From 1854 to 1860, Nathan Bedford Forrest operated a profitable slave trading business at this site. In 1826,Tennessee had prohibited bringing enslaved people into the state for the purpose of selling them. As cotton and slavery grew in importance, the legislature repealed the ban in 1855. Starting that year, Memphis emerged as a regional hub for the slave trade. In addition to the more than 3000 enslaved people who lived and worked in Memphis at the time, thousands more flowed in and out of the city, as traders and their agents brought a steady supply of human cargo into town via roads, river, and rail. In 1854, Forrest purchased this property on Adams, between second and Third, just east of an alley behind Calvary Episcopal Church. Most slaves were sold at lots like this one before ending up on plantations in the Mississippi Delta or further south. Horatio Eden, sold from Forrest's yard as a child, remembered the place as a "square stockade of high boards with two room Negro houses around...We were all kept in these rooms, but when an auction was held or buyers came, we were brought out and paraded two or three times around a circular brick walk in the center of the stockade. The buyers would stand nearby and inspect us as we went by, stop us, and examine us."
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Much of the slave trade in Memphis occurred on Adams Avenue. Located in the heart of town and connecting the riverfront steamboat landing to the Memphis and Charleston Railroad line, the street
offered easy access to buyers and sellers. In 1855, the city directory listed eight slave dealers, including Forrest, five of whom were located on Adams. While his business practices resembled those of other traders in town, Forrest uniquely engaged in the buying and selling of Africans illegally smuggled into the United States, in violation of an 1808 congressional ban. Several sources confirm that in 1859 Forrest sold at least six newly-arrived Africans "direct from the Congo" at his yard. Slave trading proved a growth industry, and by 1860 the number of slaver dealers in Memphis had increased to ten, including six with addresses on Adams. In that year, Forrest sold this property and moved one block east, where he expanded his operations, while another group of slave dealers took ownership of this lot. Secession and war disrupted the slave trading business, and in 1861 Forrest went off the fight for the Confederacy. In the decades after the Civil War, many white southerners chose to portray Forrest as a military hero, thus excusing or ignoring Forrest's buying and selling of human beings.