Sylvestria settled by prominent families
By R. B. Henderson
The South Reporter, July 29, 1971
North of Holly Springs along the Coldwater River and to the east, there was established a patrician settlement that could be well identified as an exact replica of a feudal domain of old England.
This settlement was formed when a group of wealthy planters from Virginia, the Carolinas, and other Southern states bought large tracts of land from the departing Chickasaws and built homes upon their holdings.
A list of the pioneer settlers of the community reads like a social register of the era. Among these families were the McPhersons, Walls, Dabneys, Williams, Scales, Grays, Maurys and others none the less prominent in the social and economic life of the era.
Upon settling in the Chickasaw country, these families were not content to rest upon their laurels garnered in the older states, but went on further to distinguish themselves in the affairs of the new country. Thomas H. Williams was a political leader of the Democratic Party in North Mississippi and served in the United States Senate from 1817 to 1821, a contemporary of Walter Leake.
As long as historical records are kept of Naval activities, the heroic career of the Commodore Matthew F. Maury as commander of the Confederate cruiser, The Shenandoah, will add luster to the pages of the Naval gallantry.
No name was ever formally given the community, but in the ante-bellum years until the construction of the old Mississippi Central in 1857, it was known as Sylvestria Community, taking the name of the Sylvestria Methodist Church, the religious and social center of the community.
According to Mrs. Olga Reed Pruitt, author of “It Happened Here”, Sylvestria was known as a “stylish church”, because most of the worshippers came in fine carriages with a slave coachman.
The Rev. Malcolm McPherson was one of the first settlers. He was married to Susan Wall, a sister of William and Robert Wall, each of whom was very wealthy. Senator Williams owned vast holdings of land in the community and, upon his death, Mrs. McPherson and her brothers, Robert and William, inherited the Senator's estate.
Mrs. McPherson inherited 1,200 acres of land that bordered on the west side of the tracks of the old Mississippi Central Railroad, now a part of the Illinois Central System.
Rev. McPherson and his wife built a large plantation home on their estate which they named “Sunnyside”. Rev. McPherson did not live long after, and, upon his death, William Wall moved into the home with his sister and operated the plantation for many years. It was one of the finest and most prosperous plantations in this section of the state and its owners amassed great wealth. This plantation, with its original acreage, is now owned by Mr. Charles N. Dean of Holly Springs, who is a lineal descendant.
When the Mississippi Central was built, a spur line was constructed to barns and sheds on the plantations to the rear of “Sunnyside” to received shipments of cotton and other farm products. The spur was also a flag stop for passengers and the plantation became the center for the neighborhood activities. In railroad references, the spur and the flagstop were known as Wall's Cut, but the neighborhood name was “The McPherson Place”. When federal troops secured control of the country and established a base around the McPherson home, the federals named the camp “Coldwater”.
During the first months of the war, the Confederates established an outpost defense of Holly Springs at Walls Cut. The federals secured control of middle Tennessee and Grand Junction became the base camp of operations southward along the Mississippi Central Railroad.
As the federals advanced southward from Grand Junction, two regiments of cavalry led by Confederate General (Red Jacket) Johnson were placed at Walls Cut. On November 6, 1862, a severe skirmish was fought at Lamar between Jackson and Grierson's Thieves. Grierson was driven back but returned with additional troops on November 9 and, in a sharp fight around Hudsonville, Grierson withdrew and Jackson did not have enough men to follow up the repulse. On December 1, 1862, a troop of federal cavalry led by Colonel Lea marched southward along the Mississippi Central and, south of Hudsonville he ran into a strong force of Confederate cavalry. After feeling out the strength of the Confederates, Lea turned eastward toward Old Salem and Ashland, laying waste to the countryside as he progressed.
Meanwhile, attacks upon Holly Springs were coming down the Memphis road, which is the present Highway 78. On July 1, the invaders were driven back at the city limits by cavalry under Van Dorn. Similar attacks were repulsed on November 28 and 29.
