The Great South - Down the Mississippi

Memphis (more)

Memphis now has a prosperous Cotton Exchange, and has had an excellent Chamber of Commerce for many years. Shelby county is rich. Its people were wont to grumble about taxes, but have at last become wiser, and it was even expected, at the date of my visit, that the mayor, a Republican, would succeed in collecting $700,000 of “back taxes.” The negroes have, at times, held important municipal offices. Party lines are not specially regarded in city politics, there being a general happy determination to take the best man. The negroes have great numbers of societies, masonic, benevolent, and strictly religious; and one often sees in a dusky procession, neatly clad, the “Sons or Daughters of Zion,” or the “Independent Pole Bearers,” or the “Sons of Ham,” or the “Social Benevolent Society.” Memphis has a banking capital which for six months of the year is ample, but during the cotton season is by no means enough. Her schools are excellent, both for white and black, and the State Female College is in the neighborhood. There are numerous excellent Catholic schools, to which, as elsewhere in the South, those Protestant parents send their children who do not vet look with favor on the free public schools. For about a year the number of pupils in the public schools has been increasing at the rate of two hundred monthly. One-fourth of the children in the free schools are colored, and one of the school-houses for the blacks contains seven hundred pupils.

In the busy season there are seven steamers a week from St. Louis to Memphis, and there are three which extend their trips to Vicksburg—a voyage of nine hundred miles. The Memphis and St. Louis Packet Company brings down about one hundred and fifty thousand tons of freight yearly, and carries up stream perhaps 40,000 bales of cotton in the same period. The gigantic elevator, built on the sloping bluff so that it was of the height of an ordinary three story house next the water, showed only its top floor, so high ran the Mississippi at the time of my visit. From Memphis steamboats run up the Arkansas and the White Rivers, threading their way to the interior of Arkansas. There is a line to Napoleon, Arkansas, two hundred miles below; one to the plantations on the St. Francis River, and one direct to Cincinnati. The river freightage is often diminished by the lack of confidence between merchant and planter, causing a diminution in amount of supplies forwarded; but the dull seasons are brief. The manufactures of Memphis are not numerous; there are some oil mills, a few foundries, and steam saw—mills for cutting up the superb cypresses from the brakes in the western district of Arkansas.

The writer desires to express his obligations to Mr. J. S. Toof, Secretary, Memphis Cotton Exchange, and to Messrs. Brower & Thompson, of the "Avalance," for many interesting facts concerning the city's growth.

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