EARLY HISTORY AND ARCHAEOLOGY
OF YAZOO COUNTY (continued)
Early Amercan Settlement
The first county seat of Yazoo was at Beatty’s
Bluff, situated on the south bank of Big Black river in the northern part
of what is now Madison county, about ten miles northwest of Canton, and
about sixteen miles southeast of Benton and a few miles south of Redmondsville.
Beatty’s Bluff was situated at a point where a public road leading to Jackson
crossed the Yazoo river. At one time it was a prominent point, being on
the usual route to Canton and Jackson. The place was named after the early
owners of the land, two Beatty brothers. It is now extinct. Its site
was for a number of years part of a plantation and is now a canebrake and
idle waste lands, and not a vestige of any of these old homes remain to
mark the first county seat of Yazoo county.
What is now Madison county was first settled
and as the preponderance of population was near Beatty’s Bluff it was selected
as the courthouse town. The courthouse, county offices, stores and residences
were all constructed of logs felled on or near the site of the place. The
floors, doors and windows of the houses were of puncheons riven from logs.
Saw mills, planks, shingles and window glass were then unknown in that
section of country.
A very large preponderance of the population
of Yazoo was then in the area of what is now Madison county. On the north
of Big Black river in the present area of Yazoo county was a large swamp
of over three miles in length. The lands were low, subject to overflows
and regarded as very sickly. Adjoining these swamp lands were what were
termed table lands which were higher and not subject to inundation. Some
persons, having opened up these table lands, found them very productive
and not much more unhealthful than the high lands south of the Big Black
river. This successful experiment started the emigration from other counties
The early settlers of Yazoo suffered many inconveniences
and a lack of what are now deemed necessaries and endured many hardships.
Grist mills, or corn mills, and saw mills were unknown in the county. The
nearest grist mill was then at Vicksburg, a distance of over eighty miles
over a very rough road. A good many farmers united together to send their
shelled corn to Vicksburg in ox wagons for a supply of meal for three or
four months. The
trips would take about ten days or two weeks. When the water was high,
flat and keel boats laden with merchandise would be towed up Big Black
river by hand to Beatty’s Bluff, and in time of low water goods and merchandise
would be brought overland in wagons from Vicksburg.
The wants of the people were not great and the supply of merchandise was
not very large. For a great number of years the hand loom was in almost
every house and furnished all the cloth needed for clothing. Socks and
hose were knit by the housewives and their daughters. Tan-yards were in
the county, and furnished leather for shoes, harness, or gears. Wagons
were also made in the county. Planters “stocked” their own plows and harrows,
made their own hoe and ax handles. The roofs of many houses, or log
cabins, were fastened, with with nails, but with poles or logs at the end
of the boards, with puncheons between them to prevent their rolling off.
The first burials of the dead were in coffins made from puncheons and were
riveted, not with nails, but with wooden pegs. The first mill and ginhouse
in Yazoo county was built about 1831 in the suburbs of Manchester, on what
is now Jefferson street, on the block between Madison and Washington streets,
in Yazoo City. It is said that the first liquor saloon was in a shed annexed
to this ginhouse. Where the said ginhouse and saloon stood are now fine,
large, two-story residences. On the same block is a large brick church
belonging to the Baptist denomination, and immediately back of this block,
but across Broadway street, where stands the large two-story brick courthouse,
was then a dense forest.
The first saw mill was on a small scale, built just below Manchester on
the Yazoo river, by Stephen Howard, early in the 30’s. Cypress was then
very abundant in the Delta, it was not considered trespass to cut and carry
the logs away from Government land or even from the land of private individuals.
In the latter part of 1825 and in 1826, Richardson Bowman entered a large
body of land and the table lands of Big Black river about seven miles south
of the now extinct town of Benton. In the two subsequent years, he cleared
and fenced his farm and erected buildings on it. In 1828 he removed his
family from Pike county and settled permanently on this place. Others followed
soon afterwards, and the country in his neighborhood had at an early day
a good many residents. The first church built in Yazoo county was a house
erected by Richardson Bowman on his lands, which was used as a place of
worship for all denominations as well as for a schoolhouse. There was also
a cemetery near the church. Bowman had on his farm the first store, perhaps,
in Yazoo county.
At the time the county site was located in Benton, in 1829, the county
around it was an unbroken forest. It was a favorite hunting ground of the
Indians and abounded with all kinds of game. The lands in that vicinity,
as also the table lands of Big Black, proved rich and yielded abundant
products to the tiller, and were very inviting and remunerative to the
early settlers. Many acres were soon cleared and the country became rapidly
populated. Emigrants with their slaves from other counties and States came
and settled in that section. Benton grew into a prosperous town and several
stores were soon opened. Blacksmith and wagon shops, tanyards and other
industries sprang up in her limits. A two-story brick courthouse and a
brick jail were erected in a few years. The first brick store in Yazoo
county was in Benton, and soon it became one of the prominent towns of
Mississippi. Lawyers recognized throughout the State as men of ability
constituted its bar. Joseph W. Holt, who was a member afterwards of President
Buchanan’s cabinet and conspicuous at the-close of the war as one of the
instruments of Mrs. Surrat’s atrocious hangings, Sergeant S. Prentiss,
George Yerger and other leading attorneys, were attendants at its courts.
