Tag Archives: memphis

1893 Pryor Death in Memphis, TN

In 1893, before death certificates in Tennessee, the suicide or murder of a “Pryor” about age 35 was recorded in the Shelby County death register. Date of death was March 23, 1893. No first name was recorded.  No place of birth. Cause of death was “Throat Cut”. He was buried in Potter’s Field. His last known residence was “Foot of South Br (Bridge).”

I found that the death of Mr. Pryor made it into The Tennesseean on March 25, 1893


I did a search for Anderson Pryor on Ancestry.com and found that he may be the man listed in a Memphis city directory in 1893: Pryor Anderson c, driver, res rear 10 Exchange.” I think the small italic “c” denotes racially he was identified as “colored.”

I’m not coming up with a likely identification for this person. Perhaps it will help someone complete a blank in their family tree.

Category: About TN Lines | Tags: ,

Pryor Slave Master on the Mississippi River


I’ve been looking at slave stories for insights into Pryors and where they were living and working. An account of Allen Sidney (born 1805 in NC) gives his account of slavery which entailed a time working on a riverboat for a Captain Pryor.

My master was ambitious. He built a flat-boat, bought a lot of cattle, wild hogs, apples and truck, went to New Orleans and sold at a fair profit. Then he anted more capital to do a bigger business, and borrowed $500 from a planter and negro trader named John Brown, and gave me as security. I was taken to Brown’s place, where he had 400 to 500 slaves. I worked in his cotton field till next spring, when along came a speculator with 200 to 300 slaves all chained together. Brown bought the whole lot, and next morning I was chained with the rest and we were marched to Memphis, Tenn., some 400 miles away, through the Chickasaw nation.** Here Brown sold me with other slaves to a rich man named Capt. Pryor, who lived in Memphis and owned a big farm nine miles out of the city.

In 1825, when I was twenty-one years of age, Capt. Pryor bought a steamboat at Pittsburgh, and brought it down to Memphis. I believe it was the first steamboat on the Lower Mississippi. It was called the Hard Times. I was what is a likely boy, and he thought a good deal of me. He said to me: “Allen, you go to Memphis, go on the steamer and watch her.” So I went there and stayed on her night and day. Then he sent North and got an engineer named Parker, and he ran the boat that winter back and forward between New Orleans. I helped Parker, and by Capt. Pryor’s orders he showed me how to work the engine.

After running on the river that winter Capt. Pryor built a machine shop at Memphis, put Parker in charge of it, and I worked under him there. I was on the boat in winter and in the machine shop in summer for seven years.

No, I can not say that I was very much abused when I was a slave, but I have seen many slaves treated very cruelly. One time two of Capt. Pryor’s slaves ran away. He took bloodhounds and hunted them down. When they were brought back to the plantation they were stripped naked and tied to logs face down. The colored overseer gave them each 100 lashes on the back…

Three months afterward Perry fixed it all up, and came back with papers which he shewed to Capt. Pryor. I went away with him, and found he had moved to a little town called Amsterdam, Tenn.

The Courier-Journal, Louisville, 12 August 1894

It would be interesting to know which Pryor he was talking about. I set about to see if I could find documentation to show what was real in his story.

The article started out identifying Allen as a well-known figure in Detroit, that he was about 90 and that he lived in Windsor since 1856 (just across the river from Detroit in Ontario, Canada). I located a death record for an Allen Sidney aged 95 who died in Essex County, Canada and was born in Kentucky. On the 1891 Census there was an Allen Sidney aged 86, born in the US living in Windsor. Back further, there’s an Allen Sidney age 73, origin African, counted with a Cassey Sidney age 62, living in Windsor. An 1889 death record from Windsor for Cassa Sidney born in the US identifies her as the wife of Allen Sidney. I think this is the subject of the article.


The 1894 article also stated Sidney was employed by Frost’s Woodenware Works  in Detroit for 37 years. I found an 1870 US Census entry in Wayne County, MI for Milton Frost, a wooden ware manufacturer.

There’s a Simeon Perry age 67 born in NC living in Kenton County, KY on the 1850 Census.

Since Allen Sidney claimed to have worked on a boat named Hard Times I looked and found some references to a barge by that name.

For New Orleans: Will leave on Monday, 4th inst., the barge NATCHEZ and HARD TIMES, which offers cheap and desirable conveyance for 100 to 150 horses and cattle. Shippers will find it their interest to call on bard, opposite Pearl st. or to R. BALDWIN Jr. & Co., No 5 Com. row.
The Courier-Journal, Louisville, 4 Mar 1839

FOR SALE. The superior cotton barges “Hard Times” and “Natchez” are offered for sale on accommodating terms having both undergone thoro’ repair last fall’ they draw 24 inches light, and will carry 250 tons or 1200 bales on 4 1/2 feet water; for further particulars apply to GLOVER & BRENHAM, 38 Camp street.
The Times Picayune, New Orleans, 23 Jan 1839

Who do I think was Captain Pryor? I was hoping that the big clue in the article that he lived on a big farm on the outskirts of Memphis would pan-out. There are no Pryors on Census records that seem to match. It could mean that he was missed on the census or perhaps we’re dealing with a location issue. Did Sidney mean Capt. Pryor was 9 miles up or down river? If off by a few miles it could be a location in Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, or Arkansas, or even Kentucky.

