History of Newton County, Mississippi, from 1834 to 1894

Chapter 6



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It will be remembered that the town of Decatur was settled early in the year 1836. The act of the Legislature allowing the commissioners of the county who organized it to proceed to select a site not farther than five miles from the center of the county and to buy or accept by gift not more than eight acres of land as a situation for court-house and jail.

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The selection was made and it is said that Isaac Hollingsworth gave the land on which to build. The lots are said to have been sold in the fall of 1836, and the work of building court-house and jail was commenced.

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The first court-house is said to have been a small log house situated where the post office is now being kept. That would be directly south of where the courthouse now stands and east of Gaines' blacksmith shop. The first jail is said to have been built by Sam'l Hurd. This new County site in a new county where there were quite a number of citizens of wealth in the way of slaves, stock and real estate, is soon to become a business center for trading as well as the business of the county. There is quite an amount of work to be done by the first board of police and it is to be regretted that their names cannot here be reproduced. These were then, as well as now, important officers of the county. There were many new roads to be cut and some new bridges to be built, though the number as compared with the roads and bridges of to-day, is very small. Yet it was a large work for the population. All the necessary work incident to a new town and new county devolved upon those worthy citizens now composing this board of police.

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After the sale of the lots new houses sprang up; they were of rude character, the material being taken from the woods, and the best houses that could be constructed were in this way put up. Store houses were built, and as a matter of course, the liquor shop, then called a "grocery," was considered as one of the essentials for forming a new town. Decatur being the county site for, and the trading point of most of the citizens of the new county. The goods that were sold here had to be brought from a long distance, usually from Mobile, as Jackson was a place not doing much business at that time. Some goods were hauled from Tuscahoma, on the Bigbee river, though not much of that was done at that time. Some hauling was done from Vicksburg, and probably some from Yazoo City.

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Probably as early as the years 1837, Decatur was visited by men of some enterprise and of speculative tendency, who saw an opening to make money selling goods and doing a general banking business. The Decatur Bank was established. The exact date is not given. It does not appear in any of the Legislative acts when the bank was chartered. It appears to have been a chartered institution. They had regular officers, and issued a currency of paper money, which was good for the time and place as far as the appearance of the bill was concerned.

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As to the origin of the bank, or its capital stock or basis of credit, but little can be found out. It was suggested by one gentleman that the bank was formed in connection with the Enterprise Navigation Company, which meant that the Chickasahay river would be navigable to Enterprise, then a turnpike would be built to connect it with Decatur, and extend through the county. There was at one time a turnpike road constructed which reached a portion of the western part of this county, but it had no connection with the Decatur bank, nor did the Enterprise Navigation Company (as far as known).

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It is learned from a gentleman, W. H. Strebeck, now living at Lone Oak, Texas, a very old man, who was employed in the Decatur bank in a clerical capacity, that the bank was organized by a board of directors, a president, cashier and teller. He states further that the president was J. C. McAlpin; cashier, T. S. Swift; teller, James Armstrong. Some of the directors were Jourdan and Albert Teas, Russell B. Hyde, Jno. C. Heidleburg, ___ Lynch, ___ Turner, and probably Fred Evans. He says the basis of the money was in landed security, and the bank officers being mostly composed of lawyers, they secured lands by deeds to the bank, and issued the money on the faith of the real estate. A bank note of the denomination of fifty dollars, now in the hands of Mr. Harris Bonds, of Decatur, will in some way corroborate Mr. Strebeck's statement, but does not verify the whole. By taking both, a very good idea can be had as to the basis of credit on which the bank operated.

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This note bears on its face the following:

            Ninety days after date
The Mississippi and Alabama Real Estate Banking Co.
  Stock secured by real estate and payable in Cotton.
Decatur, Miss., February 5th, 1839.
                             Fifty Dollars to Bearer.
  T. S. SWIFT, Cashier      J. A. MCALPIN, Pres't.

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The above is a copy of the bill, an actual issue of the bank. Shortly after this the bank was burned. Let Mr. Strebeck, who was an eye witness, state the manner of its burning. He says that the burning of bank took place early one morning while the president and cashier were out of the county:

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"The safe was recovered by Jourdan and Albert Teas and James Armstrong. Almost every one in the place flocked to the burning. The safe, although nearly red hot, was drawn from the fire and water thrown on it and before entirely cool burst open with a crow bar and water thrown on the inside. The books were saved with little damage, and also a small amount of fifty-dollar bills, which were on the inside with the books."

