The first African Americans in Lauderdale County were brought into the area by Henry Rutherford. Henry Rutherford, the namesake of Rutherford, TN, was the land surveyor who surveyed all of the land that was to become Lauderdale County. Along with Henry Rutherford, John Rutherford, Oliver Crenshaw, George Davis, and Willis Chambers arrived with their slaves at Key Corner on September 1, 1819.

Just who were these slaves and possible first African American inhabitants of Lauderdale County, TN?

As history goes Henry Rutherford inherited the slaves he owned from his father, Griffith Rutherford, the namesake of Rutherford County, TN. I also found a source that stated that Griffith left his slaves to his wife and not Henry. According to sources Henry didn’t choose to make his slaves his primary source of income and he even taught them how to read. Doing some research on the slaves that Griffith Rutherford owned I discovered that when he settled in what is now Sumner County, Tennessee that he owned 8 slaves, but have so far been unable to find out the names of these slaves.  Griffith died in 1805. Were these 8 slaves the ones he possibly passed down to Henry that would go on to become the first African Americans in Lauderdale County?

I found a census listing for Henry Rutherford in 1820 for Franklin, Williamson County, Tennessee. On this census he owned 16 slaves. Could he have been documented on the 1820 census in Williamson County, TN because this was where his family was located prior to joining him in Lauderdale County? Further research will need to be done on the life of Henry to make sure that this is him listed on the 1820 census, but I have the feeling that it is. In 1830 Henry is found living in Dyer County, TN with 6 slaves and in 1840 Henry is found living in Lauderdale County, TN with 7 slaves. But just who were these slaves?

Unfortunately Henry’s will does not name his slaves. It just refers to his slaves in general. His wife Mary died in 1839 prior to his death and I have been unable to locate a will for her.

Henry Rutherford died May 20, 1847 and is buried at Rutherford Cemetery in Lauderdale County, TN, which was his family’s private cemetery. It is also possible that the slaves he owned are also buried here, but more than likely they would be in unmarked graves.

In order to further find the names of the first African Americans to live in Lauderdale County more research will need to be done on the men who traveled with Henry Rutherford to this area. Since they all supposedly brought their slaves with them maybe we can find the names of their slaves.


– Tiffany

Source: Goodspeed’s History of Lauderdale County, Tennessee, Sketch of Henry Rutherford (,