Early Times in Middle Tennessee
Early Times in Middle Tennessee
Chapter 2

By John Carr, 1857

Retyped for the page by Diane Payne, 2001

Chapter 2

Col. DONELSON, accompanied by Hugh Rogan and others, settled on Stone's river, and built a fort at the point now known as Clover Bottom. The Renfroes, Turpins, and Johns, built a fort near the mouth of Red river. But a large number of the emigrants who had come round by water, were scattered among the various stations already mentioned in this narrative. Thus it appears that the whole population of Middle Tennessee at that time comprised only the occupants of seven or eight forts. That year (1778) the settlers all planted corn.

This little colony was in the heart of the Indian country, several hundred miles from any assistance, and much farther from the seat of government. North Carolina was engaged in the Revolutionary War, and could not, therefore, minister to the wants of her colony upon the distant frontier. The Indians soon found out the settlers, and commenced hostilities against them. In the spring the first man was killed by them. His name was Milligan. Soon afterward they killed Joseph Hay, at a point near the bluff; also a man named Bernard. Next they killed another man named Milligan; also Jonathan Jennings and Ned Cower. At Asher's Station they killed a man named Paine, wounded another man, and stole their horses; after which the settlers became so frightened that they broke up and went to Mansker's Station. Thus the Indians extended their hostilities to all the forts in the country, except Mansker's Station, the situation of which it seemed they were later in finding out than that of any of the other forts. But at Mansker's Station the settlers were fated not to be exempt from sufferings. They stood in great need of salt, fresh meat being their entire living. They failed in an attempt to make salt at Mansker's Lick; after which they went down to Neely's Lick, now called Neely's Bend, and there they met with better success in obtaining salt. William Neely took with him one of his daughters, for the purpose, I suppose, of having her to cook for the men employed in making salt. She was a very interesting and smart girl, about sixteen years of age. The company not being very apprehensive of danger, went off to their work, leaving the father and daughter by themselves at the camp. But the next day when they returned they found Neely murdered and scalped, while the girl was missing. She was taken prisoner, and was with the Indians for a long time. At length, having been released, she married in Kentucky, and, I am told, made an excellent wife.

At Donelson's Fort the Indians became so troublesome that the settlement was broken up in the latter part of the summer. Col. Donelson, Caffrey, Hutchings, Cartwright, and Hugh Rogan, went to Mansker's Station, and the others went to the French Lick. As already noticed, the Renfroes and others made a settlement on Red river. The Indians soon discovered them, and killed Nathan Turpin and another man; and the settlement was abandoned. The Renfroes took their families and carried them to the French Lick. Having obtained assistance at the Bluff, they returned to get their plunder, and to help away those of the settlers whom they had left at the Fort. The lack of horses was the reason, I suppose, why they did not all go off together. Having obtained their plunder, they started back, and at night camped on a small stream, since called Battle Creek, a few miles north of Sycamore creek. Early in the morning the Indians attacked them, and killed Joseph Renfroe and old Mr. Johns and his family, consisting of ten or twelve persons. Henry Ramsey, "the bravest of the brave," brought off Mrs. Jones in safety to the Bluff. At length the Indians, directing their attention to Mansker's Station, killed David Gion, Patrick Quigley, Betsy Kennedy, John Shockley, James Lumsley, and William Neely. In the fall, Col. Donelson, Hugh Rogan, William Cartwright, and others, took two small boats and went up to Clover Bottom Fort to bring down their crop of corn. The boats having been loaded, one of them started, while the other remained at the shore; the first boat had gone but a short distance when it was attacked by the Indians, and Abel Cower, Sr., Abel Gower, Jr., William Cartwright, and John Robertson, a son of Capt. Robertson, were all killed. Col. Donelson, Hugh Rogan, and the remainder of the company, escaped in safety to Mansker's Station. The next morning the ill-fated boat, with a dead man in it, was overhauled at the Bluff. At Mansker's Station the settlers became so alarmed that they determined to break up. One of the number, James McCain, now about eighty-seven years old, informs me that all who could get horses went to Kentucky. That brave Irishman, Hugh Rogan, took charge of the widow Neely and her family, and conducted them in safety to Kentucky. I knew him well, and can say truly, he was a soldier and a patriot. His two sons, respectable and worthy citizens, are now living in Sumner county.

