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Bolivar County Mississippi

Prentiss13 The town of Prentiss was named after that brilliant orator, Sargent S. Prentiss, whose memory at that time had not been honored with the name of any county or town in the State. The life of this place was short, being comprised within the space of about seven years. It was laid off early in 1856, its location being upon the Mississippi Eiver, immediately opposite the town of Napoleon in Arkansas. At that time this latter town had a population of seven or eight hundred people. It has also long since disappeared from the face of the earth, having been undermined and swallowed by the great river upon which it was located.

As the town of Prentiss owed its origin to the selection of its site for the county seat of Bolivar County, large and commodious public buildings, a brick court house and jail were at once built and the place grew rapidly for a few years. When the War Between the States began in 1861, it had a population of about two hundred, a good hotel, and a newspaper, the Bolivar Times.

Judge F. A. Montgomery, of Rosedale, Mississippi, says:

"Prentiss was really the first county site and had the first jail in the county, I had almost said the first courthouse; for the shanty which had been used for that purpose could hardly be dignified by that name. This was a little frame building, the court room being about twenty feet square with two small rooms about ten feet square, for clerk's office and jury room. When the new court house was built this little house was standing in the yard of Judge Joseph McGuire, one of the earliest settlers in the country, whose descendants still live, honored citizens of the country, and whose plantation adjoined the town of Prentiss. Small and unpretentious as was this building, I have seen Judge John I. Guion preside in it, and it was from one of his terms at that place that he returned home to die. Succeeding him, that great Judge, J. Shall Yerger, presided in it one term, while the new courthouse was being prepared. Great causes had been heard and determined in the old house by great judges, who heard great lawyers discuss them, and it would be interesting to tell of some of them if my plan permitted."

"The history of this old court house is unique, and deserves to be told.14 Its first location was on what was then the Mississippi river, but is now Lake Beulah, and about three or four miles below the town of Rosedale, one of the present seats of justice of Bolivar county. An old field at this place, still known as the old court house field, marks the spot where it stood. I am not sure that the place ever had a name. One of my earliest friends in the county, William Sackville Cook, who has long since gone to his reward, was at that time clerk of the courts and gave me its history. As it stood at this place several years without attracting any settlers, the people of the county decided to move it. The whole structure was put on a flatboat and carried down the river to Bolivar Landing. After remaining here a few years, it was again put afloat, this time on two flatboats, and towed up the river to Judge McQuire's place, where, like the ark on Mount Ararat, it found its final resting place. Bolivar county was then a wilderness and, indeed, was almost unknown until a short time before the new court house was built, when its fertile soil and the hope of protection by the levees, then just being built, attracted the attention of wealthy planters everywhere, and they came in great numbers to avail themselves of the chance to purchase the rich lands.

"The local bar of the county at that time was small, consisting of only two or three young lawyers, but the county afforded a rich harvest for able lawyers from abroad; for its rapid development made much litigation about land titles, and such men as William Yerger, Fulton Anderson," Marshall and Walter Brooke, of Vicksburg; Smith, of Washington county, and Alcorn, of Coahoma County, were regular attendants upon the courts which were held at Prentiss.15

War brought destruction to the promising little town of Prentiss. In the early part of 1863, a Federal force landed at this place and applied the torch not only to the public buildings but to private residences as well, and in a few hours not a house remained save one small building on the outskirts of the town. In this house a few sessions of the probate court were held after the war, but it, too, has long since disappeared. The site of the town has been swallowed up by the waters of the Mississippi River.

Extinct Towns| AHGP Mississippi

Footnotes:
13. The following sketch is based principally upon facts obtained from Judge F. A. Montgomery, of Rosedale. Mississippi.
14. A brief mention of this interesting bit of local history will be found in Goodspeed's Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Mississippi, Vol. L, p. 243.
15. Perhaps the best evidence of the ability of this gentleman is shown by a criticism of him by the talented Henry S. Foote, who, in trying to break the force of one of Mr. Anderson s prosecutions, said, "The zeal and ability of the young District Attorney is dangerous to the liberty of the citizens."

Source: The Mississippi Historical Commission Publications, Volume V, Edited by Franklin L. Riley,
Secretary, 1902.

 

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