Adam R. Alexander: Bartlett Renaissance man

Bartlett-Sesq-logo-SMALL-WEEditor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year.

Farmer, soldier and politician Adam Rankin Alexander was a self-made man and one of Bartlett’s prominent citizens during the 1800s.

He was born sometime in the month of November 1781, the seventh surviving child of Margaret Paul Alexander and Oliver Alexander, in southwestern Virginia. When he was still young, his family moved to what became Blount County in east Tennessee. The extent of his formal education was probably limited, but his command of language, style of writing and his ability to reason well would indicate that he had sound training in basic educational skills early in life.

Growing up on a farm, Adam first became a farmer and on March 26, 1805, he married Leah Reagan.

They were married for 43 years and had eleven children: Ebenezer, born Dec. 23, 1805, who became a distinguished East Tennessean; Mary Melissa, born Nov. 8, 1807; William Reagan, born July 4, 1810; Jane Maria, born May 27, 1812; James Henry, born Oct. 25, 1814, who would live to be almost a century old; Margaret Ann, born Aug. 17, 1816; Joseph Brown Porter, born March 30, 1818; Benjamin Newton, born Dec. 24, 1819; Martha Hill, born March 22, 1822; Samuel Blair, born April 2, 1825, and John Bills, born Jan. 20, 1829.

Early in his marriage, Adam Alexander’s family of origin moved to Maury County, Tenn., and he and his family went with them. In 1810 Adam made small land purchases in Maury County and would eventually accumulate a farm of several hundred acres. During the War of 1812, he served as a second major in his home county’s 27th Militia Regiment, receiving his commission on Jan. 10, 1813. Later that year he enlisted in Captain William Dooley’s company, Second Regiment, West Tennessee Militia, Infantry Brigade, and ended up under the command of General Andrew Jackson on a campaign against the Creek Indians in Alabama. He served his tour of duty from Sept. 26, 1813, to Jan. 14, 1814.

Back in Maury County, Adam was elected representative to the Eleventh (Sept. 18-Nov. 17, 1815) and Twelfth (Sept. 15-Nov. 25, 1817) General Assemblies of the State of Tennessee representing Maury County. During this time he had gained sufficient training as a surveyor and had the necessary political influence to secure an appointment as principal surveyor of Surveyor’s District 10 in West Tennessee.

In October of 1819 the Legislature had divided the new Western District of Tennessee into several surveyors’ districts that were subdivided into ranges that ran north and south in five-mile squares called sections. Each district would be administered through its principal surveyor, who would literally be responsible for mapping his entire district into proper ranges and sections. He also would process settlers’ and speculators’ land claims, have these properly entered and surveyed, and send them to the Secretary of State of Tennessee, who would issue grants for the lands.

The Surveyor’s District 10 included parts of several counties subsequently (after 1819) created and organized in West Tennessee, including Madison, Hardeman, Gibson, Chester and Haywood counties. Adam went to western Tennessee in 1820 to organize his land district. His family remained in Maury County until the autumn of 1821, when he sold his 170 acre farm to Nimrod Porter for $2,500.

Growing into wider political prominence, Colonel Alexander ran for the office of representative of the newly formed Ninth Congressional District, eventually composed of 18 counties. He served two terms, in the Eighteenth and Nineteen Congresses (March 4, 1823, to March 3, 1827).

He was a strong nationalist and also a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson. He was in Congress during the election of 1825 when none of the candidates for president (Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, William Crawford and Henry Clay) received a majority, and it was thrown into the House of Representatives to determine. Alexander voted for Jackson, but Adams won.

Back home in Tennessee in the election of 1825 Colonel Alexander was opposed by David Crockett, the colorful state legislator with a great appeal to the common man. Alexander won the election, but Crockett was determined and opposed him again in the election of 1827, which he won. Colonel Alexander attempted to regain his congressional seat in the election of 1829 but lost decisively to Crockett.

In 1825 while in Congress, Colonel Alexander had his own land business to take care of and resigned as principal surveyor. He moved his family to a farm near Mount Comfort in Hardeman County soon after his defeat in 1827, where he had considerable land interests.

In 1832 the Alexander family moved to Shelby County, settling where the city of Bartlett is now located. He bought the occupant rights of several squatters, consolidated those parcels and had a total tract of 247 acres. In this acreage were the old local campgrounds and the small Indian burial mounds along Hurricane Creek, now known as Harrington Creek. By careful calculation, George D. McCrary III, an attorney in Bartlett who owned some of Alexander’s former land, was able to lay out Colonel Alexander’s tract and the area now encompassed by this home tract of the Alexanders.

The Alexanders residence was White Hall in Bartlett, a large white-washed log house that stood just east of McCulley Street, near the Memphis-Somerville stage road. This home tract had increased to about 300 acres when Colonel Alexander sold it to Thomas Anderson on July 17, 1841, for $4,200.

The Alexanders did not move away from the area but rented 525 acres from Neill Smith Brown and his wife Mary Ann, on Nov. 23, 1840. (This was originally a part of the William Polk tract.)

Alexander agreed to pay the taxes on the place, have 100 acres cleared and have a double log house built on the tract along with outhouses. It was just to the north of what is now Stage Road, bordered on the east by Old Brown-sville Road in Bartlett and on the west close to Covington Pike. A lane of about 100 feet stretched from Stage Road to the Alexanders new home.

Colonel Alexander was active in his community, where his family were members of the Presbyterian Church in Raleigh. He managed his plantation and rental lands, and he made sure his sons were educated and his daughters properly married. He was a prominent and popular politician and would take the lead role in many political events, which he enjoyed.

He ran again for representative from Shelby County in the Twenty-fourth General Assembly (1841-1842) and in the Twenty-fifth General Assembly (1843-1844) and was successful.

In 1846 Adam and Leah left Tennessee to be nearer their children and grandchildren, who had moved to Marshall County, Miss. They rented land from their son-in-law, Green Pryor, where they lived and farmed. In May 1848 Alexander became ill, his condition worsened in October, and he died Nov. 1, 1848, and was buried in Pryor Cemetery, a family cemetery in Marshall County. There is no tombstone for Leah R. Alexander, suggesting that she was no longer living in this area at the time of her death, July 7, 1863.

Adam R. Alexander’s death was noted in The Daily Enquirer in Memphis on Nov. 26, 1848, announcing that the colonel was “no more. A letter from his son announces the death of this venerable patriot. He has filled many important stations … and he has always discharged his duties properly.”

Source: Adam Rankin Alexander, A Life Sketch, by Jonathan K. T. Smith.


Written by Suzanne Griffith Coleman, special to the Express.