St. Thomas Hall
Pointer family important part of Holly Springs' past
By Hubert McAlexander, Jr.
Between Christmas of 1898 and New Years Day, Holly Springs lost by fire one of the Greek Revival mansions of Salem Street. At that time, the building housed St. Thomas Hall, an Episcopal military school; but it had been built as a residence almost forty years earlier by Dr. David Pointer, who had come to the county in the early 1840s and established himself not only as a physician, but as an important planter. The Pointer name is familiar to few who live here today, for all of the connection had moved away by 1870, a quarter century before the great brick monument that they left was destroyed. The Pointers, however, are important in the social and architectural history of Marshall County, and their story brings together all sorts of fragments of our past that should not be lost.
Dr. David Pointer and his wife Obedience Torain, both natives of Halifax County, Virginia, moved with other members of his family to Caswell County, North Carolina, in the 1820s. At the age of forty, he came with his wife and eight children to Mississippi; and, on 8 May 1844, he bought land here on Section 33, T4, R2 (Deed Book L, p. 441). This acreage lies between Highways 7 South and 78 East, eight sections due south of Holly Springs and one section to the east. Today this part of the county is sparsely populated and not easily accessible, but at the county's founding in 1836, large tracts there were held by members of the Love family, Chickasaw leaders, wealthy in both land and slaves.
From the early days until the first years of this century, access to the area was gained by the Mouth of Tippah Road, which had perhaps begun as an Indian trail. The road starts at the end of South Center Street along the western edge of Hill Crest Cemetery. The late Mr. Fort Daniel frequently used to ride horseback down the old roadbed, and, some twenty years ago, Gus Smith, Richard Davis, and I traced the remains of it several miles until it appeared to end in a field. Before the Civil War, however, it was a much traveled road leading to the fertile plantations of the Wynnes, the Pointers, the William Lumpkins, the William Blanton Lumpkins, the Nathaniel Jarratts, and the Malachi Pegueses.
Between 1844 and 1860, Dr. David Pointer added to his holdings with purchases of land near his original plantation. He continued to practice his profession (descendants still have his old medicine cabinet and saddle bags), but it was his plantation that provided the bulk of his comfortable income. He became active in the affairs of the Methodist Church and the local Democratic party, and he sent his younger sons to the University of Mississippi to be educated.
Because the deed to Dr. Pointer's Salem Street lot (east of Cedarhurst) was never recorded, we can only guess as to the exact date of the Pointer mansion. Other deeds, however, provide clues. On 1 August 1860, Pointer traded his 1220 acres to James Scruggs for 838 acres on Pigeon Roost (Section 29, T4, R3) and close to eight thousand dollars in cash. Most probably Dr. Pointer made this transaction in order to pay for the mansion just built on Salem Street. Architectural evidence suggests that it was built immediately before the war.
The Pointer's tenancy in the fine residence was to be short lived, for at the end of the war, they, like many other local families, found themselves in financial straits. It was a time when people had to decide whether to retrench or to move in search of greater opportunity. Like several other Salem Street residents – Judge Clapp (who lived at Oakleigh) and Mrs. Lida Coxe Brewer (who owned Airliewood) – the entire Pointer connection chose to move and seek their fortunes elsewhere. The post-war history of the family, however, is the story, not of Dr. Pointer, but of his children.
Of the five sons and three daughters, three left little mark in Marshall County. The first born son, Samuel (1828-1898), married twice, each wife being a daughter of James Mooring, a wealthy planter who lived near Malone, south of Waterford. The Samuel Pointers had evidently left the region before the war to settle on the White River in Arkansas. David Pointer, Jr. (1832-1908) also left Marshall early to marry Leonora Smith of St. Mary's Parish Louisiana, and to settle in Texas. Sarah Pointer (1834-1898) married Samuel Smith and died also in Texas.
Much more important to the family's history is Monroe Pointer (1838-1890), who became the rallying point for his generation. This son was most fortunate in his choice of wives: he married two heiresses. The first was Martha Tennessee Marsh, the niece of Squire John Record of the Sylvestria neighborhood, five miles north of Holly Springs. After his marriage in 1858, Monroe Pointer moved to Memphis, where two infants and, subsequently, his wife died. (The three are buried in Sylvestria Cemetery.) The young widower served throughout the war and returned home to marry, in 1867, another young lady of means, Sallie Tait of Panola County was the orphaned daughter of Dr. George Gallatin Tait, a prosperous planter, who married the daughter of Hugh McGehee, a man of even greater wealth. Mrs. Tait was the great-aunt of the writer Stark Young, and Dr. Tait and his plantation are closely drawn models for Dr. George Clay and his plantation “Heaven Trees,” in Stark Young's novel of that name. The Mississippi-Tennessee Railroad ran through the middle of the Tait holdings, and after the war people began to move into Como Depot, which was located on the Tait property. Sallie Tait and her husband Monroe Pointer found themselves, of course, in the possession of particularly valuable real estate.
