The members of the Descendants of Early Settlers of Shelby County and Adjoining Counties and their guests enjoyed getting together on April 4, 2022, for the annual spring meeting at the Woodlands Clubhouse. Newly elected President, Frank Stewart, Jr., opened the meeting and acknowledged several new members who have recently joined and presented them with copies of Early Families of the Memphis Area, authored by member Paul A. Matthews, and Settlers of Shelby County, Tennessee and Adjoining Counties, published in 1989. He noted that both of these books are available at Novel Bookstore.

Shelandra Y. Ford, the Shelby County Register of Deeds, then gave an interesting and informative presentation on the Property Fraud Alert program instituted by her office to protect property owners from being subjected to fraudulent deeds of transfer that is rampant in the country. Her office will advise those persons by email who register when a deed is filed using the name of the property owner. This will alert those registered to a possible fraudulent transfer so that appropriate action can be taken by the true property owner.

The members then had a general discussion of ideas for the year, including various projects that might be funded by the membership such as oral histories of members and purchase of a historic marker. Members were also encouraged to bring in their children and grandchildren as members as well.

Early Settlers Meet for First Time in Two Years

After a two year hiatus due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, members of the Descendants of Early Settlers of Shelby County and Adjoining Counties (DES) met on December, 15, 2021, at the Woodlands Club House and had an opportunity to renew acquaintances and enjoy a very enjoyable dinner and presentation by member Becky Muska. Becky spoke and showed slides on the removal of the remains of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from Health Sciences Park in Memphis, which she and her husband, Ken, observed first hand this past year.

The purpose of the meeting was also to hold elections for new Officers and Directors for the 2022-2024 term. The Chairman of the Nominating Committee announced the slate of nominees who were all elected by acclamation. The new Officers and Directors are:

President – Frank Stewart, Jr. Vice- President – Milton Knowlton

Secretary – Betty Brown Treasurer – Adam Simpson

Historian – Bill Boyd Registrar – William Gotten

Parliamentarian – Paul Matthews Publicity Chair – April Branch

Membership Chair – John Feild Chaplain – Bob Kelsey

Director at Large – Ken Muska Director at Large – Davant Latham

Mr. Stewart as new President thanked immediate Past President, Rita Hall, for her service during a very difficult term due to the absence of meetings on account of the pandemic restrictions and the loss by death of several of our long-time members. He also indicated an energetic program to solicit new members and record oral histories of current members and asked for members to encourage their children and grandchildren to join DES. It is hoped that the year will also bring an opportunity for members and friends to plan field trip visits to several historical sites as in the past. Members have visited the Sultana Museum in West Memphis and the homeplace of Johnny Cash as well as the Third Chickasaw Bluff and Holly Springs.

Application updated 4-30-2019

The members of the Descendants of Early Settlers of Shelby County and Adjoining Counties (DES) held their Fall Social for 2017 on October 19th at the clubhouse at Woodlands.  Some 42 members were present to enjoy good wine, camaraderie, an excellent meal, and an interesting program on the history of railroads in Memphis and Shelby County by train historian Donald Harrison.  Mr. Harrison provided many slides of early trains and maps of a series of railroads, some of which were financially successful and some of which were not.

The history of these trains and their owners is part and parcel of the history of the growth of Shelby County and its surrounds, especially so with the development of cotton in the Mid-South and its transportation by rail, replacing wagons and steamships. With steady rail transportation, Memphis became the cotton capital and the hardwood capital of the world, as well as fields were cleared in order to raise more cotton. The pioneers in the railroad industry included some of the most prominent names and residents of the area. Mr. Harrison added historical anecdotes about the trains, the bridges they had to cross and the accidents that resulted in tragic fatalities in the industry.

The members also held elections for new officers for the coming term of 2018 – 2020.  Elected as officers were; Dr. Rita Hall, President; Frank Stewart, Jr., Vice-President; Betty Leake Brown, Secretary and Adam Simpson, Treasurer.  Ceylon Blackwell, Jr. and Paul Matthews were also elected as Directors-at-large. Dr. Hall indicated that the appointed positions would be filled by the following: Registrar, Dr. Jane Hooker; Parliamentarian, Milton Knowlton; Membership Chairman, John Feild; Historian, Dr. John Harkins; Chaplain, Dr. Nick Gotten, Jr., and Publicity Chair, Darlene Sawyer.

William Gotten, current President, had previously indicated that he would retire after 4 years of dedicated service to the Society.  Dr. Hall and members thanked Mr. Gotten, who has overseen the growth of the Society by the addition of 16 new members. The members enjoyed several road trips to places such as Shiloh, the Sultana Museum, the Cordova and Morton Museums, and most recently a trip to Wilson and Dyess, AR with a visit to the Johnny Cash Museum. Mr. Gotten indicated that with 63 members and a good cash balance in the bank, the Society was enjoying a vibrant and healthy existence.  He encouraged the members to continue to look for other persons who might qualify as descendants of early settlers who settled in Shelby County and adjoining counties prior to 1870.

At the social functions during the years, members have enjoyed lectures on such diverse subjects as the history of Memphis movie theaters, the cataloging of the papers of author Shelby Foote, the story of Captain Lee of the Lee Steamship Lines, Memphians who served in World War II, the early history of Messick High School, the history and development of the Memphis Zoo and most recently the revitalization of the Victorian Village homes.

The next meeting of the members will be the Mid-Winter Social with the date and venue to be announced.

