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Bell Witch of Tennessee

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Martin Van Buren Ingram (1832-1909), better known as M. V. Ingram, was a pioneer journalist of Middle Tennessee.  In the town of Springfield, Robertson County, he helped to found the Robertson Register in 1866.  Three years later, in 1869, he moved to Clarksville in Montgomery County and started the Clarksville Tobacco Leaf.  In 1880, Ingram sold his interest in the newspaper, now called the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, but continued to write columns for the newspaper and also performed free-lance writing.

In 1887, Ingram's life to that point was summarized in a book published in that year entitled Picturesque Clarksville Past and Present.  An article concerning the Clarksville Tobacco Leaf newspaper appeared on pages 418 - 420 of that book as follows:

THE CLARKSVILLE TOBACCO LEAF

This paper was established by M. V. Ingram, February 11th, 1869.  Mr. Ingram commenced his newspaper career in Springfield, Tenn., in April, t866, without any experience whatever in the business. He had no purpose or idea of entering upon journalism, but was induced to lend the use of his name and small means to aid Archie Thomas, who was a practical printer, and just back from the Confederate army without employment or means to support a large family. They started the Robertson Register, under the firm name of M. V. Ingram & Co., a small folio, fourteen by eighteen inches. The labor in the office was greater than Mr. Thomas could perform alone, as was cal­culated at the outset, and Ingram undertaking to assist him, soon found himself initiated into all the detail work except composition. The Register met popular favor and was soon enlarged. It was largely patronized by Clarksville merchants, and became a firm advocate of Clarksville interests, especially the tobacco market, and Mr. Ingram was offered some inducements by the commercial interest to move his paper to Clarksville, which he accepted, suspending the Register in October, 1868, moving part of the material to Clarksville, issuing the first number of the Tobacco Leaf February 11th, 1869, filling out all contracts with the Robertson Register. This move was attended with most remarkable success under all of the circumstances. Mr. Ingrain had his little means all invested in printing office material, and came here on heavy expenses, depending on promised assistance and his own energies. The merchants advanced him nine hundred dollars, to be paid back in printing; the three banks then in the city loaned him three hundred dollars each, and the Franklin Type Foundry gave credit for the balance on an outfit costing four thousand dollars. A Cottrell & Babcock power press was included in the outfit, the first cylinder press brought to Tennessee outside of the cities publishing daily papers. The paper was about twenty-eight by forty-two inches, a nine-column folio, and issued a circulation of fifteen hundred on a credit, sending them all over the Clarksville tobacco district. It was predicted that the paper could not survive on such a basis, carrying such a burden, under the shadow of the reliable old Chronicle, then so popular with the people under the editorship of Robert W. Thomas, one of the then ablest political writers in Tennessee.  But it was soon demonstrated that Clarksville was able and willing to support two papers. The Chronicle could not meet all of the demands; it was crowded with advertisements and lacked for editorial space.  The proprietor of the Leaf observed that the Chronicle editor, with his long training, could not well change his paper from the political chan­nel in which he was so highly gifted, and started out cultivating a different field, looking more after the commercial and manufacturing interests, local enterprises, etc., Mr. Ingram superintending the mechanical department, financiering, book-keeping, collecting, and editorial work, keeping himself in a strain from early morning till midnight, but soon finding his physical strength failing, he employed Mr. Charles O. Faxon several months to write political editorials suited to the reconstruction period, making it exceedingly hot for the carpet-baggers, which were pleasing to the public. H. M. Doak was then employed to write for the political columns, and in December, 1869, he was admitted as a partner, which relationship continued until July 11th, 1874, when Ingram sold his interest to Doak, and just one year later Doak sold the paper back to Ingram. Mr. Ingram built him an office on the corner of Third and Franklin streets, and had just about got the paper up to a high degree of prosperity in its new quarters, when the fire of April 13th, 1878, swept away the entire establishment except the form of four pages, a few cases of type, and a desk. This was a clear loss of six thousand dollars in building, type, presses, etc., with an insurance of only thirty-two hundred dollars, besides a half of one year's business lost. A new outfit was purchased costing forty-two hundred dollars, and the paper reestablished. In the mean time the paper was con­verted into an eight-page form, to increase the advertising space. This being inconvenient to readers, Mr. Ingram fell upon the idea of dividing it into two papers, or semi-weekly, which still increased the space, the advertising being weekly was divided between the two issues, and the semi-weekly sent to all subscribers, and the paper has continued in that form up to this time. In 1880 Ingrain sold an interest to Clay Stacker, and the firm of Ingram & Stacker continued one year, when Ingram sold out to Stacker, and Stacker immediately sold the paper to W. O. Brandon and W. W. Barksdale, the present proprietors. W. W. Barksdale entered the office in 1872, with Ingram & Doak, as an apprentice, and was connected with it as compositor up to the time he became one of the proprietors. In 1875 Walter O. Brandon, of Columbia, Tenn., was employed as foreman of the office, and Mr. Ingrain having other interests requiring his attention, soon after placed Mr. Brandon in charge as business manager, which relationship continued up to the time Mr. Starker was taken in as partner. The leading projects of the Tobacco Leaf during the first years of its existence, which the founder claims to have originated, was the organization of the Clarksville Board of Trade, getting up tobacco fairs, and agitating the Princeton Railroad into life. Mr. Ingram's health failed under the continued strain; this, together with continued family afflictions, loss by fire, and other things, combined to force him from the business.

