The Town of Hickory

By A. J. Brown1

With Additional notes from
Melvin Tingle, Greg Boggan, and Dr. Harold Graham

The town of Hickory was settled in 1860 and named in honor of “Old Hickory”, Andrew Jackson. It is located in Beat 5, southeastern Newton County, just north of Potterchitto Creek and midway between the towns of Newton and Chunky.

The town today is situated on Section 36, Township 6 North, Range 12 East, and Section 31, Township 6 North, Range 13 East. Early patent land owners of this property were Louis Bryant (1838, 1840), John Johnston, Sr. (1846), John Blakely, Jr. (1834) and James Blakeley (1835).

Tradition holds that Louis Bryant arrived in this area prior to 1833 and was married to a Native American.

James Blakeley (1815-ca. 1866) and John Blakeley, Jr. (1809-ca. 1875), were sons of James Blakeley, Sr., and his first wife Elizabeth Smith. Elizabeth likewise was a Native American. While many of the Blakeleys moved to Texas, James and John Blakely, Jr., remained in the area. James Blakeley married Sarah Davis and John Blakeley, Jr., married Jane McNeal. Both have numerous descendants in the area.

Benjamin Franklin Cross (1844-1947), a blind veteran of the Civil War who at age 92 was living in Hickory, stated that when he first came to this area in 1850 Hickory was no more than “a frog pond with bamboo briers growing everywhere”. The land, however, is both level and fertile and the first settlers no doubt found it ideal for farming, but it took an entrepreneur named Asberry Edward Gray who saw additional prospects in the location.

Asberry Edward Gray and his wife Martha Frances (Tucker) Gray migrated from Jasper County, Georgia, to Chunkeyville, Lauderdale County, Mississippi, about the year 1848. He worked several years as a farmer, but talk of an impending railroad in the area led him in another direction.

In the years that followed, A. E. Gray bought the land that would become the downtown area of Hickory, laid off lots, opened the first store, and waited for the railroad track to be laid through the town. The railroad is said to have reached Hickory in 1861, but service to the general public was delayed because of the war.4

There was one other issue to deal with, however. Southern Railroad Company, in order to avoid the construction of several bridges that would be needed to transgress streams in southeastern Newton County planned to dip southward into Jasper County with their route before swinging northward into Meridian. Political leaders in Jasper County, however, heard complaints from housewives that the smoke from the engine would soil the laundry they had hung out to dry and farmers were afraid all the commotion from the train would cause their cows to go dry.

Against this backdrop, we are told, A. E. Gray worked with other area leaders to ensure that the railroad came his direction and we are told that he donated land for the right-of-way.

According to A. J. Brown, the town is situated, as is stated, where General Jackson camped with his army on his march from New Orleans to Nashville, after the great battle of the 8th of January of that year at New Orleans. That is possible and very probable, as it is well known that the army referred to crossing Potterchitto Creek just south of Hickory, and the bridge was constructed a short distance below where the bridge on the public road now stands. It is further stated that a portion of the old timbers of the original bridge are still in the creek. Hence it is possible that the army camped on the site of the present town. The military road runs through this place.

The railroad was completed to Hickory in 1860, but regular trains did not run to the place until after the road was completed through, in June of 1861. It was necessary to transport troops through the state, and the road was completed sooner than it would have been.

Asberry English Gray was appointed as the first railroad agent in 1861 and held the place until 1866. He was also appointed, after that time, Probate Judge of Newton County, was also Sheriff of Newton County by appointment, and was Justice of Peace for Beat 5, would serve as Mayor of Hickory and a supporter of a separate school district in the town. He was the first merchant at the place and had resided there thirty-six years.

The 1870 Federal Census lists the following merchants, trade, and professional persons as residents of Hickory:

Retail merchants: Eli M. Pennington, Asberry E. Gray, Isaac I. Barber, Egbert Westbrook, Redmond Ogletree, Edward Brown, and Elijah C. Johnson; Retail grocer: Lemuel Nelson; Tobacconist: John M. Jones; Shoemaker: Jacob Wolf; Bookkeeper, George B. Harper, Charles Allard, blacksmith, and Benjamin F Russell, peddling.