October 4, 2017, 15 members of the Descendants and friends got the chance to visit Dyess, Arkansas (pronounced “Dice”) and the home of Johnny Cash.  We first visited the museum in Dyess which has much memorabilia about Dyess’ most famous resident, including high school pictures of the students and graduating classes.  It was like seeing the movie “Grease” in real time.  The museum is the project of Arkansas State University and is very well kept.  We were advised of the history of the area by the former mayor of Dyess, Larry Simms, and then he took us to  the Cash family’s house, which has been restored to its 1930-40’s vintage, with many original items in the house. The history of the farming community as a WPA project during the depression years was very interesting.

We then went to Wilson, Arkansas, and enjoyed a wonderful lunch in this Tudor style village. The cafe has become a real destination spot for those visiting the area and reservations are a must. After lunch we went to Wildwood Antiques, operated out of the home of Katherine Wilby and her daughter Ann.  They have an incredible collection of antiques of all types and it is really amazing that all of these antiques are in Katherine’s personal residence.

While driving to these destinations, we enjoyed the vast storehouse of knowledge of history of the area as related by Jimmy Ogle, our Shelby County Historian.  It was an interesting and informative trip for our members.



On May 17th, twenty members and friends visited the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion, Arkansas (www.sultanadisastermuseum.org) and received a nice welcome from Mike Demster of the Chamber of Commerce as well as a guided tour and brief historical lecture from Roz O’Neal, the museum’s director and coordinator. The tour of the museum was arranged by Jimmy Ogle, Shelby County Historian, who provided our group with a constant flow of history of the area as we drove the Esperanza Historical Trail to Marion.

On April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana’s boilers exploded carrying 2,300 passengers, most of whom were Union prisoners of war recently released from the infamous Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Only licensed to carry 375 passengers and crew, the badly overloaded boat was a disaster waiting to happen…and it did, approximately 4 miles from the Mound City landing just down from Memphis. Though unable to be confirmed, the number of dead is approximated at 1,443 persons and is historically documented to be the greatest peacetime marine disaster of all times. The names of all of the soldiers who were on the boat or might have been on the boat is still not known.

The magnitude of this disaster has been overlooked and the exact location of the remains of the Sultana has still not been determined for certain because of the shifting of the Mississippi River. It is generally considered in a location which is now on farm land, a good distance from the current banks of the river. There are several well-written and documented books on the disaster available at the museum, but surprisingly few artifacts belonging to those who died on the boat have been recovered.

It was, and is, very interesting, and hopefully a new permanent museum will be built to house more information and videos of the Sultana’s history and fate.

Some 40 members attended the Spring Social on April 18th and enjoyed a pictorial walk through Victorian Village at Memphis presented by Randle Witherington, a Memphis native currently with the Mallory-Neely House, where he instructs docents to lead tours to and through the several houses preserved in the area. Randle had the rapt attention of those in attendance as he reviewed the history of those that lived in several of the houses now available to visit, including one with its own ghost!

We also welcomed four new members to our ranks with certificates and pins: Davant Latham, Jim Robinson and his wife, Susan Robinson and Jim Fain, and the new April 2017 edition of the Membership Directory was given out. The usual delicious dinner catered by Brenda and Mike Vernon was enjoyed to the fullest.

President Gotten advised that he has scheduled a visit to the Sultana Disaster Museum in Marion, Arkansas, for Wednesday May 17th, by motor coach and led by Shelby County Historian Jimmy Ogle. Those members interested in going should contact Mr. Gotten promptly as seating will be limited for more information.

Thirty-two members were treated to an informative and entertaining presentation of historic homes in Memphis by Jimmy Ogle, the Shelby County Historian and Duckmaster of the Peabody ducks at the Mid-Winter Luncheon, February 23, 2017, at the Woodlands Clubhouse.  Always witty and knowledgeable of Memphis and Shelby County history, Jimmy took the descendants via a pictorial slide show to the interesting homes of early Memphians, many of which are preserved and available to visit.  The Mageveney House and the Mallory-Neely House, as well as the homes in Victorian Village, are well worth a visit to see the grandeur of earlier days.

This is “Part One” of Jimmy’s walk through the historic homes and we look forward to seeing Part Two when he has that completed.  Also, we are planning a visit to the Sultana Museum later this Spring and more information will soon be going out about this “road trip.”  Jimmy is also going to lead this tour to Arkansas where the museum and relics of the Sultana are located.  Last year we went to Shiloh with Dr. Doug Cupples and had a wonderful time.

The Descendants will also be having their Spring Social later and we look forward to welcoming new member, John Fain, and perhaps others as well.  If qualified by year of settlement in Shelby County and/or surrounding counties, you may want to send in an application.  See the application form on this website.


David was inducted into the DES tonight after our fall social dinner at the Woodland Clubhouse.  He is a descendant of Joseph Worsley Patrick who settled in what is now Cordova, Shelby County, Tennessee,  in 1835.  David received a warm welcome from the group, a silver pin and certificate.  Dr. Rita Hall gave an interesting presentation to the group after dinner on the history of the Memphis Zoo.


Our own Historian-in-residence, Dr. John Edward Harkins, was honored by the Descendants of Early Settlers of Shelby County and Adjoining Counties at the Shelby County History Awards dinner held recently at Hillwood Hall at Davies Manor Plantation.

William Gotten, President, presented the award to John Edward Harkins, Ph.D., along with Jimmy Ogle, Shelby County Historian.  Dr. Harkins currently is the archivist and historian at Memphis University School and he formerly served as the Archivist for the Shelby County libraries.  He is a prolific writer of historical articles for the “Best Times” and has written many articles for the Tennessee Historical Society and “The Commercial Appeal” including “The Creation of Shelby County” for the Society.

The award recognized his many contributions and commitment to Shelby County’s heritage.  Congratulations to Dr. Harkins! See the presentation and many other pictures of awards presented at the dinner at https://www.flickr.com/photos/thenthere.