Thursday, April 10, 2014

John Wilkerson: Confederate, Animal Lover, Auctioneer

John Wilkerson, known as an auctioneer through many years in Memphis, was buried Sunday in Raleigh. He was eminently a good fellow.  His life, constituting a series of jokes, became itself an endless scene of rollicking good-humor.  His generosity was boundless and love of fun insatiable, and, above all, was he distinguished for the strength of his personal attachments. He sometimes swore vigorously, but his heart was tender as a woman's, and he was always for "the under dog in the fight."  John's tears could never be dammed up when suffering of man, or child, or animal appeal to his sympathies.  He had a great soul, and was at last the victim of his social virtues.  

He was the most fearless of soldiers.  Distinguished when a mere boy in Jeff. Davis's regiment in Mexico, he became alike noted for recklessness on the battlefield in many a conflict in the Inter-State war.  An incident at Chickamauga should be written in letters of gold, immortalized on canvas, poetry should tell of it in tenderest accents, pointing out its marvelous beauties with tremulous hand and with tearful eyes.  Late in the afternoon, when the fight was most desperate, and northern and southern soldiers were in utter confusion, where the dead lay thickest, and groans of wounded men were commingled with the shouts of a reckless soldiery, John's horse fell under him. He had been riding the animal three years and borne by him safely over many battlefields.  There was a strong attachment between the man and the animal, and when he stood beside the fallen horse he saw that the wound was fatal, a ball having penetrated the horse's body.  The horse seemed, in fact, already dead, while John stood by almost paralyzed with grief.  He was ordered to leave the spot by an officer who witnessed the incident.  John lifted his holsters and saddle from the animal and went away.  The poor horse, devoted in his master, raised his head and lifted up his body, and making a desperate effort to follow John, neighed faintly, John dropped his burden, ran back to the horse, and putting his arms about Sultan's neck, kissed him.  The nerves and muscles of the faithful, affectionate horse were gradually relaxed, he sank down slowly, and died quietly and peacefully, without a struggle, as John used to say, perfectly blessed that his head rested on his master's bosom.  John never told this story of his much-loved steed that his eyes were not filled with tears.  

The whole population of the ancient county-capital followed John's body to the grave, and never did these villagers do themselves greater honor than when they attested the virtues and worth of John Wilkerson.  He was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, December, 1823 and died in Raleigh, April 25th, 1874.  His brother is president of an insurance company in St. Louis.
Originally posted in the Memphis Daily Appeal. April 28 1874.


When researching John Wilkerson it's important to know that there were at least two John Wilkerson's in the Memphis area during the same time period. John F. Wilkerson was born about 1840 in Tennessee and married Lucy Elizabeth Mhoon on Dec. 18 1873 in Memphis.  John F Wilkerson is not the subject of this article.  He died in California in 1913 and is interred in Santa Rosa California.  

A search of Mexican War records reveals that John M. Wilkerson served in the Mexican War with Co. C, 1st TN Infantry and a John Wilkerson appears on a list dated October 30 1847 of dead and wounded at Mexico. It is unclear if this is the same John Wilkerson in the obituary.  However, it is clear that John Wilkerson began his Civil War military career in Memphis as 1st Lieutenant, Co. E 2nd  TN Regiment (Walker's). He was elected Captain August 9, 1861. He appears on muster rolls for Fort Pillow, Camp Walker, and Chattanooga. Another card even mentions a Court Martial.  He spent some time on the staff of Brigadier General William Henry Carroll.  But none of the war records record the poignant story of his horse, Sultan.

The Memphis Daily Appeal reported on January 26 1864 that Col Rucker and Capt Wilkerson of Memphis were transferred from the Army of Tennessee to that of Mississippi.  "Capt. Wilkerson says it (the army) will neither be idle nor stationary long if this good weather continues.  He further states that a large portion of the clothes worn by our soldiers, and all the wagons, teams and ambulances now in use by our troops, have been captured from the Federals.  Every day, almost a greater or less number of prisoners are brought in by our scouting parties."



Shelby County Tennessee marriage records show that John Wilkerson married Margaret A. Giles on January 17, 1850.   








In the 1850 Census John appears with his 20 year old wife, except that her name is listed as Mary in the Census. However, there is a Robert Giles, age 24, in the household with them. Possibly her brother?


I have yet to find more Census records for John Wilkerson nor any more information regarding his wife. A search of period newspapers shows him to be active politically and socially in Memphis during the 1860's.

