County History Biographical Sketches

Unicoi County, Tennessee

TNGenWeb Project

Updated September 03, 2016

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Goodspeed's History of Unicoi County - Biographical Sketches

added notes by Beth Bradford-Pytel

J. F. Toney, [Col. J. Frank Toney] merchant, was born in Carter County, March 13, 1857, the son of William and Evaline (Price) Toney, the former born in Tennessee about 1834, and died in 1864, while in custody of the Confederates.  He was a farmer, and of English ancestry.  The mother was born in this State, about 1840, the daughter of Christopher Price.  Their children are James P., W. C., Rhoda and David.  Our subject grew up, with rural advantages, and was left fatherless when seven years of age.  He is a self-made man, and has been a merchant since seventeen years of age, now of the firm J. F. Toney & Co., extensive merchants, at Erwin and Flag Pond, Tenn.  In 1879 he married Fannie B., a daughter of Clifton Miller.  Their children are Mamie, Clifton, John G. and Jessie.  For four years our subject was circuit clerk of Unicoi County.  He is a Mason.

R. R. Emmert was born in Carter County April 15, 1862.  His parents were William C. and Amanda (Renshaw) Emmert, the former  born December 10, 1883, in the same county, the son of George and Mary (Hendrix) Emmert, the former a Tennessean, the son of George, who came from Germany, and was a soldier under the command of Gen. George Washington in the Revolutionary war, and said to be related to Robert Emmert, whose family went to Germany after his execution.  The father is a lawyer of Erwin and received a limited education in the common schools of Carter County, afterward farming and practicing his profession.  He was State senator from 1875 to 1817.  In 1851 he married, and their children are Nannie J., Peter W., Mary E., Delcena C., Robert R. and Ella.  Our subject was educated in the country schools, and in 1886 became circuit clerk, and is a popular official, and is now associated with W. B. Clarke in publishing the "Erwin Unakean".

James M. Anderson, farmer, was born in Carter County, Feb. 16, 1846, and is the son of John A. and Elizabeth (Swingle) Anderson, the former born in 1823. in that county, the son of Isaac, who was of Irish lineage.  The father is a prosperous farmer and self-made man.  The mother was born in Washington County about 1817, and died about 1856, the daughter of George Swingle, and of German lineage.  She was the mother of four sons and one daughter, and highly esteemed.  Our subject was educated at Milligan College, and after teaching school became a farmer.  He spent a year in the Federal service during the war, and is a Conservative-Republican, and a Mason.  October 17, 1872, he married Eva, a daughter of M. L. Taylor, and born August 10, 1850.  Their children are Malla E., born August 18, 1873; Landon T., September 17, 1875; Elizabeth M., September  30, 1873; Tommie E., August 22, 1881, and Jennie A., September 6, 1886.

Peter L. Barry was born in Johnson County January 11, 1833, the son of Charles and Abigail (Razor) Barry, the former, a native of Davie County, N. C., the son of John, a native of Dublin, Ireland, and a teacher by profession.  He died during the war of 1812 at Mobile, Ala.  The father was born in 1799, a pioneer farmer and iron-worker of East Tennessee. His death occurred in 1863.  The mother was born in l799 in Johnson County, the daughter of John Razor, of German descent.  She was a devoted Christian, and the mother of five sons and five daughters.  She died in 1876.  Our subject is a self-educated man, and grew up on the farm, working in his father's iron-works until he was conscripted into the Confederate service.  While at Knoxville under Col.  Blake he was on a furlough home, and afterward joined the Federal Army as second lieutenant in Company E, Thirteenth Tennessee Cavalry, serving two years.  He now cultivates his farm, which embraces over 200 acres, and contains quantities of iron.  He is a minister of the Christian Church, and in 1861 married Mary, a daughter of David M. Stout.  Their children are Robert F., Amanda A., Dave M., Catharine and Alexander. 