Joseph Rida, Jr., and Foster B. Jolly worked as house carpenters, Moses Evans operated a shoeshop, Ransom Lightsey, Jessie B. Beal, John H. Harper, Albert Christmas, and Joseph Gilmore clerked in stores. Henry Smith measured timber, James W. White worked in a gunshop, and Robert Barnett and Charles Evans worked at a sawmill.

The town in 1870 had a Methodist minister, Joel Cartaphan, one teacher, Josiah D. Rhodes, and two physicians, Dr. Garrett Longmire and Dr. George W. Gilmore.

Brown provides the list for the period 1860-1890: merchants-- Gray, Heidle, Edwards, and Jim Bell. Gray & Ward, Barber & Thompson, Ogletree & Brown, W. N. Raines, Lem Nelson; saddle shops and retail grocery; Pennington & Bros., Harper and Bro., Norman & Co., retail grocery; Cook and Johnson. Drug stores--Osburn & Grissette2 and William Hyde.

For many years the largest and most important business was done by I. I. Barber and his brothers, who were associated with him from time to time. He first introduced fertilizers in the county, had large saw mills in different parts of the county in operation, had large farming interests, bought and sold stock, bought most of the cotton that came to the place, an did one of the most extensive trades of any man in Newton County. W. N. Raines also did large business for a time and kept the post-office in his store and had a large number of friends and customers who patronized him.

The town of Hickory would achieve a population of approximately 500 citizens during its heyday. There were also three churches, as reported by Brown:

    “There are three churches in Hickory. The Methodist church is one of the finest in the county, very conspicuously and centrally located, and has been supplied for the last four years by Rev. J. M. Morse, the same that supplies the church at Newton. The Baptists have a comfortable church, very well situated, but not so new and commanding in appearance as the Methodist church. They are supplied by Rev. Mr. Hall. The Christian church at Hickory is the only one of that denomination in the county; it is small but sufficiently large for the present demands of its members. This church has no regular supply, but is preached to by various ministers of this faith who come from time to time in the county.

Hickory has at present the following places of business: Walton, Gallaspy & Russell, is a substantial firm consisting of three young men who were principally brought up in Newton County, who have been trained to do business; they have ample capital and are doing a large and profitable business. The first two named parties live in the town; the latter, S. D. Russell, lives in Jasper County is a successful planter and merchant; J. L. Wells, who succeeded to Wells & Hailey, is a young man who was brought up in Newton County, and who did successful business in the county before going to the railroad. Buckley Bros. is another firm who are well known in the county, and who are active young men in business. G. W. Rayner, who was a Newton County farmer, has for some years been engaged in business at Hickory, is a well known man in his town and county. J. C. Barber & Col, a well known firm, have, one way or another, with some of the Barber family been engaged in business at Hickory for the past twenty-five years; J. C. Barber is the son of I. I Barber, is sober and steady, and brought up to close business life. Nelson & Hopkins is a respected firm who have long been in business, and have good reputation as business men. McDonald Bros. who have until recently been very prominent in the business interests of Hickory, are intelligent and well qualified for merchantile pursuits; they are now out of business but still remain at Hickory. Pierce & Everett are men who came from the farm to town. They are safe, conservative men, who do small business; they are reliable and trustworthy. W. A. Russell, a young man who was brought up in the town, of a well-known and prominent family in the county, has succeeded his father, Frank Russell, in business, is well situated in one of the nicest stores in town. Basket & Massengale, a few firm who are well situated in the town, are doing a small, neat business. J. A. E. Dowling, one of the oldest druggists in this place, assisted by his good wife, appears to be doing a nice business. Caddenhead & Jordan are young men recently moved to Hickory, who are doing a good business; have probably the best stock of drugs ever brought to Hickory. The are active and reliable men. Mrs. Nelson has a millinery, is very conveniently situated, and the ladies of the county may be well supplied with goods in her line. Miss Bettie Rew, also in the same line, is a well experience lady and keeps good stock and is securing a liberal share of the patronage. Mr. Will Hopkins, a well known Newton County man, has confectionery and fancy groceries, where customers may be well supplied. Mr. Frank Johnson, a well known citizen, has a blacksmith and wood shop, where all kinds of work in his line can be done. Mr. Stevenson has a steam gin and grist mill; also has attached an industry in the way of barrel-hoop manufactory, that if properly worked may prove of great benefit to the county. F. H. Hannah as a steam saw mill and planer immediately in the town, where a large amount of lumber is sawed. J. H. Wells has a good livery stable, where the traveling public may be accommodated. The depot is kept by R. H. Melton, who is also express and telegraph operator; he is a sober and reliable man.