I think Joseph E Pryor of Pope County, IL is an excellent possibility. I know you’re probably thinking that Illinois isn’t Tennessee and it isn’t mentioned in Sidney’s account. This Pryor was recorded as a “pilot” on the 1850 Census.

1850 Census, Pope Co., IL
Page 283A, 513/513 Joseph PRYOR 64 pilot VA, Elizabeth 52 VA, Joseph 26 stone cutter KY, Tabitha Magu 16 KY

It appears that Joseph Pryor of Pope County may have been doing business in Memphis, TN because after his death probate was filed in Shelby County.

1852 Estate – Robert L Smith and B. A. Massey appointed special administrator for estate of Joseph E PRYOR, deceased. Dated 1 December 1852.

There’s also a possibility that Allen Sidney was affiliated with a Kentucky Pryor. The riverboat would stay-over in Covington, KY (Kenton county).  A History of Blacks in Kentucky: From Slavery to Segregation, 1760-1891, Volume 1, by Marion Brunson Lucas discusses the activities of Tom Dorum, a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Sidney’s own account and this book mentions Dorum’s assistance with Kentucky slaves escaping to freedom in Canada through Pittsburgh, PA.

Well, I’m open to ideas as to the identity of this Captain Pryor.

** Chickasaw Nation – In 1825 the Chickasaw nation was an area in the northern most area of Mississippi (see map and be sure to click on the year 1825).

Butler County, AL: Tracking The Children of Francis Pryor Born in GA

I found a 1907 Obituary for a Pryor in Florida and ended up following a line of Pryors through the South. These Pryors are a bit of a mystery (well, aren’t they all?!)– name variations, missing from census records, traveling salesmen who were counted in multiple locations on census records. The best place to start is where everyone seems to be stumped: The 1860 Census.

1860 Butler Co., AL
Pct 15, House 2 Francis PRYOR 30 farmer GA, Caroline 25 GA, M. Pryor (f) 5 AL, Geo. Pryor 3 AL, Francis Pryor 1 AL.
Pct 15, House 3 Geo. Mayes 37 GA, Susan 31 GA, N. A. (f) 14 GA, J. T. (m) 9 GA, W. G. (m) 7 GA, Martha 5 GA, G. W. (m) 1 GA
Pct 15, House 7 J. M. PRYOR 33 GA, S. Pryor (f) 26 GA, J. T. (male) 8 GA, J. R. (f) 7 AL, T. J. (male) 6 AL, W. G. PRYOR 6/12 (m) AL.

The obituary of George Pryor in 1907 helped to match up George with his brother Frank/Francis.

Will Occur This Afternoon at 3 O’Clock, Services Being at the Home. The funeral of Geo. W. Pryor who expired at his home in New City on Friday afternoon, after an illness covering two weeks…friends of the deceased will act as pall bearers: Capt. R. M. Bushnell, J. J. Sullivan, Joe Roth, R. S. Mitchell, Lamar Howard, and W. T. Reager….Frank Pryor a brother of the deceased who resides in Nashville, reached the city yesterday afternoon.
The Pensacola Journal., February 03, 1907

I found brother Frank in 1900 in TN, 1910 in Kansas City, MO, and in 1920 in Mobile AL. On the 1860 Census he is ID’d as Francis and on all subsequent census as Frank, however the name on his death record (filed in Montgomery, AL) is Franklin Cornelius Pryor.

1900 Census, Davidson County, TN
Nashville, 6th ward, page 241, house 439 Frank C. PRYOR 8/1858 41 md 7 yrs. AL VA AL ind. life insurance agent, Sarah? R. wife 9/1862 37 no children TN TN TN

A tidbit in the same newspaper contained the ID of another brother: O. M. Pryor had come to town for George’s funeral.

… He also leaves a brother, O. M. Pryor, formerly of this city, who reached here last night acompanied by his daughter.
The Pensacola Journal, February 02, 1907, Page 7, Image 7

Obed M. Pryor is buried in the same cemetery as his brother George (see http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=25097089), so we know his full name too. You gotta love these newspaper articles because another article identifies Obed as residing in Mobile, AL and gives the name of a sister:

Mr. and Mrs. O. M. Pryor, who came over from Mobile to attend the funeral of the late Geo. W. Pryor, spent yesterday in the city. Mr. Pryor returned to Mobile last night, but Mrs. Pryor will remain here for several days. Mrs. Melissa Owen and daughter, Miss Queenie, the former being a sister of Mr. Pryor, are also in the city.
The Pensacola Journal, February 05, 1907, Page 3

However, and there always seems to be a “however” with the Pryors, I located a Melissa who was recorded as Celissa on the 1900 Census in Mobile, AL. She was born in 1855 in AL, so I suspect she’s the 5 year old female whose initial was “M” on the 1860 Census.  She appears on the 1920 Census also as Celisa/Celissa. Perhaps the 1907 newspaper was incorrect (just like they hadn’t picked up that she was then a Morris). Perhaps Melissa was an error that combined Celisa/Celissa with another name that begins with M, after all it looks like she was a “M” on the 1860 census. I wonder if “M” was for Morris… that it was a given name and the 1900 Census is incorrect.