Additional info compiled by B. Bradford-Pytel:  PETER L. BARRY (1833-1912) was a self educated man who farmed and worked at his father's iron-works until he was conscripted into the Confederate service.  On October 11, 1872, Peter provided a sworn testimony for his claim of lost property to the Southern Claims Commission explaining the events which transpired before he joined the Union to seek restitution of 2 Mules valued at $300 taken from him during the war.  In the deposition, he explains that about the end of 1862, during the outbreak of the war, he lived 6 miles west of Taylorsville in Johnson Co., TN and owned 50 acres of land, 25 of which were cultivated and the other 25 woodlands.   The Rebels came to through his town and a man named “Ruanbaugh” arrested him charging him with feeding Union men and refugees from NC.  During the abduction, the Rebels took his corn and wheat and burned his house forcing the wife and children to move in with her parents who lived 3 miles away.  He was taken by force to Knoxville and conscripted into the CSA.  For 6 weeks he was under guard and then was given guard duty on a train bound for Vicksburg, MS on June 15, 1863.  He marched on foot 28-30 miles a day and waded in water.  During the fall of 1863, he received permission from Lt. Col. Edward D. Blake to go home to take care of the harvest, a plea he made in order to make an escape from the Rebels.  On September 21, 1863, at age 29, he joined Co. E. 12th Regiment Tenn Cavalry at Strawberry Plains, TN for 3 years as a Private.  On September 24, 1863 in Greenville, he was promoted to Sgt. by Captain Norris.  His enlisted records show he was age 29, 5 feet 8½ inches, fair complexion, blue eyes and light hair, born in Johnson Co., TN. On August 23, 1864 the regiment was sent to go to Rogersville to attack a rebel force.  While crossing the Holston River at Cobb’s Ford, the Regiment was fired upon.  The sharp shooters under Sgt. Barry’s leadership reached the bank and went into pursuit.  Capt. Wilcox of Co. G moved forward to support Berry and the sharp shooters.  Barry killed one of the rebels and wounded another and captured the remaining one. As a result of his “gallantry and meritorious service,” on October 1, 1864, he was appointed by Governor Johnson to 2nd Lt. for Co. E 13th Tenn Cavalry at Bulls Gaps to command a company of sharp shooters.  He remained in service until the war ended at which time he moved back to Johnson Co.   In 1872, he moved to Swinglesville in Washington Co. and owned 200 acres working as a farmer and Preacher.  Peter married Mary Stout on April 29, 1860 in Johnson Co (d/o David M. Stout and Sarah Shoun). She was born March 25, 1845, and died February 09, 1936 in Keebler's Crossroads, Washington Co. TN.   They are both buried at Hales Chapel Cemetery in Washington Co., TN.      PHOTO Peter Mary and Mary Stout circa abt. 1910

G. E. Swadley, farmer, was born in Washington County, February 27,1838, the son of Henry and Mary Swadley, the former born in Pendleton County, W. Va., January 2, 1812, the son of George Swadley; Mary, consort of Henry Swadley, the daughter of Christian and Christinia Roadcap, was born in Rockbridge County, Va., in 1808.  They are both of German origin.  Their living children are G. E., Virginia W., John W., David C., Susan A. and Barbara A., while two sons and one daughter are deceased.  Our subject was educated at Boon's Creek Seminary.  After he was of age he taught a few years, and is at present county superintendent of Unicoi County, and is largely self-educated, and is a warm friend to education: as exemplified by his official acts, and is in favor of Federal aid and the prohibition amendment.  He studied vocal music in 1861 at Singer's Glen, Rockingham County, Va., at which place he made great progress, and came out with distinguished honors, and was an efficient teacher in the divine art, for which he always expressed an enthusiastic love; but before our subject finished his education, he learned the boot and shoe trade, and was recognized as a good and honest workman, and worked at it when not engaged in teaching, up to April 1, 1869, when he married Susan C., a daughter of Perry and Elizabeth Hunter of Washington County, and of German and English origin.  She was born December 10, 1844, in the latter county.  Their children are Mary E., born July 26, 1872; Laura E. born November 23, 1874; Henry H., born May 24, 1877, and Robert A., born April 26, 1880.  Our subject has been a farmer chiefly since his marriage, at which time he located on his present farm of 232 acres in Buffalo Valley, containing some indications of iron ore and manganese.

