Retyped for the page by Diane Payne, 2001
The name of Thomas Spencer was well known to the old settlers in this country. He was a native of Virginia. He was an extraordinary man in several respects-remarkable for his strength and courage, and his love of solitude. There was no bluster about him, no disposition to quarrel or to raise riots; indeed, he was one of the most kindly-disposed men within my knowledge, and could make himself pleasant and agreeable in company, even while he delighted to be alone and far away from society. It was in l775, I think, that having heard, through Manskcr and Bledsoe, glowing accounts of the fertility of the soil and abundance of game in this country, he came from Virginia in company with a man named Holloway, and they fixed their station-camp in a hollow sycamore tree at Bledsoe's Lick. They hunted and explored for some time. At length Holloway became dissatisfied. It was said that he and Spencer had a quarrel; but this rumor, so far as I know, was never confirmed by Spencer. At any rate, Holloway determined to go back to Virginia; and, as he had lost his knife, Spencer broke in two his butcher-knife, and gave him half of it. So they parted. Spencer remained alone in the country, I think, for four or five months, and during that time he never saw the face of a human being. He lived the life of a hermit, in his big hollow Sycamore tree. He explored the country from Bledsoe's Lick to the mouth of the Red river. He made some of the most valuable selections of land in Sumner county. The six hundred and forty acre tract where Gen. Miller now lives, in sight of Gallatin, to this day is known as Spencer's Choice.
In 1780, Spencer returned to this country among the first immigrants, and settled at the French Lick. He rendered valuable service against the Indians, of whom he seemed to have no fear; for, during the worst seasons of savage warfare, he would often roam alone all through the forests for ten or twelve days together. Once, shortly after the beginning of the settlement at the French Lick, he was hunting in company with another man; and the Indians, creeping upon them at their camp, fired and killed his companion, but did not hurt him. Immediately he took up the dead body, and the gun of his fellow-hunter, and with this weight added to his own arms, he dashed into the thick cane. The Indians, arguing his great strength and activity from this feat, and knowing that he had two loaded guns with him, followed him at a respectful distance. He succeeded in carrying off his friend's remains and burying them, and returned with both guns in safety to the French Lick.
Thomas Spencer was the stoutest man I ever saw. Indeed, he was a Hercules-stronger than two common men. Once I rode through a piece of ground cleared by him. There were about five or six acres in the piece. His rail timbers, each of which would have made from ten to fifteen rails, he had cut in the ground, and then had carried them and thrown them around his field. One more example of his strength I must not forget. I heard Frank Haney relate that in 1780 Thomas Spencer, Dick Hogan, and himself, were raising cabins, that they might obtain titles to the lands settled by them; as at that day all who made certain improvements obtained six hundred and forty acres of land. Hogan was very stout, and bore the name of a bully, and Haney was very little inferior to him in point of strength. They two were raising a cabin, while Spencer, being unwell, was in the camp lying on a blanket by the fire. Hogan and Haney had got up one end of the log, but for their lives they could not put the other end in place. Spencer, seeing their failure, observed that, if he were well, he could put up the log. At this, Hogan became excited, and cursing Spencer, told him he was a better man than he was, any day. Whereupon Spencer, rising, walked to the log, took hold of it, and threw it up with apparent ease; and, without a word, he walked back to the camp, and laid down again upon his blanket. Previously, Hogan had often tried to pick quarrels with Spencer, but this feat effectually cured him of all desire to fight one so clearly his superior in strength. In 1794, Spencer went back to Virginia for the purpose of winding up his business, and on his return, at what is now called Spencer's Hill, between South-west Point and Carthage, he fell by the hands of the Indians, whom he had so valiantly fought for fourteen years. Many pages might be filled with incidents in the life of Spencer; but the occasion allows me to give only this small sketch of one of the bravest men that ever fell in Tennessee.
In the settlement of Middle Tennessee, Gen. James Winchester rendered excellent service. He was a native of Maryland. He was a Captain in the Revolutionary War, and shared in its struggles and privations for more than five years. Soon after the close of that war he immigrated to this country, and settled on Bledsoe's creek. Here he was very useful. He directed our scouts and spies, and frequently pursued the Indians himself. He was a brave and prudent officer. He was one of the Council during the session of the Territorial Legislature in 1794, and afterward, as already mentioned, he was a Senator in the Legislature of the State. In the war of 1812, he received a General's commission, and was ordered to take the command of one wing of the North-western Army. He was taken prisoner by the British and Indians at the unfortunate battle of the River Raisin, and was carried to Quebec, where he remained a prisoner during the following winter. A great deal has been said about that disastrous affair, and General Winchester has been severely criticized; but I do not believe any person in a similar situation could have done better than he did under his circumstances. At the close of the war, he retired to the quiet walks of private life. He was a merchant and a farmer, and enjoyed the respect and confidence of his neighbors. He raised a large and worthy family. His wife still lives at the old homestead with her youngest son, George W. Winchester, who now represents our county in the Legislature of the State. I was with Gen. Winchester when, in 1826, he drew his last breath, in the midst of his family and friends. I knew him long and well; and I do not hesitate to say that I believe he was a persecuted man. Peace to the ashes of the old General!
Col. Edward Douglass was quite a prominent man among us at an early time. He was a native of North Carolina, and was in the Revolutionary War-held a major's appointment, I believe. He was brave and patriotic, and was an energetic and prudent military officer. I have been with him in pursuit of the Indians. He was a man of fine sense, and, I believe, when young read law, though he never practiced at the bar in this country. He was one of our first magistrates, and, as such, was a leading member of the county court. As he possessed legal knowledge, he received frequent applications for advice as to lawsuits, which he freely gave without fee or reward; though he always counseled his neighbors not to go to law. He was kind-hearted and benevolent, generous and hospitable-his house as well as his heart being ever open to his friends, while as to enemies, I believe he had not one in the world. He raised a respectable family, and one of his sons, Dr. Elmore Douglass, is now living in Gallatin-the oldest physician, I suppose, in Sumner county. I have forgotten the date of Col. Douglass's death, and will only add, Peace to his memory!
Major George D. Blackamore was a native of Maryland, and served for three years in the war of the Revolution. He came to this country at an early date, and made his stand at the forts about Bledsoe's Lick, where he was very serviceable and useful in guarding and defending the settlement against the Indians. He commanded a horse company, and was also employed as quartermaster in supplying provisions for the troops stationed at the various forts. He was at the head of a company at the taking of Nickajack, in 1794. He was active, sprightly, and energetic, and as brave a man as I ever saw. He raised a large and respectable family. Dr. James Blackamore, who lives in sight of Gallatin, is one of his sons, and another one was Gen. William Blackamore, who was clerk of the chancery court, and who died about twelve months ago. Major Blackamore, the father, died during the year 1830.
There were other men of prominence, such as David Shelby, and others, who rendered first-rate service in the settlement of Sumner county. These might be mentioned, but it is perhaps proper to notice next, and some- what at length, the religious affairs and events of the early times, and to furnish some sketches of the preachers, who were God's successful instruments in planting the Church and spreading the gospel through this country.
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