The first settlers of Memphis were the Chickasaw Indians, who had a village named Chisca there on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Hernando de Soto, in 1541, is said to have had his first glimpse of the Mississippi from the site of Memphis; in the next century, Louis Joliet and Jacques Marquette stopped there to trade with the Indians. The French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, tried to claim the region for France in 1682 and built Fort Prudhomme on the site.
The area was ceded to the United States by the Chickasaw Indians in 1818. Memphis was officially established in 1819 by three enterprising businessmen from Nashville, James Winchester, John Overton, and future president Andrew Jackson. Jackson named it after the ancient Egyptian city because of its site on the Nile-like Mississippi River. Memphis was incorporated as a city in 1826 and became an important Mississippi River port.
During the Civil War, Memphis was a Confederate military center. In 1862, federal forces won a gunboat battle on the river at Memphis, and General Sherman was able to take the city. After the war, Memphis's population was devastated by several yellow-fever epidemics during the 1870s. As a result, the city fell into decline and went bankrupt, losing its charter in 1879. However, owing to its superior location, the city was able to recover economically, and a new city charter was granted in 1893.
Memphis is known as “America's Distribution Center,” serving the northeast, southeast, and southwest regions of the country. The city has one of the country's largest inland ports and is the national headquarters for the Fed Ex air-courier company. Health care and related activities such as medical education and biomedical research are Memphis's largest industries, bringing over $5 billion a year to the local economy.
Many of the city's tourist attractions are landmarks associated with the great Memphis music legends, such as Graceland, Elvis Presley's home.
See also Encyclopedia: Memphis.
Selected famous natives and residents: