Saturday, August 24, 2013

Col. C.D. McLean: Pioneer Journalist of West Tennessee, 1881

Charles D. McLean was a pioneer of West Tennessee as well as a pioneer of journalism.  Born in Virginia in 1795 he moved to the Jackson Tennessee area where he published the first newspaper in the Western Division of the State, the Jackson Gazette.  He fought with Jackson in the War of 1812 and was a supporter of Jackson during his presidential campaign.  He won a term in the State Legislature after which he removed to Memphis bringing his printing materials with him where he began the second newspaper in Memphis, the Memphis Gazette.  Like so many others, he was left poor after the Civil War but was by no means diminished in his social and official positions.  After the War the Old Folks of Memphis organization started back up and McLean served as the president of the organization for several years.  He lived a life so meaningful he was known as "the best in the world".  His first wife was Marsha Searcy, daughter of Judge Bennett Searcy, she died in 1818.  He next married Jane Elizabeth Smith in 1831, she died in 1880. Col. Charles D. McLean and many of his family are interred in Elmwood and Forest Hill Midtown cemeteries in Memphis.

The following articles originally appeared in the Memphis Daily Appeal, February 16, 1881.  

We regret to announce this morning the death of Colonel D.C.(sic) McLean.  He passed away yesterday about 1 o'clock, surrounded by his children, grandchildren and other relatives and friends.  He was in his eighty-sixth year, but to the last retained much of the vigor that had characterized him through a long and eventful life--a life that covered the whole period comprised in the existence of the state.  Colonel McLean was one of the revered pioneers of West Tennessee, an honored soldier who fought with Jackson, and a journalist whose rare distinction it was to have printed the first newspaper published in this division of the State.  He was one of the old patriots, of whom but few remain, who bound the present with the past, and linked these modern times with the era of settlement, to which no American can revert without a feeling of pride.  He was ushered into life shortly before the admission of Tennessee to the Union, grew to early manhood amid the stirring recollections of the revolutionary war, and was an eager participant in the War of 1812-14, the final victory of which made for Jackson and Tennessee an imperishable renown.  Thus launched into life in a country, much of which was still a terra incognita, his indomitable will and native resolution and abilities soon made for the young printer a place as a leader among the hardy, plucky and adventurous spirits who had carved the new State out of the wilderness.  He followed Jackson in the political as in the tented field, and by the administration of the State and National governments through Democratic principles, hoped for the greatest good for the greatest number.  He loved Tennessee as he loved his life, and he loved the whole south with the ardor which in his young manhood induced him to fight for the enlargement of its limits and to defend its territory and people.  In the late civil war he was too old to take part, but he sent his sons to represent him, and had reason to be proud that they sustained a reputation as soldiers quite up to the mark which his soldiery pride had set for them.  Like other planters he lost heavily by the failure of the Confederate cause, but the pride which had carried him through so many extraordinary vicissitudes enabled him to bear this cross uncomplainingly, and old as he was he became conspicuous in the county as an example of industry, energy and thrift.  Full of years and followed by the respect of the entire community where his life was so firmly rooted, Colonel Charles McLean's remains will be laid away in the soil which he defended, to rest amid the ashes of those who in life revered him as "the best in the world," leaving behind him the memory of a kindly nature, a large and neighborly spirit, a firm, energetic and sturdy patriotism, a sterling manhood, an uncompromising lover of principle, and a devoted husband, father and friend.
  Page 1, column 1

Death of Colonel C.D. McLean, the Pioneer Journalist of West Tennessee, and an Old Soldier

Colonel Charles D. McLean, known as "the best in the world," and a veteran pioneer of West Tennessee, died at 1 o'clock yesterday afternoon at his residence a few miles from the city on the Poplar street boulevard.  He had been sick but a few days, but had been in failing health for several years.  His life had been an eventful one.  He was born in Albermarle county, Virginia, on the 10th of August, 1795, and was, therefore, nearly eighty-six years of age at the time of his death.  He settled at Jackson, Tennessee, in the year 1823, and there published the Jackson Gazette.  His history as a journalist has been depicted in an address delivered before the Old Folks of Shelby county in July, 1867, by the lamented Colonel J.H. McMahon, and from which address the following has been taken:

To Colonel Charles D. McLean belongs the honor of being the pioneer editor west of the Tennessee river. From May 29, 1824, the date of its first issue, to 1831, he printed and published in Jackson, Tennessee, the Jackson Gazette (weekly).  In the first year he was sustained by government patronage in the publication of the list of letters, of which there were the mystical number of just three, for which he received out of the coffers of Uncle Sam the munificent endowment of six and quarter cents.  The first newspaper published in Memphis was by Thomas Phoebus in 1826, and was called the Memphis Advocate.  It was followed by the Memphis Gazette, printed on material purchased of Colonel C.D. McLean in 1831.  Hence it appears that the type and material used by Colonel McLean in printing his Gazette in Jackson from 1824 to 1831 was brought to Memphis and used to print the second paper published here.

The Jackson Gazette, under Colonel McLean, was an ardent and zealous advocate of General Jackson for the Presidency in the campaign of 1824, when the contest was a quadrangular one between General Jackson, John Q. Adams, William H. Crawford and Henry Clay.  General Jackson received the plurality electoral vote, but the house of representatives elected Mr. Adams.  The result aroused the friends of General Jackson to the highest pitch in the canvas of 1828, when the Gazette was a still stronger advocate of his claims, and we can readily imagine the excited feelings of our old deceased friend McLean when he received the intelligence of the overwhelming success of his idolized candidate.

From another work we find that Colonel McLean was at one time a leading politician, having beaten C.H. Williams for a seat in the legislature.  At the close of his term, which was in 1830 (or 1831) he removed to the neighborhood of Memphis.

As is well known Colonel McLean had been all his life an ardent and consistent Democrat.

Colonel McLean was connected with the Old Folks at Home society when it first met and informally organized, in may, 1857, and it so continued until 1861, when it was dissolved by the war.  At its reorganization, in 1866, he was elected its president, with John Mosely as secretary.  On the 24th of November, 1870, the society was again reorganized under a charter as the Old Folks Society of Shelby county, and Colonel McLean was re-elected president, in which high office he was continued by unanimous vote until 1873, when, owing to his age and infirmities, he declined further to serve as presiding officer, but he ever and always afterward took the most active interest in its meetings, celebrations and barbecues.  He will long be remembered by the younger people who attended these affairs, as the venerable patriarch and central figure of the occasions.  And now has passed away one of the old regime, a pioneer of the Western district of the State.  He was on of the great connecting links between the past and present generations, and few there are among those left who were his contemporaries, residents of Shelby county prior to the year 1835.  He has gone to rest, and with him went "the best in the world."
 Page 4, column 3

The following address was published in 1882 in the Old Folks of Shelby County.


  1. Great his grave in Elmwood unmarked?

  2. I haven't had a chance to get out to Elmwood to see if he has a marker. It's on my lengthy to do list!!