Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Murder of Captain Benjamin Ward Avent, 1868

Mortally Wounding of Capt. Benj. Avent

Yesterday brought by telegram the sad intelligence to Dr. B.W. Avent that his son, Capt. Benj. Avent, had been mortally wounded.  He immediately started by train for the scene of the murder, which place is known as Hickory Hollow, on the Mississippi Central railroad, seven miles north of Grand Junction; which town, with the surrounding country, has been for a long time infested with a band of horse-thieves and robbers, whose depredations are well known to every one.  Captain Avent has had a dry goods store at Hickory Hollow, where he has been living for a short while with his beautiful bride, married only a few months since.  

One night before last a negro came to the store about nine o'clock, and stated that there were four armed men a short distance down the road, stopping every one, and wanted  to know of him when he was going.   On hearing of this, Capt. Avent and a small party, who were in the store at the time, armed themselves, and waited the coming of the robbers, expecting they would be attacked and the store robbed, but nothing transpired during the night. The citizens next morning met to determine measures for their safety, and it was concluded that a party of mounted men should go in search of the band of horse thieves, who were thought to be in the neighborhood at the time.  They had an idea that one Reynolds, a notorious desperado, who had been driven from the county some time ago for theft, might have been in the party of the night before.  

The mounted citizens in search of the robbers concluded to go by the home of this man Reynolds, and see if he had returned to the county.  On riding up to the gate of the yard, Capt. Avent, in front, hailed and wanted to know from Reynolds' wife whether her husband was at home.  She replied in the negative.  Capt. Avent, not being satisfied, got down and started toward the house.  The woman shut the door, but the Captain forced it open.  On his entering, a double-barrel shotgun, loaded with No. 3 shot, was discharged at him, one entire load entering his forehead, and the contents of the other barrel ranging a little downward.  He fell to the floor mortally wounded.

The party of citizens there demanded the surrender of Reynolds, and he did surrender, and was taken back and placed under charge of three guards and started to the Bolivar jail.  On the road the robber, with his guard, were confronted by a party of unknown horsemen and the prisoner demanded; the guard resisted, but was overpowered, and nothing more was seen of the robber until his body was found in a well near Middleburg, badly shot.  

Captain Avent was removed to the house of a friend, where his demise is looked for hourly.  He is a noble young man and high toned gentleman, and was a brave, chivalric soldier, and will leave a young wife, father, mother and a host of friends to mourn his loss.
Originally posted in the Public Ledger November 24, 1868.

Benjamin W. Avent Jr. was born about 1845 in Tennessee.  He was the son of Dr. Benjamin Ward Avent Sr and his wife Nancy Taylor Lytle.  He served with the Confederacy during the Civil War, enlisting in April 1861.  Tennessee marriage records show that he married M.O. Christian on May 19, 1868 in Hardeman County Tennessee.  

It's interesting to note that his physician father served during the Civil War as a surgeon and medical director under Generals Albert Sydney Johnston and John C. Breckenridge.  During the 1878 yellow fever epidemic of Memphis Dr. Avent used his skills as a physician to aid those who contracted the disease.  Like so many he contracted yellow fever and died September 12, 1878.

Benjamin Avent Sr and Jr are interred in Elmwood with several other family members.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Explosion of the Steamer Raymond - 1866

About 10 o'clock yesterday morning, when in the vicinity of Island No. 40, the steamer James Raymond, sold to Campbell & Co., of St. Louis, at the Marshal's sale in this city, on Monday last, exploded her starboard boiler, while en route from this point to St. Louis, with the steamer Bostona in tow.  Immediately after the explosion the steamer caught fire, but by the energetic exertions of the uninjured on board, the flames were soon extinguished.  In the meantime, however, the two steamers floated about five miles down the river, where she was made fast to the banks.  The loss sustained by the explosion will probably amount to $4000, as the forward part of the steamer was entirely destroyed, and the chimneys blown into the river.  

Mr. John Graham, the chief engineer of the Raymond, was blown overboard, with a negro deck hand.  The injuries sustained by Mr. Graham were of such a nature that he sank almost instantly.  The deck hand was rescued from a watery grave.  A man named Gabriel Spriles, of Nashville, was frightfully scalded.  Mr. Gholson, the engineer on watch at the time of the explosion, was so seriously scalded and injured by bruises, that his recovery is thought to be impossible; although, when landed at the Memphis wharf, he was able, by the assistance of friends, to walk.  

