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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Well, we didn’t let a little inclement weather hold us from going to Shiloh last Friday and learning about this historical site and battle that took place just 90 miles from Memphis. Dr. Doug Cupples began his talk on our bus and continued most of the day. He was entertaining and enlightening as he talked about one of his favorite topics in Confederate/Union history. We stopped at the Visitors Center at Corinth before heading off to the battlefield site. We had lunch at the famous Catfish Hotel and then drove through the park, which is beautifully kept. We stopped several times and Professor Doug brought out his maps and explained the importance of the RR crossing of the Memphis & Charleston railroad to the Confederacy as well as Pittsburgh landing, which was close to the site of the two day battle. The railroad was the “spine” of the Confederate army and extremely important for maintaining supplies, so it was not just by accident that the three armies found themselves in this crucial spot. Doug had interesting stories and comments about the generals and the information they had about the location of their enemies. As it turned out, the weather was pretty much as it had been back in 1862 and the movement of the heavy artillery in sloggy conditions and the lack of munitions could be visualized without much trouble. The most famous site was the “hornet’s nest” and our group was amazed at how open it was to a constant barrage on both sides. The number of men who actually died from wounds suffered in battle will probably never be accurately known as many were buried in unmarked graves. Had General Albert Johnson of the Confederacy not been mortally wounded, the outcome of the battle might have been different, but he later died, probably from sepsis as did many others.

It was an interesting and fun trip. Sorry that Darlene and Tom Sawyer had to cancel at the last minute due to Tom’s surgery. Jane Hooker brought her grandson Gabe and two DES applicants, Estie Sheahan and Carol Perel promised to get to work on their applications. Doug has a copy of the movie that they show at the Visitor’s Center and perhaps we can meet and have an opportunity to show it. He says that it is a pretty realistic version of the battle that was taken when the participants have their Shiloh recreation every few years.

Again, thanks from all of us who went on the trip to Doug Cupples.

In other news, I noted the death of Agnes Crisci, who was a long time member. I never met her, but I’m sure that many of you knew her. I noted that she was a member of the DAR as well.

Also, you may not know that Rita Hall received her Ph.D recently. Her thesis was on the Memphis Zoo, which is certainly a timely subject. Rita has been invited to speak at our Fall Social event. A date has not been determined for this at this time.

I hope that everyone has a very pleasant summer.

William

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The Descendants of Early Settlers enjoyed a great evening made even more enjoyable with the talk of Jane R. Hooker, Ph.D. on her research and writing about Messick High School, which has a truly historic past.  Begun by Elizabeth Messick, who was the first enrollee at the University of Chicago, and a scholar in her own right, Messick was the high school of many prominent Memphians.  Jane, who is a fount of knowledge about the school, was most  enjoyable telling stories of the events of her own twelve years at the school that were both funny and revealed a mischievous young girl just a few years ago.

President Gotten introduced three new members to those attending, Tom Sawyer, Richard Kelsey and John Feild, all of whom received their membership pin and certificates.  Mr. Gotten indicated that the club was in excellent condition with new potential members in the wings.  Registrar Darlene Sawyer receives and processes the applications.  Members must be able to show through recorded proof of their ancestry as settlers of Shelby County and the other adjoining counties prior to 1870.

Brian Kelsey, whose parents are members, dropped in to say hello to Jane, to whom he is distantly related, and to congratulate family kin, Richard Kelsey.  Brian, a Tennessee State Senator, is a candidate for the 8th Congressional District and a bright, energetic young man.  He is pictured below with Darlene Hooker Sawyer, also a distant cousin.

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