John Murrell, Sr.
The First Man to Introduce Civilization to Northwest LouisianaHistory of Claiborne Parish
BY Susan T. Herring Editor, The Guardian-Journal
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If you travel just six miles southwest of Homer on the Dutchtown Road you will find what is left of the old homeplace of John Murrell, Sr., the first permanent white settlers wit ille resident Doug Marquardt, District Forester for Williamette Industries in Emerson, Arkansas, the site is still in tact and several dead and fallen trees have been removed from the Murrell Cemetery.
Marquardt learned of the site's historical value eight years ago when. Boy Scout Jermey Houston Vickers of the Yatasi District chose the cemetery for an Eagle Scout project. Vickers made and hung a sign over the entrance of the cemetery which reads - JOHN MURRELL SENIOR.
In the winter of 1818, Murrell, his wife and six children left Carthage, Tennessee with a few household goods, cooking utensils, a pack horse, two dogs and a rifle and traveled by barge down the Cumberland, Ohio, Mississippi, and Red Rivers, seven years before Louisiana became the eighteenth state to join the Union. Ten families joined the Murrells at Nashville, by the names of Wallace, Clark, Ward, Manning, Dyer, Hutson, Robinson, Duty, Dooly, and Peterson.
Although most of Murrell's neighbors were Indians, a number of pion lvinsville, which was later renamed Vienna. Other settlers included names such as Sims, Butler, Peters, Rainey, Pipes, Sykes (at Sykes' Ferry), Alden, and a Richard Fields near Old Germantown.
On March 29, 1819, Murrell's seventh child, Isaac, was born and is considered to have been the first white child born in Claiborne Parish.
During the first two years, several families settled in the Flat Lick Community. They were Martin and James Allen, Obadiah Driskill, Abraham Crownover, Jessie Williams, Tho justice of the peace. Murrell served as postmaster. The first store opened in 1822 near the Murrell home, closed a year or so later, then was reopened by Robert Lee Kilgore and James Lee in 1825
In 1828, law and government was also dispensed from the Murrell home, serving as the courthouse until the Police Jury of newly created Claiborne parish chose Russellville to be the first parish seat.
Several letters written in the 1860's tell of Murrell's youngest son, Isaac, who had a young slave named Edmond Merritt, described as "a faithful one he was". Merritt went with nephews Perry and John to fight in the Civil War.
On the morning of Sept. 17, 1862 one son told Merritt to take John Sr.'s gold watch home, that he would not be back. That night after the Battle of Sharpsburg, Merritt went onto the battlefield, turning over hundreds of dead to see their faces, but could not find them. Later, after returning their belongings and the gold watch, Merritt found John had been killed. Perry and friend, R.A. White, had been wounded.
After the Civil War, John, Jr. gave each of his former slaves forty acres, a cabin, and the right to be buried in the family cemetery. They took the last name of White. One marker reads, "Enoch White was born during the years of slavery. He reached a ripe old age. I hope to meet him some day in the great beyond. by his only daughter Victoria Lewis." Another reads, Allen White, Jr. PVT 1 CL, 329 Labor BN, Jan 26, 1895, Mar 19, 1933. Let not the dead forgotten be, Lest men forget that they must die."
At the entrance to the Murrell Cemetery is a grave marker which reads "Frederick Miller, Born In Germany, 1765 - 1822, grandfather of Emmaline Miller Botzong Langheld and Long John Miller, First white man buried in Claiborne Parish."
Few descendants of Murrell remain in the Homer area, however, Homer resident Ed Seeliger's two granddaughters, Angela Elaine Seeliger Hernandez, born Feb. 3, 1974, and Allison Yvette Seeliger, born July 27, 1977 are direct descendants of William Columbus Murrell, son of John Jr. William Columbus was said to have lost John Sr.'s gold watch on the way to the state fair in 1896.
Murrell was buried at the Murrell Cemetery on his home place, Flat Lick Plantation. He was a talented, enterprising person who became known as the "first man to introduce civilization to northwest Louisiana." and his epitaph reads, "Sacred to the memory of John Murrell, Sr. who died Jan. 25, 1847 age 63 years, 5 days. His creed was Faith, Hope, and Charity." One early settler, possibly John Murrell, Jr. wrote that "...we were all plain people then, with but few wants and much love for our fellow man."