Courtesy of Russell B. Bailey, Tipton County Historian
To read about the early days in Tipton County is to explore thrilling chapters of Tennessee’s history. First came the skilled hunters of the Chickasaw Indians, followed by traders and trappers. Then came the cotton planters and their slaves. Next came the river pilots and merchants. Rivers, artesian springs, and railroads shaped the destinies of these people. Boats of every description, flat, keel, and steam plied the Big Hatchie River bringing settlers and supplies upriver and bales of cotton down. It is the story of these waters, the clanking of the spike and rail, and the commerce that followed that proved to be the evolution of Tipton County as we know it today.
Tipton County was created by an act of the Tennessee legislature on October 29, 1823. Governor William Carroll signed the act at Murfreesboro, then the capital of Tennessee. Tipton’s land area was taken from Shelby County in the “(south) Western District of Tennessee,” and included what is now Lauderdale County. One-third of Tipton’s land area, 635 square miles, was situated north of the Big Hatchie River. When the legislature created Lauderdale County on November 24, 1835, Tipton’s land areas was reduced to 440 square miles. Tipton’s new boundaries were: Big Hatchie River on the north, Haywood County on the east, Fayette County on the southeast, Shelby County on the south, and the Mississippi River on the west. In 1873, the legislature again reduced Tipton County by giving Island No. 23 to Lauderdale. During the 1920s, a small portion of land in south Tipton County was ceded to Shelby County so the residents could attend Shelby County schools at Rosemark.
The land in what is now Tipton County were originally land grants issued by the State of North Carolina. Some of the larger grants included those of Robert and Thomas Love, 15,000 acres; R. T. Munford, 8,200 acres; Andrew Greer, M. Hunt, and John Rice, 5,000 acres each; Anthony Bledsoe, 4,700 acres, and Hardy Murfree, 1,260 acres. An incident connected with the re-location of these old grants in 1819-20 was the death of one of the surveyors, Richard Hightower, father-in-law of the distinguished lawyer of Nashville, O. B. Hayes. This occurred at a fine spring a few miles south of the site of Covington, afterwards known as Hightower’s Spring.
Tipton County was named in honor of Jacob Tipton (1765 – 1791) a native of Cedar Creek, Shenandoah County, Virginia. Jacob was the son of Colonel John Tipton (1730 – 1813) “who gave political and military service in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee during her most trying times.” Colonel Tipton died in Washington County, Tennessee and was praised by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to one of Tipton’s sons. Colonel Tipton’s five eldest sons served in the American Revolution. Following the War, a sixth son, Jacob, raised a company for defense of the frontier and became a captain. Captain Jacob Tipton led his company from Elizabethton to the Ohio territory. On November 4, 1791, American forces led by General Arthur St. Clair fought with Indians at Fort Wayne near what is now Mercer County, Ohio. Captain Jacob Tipton was mortally wounded in the battle known as St. Clair’s Defeat. The Knoxville Gazette newspaper described the incident:
(Captain Jacob Tipton) went instantly with the party under his command, and joined a party of Kentucky militia, who were first engaged. An officer asking him why he had joined himself to a party of militia when he belonged to the regulars – He replied, “I came here to fight, and I will do it.” Not long afterwards, when the firing became very warm, he received a ball in his breast, which passed through him. In his condition he stood some time animating his men; but soon overpowered and weakened by the wound, and bleeding inwardly, he fell. Turning round and looking at his men, he said, “My brave fellows, I am a dead man… fight on, and bravely do all you can for your country,” and instantly expired.”The Knoxville Gazette
Captain Tipton left a widow, Mary Bradford, and two children, Lavenia and a son, Jacob Jr.
Governor Carroll commissioned John T. Brown, Nathan Hartsfield, John C. McKean, George Robinson, and Jacob Tipton the first justices of the peace for Tipton County. These men met on December 1 and 2, 1823 in the home of Nathan Hartsfield. It has been written that the Hartsfield Home was situated on “Fisher’s Hill, near where the Jeff Davis Highway (U.S. Highway 51) and the old Liberty and Holly Grove road intersect, west of the Jeff Davis.” In 1889, J. West Green lived on this site.
Covington was established as Tipton’s seat of government on December 11, 1824. The village, located about four miles south of the Big Hatchie River, was the geographical center of the county at that time. The first courthouse dedicated for justice was completed July 4, 1825 and located on the northeast corner of the square. Work on a brick courthouse began in 1831 and was completed in June 1832.
Some of the early settlers were
- Jesse Benton, Jr.
- Henry Yarbro
- George W. Frazier
- Henry and Isaac Turnage
- K. H. Douglass
- Wm. and Robert Simonton
- Robert Sanford
- Andrew Greer
Those serving in county government in 1836 were:
- Circuit Court Clerk – R. W. Sanford
- County Court Clerk – F. R. Smith
- County Trustee – R. B. Clarkson
- Register – N. Hartsfield
- Sheriff – M. Calmes
- 1st District. J. G. Hall, R. J. Mitchell, P. P. Collier
- 2nd District W. Wiseman, T. P. Hall
- 3rd District S. Bates, R. Young
- 4th District D. Vaught, G. M. Penn
- 5th District Williamson Land, J. D. Thomas
- 6th District R. H. Rose, W. C. D. Jones.
- 7th District A. Matthews, M. Murchison
- 8th District J. W. Adams, B. W. Handron (Hendron ?)
- 9th District Joseph Soape, W. B. Roberson
- 10th District Cullen Curlee, W. C. Clark
- 1st District Sam Glass, W. Branch
- 2nd District D. M. Smith
- 3rd District A. D. Campbell
- 4th District A. Hunt
- 5th District J. Berden
- 6th District G. W. Jenkins
- 7th District T. McCrady
- 8th District J. Overall
- 9th District __________Cothran
- 10th District J. W. Wortham