Shortly after the explosion, the steamer Tennessee came along and rendered considerable assistance.  The captain and the wounded parties came down to the city on her.  No blame is attached to the officers, as there was plenty of water in the boilers at the time of the explosion.
Originally posted in the Public Ledger April 25, 1866

FOUND--The body of James (sic) Graham, engineer of the ill-fated steamer Raymond, was found yesterday, about eight miles above the city.  He will be buried this afternoon by his friends.  He leaves a wife and child to mourn his loss.  
Originally posted in the Public Ledger April 25, 1866

A search of brings up little information regarding John Graham.  His parents were Hugh Graham and Lettice/Letitia Swan.  Miss Swan was born in New Hampshire.  It appears that the elder Graham's were living in St. Louis Missouri and died there in the 1850's.  As for the wife and child of John Graham, for now they remain nameless.

Mr. Graham is interred in Elmwood Cemetery.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Captain John T. Shirley - Steamboat Captain & Confederate Ironclad Builder

We are pained to-day to be compelled to announce the death in this city at his residence on Promenade street, at three o'clock this morning, by congestion, of Captain John T. Shirley, a gentleman known for his manifold good qualities in every city and town along Western rivers.  The flags of the boats in port are displayed at half-mast in respect to the memory of Captain John T. Shirley, whose funeral takes place from his residence, No. 96 Promenade street, at five o'clock this afternoon.
Posted in the Memphis Daily Ledger, September 9, 1873

The remains of Captain John T. Shirley were followed to their last resting place in Elmwood Cemetery last evening by a large circle of friends and acquaintances.  Posted in the Memphis Daily Ledger, September 10, 1873

What's missing from these announcements are the important contributions of Captain John T. Shirley during the Civil War to the building of a Confederate inland Navy as well as his business acumen and philanthropy.  For more information about the life of Captain Shirley be sure to check out The CSS Arkansas: A Confederate Ironclad on Western Waters by Myron J. Smith.

The CSS Arkansas

Like so many people, Captain Shirley is interred at Elmwood Cemetery along with his wife, Virginia A. Shirley who died just four days after her husband.  Cause of death for Captain Shirley was listed as "congestion" while his wife is supposed to have succumbed to cholera.  I think the more likely cause of death was Yellow Fever as Memphis was in the middle a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1873.

If the Captain and his wife had a monument at Elmwood it has long since disappeared.

The following comes from the Reminiscences of the Civil War by Charles Edward nash, M.D., Little Rock, Ar., 1898.

Here we will pause and give a short description of our comrades.  Capt. Shirley was about five feet eight inches in height, fleshy, round face, thin beard.  He was one of the most successful steamboat men that ever ran on the fiver from Friar's Point to Memphis, with the exception of old Capt. Jim Lee, whom every one knows, and he needs no encomium from me.  Shirley's great success depended on his strict watch over things on the lower deck, noticing every piece of machinery, from a tap to a bolt, and from a bolt to a boiler; always keeping under strict surveillance deck hands, engineers and pilots.  He was a man of cool temper and clear judgment, and did not often indulge in swearing, which most steamboat captains think a boat cannot be run without.  He left the care of his cabin passengers to his clerks, who were always polite, accommodating and communicative, entertaining the ladies by describing the scenery, with many reminiscences of steamboat life.  The "Kate Frisbee" was a great pet with him, and indeed she was the most beautiful packet that has ever plied the waters of the lower Mississippi.  She was double decked, and walked the water like a thing of life, almost as prompt to the hour as a mail train.  Capt. D.D. DeHaven ran a magnificent packet some years before the war from Louisville to New Orleans.  At the breaking out of the war he transferred her to the lower Mississippi and in 1862 sold her to the Confederate government, then went to Selma, Alabama, to join Capt. Shirley in a government contract to build the large war steamer "Alabama" Commodore Forand being the naval officer in charge.  They completed the boat, a heavy ironclad vessel, but in launching her in the fall of 1863 met with a serious accident.  The Alabama river at this season of the year low, she caught on a bench and broke in the center.  She was condemned and sold to some merchants in Mobile for $750,000.  This was a great disappointment to our navy, as they had expected to raise the blockade at Mobile."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Poisoning a Nymph du Pave 1866

From Cassell's Dictionary of Slang:  nymph of the pave, n. (also nymph du pave, nymph of the pavement) [early 19c-1930s] a prostitute, a street-walker (cf. night walker n.) [nymph n. (1) = pave(ment)]

Last night Madam Johnson, keeper of a female boarding house, applied to the police to have three men arrested for poisoning an inmate of her tavern named Liddy Anglin.  It appears that three men, strangers in this city, who were on their way to Texas, had stopped at the house, and induced Liddy to take a drink from a bottle of whiskey they had, and left shortly afterward.  The woman retired to bed, but was soon awakened by an uneasy feeling and her body swelling to an enormous size.  A physician was sent for who soon relieved her, aided by a stomach pump, and this morning she was much better.  The three were traced to the levee, and as the steamer Princess had just departed, it is supposed they took passage on her.

