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Biographical Sketch of Jesse Peders Norfleet

by Phil Norfleet

Jesse Peders Norfleet (1877-1964)

Jesse Peders8 Norfleet (Frank Marmaduke7, Jesse Peters6, Abraham5, John4, John3, John2, Thomas1 Northfleete) was born 05 July 1877 in Panola County MS, and died 08 February 1964 in Memphis TN. He married Elsie Vance 25 January 1905 in Memphis TN. She died Aft. 1964.  Jesse was the son of Frank Marmaduke Norfleet (1846-1921) and Elizabeth Octavia Stinson (1848-1919).


Jesse was educated at the public schools of Memphis and Webb School, in Bellbuckle, Tennessee.  He matriculated at the University of Virginia and attended for two years, from 1895-97; He transferred to Vanderbilt University, where he obtained a B. A. degree in 1899.


In June 1899, Mr. Norfleet joined his father's firm, Sledge & Norfleet Co.,  and was with this company for most of his life. In his prime, he held many prominent positions in business and fraternal organizations.  For example, he was at one time the Director, National Bank of Commerce; Director of the Bank of Commerce & Trust Co.; Director of Memphis Branch Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Director of Memphis Compress Co.; Trustee of Vanderbilt University; was a Director for 31 years at Memphis Power & Light Co., or its predecessors and until it was sold to City of Memphis; and was Director at one time or another in all of the large Memphis Banks. He was President of the Board of Education, Memphis City Schools from 1914-18. In 1912 he was Commander-in-Chief, Sons of Confederate Veterans. He was the Regional Coordinator of the 8th Federal Reserve Bank and was Regional Chairman of the First World War Loan Drive at the 8th Federal Reserve Bank.


He was active in Masonic activities, being a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Mason; he was Past Potentate at the Al Chymia Temple, Shrine. He also was a member of the Memphis Country Club and a member of the Church of the Holy Communion (Episcopal) Church.  His high standing in Memphis social circles is exemplified by being selected as the second King of the Memphis Cotton Carnival in 1932.

In summary, Jesse Peders Norfleet lived a very long and full life, dying in 1964 at the age of 86.


In order to describe Jesse's life in more detail, four (4) extracts concerning various aspects of his life are appended below:

1) A biographical sketch of Jesse Peders Norfleet, from the book "A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans" (published 1913) by Will T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt, pages 221-2214, is set forth below:


One of the progressive business men of the younger generation in the city of Memphis, where he controls a prosperous enterprise as a cotton factor, Mr. Norfleet is well entitled to specific recognition in this work. He is one of the loyal and public-spirited citizens of Memphis and here his circle of friends is coincident with that of his acquaintances. He has been deeply interested for a number of years in the affairs of the fine organization known as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and his prominence and popularity in the order may be understood when it is stated that in May, 1912, he was elected commander in chief of the national organization of the same.

Jesse Peders Norfleet was born at Como, Panola county, Mississippi, on the 5th of July, 1877, and is a son of Frank M. and Octavia (Stinson) Norfleet, both representatives of old and distinguished Southern families. The father was born at Holly Springs, Mississippi, in April 1846, and is a son of Jesse and Jane (Carlock) Norfleet. The Norfleet genealogy is traced back to staunch English origin and the first representative of the name in America established a home in Suffolk, Nansemond county, Virginia. Later generations removed from the historic Old Dominion to Mississippi and became prominent planters in the latter state. The mother of the subject of this review is a representative of the well-known Stinson family of South Carolina.

Frank M. Norfleet was reared and educated in his native state and when the Civil War had its inception he promptly tendered his service in defense of the cause of the Confederacy. He enlisted in Company C, Eighteenth Mississippi Cavalry, with which gallant command he served nearly two years, under General Forrest, and with which he proved himself a valiant and loyal soldier. After the close of the war he did well his part in retrieving the prostrate energies of the devastated Southland, and he continued to be actively identified with the planting industry in Mississippi until 1884, in which year he served as a member of the legislature of that state. In the same year he removed his family to Memphis, Tennessee, where he and his wife have since maintained their home. In 1885 he entered into partnership with a Mr. Sledge, as a member of the firm of Sledge & Norfleet, cotton factors, and of this firm his son Jesse P., of this review, is now a member, besides being associated' with his father in the retention of extensive cotton planting interests in Mississippi, where they are probably the largest individual planters in the entire state, their land holdings in Tunica county, Mississippi, aggregating nearly eighteen thousand acres. Frank M. Norfleet served for some time as president of the Memphis Cotton Exchange, in Memphis, Tenn., and he is an interested principal and executive in various banks and other leading business concerns in Memphis. He has ever retained a deep interest in his old comrades in arms and signifies the same by his membership in the United Confederate Veterans' Association. He holds membership in the Chickasaw, City and Country Clubs, and both he and his wife are members of St. John's church, Methodist Episcopal, South. He is a staunch Democrat and has been an influential factor in councils in Mississippi and Tennessee, and as a man of distinctive ability and sterling character he holds the unqualified confidence and esteem of all who know him.

