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William Napiers Freedmans Papers Nashville Tn Emancipation For Sale

William Napiers Freedmans Papers Nashville Tn Emancipation

This 11 by 18 inch frame holds a photograph of William C. Napier and his 1857 freedman's paper as penned by the recorder of the Corporation of the City of Nashville, Tennessee. Mr. Napier was the father of James C. Napier,who later became theRegister of the United States Treasury and whose signature appears on paper money from 1911-13. This is an interesting look into the life of freed blacks during antebellum days. The Napier family's freedom was given in 1848. Truly a fascinating museum worthy artifact relating to United States paper money, the history of Nashville TN, and American black slave history.

African American businessman and leader James C. Napier was born to free parents on June 9, 1845, in Nashville. His father, William Carroll, was a free hack driver and a sometime overseer. James attended the free blacks' school on Line and High Street (now Sixth Avenue) with some sixty other black children until white vigilantes forced the school to close in 1856. He later attended school in Ohio after a December 1856 race riot ended black education in Nashville until the Union occupation in February 1862.

Upon returning to the Union-held city of Nashville, Napier became involved in Republican Party politics. John Mercer Langston, an Ohio free black who became a powerful Republican politician and congressman, was a friend of Napier's father. On December 30, 1864, Langston visited Nashville to speak to ten thousand black Union troops who had taken part in the recent and victorious battle of Nashville and to address the second Emancipation Day Celebration. He later invited Napier to attend the newly opened law school at Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he was a founding dean. After receiving his law degree in 1872, Napier returned to practice in Nashville. In 1873 he married Dean Langston's youngest daughter, Nettie. This wedding was the biggest social event in nineteenth-century black Washington.

Between 1872 and 1913 Napier became Nashville's most powerful and influential African American citizen. Between 1878 and 1886 he served on the Nashville City Council and was the first black to preside over the council. He was instrumental in the hiring of black teachers for the "colored" public schools during the 1870s, the hiring of black "detectives," and the organization of the black fire-engine company during the 1880s. His greatest political accomplishment was his service as President William H. Taft's Register of the United States Treasury from 1911 to 1913.

Napier also was a successful businessman and a personal friend of Booker T. Washington, whose wife Margaret was a personal friend of Nettie Langston Napier and often spent two or more weeks each summer at the Napier's Nolensville Road summer home. Washington visited the city several times a year until his death in 1915. Napier was elected president of the National Negro Business League, which Washington had founded. The league held several of its annual meetings in Nashville, and Napier organized a local chapter of the league in 1905. He was a founder and cashier (manager) of the One Cent (now Citizens) Savings Bank organized in 1904, and he gave the new bank temporary quarters rent-free in his Napier Court office building at 411 North Cherry Street (now Fourth Avenue). He helped organize the 1905 Negro streetcar strike and the black Union Transportation Company's streetcar lines. He presided over the powerful Nashville Negro Board of Trade and was on the boards of Fisk and Howard universities. Upon his death on April 21, 1940, Napier was interred in Greenwood Cemetery near members of his family and members of the Langston family.


