Shelby County TN Biographies


Submitted by Brenda B. Watson


James M. Brooks’ contribution to the development of the cotton industry in the Mid-South was significant and early. He was instrumental in the building of some of the first cotton gins and the warehousing, pricing, shipping and sale of cotton from 1845 to 1876 in Memphis.

James Monroe Brooks  “J.M.”/“Major”
 and Mary Ann Kingston
 “May” married
on 2 May 1844 in Natchez, Adams Co., Mississippi.  Censuses place
James’ birth in both North Carolina and Tennessee; his tombstone in
 Fisherville lists 12 Feb 1818 as his date of birth. May was born
November 1824 in England.  She immigrated to New Orleans
from England, ca. 1842, to visit friends made in India where her
 father was stationed with the British Admiralty.

After their marriage James and May moved to Memphis where he became
 a (cotton) “gin maker” by 1850 and, later, a cotton merchant and factor.
re-buy a farmer's harvest, taking a chance on the harvest and the price
of cotton once it was picked.)
They lived in downtown Memphis and seemed
 to financially prosper. He owned the Brooks Cotton Gin Manufacturing
 Establishment on Front Row by 1851. “At this factory they are engaged
 in manufacturing the latest improved Cotton Gin out of the finest of material.”
(The Memphis Daily Appeal, 1851)

James M. and May’s three oldest daughters, Martha “Mattie” and twins,
 Margaret L. “Maggie” and Julia, were listed on the 1850 Memphis census.
Later children born were: Mary Elizabeth, James M. Jr., Victoria Frances,
and William Walter. Julia and William died young. The entire family was listed by the 1860 Shelby Census. Between 1850 and 1862, James was an active Civil Participant as a juror, taxpayer, appraiser, voter, petitioner, overseer of a new road, and builder of Gray’s Creek Bridge. By 1860, and for the duration of the Civil War, the family lived on their plantation in Fisherville (District 9) in eastern Shelby County. By 1870 the family maintained homes in Memphis and on the plantation in Fisherville. He continued to run his cotton business while farming in Fisherville. They were Episcopalian.  

Times were very difficult for Shelby Countians during the War Between the States. James M. Brooks did not take sides during the Civil War according to his Southern Claims Commission testimony although 2 nephews served in the Confederacy. He, along with others who conducted business in Memphis, was encouraged to sign an Allegiance of Union Loyalty after the Battle of Memphis’ defeat early in the War. During the War, James claimed that Union troops, during a march, confiscated goods from his plantation. Testimony was filed June 1872 to the Southern Claims Commission by James, friends and Mattie, his eldest, widowed daughter. Union troops, under Gen. Hatch, marched from Collierville to Arlington past the Brooks’ plantation, presently on Collierville-Arlington Rd. The troops took a stallion, 250 bushels of corn and 2000 lbs. of fodder, totaling $727.50. (Cannon L. Brooks, James M. Brooks, and the Estate of Aaron T. Brooks, were the only Brooks from Shelby County who applied for this claim.) Testifiers included: Samuel W. Reid, neighbor, whose farm was about 1 mile away, John S. Toof, 55 year old friend and merchant of Dan, Able and Co., and James’ cotton factor, William L. Stewart. This Claim was rejected for lack of proof and appealed to the Congressional House of Representatives in 1891. James’ claim for reimbursement was finally disallowed due to a lack of sufficient proof of claim. During this time of unrest, the Brooks lived in Fisherville on their plantation. He rode his horse every few weeks to Memphis to conduct his cotton business. He was arrested once by the Union troops for carrying a gun and was released. Our only description of James M. Brooks is included in the Southern Claims Commission: Height – 5’8”, Hair – Light to Darkish, Eyes – Blue.

Following the Civil War the Brooks family kept the plantation but returned to live in downtown Memphis, the daughters attending St. Agnes Academy and the State Female College. During the Yellow Fever epidemics in Memphis (1873 and 1878) the family took sanctuary in their home, 25 miles east of Memphis in Fisherville.  James M. died intestate on 16 Mar 1876 and his son-in-law and administrator, Leonard Lawhorn, declared the estate insolvent on 16 May 1877. Members of the family played and attended funerals on the plantation until the early 1930s when it burned to the ground. James’ tombstone is the only one remaining in the area, presently on the Sammons’ family land in Fisherville, near the original plantation site. Mary Ann Brooks (nee Kingston) died after the June 1900 Census. Her casket was invoiced in Jan. 1901 from (John and Will) Webber’s Store in Hickory Withe, Fayette Co., TN. She is probably buried near James in the Brooks’ cemetery on the plantation in Fisherville.

Issue of Mary Ann Kingston and James M. Brooks

Martha A. Brooks                       1847-1940   See Peyton

Margaret L. Brooks                    Jan 1849-1895   See Lawhorn

Julia Brooks                              Jan 1849 - 15 Jul 1852  

Mary Elizabeth Brooks              1851-1920   See Fletcher

James Monroe Brooks, Jr.       1850-1853 – ca. 1912 in Fisherville. Farmer and cotton factor.  Single.

Victoria Frances Brooks 1855-1938   See Brooks-Smith