Jesse P. Norfleet was a lad of seven years at the time of the family removal to Memphis, and after availing himself of the advantages of the public schools of this city he continued his studies in the Webb School, at Bellbuckle, this state. Thereafter he attended the historic old University of Virginia for two years and then entered Vanderbilt University, at Nashville, Tennessee, in which latter institution he was graduated as a member of the class of 1899 and from which he received the degree of Bachelor of Arts. While still in the university he obtained an interest in the firm of Sledge & Norfleet, and since his graduation he has been actively identified with the extensive operations of this well known firm. He is also treasurer and a director of the Merchants' Light & Power Company, of Memphis, and a member of the directorate of the Central State Bank & Trust Company, one of the leading financial institutions of Memphis. Mr. Norfleet also holds membership in the Memphis Cotton Exchange, the Business Men's Club, the Tennessee Club, the Chickasaw Club, and the Country and Tennis Clubs.

Mr. Norfleet has been a close and appreciative student of the teachings and history of the time-honored Masonic fraternity and is one of its prominent representatives in Tennessee. His maximum York Rite affiliation is with Memphis Commandery No. 4, Knights Templar, and in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite he has attained to the thirty-second degree, in Tennessee Sovereign Consistory, No. 1, besides which he is a knight commander of the Court of Honor, and potentate of Al Chymia Temple, Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. He has passed various official chairs in both the York and Scottish Rite bodies and is at the present time venerable master of John Chester Lodge of Perfection, fourteenth degree, of the latter rite. He has been a most earnest worker in the great fraternity, and it was virtually through his zealous efforts that the beautiful Scottish -Rite Cathedral in Memphis was erected, tie is at the present time president of the board of trustees of the cathedral.

Popular alike in business, social and fraternal circles, Mr. Norfleet has extended his activities further than the foregoing statements denote, as he has been specially prominent in the affairs of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He has served as commander of the local camp in Memphis, was later department commander for the state of Tennessee for two years, and in 1911 he was a member of the executive council of the general organization. At the general reunion of the national organization of Sons of Confederate Veterans, at Macon, Georgia, in May 1912, he had the enviable distinction of being unanimously elected commander in chief of the body -- an honor that is appreciated not only by himself, his family and personal friends, but also by the city of Memphis as a whole. Though he has never sought the honors or emoluments of public office, Mr. Norfleet is essentially loyal and progressive as a citizen, and he accords unqualified allegiance to the cause of the Democratic party, in the faith of which he was reared.

On the 25th of January 1905, was solemnized the marriage of Mr. Norfleet to Miss Elsie Vance, daughter of Reinzi H. and Mary (Carroll) Vance, of Memphis. Mrs. Norfleet is a granddaughter of General William H. Carroll, a distinguished officer of the Confederate forces in the war between the states, and thus she is a great-granddaughter of Hon. William H. Carroll, who was one of the early governors of Tennessee and who was a gallant soldier in the war of 1812, in which he participated in the battle of New Orleans, under General Jackson. Mr. and Mrs. Norfleet are leaders in the representative social activities of Memphis, and their home is brightened by the presence of their two winsome children -- Rienzi and Mary Elise.


