West Tennessee land speculator John C. McLemore was born January 1, 1790, in Orange County, North Carolina. In 1809 he moved to Nashville, where he became a surveyor’s clerk. Five years later, he succeeded his uncle William Christmas as surveyor general of the Tennessee Military Tract. His name appeared in most county land books as a grant or land locator or as an official. Because of his character, generosity, and business acumen, contemporaries considered McLemore a potential gubernatorial or senatorial candidate, but he never ran for either office. Both Nashville and Memphis named an early street in his honor, an indication of his community status.
In addition to his popularity and impressive good looks, McLemore’s rise to prominence benefited from his marriage to Elizabeth Donelson, daughter of John Donelson, a longtime friend of Andrew Jackson. Before 1820 Jackson and McLemore cooperated in land development in northern Alabama with fellow brother-in-law and Jackson favorite General John Coffee.
McLemore invested heavily in West Tennessee’s development. Evidently he lent his name to McLemoresville and Christmasville in Carroll County. More importantly, the Jackson-McLemore tie resulted in the latter’s early interest in Memphis and made him the fourth founding father of the city, along with Jackson, John Overton, and James Winchester. In competition with Overton and Winchester, McLemore speculated in risky ventures, namely Fort Pickering and the LaGrange and Memphis Railroad. Nearly bankrupt, he tried to recoup his losses in California’s gold boom of 1850. Within a decade, McLemore returned to Memphis, where he died May 20, 1864.