Establishment of Weakley County

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The Jackson Purchase was a historic event before it became a region. The transaction involved prolonged negotiations culminating in a treaty between agents of the United States and those of the Chickasaw Indian Nation. Representing the United States were the aging Isaac Shelby, Revolutionary War hero and twice Kentucky governor, and General Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans and later president. The Chickasaws were represented by their chiefs, head men and warriors including Levi and George Colbert, Chinubby (the Boy King), and Tishomingo. The two sides signed the treaty in northwestern Mississippi on October 19, 1818; it was ratified by the United States Senate and confirmed by President James Monroe on January 7, 1819.tenn1

In return for the relinquishment of all lands east of the Mississippi River and north of the Mississippi state line, the Chickasaws received $300,000 at the rate of $20,000 annually for fifteen years. The states of Kentucky and Tennessee, neither of which had previously extended beyond the Tennessee River, were enlarged by approximately 2,000 and 6,000 square miles respectively. The Kentucky addition became known as the Jackson Purchase, the larger Tennessee portion as West Tennessee.

After the creation of Weakley County on October 21, 1823, the boundary was established by the General Assembly as follows: Beginning at the northwest corner of Henry County, running west with the State line, to a point four miles west of the northwest corner of range two, fractional sections ten, in the Thirteenth District; thence south to the fourth sectional line in said district running parallel with the range line; thence east with the fourth sectional line to the second range line in the Twelfth Surveyor’s District;thence north with the said range line to the beginning.

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The act also provided that the Court of Pleas and Quarterly Sessions and the Circuit Court should be held at the house of John Terrell, until otherwise provided by law. By subsequent acts of the General Assembly, James Fentress, William Hall, Abram Maury, and Benjamin Reynolds were appointed commissioners to fix a site for the county seat as near the center of the county as possible. John Terrell’s land was chosen as the best location since there was a spring there. Terrell conveyed a gift of 39 acres to the commissioners with the stipulation that the land be used for the county seat. The deed was proved in the Court of Pleas and Quarterly Session, of which John Terrell was an officer, on January 10, 1825. Afterwards, in July of 1828, Martin Lawler, Richard Ridgeway, John R. Shultz, Perry Vincent, and Mears Warner, commissioners previously appointed by the court to lay out the town of Dresden, bought 17.50 acres for $50.00 from Simpson Organ and Ewing Wilson, thus making 56.50 acres in the town site.

By early 1825 the organization of the county was completed
and the town of Dresden was surveyed and platted to contain a public square and ninety lots. A public sale of the lots took place in April of that year, and the $5742.00 collected was spent for the erection of public buildings and other legitimate expenses of the new county. Jeptha Gardner, William H. Johnson, J. W. Rogers, and the Vincents were among the largest purchasers.

In 1835 the General Assembly directed that the county be divided into twelve districts for the purpose of electing Justices of the Peace and Constables and to select suitable voting places. The commissioners, Robert R. Gilbert, Martin Lawler, William Ridgeway, John M. Shultz, and David Winston signed their report on January 13, 1836.

A 1836 map of Weakley County shows how the districts were formed. The voting places for the districts were: District 1, Aaron Farmer; District 2, John Horton; District 3, Jesse Gardner; District 4, Capt. John Rogers; District 5, James McWherter; District 6, Elias Tomlinson; District 7, Courthouse; District 8, Benton Ship; District 9, A. McKenzey; District 10, John Welch; District 1 1, Capt. James Smyth; and District 12, John Green. By 1843 two new districts were added. District 13 was taken from Districts 1 and 2 and District 14 was taken from Districts 3 and 8. As the population increased, more districts were created.

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Courtesy of the Tennessee County History Series – Virginia C Vaughn 1983

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Original Handwritten Act
Placed before the Tennessee State Legislature – October 21, 1823


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Transcription of above Document  

Section 1. Be it enacted, by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, that a new county to be called and known, by the name of Weakley County, shall be and is hereby established west of Henry County. Beginning at the northwest corner of Henry County, running west with the state line to a point four miles west of the northwest corner of Range 3, fractional section 10, in the 13th District, thence south to the fourth sectional line in said District, running parallel with the Range line, thence east with the fourth sectional line to the second Range line in the Twelfth Surveyor’s District, thence north with said Range line to the beginning.

Section 2. Be it enacted, that for the administration of justice, the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions and Circuit Courts of said county, until otherwise provided for by law, shall be holden at the House of John Tyrrell under the same regulations and restrictions, and shall have and exercise the same powers and jurisdiction as are or shall hereafter be prescribed for the several counties of this State.

Section 3. Be it enacted, that it shall be the duty of the Sheriff of said County, to hold an election at the place of holding courts in said county, on the first Thursday and Friday in February next for the purpose of electing Field Officers for said County, which shall be conducted under the same rules and regulations as are prescribed by law in similar cases, and the militia of said County shall compose the  Regiment and be attached to the brigade.

Section 4. Be it enacted, that the election of company officers for said County, shall be held at such places as the commandant of the militia of said County may think proper to appoint, which said election shall be held on the Monday in next under the same rules, regulations, and restrictions, as are prescribed in like cases.

Section 5. Be it enacted, that the Sheriff of said County on the days prescribed by law, shall hold an election at the place of holding court, for the purpose of electing a Governor, members of the State Legislature, members of Congress and electors, to elect a President and Vice President of the United States, under the same rules and regulations as are prescribed by law.

(Signed) James Fentress Speaker of the House of Representatives

(Signed) T. Weakley Speaker of the Senate

Passed October 21st 1823.

