Murrell family pioneered in Claiborne Parish

By Murphy J. Barr
Journal Historian

John Murrell was living in Carthage, Tennessee, with his wife and six children when he decided to seek a new area of the country in which to live and farm. He placed his household goods and tools on a flatboat and floated down the Tennessee River to Nashville.

In Nashville he met other families, including Wallace, Clark, Manning, Dyer, Hudson, Robinson, Duty, Peterson, and Murrell. These families placed their goods on two large keel boat barges and floated on down the Tennessee River to the Ohio River, and on to the Mississippi. When they reached the mouth of the Red River, they traveled upriver, making their way through the great raft of floating logs which almost blocked the river below the area that is now Shreveport.

The Murrell and Wallace families landed at Long Prairie, Arkansas, and made their camp on the bank of the river. They opened a small patch among the canes that grew on the land and planted vegetables and corn.

John Murrell had $100 and wished to buy cattle, and made his way to Natchitoches for that purpose. On his way he found only two cabins, one built by Isaac Walden, the other by a Mr. Bosel, who had moved on to Texas. Alden asked Murrell to take the cabin. In Natchitoches he bought ten cows and calves, and when he returned to Long Prairie he found his family were sick. He moved his family away from the river bank and came back to Claiborne Parish, Louisiana on August 6, 1818, and lived in the empty cabin, 12 miles from Campti on the Red River. Mrs. John let him have meat, bread, and corn to feed his family.

At this time in North Central Louisiana there were no roads, only Indian trails. The land was covered with trees, thick brush and cane brakes. Only a few hunters and trappers had gone into the area. Soon after Murrell moved into the area a great fire swept the area. After a time the area became beautiful with clear running streams and wild flowers. Wild game was plentiful. Murrell brought his axe, gun, and hunting dogs.

Most of Murrell's neighbors were Indians. However, east of his area families from South Carolina were settling. In time other families moved nearer to the Murrell farm, namely, James Allen, Obadiah Driskell, Nedham Reynolds, Mr. Brazeal, Mr. McCardy, Dr. Hugh Walker, and Joseph Edwards.

On March 29, 1819, Murrell's seventh child was born. They named him Isaac, and he is considered to have been the first white child born in Claiborne Parish.

Murrell located in the Flat Lick Bayou area a few miles west of Homer, Louisiana. He built a two-story house there on 280 acres of land. In two years time several other families settled in the Flat Lick community. William Gryder was the first blacksmith.

Murrell's two-story house, known as the Flat Lick Plantation, had 18 rooms with two chimneys made of native stone on each side of the house with fireplaces on both floors. This house served as the first church. Baptist ministers were James Driskill and Newt Drew, who held monthly services, assisted by Arthur Ashburner Conly. In 1822 his salary was $15 per month.

In 1822 the Murrell home served as the post office, named Allen settlement, in honor of Martin Allen, the first Justice of the Peace. Murrell was the first postmaster. In 1822 the first store was opened near Murrell's home. It was closed within a year, then reopened by Robert Lee Kilgore in 1825.

J. McCarty raised the first significant cotton crop in 1826, and about this time the first slaves appeared in the area. People in the community got their salt from the Drake Salt Works in Winn Parish.

In 1828, law and government was dispensed from Murrell's home, serving as the court house until the Police Jury of the newly created Claiborne Parish chose Russellville to be the first parish seat of government.

The road in Northwest Louisiana known as the Military Road in 1928 passed directly by Murrell's home.

In time, the Civil War came about, and a story has been passed down about Murrell's youngest son, Isaac, who had a young slave named Edmond Merritt, described as "a faithful one, he was." Merritt went with nephews Perry and John Murrell to fight in the Civil War. On the morning of September 17, 1862, one son told Merritt to take John Jr.'s gold watch home, that he would not be back. That night after the battle of Sharpsburg, Merritt went into the battlefield, turning over hundreds of dead to see the faces of John and Perry, and could not find them. After returning home with the gold watch, Merritt found John had been killed. Perry and friend R.A. White had been wounded.

After the Civil War, John Jr., gave each of his former slaves forty acres of land and a cabin, and the right to be buried in the family cemetery. They took the name of White, and one of the markers in the cemetery reads, "Enoch White was born during the years of slavery, reached a ripe old age." Another marker read "Let not the dead be forgotten, lest men forget that they just die. Allen White, Jr., Pvt. 1N, Jan. 16, 1895 - Mar. 19, 1933." At the entrance of the Murrell cemetery is a grave marker which reads "Fredrick Miller, born in Germany 1765-1822, father of Emmaline Miller Botzong Longheld and Long John Miller, first white man buried in Claiborne parish." This is an indication that German families were in Claiborne parish in that early time.

John Murrell was buried in the Murrell cemetery on his home place, Flat Lick Plantation. He was a talented, enterprising person and became known as the first to introduce civilization to northeast Louisiana. His epitaph reads, "Dear to the memory of John Murrell, Sr., who died Jan. 25, 1847, age 63 years 5 days. His creed was Faith, Hope, and Charity."

One early settler, possibly John Murrell, Jr., wrote, "We were all plain people then, with few wants and much love for fellow man."

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