Friday, February 12, 2016

Don't Just Sit There... Knit Something

The Page Knit Center

Tennessee has a long history of supporting folk arts and traditional crafts. A legacy of handicrafts (such as quilting, woodworking, broom making, basket making, chair making, weaving, sewing, knitting, tatting, crochet, whittling, pottery making, instrument making, etc.) has been carefully passed down from one generation to the next. But, if one is not an inheritor of such a skill, how is it acquired? If the skill is knitting or needle craft, for many years in Nashville the answer would have been Page Knit Center.

The storefront to the Page Knit Center, from the Agnes Seals Burt Scrapbook in the Jesse C. Burt Jr. Papers, 1920-1981.

Page Knit Center was located on 21st Ave. South in what is commonly known as Hillsboro Village. The business was owned and operated by Mrs. Eugene H. (Louise “Dot” Gant) Page, Mrs. Agnes Louise Seals Burt, and Miss Mattie Sue Osborne. It opened its doors on Valentine’s Day 1950 “with one box of yarn - and a lot of flowers.” According to an article in The Nashville Banner from February 17, 1975, the proprietors “opened the store to fulfill longtime dreams each had of turning their hobbies of knitting and needlepoint into a business.” The business grew. By 1951, Page Knit Center was an exhibitor at a small business clinic held by the Nashville Business and Professional Women’s Club and, by 1975, the business had a staff of 12.

A page from the Agnes Seals Burt Scrapbook in the Jesse C. Burt Jr. Papers, 1920-1981.

Not only did Page Knit Center sell craft supplies and completed projects (such as knitted socks) but they also taught the skills one needed to complete folk art projects. Mrs. Burt was quoted in the Banner article as saying: “If you buy something from us, you get free instruction until you wear it out of here happily.”

Advertisement and business card from the Agnes Seals Burt Scrapbook in the Jesse C. Burt Jr. Papers, 1920-1981.

A page from the Agnes Seals Burt Scrapbook in the Jesse C. Burt Jr. Papers, 1920-1981.

Page Knit Center also promoted knitting and needle crafts as a form of art therapy. The Banner article stated that “more than one Nashville doctor has sent patients suffering from bad cases of the nerves to the knit center for a bit of therapy.” And a newspaper ad for the center proclaimed: “Ease Cigarette Nerves through KNITTING.”

A page from the Agnes Seals Burt Scrapbook in the Jesse C. Burt Jr. Papers, 1920-1981.

Just like so many of the old traditions, Page Knit Center has faded into obscurity. The business was sold to Elizabeth Scherer in 1979 (Mrs. Page having sold her share in 1976) and later closed its doors for good. However, its story and memory live on in the archives reminding us to learn a new skill and carry on Tennessee’s traditional arts. In other words: “Don’t Just Sit There! Knit Something.”

For more information on Page Knit Center and Mrs. Agnes Burt, take a look at the Jesse C. Burt Jr. Papers ( at the Library & Archives.

To view historic images of Tennessee’s folk art and craft traditions, please see the Arts, Crafts, & Folklife Photographs ( and the Tennessee State Parks Folklife Project ( Collections on TeVA (Tennessee Virtual Archive).

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hidden Hazard: Exploding Soda Fountains

Lately carbonated beverages have been taking a beating in the media. Especially in their larger sizes, “sodas” are pilloried for their contributions to poor nutrition, obesity, and Type II diabetes among all ages. It wasn’t always so.

Modern carbonated “soft drinks” descend from the soda fountain, which dispensed these beverages on demand to earlier Americans. Our images of this wholesome institution contain no shadow of any hazards associated with these sodas, or with the fountains that purveyed them.

“Soda Fountain Photograph” (#4483) -- Henry Sudekum’s Ice Cream Store on Broadway in Nashville (1904). The store’s soda fountain dispensing station is on the right behind the counter.

Such hazards did exist. In August, 1872, Harper’s Magazine observed: “…there is considerable danger attending the manufacture of soda water. Frightful explosions sometimes occur, from the carelessness of the operator, or unnoticeable defects of the apparatus.”

At least two such explosions did occur in the heart of Tennessee’s capital city.

On May 12, 1881 the Nashville Daily American ran an article entitled “A Frightful Fate. J.R. Turner Instantly Killed by a Soda Fountain Explosion. His Skull Crushed to Pieces and His Brains Scattered.” The explicit details of Turner’s injuries, suffered in his store at 15 Broad Street, would gratify the most morbid viewer of contemporary forensic crime shows.

