[Source: Excerpts from "A History of Tenneessee from the Earliest Time to the Present..." 1886. Goodspeed Publishing Co]
Submitted by C. Walters
Chester County embraces an area of 167,000 acres and is on the water-shed between the head waters of South Fork of Forked Deer River and the small tributaries of the Tennessee. It is surrounded by the counties of Madison, Henderson, Hardin, McNairy and Hardeman. The surface is comparitively level and has an elevation above the sea level of a little over 400 feet. The only broken parts of the county are in the eastern and in the western parts. The drainage is almost entirely through the Forked Deer River. The tributaries of this river are Ozier Creek, Horse Creek, Turkey Creek, Sugar Creek, Clark Creek and Jacks Creek. Middleton Creek flows east into the Tennessee, and Clover Creek west into the Big Hatchie. Owing to the level surface of the county these streams are generally sluggish and frequently are clogged by drifts of logs and brush. The channels of these streams are shallow and frequent overflows follow heavy rains. Sand Mountain in the northeastern part is the highest point in the county and is probably the highest point between Henderson and the Tennessee River. This is rather a bold knob of a hundred or more feet in height and is covered with a growth of "black jack" and other timber. The soil is generally of a light clayey formation, intermixed wtih sand. Vertical borings show the formation below the surface to be mainly orange sand or rotten sandstone. The entire formation is comparitively recent. Water is obtained mainly by borings made; this is found in abundance and of good quality. A few chalybeate springs are found, but none of any reputed merit for medicinal qualities. The soil is well adapted to the growth of cotton. The quantity of cotton raised is not as great as in other counties, yet the quality is excellent. It also produces an excellent quality of sorghum. Corn and the other cereals do well, yet they are not considered staples. The land is also well suited to the growth of grasses and for pasturage. Some of the ridge lands of the western part are covered with pine, while those of the east have oak, hickory and other hard woods. Along the streams are found cypress, poplar, elm, maple, gum, beech , holly and sugar maple. There is also in some parts black walnut and the several varieties of the timbers before mentioned.
The first settlers in what is now Chester County came to the county about 1820-1824. These were from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and a few from Alabama. Many came from the States above mentioned to Middle Tennessee, and afterward moved to West Tennessee. The first settlement in the ocunty was made in the vicinity of Mifflin about 1821. Col. J. Purdy, father of Robt. Purdy of Henderson, came to the vicinity of Mifflin about 1821. He was from Pennsylvania, and the village of Mifflin was named by him in honor of a town in his old state. He was a surveyor, a prominent business man, and a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1834. Within a few miles of Mifflin James Thomas settled in 1824. He was originally from Virginia, but moved to Alabama and thence to Mifflin. James Clifford came at the same time, a near neighbor to Thomas. Jere Hendrick and Micajah Jones also opened farms in the same neighborhood. The former came from Virginia about 1822; the latter left three sons, all of whom lived to be quite old. Wm. Phelps, now about seventy years old, has spent nearly all his life in the vicinity of Mifflin. A little south and west lived Stephen Beaver, Samuel Neill and James Neill. It is believed they were from North Carolina. Robt. Junell came to the county about 1825; he opened a farm and left a large family. The names of Wm. Rush, John Hubbard, Wm. Hall, Lemuel Deberry, John Halton and Peter Collis are closely related to the history of the Mifflin neighborhood. James Brown, from North Carolina, settled a short distance east of Mifflin. Wm. Spencer was from the same state and settled near Brown. Robt. McCrea and Charles J. Allen, a relative of McRea, settled north of Mifflin. McRea built one of the first mills on Forked Deer River. Wm. Billingsley settled with one and a half miles of Mifflin about 1821. James and Richard Shackelford, Wm. Arnold and Charles Riddle all settled southeast, within four miles of Mifflin. The latter was a "Hard-shell" Baptist preacher and a celebrated hunter. As game became scarce he moved to Mississippi, where it was more abundant. George Still, a pioneer, was a surveyor; he moved to Texas in 1838. James Glass has the honor of having taught the first school in the new settlement in 1828. He afterward moved to Center Grove, thence to Lexington, Jackson, and is now living in Louisville. Thomas Garland, the first circuit rider west of the Tennessee, formerly preached at Holly Springs. Job Dean, a soldier of the Creek war, was a settler of the neighborhood above mentioned.