In December of 1865, Nashville's first black bank, the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company Bank, was organized by local black leaders. It was one of thirty-three branches which the Congress authorized in the fifteen former slave states. Black Tennesseans organized other Freedman's Bank branches: Chattanooga (1868-1874), Columbia (1870-1874), and Memphis (1865- 1874). But none of the other Tennessee branches generated more capital than the Nashville branch. The Congress designed the banks to allow a depositor to place ten cents a day in savings, receive six percent interest, and accumulate $489.31 in ten years.
The Nashville branch bank had a black cashier (manager) and nearly all black trustees. The early trustees included a white bank president and a list of Nashville's elite black leaders: chairman Nelson Walker (businessman, barber), Frank Parrish (barber), Peter Lowery (preacher, real estate dealer), Henry Harding (hotel owner), Richard Harris (preacher), William C. Napier (hack operator), Daniel Wadkins (preacher), Benjamin East (businessman), and Nelson G. Merry (preacher). Local black businessman Alfred Menefee became the first cashier of the local branch after putting up a $5,000 bond. Menefee also acted as an agent for the National Freedmen's Relief Association and its Freedman 's Journal, distributing copies and collecting and depositing funds in the Freedman's Bank. Later John J. Cary, a more formally educated black man and migrant from Canada, became the permanent cashier. By June of 1866, the Nashville branch had $19,653.28 in deposits.
Between 1866 and 1874, the Nashville branch serviced 16,444 accounts and handled $555,000 in deposits. Institutional assets rose steadily to $6,075 (1866), $43,974 (1869), and $70,146 (1871). The Nashville branch had $78,535 in deposits, compared to $19,823 for the Columbia branch and $56,775 for the Memphis Freedman's Bank. Cary invested nearly forty percent of the bank's funds in government securities and local real estate. In 1871, Cary and the trustees completed a three-story bank building, Liberty Hall, at 44 Cedar Street. Black cultural events and annual sessions of the State Colored Men's Conventions were held in Liberty Hall.
The national Freedman's Bank and all its branches collapsed in 1874, due to the economic depression of 1873, the accumulating effects of fraud and mismanagement of the national branch by poorly-trained white administrators, and risky loan policies. Nashville's Freedman's Bank also collapsed, because it had $62,755.87 deposited in the failed national branch. Frederick Douglass received appointment as the first national black president of the troubled banking system shortly before its collapse, but he had no choice except to ask the Congress to liquidate all remaining assets. The United States Comptroller of the Currency closed all Freedman's Banks.
When rumors of the impending disaster circulated in Nashville, John Cary tried to allay the depositors' fears. He published a sound financial statement in the Union and American newspaper and persuaded the trustees to make positive public statements to quiet depositors' apprehensions. The Davidson County Chancery Court began bankruptcy hearings on the Nashville branch, and on December 21, 1874, the court appointed Cary as receiver for liquidation of the bank's assets. Most depositors received a small percentage of their money. Yet large investors, such as Henry Harding, lost thousands of dollars--a fortune in that day. Part of the whites' reaction to the collapse of the black banks was expressed by the Memphis Avalanche, which heartlessly mocked the dejected blacks with the following headline: "WHAR'S DAT MONEY."


by Edgar D. Byler, III

[Note: This paper was delivered before a joint meeting of the Lewis County Historical Society and the Wayne County Historical Society at Oak Grove Methodist Church, Lewis County, Tennessee, September 10, 1989.]

The history of the development of the iron industry in the upper Buffalo River Valley spans over one hundred years, from about 1816 until the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929. For the purpose of this paper, two particular areas of iron manufacture will be discussed. The first is what was known in the twentieth century as the Napier Iron Works, which traced its origins to a small forge in operation in the 1810's. The second area of concentration will be the Allen’s Creek furnaces. These furnaces occupy only a short period of the history of the area, but were part of a much larger and grander operation than the Napier Works.

The first iron producing operation on the upper Buffalo was that of John McClish, a Chickasaw Indian. From available records it appears that McClish operated a small forge on either Buffalo River or Chief’s Creek about 1818. This forge was located on property McClish had obtained as part of the Chickasaw Session Treaty of 1816. The treaty granted to McClish and his heirs in perpetuity, 640 acres of land, or one square mile, at the point where the Natchez Road crossed the Buffalo River

It is not known what type of forge was in operation at this site. Nor is it known what types of iron or iron products were produced. It is probable that McClish used the forge to make cast products such as kettles and pots, and may have also produced rod or bloomery iron for sale in Natchez and Columbia. The production could not have been great since no reference is made to any mining operations in the area. The ore used by McClish was readily available in large quantities on the top, or near the top, of the ground.