On December 21, a sharp skirmish was fought north of Holly Springs. On January 9, 1863, after the Van Dorn raid on Holly Springs, the federals evacuated Holly Springs, but attacks by federal cavalry were frequent and many skirmishes were fought up and down Highway 78 and north along the Mississippi Central Railroad throughout the year of 1863. The city alternately changed hands between the two forces until February 12, 1864, when a hard battle was fought within the city limits. The Confederates were forced to retreat because of the superior number of the federals.
After this engagement, most of the Confederate troops were withdrawn from the Holly Springs area to meet pressing needs on other fronts. The last raid around Holly Springs took place on August 27 and 28. The Confederates regained possession of the town, but could not hold it and were again forced to retreat. After this battle, all Confederate troops were withdrawn south of the Tallahatchie River and the enemy had undisputed possession of the Holly Springs area.
After they gained possession of the country, the federals established a permanent base camp along Coldwater and from this camp, federal raiding parties went out in all directions.
A federal garrison was also maintained at Holly Springs, but Coldwater was selected for the main camp, probably because of water from the river and because the Coldwater camp was less vulnerable to Confederate raiding parties.
During their occupation of the Coldwater camp, the commander of the troops made his headquarters at Sunnyside the remainder of the year. Mrs. McPherson said that the family had in its possession, the sword of one of the camp's commanders. The sword has the officer's name engraved upon the handle.
Like most sections of the south, invasion and occupation by enemy troops ruined the economy of the community. Sons of many of the prominent families gave their lives on the battlefields. The plantations were ruined as a result of the battle fought.
After the close of the war, many of the once wealthy families gave up their plantations or lost them for taxes or other reasons, and moved away. Today, most of the old plantations have been broken up into small farms.
In ante-bellum years, the Sylvestria Academy for girls, established and operated by a Mr. Cottrell, was maintained for many years. It prospered during the 1840s and early 50s.
Today, only the shell of Sunnyside remains among a grove of large and ancient oaks, although traces of the spur track leading from the railroad to the McPherson barns and shed may still be seen.
The Sylvestria Church burned around 1931 and was not rebuilt. The church was a short distance north of the cemetery.
There are many fine monuments in the old cemetery and four of the burial plots are enclosed with ornate iron fences. It has not been used as a burial ground in many years and is badly overgrown with trees. The cemetery was a large one, and there are many graves that can no longer be identified. Inscriptions on many of the monuments cannot be read in entirety. The inscriptions that can be read are:
Sarah, daughter of Rev. M. and S. W. McPherson, and wife of E. H. Randle; Caroline, daughter of M. and S. W. McPherson, and wife of J. B. Ingram; Rev. Malcolm McPherson; Susan W. McPherson, June 26, 1917; Mrs. M. V. Pointer, born June 28, 1849 – died Jan 19, 1886; Willie R., son of Maury & M. Pointer, Aug 10, 1861 – July 30, 1862; Mrs. Ann Elizabeth Pegues, Consort of Oliver H. Pegues, born Oct 1, 1812 – died July 8, 1849; Mrs. Martha D. Walker, November 18, 1826 – March 8, 1849; Thomas D. Walker, born Orange Co. N. C., Sept 14, 1802 – March 15, 1854; Mary M. Harwell, June 22, 1820 – Dec 19. 1903.
William Alexander, August 15, 1887 – died Dec. 11, 1904; Lucy Brittenum, wife of John Brittenum, born 1783 – died Nov. 24, 1837; J. Cummings Jones; Charles A. Lovett, May 5, 1836 – August 12, 1908; Edward D. Jones, Born Hanover Co. VA, February 24, 1889 – died Marshall Co., March 29, 1912; Josephine Rebecca, wife of E. D. Jones, born in Louise Co., VA, June 28, 1842 – died Marshall Co., June 13, 1911; Cordelia D. Jones, Feb. 25, 1870 – Oct. 29, 1930; Myranda Young Russom, March 14, 1842 – November 23, 1919; Martha B., wife of M. Y. Russom, August 17, 1846 – February 20, 1921; H. Y. Russom, 1868 – 1956; and Dr. J. E. McPherson.
Dr. McPherson was a surgeon in the Confederate Army and was a brother of Rev. Malcolm McPherson.
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