In the vicinity of Jacks Creek, Hugh Ross settled at a very early day. He was the father of S. L. Ross, and was a member of the State Senate at one time. J. F. Hamlett, John Brummer and John Crook, father of Dr. Crook of Henderson, settled about 1830. John Kootz is said to have built his own house with the aid of his wife and a yoke of cattle. Job Trice, who is still living, reared a large family. John M. Hart, father-in-law of Mrs. Hart of Henderson, was an early settler of Jacks Creek. Maj. Neeley, a prominent citizen, came to Jacks Creek about 1825. Robert McCorkle, a Methodist Episcopal preacher, Norman McLeod, and Dr. Alfred Tabler were among the earlier settlers of the place.
In the vicinity of Montezuma Joseph Johnson was perhaps the first settler. He was from North Carolina, and settled near Montezuma about 1826-30. Wesley and Nehemiah Burkhead and C. H. O'Neal were from the same state and settled in the same neighborhood. Wm. Cason, father of Col. Cason, came from Middle Tennessee and settled near Montezuma in 1826. William McKnight arrived about the same time. The Steeds and Barretts came to the same neighborhood a little later.
The first road cut through the county was from Lexington, by way of the Jacks Creek and Mifflin neighborhoods to Montezuma, thence to Bolivar. Meats were largely of fame, such as turkey and deer, which were then numerous. The first mills in the county were those of Jere Hendricks and Richard McCleary, on Forked Deer, and that of Stephen Beaver on Clark Creek. As an illustration of the capacity of these mills it is said Hendricks was in the habit of putting a turn of corn in the hopper and then turn on the water, when he would go about his farm work, and at noon he would put in a new grist and again return to his work till night. If not speedy it was not expensive.
The enabling act, creating Chester County, was passed March 1, 1879. Section 1 of the Act called for portions of Madison, Henderson, McNairy and Hardeman Counties to be cut off and to be erected into a new county to be known by the name of Chester. This name was given as a compliment to Col. R. I. Chester, of Jackson, who was at that time representative from Madison County. The same section further designated what portion of the respective counties should be attached to the new county. Section 2 of the Act named J. F. Hewlett, Robert Long, B. H. Brown, J. H. Fry, B. J. Young, A. B. Patterson, J. W. Perkins, J. W. Mitchell, J. M. Simmons, John Parham, J. W. Sherrell, W. L. Stegall, William Rush, J. M. Reams, M. D. Pare, and Abel Stewart as commissioners to run the boundaries. Section 4 called for an election in the several factions, which required a two-thirds vote of all the voters in the faction to vote "new county;" those opposing were to vote "old county." Section 8 required the new county to be divided into ten or twelve civil districts. Section 9 appointed person to hold election of county officers, and 10 selected commissioners to select a site for a county seat. They were ordered to select a place not more than three and a half miles from the center of the county, and were to have regard to health and convenience. Section 11 provided for the purchase and erection of public buildings; and (section) 12 required the voters of the several factions to vote at their old places until authorized by further instruction.
The commissioners met and organized by electing William Rush chairman and John Parham secretary. Long, Pare and Stewart had moved away and their places were filled by W. L. Cherry, J. M. and J. W. May. The first meeting of the commissioners was at Montezuma on June 18, 1879. The result of the elections on the question of the new county, on September 6, 1879, resulted in a vote of 263 out of 316 for the new county in the Madison faction, 408 votes out of 506 in the Henderson faction, 392 votes out of 510 in the McNairy faction, and 80 votes out of 103 in the Hardeman faction. The organization of the now county was delayed by an injunction suit filed by J. D. Brown, John Brown and Isaac Parrish of the Henderson faction. The suit was brought before Chancellor Nixon and the suit sustained. An appeal was taken to the supreme court and the case brought before that body at Jackson at the April term, 1882. The judgment of the former court was reversed and the injunction dissolved. The election held on May 20, 1882, for choice of county officers resulted in the election of Robert Criner for sheriff by a majority of 173 votes; of Ed Estes for circuit court clerk by a majority of 285 votes; of John Parham for county court clerk by a majority of 34 votes; of W. S. Rhodes for trustee by a majority of 94 votes, and of C. M. Cason, register, by 38 votes. The permanent organization was effected June 3, 1882, at the Baptist Church. On motion by John Parham and by order of Judge T. C. Muse, who stated the customs of colonial times, the audience were led in prayer by Rev. J. H. Garrett, after which the congregation joined in singing, "O, for a Thousand Tongues, etc." The question as to the county seat was left to a popular vote. The only two places in nomination were Henderson and Montezuma. It was decided in favor of the former place by an overwhelming majority.
