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Early History of Coffeeville

If in about the year 1829 a wayfarer taking the trail leading south from Lagrange, Tennessee through the Chickasaw nation to the Choctaw villages, and to Clinton, Mississippi, had traveled that trail 76 miles south of the Tennessee line, he would have encountered one of the highest hills in that part of Mississippi.

Fording the creek just at the foot of the hill, he would have passed the wigwam of an Indian arrow head maker. On the crest of the hill was an Indian trading store built of logs fresh cut and hewn from the dense forest surrounding it.

The traveler, if a white man, would have received scant greeting from the arrow maker, but a hearty welcome awaited him at the store of the young trader; for in those days, few men of his race passed that way.

The arrow maker chose his place of business at the ford of the creek, because of the convenience of water, so necessary to the plying of his trade, and it was on the trail frequented by his fellow tribesman. The white trader chose his place also because it was new water; but chiefly because it was high above the low lands and miasma so dreaded in those days and because the location was just one half mile from the boundary line that divided the hunting grounds of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians.

The name of the Indian craftsman is long since forgotten, but Davidson M. Rayburn, the youthful pioneer, and trader from near Franklin, Tennessee, is still remembered as the first white settler on the site of what is now the town of Coffeeville.

The trade in hatchets, guns, knives, beads, and calico was brisk and young Rayburn prospered.

And then the "Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek" by which the Choctaws ceded all of their lands to the U.S. government was ratified; the country was surveyed, and the lands were subject to purchase and settlement. D.M. Rayburn, Abram Herron, Sules McCrelas, and Ursery bought the lands in Section 4, Township 24, Range 6 east, on which the Rayburn store was located.

About that time Wm. Buntin with his wife, several stalwart sons and comely daughters, his wagons, household goods, livestock and Negro slaves, passed Rayburn's store, ended their long over-land journey from Virginia on one of the adjacent hills. Pretty soon young Rayburn married one of the comely daughters.

And now the Exodus of the Choctaws began. Their villages were replaced by those of the white men. The Indian trails became highways, over which passed a steady and ever increasing stream of home seekers and land speculators.

The Virginia, Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee store owners made haste to acquire possessions in the Land of Cotton, and the country side was rapidly peopled with planters and their Negro slaves.

Just four miles south of Rayburn's store two rival towns just across the road from each other had sprung up. Hendersonville, with 14 stores and groceries promoted by Thos. McMackin, famous tavern keeper and town site promoter of that day and Plummersville, more than half the size of its rival- named for, and sponsored by Franklin E. Plummer, notorious politician, congressman, and known as the "Stormy Petrel of Mississippi Politics."

The first Board of Police elected in Yalobusha County, met and organized at Hendersonville on February 4, 1834, there being present Thos. McMackin, President, Wm. Metcalf, J.S. Edrington, Wm. Minter, and Dempsy Hicks. At the next meeting of the Board held a month later at the same place, it was moved, seconded and the motion carried, "that the Board retire to a private room for the purpose of considering offers of donations of land for a County Court Town." Quite a number of offers from various sections of the county were considered, but the Board voted to accept the land offered by Davidson M. Rayburn and Surles McCrelas- to wit: 51 acres located in the E 1/2 of NW 1/2 of Section 4, Township 24, Range 6 east.

Thos. McMackin immediately thereafter tendered his resignation as President of the Board. On motion of Wm. Minter, McMackin was re-elected president- which courtesy pleased him to the extent that he appointed a committee to examine the title of the land donated.

The Board then ordered the county surveyor Francis Clement to survey and plot the land into town lots; reserving a space in the center 400 feet square for a Court House.

During the same year the lots were sold at auction on the terms prescribed by the Board; via, one-third of purchase price one year after date of sale, and one-third yearly thereafter. Mr. Walker was appointed auctioneer, and received $200.00 in payment of his services. Davidson M. Rayburn, county court clerk, was authorized to receive payments for and execute deeds to the lots. About that time the Board concluded it was high time to name the town. They decided to call it Coffeeville, in honor of the friend and companion in arms of General Andrew Jackson, the gallant General Coffee. As Coffeeville grew and waxed strong, Hendersonville and Plummersville decayed, and villages were only memories. The business and people all moved to the Court Town- Coffeeville.

