The first inhabitants in Memphis were Americans drawn to the bluffs overlooking the river. It protected them against flooding by building their settlements on the Fourth Bluff Chickasaw, and it allowed easy access to transport on the mighty river.
The first Europeans to see a lower half of the river were Hernand De Soto’s explorer and his army. We camped at the Memphis site and took over Spain. Over the next 200 years , the city would change hands several times, and ownership would be held by the French and the English as well.
In 1796 the 16th state of Tennessee was recognised in the Union, but only 20 years later the City of Memphis came into existence. The Indians of Chickasaw sold the country to the U.S. government in 1818, and three Tennessees agreed to establish a new community.
The financial incentives for making a city in bluff were seen by President Andrew Jackson, and two other businessmen – John Overton and James Winchester. The men chose to name the Memphis town, which roughly translates into a ‘good dwelling place,’ which was formally incorporated in 1826 and mostly housed river workers and the people who were moving to the west. In the 1840s the town started booming mainly because of “white gold,” which developed in the surrounding farmlands, or “King Cotton.” In 1850, Memphis became the world’s largest domestic cotton market, a slave-based industry. The city’s location and its reliance on slave labor would prove to be a volatile mix.
During the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy the Memphians were firmly founded. In 1861, more than 70 Confederate companies were formed by recruits from the city. The Memphis War took place just one year later – a 90-minute confrontation between Confederate gunboats and the Union Naval Forces, while the Confederate flag flying the town was pulled down and replaced by the US flag. The success of the Union Army and the eventual occupation of more than 5.000 Union soldiers as a medical post was helpful to the city after the battle, as the Union forces had no need to burn the town or terrorize its residents as the fighting was over. Memphis soon recovered from the war when many merchants found that Yankee’s money was worth more than confederate money to them.
One of the reasons for its early success was Memphis’ primary location along the Mississippi river, but it also led to the first loss in the region. The city was not granted today’s sanitary conditions and a large part of the area was vulnerable to floods that resulted in mosquito reproductions. 5,000 “black jack” cases and over 2,000 deaths were confirmed during the yellow fever epidemic of 1873. The population of the city was 40,000 at the beginning of the summer and 25,000 remained two months before the quarantine. The outbreak was worse than ever five years later and almost wiped out the entire city. There have been more than 17,600 confirmed cases and 5,100 deaths. Anyone who could leave the city left behind a devastating economic situation which forced the city to bankrupt. Memphis gave up his charter and in 1879 became a taxing state district. Meanwhile, Robert Church is a rich black businessman, Sr. began to buy land around the area, mostly on Beale Street. He designed Church Park and Auditorium as a place for blacks and enabled the people of Africa to make Beale Street a part of daily life.
The following amazing museums are located in beautiful Memphis, Tennessee, along with these other must-see museums you shouldn’t miss:
- Beale Street
- National Civil Rights Museum
- Stax Museum of American Soul Music
- Memphis Zoo
- Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum
- Mud Island
- Shelby Farms Park
These amazing museums are located just down the street from our location at South Third Street across from The Southgate Shopping Center. Stop by for a visit anytime!