At the close of the year 1780, the distressed colony was reduced to three or four forts. In the spring of 1781, the Indians again commenced hostilities. In the month of April, a large force of Cherokees advanced with the determination, doubtless, of driving the whole body of the settlers from the country. During the previous year they had been so successful in breaking up and burning the forts, that they could not bear the idea of yielding their favorite hunting-ground without a deadly struggle. The plan of attack decided against the settlement at the Bluff was well laid. They approached secretly under the cover of the night. One party took their stand at the branch between Broad street and College Hill, while the other stood about halfway between that point and the fort. Soon after daylight, a few of them, advancing, fired upon the fort and then retreated up the river. Immediately eighteen or twenty men mounted their horses and started in pursuit-having not the least idea of the large force in their vicinity. They followed the retreating party up the river, passing by those lying between the branch and the fort, and wholly unconscious of the ambuscade. Having arrived at the branch, they were attacked by the Indians, and dismounting, they returned the fire with great effect. At this juncture, the Indians lying between the branch and the fort extended their line to the river, for the purpose of cutting off the retreat of the settlers. The poor fellows soon saw their dreadful situation-having to contend with a hundred or more savages. About this time the horses became frightened and ran off, going south of the enemy's line, between the branch and the fort, and a number of the Indians pursued them by the fort to the French Lick. At the same time the dogs, hearing the firing of guns, started off in the direction of the sound; and having been trained to fight the Indians, they fell upon the remainder ...of them who had not gone in pursuit of the horses, so that they had as much as they could do to fight the dogs. If it had not been for this occurrence, it is probable that not one of the poor fellows would have ever reached the fort. As it was, they were closely pursued. An Indian overtook Ned Swanson not far from the fort, and had his gun right against him, but fortunately it missed fire. Swanson seized the gun by the muzzle, and in the struggle the priming was lost out of the pan. Then the Indian clubbed the gun, and knocking Swanson down, was in the act of tomahawking him. Old Mr. Buchanan, the father of Major Buchanan, seeing the dreadful situation of Swanson, rushed from the fort with his rifle, fired, and killed the Indian, and then brought the rescued man into the fort. Isaac Lucas got within a short distance of the fort when his thigh was broken, and an Indian rushed up to scalp him. Fortunately, his gun was loaded; and lying upon the ground, he fired, and the Indian fell dead by his side. Great efforts were made by the Indians to drag off their slain warrior, and get the scalp of Lucas. But from the fort they poured death upon them, and finally drove them off and brought Lucas in from his perilous situation. In this battle the Indians killed Peter Gill, John Kesenger, Alexander Buchanan, George Kennedy, Zachariah White, Capt. Leiper, and J. Kennedy; and they wounded James Menefee, Kasper Mansker, Isaac Lucas, Joseph Moonshaw, and others. The horses, saddles, and bridles, fell into the hands of the Indians. The number of Indians killed could never be ascertained. The one killed by Lucas could not be carried off by his comrades, and the dead body of another was found on College Hill; and besides these there were doubtless many others killed who were taken off by the warriors. The Indians withdrew at ten o'clock. That night another attack was made upon the fort-supposed to be by a party who had not arrived in time to partake in the battle of that morning. The men in the fort loaded a swivel, and giving the party a broadside, made them leave in haste. But hostilities still continued, and during that year the Indians killed William Hood, Peter Renfroe, Jacob Freeland, and many others.

