re:mixed race people were once banned from memphis

I have been searching and searching for more information on this.  I can’t find anything!  I’ve also been looking for information and photographs of the Mary Loiselle.  Again, nothing.  On I found another account of Marcus Winchester’s life that does not mention the ban on persons of mixed-race and questions the “accusation” that his wife was indeed a Negro. 

He married Mary Loiselle of New Orleans somewhere around 1823.  Mary was said to be a woman of color, but in this context it is hard to say what that meant.  Many slaves by this time looked white.  In any case the idea that she was a Negro hurt Winchester’s reputation and contributed to a number of business reversals that were to follow him to his grave.

Marcus acted as an agent for the proprietors and opened the first store. He was one of the first five members of the Quarterly Court and was elected register in 1820. When Memphis was incorporated in 1826, Winchester became the first mayor. He operated a ferry and served as postmaster until 1849, although his loyalty to the Jacksonians came under question when he supported Davy Crockett for Congress.

Because of his marriage and the deep rifts occurring along race lines leading up to the Civil War, Winchester’s career declined. A whispering campaign by members of the Murrell Clan alienated Winchester from the community.  Ultimately Winchester moved his family to a home a few miles outside the city.  

The idea that she was a Negro… That says a lot.

I searched through the guide to the Winchester family papers on  I find it “interesting” that in all of the correspondence listed for Marcus, there is no mention of a wedding or a wife or children.  One can glean that he was in New Orleans around the time he is said to have married.  There is also a later request for a deed for a “lot south of town of Memphis” which gives credence to the town’s ban of mixed race people.

I am so curious about this.


mixed race people were once banned from memphis

Marcus WinchesterCity Councilman Bill Boyd began with a genealogy quest, but unearthed a love story worthy of Rhett and Scarlett and an eventual demise worthy of Jimmy Hoffa.

Boyd, 73, knew most of the history of his great-great-grandfather, Marcus Winchester. He was the city’s first mayor, an aristocrat whom one historian calls “the most graceful, courtly, elegant gentleman that ever appeared upon Main Street.”

Several historians have written about Winchester’s colorful past. He grew up on a palatial Middle Tennessee farm near Gallatin, son of Gen. James Winchester, one of the original owners of the land now called Memphis. In fact, it was James Winchester who gave the city its name, likening it to the Egyptian city on the Nile.

… It was Marcus, the eldest, whom Winchester dispatched to West Tennessee in 1818 to inspect a land acquisition by the Winchesters and partners Andrew Jackson and John Overton.

Boyd says Marcus and a surveyor arrived in 1819 “to lay out a subdivision. The owners were anxious to get the town laid out so they could sell lots.”

Boyd, who would become a member of the West Tennessee Historical Society and the Descendants of the Early Settlers of Shelby County, says Winchester quickly rose to prominence.

…Marcus himself was a member of the city’s first Quarterly Court and town register. When the city was incorporated in 1826, he became its first mayor. But the historical accounts indicate the seeds of his undoing were planted in 1823 when he married “a woman of color.”

Attorney Lee Winchester, 85, an indirect descendant of the mayor, says that while many landowners lived with women of mixed race, it was rare, even illegal, for them to marry. Marcus threw caution to the wind. He wed Amirante “Mary” Loiselle in New Orleans, her hometown, where mixed-race marriages were legal.

“She was reputedly one of the most beautiful women ever seen in this part of the country. Her father had her educated in France, and she was brilliant. She was also one-sixteenth black. It was enough for her to be ostracized by what was then a pretty raggedy social society,” says Lee Winchester.

Shelby County historian Ed Williams says the divisiveness of politics and social tensions leading up to the Civil War turned Winchester into a target. Eventually, city aldermen “passed a law that anyone of mixed race could not live within the city limits of Memphis. It made it necessary for Mrs. Winchester to live about a half-block outside the city limits.”

Lee Winchester says Marcus remained with his wife.

“He was a pretty fine man, and the romance that brought him down was probably one of the most perfect romances that there was.”

Mary died in 1840, and Marcus Winchester remarried two years later, but his failing business and a series of lawsuits would impoverish him.

By Michael Lollar