail from Palos, Spain August 3, 1492, with three small, sail ships and ninety men to cross three thousand miles of unknown waters and to find, he knew not what; but Columbus did not know the distance or fear the danger. His one purpose was to find a new trade route to India. He knew nothing of the great continent of America, which lay in his route to bar his passage. And when he did discover it, he thought it was a part of India and died believing that he had blazed the way for the new trade route.

On October 12, 1492 Columbus discovered one of the Bahama groups of islands and later Cuba, Hayti, and finally the mainland of South America, all of which he claimed for the King and Queen of Spain; but he never saw North America.

John Cabot, an Italian in the service of England, is said to have been the first white man to discover North America. He landed on the mainland somewhere near the island of Newfoundland and claimed the continent of North America for the King of England.

The French were, by no means, idle during these busy days of adventure. They, like the Spanish and English, sailed up and down the coast searching for the precious yellow metal called gold and claiming for the King of France all the land they discovered or explored. Thus we see that there were many conflicting claims on North America. All claims covered what is now Henderson County, and from the days of her explorations until now Henderson County has had six flags unfurled over her domain.

By the middle of the sixteenth century, the European countries were be g inning to plan settlements in America. The Spanish settled Florida in 1565; the English settled Virginia in 1607; the French settled Quebec in 1608. All three nations had plenty of struggles at home, but neither neglected its valuable possessions in America. Each grew stronger in its colonial and military powers in the new world. Something had to be done. No three powers as great as these could hope to remain long in a new country so close together without having serious trouble.

Each began to lay plans whereby it could dominate the new world. England hoped to hold North America by actual settlement and occupancy. Spain, it seems, preferred to wait until the English and the French and Indians had worn each other out, and then to step in and take whatever she chose. France had still another plan. She built a line of forts from her settlements in Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico, hoping thereby to establish a sound claim to the then Western Territory. She built two forts in Tennessee, one at the present site of Memphis in 1682 and another near the site where Nashville now stands a few years later. And probably the French soldiers in going from one of these forts to the other were the first white men ever to set foot on Henderson County soil.

If the French did visit the land that Henderson County now embraces, they did so not to build homes, not to clear away the forests and raise crops, but chiefly to trade with the Indians and to keep them hostile to the English. The French succeeded well in the latter and kept away the English traders and hunters until after the French and English treaty of 1763 at which time the French lost all their power in North America.

Soon after 1763 the English hunters and traders from over the mountains began to penetrate the forests of West Tennessee, but they found another obstacle barring their passage to a new and promising country. The Chickasaw Indians; though friendly to the English, did not wish to have their game killed or driven away. Our own government forbade white people to infringe upon the Indians' territory. So, it was only the most daring and most adventurous of the white men that were willing to risk losing their scalps in order to obtain the fat game and rich soil of this new region.

But in October, 1818, a treaty was made with the Chickasaw tribe whereby the whole of West Tennessee was soon to be opened up, not only for trading and hunting, but for settlement as well. One of the first permanent settlements by white man in this vast region was made in Henderson County. And for the ten years following this settlement men, women, and children poured into Henderson County from Middle and East Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Kentucky in great numbers. This means that Henderson County was populated with people whose ancestors were of the best blood of the world.

Henderson County occupies the high lands between the Tennessee and the Mississippi Rivers and has a somewhat diversified surface. The highest lands are found along the Highland Ridge, which runs nearly due north and south through the center of the County, and forms a water-shed between the Tennessee and the Mississippi Rivers. The elevation of the present site of Lexington is 720 feet above sea level.

From the peculiar surface of the County the streams flow in almost every direction. Beech River, the largest river in the County, rises about three miles west of Lexington, flows almost in a direct line east through Decatur County, and empties into the Tennessee River near Perryville. As will be

mentioned again in a later chapter, it received its name from the growth of timber upon its banks. The leading tributaries of Beech River from the north are Big Creek, so named from its size; Browns Creek, so named from a settler; Haleys Creek; Harmons Creek, named after one of the County's most noted pioneers; and Owls Creek, so named from the fowls in its vicinity. The tributaries from the south are Flat Creek, so named from the surface of its valley and Cane and Piney Creeks, so named from the growth upon their banks. The principal streams of the southwest, west and northwest are Forked Deer River and its many tributaries. This river system drains almost as much territory as Beech River. In the north is Big Sandy River, which rises about six miles north of Lexington and flows northward into Carroll County. Wildersville is located near its banks.

There is very little resemblance between the Henderson County that we know and the one our forefathers knew a little more than 100 years ago. When they came to this country, they did not find the luxury that one finds here now. There were no fine homes equipped with furnace heat, electric lights, victrolas, and radios. There were no highways, railroads, or landing fields for airplanes. About all that the settlers found here were rolling plains, numerous springs of clear, sparkling water, rich land, abundance of game, and Indians. The whole of what is now Henderson County was a dense forest of giant timber, the like of which can be found nowhere today. Soon this fine forest was cleared away, but in its stead sprang up corn, pumpkins and other foods necessary for the subsistence of the pioneers.

  1. How many flags has Henderson County had?
  2. Who were perhaps the first white men in Henderson County?
  3. Why did so few people come to Henderson County before 1818?
  4. From where did most of the people come that settled Henderson County?
  5. In what directions do the rivers flow?
  6. Name three rivers in Henderson County.
  7. What is the elevation of Lexington?
  8. What did our forefathers find when they came to Henderson County?
  9. What did they not find?

Return to Contents

top · home · yesterday's · families · schools · links · what's new · memorial · about

This site was created by David Donahue and Brenda Kirk Fiddler.
This site is currently maintained by Jerry L. Butler
Copyright © 2004 - 2010, All rights reserved