Hickory has three physicians. Dr. Semmes is considered a find physician and is well patronized. Dr. Caraway is also considered a skillful physician, and has the patronage and confidence of the people.

Dr. Gilmore, a young man raised in the town of Hickory, son of a very popular doctor, late of this place, has just received his diploma, and will, no doubt, command the patronage and respect of his and his father’s old friends.

Dr. J. P. Harris is a resident dentist, is a Newton County boy, who has worked his way up, and deserves the patronage of the people.

J. M. Gage is the only lawyer at Hickory, is a man well known to the people of the county, and gets a good share of the practice connected with this part of the county.

According to WPA records, the Hanner Hotel was built in 1861, although census records indicate this probably happened at a later date. The first proprietor was Mary (Johns) Pinkston (1815-1903) who moved to Hickory from Scott County, Mississippi, after the death of her husband, James T. Pinkston. The hotel was later operated by her daughter and son-in-law, Sallie (Pinkston) Hanner and Fred Walter Hanner, Jr. The building was two-story and consisted of 15 rooms. After the death of Fred in 1933 and Sallie in 1934, the building was demolished.

Hickory has had more than its share of outstanding citizens, including Judge George Clark Tann (1858-1932), whose long service in the legal profession was without reproach. His daughter, Georgia Tann, however, was of a different bent.

Georgia Tann had trained as a social worker and was employed by the State of Tennessee as a Director of a Home for “Wayward Girls” in Memphis, Tennessee. In that capacity, she provided room, board, and medical care for young mothers-to-be who were usually unmarried and otherwise unable to support their offspring. Then, once the child was born, she arranged for an adoption.

Georgia Tann soon discovered that the State of Tennessee paid her far less than she thought her services were worth and decided to set up her own adoption services outside of the legal system. Over the next few years, she set up a network of physicians, nurses, social workers, attorneys, and other agents who regularly delivered pregnant girls to her door step. The first meeting with many of the girls was at the Tann family home in Hickory.  Once the child was born, the infant was sold to the client who could provide the most money. Some of the children actually wound up in the homes of Hollywood celebrities. As the scandal began to break and Georgia was to face multiple state and federal indictments, she was diagnosed with cancer and died not long thereafter.

Hickory is surrounded by find bodies of swamp and upland timber, large amounts of which are brought to that place for shipment.

Postmasters, Town of Hickory (1860-1929)

Asberry Edwin Gray—May 5, 1860—October 15, 1866

Vincent S. Sisson—October 15, 1866—November 9, 1868

John G. Gallaspy—November 9, 1868—October 26, 1869

William A. Raines—October 26, 1869—November 23, 1877

John F. Green—November 23, 1887—August 17, 1893

Maggie E. Gilmore—August 17, 1893—November 27, 1897

Emma E. Riley—November 27, 1897—May 22, 1900

Laura A. Dease—May 22, 1900—April 21, 1902

William N. McLemore—April 21, 1902—July 1, 1905

William A. Temples—July 1, 1905—January 6, 1915

Mirdie B. Temples (McGough)3—January 6, 1915—May 12, 1917

Vera A. Temples—May 12, 1917—June 2, 1920

Zilpha L. Killam—June 2, 1920—April 1, 1928

William E. Killam—April 1, 1928—June 14, 1929

Miss Aline Jolly—June 14, 1929--

From an early time, Hickory was in competition for trade with the neighboring towns of Chunky, Newton, and Decatur. With the building of a north-south railroad through Decatur and Newton in the early 1900’s Hickory merchants began to lose trade.

The building of interstate Highway 80 through Hickory during the 1930’s was a mixed blessing. While it brought travelers from all parts of the United States that might stop and trade locally, it also carried them to larger shopping areas like Meridian to its east. When Interstate 20 was built during the 1980’s, it by-passed the downtown area of Hickory causing a further reduction of residents and trade. For most of the residents that have remained, however, Hickory has all the virtues of small town America. During the days of A. J. Brown, the town had an estimated population of 500. At the time of the 2000 Federal Census, 499 persons were counted.

