Benton County


Christopher K. Wyly, a prominent and highly respected pioneer citizen of Camden, Tenn., was born in Sequatchie Valley, Tenn., February 2, 1807, and is a son of Harris K. and Arty (Taylor) Wyly, natives respectively of the Old Dominion State and Tennessee. The father came to Tennessee when a young man in the year 1790, and located at Jonesboro, Tenn., where he married. He followed mercantile pursuits in Georgia a few years and spent twenty years or more in agricultural pursuits in Alabama. He died in East Tennessee about 1835. Our subject passed his youthful days in Alabama in securing a limited education in the primitive log schoolhouse of those early days. At the age of nineteen be came to Tennessee and located on the Tennessee River at Old Reynoldsburg, where he began life as a clerk in a mercantile establishment. In 1838 he came to Camden and engaged in the mercantile business for himself, and has devoted his entire life to that business ever since. Mr. Wyly has been one of the few very successful business men of Benton County. He started in life with but little if any capital, but by indomitable industry has succeeded in accumulating a handsome competency, notwithstanding the fact that he lost over $100,000 during the late war. Before the war Mr. Wyly was an old line Henry Clay Whig, and he was strongly opposed to the Rebellion, but after the State was voted out and the Union virtually dissolved, his sympathy and means were extended to the people of the South. In 1839 he married Lemira C. Pavatt, a sister of old Chancellor Stephen C. Pavatt. She died in March, 1876, and left these children: Harris K.; Carrie C., wife of J. S. Bartlett of Texas, and Eva G. Mr. Wyly is not a member of any fraternal or sectarian institution, but is a believer in the Christian religion. He is one of the county's most reliable and successful citizens.


Christopher K. Wyly (1807-1891) was the most successful nineteenth century merchant in the county. Born in East Tennessee and reared in Alabama, he moved to Reynoldsburg in 1826 where his older brother, Major Thomas K. Wyly, had a thriving mercantile business. In 1838 he moved to Camden where he established a general goods store on the public square in partnership with another brother, James Wyly. In time he bought out his brother's interest in the business. He also had several farms in the county which were worked by slaves, and he accumulated a considerable fortune by the time of the Civil War, during which he lost heavily. C. K. Wyly was one of the county's outstanding citizens and pioneers.
Excerpt from "Tennessee County History Series" by Jonathan K.T. Smith

Brother -- James Wyly

James Wyly (1799-1857) was a prosperous farmer and ferry owner who lived in the Chalk Level community. He represented Humphreys County in the state House of Representatives in 1837-1839 and Benton County in 1843 and 1847-1849. He was a firm supporter of Andrew Jackson and a leading citizen of the county for many years. The Wyly family owned more land than any other family has ever owned in the county, some 30,000 acres before 1860.
**James Wyly was a well-to-do farmer who owned several thousand acres of land near Chalk Level. Much of the acreage was in woodlands where cattle and hogs grazed; it was planted in Indian corn, some tobacco, and other farm staples. Wyly needed a large work force, and before his death in 1857, had acquired a large number of blacks. He carefully entered the births and deaths of these people in his own family Bible. As was also the case in much of the South, children were born to black women almost without regard to their paternity. Here and there, a master would keep his slaves in male and female partner units with their offspring. Such men as James Wyly were paternalistic with their slaves, and, while their condition of servitude was unfortunate, the blacks were generally treated with kindness and due regard for their feelings. The Tennessee American, a Nashville newspaper, noted in its May 12, 1857, obituary for James Wyly that, "His slaves found in him a father, not a master."
Excerpt from "Tennessee County History Series" by Jonathan K.T. Smith 1979

Miss Esther Wyly - Slave
Due to racial problems between blacks and whites in recent years, it has been almost customary to exaggerate the ill-will these people had for one another in the antebellum period and for years afterward. Except for "an occasional owner of irascible disposition and an occasional black of incorrigible tendencies, good will prevailed and often deep attachments were formed between persons of these two races." There are some older county citizens who remember vividly how close the ties once were between many blacks and whites.
Miss Easter Wyly (1850-1917) was one of the Wyly slaves. At the close of the Civil War, she was in need of a home and the family of Isaac C. Yarbrough, a Camden merchant and later station master of the railway in South Camden, provided for her. She was not only a domestic servant, but was a beloved member of the household and nurse to two generations of the Yarbrough children. She predeceased her white employer, Mary Ann Yarbrough, making the request of her that her own remains be buried in the Yarbrough lot in the Camden cemetery. She was buried there with the people she had loved and who had loved her. Local residents remembered Miss Wyly as a vigorous worker and a lively talker.
Excerpt from "Tennessee County History Series" by Jonathan K.T. Smith 1979

Major Thomas K. Wyly (1795-1857) was an enterprising boat captain who decided to open a general store in Reynoldsburg. A good manager, he was able to purchase the ferry rights in April of 1832 for $6000 from the Brevards. He leased the rights to the western bank from Joshua Williams two years later. Major Wyly eventually acquired the Williams ferry and settlement, a motley group of buildings called West Reynoldsburg. This ferry was reported to have taken in some $8000 from travelers during 1828-1831, helping Wyly become wealthy from his mercantile trade and his land investments.
Excerpt from "Tennessee County History Series" by Jonathan K.T. Smith
Excerpt from "Tennessee County History Series" by Jonathan K.T. Smith Sep. 1979