On May 13, the same paper published a follow-up story reporting an interview with J. C. Wharton, of “the well-known druggists” Wharton & Co., “as to the nature and causes of soda fountain explosions, in connection with the accident by which Mr. R. J. Turner lost his life.” Wharton reassured readers that such explosions were not associated with the ornate soda fountain itself, but with the pressure tanks used to create and store carbonated water. These tanks were generally located at the back of the store which housed the fountain. (Mr. Wharton, we suspect, did not want to discourage trade at his own establishment’s soda fountain.)

From the May 12, 1881 edition of The Daily American, reporting the death of J. R. Turner in a soda fountain explosion. A contemporary news outlet would probably edit out the more grisly details.

A shorter article in this edition, “The First Soda Fountain Explosion,” reported that such an event had previously occurred “…where Billy Fisher now has a saloon on Union Street. A man named Adam Henderson, on the 4th of July, 29 years ago, while charging a fount, was instantly killed by its explosion.”

From the May 13, 1881 edition of The Daily American, a retrospective report of an 1852 explosion and fatality. The date given for the explosion, the 4th of July, appears to be in error.

The date reported was evidence of sloppy reporting. The interment records for the Nashville City Cemetery show that A. Henderson, “killed by explosion,” was buried there on May 16, 1852. The cemetery’s official history (p. 27) confirms that “poor Adam Henderson … was killed in 1852 when the soda fountain at the Union Street confectionery shop exploded.”

Nashville’s soda fountain explosions were hardly unique. A cursory search on the internet yielded accounts of other fatal blasts in locations as diverse as Chattanooga, New York, Pittsburgh, Winchester, Massachusetts, and Adelaide, South Australia.

Compared to disasters like the Sultana riverboat fire and the Dutchman’s Bend train wreck, soda fountain explosions killed relatively few Tennesseans. Today we have eliminated their dangers, partly by replacing the fountain soda with the bottled variety, and the soda fountain with the convenience store. In the process we have created a new health hazard, far less horrific, but far more widespread.

The interment book of Nashville City Cemetery gives Henderson’s burial date as May 16, 1852. Cause of death listed is “killed by explosion.”

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Friday, February 5, 2016

"Alone In His Field"... The Book Art of Bernhardt Wall

What could someone convey in artwork roughly the size of a postage stamp? If you were master etcher Bernhardt Wall, a great deal.

Our Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) contains a unit on Wall, showcasing his talents with art from his volume, Following Andrew Jackson. Also, when delving into a folder of correspondence between Wall and former State Librarian and Archivist Mary Daniel Moore, we located a miniature volume entitled Walliana pasted to the top of a 1947 letter. A self-portrait of Wall, “Ye Etcher,” is included in the little book, as well as a detailed image of Abraham Lincoln, who is the subject of an 85-volume set in the pictorial biographical series Wall began in 1931. Wall even works into the tiny volume the historical origin of his 400-year-old art form with an illustration of monks. He writes, “As did the Monks of old I personally design, etch, print, and bind my books.”

This tiny volume is not much larger than a quarter.

Bernhardt Wall's self-portrait in miniature.

Wall's artwork stands out for several reasons. Wall used a steel pencil to etch his images and text in reverse in wax onto copper plates that were then immersed in acid. He considered himself a painter/etcher due to the artistry required to manipulate and print the etched plates. Once the plates were prepared, Wall inked and hand-printed each page of his books before binding them. Wall began his career as a commercial artist. Prior to etching, his artistic mediums had been watercolors, pencil, and ink. He had, however, received early tutelage from etcher Henry Reuterdahl and master printer, etcher, and caricature artist William Auerbach-Levy.

A closer look at Wall's self-portrait.

Wall began etching books in 1914, and he was the only known etcher at the time who etched, printed, bound, and sold his own volumes. The prolific Wall produced 140 etched books and never lost what he called his “itch to etch.” The quote that appears in the title of this blog post comes from Mary Daniel Moore and references his uncommon endeavors.

Wall met Moore on a research visit to Nashville in the 1930s. Correspondence in our Bernhardt Wall Collection between Wall and the longtime state librarian and archivist begins in 1935 and extends to 1949. Moore assisted Wall over the years in obtaining images upon which to base etchings in his biographical series. His subjects included Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, Andrew Jackson, Edwin Markham, Lafayette, and J.M. Whistler.

Moore convinced Wall to stage an exhibition and lecture in Nashville for her Centennial Club in December of 1935. You can get a sense for Wall’s artistic process, his tireless work ethic, his frequent travel for research and exhibition, and his numerous limited edition projects come through reading these letters.