1866 finds Captain Wilkerson involved in "a meeting of officers and soldiers of the late Confederate army" to consider "resolutions as will relieve Memphis from the imputation that is prevalent in the North, and is industriously and maliciously continued to be impressed upon the Northern mind, that a Union or Northern man is not safe, in life, liberty and property, within our limits." (Pub. Ledger Sept 18 1866, page 3)  In 1868, he was a member of the committee that drafted resolutions regarding the death of exiled Gen. William H. Carroll (Pub. Ledger. May 8 1868, page 3). He was appointed one of the "Marshals of the Day" during the Old Folks' Annual Barbecue at Bartlett in July 1868 (Pub. Ledger July 20 1868 page 3) and he appears in City Directories.  In 1867 he is an auctioneer at Royster, Trezevant & Co.

Burial Permit Edward Wilkerson
I believe his brother was Edward Wilkerson, born Nov. 19th 1827 in Lynchburg Virginia.  While John went south, Edward moved to St. Louis and worked in the insurance industry.  Edward appears in U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records for Missouri but I find no record of service.  He married Virginia Cline in 1860 in St. Louis Missouri.   Edward died December 2, 1907 and was interred at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.

While many of John Wilkerson's contemporaries were interred at Elmwood Cemetery he lies in a currently unmarked grave at Raleigh.  Raleigh is home to the oldest cemetery in Shelby County and has long been neglected.  Over the past few years volunteers have been making strides to recover the land from the overgrowth of many decades.  Many markers have been revealed when undergrowth has been removed and many that had sunk into the earth have been brought back into the sunlight.  Raleigh Cemetery is a work in progress and though much has been done there is a desperate need for more volunteers and donations to make sure the progress made to date is saved and to continue revealing the hidden secrets that lie buried at the cemetery.  It's very possible that Captain John Wilkerson's monument, if indeed he had one, will be recovered thanks to the efforts of volunteers.  For more information visit Raleigh Cemetery Facebook Page, Raleigh Community Council Cemetery Page, Raleigh Cemetery Findagrave.





Wednesday, April 2, 2014

James "Uncle Jim" Nelson, "A good and faithful servant"

James Nelson, also known as Uncle Jim, died February 25 1881.  His obituary notes that he was "colored", 80 years of age and that he had been formerly owned by T.A. Nelson to whom he had been a "good and faithful servant."  

I wanted to see what else I could find out  about Mr. Nelson and his family so my search began.

The earliest record comes from his Freedman's Bureau Application dated November 1 1867. He was born in Maryland but came to Davidson Co. Tennessee when he was about 5 weeks old.  At the age of 11 or 12 he moved to Madison Co, near Huntsville Alabama and stayed there till he "became a man."  Then he lived in Limestone Co. Alabama.  He came to Memphis about 1854.    The application states he was 65 years old and that his father was named James and his mother was Cely Vincent.  His wife was named Sally.  He listed three children: Jennie age 22, Jim and Cely had died.  His place of birth was listed as Georgetown Maryland, Eastern Shore.  His current residence was 3rd street between Poplar and Washington in Memphis. Occupation, drayman.  Remarks: "Never has heard of his father.  He was in Maryland.  Left Mother in Limestone Co., Alabama.  Has not seen her for 30 years. Half-bro. Thomas Vincent, in Huntsville when was separated at same time Mother was."   

His daughter Jennie married William Bickford prior to October 28 1867.  Jennie's application with the Freedman's Bureau states that she was born in Athens Alabama and had come from there about 12 years ago and lived in Memphis since that time.  She was 22, her husband was William and they had a four year old daughter named Bell.  The family lived at Third St between Poplar and Washington streets. Like her father, her husband was a drayman.  Remarks: "Father and Mother in Memphis. They all live together.  Bro. Jim and sister Cely dead.  Tres. Daughters of Zion."

The Nelson and Bickford families continued living together and appear in the 1870 Census for Memphis. James birth state is Maryland and he was 75 years old. Sallie was 71 and from Virginia.  They are living with their daughter Jennie, her husband William Bickford and their daughter Belle. William was a drayman, born in Tennessee, age 39.   Jennie was 24, keeping house, born in Alabama. Young Belle was 6 years old, born in Tennessee.  



Belle Bickford applied with the Freedman's Bureau on January 11, 1872.  She was 8 years old, born in
Memphis, lives at 3rd St and attends school at Mrs. Clark's.  Her father, William Bickford, has died.













