Article on the Masons - 1869

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Friday, July 2, 1869
History of Early Nashville Masons
Compiled by Anson Nelson

Old Memories. Personal Reminiscences of Distinguished Nashville Masons.

The Masonic Record for this month, contains the following interesting personal notes of celebrated Masons of Nashville in early times, compiled by Mr. Anson Nelson, form the Masonic Code of 1817-18. Most of the names are “familiar in our mouths as household words,” and the sketch will be read with interest:

Nearly every man named in the list was more or less celebrated in his day; and all of them were leading and influential men in the community. Mr. Nelson gives a synopsis of who and what they were, as gathered from the recollection of one of our citizens:

John L. Allen was a plasterer, an industrious workman, and always maintained a good reputation.

Nathan Avery of the firm of Avery & Ward was a cabinet maker, a good workman and a good man.

Matthew Barrow was an industrious, energetic man, and was for a long time Register of Deeds for Davidson County. His descendants still live among us in great respectability.

Willie Barrow was the father of the late George Washington Barrow, one of the Trustees of the University of Nashville, and a leading man in society.

George A. Bedford was a druggist and came from Kentucky. He succeeded his brother John R. Bedford opened the first drug store in Nashville, near the beginning of the present century.

George and Robert Bell (brothers) were gentlemen of means and leisure and were “fighting friends” of General Jackson. They owned Capitol Hill, which they sold to George W. Campbell, with three or four acres adjoining for $6,000. They delighted in horse-trading, but were the very “soul of honor.” Judge McNairy married a sister of these gentlemen.

Robert Butler and William E. Butler were brothers. They were with Jackson in the Creek War and were devoted friends to “Old Hickory” always ready to aid him in his personal and political broils, and were noted for their personal courage.

Thomas Childress was hotel-keeper and was proprietor of the Bell Tavern (so called because a bell summoned the guests to their meals). He removed from Nashville about 1819 to Florence, Alabama, where he died. From being one of the most wicked men, he became one of the most pious and was a ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church.

Thomas Claiborne was a lawyer, and a man of great dignity and decision of character. He was at one time U.S. Marshal. He held various Masonic honors and was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge. Some of his descendants still live among us. He would have been a man of note in any community.

James Condon was a tailor, an estimable gentleman. He was High Constable of the city (or City Marshal) in 1814 or 1815. He was Mayor of the City in 1820.

Edmund Cooper was Tobacco Inspector for the port of Nashville, and had a tobacco warehouse, etc. He lived in style, but was not wealthy, died about 1825.

John Cox was a merchant of the firm of Stump and Cox. He failed in business.

James C. Craig was also a merchant and removed form Nashville to Columbia where he died.

John T. Dismukes was raised on Mansker’s Creek; he was Deputy U.S. Marshal and estimable man.

James Donelson was a farmer, and one of the Donelson family of the Hermitage neighborhood, related to General Jackson. A very worthy gentleman, of good lineage.

Thomas Eastland was a commission merchant, connected with an extensive firm, having headquarters at Nashville and New Orleans. During a financial crisis, which was very destructive throughout the country, both houses failed, and Brother Eastland finally settled on the western slope of Cumberland Mountain in White County, where he died only a few years since. He was a dignified, honorable gentleman.

John A. Eaton was a lawyer, author of the Life of Jackson, U.S. Senator, Secretary of War under Jackson, etc.

Thos. H. Fletcher was a merchant, but failed in business, and studied law. He was a member of the Legislature, and was the best satirical writer in the State. He died suddenly of apoplexy, after one of the most successful and powerful speeches he ever made before the Supreme Court.

Anthony Foster was a brother of the elder Robert C. Foster and was a highly respectable and influential gentleman. He wore his hair in a queue, wore kneebreeches after the older style.

James Gordon was a merchant; he lived in Franklin, but came to Nashville and embarked in the steamboating and commission business. He was a member of the firm of Gordon, Norvell & Co. He died at a good old age.

Robert Gordon was a silversmith, and a brother of James Gordon. He worked at his trade in Nashville for several years, and finally removed to Alabama, where he acquired considerable wealth.

Elihu S. Hall was also a dry goods merchant of respectability, and came here from Baltimore about the year 1808. Finally failing in business, owing to the then universal credit system, he was elected a Magistrate and was one of the best that ever opened a docket.

David Irwin came here from Pittsburgh, he was a nail merchant and afterward became a dry goods merchant. A good business man.

Joseph Keen was a commission merchant and an auctioneer of the firm of Cowden and Keen. He died in Nashville.

Alpha Kingsley was appointed Captain in the regular U.S. Army by either President Madison or Monroe, and was assigned to duty as Paymaster with headquarters at Nashville where he lived for many years. He was a gentleman of taste and elegance, moved in the best society, always lived up to his income, and died poor, but universally respected.

John Marshall was a shoemaker and a respectable man, whose grandchildren still reside here.

Samuel B. Marshall came from Kentucky and was a merchant, but, we believe not successful in mercantile pursuits. He was appointed U.S. Marshall for the Middle District of Tennessee by General Jackson and filled the office with credit to himself.

James W. McCombs of the firm of McCombs and Robertson was for many years an undertaker. He was a man of undoubted integrity. He still lives in this county.

