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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 396

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This is the grave of John Overton.

Born in 1766 in Louisa County, Virginia, Overton moved to Tennessee in 1787 and began practicing law in Nashville in 1789. He became one of the economic leaders of Tennessee, basically by being a massive slaveholder. He was also very good friends with another rising Tennessee star, Andrew Jackson. In fact, when Jackson murdered John Dickinson in a duel over a horse race in 1806, Overton was his second. Moreover, when he moved to Tennessee, he boarded with Lewis Robards and his wife Rachel, who would later be Andrew Jackson’s wife before she officially divorced Robards, leading to the bigamist claims that made Jackson murderous and that he blamed on his political opponents. Overton defended Jackson on this too. He was elected to replace Jackson on the state’s superior court in 1806, serving in that position until 1810. He founded the city of Memphis in 1819 on land he and Jackson owned on the Mississippi River. Overton could have gone on to political success, but instead focused more on growing his massive wealth and serving Jackson’s interests in the state. He was such a sizable slaveholder that today there’s a whole archive to help researchers study the institution and the people subjected to it. He was strongly anti-centralized bank, opposing the resumption of specie payments during the Panic of 1819, focusing on the interests of small debtors such as existed throughout Tennessee. As the head of the Nashville branch of the Bank of Tennessee, he had plenty of power to see this happen. He then helped engineer the election of an anti-centralized bank governor, William Carroll, in 1821. He helped start the Jackson for President process in 1822 when he maneuvered allies in the Tennessee legislature to nominate the general. Knowing everything about the issue with Jackson’s wife, he led the fight to defend Jackson. He hated Martin Van Buren and that concerned other Jackson advisers, but he remained a close confidant of Jackson through his first term. However, his health was in decline and he died in Nashville in 1833. Evidently, you can visit his plantation home and they are trying to “make it real” for visitors by talking about slavery. I am skeptical as to how effective that is, but I haven’t been, so I guess I shouldn’t say.

John Overton is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery, Nashville, Tennessee.

This grave visit was supported by LGM reader contributions. Thanks! If you would like this series to visit more leading Tennessee slavers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Nathan Bedford Forrest is in Memphis, and you know you want that post. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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