The law of real estate was then the most intricate branch of the law, and
many cases involving its principles arose for adjudication. Not a
vestige of any of the brick houses remain.
In 1824, Henry Hagan, who died at a very advanced age at his residence
in Yazoo county, in 1882, was one of the chain bearers of the corps of
surveyors who laid off, in the year 1824, the land on the Yazoo river from
the lower end of the county to Belle Prairie plantation, about ten miles
above Yazoo City, into sections and townships. Yazoo City was originally
known as Hanan’s Bluff, from the name of the man who first settled on its
site about the time the lands were surveyed. Henry Hagan and his brother
Hiram settled the Tokeba plantation on the Yazoo river, only a short distance
above Yazoo City, about 1826.
The eastern portion of the county was more rapidly settled than the delta
lands of the river, in 1828 occurred the greatest overflow of the Yazoo
river ever known in the recollection of the white man, except that of 1882,
which was a little more than a foot higher. The old citizens relate that
there was a tradition among the Indians that in 1814 there was an overflow
of the Yazoo river several feet higher than that of 1828 or 1882. It is
said to have been a custom among the Indians to mark by ‘cutting or driving
arrows into trees the highest point reached by the water of a high overflow.
By reason of the high water of 1828, the fear of a return of inundation,
and the prevalence of the opinion that the Delta, or river swamp, as it
was then called, was very sickly retarded the settlement of these fertile
0. W. Brazeal and Joab O’Neal were the first settlers in the lower end
of Yazoo county. The town of Satartia on the Yazoo river was laid out about
the year 1830 and became the shipping point for a scope of country east
and south of that place, extending across Big Black river a short distance
into Madison county. It was a small town, and the shipments of cotton were
not very large.
H. 0. Runnels, Isaac V. CaIdwell, D. B. Wright and Benjamin Johnson acquired
title to the land in and around Hanan’s Bluff, which was laid off into
lots and incorporated in 1829 by the Legislature as a town by the name
of Manchester. This was the first town chartered in Yazoo county after
its organization in 1823. Satartia was incorporated in 1833 and Benton
in 1836, and these three were the only chartered towns in Yazoo county
previous to the Civil War. There was another town about twelve or fifteen
miles southwest of Benton called Planeville, near where Dover is now, which
at one time promised to be prosperous but it became extinct in the 30’s
and formed at length a part of the Gartley plantation.
On the east of Yazoo river the country was corrugated with deep ravines.
There was a ridge extending east from Manchester across which was, as was
believed at the time, the only accessible route to the Yazoo river, which
was then the only medium for transportation of the cotton crops of Holmes,
Attala, Leake, Winston, Carroll and other eastern counties. The cotton
was brought in wagons to Manchester, afterwards Yazoo City, for sale and
shipment. There were not many stores in Manchester, but it was estimated
that from 1850 to 1857 close to sixty thousand bales were brought there
each year for sale or shipment to New Orleans. The planters and farmers
then raised their corn, meats and some of their horses and mules. The wagons
which brought down cotton generally went back loaded with merchandise for
the stores of interior towns. The larger planters usually shipped their
cotton to New Orleans. The merchants of Holmes, Attala, Leake, Winston,
a portion of Carroll and Madison counties received their goods or merchandise
by Yazoo river boats at Yazoo City.
The building of the Mississippi Central Railroad as it was then called,
running from Canton, caused a great deflection in the cotton crop from
Yazoo City. Planters went to the stations along the line of this road to
sell and ship their crops. This railroad might have been brought to Yazoo
City, but its leading merchants and citizens, who exercised much influence,
thought that a railroad would scatter their trade along its line. Hence
they opposed with great energy and earnestness its being built through
their town. The Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad, constructed in 1883,
has dispelled this idea. Yazoo City since the completion of this road has
been on a steady and continuous improvement in population, business and
cotton receipts. Many thousand acres of land in the Yazoo Delta have been
brought into cultivation, and its receipts of cotton are as large or larger
than when she commanded all the crops of Holmes, Leake, Attala, Winston,
Madison and other counties.
The Delta lands west of the Yazoo river were settled slowly. The great
overflow of 1828 caused a fear that inundations might frequently return,
and the swamp, as it was commonly called, was regarded as being very sickly.
Periodically at intervals of from four to six years there was very high
water or overflows. These overflows were very fine fertilizers. An alluvial
deposit was left by the receding waters sometimes, on low places, to the
depth of two feet or more. Usually these overflows came in the spring of
the year and the ground planted as late as June would make fine crops.
Constant and perfect working was required, as not only corn and cotton,
but grass and weeds would grow very rapidly. As soon as it was found that
these overflows did not interfere seriously with production of crops the
Delta settled up rapidly, mainly with large planters. The white population
was small and the number of negro slaves was in a large majority. The lands
were very productive and the fertility of the soil was considered inexhaustible.
These periodical overflows kept the lands enriched and they, without any
application of fertilizers, brought forth abundant crops.
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