2) A biographical sketch of Jesse Peders Norfleet, from the book "Tennessee  the Volunteer State 1769-1923" (published 1923), Volume III, pages 499-500, is set forth below:

For a period of thirty-eight years members of the Norfleet family have figured conspicuously in business circles of' Memphis in connection with the cotton industry and Jesse P. Norfleet is also contributing to the prestige of the city along this line. He is president of the Sledge & Norfleet Company, one of the pioneer cotton firms of Memphis, and is also at the head of the Clover Farm Dairy Company, while he likewise bas extensive agricultural interests. He was born in Panola County, Mississippi, July 5. 1877, and his parents were Frank M. and Octavia [Stinson] Norfleet. They were married April 12, 1866, and both were natives of Holly Springs, Mississippi. The paternal grandfather, Jesse P. Norfleet, formerly resided in Suffolk, Virginia and in 1838 he went to Mississippi settling in Marshall County while the maternal grandfather removed to the Bayou state from South Carolina. Frank M. Norfleet, the father of the subject of this review, was born April 9, 1846, and during the last two years of the Civil war he was a member of the Confederate army, serving first under General Chalmers, while later General Forrest became his commanding officer. While residing in Mississippi he was selected a member of the state legislature and in 1884 he removed from Tate County, that state, establishing his home in Memphis. He at once became an active participant in business affairs of the city and in the year of his arrival founded the firm of Sledge & Norfleet, cotton factors. He was made president of the firm and continued to serve in that capacity until about five years before his death, when he was succeeded by his son, Jesse P. Norfleet. He passed away November 12, 1921, at the age of seventy-five, and the mother was called to her final rest on June 28, 1919, when she was seventy-one years of age, her birth having occurred on the 1st of January, 1848. Mr. and Mrs. Norfleet became the parents of six children, three sons and three daughters, all but one of whom are married.

Jesse P. Norfleet was but seven years of age when his parents removed to Memphis and he attended the public schools of the city, the Wharton Jones Military Academy and /the Webb School at Bellbuckle, Tennessee, remaining at the last named institution for three years. He next spent two years as a student at the University of Virginia and this was followed by a two years course in Vanderbilt University at Nashville, Tennessee, from which he was graduated in 1899, winning the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He has since been identified with the Sledge & Norfleet Company and became its president in 1916, succeeding his father in that office. The entire stock of the concern is owned by Mr. Norfleet and his brothers and sisters, and he controls a majority of the shares. While it is true that he entered upon a business already established, he has greatly enlarged the scope of the firm and is now controlling one of the leading enterprises of this character in the mid-south. He also has other important business interests, being president of the Clover Farm Dairy Company, which supplies the city of Memphis with about one-third of its dairy products. He is a director of the Liberty Savings Bank & Trust Company of Memphis and is the owner of extensive plantation interests in the Mississippi Delta, having about six thousand acres, on which he raises long staple cotton and other crops, such as corn, alfalfa, peas, sorghum, etc. He is very enterprising and does not hesitate to extend his interests as opportunity offers, carrying forward to a successful termination whatever he undertakes.

On the 25th of January, 1905, Mr. Norfleet married Miss Elise Vance, a daughter of the late R. H. Vance, who was the founder of the Johnston & Vance Company and became one of the leading merchants of Memphis. They have a son, Rienzi Vance, now seventeen years of age, and their daughter, Mary Elise, died at the age of five years and two months.

Mr. Norfleet stands very high in Masonry - the honorary thirty-third degree having been conferred upon him in recognition of his services to the order. He is a past potentate of the Shrine and for eight years he was president of the cathedral board of the Scottish Rite bodies, filling that office at the time the cathedral was erected on Union avenue in this city. He is a member of the board of trustees of Vanderbilt University and is also identified with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, serving as commander-in-chief of the organization in 1912. For four years he was president of the board of education of the Memphis city schools, and he has also been honored with the presidency of the Memphis Cotton Exchange, in which capacity he is now serving. His father likewise held that office. Through his connection with the Chamber of Commerce he is doing valuable work in promoting the industrial prosperity of the city and. he is also a member of the Rotary Club, the Tennessee Club and the Memphis, Colonial and Chickasaw Country Clubs. He has a beautiful country home, Walnut Grove, which is situated about ten miles from Memphis and contains one hundred acres, and here he and his family spend the summer months. Mr. Norfleet is always well groomed and is the possessor of a fine physique and an exceptionally attractive personality. He is a broad-gauged man of well balanced capacities and powers, who has made his life count as a forceful factor in advancing the interests of his city along many lines, and his course has been characterized by integrity and honor in every relation, winning for him the respect, admiration and goodwill of all with whom he has been associated.