A few years after the death of her husband, Jennie Nelson Bickford married Edward Carter on January 20 1875 in Shelby County TN.  This is the last record I find for Jennie.



James, Sally and Belle next appear in the 1880 Census.  James is 83 and his occupation is domestic servant. His wife Sally is now 76 and keeping house. Their grand-daughter Belle is 16.


The next time we find James Nelson he has died and was interred at Elmwood Cemetery on February 27 1881. Elmwood records his age as 80.  His wife Sallie/Sally dies on February 3, 1892.  Cause of death, Dropsy. She is also laid to rest at Elmwood.

Eight months after her grandmother dies, Belle Bickford marries Mose Harris, October 4 1892 in Memphis. They were married by Justice of the Peace P.L. Davis.




After that the trail for Belle goes cold.  I did find a Belle Harris who died in Memphis December 31, 1893.   She was 27 and married at the time of her death.  Her age and marital status are close enough that it's possible this is the grand-daughter of James Nelson. She was interred at Potter's Field in Shelby County.





For those of you that might be interested in the slaveowner, T.A. Nelson he was Thomas A. Nelson, born in 1819 in Tennessee.  He married Miriam W. Mosley in Itawamba Mississippi on Sept. 4 1839.  The family resided in Limestone County Alabama in 1850. His children were Laura, Frederick, Liza and Stephen.

The 1850 Slave Census shows that Thomas A Nelson owned 12 slaves, with five of them checked as "Fugitives from the state."  It's very possible that James and his family are listed in this Census.


In 1869 Nelson purchased the home and property of Wilks Brooks after an outbreak of Yellow Fever.  His daughter Laura and her husband James Brett lived there until 1890.  The house and property passed through the hands of others and was finally sold to James Kirby in 1898.  It would become known as the Kirby House, Germantown Tennessee.  This historic home located at 6792 Poplar Pike was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  In September 2013 the home, like so many other historic landmarks in Shelby County, was scheduled for demolition to make way for other forms of development.

Thomas Nelson died on January 11 1887 and like his former slave, James Nelson, was interred at Elmwood Cemetery.  The following appeared in the Memphis Appeal, January 14 1887:  The remains of the late Thomas A. Nelson were laid at rest at Elmwood Cemetery on yesterday.  The funeral was from his late residence, No. 81 Adams street and was largely attended by the members of South Memphis Masonic Lodge, of which lodge he was a member in good standing."

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

William G. Tanner Brutally Murdered in Case of Mistaken Identity, 1857

Family Background
According to the headstone at Elmwood Cemetery, William G. Tanner was born in April of 1834. William was the son of Elizabeth W. Tanner, father unknown at this time.  Elizabeth was born about 1796 in Virginia.  In addition to William she had the following children:  Simon P. Tanner, married Mary A. Price in Shelby County TN April 23 1851; Julia A. Tanner, born about 1825 in Virginia; Mary E. Tanner, born about 1829 in Tennessee; Susan Tanner, born about 1840 in Mississippi.  It's important to note that one residence away is the family of Jesse Tate. This might be the same Jesse Tate that was listed in Tanner's tribute which was published in the Memphis Daily Appeal .  Two of the Tanner sisters married the same man, Charles V. Hart of New York, a blacksmith.  Charles married Mary in Shelby County TN in 1858 and they had two children. The first was C.H. Hart who died in 1859 and the other is listed as "Child of Charl V. Hart who died in 1860."  Mary Tanner Hart died about a month after the death of her second child.  In the 1860 Census Charles is listed with a value of about $500.  He is living with his mother-in-law Elizabeth, whose personal value is $8200.  His single but older sister-in-law Julia is also in the house.  Elizabeth Tanner died in early March 1861, a few weeks later Charles and Julia are married.  They had a daughter, also named Julia, who died at the age of three from Small Pox. Charles V. Hart dies in 1867.  Julia A.R. Tanner Hart died in 1874 from consumption. Susan Tanner, the youngest of Elizabeth's children, married Samuel B. Robinson in Shelby County TN on May 24 1860.   In addition to the Tanner and Hart families there is one other person interred in the family plot that had been purchased by William G. Tanner, Julia Tomlin. Julia Tomlin was the daughter of Martha Tanner Tomlin and George W. Tomlin.  Martha and George were married in Shelby County on April 24 1864.  The only Martha Tanner I find that fits the dates is the daughter of John A. Tanner and his wife Martha A. Moseley.  John A. Tanner was born in Virginia about 1821 which makes it possible that he was also the son of Elizabeth Tanner. If so, that makes Martha Tanner Tomlin Elizabeth's granddaughter and Julia Tomlin her great granddaughter.

