Early Family Life:

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John Mathis McGinnis was born to John S. and Martha (Mathis) McGinnis in a little rural town named Clarksville in Montgomery county in North Central Tennessee just to the North and West of Nashville on 15 Nov. 1838.  John M. McGinnis was one of seven children.

 Sometime in the year 1838, the year John M. McGinnis was born, John S. McGinnis apparently took a trip of 130 miles west to a fairly new county in West Tennessee opened and designated in 1823 by the General Assembly of Tennessee as Dyer county.

There, he bought some land near a place called Newbern, TN.  (just outside of Dyersburg, TN.). The land, consisting of 150 acres (later expanded to 330 acres), was bought from the McIlhalton Land Grant. Historically, the first settlers of this area are reported to have cleared forests and built homes there as early as 1839. At this time, taxes were levied at eight cents for each one hundred dollars worth of land, slaves, and town lots.

The McGinnis family moved to this area in 1841.

John must have had sufficient financial support because on 1 January 1839 he bought a female slave age 30 years old named Chainey for $552.00. She was bought at a public auction right on the county court steps in Dyersburg, TN. John bought another female slave named Clairessa, age 18 years old, on 30 December 1850 for $560.00. It was recorded that John also had a one year old slave in 1850. John bought at least three other slaves (one female named Julianne aged 18, and two males named Alexander that was 55 years old and Peter that was 16 years old). These were sizable investments for those times. 

In February, 1852, Martha’s father died and, as part of the estate, there was a farm near Clarksville, TN, with 392 acres that sold for $1600.00.  The sale money was divided between the heirs, of which Martha was one.   This must have surely been needed for the McGinnis' farm.

John S. McGinnis is mentioned in ledger entries as a regular customer of H.R.A. McCorkle’s dry goods store in Newbern, TN as early as 1853. 

It is believed the farm prospered fairly well during the following years until John S. McGinnis was involved in a lawsuit in February 1853.  There was a judgment rendered against John for the sum of $583.00, of which he appealed to the State Supreme Court for relief.  John placed his entire farm up as security until the final judgment of the State Supreme Court could be rendered.   He must have lost at the supreme court level, as he sold his farm of 330 acres and all assets (lock, stock, and barrel --including the slaves) in Sept. of the same year for $10.00 an acre or for $3300.00

John S. McGinnis then moved his family into the town of Dyersburg.

John S. McGinnis died in February of 1856 and John M. McGinnis was 18 years old at the time.  Luckily, John had learned the family trade of carpentry (primarily cabinet making) from his father and using this trade helped support the family of six brothers and sisters and his mother.

Four years later, in November of 1860, John’s mother, Martha, would die. This placed tremendous pressure on John and his brothers and sisters to keep the family together. At age 22, this was an especially heavy responsibility for him.

Five months later, on 13 April, 1861, an article appearing in the Memphis Daily Appeal indicated that on 12 April, 1861, in Charleston, SC -- Fort Sumpter was fired upon changing the South’s and John’s life forever.

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