Port of Memphis
Review and History

The Port of Memphis is the seat of Shelby County in the southwestern corner of Tennessee where the Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee Rivers come together. The Port of Memphis is the most populous city in Tennessee. It is the anchor for the State's second biggest metropolitan area which includes West Memphis, Arkansas. The Port of Memphis is about 238 nautical miles downriver (249 kilometers or 154 miles south-southwest) of Southeast Missouri Regional Port. Part of the Mississippi River System, the Port of Memphis is over 530 nautical miles (570 kilometers or 355 miles north) of the Port of New Orleans. The 2010 US Census reported a population of almost 647 thousand in the City of Memphis and a population of over 1.3 million in the metropolitan area.

The Port of Memphis is one of the United States busiest inland river ports, and the international airport is one of the biggest cargo airports in the world. The Port of Memphis is served by vast highway and railroad facilities, and several major freight companies are headquartered there. The Port of Memphis ranks as a world leader in the trade of cotton, hardwood, and soybeans. It lies at the heart of a large agricultural area producing cotton, livestock, soybeans, forest products, feed grains, and corn. It supports productive food processing and agricultural research industries. The Port of Memphis is also an important wholesale center and home to manufacturers who make paper products, electronics, and medical equipment and products. The Port of Memphis economy also includes a healthy tourism and convention sector as well as high-tech industries and service providers in healthcare, government, finance, and education.

Port History

Growing out of the earlier Mississipian Culture that populated the Lower Mississippi Valley and the future Port of Memphis for ten thousand years, the Chickasaw and Chocktaw tribes emerged as a distinct people in the 17th Century. Before contact with Europeans, the Chicasaw migrated from the west to the east of the Mississippi River. During the first era of interaction with Europeans, Europeans considered the Chickasaw to be one of the Five Civilized Tribes because they adopted many customs of and had positive relations with the new settlers. But as the Europeans invaded their territories, the Chicasaw resisted their advance. By 1832, the United States forced the Chickasaw to sell their lands and move to the Indian Territory of Oklahoma.

Photo: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Emerald_Mound_low_end.JPG (Attribution Gsmith)

During the American Civil War, the Chickasaw allied with the Confederate States of America. Holding slaves, the Chickasaw felt kinship with the Deep South. Further, they were angry because the United States government had taken their native lands without paying for them and then failed to protect them from the Plains tribes. The well-known Choctaw/Chickasaw Mounted Regiment participated in some of the Civil War's last battles. While they shared the hardship of the Confederacy after the war, many Chickasaw became prosperous ranchers and farmers, and the tribe created some of the Indian Territory's first banks, schools, and businesses.

When Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the major officers of the Chickasaw Nation were appointed by the US President. It was 1970 before Congress passed a law that allowed them to elect their own leaders. The Chickasaw Nation adopted its own constitution in 1983. Today, the Chickasaw Nation occupies all or part of 13 counties (almost two million hectares) in south-central Oklahoma.

In the 16th Century, explorers Hernando de Soto (Spain) and Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle came to the future Port of Memphis area. In 1795, Louisiana's Spanish governor secured land from the Chickasaw and had Fort San Fernando de las Barrancas built south of the Wolf River. The fort helped Spain control the future Port of Memphis part of the Mississippi River until it was abandoned and disassembled in 1797. Twenty years later, Memphis became the new State of Tennessee's westernmost settlement.

Founded in 1819 by Andrew Jackson, John Overton, and James Winchester, the new Port of Memphis was named after Egypt's ancient capital. The Port of Memphis soon developed as a center for transportation. Located high on a bluff above the Mississippi, the Port of Memphis area was attractive since it was free of floods.

The cotton economy of Southern states depended on slavery, and the Port of Memphis became an important slave market before the Civil War. The only pre-Civil War east-west railroad, the Memphis and Charleston Railroad began operating in the Port of Memphis in 1857.

When Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, the Port of Memphis became a stronghold for the Confederacy. In 1862, Union gunboats captured the city in the Battle of Memphis, and it continued to be a supply base for the Northern army for the rest of the war.

The Port of Memphis fell prey to yellow fever epidemics in the 1870s, and almost three-quartered of its residents either died or fled the city. With vastly reduced revenues from the property tax, the Port of Memphis almost lost its city charter.

In the late 19th Century, the Port of Memphis became the busiest spot cotton and hardwood lumber market in the world. Through the middle of the 20th Century, it continued to be the biggest mule market in the world.

Centrally located, the Port of Memphis had two major passenger rail stations and by the early 20th Century. While passenger service declined, the Port of Memphis continues to be an important hub for rail freight, and the Memphis Central Station continues to serve Amtrak's passenger rail.

In the first half of the 20th Century, the political machine of E.H. "Boss" Crump dominated the Port of Memphis. During that time, the city's network of parks and public works was created. The Port of Memphis discouraged heavy industry. Remembering the terrible yellow fever epidemics, the Port of Memphis installed fastidious sanitation and city drainage.

In the 1960s, the Port of Memphis was a center for civil rights struggles. In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Port of Memphis' Lorraine Motel.

Today, the Port of Memphis is known as a center for blues music and home to many nationally recognized musicians like Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash, B.B.King, Isaac Hayes, and many more.

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