Wall lectured on etching at many places, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, the University of Missouri, and the National Library in Madrid, Spain. The British Museum, the Library of Congress, and Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Brown universities house his books, and the private collections of J.P. Morgan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Henry Clay Frick also contain his works.

A sketch of President Abraham Lincoln.

Additional Wall miniature books are held by the Huntington Library and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A & M University has a significant Bernhardt Wall manuscript collection, and Wall’s alma mater of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee received a large archival collection of Wall correspondence and artwork. Lincoln Memorial also maintains an impressive digital exhibit fittingly entitled, “Following Bernhardt Wall: A Pictorial Biography of the Etcher of Books.”

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is proud to house in its Bernhardt Wall Collection 12 bound volumes, in addition to the aforementioned letters. We encourage patrons to visit the manuscript section of the Library and Archives and explore the world of pioneer etcher Bernhardt Wall.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Library and Archives Joins Instagram

The Tennessee State Library and Archives has opened an Instagram account as part of its ongoing efforts to share the wonderful books, maps and other materials held in its collections.

Instagram is a social media platform that allows individuals and groups to connect to one another through photos, videos and key terms, which are identified by hashtags. By following different individuals, groups and subjects, Instagram users become part of a larger community of people who share their interests.

Visit tnlibarchives on Instagram for our latest posts.

"This is a great new communications tool for the Library and Archives," State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill said. "Instagram is a platform that's popular with many younger people, so hopefully we'll reach some of them for the first time. Regardless of the users' ages, though, Instagram is a great forum for sharing digital images of historical significance. We have so many resources here that more people would use if they simply knew about them."

The Library and Archives operates on several other social media platforms. It has its own Facebook page and this blog, both of which were launched in January of 2013. The organization also has a Flickr account.

Posts concerning the Library and Archives also sometimes appear on Secretary of State Tre Hargett's Twitter account, which was launched in October of 2009.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Hosts First Book Club Gathering

On a wintery Wednesday, the Tennessee Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped (TLBPH) held its first-ever book club! It was designed specifically for patrons of the TLBPH, who were invited to participate in person or via the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ toll-free conference call line.

(The book club program is open to anyone who wants to attend in person, but only LBPH patrons can use the call-in option.)

On the designated day last month, a group of 15 staff members and patrons participated in a lively discussion of Harper Lee’s recently-discovered book, Go Set a Watchman.

The discussion was led by Susan Gordon, an avid reader and archivist in the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Participants discussed a variety of topics, including Harper Lee’s uses of humor to relieve tension in her books. The discussion also explored whether the Atticus Finch character, heroically portrayed in Harper Lee’s first book, To Kill a Mockingbird, was actually a racist. There was no consensus on the topic.

The group also discussed how both books explored change—and resistance to it, which seemed relevant to some of the race-related issues of modern times.

During a discussion about the theme of duty, the group talked about whether the character Scout should return to her hometown of Maycomb to care for her father, Atticus Finch, and whether Finch was a better father or lawyer.

TLBPH hopes to have book club discussions four times per year. The next one is scheduled for sometime in April. For more information, contact Ruth Hemphill, TLBPH's outreach librarian at (615) 741-3917 or

TLBPH is a section of the Tennessee State Library and Archives, which is a division of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office. For more information on the TLBPH, visit:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Friday, January 29, 2016

From A to IZZARD: Civil War Era Colloquialisms

Are you as sprightly as a cricket?

Was your ancestor a butternut? Blue tail fly? Sesesh?

Phrases or words unique to local or regional language are called colloquialisms. Also known as slang or vernacular speech, phrases like ax to grind, dead as a doornail, madder than an old wet hen, and just fell off the turnip truck are examples of older colloquialisms and jargon still in widespread use.

Many colorful ones can be traced back to documents found at the State Library and Archives from the Civil War era.

We've included a few examples below, which haven't been edited for spelling, punctuation or grammar. So, skedaddle on and enjoy these Civil War period colloquialisms.

A to izzard. Completely; thoroughly

“I was always a straight out Union man from A to izzard.” From the deposition of Wyatt Jeans in a court case styled Henry Wagoner v. Hannah Woolsey, admr. of Gilbert Woolsey (1869), Greene County. Hannah was suing a former Confederate soldier for her husband’s death at Andersonville Prison. (Tennessee State Supreme Court Records)

Collection of D-guard Bowie knives, circa 1860s, Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee Collection.

