Before the Civil War, Ben Montgomery owned a store on the Hurricane Plantation where enslaved Africans would bring poultry and produce to trade for the dry goods, and white plantation families would shop between trips to the cities of Vicksburg and Natchez in Mississippi. Montgomery supervised the purchasing for the entire plantation and oversaw the shipping of the cotton crop. It was a typical plantation operation with one exception, Montgomery was himself an African.
Montgomery was taught to read and write by the son of Jefferson Davis, and eventually learned land surveying, flood control techniques and how to draft architectural plans.
He was also a skilled mechanic, inventing a boat propeller that allowed the blades to cut into the water at angle which reduced resistance. Jefferson Davis tried to get a patent in Montgomery’s name but was told that United States law prohibited “slaves” from acquiring patents.
After the war, Joseph Davis sold his land (some 5000 acres) to Montgomery for $300,000 at 5% interest. It was agreed that the entire principal would be due and payable in nine years and in case of default, the property would revert back to the Davis family. Montgomery set out to fulfill his lifelong dream of establishing an independent colony of “freedpersons.” Despite his efforts, the times and nature were both against him.
Agricultural prices fell and severe winter flooding ruined the levees, causing the plantation to overrun with insects. Montgomery was able to hold on until 1876, but with his loan well overdue, the property was sold at auction to the Jefferson Davis family for $75,000. Ben Montgomery died in 1877 but his dream to establish an independent colony was taken up by his son Isaiah, who later founded the settlement of Mound Bayou.
Recognizing the value of “location,” Isaiah Montgomery purchased 840 acres situated midway between the Memphis and Vicksburg lines. Settling in 1887, Montgomery named the area Mound Bayou, Mississippi for a large Native American mound located at the center of the colony. The first three years were difficult but the inhabitants, most of whom were from the Davis Plantation, were able to manage a living through the sale of timber, cotton and corn. By 1907, twenty years after its inception, the town was thriving with a total population of 4000 residents.
Renova is located two miles north of Cleveland, the county seat of Bolivar County. In 1930 it was reported to have a population of some 450 African American citizens, most of whom were involved in farming. At that time there were two grocery stores, a Methodist and a Baptist Church, and the two story Rosenwald School.
Remnants of the town site lie on old Highway 61 and the new Highway 61 runs about a one half mile east of the town. G.O. Ousley, who passed away in 1911, first came to the area with his family in 1886. He was the primary founder of the town and his home was the first to be built. However, it was a Mr. Carver, who owned a large saw mill, that gave the town it’s name of Renova.
Also known as Chambers and Wyandotte, the town was originally settled as the site of a sawmill in 1908. Most of the land was owned by Mike Winston, an African American man in whose honor the town was named. Employing a man by the name of Chambers as the salesperson, Winston sold several lots and when the post office was established in 1910 it was given the name of Chambers.
A railway (sawmill) settlement on the Y&MV Railroad was known as Wyandotte, Mississippi and when the railway station was built in 1931, it was given the name of Wyandotte. There are still several shops, a cafe and service station in this little oasis and most of the inhabitants are farmers who own the surrounding lands. Although, the area was known by all three names at one time or another, old timers refer to town as Winstonville, the railway station as Wyandotte and the post office as Chambers. Thus, the town with three names.