 

In 1894 Ingram published his most famous work:  The Authenticated History of the Bell Witch.  In local parlance, this red-covered book is known as the "Red Book" and is by far the most complete account of the Bell Witch legend.

Ingram retired from journalism in 1907 and died on 04 October 1909.  Editor W. W. Barksdale published a detailed obituary on the front page of the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle for Tuesday, 05 October 1909.  A complete transcript of this obituary is presented below.

Obituary of M. V. Ingram

The Nestor of Tennessee Journalism Passes Away

Peacefully and Serenely

A Residence of Forty Busy Years in This Community is at Last Terminated by the Grim Messenger

Something of the History and Life Work of Martin Van Buren Ingram, in Many Respects One of the Most Remarkable Men Who Has Ever lived in This Community

The spark of Martin Van Buren Ingram passed into the Great Beyond at 2 o'clock Monday afternoon, October 4, his death being peaceful and serene.  Among those who were at his bedside at the end were two of his three surviving children, Mrs. Fred Benson of Jacksonville, Fla. and Tolbert R. Ingram of Denver, Col.  Mr. Ingram suffered from no specific disease.  The machinery of life had simply wore out, and undoubtedly an ordinary man would have succumbed sooner than he to the infirmities incident to one of his age.  For more than a year he had been perceptibly failing.  His strength gradually departing from him.  But in spite of this he retained to a marked degree the vigorous mentality which characterized him throughout his life.  Noble old warrior, Christian and patriot that he was, he had placed his house in order and awaited with patient equanimity the summons from his Maker to come up higher.  While the time had come in his life - as it does in all lives - when every dream of ambition had lost its spell, when the applause of men was an indifferent call to his ear, still he leaves behind him a name beyond the reach of mendacity and impervious to the attacks of malice and a record which cannot be ignored or forgotten.  He had the power, through his pen, to impress his personality upon the lives and memories of hundreds, yea thousands of men - his life work had been one long record of loyalty and disinterested labor for the home of his adoption - Clarksville.  We doubt exceedingly if there ever lived a man who performed as much self-sacrificing labor to further the interests of the community in which he lived.  He became a citizen of Clarksville forty years ago and from that time practically until the day of his death his greatest concern was the advancement and welfare of his adopted town and county.  He wrote with a tireless pen while if at times it was caustic, yet notwithstanding he always had a good purpose to conserve.  A man of true mold, he despised all deceit, trickery and littleness, and with a courage which nothing could daunt, he laid on the journalistic lash unsparingly whenever he thought the occasion required.  Naturally his was not a pathway strewn with roses - his was an aggressive nature, a fact which often brought him into serious collision with those with whom he took issue.  Time, however, usually justified him in the positions which he assumed.  How grateful to the memory of those who were upon terms of intimacy with him, must ever be the recollection of his many enduring and kindly virtues.  Strong in his attachments, affectionate in his sympathies, he clung to the ties of friendship, kindred and domestic love, with an ardor no time, no distance, no circumstance could diminish.  