Arkansas toothpick. A heavy dagger, similar to Bowie knife, used by both sides in the Civil War. Again from a court case: Alexander Winder “unlawfully did carry under his clothes, or concealed about his person a certain large and dangerous Knife commonly called an Arkansas toothpick…" From State v. Alexander Winder (1867), Monroe County. (Tennessee State Supreme Court Records)

Blue devil; blue tail fly; blue belly, etc. In Confederate jargon, blue was derogatory as it was the color of Union uniforms.

Consider this citation from the Nannie E. Haskins Diary from July 14, 1864: “Guerrillas are all over the country, there are a thousand between Louisville & Henderson firing into boats and getting horses from the Southern army. The Journal [newspaper] has been rather gloomy for several days, old Prentice has the blue devils.” “Old Prentice” was Brig. Gen. Luther Prentice Bradley, a brigade commander in the Army of the Cumberland.

Or this one, from the same diary, from March 2, 1863:“…I am rattling on too fast if our men get to Fort D. probably they will not come here, Oh but if they do what a pleasure it will be to have the ‘bonnie greys’ to look at instead of the ‘Blue tail flys’ I am perfectly disgusted with the color blue, I never want to see any thing blue again.”

This entry from the Lucy Virginia French War Journal from July 17, 1862 notes: “His information was that a victory [1st Battle of Murfreesboro] had been gained sure enough‒that a company of men had just gone on to town with Gen. Crittenden & his staff as prisoners‒that more were coming‒etc. And in a short time 13 wagons filled with the blue bellies, (as the boys call them.) came along. Squads were coming in all night with horses, prisoners etc.”

Bushwhackers. Bands of Union or Rebel partisans who raided towns and roamed the countryside plundering homes and businesses. Most were ruffians, murderers, thieves, and deserters. Usually they were locals, giving them the advantage of knowing the terrain.

“Guerrillas destroying a Railroad-Train near Nashville” in Annals of the Army of the Cumberland by John Fitch, 1863, Library Collection.

From the Lucy Virginia French War Journal, dated July 26, 1863: “Scenes enacted here [Grundy County] beggar description. Early in the morning the sack of the place began. But a few of the ‘bushwhackers’ were in‒the mountain people came in crowds and with vehickles of all sorts and carried off everything they could from both hotel and cottages…. They were emptying Mr. Cockrill’s house as we went to the schoolhouse, and two rough fellows were in our room playing the melodeon…. the scenes we witnessed are indescribable. Gaunt, ill-looking men and slatternly, rough barefooted women stalking and racing to and fro, eager as famished wolves for prey, hauling out furniture—tearing up matting and carpets….”

Butternut. Common slang for a Confederate soldier. The homemade dye used to color cloth when imported gray fabric became scarce. The dye was made from the husks, leaves, bark, branches and/or roots of butternut and walnut trees.

“They (the Yanks) came in once and sent one of their men on a head dressed as a butter nut of course he was thought to be one of our men…. That was the last we heard of the butter nut except that he proved to be a deserter from the Southern Army and a Yankee spy.” (Again from Nannie E. Haskins Diary, dated February 16, 1863)

Common as pigs tracks. Trashy; lowbrow; not unique

Commenting on Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, Lucy Virginia French wrote, “I may add that Mollie in one of her letters said that Ella Chew’s father had once resided in Springfield [Illinois] and knew the Lincolns—Ella said they were ‘as common as pig-tracks and as poor as Job’s turkey.’” (Lucy Virginia French War Journal, 7 October 1862)

Contraband. Runaway slaves who fled to Union lines. Typically, contraband camps were hastily constructed communities located near Union forces. Many of the ex-slaves joined the United States Colored Troops (USCT) or labored for the Union war effort. Often they were paid wages and given the opportunity to attend school.

“Impressing the Contrabands at Church in Nashville” in Annals of the Army of the Cumberland by John Fitch, 1863, Library Collection.

“There is a contraband camp [near McMinnville?] where she says poor wretches literally freeze to death by dozens during this severe weather—they have no clothes scarcely—bedding, shelter, and food the same, while their friends the Yankees curse and abuse them for everything low and vile and no account.” (Lucy Virginia French War Journal, 24 January 1865)

Durance vile. In jail; incarcerated

Interned at Johnson’s Island, Ohio, Capt. Charles E. Kennon signed a fellow officer’s autograph book, “Your friend in ‘durance vile,’ Captured near Franklin, Tenn., Dec. 17, 1864.” (A. S. Kierolf autograph book)

“Plan of the Military Prison Situated on the South side of Johnsons Island” in Scraps from the Prison Table, at Camp Chase and Johnson’s Island by Joseph Barbière, 1868, Library Collection.