Posted in the Memphis Public Ledger, September 29, 1866

Sunday, April 7, 2013

1878 - A Brave man Gives Up His Life for Others

The SENTINEL of yesterday reported that Dr. Gorrell, of Maples, in this county, was ill with yellow fever at Memphis, and that his condition was very critical.  A telegram received this morning by Mayor Zollinger announces that the doctor died last night.

About three weeks ago Dr. Gorrell volunteered his services to go to Memphis and attend the sick.  He had served in the army, spent several years in the south, and in 1862 had charge of a hospital in Memphis.  At that time he attended yellow fever patients, and was himself attacked with the terrible disease, from which he recovered.  For these reasons he believed that he would live through the epidemic, and his offer was therefore accepted.

The doctor reached Memphis about two weeks ago, and was assigned to duty at the Printer's Hospital.  He labored night and day with his patients and met with splendid success until last Sunday, when he was taken ill.  The Gazette this morning publishes a letter from him, dated the 14th, in which he gives a thrilling account of the terrible scenes he was passing through.  He declared that his army experience was comparatively nothing.  On the 14th he visited seventy-eight patients and climbed more than three thousand steps.

The doctor was one of the world's  heroes.  It is accounted the height of nobleness to give one's life for a brother or friend; but Dr. Gorrell laid his life down cheerfully, manfully, bravely for strangers for people of whom he had never seen nor heard.  Loftier heroism never was exhibited; truer bravery was never show.  

Dr. Gorrell was a brave soldier, a skillful physician and a kind husband and father.  He leaves a wife and five small children in maples, whose means of support are thus taken from them.
~Posted in the Fort Wayne Daily Sentinel, September 21, 1878.

His full name was Jesse Oliver Goldsmith Gorrell.  His parents were the Rev. Jesse B. Gorrell and Sophia May Forney.  His wife was Jennie Cash.  Although Dr. Gorrell was not a Memphian his service to the city and his unselfish actions surely give him resident status!  He is interred at Elmwood Cemetery.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Distressing Murder/Suicide in Memphis, 1869

A Well-known Citizen Kills His
Room-mate and Attacks a 
Man in the Next Room.
Terrible Suicide of the Murderer-
His Farewell to the World.
Full Particulars of the Melancholy and Thrilling Event.
This morning that portion of the population astir on the streets was startled by the rumor that Mr. Jack Walt had killed a man, and then leaped from a three-story window, killing himself instantly.  The awful report was too soon confirmed, and we lay before our readers the most tragic and distressing instance of homocide (sic) and suicide that has, perhaps, ever occurred in Memphis. 

We hastened to the Bradley Block, on the levee at the foot of Adams street, and found a large crowd already collected.  The man who was slain before he awoke from his sleep proved to be a well known cotton speculator, Mr. Newberry Gibson, who has lived in Memphis perhaps over twenty years; at least, he was a clerk that long ago in the employ of Colonel Titus, and for full twenty-five years had been an intimate and confidential associate of Mr. Andrew Jackson Walt, who, killed him.

The two men occupied a front room together in the northeast corner of the third floor, and the windows command a view up the river and of Front street.  In that room lay the ghastly remains of Mr. Newberry Gibson.  He had been struck apparently three times with a hatchet.  The first blow split his head open across the forehead, the next went deep into his left temple--either of them would have been instantly fatal.  A third blow, of less force, had been made just below the mouth, diagonally across the chin.

lay on his back, and it was evident had not been moved since he was struck the first time; and the bed-clothes, which were pushed down, disclosing half his body, were clotted with pools of blood.  The general opinion was the he never awoke.  He certainly did not make any resistance.  he had slept by himself, and at a late hour last evening remarked to Mr. Nelson, who occupied the next room, that he was afraid Walt had thrown himself into the river, for he was crazy as a loon, or words to that effect.