Soon, other of Monroe Pointer's family moved also to Como Depot, the first being Dr. Pointer and his wife, who sold the Salem Street house on 7 April 1869 for use as a Catholic girls School, Bethlehem Academy. Dr. Pointer died in Como in 1870 and was buried in a family plot at Elmwood in Memphis.
Another to follow Monroe Pointer to Como was his brother Phillip (1836-1893), who had married Elizabeth Topp McClune (the daughter of Mrs. Indiana Hudson McClune and the niece of Major John L. Hudson of Hudsonville) in 1859. At the end of his service in the Confederate Army, Phillip Pointer purchased the old Norfleet house (Dunvegan) at the corner of Craft and Gholson. He farmed the family land in Marshall County until 1870, when he sold his house and joined his kin in Panola County, the Pointer family finally selling their land here in 1875.
The youngest brother, Marcellus (1841-1900), was the war hero of the family. Only twenty when he enlisted in the Twelfth Mississippi, he was commissioned at twenty-two and ended the war a colonel and aid-de-camp to General Joseph Wheeler. In October of 1865, he married one of his Salem Street neighbors, Willie A. Mayer, the daughter of Adrian N. Mayer and Martha Lumpkin, whose house at the corner of Salem and Walthall is now known as Mosswood. Marcellus, a man who never surrendered, refused to take the Oath of Allegiance at the close of the war. He too settled in Como for a time, but he was a wanderer and a dreamer. In 1900* (please see note below), he was found dead in a hotel in New York, where he had gone to enlist in the Spanish-American War. He was fifty-nine.
The last to be discussed among the children of Dr. Pointer are his two oldest daughters, who actually had the most significant connection with Marshall County. Minerva Pointer (1829-1892) married Rufus L. Watt in 1846. I cannot locate them in the 1850 census of Marshall County, but in 1860, he is listed as “Farmer and Manufacturer”. I know that one of his business interests was a tannery and that the firm Wynne and Watt was the subcontractor for the Walter Place (Deed Book 50, p. 8). The census shows him living on Salem. He owned Lot 386, from the Montrose alley to Walthall. Evidently his house was destroyed during the war (Mr. John Mickle remembered that no house was standing on the lot after the war), and three dwellings were built on his property in the 1870s. In 1870, Reuben Elias Taylor bought the eastern part and built the house now owned by Mrs. Clairborne Thompson. Van H. Manning, later a congressman, bought the central portion in 1871 and built that residence; and Dr. Lea Stephenson built the Baird house in the fall of 1871. The Watts left Holly Springs immediately after the Civil War and settled in Texas. There are descendants in Dallas today.
Martha Ann Pointer (1825-1895) married Joel Wynne in 1847. In 1850, he was farming near Waterford; and a few years later he was still representing that place at county political conventions and serving as an officer of the Waterford Masonic Lodge. On 11 September 1858, he purchased a lot on Salem Street, and soon after built the house now known as Wakefield. The larger house of Dr. David Pointer and Wakefield, the residence of his son-in-law, are obviously the work of the same builder—probably Spires Bolling, who we know built the Walter place. In the 1860 census, Joel E. Wynne is listed on Salem, his occupation “Farmer and Manufacturer.” At the close of the war, the Wynnes left Holly Springs; and on 24 November 1866, the house was sold to Mrs. Anne Dickens (Deed Book 27, p 22). According to tradition, the Wynne's oldest daughter, Margaret Ross Wynne, was married to Captain Jessie W. Wynne in the house in January of 1869—although the property no longer belonged to the family. At that time, the Wynnes were probably living in Panola County – Mrs. Wynne's place of residence on the 1875 deed to the Pointer place on Pigeon Roost. Joel E. Wynne died in 1883 and is buried in Hill Crest; Martha Ann Pointer Wynne died in 1895 and is buried near her father in Elmwood. About 1907, their grandson Hugh R. Wynne (son of Margaret and Captain Wynne) became the partner of his cousin William Joshua Abston in Abston, Wynne & Co. on the Memphis Cotton Exchange. In 1938, the Wynne family of Memphis had erected as a memorial the beautiful iron gates to one of the west entrances to Hill Crest. The gates gives onto the old Mouth of Tippah Road, on which the Wynnes and Pointers used to travel into Holly Springs so long ago.
Note: For this essay, much of the information on the Pointer family was provided by Taylor Pointer of Como, and most of the deeds were researched by Bobby Mitchell of Holly Springs.
*Please note the following correction submitted by Zee Porter: Col. Marcellus Pointer died July 10, 1909, NOT in 1900 as stated above. He is buried at Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, as is his mother, Obedience Pointer. Samuel Robinson Pointer, Marcellus brother and g-grandfather of Zee Porter, is buried in Arkansas. For additional information regarding the Pointer family, please contact Zee.
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