Judge Hurst and the Search for Hurst Nation, Part 1

It’s a mystery: when was the term “Hurst Nation” first applied to that portion of northwest McNairy County (and present-day Chester County) where the Hurst and allied families lived?

As judge of the 12th Judicial Circuit of Tennessee, Fielding Hurst reportedly directed McNairy County sheriff (and former captain of Company A, Sixth Tennessee Cavalry) Samuel Lewis “‘to go back into the ‘Nation’ and bring back 25 men to serve as jurors.’ This happened regularly to ensure a guilty verdict against unreconstructed rebels in areas beyond the ‘Nation.'” (This is found in W. Clay Crook’s partisan article “Hurst!”)

So today, I began meticulously reading the handwritten Circuit Court Minute Book B on microfilm at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville looking for such a reference. So far I’m through the first 57 pages but no mention of the “Nation” or Judge Hurst instructing the sheriff to pluck jurors from friendly territory. I still have a lot more to read (and based on the quality of the microfilm, I may need to plan a visit to Selmer and look at the original book), but I’ve yet to find any underhanded or conniving behavior by Hurst.

When Hurst took the gavel on July 15, 1865, the 12th Judicial Circuit Court had not convened in McNairy County in over three years, and then it was a Confederate and not a Federal judiciary. The first day back saw the convening of the Grand Jury (all its members being loyal to the Union, no rebels allowed). It returned a flurry of indictments, mostly for larcenies and murders committed during the court’s absence.

The fifth bill of indictment handed down that day was an interesting one: William Roark, Roland D. Williams, and David Spencer were charged with the murder of William Hurst, nephew of the judge, on April 1, 1864. As you may recall from reading Hurst’s Wurst and other articles, the murder has always been blamed on “the Wharton gang,” which supposedly led to their executions by Hurst and the Sixth Tennessee. William was murdered a year after the executions — so obviously Wharton and his men didn’t do it. I haven’t found record of the murder trial itself yet.

As for the claim that Judge Hurst sought his own people for jurors, such a rigged effort really wasn’t necessary, if it occurred at all. There was no real danger in the years following the end of the war that ex-Confederates could gain access to the jury box. As state senator, Hurst did his part a few months before taking the bench to ensure they had no voice or vote in postwar society with the enactment of the Franchise Law. He knew who was loyal and who wasn’t, so there was little chance anyone other than Unionists would be in the jury pool. There really wasn’t the need to “go into the ‘Nation'” and find them.

I’ll check back when I have the opportunity to dig deeper in the minute book.

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