There is no question that
Joseph Reed was the first settler to locate in Henderson County, although at the time he thought he was in Perry County, as did the suveyor Samuel Wilson, who later founded Lexington. The original warrant for Reed's land was issued October 11, 1820 -- little more than one year before Henderson County was created. Reed lived on hisland four years before he actually received his land grant deed. Reed was indeed a true pioneer. In the summer of 1817, he and his two sons, Jack and William, left the central part of North Carolina and crossed the rugged mountains into East Tennessee. There they made a small raft of logs and floated down the Tennessee River, pulling to land only long enough to hunt for wild game and to sleep on the ground at night. When the Reed party reached the mouth of Beech River, they abandoned their raft and trekked on foot until they came to a large, cold spring. This spring of sweet-tasting water came out of the ground near a small bluff, an ideal place to settle. Wandering through the surrounding forest, they made friends with a party of Chickasaw who hunted and fished with them. Late that fall, Reed left his teenage sons in the care of their Indian friends and retraced the 600 miles across the mountains and rivers to North Carolina. In the spring of 1818 he returned in a one-horse cart with only enough necessary possessions to reach Tennessee, where his family would make a new home. Reed also brought some slaves, indicating that he was a man of some means who did not have to leave his settled North Carolina home. Reed built a log house near the spring in 1818. The logs were cut on the pine knob and moved two or three miles to where the house was erected. These same logs exist today as part of the home and smoke house belonging to Goy Snider, a great-great grandson of Reed. This land grant tract is one of the few in Henderson County that still belongs to direct descendants of original settlers.
In the spring of 1817, John Bailey, a 15-year old boy, left his home in the foothills of North Carolina and headed west on foot. He carried with him only his muzzle-loading rifle, a powder horn, and a hunting knife. Undoubtedly a boy with a spirit of adventure, he continued west until he joined a group of Chickasaw near where Reagan Community is now located. After living with them for a year, he returned to North Carolina, remained there for a year, and then went to Kentucky for two years. Unable to forget West Tennessee, he came back, married, and became an ancestor of one of the county's famous families. He is buried at Union Hill cemetery near where he spent most of his life.
Shortly after the Reed family and slaves were settled to the task of making a new home, others made their way into the area.
Samuel Wilson settled on 726 acres in what was to become Lexington, with his cabin located where the present United Methodist Church is situated.
Abner Taylor came to the area almost at the same time. These two men furnished excellent leadership as the groundwork and organization of county selfgovernment was laid. Wilson came to Henderson County from Wilson County, where he and his brother David, together with their father Zaccheus, had helped found that county. He also obtained other land grants in 16 counties.
Taylor came to Henderson County from the part of North Carolina that is now Carter County, Tennessee, and obtained a grant for 26 acres next to Wilson's land. He also obtained another land grant for 620 acres; with his brother, James, he obtained even more land grants. Like Wilson, Taylor was a land speculator and a shrewd, well-educated businessman who took an active part in the civic life of any community in which he lived. He secured land grant deeds in 11 counties throughout Tennessee. Other early settlers were just as zealous in building a new county government, but they did not have as much time as did Taylor and Wilson. Reed helped, but his farm and community took much of his time. David and Zaccheus Wilson soon joined Samuel in Henderson County and settled north of what is now Wildersville. There they shared their previous experiences in local government. Another Wilson brother originally settled near what is now Sand Ridge, found locating water difficult, then moved further west to a prong of Forked Deer River. He became the ancestor of many Wilsons in that part of the county.
A majority of area settlers were from Middle and East Tennessee and North Carolina. These pioneers were of stern character, the majority being Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. Few settlers came from Alabama, Virginia, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Some traveled by land, driving their flocks and hauling their few household goods by wagon or pack horses; some came by water down the Tennessee River, stopping at favorite landing places, usually at the mouth of a creek or small river.