Madison T. Peebles, farmer, was born in Carter County, January 2, 1825, the son of William and Elizabeth (Sheetz) Peebles, the former born October 15, 1787, the son of William, who came from Ireland to Virginia in 1770, a soldier of the Revolution, and a pioneer of East Tennessee.  The father was a successful farmer, and became an extensive land owner, having at one time several thousand acres of farming and mineral lands, most of which he conveyed to his children while vet in the vigor of manhood and prime of life.  He was an earnest and active Christian of the Methodist Episcopal Church-one of the 1828-30 reformers of that ecclesiasticism which culminated in the organization of the Methodist Protestant Church, on a basis of mutual rights of the ministry and laity, and lived a useful life and died an honored member of that church on June 30, 1875.  The mother was born on the left bank of the James River, at what is now known as Eagle Rock, Botetourt Co., Va., September 7, 1794, the daughter of Jacob and Catharine Sheetz, who were of German stock.  She was an esteemed Christian lady, of the most active benevolence, and died December 4, 1886.  Our subject, one of ten children, was born and reared on his present form, and has chiefly educated himself since attaining to mature age.  He read a full course of medicine from the year 1845 to 1848, and, thus equipped, practiced the "healing art" in the Mississippi Valley for eight years, passing unscathed through the Asiatic cholera that decimated the population of that section in 1849.  Tiring of the daily scenes of sickness, sorrow and death, often beyond the reach of human remedies to relieve, he returned to the paternal roof in 1856, and during the last thirty years has done quite a considerable practice both in medicine and surgery from motives of charity alone, without the hope of fee or reward.  The joint owner with his brother, William J., of a large landed estate, he has united the activities of an agricultural life with the more congenial pursuit of literature, and the two brothers, thus dwelling together in "single blessedness," as co-tenants of the same estate for a quarter of a century past, have each exercised all the rights of an absolute sovereign.  He has been a member of the Methodist Protestant Church for thirty-seven years, is a friend to all public and private enterprises for the promotion of education among the masses, and the moral and religious improvement of society.  He is a Royal Arch Mason, a Past Master and Past High Priest of that ancient and honorable brotherhood, and one among the oldest Masons of East Tennessee.

W. R. Fagan, farmer, was born in Caswell County, N. C., November 16, 1830, the son of J. G. and Elizabeth (Martin) Fagan, the former born in 1793, in North Carolina, of English-German origin, and the latter about 1798, in the same State, the daughter of Robert Martin, a soldier of the Revolution.  The father, a highly esteemed man, and a blacksmith, died in 1869.  The mother was a Methodist, and died about 1875.  Our subject, one of a family of seven brothers and five sisters, learned the blacksmith trade, and has devoted himself to farming, now owning 425 acres in Buffalo Valley.  November 23, 1853, he married Eliza, a daughter of Samuel McCorkle.  She was born February 16, 1836, and is of Irish-German parentage.  Their only child is James M., born August 19, 1854, and educated at Milligan College.  He is a farmer, and a merchant, and November 21, 1877, married Margaret A., a daughter of G. S. Ellis, and born November 12, 1858.  Their children are Robert S., William R., Maggie N., Grover C. and Eliza L.

Francis H. Hannum, farmer, was born in Blount County, July 3, 1837, the son of Henry Hannum and Ann E. White,  the former a native of Pennsylvania, born in 1802, the son of Richard M., of English origin, and he the son of Col. John, of the Revolution.  The maternal great-grandfather was a surgeon in the Revolution.  The father was reared in Kentucky; married in Virginia, and, after a short residence in Florida, came to Blount County, where he was a physician, and died in 1845.  The mother, born in [July 21] 1810, in Abingdon, Va., was a daughter of Col.  James White, and died in 1883, a member of the Presbyterian Church.  Our subject, one of a family of three brothers, and three sisters, was reared in Blount County, and educated in the institute at Lexington, Va., but has since been a farmer, and with his brother now owns 5,000 acres, in this county, on which are found large quantities of iron, and from which the first steel was manufactured in Tennessee, and perhaps in the South.