3) A short obituary of Jesse Peders Norfleet, appears in a Journal published by the West Tennessee Historical Society entitled "The West Tennessee Historical Society Papers," Volume XVIII, for the year 1964, page 168 and is set forth below:

JESSE PEDERS NORFLEET, a life member, died February 8, 1964. Born in Como, Mississippi, and moved to Memphis with his parents in 1884. He was influential in the cotton business and financial circles in Memphis for more than fifty years. He attended Memphis schools; Webb School for Boys, Bellbuckle, Tennessee; the University of Virginia for two years and then transferred to Vanderbilt University, where he received his degree. He served on Vanderbilt's Board of Trust from 1916 until his death, including one term as the President of the Board. He was president of the Memphis Cotton Exchange for the years 1922 and 1923 and in 1932 he became the second King of the Cotton Carnival. He was a member of the Church of the Holy Communion (Episcopal).

He leaves his wife, Mrs. Else Vance Norfleet; a son, R. Vance Norfleet, a grandson and three great-grandchildren. He also leaves a sister, Mrs. Ada Lea Riley of Atlanta; five nephews, Norfleet Turner, Frank M. Norfleet, J. Everett Norfleet, all of Memphis; Thomas Felder, Jr., of New York and J. L. Riley, Jr., of San Antonio, Texas; and a niece, Mrs. Joseph Birnie of Atlanta, Georgia. He was 86.


4)  Jesse Peders Norfleet's high social standing in Memphis is evidenced by his activities with respect to the Memphis Cotton Carnival.  Short extracts from an article entitled "History of the Memphis Cotton Carnival" by A. Arthur Halle, published in the West Tennessee Historical Society Papers, Volume VI (Year 1952), pages 34-63, are set forth below:




 Just as the Mystic Society of the Memphis was founded in 1872 to help Memphis recover from a period of depression and half despair, so the Memphis Cotton Carnival was organized in January 1931 to “further the uses of cotton, make people in all sections of this great land of ours more cotton-conscious, do everything in its power to get more men and women to wear cotton apparel, tell the world through all kinds of publicity and advertising about cotton, and to promote, publicize and advertise, to the world, the city of Memphis, which, those of us who live here, think is the finest city in these United States. ...

… During these years the Carnival was gaining in social stature and a place in the Carnival Court became a highly desirable honor. Sensing this trend Mrs. Willis Campbell, Mrs. W. W. Robinson, Sr., and Mr. J. P. Norfleet organized the Royal Club. Only members of the Carnival Court, Carnival royalty and ex-presidents of the Carnival were eligible for membership. J. P. Norfleet was the first Captain. The Royal Club selects its own Princess and stages the annual party for the King and Queen, usually held on Monday before the opening of the Carnival. Formerly held at the Hunt and Polo Club, it grew so large that it is now held at the Memphis Country Club.

In 1932, the custom was inaugurated of having the officers of the Carnival selected by a council of past presidents. Everett Cook was first chairman and still holds that office. Today the council of past presidents numbers 16. Annually they nominate the officers and directors for the ensuing year. Directors and officers who are not active are not re-elected. Younger workers are constantly being added to replace older ones who remain in an advisory capacity only. Not one past president is an officer or on the board of directors today, although they do serve on a com­mittee which helps to formulate Carnival policies. …

… The secret societies were organized so that more people would be interested in the Carnival through social activities, and so the Carnival Association would have more friends to whom it could turn for assistance.  Today there are six of them, and they are real insurance for the Carnival’s continuance. Though they are not of the Carnival, they are for the Carnival and work closely with the Carnival Association in every way. The six secret societies are: The Mystic Society of the Memphi, Osiris, Ra-Met, Sphinx, The Royal Order of Last Nighters, and Shelbi. …

... In 1937, when Vance Norfleet was president of the Cotton Carnival Association, a fire occurred just nine weeks before the Carnival’s opening. All floats and other properties of the Carnival were burned. At a meeting of the directors it was moved not to have a Carnival in 1937 but to take the insurance money and prepare for 1938. That motion was beaten by one vote. Then the minority vote became a part of the major­ity and everyone agreed that it was a good time to electrify the floats. Roane Waring, A. D. McWhorter, and Walter Ford of the Memphis Street Railway were approached and in four weeks they had built 25 electrical floats on street car beds, all of them much larger than any previous floats. Michael F. (Mike) Abt and his associates built new properties and decorated the floats in five weeks, with three shifts work­ing night and day. “King Cotton’s Song Book” was one of the finest parades ever built. These twenty-five floats cost the Memphis Street Railway Company many thousands of dollars, which they were glad to contribute. That year, for the first time, it was decided not to have names of advertisers on the floats. This absence of commercialism still prevails in all Carnival parades. ...