The seasons in their bright round will come and go; hope and joy and great ambition will rise up as they have risen.

But he will come no more.

His life is blended with the mysterious tide which bears upon its current events, institutions, empires, in the awful sweep of destiny.

No praise or censure nor love nor hate, nothing can touch him further.  The lesson of his life to young men is encouraging.  He loved the young men especially those of his profession.  They should cherish his name forever.  He was of a temperament at once generous and proud - a true southern man, such as our institutions and social habits have always tended to produce.  His friends will revere the gentler traits of his character - others (if there be such) will forgive his antagonism.

That the people of Clarksville will keenly realize their loss inn the death of Martin Ingram is palpable to all who have known him for so many years as the editor and publisher of their leading journal, in the prosecution and publication of which he not only gave the best years of his life, but expended hundreds of thousands of dollars in its maintenance, all of which was left in this community.  Throughout all the years he devoted to this work there was never an issue of his paper in which something did not appear to further the welfare of his beloved town.  The worth of such a man to any community cannot be computed in mere dollars and cents - his services were incalculable.

Biographical

Martin Van Buren Ingram was born in Montgomery county, Tenn. near the present town of Guthrie, Ky., in what was known as the Pondy Woods neighborhood 0n June 20, 1832, his earlier life being spent upon the farm.  He was the son of Moses and Cynthia Ingram.  On February 8, 1860 he was united in marriage to Annie Laurie, daughter of Dr. W. H. and Elizabeth Farmer of Springfield, Tenn.  There were born to him of this marriage the following children:  Emmett Leslie, Willis Harper, Lonnie Elizabeth, Winfield Warren, Emeline Hadnilton [sic], Georgie Ann Ellen and Tolbert Riley.  Three only of these children survive him:  Mrs Fred Benson of Jacksonville Fla.; Mrs. W. P. Dickey, of Dallas, Texas, and T. R. Ingram of Denver.  His second marriage was to Mrs. Annie E. Mitchell, near Sadlersville, in Robertson county.  One child was born to him from his second marriage, the same dying in infancy.

Mr. Ingram was a devout Baptist throughout life and loved his church above all other institutions.  So long as his health and circumstances permitted, he was a constant communicant, fulfilling scrupulously and lovingly his church vows.  He was a leading factor in promoting the original fortunes of the First Baptist church of this city, and for many years occupied the most intimate relationship with the late Rev. Dr. A. D. Sears, who for a period of twenty-eight years consecutively was the beloved pastor of that church.  Mr. Ingram was devotedly attached to Dr. Sears and it was conspicuously a mutual attachment.  He was one of that eminent man's most trusted counselors for many years.  Another institution with which he was actively connected in his younger years was Free Masonry.  He was a good and true Mason, which is saying much for any man.