The Murder
William G. Tanner was murdered in Memphis on a Monday evening, February 9, 1857.  The List of Deaths in the City of Memphis record it as death by assassination.  He was 24 years old.  Newspaper reports tell us that he was a religious young man.  He began his studies at the Sabbath School at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Memphis in 1846 at the young age of 12.  In 1855 he became a member of the church and a teacher at the Sabbath School.  In addition he sold candy at the Candee, Mix & Co. mercantile store on Main Street.  By all appearances he was well liked and respected in the community.

Lucius Phillips and an unnamed black man were arrested and charged with the murder of Tanner. Over the course of several days an inquest was held and on February 18, 1857 the Appeal reported that Lucius Phillips was remanded to jail to "abide the action of the Grand Jury of the Criminal Court" by Esq. Horne.

From the Memphis Daily Appeal, February 10 1857:
"On February 10th, 1857, the Memphis Daily Appeal reported Tanner's murder.  It occurred between Beale and Union Streets.  Tanner was brutally attacked and left on the railroad tracks in such a way as to make it appear that he had been struck by a train.  When he was found, he was still alive but unable to speak. 
"On last evening, between six and seven o'clock, a murder was perpetrated on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, between Beal (sic) and Union streets.  The name of the murdered man was W.A. Tanner, late a salesman in the mercantile house of Candee, Mix & Co., Main street.  The body was discovered a short time before the arrival of the cars, being placed in such a manner across the track as to convey the impression had the cars passed over it that such was the cause of his death.  hen found, life was not quite extinct, but the victim could not speak.  The blow which caused his death, it is supposed, was inflicted with a slung-shot or bludgeon, an indentation having been made in the head.  The blood was running out of Mr. Tanner's mouth, nose and ears, when discovered.  The dead body was taken to the house of his mother, who lives on the outskirts of the city, and with whom he resided.  Mr. Tanner was an exemplary member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and his sudden and awful death has cast gloom over a large circle of friends, relatives and acquaintances.  He was about twenty-five years of age, and it was not known that he had a single enemy in the world.  The supposition of his friends is, that he was mistaken by his murderer for some other person, else killed for money which he might have been supposed to have in his possession.  If the latter was the cause, the villain met with a disappointment, as Mr. T. was not in the habit of carrying much money with him.

Since writing the above, we have learned the following particulars:
About half-past ten o'clock, a young man named Phillips was arrested by the Marshal and special police at a House on Union street, on suspicion of being the murderer, and is now in the calaboose awaiting an examination.  A negro has also been arrested as an accomplice, and is also in custody.

We learn from Marshal Mynatt, that not only was Mr. T. struck with a slung-shot, but also was stabbed in the forehead.  When found his head was on the track; from remarks which have reached the officers ears, they think Mr. T. was murdered by mistake--his assassin taking him for some other person.

The greatest excitement pervaded the community last night.  We forbear making further comments at present."

I mention here that The Memphis Daily Appeal compared Tanner's death to that of a man named Dr. Burdell who had been brutally murdered in New York because it shows an interesting belief about the body after death.  In a letter to the editor of that newspaper it was noted that in the case of Dr. Burdell the police had hoped to find the murderer in a unique way:  "Dr. Doremus, who resides at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Nineteenth street, will make examination of the retinas of Dr. Burdell's eyes by a powerful instrument to-day to see if the last object which deceased saw is still imparted upon the visual organ, and if so, whether it be the murderer or murderers.  This is a fearful and sure mode of detection, for which we are indebted to the progress of science."  It seems that not only are the eyes the windows to the soul but at that time it was thought they retained the last image before death and that image could be seen with an opthalmoscope as long it was done within 10 hours of death and before the eyes became clouded. Memphis Daily Appeal February 14, 1857, page 2.

Later that month Mayor Thomas B. Carroll and the City Alderman began offering a $500 reward for the apprehension and conviction of the murderer/murderers.
In addition to the city reward the Candee Mix Co. was also offering a $500 reward for the apprehension of the murderers.

On February 27 1857, The Home Journal out of Winchester Tennessee reported that the "examination has been postponed, and a negro man had been arrested on suspicion of being connected" with the murder. 

