Man Andrew Shepherd
Martin Railroad history - Mississippi Central to Illinois Central
Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878
former slave from Virginia
Weakley County Press – September 25, 1936
Respected Colored Citizen Dies Here
Andrew Shepherd, I. C. R. R. Employee, Leaves Good Record –A Trusted
Andrew Shepherd, “Uncle Shep” as he was familiarly known, one of
Martin’s oldest and most respected colored citizens, died at his home
here Thursday, September 17th, following an illness of several weeks.
Though born in Virginia November 6, 1848, he moved to this community
during early life, when Martin was known by the name of “Frost”. He won fame during the
yellow fever epidemic, at which time he remained at his post of duty
and was the only representative of the Illinois Central Railroad
Company remaining on duty at that time. His tireless and heroic
efforts to aid the suffering won for him the commendation of many.
He was nearing 88 years of age, and the influence of his Christian life
has been a shining light among his white friends as well as those of
his own colored race.
Funeral services were held at the Colored Methodist Church on Sunday
afternoon. A special section of the church was reserved for his
white friends, who gathered to pay a last tribute to their beloved
Mr. L. G. McMillion read a paper which gave a part of his record while
in the employ of the railroad company. Mr. T. H. Farmer and Mr.
J. T. Perkins made impressive talks in tribute to his well-spent life.
The active pall bears were chosen from his colored friend – Charles
Cook, T. B. Busby, John Crockett, Albert Parham, J. Mac Sanford and
Buck Jenkins and as honorary pall bearers the railroad employees and
other old-time friends with whom he had been associated for many years
and included Messrs. J. T. Perkins, L. G. McMillion, T. P. Poyner, E.
M. Oliver, Woody Harrison, T. C. Ladd, F. M. Birchett, R. W. Condra, T.
J. Jeter, J. R. Bruce, M. D. Duke, T. H. Farmer, E. P. Smith, W. B.
Knox, G. S. Knox, W. F. Ellis, W. A. Cashion and A. C. Gardner.
The following article about “Uncle Shep” appeared in the Illinois Central
magazine in September, 1923:
Andrew Shepherd, Negro crossing watchman at Martin, Tenn., braved the
yellow fever epidemic to look after the company’s property there.
It was the Mississippi Central Railroad then, and Shepherd was a
laborer on the section at Martin.
Each morning Shepherd walked over the section to see if the track was
in condition for the passage of trains. When he found something
wrong he reported it to the section foreman so that repairs could be
made before the first train was due. One morning on his return to
the section house after his tour of inspection, he discovered that the
entire section crew had left the city. Inquiry brought him the
news that the doctors of Martin had ordered everyone who was able to do
so to leave the city. The yellow fever was causing deaths by the
There was no place for Shepherd to go. No trains on which he
could leave were due at that hour. He returned to the section
house to await developments, for it was outside of the city, where
danger of the fever was less. To go to his home would have been
no comfort; his wife had left the city, as had so many others.
The first train through Martin brought the roadmaster. Shepherd
told him of the condition there and that he was the only employee
remaining. The roadmaster instructed him to stay there, to
continue his duties as tractwalker each day and to report by note to
the foreman of the adjoining section.
Shepherd stayed. He walked over the section before each train was
due. After he had inspected the track he returned to Martin and
carried the mail to the section house where he placed it on the
trains. No trains stopped at the station in Martin. They
went through the city at top speed, then stopped at the section house,
where Shepherd gave the crews and passengers all the news of those
stricken. Trains often lingered as long as 20 minutes, he says.
On November 1 of that year the first snow fell, and the last person
died of the fever. Residents began to return to Martin then, he
Shepherd has been in the service of
the Illinois Central and its predecessor, the Mississippi Central, for
more than 51 years, most of that time at Martin. He was born a
slave of the Robert Williams plantation at Farmersville, Va., November
12, 1849, and lived there until after the Civil War. He recalls
that his days as a slave were hard, and he received many
whippings; but...he still has kind thoughts of his master.
The Williams plantation consisted of about a thousand acres, he says,
and was manned by more than 300 slaves. Tobacco, oats, rye,
barley, wheat and peas were among the things raised. Everyone worked
hours a day in the fields and ate only two meals. The mules were
fed once a day, he says. No slave could leave the plantation
without a pass. If he did, he was severely whipped. Being
late to work, grumbling, slowness and stubbornness were causes for the
When Shepherd first left the plantation, he went to Chattanooga where
he worked for a doctor about seven months. Then he accepted a
place on a construction gang of the A. G. S., now the Southern, and
worked for nine months. The Mississippi Central Railroad started
construction, and he became a laborer with a gang at Martin, Tenn., on
May 8, 1871.
His first work for this railroad was cutting timber for ties.
Some of the trees that grew on the right-of-way made as many as eight
ties. In about 18 months the track was opened to traffic between
Cairo and Jackson, Tenn. Shepherd then became a laborer on a
construction train under Charles Ross. He remained in that work
for some time, was sent to a section at Sharon, Tenn., for a year, and
was then transferred to Martin in 1874.
That was the year of the Ed Bailey wreck near Martin. It was
considered the most dangerous of that day. A box car slipped from
a siding to a bridge on the main line just as Mr. Bailey’s train was
approaching. The collision caused no deaths, but many were
injured. The engine went through the bridge, the fireman was
scalded, and Engineer Bailey was dug out from beneath the
wreckage. The track was open to traffic after four days, Shepherd
He worked on the section at Martin about seven years, and during that
time he had his experience with the yellow fever. In 1881 he
accepted a position as baggage handler and porter at the station at
Martin, and he continued in that work until he was made the crossing
watchman February 8, 1914.
The Mississippi Central built its track four inches wider than the
present standard gauge. All roads in that part were wide then
Shepherd says. When the Illinois Central took charge of the road,
the gauge was made standard. Then when cars had to be transferred
to other roads, wider trucks had to be put on the cars. The cars
were hoisted while this was being done. Sixty cars a day were all
that could be transferred at Martin, he says. They were 32 feet
Two years ago he made a visit to the Williams home in Virginia, but
found things much different from the way they were when he left there
more than 50 years before. The plantation had become smaller by
sales of land, and there were only two of the family there – the
youngest daughter and son of his master. They were both married
and had grandchildren.
Submitted by Rebecca Holder
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