His Newspaper Career

Mr. Ingram commenced his newspaper career in Springfield, Tenn., in April 1866, minus any experience whatever in the business.  He had no purpose or idea of entering the field of journalism, but was induced to lend the use of his name and small means to aid Archie Thomas, a practical printer just back from the Confederate Army without employment or means with which to support a large family.  They started the Robertson Register under the name of M. V. Ingram & Co.  The paper was a small folio 14X18 inches in size.  The labor in the office was greater than Mr. Thomas could perform alone, and undertaking to assist him, Mr. Ingram soon found himself initiated into all the detail work except typesetting.  The Register met popular favor and was soon enlarged.  It was largely patronized by Clarksville merchants and became a firm advocate of Clarksville interests, especially the tobacco market.  Accordingly, Mr. Ingram was offered some inducements by the commercial interests to move his paper to Clarksville.  Accepting these offers, he suspended the publication of the Register in October 1868, moving part of his printing material to Clarksville, issuing the first number of the Clarksville Tobacco Leaf on February 11, 1869, filling all outstanding contracts with the Robertson Register.  The move was attended with most remarkable success under the existing circumstances.  Mr. Ingram had his little means all invested in printing office material, and came here on heavy expense, depending upon promised assistance and his own indomitable energies.  The merchants of Clarksville advanced him nine hundred dollars, to be returned to them in printing and advertising; the three banks then in the city lent him three hundred dollars each.  The Franklin Type Foundry of Cincinnati, extended him credit on the remainder of an outfit costing four thousand dollars.  A power press was included in the outfit, the first cylinder press brought to Tennessee outside of the cities publishing daily papers.  The paper was about twenty-eight by forty-two inches, a nine column folio and issued a circulation of 1,500 copies on a credit, sending them all over the Clarksville tobacco district.  It was prophesied that the paper could not survive on such a basis, carrying so great a burden, under the shadow of the reliable old Chronicle then so popular with the people under the editorship of Robert W. Thomas, one of the then ablest political writers in Tennessee.  But it was soon demonstrated that the Tobacco Leaf, under the management and editorship of Mr. Ingram, then comparatively a young man, was destined to succeed.  Observing that the editor of the Chronicle with his long training, could not well change his paper from the political channel in which he was so highly gifted, Mr. Ingram started out to cultivate a different field, looking more after the commercial and manufacturing interests, local enterprises, etc.  At that time Mr. Ingram superintended the mechanical department, kept the books, financed the paper and did its editorial work.  Finding that the task was too great for his strength and endurance, he employed Charles O. Faxon several months to write political editorials applicable to the Reconstruction period.  He made it exceedingly hot for the carpet baggers, which pleased the public.  H. M. Doak, then a Clarksville attorney, was next employed to write for the political columns of the paper, being admitted as a partner in December, 1869, which relationship continued until July, 1874, when Mr. Ingram disposed of his interest in the paper to Mr. Doak.  Just one year later Doak sold the paper back to Ingram.  The latter then built him a printing office on the corner of Franklin and Third streets, the site at present occupied by Lynes Bros. meat store.  He had just about got the paper up to a high degree of prosperity in its new quarters when the great fire of April 13, 1878 swept away the entire establishment.  All that was saved from the office were the type forms of the paper, a few cases of type and a desk.  He sustained a very serious loss, his insurance amounting to only $3,200.  A new outfit was purchased, however, and the publication of the paper was converted into an eight-page form with a view of providing more advertising space.  This having been found inconvenient to its readers, Mr. Ingram hit upon the idea of dividing it into two papers, making it a semi-weekly instead of a weekly.  The paper continued in that form for many years.  In 1880 Ingram sold an interest in the paper to the late Clay Stacker, the firm of Ingram & Stacker continuing for one year, when Mr. Ingram sold out to Stacker, the latter immediately selling the paper on August 8, 1881 to W. W. Barksdale and W. O. Brandon, the firm of Brandon & Barksdale continuing in existence for ten years.

The leading projects of the Tobacco Leaf during the earliest years of its existence was the organization of the old Clarksville Board of Trade, promoting tobacco fairs, and the agitation of the Princeton railroad into life.  Mr. Ingram's health failed under the continued strain; this, together with repeated family affliction, losses by fire and other things, combined to force him from newspaper proprietorship.  His interest in newspaper work, however, continued through life.  He has written voluminously for the press in the years that have vanished, his pen having exerted a wide influence throughout this section of the country.  He loved the work, and there was nothing too arduous in connection therewith for him to undertake.  In many respects one of the most remarkable men who has ever lived in Clarksville has gone to his last reward, undismayed and with his house in perfect order.  Martin Van Buren Ingram was a good and true man.

The Funeral

Funeral services were conducted at 3:30 o'clock this afternoon from the First Baptist church, the pastor, Rev. C. D. Graves, officiating.  (Mr. Ingram had retained membership in this church for the past forty years.)  The interment was at Greenwood under Masonic auspices, the body being deposited in sacred juxtaposition in the graves of departed kindred.  The following friends were chosen as active pallbearers:  J. T. Batson, C. P. Warfield, W. W. Barksdale, M. C. Northington, W. R. Bringhurst, and A. M. Leach.

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