Additional info compiled by B. Bradfird-Pytel:  Francis "Frank" Henry Hannum (1837 - 1915) attended Virginia Military Institute [VMI] Lexington, VA and studied Engineering.  During college, Frank was found guilty of an infraction and was given a letter of dismissal by his Professor, Thomas J. Jackson (better known as Stonewall Jackson).  Frank was reinstated and graduated at age 19 on July 4, 1856.  He continued his studies in Medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.  During the civil war, at age 24, he enlisted on October 4, 1862 in Zollicoffer (now Bluff City), Tennessee as 2nd LT for 3 years for Co. K, 61st Mounted Infantry (also known as Pitts Regiment 81st Infantry).    From December 1, 1863 to April 30, 1864, he was paid $400 for his service.  From May 1, 1864 to July 31, 1864, he was paid $24.  On October 28, 1864, he was captured by the forces of Major General W. T. Sherman at Morristown, Jefferson Co., Tennessee and sent to Chattanooga, TN on October 30, 1864.   He was transferred to a POW Camp in Louisville, KY on November 21, 1864 and then transferred to Johnson's Island, in Lake Erie, Sandusky, Ohio on November 22, 1864.  He survived the POW camp until the war ended and released on June 16, 1865.   His Oath of Allegiance record shows that he was age 27, "blond" complexion, "red" hair, "hazel" eyes, 5 foot 11.  After the war, he moved back to Unicoi Co. working as a farmer and postal carrier for the Limonite (Swingleville area) from May 25, 1876 through November 26, 1890.   He never married and died in Eustis, Florida.   Frank's younger brother, William Y. C. Hannum also attended VMI at the outbreak of the civil war, enlisted as 1st Lt. of Co B. 48th Infantry, served under Stonewall Jackson and elevated in rank to Captain.  After the war, his brother owned 5000 acres of land in Unicoi.  William Y. C. Hannum is noted in Goodspeed's Blount County site - scroll to pg 1091.



William. E. Tilson, farmer, was born in Washington (now Unicoi) County, April 29. 1827, the son of Peleg and Nancy (Allen) Tilson (once spelled Tillotson), the former born in 1795 in Virginia, the son of William, who became a pioneer of East Tennessee, and a farmer, and was the son of William, Sr., who came from Ireland, and was one of Gen. Washington's aides in the Revolution.  The father was a farmer, and died in 1841, in Carter County, having become insolvent through intemperate habits and surety debts.  The mother, born in Virginia, in 1800, of German lineage, was the daughter of George Allen, and a devoted Baptist.  Her death occurred in 1859, leaving the following children: George, Ruth, John A.., William E. and James W.  Our subject is largely self-educated, and for several years before the war was a teacher, and now is a surveyor and successful farmer.   He owns over 4,000 acres, largely timbered and mineral land.  March 14, 1852, he married Minerva K., a daughter of James Sams, of Irish-German origin.  She was born September 5, 1831.  Their children are Eliza E., born March 4, 1853; Leroy S., born August 13, 1854; James F., born December 21, 1836; Jacob C., born March 14, 1860; )Mary J., born October 18, 1862; John Q. [see below article], born April 5, 1866; Lula, born August 20, 1868; and William J., born August 13,1871.  Our subject is the present clerk and master in chancery, and has two sons, who are practicing physicians, one a prominent educator in North Carolina, and the other two now in  school, the eldest one of whom graduates in the class of 1888. 