At the meeting of the commissioners in June at Montezuma, in 1879, A. B. Patterson, B. J. Young, J. H. Mitchell and J. W. Sherrell were appointed to receive donations for public buildings. Several conditional bonds were tendered on condition that the new county should be made and that certain lots should be chosen. The injunction suit having been filed and the matter delayed, these could not be acted upon. The courts met at other places till April 13, 1883, when the county court, after receiving many propositions, finally accepted the proposition of Mrs. Hattie E. Duckworth. This was for the residence and grounds of the late Dr. J. A. Crook. This included the residence and grounds containing about four acres. The sum asked was $3,000, payable in one, two and three years, with interest at six per cent.
On July 2,1883. W. L. Messinger, Wm. M. Senter and J. A. Miller with the county surveyor were ordered to lay out the square and to examine the buildings. The building purchased is a large two-story frame building, having a court room and offices for the county officers. The bell for the courthouse was received as a donation from Col. R. I. Chester, sent as a compliment in return for perpetuating his name in the county.
In January, 1886, the county court appointed Dr. J. A. Crook, N. T. Buckley, Wm. Rush and C. G. Terry a committee to select a site for a jail and to confer with builders for its erection. The place chosen lies a little north of the courthouse and embraces a portion of the lands purchased with the courthouse. The contract was let for the building on April 5, 1886. The building is a two-story brick about 48x20 feet. It contains two cells and the sheriff's residence. The contract was let to J. M. WHEATLEY for $1,650. On the report of a committee, it was decided to build a cook and dining-room to the jail. This, with some trifling changes made in the original contract, brought the cost up to $1,900, which was paid in county warrants of $900 and $1,000 each.
The paupers of the county are so few, that as a matter of economy, they are farmed out to the lowest and most responsible bidder. The average number does not exceed five.
The outlet for the produce and travel of the county is the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. This road extends through the central part of the county, a distance of twenty-nine miles. Its assessed value is about $106,000 or nearly $5,500 per mile. This road was built in 1856-58.
The total value of taxables for 1883 was $853,503 for 1884 $852,03l, for 1885 $776,4235, and for 1886 it was $704,435 exclusive of the railroad.
The following magistrates who composed the first county court met at Henderson on June 3, 1882: P. McNatt, J. D. Shelton, R. N. Reed, H. L. Massengill, Benj. Robertson, M. D. Davis, N. T. Buckley, H. C. Trice, C. R Narborough, J. H. Fry, Hiram Johnson, F. H Weir, J. S. White, A. L. Bean, W. M. Senter, R. M. D. McNatt, Wm. Kerr, Martin Reams, Wm. Rush and P. Gatham. The court organized by electing Wm. Rush chairman, and proceeded to make the bonds of’ the several county and district officers. H. L. Hendricks was then chosen surveyor; F. N. Ballard, ranger; J. S. Jester, coroner; J. N. Wheatley, sealer of weights and measures, and W. R. McNatt, superintendent of public instruction. The constables first chosen were N. Shelton. Calvin McCann, J. T. Stansill, R. D. Bell, J. D. Smith, C. C. Jones, M. M. O’Neal, Robert Mitchell and S. H. Moore. July 24 the court canvassed the vote cast for the location of the county seat. It was found there were 796 votes east in favor of Henderson and fifty-five in favor of Montezuma. The county court, January 1, 1883, memorialized the General Assembly, asking that Chester County be allowed to remain in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit and in the Tenth Chancery Circuit. The first venir summoned by the county court called for John Short, S. J. Thompson, J. R. Bland, John Newsom, J. H. Deberry, Stanton Lee, W. B. Fry, J. W. Ozier, J. R. Edwards, J. F. Holloway, Benj. Rhodes, W. C. Christopher, E. C. Wamble, R. C. Ball, F. M. Putnam, A. D. Barnett, Wm. Senter, N. C. Caygle, Martin Reams, K. S. Jackson, Henry Garner and J. Rush. The first’ court also fixed a schedule of privilege taxes, these ranging from $5 to $150, the amount charged for circuses. The first marriage license issued in Cheater County was to Joe Glover (colored) and Rachel Sandford. This was June 5, l882. The minister officiating was Rev. Henry A. Jackson. The second license was to R. B. West and M. A. Perkins June 6.
