Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history during its sesquicentennial year.
In 1866 the town called Union Depot decided to incorporate. In looking for a name, the citizens looked to Major G.M. Bartlett. He was one of the leading citizens, and he had had his land surveyed and lots laid out for buildings and houses. He also was one of the proponents of incorporation. Therefore, Bartlett became the name of the town.
Gabriel Maston Bartlett was born on Nov. 27, 1821, in Robertson County, near Cedar Hill, in middle Tennessee. He was given the name of his maternal uncle, Gabriel Maston, who had died earlier that year. His nickname was Gabe.
He had five brothers and two sisters and grew up on the family farm. As a young man, he moved to St. Louis where his brother had a general store.
On a visit to relatives in Fayette County, Tenn., Gabriel met Elizabeth Glasgow, an orphan daughter of Captain John Glasgow, who had recently returned home from the Moravian Salem Female Academy in North Carolina. He courted her, and they were married Dec. 3, 1846.
Elizabeth’s aunt’s husband was John Blackwell, who was a first cousin to Gabriel Bartlett (their mothers were sisters).
In 1847 Gabriel bought a plantation and land next to John Blackwell’s plantation called Goodwood. He purchased 452 acres on the north side of the stage road (now Highway 64) at a point 2.5 miles east of the railroad crossing in Bartlett. It had a frame home facing the stage road and very fertile ground.
Gabriel rapidly became involved in the town and in March 1848 was elected Justice of the Peace for Civil District 7 for a term of six years. He served in that position until his death.
The Bartletts joined the Warren Chapel Methodist Church next to Pisgah Cemetery (now Bartlett-Ellendale Cemetery), where Gabriel was made a steward.
Gabriel stood six foot four, had dark auburn hair, blue eyes and an impressive presence. He played the fiddle and had a good singing voice.
He was noted for his charity for all worthwhile endeavors, but most especially to his church. Whenever there was a deficiency in the collections, he gave it out of his own pocket.
He was remembered as “modest, retiring in his nature, of a charitable disposition, and possessing a mind well-store with information. A remarkable man, he never complained about anything, was always possessed of a quiet calm and even temperament, taking things in this life just as they came without murmur.”
With increased respect in the community, he came to be addressed as Major Bartlett.
In Sept. 26, 1851, Elizabeth died of complications from childbirth, leaving one son, Thomas. Three other children died in infancy and are buried near her in Pisgah Ceme-tery. Thomas lived to adulthood, but never married.
In 1854 Gabriel married Rebecca E. Cross of Elysian Grove in Fayette County and rented a home in Union Depot, where he brought his wife after their marriage. After renting for two years, Gabriel bought two tracts of land, 291 acres and 82.5 acres on which was a “handsomely finished frame six room house, a new cotton gin and corn mill, slave quarters, apple, plum, and peach orchards.”
It was located on the north side of Stage Road between what are now Old Brownsville Road and Sycamore View, extending back to what is now Montpelier Drive. Gabriel and Rebecca had five children — a son Robert and four children who died in infancy.
In 1855 he was elected a member of the state legislature and served one term. In 1859 Major Bartlett employed a civil engineer to survey and lay out a village within his property along Stage Road and New Brownsville Road (now Sycamore View Road). He donated a lot for Masons on the corner of Woodlawn and New Brownsville Road (now Sycamore View) and was a charter member of the Woodlawn Masonic Lodge #211 F.A.M.
He also provided a site for a Methodist meetinghouse that was called Bartlett Chapel. During the week, a private school was taught by the Rev. John Shelton, a Methodist minister.
Through the late 1850s Major Bartlett was successful in his business pursuits and had accumulated a considerable fortune, but he lost most of it during the Civil War. Along with everyone else, he lost valuable livestock, mules and horses that were taken by the Federals, in addition to suffering property damage.
In 1864 Major Bartlett went in business with J.W. Gould and R.L. Yancey as grocers, cotton factors and commission merchants at 210 Front Street in Memphis. Yancey withdrew from the firm and Robert Blakemore took his place. After several years there were outstanding debts that could not be paid, and they went into bankruptcy in 1868. Financial problems from this misfortune plagued Major Bartlett to his death.
The town of Bartlett was incorporated on Dec. 13, 1866, and in the first election on May 2, 1867, Gabriel Bartlett was elected mayor and served until 1870.
His financial problems took a terrible toll on his health, and he died on a visit to his sister in Cedar Hill on June 18, 1876, and was buried in an unmarked grave beside his parents in the Bartlett family cemetery. Major Bartlett’s fellow justices of the peace memorialized him, stating “Few men by their enterprise, intelligence and devotion to the public interest in the immediate localities in which they live have contributed more to the development of the moral, social, intellectual and industrial interests of communities than he did.”
Unfortunately no picture of Gabriel Bartlett has been found to date. Historian Jonathan K.T. Smith, who researched much of Bartlett’s history, pursued this for many years to no avail. The closest he came was to find a space in a family album that had his name under it, but the picture was gone.
By Suzanne Griffith Coleman of the Bartlett Historical Society, special to the Express.