Bartlett couple’s love of homeless children endures


Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year. Following is the first of a two-part article.

Mrs. H.W. Cooper copied the following description from Mrs. Mamie Rock’s scrapbook in 1958:

“Time: Evening 6th instance 1871.

“At the residence of the bride’s father, near Bartlett City, Tenn., on evening of 6th instance by Elder Benjamin W. Johnson, Miss Emma H. Williams, daughter of Col. H. S. Williams, to Captain James B. Blackwell of Bolivar County, Miss.

“It was our good fortune to be present on the interesting occasion and to be privileged to tender our congratulations to the happy pair, as well as to join in the festivities and partake of the sumptuous hospitalities prepared to honor the event. The wedding party was a most splendid fête, only equaled by the brilliant reception party tendered the young people at the residence of Dr. N. Blackwell on the 7th. … Soft swells of music awake trembling echoes in the soul of gentle feeling; forms of grace and beauty floated through the merry mazes of the dance, and joy was unconfined. Conspicuous among the gay revelers were the proud form of the manly bridegroom and the beauty and loveliness were many of the fair daughters of Shelby and a goodly representation from Mississippi.”

James Blackwell was born in 1845 and grew up in what is now Union County, Miss. He was the younger brother of Dr. Nicholas Blackwell and joined the Confederate army, with him serving in a Mississippi unit. James fought in many battles, advanced to the rank of captain and made it home at the end of the war. He started farming on the family land in Mississippi. There is no record of how James and Emma Williams met, but it was probably when he visited his brother in Bartlett. He courted her, and they married on Nov. 6, 1871.

They lived on the Williams land (her parents), which was just east of Stage Road at Shelby Center. Emma bought the Bland home next door, and they moved into the big two-story house. James farmed the land, and they attended Bartlett Baptist Church and were involved in the community.

Mamie, their only child, was born on Sept. 24, 1873. Her mother and aunt taught her during her elementary years, and she spent her high school years at Bartlett High School and St. Mary’s School (presumably the one in Memphis). For her last year of school, she attended Blue Mountain College in Blue Mountain, Miss. While there she joined the Baptist Church, and after returning home she transferred her membership to Bartlett Baptist Church. Mamie’s mother, Emma, died in 1886 at the age of 36, and Mamie lived with her father until her marriage in 1897. Her father died in 1904 at the age of 59.

Both James and Emma Blackwell were buried in an orchard near their home. When part of their land was bought in the early 1900s for Highway 1 (now U.S. 70), the first highway built across Tennessee, it came very close to these graves. They are still there today. Drivers traveling west on U.S. 70 can see the burial spots on their right as they pass the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home. The two burial spots are visible on the grounds when drivers are almost past the complex.

Mamie’s future husband, John Rock, was born in Indiana but came south and lived in Trimble, Tenn., when he was a young man. He went to Mississippi and then to Memphis. He was in the lumber business and had heard Memphis was a good lumber market. He was interested in timber on the Coulter place on Highway 64, and while here he boarded with Miss Mary Blackwell and met her niece, Mamie. Romance developed, courtship followed and in March 1897 John and Mamie married.

They set up housekeeping in her parents’ home and remained there the rest of their lives. John joined the Baptist Church in 1904, became a deacon in 1905 and served in that capacity for many years. He found he liked farming and after 10 years of marriage gave up his interests in the lumber business and devoted his full time to farming. He was successful and retired in the early 1950s.

In 1912 the couple took in a nine-year-old girl, Earline, whose mother died while the family was living on the Rock farm. They adopted her, never having children of their own, and she became the joy of their lives. She was a sweet and intelligent child, attending and graduating from Bartlett High School. She went on to Blue Mountain College, but during her second year her health failed. She spent many months at home being cared for to no avail, and she passed away in 1920. The Rocks were heartbroken but continued to care for other young girls. Years after Earline’s death, they took in another girl so that she could go to Bartlett School. She grew up, married and lived in Bartlett not far from the Rocks to help take care of them as they grew older. Their love and concern for homeless children strengthened and became deeply rooted as they grew older.

Next week, find out what John and Mamie Rock did that has kept that love of homeless children alive long after their deaths.