During that year, the Indians made an attack upon Freeland's Station. That night Capt. Robertson happened at the fort. He was a man who was always watching, and hearing a noise, he arose and went out of doors. The Indians had opened the gate of the fort, and a number of them had effected an entrance. Capt. Robertson raised the alarm, and the men rushed out of their houses. The Indians fired upon them and retreated from the fort. They killed Major Lucas, and a negro boy of Capt. Robertson's. The men in the fort fired severely upon the Indians, and Capt. Robertson killed one of them. Without doubt, if Capt. Roberston had not been at the fort, it would have fallen into the hands of the Indians. His vigilance and bravery saved the people from slaughter.

This year, 1781, was marked by the loss of many valuable men. 1782 was commenced with violent attacks upon the settlers. They were so harassed that they could not plant their corn nor hunt game without exposing themselves to the danger of being waylaid and killed by the savages. The colony, though their number had been increased during the past year by the arrival of a few more emigrants, became discouraged, and having held a council, they determined to leave the country. Such a step, however, was violently opposed by Capt. Robertson. He told them it was impossible to get away, because the Indians would waylay and kill them. He reminded them of the hardships already endured by them, and pointed to the beautiful country of which they had thus obtained possession. He urged them to remain another year, in the hope of reinforcements sufficient to put an end to hostilities. Through his influence they agreed to give the settlement the benefit of another year's trial, and the result justified the expectations raised by his counsels. The Revolutionary War was brought to an end, and North Carolina began to notice her distant colonists, and legislate for their benefit.

In the fall of 1782, two young men, named Mason, went from Killgore's Station to a clay lick to watch for deer. They hid themselves in a very secret place, and after a little while six or eight Indians marched up into the lick. The young men fired and killed two of the Indians; the remainder of them retreated. The young men ran back to the fort, and having obtained a company, returned to the lick and scalped the two Indians killed by them. That night John and Ephrain Peyton stayed at Killgore's Station, and the next morning it having been found that their horses, as well as all those about the fort, were stolen, they made instant pursuit after them. Overtaking the Indians on Peyton's Creek, they fired and killed one, and recovered all the horses. On their return, and while they, were encamped for the night, the Indians took a circuitous route, and got between them and the fort. The next day, as they were proceeding on their journey, the Indians fired upon them, and having killed Josiah Hauskins, and one of the Masons, they retreated. The settlers became so alarmed that they broke up Killgore's Station, and went to the French Lick.

There being no laws instituted by the State for the colony, the settlers, soon after their arrival at the Bluff, appointed trustees, and signed a covenant binding themselves to conform to the judgment and decisions of these officers, in whom they vested the powers of government. The trustees acted both as judiciary and executive, and their action in these respects gave general satisfaction. They were allowed neither fees nor salary in those times of primitive honesty and old-fashioned public spirit; though to the clerk appointed by the trustees was given a small compensation for the purchase of writing-paper. The trustees also were authorized to celebrate the rites of matrimony. Under this patriarchal government by trustees selected on account of their experience, probity, and firmness, the colony was planted, defended, regulated, and provided for generally, for several years; and the administration of justice and the protection of rights, though simple and a little irregular, were, it is believed, as perfect and satisfactory as they have been at any subsequent period in the history of the country. The founder of the colony, Capt. Robertson, was, of course, one of the trustees, and he was the first officer who celebrated the rites of matrimony. The persons married by him were Capt. Leiper and his wife. James Shaw, whom I knew well, was also a trustee. He married Edward Swanson to the widow Corwin, James Freeland to the Widow Maxwell, Cornelius Riddle to Miss Jane Mulherrin, and John Tucker to Miss Jenny Herod, all in one day, and a pretty good day's work it was. The first child born in the country was John Saunders, and the second was Anna Wells. The first child born in Nashville was the son of Capt. Robertson-the venerable Dr. Felix Robertson, now living in Nashville.

Go to Chapter 3

Return to the Chapter Selection Page

Return to Sumner County Main Page