Who Were the First African Americans in Lauderdale County?

12 May

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 (http://www.tngenweb.org/records/tn_wide/bios/rutherford-henry.txt),


10 Responses to “Who Were the First African Americans in Lauderdale County?”

  1. Debra miller July 25, 2013 at 1:25 am #

    There is a African American family with the last name Rutherford in Texas but family originated in TN from Hugh C. Rutherford….named one of his children Griffin Rutherford after their father/grandfather and claim they are mixed with Irish and Black. Possible not all slaves went to Fl….Hugh C. Rutherford passed in 1834.

    • Tiffany July 29, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      Thanks for posting. This is interesting. Can’t wait to look into this!

  2. Thelma Rudd August 18, 2013 at 2:03 am #

    Glad to see your post about Bessie Coleman..

    • Tiffany August 19, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

      Thanks for commenting. My hope is that someone will see it and be able to provide more details.

  3. William Carson November 17, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    Richard Carson, my 3rd great grandfather born Jan 1827 in North Carolina was present as early as at least 1850 because my 2nd great grandfather was born in Ripley in 1850. SMITH BRYN is listed as a slave on the will of Rezin BRYN. Smith and his mother (Ma) Linda were bequeathed to Rezin’s wife Francis in approx. 1861. Rezin Bryn is found in Tipton county in 1830 and then Lauderdale county in 1840.

    • Tiffany November 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm #

      Thanks for sharing. I’ve been researching some of the first families to move to Ripley and trying to see if I can locate the names of some of their slaves. Stay tuned.

      • William Carson August 2, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

        If you happen to find any info on the white SMITH family that settled in the area please post. I found a document that I believe to be my my 3rd great grandfather’s first slave last name. SMITH. Our family had three name changes; SMITH->BYRN->CARSON. I also assume that it’s the reason why Richard named his first son Smith (BYRN) Carson.

      • William Carson November 20, 2016 at 6:03 pm #

        After doing further research, I was able to establish that my family(Byrn/Carson) were in Lauderdale when it was established in December 1835 from Tipton county. Slave owner, Rezin Bryn was appointed as one of the revenue commissioner’s of the county.

  4. B. J. Parker November 29, 2016 at 9:42 pm #

    Mr. Taliaferro was born in Gates, I met him a couple of years ago at IU

    George Taliaferro (born January 8, 1927) is a former professional American football player. He was the first African American drafted by a National Football League team.[1]

    As the leading rusher and an All-American at Indiana University, he led the Hoosier football program to their only undefeated Big Ten Conference championship. A three-time All-American, Taliaferro led the Hoosiers in rushing twice, punting in 1945 and passing in 1948. Taliaferro helped break the color barrier in sports, playing for the Hoosiers two years before Jackie Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers.[2] He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981.[3] While at IU, Taliaferro became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.[4]

    Taliaferro, a halfback, quarterback, and punter, was picked by the Chicago Bears in the thirteenth round of the 1949 NFL Draft but chose to play instead with the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Football Conference.[5] He played with the Dons in 1949, then moved to the NFL, where he played with the New York Yanks 1950-51, Dallas Texans 1952, Baltimore Colts 1953-54, and Philadelphia Eagles 1955. He went to the Pro Bowl in 1951, 1952, and 1953.[6]

    A documentary about Taliaferro, titled Indiana Legends: George Taliaferro, was recently produced by WTIU public television in Bloomington, Indiana.

    He now resides in Bloomington, Indiana where his wife is a retired juvenile court judge. His nephew is Baltimore Ravens halfback Lorenzo Taliaferro

  5. William J. Burks December 4, 2018 at 8:19 am #

    Amos and Alexander Moore are identified as chain carriers for Henry Rutherford around June of 1785, when they first surveyed the Northwest part of Tennessee. THIS IS in an article from the American Historical Magazine, volume V, 1900…

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