go to content go to search box go to global site navigation


More than 1000 years ago, a Mississippian civilization built mounds on the bluffs of the eastern shore. In 1739 the French established Fort Assumption to protect their river trade. After the US took control, a treaty in 1818 edged the Chickasaw nation out of western Tennessee, and Andrew Jackson helped found the settlement of Memphis. The city was incorporated in 1826 and prospered on the expanding cotton trade of the Mississippi Delta.

Early in the Civil War, Union troops occupied the city but the postwar collapse of the cotton trade was far more devastating. A yellow-fever epidemic in 1878 claimed more than 5000 lives and many white residents abandoned the city. Memphis declared bankruptcy. The African American community revived the town, led by Robert Church, a former slave. By the 1920s Beale St was the hub of social and civic activity. Memphis became an early center of blues music, and in the 1950s local recording company Sun Records cut tracks for blues, soul, R & B and rockabilly artists.