In 1819-1820, as soon as it became known that the Chickasaws had ceded all West Tennessee lands to the United States, settlers entered the county regularly. Shortly after Wilson and Taylor settled at what is now Lexington, Dr. John A. Wilson settled near there, becoming the first doctor and first professional man to settle in the county. He also became the first merchant, fur buyer, and county court clerk, and he operated a farm with the help of slaves. Wilson trained two female slaves to serve as mid-wives. His fee for a house call was 50 cents regardless of the distance and time of day. Payments were made in anything salable, such as beaver or fox skins, beeswax, tallow, or produce. In 1824, a Dr. S. Pierce also settled in Lexington and began an active practice. In 1827, a Dr. Miller also opened his office in Lexington; however, the 1830 census did not show his living in the county.
Major John T. Harmon settled near the headwaters of Big Sandy. He had served under General Andrew jackson in the Creek War and at the Battle of New Orleans. Early in 1820 Thomas Hamilton settled at what wasbter known as Pleasant Exchange; records indicate that he was its first settler. He was soon followed by William Cain and George Powers.
John Purdy settled between Jack's Creek and Mifflin. He was a deputy surveyor, helping settlers locate their land properly; later he founded the town of Purdy which was the first seat of McNairy County. He surveyed what is known as the LexingtonPurdy Road, now Highway 22A. James Baker, his family, and five slaves settled eight miles northeast of Lexington.
William Dismuke and his family of seven settled on the north fork of Forked Deer River, about two miles northwest of Poplar Springs.
Two families of Shacklefords settled in the northern part of the county, but one family soon moyed near Haley's Creek.
The Binghams, Brigances, and McClures settled in the south part of the county near the Hardin County line. The Trices and their slaves settled east of what is now Crucifer and near what is known as Timberlake. Settlers locating on Browns Creek included
Matthew Lewis, soon followed by
Asa Davis; Josiah Reagan near Reagan, which was probably named for him;
Levi Truett in the community that took his name;
Abraham Derryberry, ancestor of that prominent family, in the eastern part of the county;
Nixon Walker near Old Lone Elm;
John Myracle at Big Sandy near Wildersville;
Absolum Brooks near Lexington;
Joseph Smith and his three slaves four miles south of Lexington;
John and Gilbert Blankenship near Oak Grove Community;
John and Jerry Crook at Middle Fork Community; and
William Cawthorn and family with their eight slaves near Mifflin. The most populated early settlements were Beech River, Browns Creek, Christian Chapel, Cross Plains (now Crucifer), Independence,Jack's Creek, Lexington, Middlefork, Middleton Creek, Mifflin, Pleasant Exchange, Prospect, and Reagan.
Others who settled in the area before it became a county were
William Adcox, John Bray, Midget and Gregory Brooks,
William Brooks, Leander Brower, John Carnall, John Carver,
Silas Clark, James and Thomas Emerson, Cason Gilliam,
Solomon Gilliam, J. J. Hill, Jeremiah Ingrahan, G. Kerherdon,
Donald Kizer, Jack Little, William McDaniel, John Melton,
Thomas Mitchell, T. C. Muse, Webb Phillips, Job Philpot,
Allen Pollock, Barton and Charles Pope, Calied Rice and wife with nine children,
Martha Roberts with five children, John N. Steele with four slaves,
John Stewart, Lemuel Stratton, E. H. Tarrant, Richard Thomas,
Jacob Tomlin, John Tubbs, Phillip Walker, Henry West,
Ben White, William Wilkerson, and Caleb Wood.
The exact population of Henderson County at the time of its creation is unknown since the federal census had been the year before the county's creation. Estimated county population in 1821 ranged from 1500 to 2500. The first federal census of the county in 1830 showed a population of 8741, of which 1442 were slaves and five were freedmen. There were fewer than 1000 slave owners. The first ten years of the county represented the fastest growing period in its history. By 1840, the population had grown to 11,875 and by 1850 to 13,164. Pioneer parents, strongly believing in the work ethic, taught their children at home until schools were established. The work day started early and lasted well into the evening hours. They slept well on crude beds of straw or bear hide on dirt floors or, if the house had a floor, on beds made by driving pegs into the walls. All cooking was done in a fireplace, since it was 60 years later before cooking stoves were introduced into the county. Knives, forks, and spoons used for eating were frequently made of wood. Oxen, mules, and horses were the usual beasts of burden. Some families had milk cows. All stock had to be guarded from wild beasts. Corn and vegetables were the principal crops, and some cotton was grown.