McGehee Plantation, Senatobia Mississippi
The land on which the plantation home is located was purchased by Abner F. McGehee on March 16, 1854 from a representative of the New York Chickasaw Land Association. While president of the United States from 1829 to 1837, Andrew Jackson worked to remove Native Americans from their land to west of the Mississippi. This land purchased by McGehee had once belonged to the Chickasaw nation until their removal around 1830.
The original size of the plantation was approximately 1,920 acres, consisting of the west half of Section 17, Township 6, Range No. 7, West of the Basis Meridian. The plantation was purchased for $3,360 (as cited in the original Deed). Currently 1,200 acres are owned by four direct descendants of the original owner. Cattle are raised on the pasture land and pine trees are grown and harvested. The farm is situated on hills of loess soil which is very fertile. The high elevation keeps the area free of flooding.
The main house was built in 1856 by Abner F. McGehee. It was a very desirable site because the M & T (Mississippi & Tennessee) Railroad line ran through the property. Mr. Frank White wanted to complete the railroad line that already existed from Louisiana to Grenada, MS. The next section was going to be very expensive because a number of rivers had to be spanned. White was the son-in-law of Hugh McGehee, Abner McGehee's father, and when White ran out of money, he asked Hugh to invest in the railroad. Hugh did so under the condition that the plantation would be a scheduled stop on the line. This contract was honored as a "whistle stop" until the early 1950s. With the investment, the railroad was completed across the Tallahatchie River and the track was completed from Grenada to Memphis in 1861. In 1884, the Illinois Central Railroad bought the M & T Railroad rights. Even though many of the railroad bridges had to be repaired, it was a good investment to own the Grenada-to-Memphis line.
The train regularly stopped at McGehee Plantation, which was also referred to as McGehee Crossing and McGehee Gates. The latter name came from the double gates located at the whistle stop. A small pond located nearby served to refill the boiler for the steam engine. A gazebo-covered platform could be seen from the front door of McGehee Plantation and travelers would debark to stretch their legs while the boiler was refilled. Train workers were welcomed to stop by for refreshments.
The cotton grown on the plantation was conveniently transported to market in Memphis, Tennessee. A gin existed on the plantation. Crops were also grown to feed the farm animals.
The ancestral home has been in the hands of family descendents since it was built. African-American slaves built the house and there is no architect of record or existing plans. In the home today are furnishings, paintings, and documents passed down through the last 150 years.
After the Civil War, many of the former/freed African-American slaves stayed on the property, with little means to relocate elsewhere. The family was not pressed to sell their land and after Reconstruction they were again profitable. Contemporary diary account of former McGehee slave and freeman, Louis Hughes, can be found in the book, A Year in the South: Four Lives in 1865 by Stephen V. Ash (Palgrave MacMillan, 2002).
Stark Young (1881-1963) was born in Como, Mississippi and was raised on the McGehee Plantation. Born in Como, MS, his mother, Marv Clark Starks (1858-1890), was the daughter of Caroline Charlotte McGehee (1821-1861) and Stephen Gilbert Starks (1816-1859). When Young was nine, his mother died and he was sent to live with relatives on the McGehee Plantation. Young attended college in Oxford, MS, and earned a Masters Degree in English from Columbia University. He would later teach at the University of Mississippi, Oxford and at other universities. Young became a very prolific writer of plays, travel books, fiction, poetry, and drama criticism.
In 1934, Young had a best selling novel with So Red the Rose. It chronicled the life of two families, the Bedfords and the McGehees. Although he moved the story's location to Natchez, MS, he used the McGehee Plantation as the setting for this drama of two Southern families' experiences from 1860 to 1865. It was very favorably reviewed, reached the number two position on fiction lists, and was made into a motion picture in 1935. Novels and films about the Civil War were popular in the 1930s. So Red the Rose was viewed by some critics as a literary work that transcended the historical context and stood as fine literature. The success of So Red the Rose may well have encouraged the serious consideration for publication of another Civil War story, Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, that appeared later that decade.
This excerpt is from an article originally appeared in the book Lives of Mississippi Writers, 1817-1967, edited by James B. Lloyd. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1980.