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With this the bank was a failure. No doubt it was broken before the fire, yet this served as a good pretext; so there were no more issues of money. There was quite an amount of this money in the hands of the citizens of the county, and no doubt large losses were sustained on account of the failure. Yet it was in keeping with the banking institutions of those times. It is said that the soldiers during the war were enabled to pass quite an amount of the Decatur money in the Army of Virginia. It was said anything with a picture on it would pass then. There were some small issues of "shinplasters," as they were then called, in different parts of the county, probably at old Pinkney, where there was a store.

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The State of Mississippi was, after 1837, practically without banks and was dependent on other States until after the war for her circulating medium, except silver and gold. This was on account of the Repudiated Bank bonds, and after that the State could get no credit to establish banks.

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Not only did Decatur have a bank by which the people had an easy and convenient circulation of paper money, but land speculators, or as they might now be termed, real estate agents and brokers. They had a regular race-course, quite a number of racehorses, kept at the place; among them was the famous Bullit Neck, a horse of great reputation at that time, trained for the turf, and was carried to other parts of the State, and large amounts of money staked on him. It is stated by an old resident at that time, that the new town exhibited quite an amount of sociability and general amusements, such as a dancing school, writing school, and of course other social parties. The same party being interrogated as to the preaching of those days, says, sermons mostly were preached from the texts of "ace, duce and jack high, low, jack and the game." He further states that court would be held in the court-house during the day and at night be used for faro bank.

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These were free and easy times, and the state of society brought about by drinking and gambling, and horse racing caused many difficulties, which resulted in the killing of a number of men at Decatur. As the records of the trials of these men are burned, it is only from the recollections of the old citizens of the county that the names of parties to these tragedies can be obtained. If all the fights that had occurred in the old county site could be reported they would fill a volume. For it must be recollected that in those days of boasted strength and manhood most of the difficulties were settled by fair ring fights, and the one who was the best man came out victorious. An old settler, living in this county at the present time, says he saw a fifty dollar bill of Decatur money bet on a dog fight, probably in 1838. Dog fights are always prolific of fights between men. The old settler says that the fight between the dogs caused forty fights between men. This statement must be taken with some degree of allowance. The probabilities are that one or more fights were the result of the dog fight. In those days of fist-fights, when a man wanted to fight or was insulted, he pulled off his coat the first thing. One man doing so would cause another to do so, and the mutual friends of the belligerents all over the ground divested themselves of their coats, and the young man, as he was then, saw the number that were fighting and those who were willing to fight, and taking it all together it appeared to him as if forty couples were willing to take a hand on the result of the dog fight.

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Long ago the town of Decatur was noted for the number of men killed in it. It was reported that sixteen or eighteen men had lost their lives in the town. From careful inquiry and comparison with the old men and women of the county, only nine persons lost their lives in deadly combat. There were several persons who were accidently killed, and one who suicided, and they may be included in the number above stated.

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The following are the men who were killed and the parties committing the deed and are given in the order of their committing as correctly as can be ascertained: Joshua Tatum killed Hezekiah Hargrove; Thos. Redwine killed George McAlpin; Dr. Bailey Johnson killed Adams; James Ellis killed Neighbors; William Spradley killed Absalom Loper, Jr.; Buckhannan killed Leslie; Cornelius Mann killed Cordaway; Martin killed Vance.

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There were none of these men punished except William Spradley, who was sent to the penitentiary. Most of these acts of violence were committed while the parties were under the influence of liquor; yet it appears that several of them were justifiable or had able criminal lawyers to defend them. These murders were all before the war; not one since. The last one was not earlier than 1856 to 1858.

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There was very little disposition among the earlier settlers of Decatur to establish churches. If the people of the new town had any inclination to go to church they went to the country. This was in keeping with the early settled towns of the State. Notably is the town of Winchester, in Wayne county, which was established in 1809; was one of the original counties sending delegates to the State Convention in the year 1817, asking the State to be admitted. Winchester was the county site of Wayne county from the time it was organized until after the war. There was no church in the town for forty years after it was settled. After it lost its trade and importance as a town; after other towns were established in the county; after the railroad came through the county in 1854, then the people paid some attention to the building of a church. It appears that the morals of the people who lived in the town were averse to churches. That liquor was sold openly on the Sabbath and much drunkenness on that day; so it was found more profitable for the preachers of those days to have the preaching out of the small towns. In another part of this volume the various towns of the county are spoken of, and the town of Decatur will again come in after great reformation and improvements have taken place.