Why is Hickory, Mississippi where it is?  There are a number of factors involved, first and foremost, it is just a good place to live and has been for hundreds of years.  All the essentials are there, good level land, plenty of water from the Pottoxchitto creek, the hardwood forest along the creek bank provide fuel and game for the taking.

It is evident that the Native Americans lived here for many years.  We find evidence of stone tools, arrowhead points and broken pottery in the area.. 

The first Europeans to come were the French, arriving on what is now the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1699. Not long after, French traders were in the area trading with the Choctaws at Chunky Town.  This Choctaw village was located two miles north of the place that would be named Hickory.   Early French Records tell of Re’gis du Roullet, a French military officer trading with the Choctaws at Chunky Town in 1724.  Trade continued in this area until 1780, then British traders frequented this area until 1800.  By the early 1800’s, American frontiersmen were traveling through the area. 

In the summer of 1811, the celebrated Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, at the head of twenty armed and mounted warriors visited Chunky Town.  Their purpose was to convince the Choctaws to join his confederation of Native Americans to over throw the American Frontiersmen. Tecumseh was asked to leave by Chief Pushmataha.  The Choctaw Chief Pushmataha replied to Tecumseh that the Choctaws had never shed the blood of a white man in war.  In finality, the Chief Pushmataha ran the Chief Tecumseh out of the area. 

Pierre Juzan, a noted French Countryman, at that time was living at Chunky Town.  He had settled among the Choctaws, taking a Choctaw woman as his wife, sometime before Tecumseh had arrived. There have been many stories told about his lawless acts along the Military road.  He died in 1840 and was buried on the Tombigbee River in Alabama.

By the early 1800’s a trail was being well traveled from the Tennessee country to New Orleans through Chunky Town.  This trail would later become known as the Andrew Jackson Military Road.  The General Andrew Jackson and his army used the trail to return to Nashville TN after the Battle of New Orleans in 1817.  After Andrew Jackson became President, he wanted this road to become a public road and it was funded by Congress and built.  It was short lived, because people did not utilize the road.

The town was named Hickory in honor of “Old Hickory,” General Jackson, whose name was a household word as one of the greatest men of his day.. 

The first person to actually own the land where Hickory is located was Lewis Bryan.  Under the Dancing Rabbit Treaty, Bryan claimed 1644 acres of land because he was married to a Choctaw woman and they had 5 children.  Bryan owned the property until 1840, sometime thereafter, he migrated to the Oklahoma Territory.

Prior to 1860, Ashberry E. Gray, had acquired part of the land previously owned by Bryan.  He and his wife, Martha and four children lived north of Pottoxchitto Creek in Section 36, Township 6, 12.  He had built a store on the Military Road, prior to 1860 and was doing quite well.  The 1860 census shows he was a merchant and was worth 22,200 dollars.  Translated in today’s currency would be $321,900.00

The railroad was looking for a right of way in 1859.  Because of Gray’s offering the railroad free access, it came right through his property, therefore making Hickory a prime trade center in years to come.

Notes

1. A. J. Brown, History of Newton County from 1834 to 1894, Clarion-Ledger Company, Jackson, Mississippi, 1894; republished by Melvin Tingle in 1964.

2. Probably intended by Brown as Gressett.

3. Married Robert Lee McGough 12/25/1915.

4. In an interview conducted by WPA ca. 1936, W. A. Gilmore stated that his grandfather,  Major Marcus Beard, originally owned the land where the town of Hickory now stands, and that Beard hired a Mr. Hall, a civil engineer, to survey and lay out the land into plots and gave him a number of lots in payment for his services. This is not supported by historical records. Marcus Faust Beard was an early settler of Paulding, Jasper County, Mississippi, and later moved to Shubuta, Clarke County, Mississippi, where he died in 1859 (before the founding of Hickory). Following his death, his widow, Martha Smith Beard, moved to Hickory to live with her daughter and son-in-law, George Washington Gilmore and Isabella Beard Gilmore. It is more likely that the story had relevance to the founding of Paulding or Shubuta.

Note:

Harold refer to A. J. Brown’s history on page 353 about early history of Hickory.  Another source of information on Hickory will be found on page 78, “W. P. A. Manuscript” 1872-1875, by Jean Strickland and Patricia Nicholson Edwards, 1998.  I have read in some records that Hickory, Mississippi was the first Post office south of the Mason Dixon Line to have the RFD---Rural Free Delivery.

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