The First Wagon Train – Monroe County

The First Wagon Train

The traditional story on the first settlers of Monroe County is that Rev. Frederick Weaver led a wagon train of five families from Russell’s Valley (Russellville, Alabama) down Gaines Trace to Cotton Gin Port in 1816. Gaines trace had evolved from an Indian trail called by the Chickasaw, “Ridge Road”. In 1807-8, this trail was surveyed and enlarged by United States troops, led by Edmund Pendleton Gaines (1777-1849). The trace ran from the Tennessee River to a point on the Tombigbee River called Cotton Gin Port, so called for the cotton gin constructed by the United States Government on the west bank of the river for use by the Chickasaws. This gin was put into use about 1801 in an effort to “pacify” the Indians. According to folklore, the Indians wanted none of the government’s “pacification” and promptly burned the gin.

In 1816, when Rev. Frederick Weaver led his party down the trace to Cotton Gin Port in what would later become Monroe County, all of the land south of this trace and east of the Tombigbee River had just been ceded to the United States government by the Chickasaws in a treaty signed September 1816.

Not only did Monroe County not exist at this time, but Mississippi, was not yet a state, Mississippi was still a Territory until 1817.

In later years, Dorcas Weaver Hollingsworth, the ten year old daughter of the Rev. Frederick Weaver, said that she spent the Christmas of 1816 at Cotton Gin Port. At this time there was no permanent population at Cotton Gin, as it was a way station for Indian traders crossing the river and going into the villages of the Chickasaw to trade. The only permanent residents of Cotton Gin Port were the ferryman and his family.

The group of families had all lived at one time or another in Laurens District, South Carolina. They were living in Bedford County, Tennessee, at the time of the move to Mississippi. The families appeared to be inter-related in one way or another. The five families seem to have been the following:

1.         Rev. Frederick Weaver, a Methodist minister (b SC c1775), his wife Fannie, and several of their children. Frederick Weaver settled near a creek that later bore his name-Weaver Creek. In 1821, he received a patent on land in Section 30, Township 12, Range 17W. This property is halfway between present day Hatley and Parham’s Store, and is on the north side of Weaver Creek. Mrs. Kelly Taylor of Aberdeen is a descendant.

2.         William Wise (bSCc1765) and his wife Catherine Gideon Wise (bSC c1775), his brother, Henry Wise (bSC c1763), his sister or sister-in-law, Elizabeth Wise, and several of William and Catherine;s grown children and their families. Willam at first cut logs for a house and was told by Levi Colbert that he had cut on the Chickasaw side of Gaines Trace and to go back east, which he did, settling in what would later become the Quincy-Wise’s Gap area. Wise was killed by Indians when he returned to Tennessee to get more supplies and persuade more relatives to settle in Monroe County. Wise’s widow received the patent to his land in Section 32, Township 13, Range 17W. on January 14, 1820. Elizabeth Wise, the sister/sister-in-law received her patent in Section 28, Township13, Range 17W on January 14, 1820. Old Center Cemetery is located in the section where William Wise’s widow received her patent. The “gap” or “cut” through the ridge of hills in the eastern part of the county, was in the section of land where Elizabeth Wise received her patent. In the late 1880’s when the KCM&B Railroad came through Monroe County, they followed this “cut” and the area was thereafter referred to as Wise’s Gap. Jack Bird of Aberdeen is a descendant.

3.         The Gideon family. According to Dr. Evans in Mother Monroe, there were at least two Gideon brothers and their families in the original wagon train. Mrs. William Wise, Catherine Gideon Wise, was their sister. One of the people whom William hoped to persuade to come to Monroe County, in the second year, was his father-in-law, Gideon who was a Revolutionary War Veteran. Two of the Gideons were listed as head-of-household in the 1820 Monroe County Census. They were Isaac Gideon (b SC c1773) and John Gideon (bSCc1785). Isaac Gideon purchased land in Section 17, Township 12S, Range 17W, just south of Gaines Trace and approximately one mile north of present day Parham Store Community. John Gideon purchased land in Section 18, Township 12S, Range 17W, also along the south side of Gaines Trace within half a mile of Isaac’s property.

4.         The Booker family. At least two of the Booker sons married into the Wise family. Thomas Booker (1803-1883) married Catherine Wise (1810-1887). She was the daughter of William Wise and Catherine Gideon Wise. Thomas Booker was the son of Shields Booker and Ann Pride. John Booker (b SC c1798) married Agnes Wise (b SC c1802). John Booker owned land in Section 7, Township 14S, Range 17W. Judge Fred P. Wright of Amory, MS is a descendant of Thomas Booker and Catherine Wise Booker.

5.         This is a good question. Who was the fifth family? Dr. Evans lists the families as Weaver, Wise, two Gideons and one other. We assume the one other to have been the Bookers. John Wise Riley (1866-1948) in an interview with Dr. Evans lists the families as . . . .three Wises, two or three Gideons, Bookers, Weavers, and the Thames, who settled at the Ferry. . .” (This would probably be referring to the ferry at Cotton Gin Port.) According to tradition in the Thames family, Eli Thames was a pioneer Monroe County Settler and came in with five other families. Eli Thames settled on the south side of Cotton Gin Port. He was the town’s first blacksmith. His son T. R. Thames was born at Cotton Gin Port, April 15, 1818. Eli Thames died October 4, 1824. Mrs. Bessie Lou Gwin Radde is a descendant.

We also know from other records that the Howell family was one of the earliest in Monroe County. The Howell family did have connections with Laurens District, SC. In the ensuing decades from 1817, members of the Howell family married members of the Wise family. However they have no family tradition as having come to Monroe County with Frederick Weaver. Written for the MONROE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY JOURNAL by Jerry Anderson Harlow.