By 1822, McClish was experiencing financial problems and the sheriff of Lawrence County, Tennessee sold portions of McClish’s lands to satisfy judgements against it. It appears that at this time McClish leased his iron works, or the lands on which they stood, to John Jones, David Steel and Thomas Steel. Reference is made in Lawrence County, Tennessee Court minutes of a petition from these men at this time to condemn 3000 acres of worthless and unclaimed land for their iron works located on the southwest corner of McClish’s land. This may have been the "Hed’s Old Works" referred to in 1827.

The on 3 July 1827, McClish sold 160 acres, which included the "Hed’s Old Iron Works" to John Catron and John C.McLemore who had earlier bought out the heirs of Jones, and the interest of the Steel’s. McLemore sold his interest to Lucius J. Polk who with John Catron and Catron’s brother, George, entered into a partnership known as the Buffalo Iron Works. George Catron, familiar with iron production, became manager of the works. By 1828, John Catron was the sole owner of the operation. George Catron died in 1828, and Polk sold his interest to John Catron in 1827. At this time Felix Catron became manager of the works.

The Cantrons managed the Buffalo Iron Works for five years. It is not known whether or not the operations were successful or would have been. The "offerdle Panic" of 1833, brought on by the dissolution of the Bank of the United States by President Andrew Jackson, brought an end to the management of the works by the Catrons. John was forced to sell the works to his son, John Jr, and George F. Napier. They were unable to obtain funding for the purchase due to the unsettled financial conditions and Napier had to get brother, Dr. E. W. Napier, to co-sign the loans from the banks.

The Buffalo Iron Works were apparently inactive at this point. In 1836, Napier announced that he was going to completely rebuild the works. However, again financial panic closed the operations before the new furnace could be brought into blast. The company underwent several reorganizations and was finally taken over by Dr. E. W. Napier.

In 1845, Dr.Napier gave his nephew, William C. Napier, one-half interest in the Buffalo Iron Works. At this time, it appears the works had been idle for some time as the younger Napier set about rebuilding the furnace stack and improving the operations. When Dr. E. W. Napier died in 1848, William C. Napier became the sole owner. According to J. B. Killebrew, production during this period had been about 20-23 tons of pig per day when in blast.

The Buffalo Iron Works now became known as the Napier Iron Works. L. G. W. Napier, possible brother of William C., is listed in the 1850 Lawrence County, Tennessee census as iron maker and was probably in charge of the operations. The works seems to have continued throughout the 1850's and into the early 60's. In 1860, William C. Napier himself was listed in the Lawrence County, Tennessee census as "Iron Monger" and had probably taken direct control of the operations.

We have no record of the activity of the Napier furnace during the Civil War. The furnace is prominently marked on the military maps made during the war, but no indication is made as to whether or not the furnace was in use, abandoned or destroyed. Gen. Buell’s army passed by the furnace in April 1862, and Gen. Hood’s army passed the neighborhood in November 1864. Neither makes any reference to the operations.

At this point the furnaces were located in Lawrence County, Tennessee as a result of the repeal of the act creating Lewis County. Maps of the period show the iron works to be on the south side of Buffalo River.

Following the war, the furnace seems to have undergone extensive repair and was put back into operation. The following excerpt from Tennessee’s Western Highland Rim Iron Industry, complied by Samuel D. Smith, Charles P. Stripling and James M. Brannon in 1988, gives a description of the furnaces at Napier.

The furnace is reported to have been again repaired in 1873, and at that time the single stack was 33 feet high by 9 feet across at the bosh, dimensions suggesting an old-style furnace stack. The forge was refitted in 1879-80, and consisted of a water powered operation with four fires and two hammers, with an annual capacity of 600 net tons of charcoal blooms

During the 1870's the works appear to have been leased by Napier to other operators. Although later reports indicate that during the 1880's the furnace and forge were abandoned or inoperative. In 1885, all the Napier Furnace lands were included inside the boundaries of Lewis County. By 1891, the company was again reorganized and the new owners, E. C. Lewis and J. Hill Eakin, under the name, Napier Iron Works, built a new furnace.

William Napiers Freedmans Papers Nashville Tn Emancipation

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