It was reported in the Athens Post on March 20 1857 that Tanner had been murdered in a case of mistaken identity:
"There seems to be no doubt, now, in the public mind that poor Tanner was murdered by mistake--the scoundrel who procured the assassination intended to murder another man.  From good authority, we learn that the following will be the upshot of the developments which will probably be brought to light by a clew (sic) now in the hands of the proper officers of the law:--A certain party in love with a married woman, desired to put her husband out of the way, and employed a negro man to do the deed.  The negro, instructed an abetted by his principal, mistook Tanner for the married man and slew him.  We understand that the negro has been heard to say that he was employed to set the part of of "bravo" in the affair.  All this sounds like a tale of old Venice or Madrid, and we regret to hear it told of an enlightened, well governed Protestant city like this.   
A further item--We learn from good authority that Phillips, who was arrested for the murder of Tanner, has been twice visited in prison by a married woman, disguised, who is believed to be the wife of the man intended to have been murdered."

The following tribute was published in the Memphis Daily Appeal on February 25 1857:
At a meeting of the Sabbath School of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in the city of Memphis, on the morning of the 15th inst., the announcement being made of the decease of Mr. Wm. G. Tanner, a teacher and member of the Sabbath School, the following gentlemen, to-wit: Dr. T. McGown, E. McDavitt, Jesse M. Tate, F.M. Cash, A. Street, W.H. Stratton and J.C. Davis, were appointed by the Superintendent, a Committee to draw up and report to the Sabbath School, on the next Sabbath, such resolutions as might be deemed proper for said Sabbath School, in their general capacity, to adopt, expressive of the deep sensibility of the children and teachers of said Sabbath School, for the memory of their brother and teacher, so suddenly removed from their midst, by the hand of death.  In pursuance with said appointment, the said committee be leave to report:

  Whereas, It has please our Heavenly Father, in his inscrutable providence, to permit our brother and friend, Wm. G. Tanner, to fall by the mysterious hand of assassination, and to be thus called from the presence of men into the presence of his Maker and God to give an account of all the deeds done in the body, it becomes us therefore to improve this sad lesson of the uncertainty of human life to our individual profit.  And well will it be for us if we can realize, through this melancholy dispensation, the hand of Him who had given to our brother life; and that we submit in deep humility, believing that all things, however severe, are sent upon us for our good.  And also, to realize the truth of the saying of the Bible, "That is the midst of life we are in death"--and the force of the exhortation, "Be ye also ready, for in such an hour as ye think not, the son of Man cometh."   And that this Sabbath School do feel a deep sympathy and sorrow for the decease of our beloved brother Wm. G. Tanner.  Therefore,

  Resolved, That this Sabbath School, in all its membership, do feel a deep sorrow for the late melancholy decease of our friend and brother Wm. G. Tanner, which occurred on the night of the 9th inst.  Also, we feel that this Sabbath School, our Church in Memphis, and indeed the whole community have lost one of their brightest and best members; and we, as a Sabbath School, (although a painful duty,) do with pleasure bear with testimonial to the worth of Mr. Wm. G. Tanner.

  Resolved, That the uniform, upright and pious deportment of our brother, Wm. G. Tanner, was owing in the main to early culture in this Sabbath School--as he entered it as a scholar about the year 1846, and became hopefully converted to a saving faith in our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, during the great revival in this church under the ministry of the Rev. Dr. Porter, in the year 1855.  Many now connected with this Sabbath School, and the congregation worshiping in this church, will remember with what confidence the profession of religion, by brother Wm. G. Tanner, was received by every one who knew him; and many will testify of the exemplary life and habits of our brother since that time--therefore, we as members of this Sabbath School, do but express our humble testimony to the worth of our brother, by this action of this Sabbath School.

  Resolved, That we shroud our Sabbath School Library in deep mourning for four Sabbaths as a tribute of respect to the memory of the deceased.

  Resolved, That we furnish a copy of these proceedings to the mother and family of the deceased, and do tender to them our most heartfelt sympathy for them in this their great bereavement--trusting that their less is his eternal gain--and that it will lead them to endeavor to follow him to his home in heaven, as they know that he cannot return to them.

  Resolved, That the Sabbath School proceedings be read out to the congregation from the pulpit before the morning services on next Sabbath morning.

  Resolved, That the city papers be requested to publish these resolutions.

  J. McGown,
  E. McDavitt,
  Jesse M. Tate,
  F.M. Cash,
  A. Street,
  W. H. Stratton,
  J.C. Davis
Committee
Memphis February 22 1857

I have not yet found the outcome of the trial against Lucius Phillips nor any information regarding the arrest of the black man with him.