Among the first merchants to locate in Coffeeville were Wm. Korr, T.J.N. Bridges, Leman Haile, and Brown & Van Zant. Mr. Van Zant was the father of ex governor Van Zant of Texas, who spent his early childhood in Coffeeville. The first lawyers to settle in Coffeeville were J.S. Topp, Abram Herron, Jno. McKenon, and Judge Carberry. The first physicians were Dr. Malone and Dr. S. Bell. The first churches organized were the Presbyterian and Methodist Church. The former a two story brick structure located on Tillatoba Street. The latter a frame structure located on Tennessee Street.

The first white child born in Coffeeville was Andalusia Rayburn, daughter of the young Indian trader. She became the wife of the Reverend Dr. R.S. Thomas, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Coffeeville for 48 consecutive years, 1848 to 1896, the year of his death.

In the year 1834, the Board of Police granted Surles McCrelas license to conduct the first Tavern in Coffeeville at the following scale of prices: meals 35 cents, board and lodging per day $1.50, man and horse $2.00, spirits 121/2 cents.

The first bank in Coffeeville was organized in 1838. Bayliss, President and W.H. Brown, cashier. It was called "The Joint Stock Bank of Coffeeville."

It lasted only a few years, and there was no other bank in Coffeeville until after the Civil War. The business men did their banking through cotton commission merchants in New York, New Orleans, and Memphis.

In the early forties the country had developed to the extent that the county Board felt justified in providing a more commodious and pretentious Court House than the frame house in use, and accepted plans and specifications for a splendid brick building to be erected in the center of the court square on the site once occupied by Rayburns store.

Although not an architect by profession Judge Carberry drew the plans, and one Mr. Higgins contracted to erect the building. Unfortunately Mr. Higgins died soon after the building was begun, and it was completed by Judge Carberry and Wm. Kerr, his bondsman.

About this time the Simms line of stage coaches was running on regular schedule on the highway through Coffeeville. James Baker had acquired the McCrelas Tavern, enlarged it to double its original size, its upper and lower verandas facing court square. It was now a relay station for the Simms line of stage coaches and famous among the Inns of north Mississippi. Bakers Tavern took great pride in having entertained such distinguished guests as Governor Henry S. Foote, Mr. Jefferson Davis, Mr. Sargent S. Prestess, Mr. and Mrs. James K. Polk. (The latter owned a plantation near Coffeeville) and others of their like. The new Court House and the rapid development of the country attracted to Coffeeville an array of such splendid loyal talent that its bar was rated second to none in the state. Among the most notable were General E.C. Walthall, Colonel Blythe; Judge Fisher of the supreme bench, Colonel David L. Herron, N.C. Snider, Captain Frank Aldrich, Judge Chevis and others.

Coffeeville prospered with the year, and private carriages with matched horses on the streets had ceased to be a novelty. In the late forties and during the fifties, a craze for building fine homes appears to have struck Coffeeville and the country surrounding it. The houses were nearly all of the same pattern- two stories, with portico in front, supported by four large columns and an el in the rear. The kitchens were all located in the back yard about 20 steps from the dwelling house.

Along about 1856 there were rumors in Coffeeville that a railroad was being built, that would run north and south through the creek valley, 1/4 mile east of the courthouse.

D.L. Herron and James Aston surveyed the land in the valley into town lots. The Mississippi Central Railroad completed tracks into Coffeeville, and the people of Coffeeville saw their first railroad train in the year 1858.

The Herron and Aston Survey was incorporated into the town of Coffeeville; the lots were selling rapidly, the town was growing, the railroad was prospering, the people were happy.

And then came a season of sorrow, blighted hopes, blighted lives, Civil War chaos.