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James Knox Polk

James Polk (1795-1849) served as the 11th U.S. president from 1845 to 1849. During his tenure, America’s territory grew by more than one-third and extended across the continent for the first time. Before his presidency, Polk served in the Tennessee legislature and the U.S. Congress; in 1839 he became governor of Tennessee. A Democrat who was relatively unknown outside of political circles, Polk won the 1844 presidential election as the dark horse candidate. As president, he reduced tariffs, reformed the national banking system and settled a boundary dispute with the British that secured the Oregon Territory for the United States. Polk also led the nation into the Mexican-American War (1846-48), in which the United States acquired California and much of the present-day Southwest. Polk kept his campaign promise to be a one-term president and did not seek reelection. Soon after leaving the White House, he died at age 53.


Jill K. Garrett

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Jill Knight Garrett was a historian, writer, and publisher. In 1965, the Maury County Historical Society was reactivated in her home with Garrett serving as the first editor of Historic Maury, secretary and treasurer. In 1979 she served the society as President. 

Along with her mother Iris Hopkins McClain, Garrett authored numerous books on Maury County history as well as the histories of surrounding counties. She published The Maury Genealogist and The River Counties, both quarterlies, and contributed to many scholarly publications such as the Tennessee Historical Society Quarterly. Additionally, she wrote a column in the Columbia Daily Herald for decades. Many of these articles have been published in the book Hither and Yon, I & II

Civil War Soldiers
Courthouse Monument
honoring the residents of 
Maury County who served
in the US Civil War

History in the Making – October 19, 2013

Honor Guard Re-enactors from the 13th USCT participated in the Dedication Ceremony held on the Maury County Courthouse square when the names of 54 United States Colored Troops and 4 Federal soldiers were added to the Maury County War Memorial Monument.  All 58 soldiers lost their lives during the Civil War, and their service was finally recognized after almost 150 years.  A special Thank you goes to the African American Heritage Society, the sponsor of this event. 

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Nathaniel Willis Jones

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Nathaniel Willis Jones was born June 22, 1820, at his parents' home "Locust Grove" near Hampshire, the son of Edward D. and Kitty Ann Edwards Willis Jones. Even in early youth he showed signs of a brilliant mind which he retained through his ninety-one years. Prominent all over Maury County, he was affectionately known as "Col. Nat". In a frock tailcoat and with his gold-headed walking cane he was always the central figure in any public gathering, especially on "first" Mondays. Even in the twilight of his life, Col. Nat retained his jovial disposition. He was particularly proud of his ancestry and could vividly recall the funeral of his grandfather, Captain Samuel Jones, Revolutionary soldier of North Carolina, who died in Maury County in 1831. Col. Nat's great-grandfather, Captain Robert Goodloe, served in both Colonial and Revolutionary Wars. Nat W. Jones was made a Mason of St. James Lodge, Williamsport, in 1845; Charter Member of Meriwether Lodge 192, Hampshire, in 1850; made Honorary Member of Meriwether Lodge in 1907. He was elected a member of Sons of the American Revolution in May 1902 and was a member of the Tennessee Historical Society.

                Nathaniel Willis Jones died February 10, 1911, at the home of his son, Henry C. Jones, in Nashville. His body was taken to Rose Hill Cemetery for burial. Masons from Mt. Pleasant, Columbia and Hampshire lodges escorted his body from the train to the cemetery where he was buried with Masonic Honors. At that time, he was the oldest Mason in Tennessee.

Chancellor William Stuart Fleming

According to History of Tennessee, a 1886 book published by Goodspeed, W.S. Fleming delivered an address on the occasion of our nation’s centennial July 4, 1876, highlighting the early events of Maury County.  He was chancellor of the Eighth Chancery Division of Tennessee, and born in Maury County on April 23, 1816, eldest son of Thomas F. and Margaret E. (Armstrong) Fleming, who were members of a colony that came from South Carolina to Tennessee in 1805. They were of Scotch-Irish descent and strict Presbyterians. He was home schooled and entered the Sophomore class of Yale College and graduated in 1838. He taught school in Maury County for a short time and then started his legal studies, being admitted to practice in 1842. Fleming immediately opened a law office in Columbia and soon commanded a large practice.  In 1860 he removed from his elegant country seat, which was destroyed by fire during Hood’s raid in Tennessee by the Federal Commander as a military necessity, entailing a loss of $22,000. He also had 50 slaves emancipated and 30 head of horses and mules impressed. In 1870 he was elected Chancellor and re-elected, as well. He was known to be an eloquent orator, and was also an editor of a literary paper, a political paper, all the while maintaining his law practice. He was a Whig and a southern sympathizer, though he did not participate in the war. He later became a Democrat. Fleming served as an elder in the Presbyterian church for 23 years. He married three times, first to Frances M. Stephenson in 1839 and who died in 1849. In 1854, he married Mary Witherspoon Frierson who died in 1858. And in 1860, he took his third wife, Ruth A. (Johnson) Booker. 

Fleming died July 1896.

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Frank Harrison Smith

The original MCHS was chartered in 1905 under the leadership of Frank Harrison Smith, son of Rev. Franklin Gillette Smith, founder of the Athenaeum in 1852.

