Located in Sunflower County a few miles southeast of Cleveland, Dockery Farms was a large cotton-growing plantation that started in 1895. It is most famous as the home of Charley Patton, the creative early blues musician who influenced other performers, among them Son House, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, and Howlin’ Wolf. Patton’s family began working at Dockery Farms around 1900, when the area still included considerable swampland. Before long, Dockery became an economic success story—part of what historian James Cobb calls a New South plantation kingdom. Owner Will Dockery bought land, employed workers, and planted cotton with such success that the plantation grew to about ten thousand acres and had four hundred families working the land. The plantation had its own railroad line, post office, doctor, and cotton gin and plantation store.
Patton played music at house parties, at the Dockery company store, at various juke joints, and in other local settings. In 1929 record producer H. C. Speir, a Jackson furniture dealer, heard of Patton’s talents, found him at Dockery Farms, and made the first recordings of his music. The plantation’s railroad was the setting for Patton’s “Pea Vine Blues,” while “34 Blues” describes the singer’s departure from the plantation: “They run me from Will Dockery’s” when an overseer “told Papa Charley, ‘I don’t want you hangin’ round on my job no more.’”
Today Dockery Farms is a site on the Mississippi Blues Trail noted as one of the birthplaces of the blues. An often-reproduced sign on a barn announces, “Dockery Farms, est. 1895 by Will Dockery, 1865–1936, Joe Rice Dockery 1908–1982.” The members of the Dockery family did not take great notice of the blues performed on their plantation until scholars and fans turned it into something of a shrine, but Joe and his wife, Keith Dockery, were longtime supporters of classical music.
- Stephen Calt and Gayle Wardlow, King of the Delta Blues: The Life and Music of Charlie Patton (1988)
- Steve Cheseborough, Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of Delta Blues (2001)
- James C. Cobb, The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity (1992)
- Pat Howse and Jimmy Phillips, Peavey Monitor (1995)
- Mississippi Blues Trail website, msbluestrail.org
- Robert Palmer, Deep Blues: A Musical and Cultural History of the Mississippi Delta (1981)