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Ellen Pack
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Page 3

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 and States. 

     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 lands.

     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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