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Following Segment Courtesy of – Special Collections and Archives

Paul Meek Library, University of Tennessee at Martin

The cultural and social history of Weakley County began around ten to fifteen thousand years ago (Paleo-Indian Period) when nomadic hunters gradually ventured into this area while following herds of migrating animals. From the year 5,000 to 1,500 B.C. (Archaic Period) these nomadic hunters began to permanently reside in the county as they evolved into more agricultural based society. The Woodland Period from 1500 to 500 B.C. brought forth many advances in crop cultivation and the domestication of animals. The unique phenomenon of burial mounds began during this era and is evident in counties surrounding Weakley County. The early ancestors of the Chickasaw Indians temporally resided in the county between 500 A.D. and 1700 A.D. and built temple mounds for ceremonies and worship. A few such mounds can be found within the boundaries of the county.

European exploration of the Americas led to land claims by Spain, France and England respectively. By 1663, most of West Tennessee fell under the jurisdiction of the English government, specifically the western most precinct of Albemarle County in the province of Carolina. Between 1693 and 1712 Carolina gradually split into North and South and West Tennessee came under the legal authority of North Carolina. In 1776 the North Carolina Constitution created the Washington District which encompassed what presently is the State of Tennessee. Following the American Revolution the Washington District was divided and West Tennessee became Green County, North Carolina. On April 2, 1790 the Second Session Act ceded the lands “south of the River Ohio” to the United States government. Six years later, on June 1, 1796, the State of Tennessee was officially established.

The Chickasaw still held claims to the lands west of the Tennessee River until 1818, when General Andrew Jackson and Isaac Shelby purchased the land for $300,000. The relinquishment of the Chickasaw claims to Western Tennessee and Kentucky later became known as the Jackson Purchase. The following year the purchase area of Tennessee was divided into surveyor districts. Weakley County made up parts of the 12th and 13th districts. In 1821, the State Legislature passed an act to form and establish new counties west of the Tennessee River. On October 21, 1823, the 15th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee officially established Weakley County (State Act creating Weakley County). It was named in honor of Colonel Robert Weakley, who was then the Speaker of the Tennessee State Senate.

When the county was first organized in 1823 it was rectangular in shape and contained an area of over 700 square miles. The southern boundary was altered in 1837 in a land exchange with Gibson County. This was done so that settlers living on the land adjacent to the south fork of the Obion River could get to a county seat without having to cross the unbridged stream. The western boundary was changed in 1870 when the Obion County seat was transferred from Troy to Union City. At that time the state law required the county seats to be near the center of the county, thus the north-eastward relocation of the Obion County seat called for the northwestern boundary of Weakley County to be changed. The last change in Weakley County was in 1889 when J. W. Boyd and Company arranged for his business to be situated in Obion County instead of Weakley. With the political support of S. H. Hall and C. C. Adams in the State Legislature the final boundary change was approved. (1836 Map of Weakley County)

Prior to the organization of the county daring settlers migrated into this unchartered land. The first recorded settlers were Ruben Edmonston and John Bradshaw who both arrived in Weakley County in the fall of 1819. They originally settled about six miles west of Dresden and around three miles south of Martin. Bradshaw would be the first settler to raise corn in the county. Other settlers would soon follow. One of the more famous settlers was David Crockett who arrived a year before the county was officially organized in 1822. He would build a log cabin in the southwestern part of the county along the South Fork of the Obion River. He and his family resided in this cabin until his ill fated trip to Texas in 1835. In 1837, the property once owned by the Crockett’s was ceded during the restructuring of the county and now lies in Gibson County near Rutherford, Tennessee.

In the Antebellum era, Weakley County economically prospered and gradually progressed into the industrial age. Mills to grind the harvested corn and wheat were the county’s first localized industries. Small community businesses and industries, such as blacksmiths, wheelwrights, tanners, tailors, shoemakers, etc., soon followed the growing number of settlers. By the 1850’s, tobacco warehouses, cotton gins and other agriculturally based industries evolved and thrived. By the early 1850’s, the citizens of the county sought a railroad connection to the nearby Hickman and Obion Railroad which ran north to south through Union City toward Hickman, Kentucky. After some financial and political setbacks the railroad was eventually completed in early 1861. Later that same year, with the United States at the brink of war, Weakley Countians voted against the secession of Tennessee from the Union. Their Unionist convictions were in vain as Tennessee followed other southern states in seeking independence.

The Civil War had a devastating effect upon the population of Weakley County. The severing of the county into two armed factions not only ripped apart individual communities but also embittered families for generations to come. The majority of Weakley Countians seemed to have supported the rebellion as about 1100 men volunteered for service in the Confederate military while around 400 men chose to fight for the Union. One of those Confederate soldiers was Martin Van Buren Oldham who fought with the 9th Tennessee Infantry from 1862 to 1864. The war hit home in early May of 1862, when a detachment of Union cavalry was surprised by two regiments of Confederate cavalry at Lockridge’s Mill just north of Dresden. The Union forces were easily routed and driven northward into Kentucky. The county fell into a state of anarchy between 1863 until the conclusion of the war. Guerrilla bands and outlaws roamed the county pillaging communities and destroying homes and farms. Like most communities in West Tennessee it would take decades to reconstruct the damage inflicted from the war.

At present, Weakley County has a population of 33,960 (2015) and continues to have an agricultural based economy with few industrial businesses. Around 40% of the county’s population lives in rural areas. The prevailing climate is temperate, with pronounced seasonal variations in both temperature and precipitation. Snowfall is variable from year to year. Most winters have little or no snow, but there are seasons when snowfall can accumulate up to 15 or 20 inches. The average annual temperature is 62 degrees and the annual precipitation is around 50 inches. The people of Weakley County, much like the climate, are warm and hospitable. We encourage all to visit our historic communities and parks.

Segment Courtesy of – Special Collections and Archives
Paul Meek Library, University of Tennessee at Martin

Courtesy of UTM Special Collections

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