New historical marker to clarify history of Nathan Bedford Forre - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

New historical marker to clarify history of Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest historical marker and statue. His statue has since been removed from public display. (Source: WMC Action News 5) Nathan Bedford Forrest historical marker and statue. His statue has since been removed from public display. (Source: WMC Action News 5)

A new historical marker about Nathan Bedford Forrest will be unveiled in April.

The marker will be placed near the corner of Adams Avenue and B.B. King Boulevard in Downtown Memphis. 

A historical marker for Forrest is already in the area. It was placed in 1955 and states that Forrest had a home at the site and became wealthy from his "business enterprises."

That historical marker neglects to mention that his most profitable business enterprise was slave trading. He owned and operated a slave yard next to his home from 1854-1860. He sold thousands of men, women, and children at the site--sending most of them to plantations in the Mississippi Delta.

Sponsored by Rhodes College, Calvary Episcopal Church, and the National Park Service, students at Rhodes wrote text for a new historical marker. The new text is supposed to tell a more complete story of Forrest and his business enterprises. The full text of the new marker can be read below: 


From 1854 to 1860, Nathan Bedford Forrest operated a profitable slave trading business at this site. In 1826, Tennessee had prohibited bringing enslaved people into the state for the purpose of selling them. As cotton and slavery grew in importance, the legislature repealed the ban in 1855. Starting that year, Memphis emerged as a regional hub for the slave trade. In addition to the more than 3,000 enslaved people who lived and worked in Memphis at the time, thousands more flowed into and out of the city, as traders and their agents brought a steady supply of human cargo into town via roads, river, and rail. In 1854, Forrest purchased this property on Adams, between Second and Third, just east of an alley behind Calvary Episcopal Church. Most slaves were sold at lots like this one before ending up on plantations in the Mississippi Delta or further south. Horatio Eden, sold from Forrest’s yard as a child, remembered the place as a “square stockade of high boards with two room Negro houses around...We were all kept in these rooms, but when an auction was held or buyers came, we were brought out and paraded two or three around a circular brick walk in the center of the stockade. The buyers would stand nearby and inspect us as we went by, stop us, and examine us.”

Much of the slave trade in Memphis occurred on Adams Avenue. Located in the heart of town and connecting the riverfront steamboat landing to the Memphis and Charleston Railroad line, the street offered easy access to buyers and sellers. In 1855, the city directory listed eight slave dealers, including Forrest, five of whom were located on Adams. While his business practices mostly resembled those of other traders in town, Forrest uniquely engaged in the buying and selling of Africans illegally smuggled into the United States, in violation of an 1808 congressional ban. Several sources confirm that in 1859 Forrest sold at least six newly-arrived Africans “direct from the Congo” at his yard. Slave trading proved a growth industry, and by 1860 the number of slave dealers in Memphis had increased to ten, including six with addresses on Adams. In that year, Forrest sold this property and moved one block east, where he expanded his operations, while another group of slave dealers took ownership of this lot. Secession and war disrupted the slave trading business, and in 1861 Forrest went off to fight for the Confederacy. In the decades after the Civil War, many white southerners chose to portray Forrest as a military hero, thus excusing or ignoring Forrest’s buying and selling of human beings.

The new marker will be placed on the property of Calvary Episcopal Church--the church's parking lot now occupies the area where the slave yard once operated.

The dedication of the new historical marker will happen April 4, 2018.  

Rhodes College professor Timothy S. Huebner wrote a guest column for Commercial Appeal detailing the history of the property and Forrest's business enterprises in the area. He said Forrest was part of a national network that illegally smuggled Africans into America, violating an 1808 congressional ban.

"Historians always start in the archives, they start with the documents, they start with primary sources that explain what happened there," Huebner said. "I would even venture to say that the language which is used in this marker has been more thoroughly vetted that what would happen in a typical marker."

Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that says it fights to protect history, disagrees. The group's spokesman, Lee Millar, released the following statement about the new marker:

"The Sons of Confederate Veterans always supports the placement of additional historical markers that will help educate our citizens to our great past. However, we believe that these should be truthful and accurately represent our history.

The new Forrest & Slave Trade marker has two very glaring inaccuracies that should NOT be in the text.

(1) the text states that "Forrest uniquely engaged in the ......".  That is hardly true.  Mr. Forrest was one of MANY (at least 10) dealers in the city of Memphis. 

(2)  "illegally smuggled into the United States....."  Mr. Forrest neither owned nor captained nor had any part in ANY ships involved in the slave trade.  He was never questioned whatsoever with anything illegal.

The text grossly infers that Forrest was involved in some illegal trade and he was not.  

AND, if you read the 1808 law you will see that any slaves confiscated by the US govt in the capture of any slave ships would then be sold.  The US gov't was itself involved in re-selling these slaves.

The 1808 law was largely ignored throughout the United States.

In 1860, according to the US census, the 6 slave-trading shipping companies in the United States were headquartered in New York city.  None in the south.  The northerners were the ones operating and profiting from the importation of slaves."

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