Dutch/Dutchman. A German-American soldier; Hessian

While imprisoned at Johnson’s Island, Ohio, Capt. G. W. Youngblood of Memphis signed a fellow officer’s autograph book, “Grabbed near Port Hudson, La., March 16, 1863, by a Dutchman with the ‘sweet German accent.’” (A. S. Kierolf autograph book)

Jayhawkers. Bands of thieving, sometimes murderous, pro-Union guerillas. Term originated in “Bleeding Kansas” but was still in use during the Civil War.

“[The rebels] came dashing in on their old poor horses, dirty clothed and all sorts of armes, they had no band at all not even a bugle, or a flag, to tell show to whom they belonged but their old dirty ‘grey’__ but ‘fight was in um’, and they ‘tuck’ the the ‘Feds’ with all their blue broad cloth and brass buttons. They stied with us until the 7the [sic] of September they left and the Jay hawkers came from Fort Donelson on a thieving expedition….” (Nannie E. Haskins Diary, 16 February 1863)

Lincolnite. In Confederate-speak, any derisive compound word formed from the U.S. President’s name. A person with Union sympathies

“We are now in Yankee Land--as Grandma Lyon mentioned today. Why dear she said, I havent shaken hands with you since we all got into Lincolndom!” (Lucy Virginia French War Journal, 2 March 1862)

Mary Minerva Rutlege wrote: “The Lincolnites have been doing some mischief over on Clinch the night that I came up they set fire to John Lacheys barn and burned up some fine horses and about three thousand dollars worth of other things….” (Mary Minerva Rutledge to Dear Sister, 9 October 1862. Rutledge Family Papers)

Look like boiled cracklings. Worn; weary; exhausted

A letter from Amanda C. Lillard to Newton J. Lillard from May 23, 1861 stated: “I was over at Decatur yesterday found all the people well as common. But very loansum. The girls looks like boiled cracklings…. Poor girls what boys there are left here the girls are quareling which will have them for their beau.” (Lillard Family Papers.)

Making a belly bounce. To do harm [to another person]

“Adam Wagner said let him come [at me], I’ll make his old belly bounce.” read a line from the deposition of Hannah Woolsey, daughter of Gilbert Woolsey, in which she describes Confederate outlaws coming to kill her father on first sight. The family was suing the wartime ruffians for Gilbert Woolsey’s death at Andersonville Prison. (Henry Wagoner v. Hannah Woolsey, admr. of Gilbert Woolsey (1869), Greene County. Tennessee State Supreme Court Records)

Northern Bastille. A Union prisoner of war camp

“….to day just one year ago this terrible disaster [fall of Fort Donelson] took place; and my dear brother was among the number, who was to be sent and incarcerated in a Northern bastile‒where he languished and‒died.” (Nannie E. Haskins diary, 16 February 1863)

Robertson County. Robertson County, Tennessee, distillers produced some of the most popular whiskeys in the world during the 19th century.

From the Union prison at Fort Warren, Boston Harbor, Nathaniel Cheairs of Bedford County wrote, “….tell your Ma to save me a little of my Robertson County—as I expect to be very dry.” (N. F. Cheairs to Beloved Daughter, 25 May 1862. Figuers Family Papers)

Secesh/Sesesh. A Rebel; secessionist

“The Secesh women were frantic with joy when Kirby Smith’s army arrived [in Lexington]—they even went to the absurd length of hugging and kissing the horses of the soldiers. This is what abolitionists think very strange, as the horses had riders upon them.” (Lucy Virginia French War Journal, 19 October 1862.)

Seeing the Elephant. To experience combat.

Excerpt from General Order No. 11 from Confederate General James Longstreet, issued by Assistant Adjutant General William Small, directing the men to maintain their fortitude while enduring reduced rations and other hardships of the field, Bean Station, Tennessee, 16 December 1863, Lillard Family Papers.

Writing amid thousands of soldiers, one Union soldier described marching from Corinth "expecting every moment to see the Elephant." (E. R. Porter to Father, 10 May 1862. Looking Back: Tennessee in the Civil War)

Letter from E. R. Porter to his father, Corinth, Mississippi, 10 May 1862, Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee Collection.

Six Months Men. Near war’s end President Lincoln issued a call for additional troops. One incentive was the opportunity to enlist for six months, hence the nickname.

