James Ellis - Early Settler
James Ellis Kept Accounts
By Ovid Vickers
The signing in 1830 of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek by the United States government and the Choctaw Indians made the creation of Neshoba County in 1833 a reality. Three years later, in 1936, the southern half of Neshoba County was formed into what is now Newton County.
One year after the formation of Newton County, James Ellis was operating a tavern and store in Decatur, and he kept very accurate accounts of the business transactions between himself and the people of the area. If the truth be known, James Ellis had probably been in business before the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, and he was apparently an influential member of the community.
Ellis, as a member of the legislature from Neshoba County, petitioned that body on behalf of the citizens of Neshoba County who wished for a new county to be called Newton.
After Newton County was formed, Ellis served as the first elected representative of the new county, serving from 1836 to 1841. He was a successful businessman, acquiring about 1,000 acres of land, and according to A. J. Browns History of Newton County, built the first courthouse in Decatur.
According to Melvin Tingle, who has done considerable research on Ellis, the tavern/store he operated was located south of the courthouse square near the present city water tank. Tingle tells us that Ellis operated a boarding school, livery stable, butcher shop, mercantile business, and bar. The tavern offered food, lodging and supplies to the early settlers who came to the area to buy land and establish homes. In the tavern a meal cost fifty cents, lodging for both man and horse was fifty cents, and whiskey could be had by the drink, pint, quart, or gallon.
Two years ago, Tingle and Myrtis Craft compiled the entries made in the account books of James Ellis. This was a monumental undertaking which resulted in the publication of a book printed by the Pioneer Publishing Company and titled Old Account Book Entries, 1837-1841, Decatur, Mississippi.
In the foreword, Craft gives detailed explanation of the items bought and the cost of these items. She has also included what might be called a glossary which defines words used in the 1800s, which have become obsolete of fallen out of fashion.
It seems that one must understand the accounting system used 176 years ago in order to determine what was being charged for goods in 1837. Merchandise was price in bits. The value of a bit was 12 cents. If a price is listed in an account book as 2/6, it means the price was two bits plus six cents or thirty-one cents.
To get an idea of what these prices would translate into today, what cost $1.00 in the mid 1800s would cost almost $15.00 today.
Apparently Mr. Ellis sold over-the-counter drugs of patent medicines. The account book shows that customers bought such medications as calomel, laudanum, paregoric, and quinine. Although these medicines are seldom mentioned today, they remained in use as late as the 1930s. Calomel was a colorless and tasteless compound used as a purgative, while laudanum contained given amounts of opium and was used for pain. Paregoric was used for the relief of diarrhea and intestinal pain, and quinine was given to those with malaria fever.
It is surprising that 22 different kinds of fabric were listed as being sold. Some of the most interesting types were bombazine, a fabric of silk or cotton, dyed black and used for mourning clothes; Holland, a cotton or linen fabric used for window shades, bookbinding and upholstery, and Fustian, a course cloth made of cotton and flax.
It is amazing what a variety of goods were available in this area in the early 1800s. Myrtis Craft gives a good explanation for the availability of such diverse goods. Craft says, Most of the goods available came to this area through the Port of Mobile and up to Enterprise on the Chickasahay River and then overland to Garlandville and Decatur. This route in reverse was used to ship cotton and other goods to market. Also, merchandise from New Orleans and Vicksburg made its way into central Mississippi by wagon.
The most valuable aspect of James Ellis account books is the record of those who made purchases. These are the people who first settled in the area of Mississippi. Many of the family names can be found today in the telephone directory of the towns in Newton and Neshoba Counties. Such names as Clark, Johnson, Huey, Hopkins, Laird, Matthews, Graham, and Thompson, to name a few, appear over and over in the ledger
Francis Cross was a farmer at Lawrence, Mississippi, and one of the customers at James Ellis establishment. According to the entries above, Francis boarded with James Ellis overnight on several occasions, quite likely when court was in session. Today the trip from Decatur to Lawrence would take about twenty minutes, but in 1838 would have taken half a day or more.
This book, which is indexed, would be a valuable source to anyone attempting to trace an ancestor who lived in this area in the early years of the past century. And even if someone did no ancestor hunting, there is a wealth of information concerning the economic and social history of the area contained in this 168-page publication.
Ellis-Gibbs Family Notes
By Harold Graham
That James Ellis operated a business enterprise in Decatur during its early days is fairly much an open book, especially since his account book has been preserved. Other than this, and the fact that he served as the first state representative for Newton County, much about the man remains a mystery.
In a day when fights and shootings were common on the streets of Decatur, James Ellis killed a man named Neighbors, according to A. J. BrownsHistory of Newton County. Perhaps the killing was justified, but we have no record of how the situation was handled.