The first circuit court (Eleventh Circuit) met at Henderson on July 17, 1882, Hon. Thomas P. Bateman presiding. The other officers present were Robert Criner, sheriff, and E. A. Estes, clerk. The first venir facins embraced the names of Wm. Cash, W. C. Johnson, John Criner, G. W. Smith, T. J. McCorkle, B. Robertson, Jacob Young, R. P. Hunter, S. J. Bishop, H. J. Dean. A. J. Peddy, John McCall, J. R. Bray, J. W. Shull, J. P. Thomas, G. J. Patterson, J. C. B. Nailer, F. M. Cherry, R. M. D. McNatt, W. C. Caygle, C. Wilson, G. C. Butler, L. D. Simmons, J. H. Mtchell and James Fry. The grand jury chosen was, composed of L. D. Simmons, R. P. Hunter, W. J. Young, F. M. Cherry, J. C. B. Nailer, A. J. Peddy, H. T. Dean, J. A. Criner, T. J, McCorkle, B. J. Bishop, W. C. Johnson, C. Wilson and J. R. Bray. This court did no further work than to approve the several official bonds and adjourn till September at a special term. Said term met at the appointed time with Judge T. C. Muse on the bench. The other officers at this time were A. A. Anderson, sheriff; A. E. Estes, clerk, and M. H. Meeks, attorney-general. The first civil suit was the case of B. S. Hite against N. P. Ingram on a note; a similar one was brought by H. G. Hollenburg against N. P. Newsom. Fines of $50 were assessed against George Green and J. Christopher for carrying concealed weapons. At the January term, 1883, Will Willoughby (colored) plead guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the killing of Will---, on December 24, 1882, and received a sentence of three years to the penitentiary. At the August term of the same year, M. Prewitt was lined $50 for carrying weapons, and Frank Combs one cent, and costs for maintaining a nuisance. Charles McLellan received a sentence of one year to the penitentiary for petit larceny. Willis Richardson was fined $100 for selling goods without license. The first case to the penitentiary was Ben West (colored) for stealing a $l0 bill, and the last was Oliver Garland for a similar offense.
On the organization of the county it was directed that Chancellor H. J. Livingston should open the chancery court of Chester County on July 10, l882. Five weeks notice had previously been given in the Brownsville Democrat. On the meeting of the court Dr. Joseph A. Crook was appointed clerk and master. The solicitors appearing before this court were J. M. Troutt, M. F. Ozicr, J. W. Pace, A. W. Stovall and J. S. White. The Court ordered this rule, that all processes except final processes should he filed on the first Monday in each month, and that the clerk and master should open such Processes accordingly. After fixing the bonds of the several officers, the court adjourned to meet in special session in December, 1882. Suits of divorce came up at this court before Chancellor Livingston. Abel Cook had the bonds of matrimony between himself and wife, Nancy, dissolved, also J. S. Barrett was divorced from Saille Barrett. The Court again met in regular session in May, 1883, before Chancellor T. C. Muse, of Jackson. A very interesting and peculiar suit is pending in the chancery court, involving an estate of $23,000. It is the suit of Carroll Beaver against Nancy Denver for divorce on the alleged grounds of impotency on the part of defendant. A suit to which Chester County is a party is now pending in the supreme court of the United States. It is the suit of the several counties through which the Mobile & Ohio Railroad passes against that road and the Farmers’ Trust, Company of New York. The suit was begun in the chancery court at Humboldt. The suit was brought to recover taxes against the road amounting to the sum of $130,000. Chester County’s apportionment is $10,000. This road was chartered in 1852, and was granted immunity from taxation for twenty-five years, or until it could show a dividend of 8 per cent on its stock. It is claimed that the giving the mortgage to the above trust company was done to defraud the counties out of their just dues.