There is not much known about Piercy Yell, father of James Yell. There has been no clue found as to who his wife was, but we do know that he had at least three sons: James, Thomas and Mordica. Thomas came to Pine Bluff with James, and Mordica, a Methodist minister, moved to Texas.
James was born in Bedford County, Tennessee, on March 10, 1811. His early opportunity for school was not the best, yet, he acquired a fair education, which he improved greatly as he grew older. He taught school for three years at Shelbyville, Tennessee, and served Bedford County one term as sheriff.. He later read law under Malcolm Gilchrist, one of the most prominent jurists, in Tennessee, at the time.
James moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in March, 1838. Thomas, his brother, also, settled in Pine Bluff and married Felicia Erwin. He later moved to Pulaski County and became a school commissioner.
James and a partner by the name of Thomas S. James purchased all of the original city of Pine Bluff land that had not already been sold to individuals from a land company by the name of Pinkard, Chewning, Davis, and Dawson, all non-residents. This company bought the land from John W. Pullen, who had laid it off into a town. Pullen bought the land from it from its original owner, Joseph Boone.
James Yell and Thomas made their homes on block #22. Yell’s home was on the eastern half of the block at Barraque and Fugate (what is now Barraque and State streets).
James’ home was at Barraque and Main Street. Both homes were distoried in the Battle of Pine Bluff. Block 22 is across Barraque from the County Court House on the east side of Main Street.
General Yell and his wife, Anne Pamelia Smith were members of the First Methodist Church, which was first located at Pullen and Dardenne Street. Dardenne is now Alabama Street.) When the congregation outgrew its building there, Yell and James gave the church a lot on the northwest cornor of South Common (now Fourth Avenue) and Main Street. The deed for this property was dated April 25, 1857. (Anyone who is as much as 70 years old will remember this corner as ‘Kress Cornor’)
The 1860 census Farm Schedule shows that the General was more than just a very successful lawyer. It shows that he owned a 730 acre plantation, which produced 154 bales of cotton and 2,000 bushels of corn. He owned three horses and 14 mules. The 1860 Slave Schedule shows that he owned 27 slaves. At least one of these slaves went on to become a very prominent citizen, of Pine Bluff, after the War Between the States. He was Wiley Jones, the man who brought the first street cars and a harness racing track to Pine Bluff. He, also, filed a plat for a town, called White Sulphur Springs, which became the best-known resort in the area. At the time of Jones’ death he was believed to have been the richest black man in the state.
I am not sure just when Yell received the title of General, but in 1856, a Pine Bluff Newspaper, “The American,” referred to his with the title “General”, in stating that he was running for Governor on the American, or “Know Nothing” party ticket. According to the article, Yell visited every county in the state campaigning, but lost the race to Elias Conway.
[NOTE: “The American” newspaper was owned by William Smith, Yell’s brother-in-law.]
(Part 4 will be published on the Arkansas Toothpick on December 7, 2014.)