Skedaddle. To hurry along or leave with haste; scurry; run

‘The “Grand Skedaddle” Of The Inhabitants From Charleston, S. C., When Threatened By An Attack From The Federal Troops,’ undated, Manuscripts Oversize Collection.

“We retreated from Greenville on a run to Bull’s Gap which we commenced fortifying our position as impregnable. Before the Telegraph had given publicity to the news our impregnable position was evacuated and we are ‘Skedaddling’ for Cumberland Gap.” (From a Union soldier’s letter captured by Gen. James Longstreet’s men. 16 December 1863. Lillard Family Papers)

Sprightly [or merry] as a cricket. Lively, energetic

From the Betty Family Papers: “Josephine & children quite well. The latter growing fast and are as wild & sprightly as crickets.” (James F. Neill to Mrs. W. F. Betty, August 18, 1864.)

To learn more, we encourage you to visit the following links on our website...

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Friday, January 8, 2016

From the Tennessee Supreme Court Case Files: State of Tennessee v. Lennie Kendall

The Tennessee Supreme Court Records Project is one of the largest projects at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. We currently house more than 10,000 boxes of our state’s judicial history dating from before statehood to 1950. In processing these records, we have come across a wide variety of cases covering everything from debt disputes to murder. Occasionally, we will find a case that draws on several aspects of our state's history like the one described in this blog post. This record is an interesting example of race relations in the 20th Century in a small West Tennessee county.

The case file is titled State of Tennessee v. Lennie Kendall and it took place in Savannah, in Hardin County, in 1916. Lennie Kendall was an African American who was charged with the murder of James (Jim) Young, a Caucasian man. The case was first heard in the Circuit Court of Hardin County before a change of venue to Henderson County. The case eventually ended up in the Supreme Court of Tennessee in April of 1917.

Tennessee Supreme Court Case File: State of Tennessee vs. Lennie Kendall

Lennie Kendall, then age 22, worked on a steamboat and Jim Young, then 21, worked at his father’s store in Savannah. These two young men had known each other their whole lives and had both grown up in Savannah. It was apparently known around town that Young had been associating with an African-American girl named Bertha Williams. Kendall had also been interested in Williams in months prior, but had stopped talking to her because of Young’s objections.

On the evening of June 17th, 1916, both men attended a house party in the African-American section of town known as “Stringtown.” An interesting part of this case was that it included a hand-drawn map by the defendant’s lawyer, E. W. Ross, of Stringtown. The map shows a school, church, and residents' houses. During his cross examination, Sheriff J. W. Tackett describes Stringtown as “strictly a negro settlement, only one white man lived anywhere in that neighborhood…”

The map was drawn by E. W. Ross, Kendall’s defense lawyer, and was identified as Exhibit “A” during the trial. It shows the African American section of Savannah, known as "Stringtown."

Another view of the hand-drawn map by E. W. Ross, Kendall’s defense lawyer, identifying the African American section of Savannah as "Stringtown."

It was noted in the brief that Kendall, Williams, and another unnamed African-American woman attended the party together. A witness claims that Young showed up later that evening and was seen talking to Williams. As the evening progressed, Young and Kendall were seen outside in the yard when Young reportedly pulled a pistol on Kendall and made several threats. Kendall then returned home, got his single barrel shot gun, and returned to the party where the two men spoke again. Shots were fired by both men and Young was killed. Kendall was shot in the foot.

After the death of Young, Kendall fled town for fear of his life. Sheriff Tackett testified that as a result of an African American killing a white man “150-200 men gathered with guns, pistols and ropes in search of the defendant and that if he had been found he would have been mobbed, and that that condition existed at the time of his arrest at Selmer in McNairy.” After his capture, Kendall was charged with the murder of Jim Young. However, there was concern about where to have the trial.

Due to concerns about potential mob violence, Kendall's attorney asked for a change of venue, a request that the attorney general supported. The transcript stated that “on behalf of the defendant, and after hearing the evidence of many witnesses, it was made to satisfactory appear to the Court that from undue excitement against the defendant in Hardin County, where the offense with which he was charged was committed a fair trial could not probably be had, it being made to appear to the Court that the Sheriff deemed it unsafe to bring the defendant to this County…”

The trial was moved to Henderson County, where Kendall was tried and convicted of voluntary manslaughter in October 1916. Kendall appealed the decision, but it was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court, and he was sent to the penitentiary to serve a term of two to 10 years.

The Tennessee Supreme Court Records Project holds many more fascinating cases just like this one. These records can be a valuable tool for understanding our state’s rich history.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State