1900 Census Mobile co., AL
Mobile, ward 5, page 308a, house 351 Monroe St., Celissa Morris  Feb 1855 45 divorced AL AL AL 4 children/4 living, Robert P. Owen son Sept 1878 21 AL AL AL, Truman C. dau married Dec 1880 19 2 children/2 living AL AL AL, Lula Owen dau Jul 1883 13 AL AL AL, Queenie V Owen dau Mar 1885 15 AL AL AL.

The name raises a lot of questions– like am I sure this is the woman referred to in the 1907 news article. Yes, because in 1920 she is recorded on the same page of the census with Sallie Pryor, widow of Obed Pryor.  Celisa/Celissa also had a grandson named Pryor Huggins living in her household.

The one thing that seems to have people stumped who are searching for this line — where is this family of Pryors in 1870? An online family tree suggests there’s a family story of Francis and Caroline killed in a buggy accident. I think I have a partial answer — I found Celisa/Celissa and her brother Francis/Frank/Franklin on the 1870 Census. They were living with Patrick Drake and his wife Martha Gellbrath Drake (they were married in Greene Co., GA in 1826):

1870 Census Butler Co., AL
Greenville, Twp. 8, page 341b, house 199 Pat’k Drake 70 farmer VA, Martha 70 GA, Celisa 15 AL, Frank 12 AL

Were the Drakes related? I don’t know. Where were George and Obed? I don’t know. Where was Francis and Caroline Pryor in 1850? I don’t know. There’s more research needed on this line of Pryors. I’d like to figure out where Francis Pryor was in 1850. Maybe someone from this line will step forward for a Y-DNA test and we’ll at least know which line of Pryors these folks connect to.

Prayor or Pryor?

Migration Direction

The Sikeston Herald (MO)
22 Dec 1938
Mrs. C I Hall visited her sister, Mrs. Elza Lepley, one day last week when en route to Memphis. She was accompanied by her mother, Mrs. W. E. Pryor, and two other sisters: Mrs. G. W. Terrell and Miss Corette Prayor, all of Wyatt.

When I stumble upon a news article that mentions Tennessee I have to take a deeper look. Are these TN Pryors?

It piques my interest even more when I see that the mother’s name was spelled “Pryor” and the sister was a Miss “Prayor” Were they Pryors or Prayors?

I found Corette Prayor on the 1930 Census with the same spelling of her surname. She was born in MO in 1915 and working as a servant in the household of James Pierce. She was living in Sikeston, Scott Co., MO. It also noted that both of her parents were born in KY.

The good news that shortened my search was that Corette was counted twice on the census. She was also in the household of William E. Prayor b. 1877 and his wife Irene, both born in KY. The family is also on the 1920 Census in Mississippi County, MO. The Find A Grave memorial for William Elza Pryor states he was born in 1879 in McLean Co., KY.

Well, there seems to be some confusion of Prayor vs. Pryor But it looks like they were visiting TN not living there.

John Polk Pryor Newspaper Editor

eagleSeveral years ago I wrote about John Polk Pryor‘s Bible (https://tennesseepryors.com/tennessee-pryors/from-trolley-to-the-web-peter-and-green-pryor-of-williamson-county-tn/).  I spotted his obituary on Newspapers.com, so sharing it.

Colonel John Polk Pryor died at Frankfort, KY Friday. He was a near relative of President Polk, and before the war edited The Eagle and Enquirer at Memphis. He was in Forrest’s command in the Confederate army, and wrote “The Life of Forrest.” He had been in Frankfort twenty years as a newspaper writer.
The Evening Bulletin (Maysville, KY. July 20, 1891)

From Memphis in 1865, John Polk Pryor wrote of Confederate President Jefferson Davis just months after the end of the Civil War. It was re-published in a Northern newspaper: read article http://www.pinterest.com/pin/523191681684993426/

John Polk Pryor published in Memphis under the name J. P. Pryor. I had some fun searching for what  he wrote and his activities. He was an interesting, politically active kind of guy.

A stand had been erected outside in front of Exchange Building, fronting the river, whither the crowd repaired, and were address by Judge Brown, E. M. Yerger, Esq., Cols. J.P. Pryor and A. H. Douglas, and other sin eulogistic speches in favor or Douglas and Johnson.

It will be observed that theree out of the four speakers, viz: Messrs. yerger, Pryor and Douglas are but recent converts from Federal Know Nothingism, the two latter never having voted for a Democratic candidate for the Presidency in their lives. The idea of such men counselling and leading the Democracy in an emergency like the present is as ludicrous as it is absurd.
Fayetteville Observer (TN), July 19, 1860

The event referenced was a political speech regarding the presidential race. Lincoln was running against Stephen Douglas and Hershel Johnson was Douglas’ running mate (see a campaign button). It sounds like John Polk Pryor was a Douglas supporter.