Early settlers and land speculators started coming in this area of north Mississippi after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832. An act of the Mississippi legislature formed twelve counties from this cession and on February 9, 1836, Lafayette County was chartered.
A group of member of a Presbyterian Church had first moved into the area from Maury County, Tennessee. They first settled near the Yalobusha and Lafayette County lines. Better land was available near the center and northwest portion of the county, and a group of the church members moved into the area that would later become Oxford and College Hill.
They formed a church at College Hill and later the North Mississippi College. Two of the men from Maury County, Tennessee partnered with a third church member from Alabama to speculate in land purchases and sales.
The two from Tennessee were John J. Craig and John D. Martin. The one from Alabama was John Chisholm.
It seems that these men must have had some contact with each other prior to their move to north Mississippi. They must have been cousins or in-laws, and each of the three would play a large part in the formation of Oxford, albeit in search of a fast buck.
In 1835, John J. Craig built a log cabin on a ridge near the center of what would become Lafayette County. This building was the first outpost or store in the area south of the Tallahatchie River and north of the Yockeney-Patafa River. He brought along with him his nephew, Thomas Dudley Isom. Isom was nineteen years old, and he was to have the job of running the store for his uncle. This would start an association for Isom with Oxford that spanned from 1835 to 1902.
The log cabin store or outpost was located where present day Boure Restaurant is now located. Later, Isom would go to Pennsylvania to study medicine and come back to Oxford to set up a practice. The Boure building housed his drug store downstairs and his medical office upstairs after it was constructed in the 1880s. His home was on Jefferson, just to the west of North Lamar.
Those Indians in the hierarchy of the Chickasaw Nation were allotted land to sell or keep. Martin, Chisholm and Craig purchased a section of land, 640 acres, from an Indian lady by the name Hoka. The federal government had set a price per acre of $1.25, and that is the amount per acre she was paid.
The enterprising young land speculators then gave fifty acres to the county for the county seat. The state legislature required that the county seat of the new counties in north Mississippi were to be within five geographical miles of the center of the county and the fifty acres fulfilled that requirement.
This fifty acres would generate proceeds for the new county to construct the first courthouse and the first jail from the sale of lots to the public. The three land speculators had 590 acres left to sell at increased prices due to the fact that the county seat was located within their acreage.
Oxford and greatly enhanced property values have been present since its inception.
It should be pointed out that another Chickasaw in the area also owned land that would be within the city limits of the new county seat. My grandfather’s ten acres on south Lamar, just before you get to the by-pass convenience stores, was first owned by Eah Na Yea. I have a copy of the deed to the property when my grandfather purchased the land in the early 1920s. It has an abstract that goes back to the Chickasaw Cession, and the federal government allotting the land to the old Indian.
At a meeting of the local white settlers, a discussion on the name for the new county seat was brought up. The meeting was probably held in the Craig Trading Post. Isom stated that the town should be called Oxford and it was calculated to bring recognition to this new town in north Mississippi.
There was debate in the state legislature and around the state of an idea to form and construct a new state university to educate the young men of the state. No town had as of yet been designated for the location. Isom surmised that with a name like Oxford, it would denote a seat of higher learning in the state.
Oxford University in England was the oldest English speaking university in the world and had started in 1059. There were twenty towns in Mississippi that were purposed for the site of the new state university. The voting had the number reduced to two town, Oxford and Mississippi City on the Gulf Coast. Isom’s plan worked … Oxford won the voting by one vote … 58-57.
This past May 11th, Oxford celebrated its 176th anniversary.
Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.
In addition to his weekly blog in HottyToddy.com Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.