... The Cotton Carnival under Groom Leftwich in 1936, Vance Norfleet in 1937, George Eckert in 1938, Russ Pritchard in 1939, Richard Bodine in 1940 and Robert H. Jordan in 1941, prospered greatly, due to the organization that was created and the personnel that was selected by these very capable men. ...

To be King or Queen of the Memphis Cotton Carnival is the highest honor that can come to any Memphian. Each is chosen by a secret committee whose identity is known only to the president of the Cotton Carnival Association, and the announcement of their selection is made by him.

As soon as it became apparent that the Cotton Carnival would be a great factor in the social activities of Memphis, Everett Cook, Mrs. Noreen Cathey Mallory, Toof Brown, Sidney Farnsworth, William Neely Mallory and others who were directing its destinies realized the desirability of finding a strong person to head the secret committee which would annually select the King and Queen. Such a person was found in Dr. Richmond McKinney, president of the Memphis Country Club, and one of the founders of the Memphis Hunt and Polo Club. We never learned the members of Dr. McKinney’s committee. Some doubted that he had a committee, but he came up, year after year, with outstanding rulers. Upon Dr. McKinney’s death, another high-ranking socialite, Mr. J. P. Norfleet who had been King of the second Carnival, was chosen to head the committee. His saying, “God makes them and I pick them,” became a royalty slogan. In later years, the selection of the King and Queen of the Carnival has been in the hands of a secret committee of five. …

... The Memphis Cotton Carnival Association is indebted to planters, clubs and its own workers for the success of the Plantation Tours. In 1951, visitors from 39 States went on these tours which visited out­standing homes and clubs in Mississippi, Arkansas and Tennessee. Each tour numbered from 150 to 200. Yet such friends of the Carnival Asso­ciation as Emmet H. Nelson of Kerrville, Tennessee, J. P. Norfleet, Joe Davis, Frank Gilliland, Robert B. Snowden in Arkansas and William Anderson of Clarksdale, Mississippi, saw that mint juleps and food were served, and entertainment provided for all at no cost to the Carnival Association. …

Past Presidents, Kings and Queens of the Memphis Cotton Carnival are as follows:

1931:   Everett R. Cook - President

            Frank Hoyt Gailor - King

            Elaine Patteson - Queen

            (now Mrs. Thomas Semmes)


1932:   W. W. Robinson, Sr. - President

            J. P. Norfleet - King

            Katherine Butler - Queen

            (now Mrs. James Harwood)


1933:   A. Arthur Halle - President

            Robert B. Snowden - King

            Valeria Caughlin - Queen

            (now Mrs. Thomas Farnsworth)


1934:   The late William Neely Mallory - President

            Frank Barton - King

            Octavia Evans - Queen

            (now Mrs. Palmer Brown, III)


1935:   S. Toof Brown - President

            Sidney Farnsworth - King

            (Mr. Farnsworth had to withdraw just before the Carnival because of the death of his mother)

            William Neely Mallory - King

            (Mr. Mallory later died in a plane crash during the War).

            Mollie Darnell - Queen

            (now Mrs. Albert Mallory)


1936:     W. Groom Leftwich - President

            John Sneed Williams, Jr. - King

            Mary Ann Poston - Queen

            (now Mrs. H Hubert Fisher, Jr., Bartlett, Tenn.)


1937:   R. Vance Norfleet - President

            (Son of Jesse Peders Norfleet)

            Richard Leatherman - King

            Frances Chapman - Queen

            (Mrs. John Hollister, South Hamilton, Mass.) ...



Children of Jesse Norfleet and Else Vance are:

i. Rienzi Vance9 Norfleet, born Abt. 1906 in Memphis TN; died Aft. 1964.

ii. Mary Elise Norfleet, born Abt. 1908 in Memphis TN; died Abt. 1913 in Memphis TN.

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