The land here, where we live, work and play, began as the homeland of the Chickasaw people. Yet, often we begin the story of Tupelo and Lee County with the settlement of land speculators who came in after the 1832 Treaty of Pontotoc Creek.
Most cities and counties in what Euro-Americans once labeled the “Southwest” mark their beginnings from the removal of Native Americans, who first greeted European explorers. Seth Rockman, an associate professor at Brown University, points out in his essay “Jacksonian America” that expansion in the United States of America proved less a state policy of President Andrew Jackson to preserve Native American culture than a method to protect white settlers who had laid claim to land that belonged to sovereign nations. For example, two years before the Chickasaw treaty, Pontotoc became a town.
As a result of the 1832 treaty, about 6.7 million acres or more than 10,000 square miles of Chickasaw homeland opened to land speculators from the East Coast or Europe. Here, in what would become Lee County and then the City of Tupelo, five speculators laid the groundwork.
Likely, the most well-known would be Robert Gordon, one of the first land speculators in the region. He came from Aberdeen, Scotland. In 1836 he purchased two sections of land – about 1,280 acres. On this land he built his mansion, Lochinvar, a two-story Greek Revival structure. Today, that house stands south of Pontotoc on Highway 15, about a mile from the city. Gordon connected with John Bell, surveyor general for the area. They became partners in land holding. Because he had worked in surveying the land after the removal of the Chickasaw people, had the connections and knew the product.
Gordon and Bell sold some of their holdings to Richard Edward Orne’ and Henry Anderson. Orne’ came from Massachusetts, where he had worked as a sailor. He was a land agent for Boston and Mississippi Land Co., New York, Mississippi and Arkansas Land Co., and the Boston and New York Chickasaw Land Co. Anderson moved to the area from Florence, Ala., after migrating from New York.
Richard Bolton rounded out the list of major land speculators in the early days after Chickasaw Removal. From New York, Bolton worked as an engineer for the government and surveyed the region. Together, Orne’, Anderson and Bolton wound up with 2 million acres of the land in Northeast Mississippi.
Now the early days of speculation did not include what would become Tupelo. Instead, Gordon founded Aberdeen, named for his native city in Scotland. Anderson developed Holly Springs. Orne’ worked on Hernando, which Vaughn Grisham Jr. says originally bore the name of Jefferson.
Orne’ and Anderson later joined with Christopher Orr just after he developed a town called Palmetto, named for his hometown in South Carolina. Together these three men held onto the land nearby that would become Tupelo, but focused on developing Palmetto. All in all, 11 towns saw incorporation a year after the government allowed sale of the land once called home by the Chickasaw.
It was not until 1860 that the men filed a plat in Itawamba County for what would become Tupelo. That plat exists in Itawamba County Platbook I on page 79.