James Ellis was born about 1796 in North Carolina, according to the 1850 Census of Newton County. His wife, given by family sources, was Mary (Polly) Gulledge. Polly was apparently deceased by 1850, as James is shown as the head of household for eight of their children. James and Polly are believed to be the parents of seven sons and five daughters, some of whom were deceased of who had left home by the time the 1850 federal census was taken.
James Ellis is also shown in the 1850 federal census as a farmer with a personal worth of $700. What happened to his business and the level of prosperity he once had known? Was he a victim of the bank collapse in Decatur a few years earlier? Did the ill will caused by his killing of Neighbors drive business from his doorstep? We may never know, but by 1860 the Federal Census of Newton County was devoid of the Ellis surname. James Ellis was likely deceased and all of his sons had relocated.
James and Mary (Polly) Gulledge Ellis were the parents of thirteen children. The following were still living in Newton County in 1850:
Izilla Love Ellis, born 21 October 1831, Lawrence County, Mississippi died 15 December 1914, Newton, Mississippi; married Joseph C. (Joe) Gibbs
Frances Ellis, born about 1835 in then Neshoba County, Mississippi
James Madison Ellis, born about 1836 in Newton County, Mississippi; moved first to Holmes County, Mississippi, and thereafter to Arkansas
Margaret Carolina Ellis, born 1837, likely Lawrence County, Mississippi died 5 December 1919, Newton County, Mississippi; married Zachary Taylor (Zach) Gibbs
Sarah Ellis, born about 1839, Newton County, Mississippi; married Solomon Johnson
Henry Ellis, born about 1841, Newton County, Mississippi
Joel Ellis, born about 1843, Newton County, Mississippi
John Ellis, born about 1844, Newton County, Mississippi
Rachael Ellis, born about 1845, North Carolina (And what were her parents doing in North Carolina at the time of her birth?)
Margaret Carolina Ellis and Izilla Love Ellis, to the best of our knowledge, were the only two children of James Ellis and Mary (Polly) Gulledge Ellis to remain in Newton County, Mississippi. They married brothers, both sons of Labon Gibbs and Jemima (Sellers) Gibbs.
Margaret Carolina Ellis married Zachery Taylor (Zach) Gibbs and they operated a farm a few miles north of Newton. There they raised nine children: (1) William M. Gibbs married Elisabeth Henrietta Ledlow, (2) Martha I. (Mattie) Gibbs married first Willie Simmons and secondly Samuel Stephen Garvin, (3) Jemima S. (Mima) Gibbs married Isham LaFayette (Buddy) Ledlow, (4) Hannah L. (Hannie) Gibbs married Isham H. Hollingsworth, (5) John Labron Gibbs married Mary Jane (Molly) Hollingsworth, (6) Samuel Stephen Gibbs married Sarah Ada Cooper, (7) Joseph Frank (Joe) Gibbs married Ida Louise Jones and moved to Texas, (8) Carroll Thomas Gibbs married first to Beulah B. Strickland and secondly to Maxie Lou Underwood and lived in Texas, and (9) Putnam Darden (Nine) Gibbs married Hattie L. Payne.
Izilla Love Ellis married Joseph C. Gibbs and they lived about one mile north of Newton. Joe was a farmer, but engaged in a number of other business enterprises as well. The Newton Weekly Ledger reported on August 14, 1873 that Joe Gibbs is now supplying the town (of Newton) with beef twice a week. He was conservative in his management of money and is said to have left a considerable estate at his death in 1902.
Money remittance voucher for Joe Gibbs from Southern Express Company at Newton Station in the amount of $219.73, likely for the sale of produce. The date is not clear, but appears to be June 18, 1871. Item courtesy of Melvin Tingle and Okla Museum.
Joseph and Izilla had no children of their own, but adopted a niece, Nancy Delaware (Della) Wyatt, who later married Thomas Irish Doolittle. The marriage produced two children before her death in 1880. Thomas was later to remarry, but he never betrayed the trust of Joseph and Izilla, and in their final years built a log cabin for them to live in just east of Doolittle Cemetery in Newton. Joseph and Izilla are buried in that cemetery.
Joseph served as a Private in Company D, 13th Mississippi Infantry and was captured and imprisoned at Camp Douglas, Illinois. With the end of the war and his release, he lit his pipe in the prison yard as a symbol of his hope that the South would one day rise again. He kept the embers burning, by day in his pipe, and at night by his campfire, on his return home. When he reached Newton, he transferred the embers to his fireplace where they smoldered in the winter and to the kitchen stove where they burned in the summer. He named the embers Yankee Fire and they continued to burn until the death of his son-in-law Thomas Irish Doolittle in 1936.
Ellis-Gibbs Family Records of Carol Sue Gibbs and Gayle Boggess
Gibbs Family Records of Harold Graham
WPA Records, Newton County, Mississippi, ca. 1936
A. J. Brown, History of Newton County, Mississippi from 1834 to 1894, Clarion-Ledger, Jackson, Mississippi, 1894.
The Newton Weekly Ledger, August 14, 1873