Randal McGavock, Jr., was clerk of the circuit court, a good officer, and a popular man. He was Mayor of the city in 1824. He removed to Williamson County where as this county numerous relatives reside.

John C. McLemore came from North Carolina was a clerk in the office of the Land Register, and succeeded Robert Searcy as Register. He was the largest dealer in lands in the State of Tennessee. He was exceedingly popular throughout the Middle and West Tennessee. After an eventful career, he finally died in poverty, in Memphis, only two or three years since.

Peter Moseley was a farmer and lived near the Hermitage; he was a correct, clever man.

Moses Norvell was from Kentucky; he was at one time the editor of a newspaper and was a member of the firm of Gordon, Norvell & Co., commission merchants. He was City Recorder in 1817 and 1818. He led an active and eventful life.

John Overton was a distinguished jurist and a bosom friend of General Jackson, whose counselor and adviser he was on all important subjects. He acquired a considerable landed interest and left his descendants very rich. He was the father of John Overton of this vicinity, owner of the Maxwell House here, Overton Hotel at Memphis, etc.

Nicholas Perkins was a lawyer, and afterward a farmer. He was at one time U.S. Marshal, and in that capacity arrested Aaron Burr for conspiracy and took him to Richmond, Virginia, for trial.

Joseph Porter was another merchant and had a store on the corner of the Public Square and Deaderick Street. He was from Kentucky and died about 1828 or 1827.

Ephraim Pritchett came from Maryland; he was a merchant, a member of the firm of Pritchett & Shall and died in Nashville. Richard Rapier was a large, fleshy man, weighing over 200 pounds. He owned a barge, called “Rapier’s Barge,” and went to New Orleans once a year, bringing back sugar enough to supply this market until his next trip. This was from 1807 to 1819. The trip from Nashville to New Orleans and back occupied about four months time. On one occasion, he made the voyage with his barge and returned in ninety days, which so pleased the citizens that they gave him a public dinner at one of the hotels. It was considered a wonderful event to make so quick a trip. He was a bachelor, moved to Florence, Alabama, about 1820, where he died, very wealthy.

James Roane was a physician, he studied medicine with Dr. Newman, and had considerable reputation, both as a man a physician. He died of cholera in 1832, in the discharge of his duties.

Duncan Robertson was the best man that ever lived in Nashville. We know this is a broad assertion, but we verily believe it to be strictly true. His charities were unbounded, his attention to the sick and afflicted constant and timely. His visits to those who from whatever cause were imprisoned in our county jail were like those of the good Samaritan. He literally went about doing good. No better Mason ever crossed the threshold of the Cumberland Lodge. He rang the bell for preaching, furnished lights and seats at night, was an auctioneer, kept a bookstore, was an Alderman of the City in 1807, 1819, in 20, 21, 22, but despite these engagements he never failed to attend a helping hand to the distressed, needy or bereaved. After his death the citizens of Nashville erected a costly monument in the City Cemetery to his memory, with a most eulogistic epitaph, every word of which is true, which cannot be truthfully said of all epitaphs. He has a daughter, Mrs. Carroll, still is living in this city.

Foster Sayre [sic] was a blacksmith, and owned the property now owned by the heirs of Josiah Nichol, on now Union Street, from Cherry to Sumner Street. He had a house and blacksmith shop on the lot and sold the property to Josiah Nichol in 1808 for 3,500. He died here.

Thomas Shackleford was a bricklayer, an industrious and thrifty man, and father of Judge Shackleford, of this city. He moved to Missouri where he died.

Dr. John Shelby came from Sumner County and practiced medicine. He was at one time a partner of Dr. Boyd McNairy, postmaster at Nashville, Director of the State Bank, Trustee of the University, etc.

John Spence came from Ireland, he was a merchant, attended closely to business and was an upright citizen.

James Stewart was the S.W., was a merchant and died in Nashville many years ago. He came from Scotland and proved a very worthy citizen.

S.V.D. Stout was from Kentucky, a coach-maker by trade, and was an Alderman in the city in 1823, 24, 25, 26, 1832, 31, 32, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, and in 1840. He was elected mayor of the city in 1841. He was again returned to the Board of Aldermen in 1843, and was re-elected for six successive years following. He was for many years Chairman of the Waterworks Committee. He was a correct, good man, and retained, as he deserved, the confidence of the entire community to the close of a long and useful life.

Wilkins Tannehill, Esq., the W.M. in 1817, and afterward the Grand Master of the State as well as the recipient of numerous honors in every branch of Masonry was an authority of considerable reputation and a constant writer for newspaper and magazines.

Liston Temple was also a farmer and lived five or six miles from the city. A highly respectable man. His widow still survives.

James Trimble was a lawyer of considerable ability. He removed here form Knoxville, and was the father of the Hon. John Trimble. For five years he was one of the Aldermen of the city.

Robert T. Walker, a Scotchman, was a merchant, a member of the firm of Gordon & Walker. He went to Texas as an agent for a large land company, formed of capitalists here, where he was taken sick and died. His remains were brought back for interment.

Edward Ward was a cabinet maker, and a good man.


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P.O. Box 150733
Nashville, TN 37215
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