The Official Shelby County Bicentennial

Historic Beginnings

Overton, Winchester, Jackson, Goodlett and Sanderlin. To many Shelby County residents, these are merely the names of streets, highways or districts.

But before their names became part of geography, John Overton, Marcus Winchester, Andrew Jackson, J.H. Goodlett, and Wilson Sanderlin were pioneers who created the social, economic, educational and governmental paths Shelby County residents still travel. These early settlers were the mayors, public officials and landowners whose contributions literally put Shelby County on the map.

Shelby County was carved out of Chickasaw Indian hunting grounds. This land was purchased, along with the rest of western Tennessee, by the United States for a total of $300,000. Shelby County was drawn onto Tennessee maps on November 24, 1819, by an act of the state General Assembly.

More Than Lines on a Map

Named for the first governor of Kentucky and Revolutionary War hero Isaac Shelby, the county’s first government was appointed by the General Assembly. The five-man Quarterly Court was called into session in a log cabin near Main and Winchester in the raucous river settlement of Memphis.
That first Quarterly Court began working immediately to see that Shelby County Government preserved the peace, recorded deeds and decisions, helped the underprivileged, built roads, and collected taxes or fees to support government functions.

The court’s first action was to commission a survey of the new county. Three years later and at a cost of $142.50, the surveyors reported the county contained 625 square miles. While population was harder to pin down, it was generally accepted that the new county had between 250 and 350 people.

Today Shelby County is 784 square miles and is the state’s largest county both in terms of population and geographic area. Its county seat is the City of Memphis. Shelby County is also part of the Memphis Metropolitan Statistical Area, which comprises eight counties in three states: Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas. Shelby County is home to seven municipalities including Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland, Memphis and Millington. Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris took office in 2018 as the County’s 6th Mayor in history and now leads this culturally rich and diverse community that we proudly call home.

For those early leaders, Shelby County was not just a place to be drawn on a map. It was their home, and people like Winchester, Overton and Jackson set the direction for future Shelby County residents. These pioneers, like county leaders today, worked to make this a place where citizens would be offered a special place for their families and themselves to find happiness, meaning and pride.

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