It is not known certainly where Mr. Jack Walt slept last night, if he slept at all.  But he came into Mr. George Nelson's room before sunrise this morning and told him that he had slept out in a lumber yard, and made many strange remarks, like a man who was out of his mind.  Mr. Nelson told him to come and get in bed, but he declined, and went out, carefully pulling the door to after him and a table which fastened it.  Mr. Nelson turned over in bed and was composing himself for a morning nap when Walt suddenly dashed open the door, and with gleaming eyes and a bloody hatchet in his hand made at Mr. N. like an infuriated madman, striking at him with the hatchet with insane fury.  Nelson partly raised up and sprang back, at the same time throwing up his right hand, which was split wide open, between the middle and fore fingers, almost to the wrist.  After striking at Nelson several more times without effect, Walt dropped the hatchet and ran out toward his own room.  It is clear that he had murdered Gibson before attacking Nelson, for the bloody hatchet was picked up in the latter's room.  Mr. Nelson ran out in his hight clothes and made his escape to the Worsham House.

Walt next appeared at the window of his room, fronting north on Adams street, and by his shouting and wild movements attracted the attention of two policemen who were coming around the corner.  Mr. Nelson met them and told them that an attempt had been made to kill him by the man in the window.  The alarm was promptly given on the street, and several persons, comprehending the situation, started toward the building, but it was too late.  Two minutes later Walt reappeared at the window, and, standing up in it, shouted frantically: "Farewell to the world!" Then he lowered himself, still shouting "farewell to the world," making incoherent expressions, until he swung off by his hands from the windowsill, and at this instant he may have realized his terrible situation, for he held on with great tenacity a minute or so--though it seemed hours to the terrified beholders--and shouted aloud, it is said, for help; but none could reach him--he was beyond human aid.  First one hand gave way, and in a few seconds the other slipped, and the man shot to the brick pavement, forty feet below, with terrific force and velocity.  He fell almost upon his right shoulder, and when reached by the horror-stricken spectators, was lying on his back.  He breathed for nearly an hour, but never spoke or was conscious.  The body was conveyed into Captain Montgomery's cotton press establishment, but life was already extinct.

Mr. Andrew Jackson Walt was about fifty-five years old, and was never married.  He has been known in Memphis for full twenty-five years.  He remarked to a friend yesterday that he first came down the river as a cook on a flatboat.  By energy and perseverance he accumulated a handsome fortune, and before the war was worth probably one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.  But during the war he lost heavily, and a fire that occurred in the Bradley Block (which he owned) eighteen months ago, was a heavy blow, from which he never recovered.  His financial troubles weighed him down, and for some months past his friends have observed that his mind was somewhat impaired.  Among business men he was noted for fair dealing and liberality.  Of late he had been drinking some, though not to an extent that would excite any special notice or apprehension.  He was on the best of terms with Mr. Gibson, the man he killed, and the act could only have been committed when he was out of his mind.  His father, a native of Virginia, but for many years a citizen of Ohio, lives in the city, and is eighty-four years old. The four brothers of the deceased are well known in the business community as men of strict integrity and big enterprise; and the blow which has fallen upon the family excites wide-spread sympathy.  The deceased had evidently been thinking of suicide for some time.  Only yesterday he remarked that he had never wronged a man in his life, and he was ready to die at any time.  Mr. Gibson was, perhaps, younger than Walt, probably was forty-five, and like him had never been married.  He waited on Walt when he had yellow fever and small-pox, and they were at all times together on the most intimate and confidential terms.

An inquest was held by Coroner Samuelson at an early hour over both bodies, and verdicts were rendered in accordance with the foregoing facts.  The funeral of both will take place, we understand, to-morrow.  At a late hour this forenoon no steps had been taken to-ward removing the body of Gibson or preparing it for interment.  The policeman at the door, however, stated courteously, that suitable arrangements had been made.  We have thus give the minute particulars of this terrible affair as gathered on the ground, not to gratify any morbid taste for sensation, but as a duty to the public, and to the many acquaintances and friends of the two men deceased.

This gentleman, who escaped so narrowly, is at the Worsham House.  His severe wound was dressed by Dr. Nutall, and he is not in any danger, though suffering greatly.  A main artery was severed and the doctor found it very difficult to stop the hemorrhage.  The patient is consequently very weak.
Posted in the Public Ledger, April 6 1869.

The brothers of  Mr. Andrew Jackson Walt held a double funeral at their home for Mr. Newberry Gibson and their brother Jack.  The two men were interred at Elmwood Cemetery in lot 623, Chapel Hill, on April 7, 1869. Elmwood records list their ages as 50 for Walt and 51 for Gibson, which differs from the report above.