“Frank Harrison Smith (1848 – 1915) is perhaps the dean of Maury County writers and historians. He was active in the organization of the Maury County Historical Society, serving as its secretary until his death. He was known as a careful researcher, and he filled many large notebooks with his research, interviews, and notes. As a youngster during the Civil War, he was present during the fight between Gen. Nathan B. Forrest and Lt. A. W. Gould in downtown Columbia. Smith's eyewitness account of this altercation remains the only one written and is greatly quoted by Forrest's biographers.” -- from Frank H. Smith's History of Maury County, 1969 and printed in the April 24, 1969, Daily Herald

Robert Davis Smith

Captain Robert Davis Smith, principal of the Columbia Athenaeum, was born October 9, 1842, son of the late Rev. Franklin G. Smith. He was educated by his father and completed a scientific and literary course with him. He served in the late war in Company B, Second Tennessee Infantry, enlisting in April, 1861. He was promoted at the Battle of Shiloh to 1st Lieutenant on Gen. Claiborne's staff and served with Gens. Claiborne, Polk, and Walthall until the surrender, being promoted to the rank of Captain during the Dalton-Atlanta campaign.  After the war he returned home and completed his education and then assumed management of the Columbia Athenaeum. In 1867 he married Margaret, daughter of Hon. James H. Thomas of Maury County. They had three children. 

Capt Smith was also a Mason, Knight Templar degree. 

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Maj. Joe D. Brooks, III

A native Maury Countian, Joe graduated from Columbia Central High School in 1978 and received a Bachelor of Science degree from MTSU in 1986. While in high school, he was ranked All State 2nd Chair French Horn. During his time at MTSU, he sat 1st Chair French Horn. As an adult, he also played French Horn in the Columbia Community Band. In college, Joe was a member of ROTC and served the country in the United States Army during Desert Storm, attaining the rank of Major in the US Army. 

Joe, aptly received the nickname "Duck River Joe," had a deep passion for the Duck River watershed and was instrumental in providing documentation and historical information which helped secure a grant to rebuild a Grist Mill at the Henry Horton State Park. The Grist Mill plans included an interpretive area to display some of Joe's historic work. 

Carolyn O'Reilly Nicholson

Caroline O'Reilly was one of the earliest settlers in Maury County, arriving here as a young child. Her family first settled in a crude house on Bear Creek.  Caroline's father Dr. James O'Reilly was one of the earliest physicians in the county. 

In 1822 the family moved to Mechanic Street, now 209 W. 8th Street and lived in this location until her mother died, after which her father moved the family to the Zion community. 

Caroline married A.O.P. Nicholson, who became a US Senator and chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.  In the 1890s, she was a widow and wrote her memoirs titled Reminiscences of an Octogenarian. This narrative covers social activities, religious life, town events in both Columbia and Nashville (1820-1840), politics and elections in Tennessee (1830-1840), social life in Washington, DC, in the 1840s, and her husband's political activities, including his personal friendship with James K. Polk. 

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Nathan Vaught

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Nathan Vaught was the "Master Builder of Maury County."  He started out in life as an orphan apprenticed by the court to James Purcell to learn the trade of cabinet building, but that was only the beginning. Among his highly regarded works are Rattle & Snap, Clifton Place, Hamilton Place, Elm Springs, St. John's Church, and Maury County's Courthouse Square.


Vaught kept a daily diary of his work, and in his memoir titled Youth and Old Age, he recorded details of the early years of Maury County's history, with tales and insights to the county's early settlers, and descriptions of homes, buildings, and churches that he took part in constructing. Vaught's handwritten memories have been transcribed, but as of yet have not been published. 

We remain hopeful that one day a surviving portrait of Nathan Vaught will be located. 

Samuel Mayes Arnell

Born at the Zion Settlement in Maury County in May 1833, Samuel Mayes Arnell's father was the 2nd minister of Zion Presbyterian Church from 1832 to 1850. In later years after he and his wife retired to east Tennessee, Arnell wrote down his memories of time spent in the "Red Brick Church" community. 

Arnell studied law at Amherst College in Massachusetts and was admitted to the Maury County Bar to practice law in Columbia. He was a member of the Tennessee Constitutional Convention in 1865 and served in the Tennessee State House of Representatives 1865-1866. He was a US Representative and served in Washington, DC, from 1865-1871. After returning home to Columbia, Arnell served as Postmaster of Columbia from 1879-1884 and superintendent of schools from 1884-1886. 

Besides his memoirs of the Zion community, Arnell wrote a book titled Ten Years of Tennessee History: The War of Secession and Reconstruction in Tennessee 1861-1871.

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Photo courtesy of the Knoxville Public Library

John B. Padgett

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John B. Padgett was elected County Clerk in 1852 and preserved a large part of Maury County history by maintaining record books for twenty years, including the years during the Civil War. During the Civil War when so many courthouses were looted and burned, Padgett removed the records and hid them in an undisclosed location for safekeeping. 

The Maury County Archives has such a wonderful collection due to the vision and efforts of John B. Padgett. 

Judge William Bruce Turner

First elected Circuit Court Judge in 1910, William Bruce Turner remained in that position until 1942. He always possessed a deep interest in preserving the history of Maury County, and under the sponsorship of the Tennessee Historical Commission he wrote History of Maury County, Tennessee published in 1955... the most comprehensive county history book to date. 

Judge Turner was also one of the founding members of the newly reactivated Maury County Historical Society in 1965

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