Other Biographical Sketches of

Prominent Early Unicoi County Settlers

Articles by Beth Bradford-Pytel


Henry "Harry" Banner, an illiterate soldier who excelled to become one of the county's prominent early physicians.  Harry was born on August 22, 1850, and the son of Elizabeth Banner and Joseph Murray.  He was a twin to his sister Judy and he and his 4 siblings apparently took their mother's maiden name.  Legend has it that during the Civil War, Harry was captured at the age of 14 by a rebel Confederate unit that was passing through the Martins Creek  section of Unicoi County.  Legend has it that a handful of renegades put a noose around Harry's neck and strung him up on a pole that was used to gut hogs.  No one is really certain of  why the rebels would do this to a young boy.   But his mother begged and pleaded for her son's life and fellow neighbors joined in to collectively persuade the soldiers to release him.  It came as no surprise that Harry later became a staunch supporter of the Union cause and a dedicated soldier serving in Co A. 3rd Regiment, NC Mounted Vol.   Because of his illiteracy, an officer misspelled his name "Bonner" which later required explaining via Affidavits for him to collect his war service pension.  In 1876, Harry went to school to learn to read and write and continued his studies  in medicine to aspire to became one of Erwin's early physicians.  He practiced medicine along with Dr. G. C. Williams and Dr. Leroy Sams Tilson.   Henry was a member of the Freemasonry.  On April 5, 1874, he married Phoebe Ann White [d/o Margaret White and unknown]; sister to David Jonathan White [see below article].  Henry and Phoebe had 5 children: Harvey, Judah E., David Sinclair,  Lula E., Ethel Jane.   His family lived in the Lilly Dale area of Erwin and are buried at Martins Creek Cemetery. 

NOTE:  For more info on the Banner Family Line:  Lily Dale, A Community of the Unakas, by William W. Helton, 1974; and Around Home in Unicoi County, William H. Helton. 1986, Overmountain Press


David Jasper Newton Ervin:  A town for which was incorrectly named because of a mere typo? 

David J. N. Erwin [b. October 16, 1845 - d. September 22, 1914] was an educated man who was known as the "founder" of Ervin --now Erwin.  He was the son of William Ervin and Annie Baker who had a large farm that bred and raised horses.  He attended Washington College in neighboring Green Co., Tennessee and also served as Sergeant for Co. H, 8th Reg. Tennessee Calvary - Union Army.   David acquired about 1,150 acres of land from his uncle in the Greasy Cove area on the Indian Creek [about 3 miles from Erwin].  This area was formally known as William Burchfield's place, David's uncle with whom he spent time as a child.  After the Civil War, the town of "Vanderbilt" [Erwin's former name] never managed to rebound economically and desperately needed assistance to revitalize its stability.   David saw this need and in 1876, [during the formation of Unicoi county, carved out of Washington and Carter counties respectively] he donated 30 areas, half of which were dedicated to build a Courthouse for the county seat; the other half for his personal use.   In April 1876, the area was surveyed by D. J. White [see below].   In 1879, the local legislature renamed the town of Vanderbilt to Ervin in honor D. J. N's generous gift to the county and his passion to create a strong and vital town.  The The fraternal order of Freemasonry maintained a stronghold in the Erwin area and  D. J. N. was the first Master Mason of Erwin.  The courthouse was used to hold Masonic gatherings.  On February 24, 1880, he married Susan Catherine Young Jones, a wealthy lady from Jonesborough, Tennessee and the daughter of  Montraville Jones and Isabel Young.  D. J. N and Susan had the following children:  Charles Henry, Juanita, Thomas J., William H., Viola Ruth*, Annie Isabelle, Sally Blanche, Lena Mae, Cleo Madge, infant son. 

NOTE:   For more info on D.J. Newton Erivin, daughter Viola R. Erwin-Swingle wrote a book, Ervin, Overmountain Press, which goes into detail about her family history and the formation of the town of Erwin.  Photo: original color portrait of Ervin hangs in the Unicoi County Pubic  Library.


Kennedy "Kan" Foster: The Tub Miller and Trader of Coffee Ridge who helped stranded travelers get back home to Jonesborough.   Kan Foster was described as a handsome man with weathered features and a short black beard.  He was of  medium height, wiry built and a confident man with stern dark eyes "like a hawk."   He was a man of the forest who knew how to survive the wild terrain of Coffee Ridge where bears, wolves and other creatures abound.  Kan was born about 1814 in Washington Co., Tennessee and was the son of Thomas T. Foster and Sarah.  In 1839, he was awarded 640 acres from the State of NC [grant # 618 ] on the Indian Creek;  subsequently acquired an additional 300 acres which spanned a large portion of what is now the Coffee Ridge area of Spivey near the NC border.   Aside from being a trader of goods and supplies, he ran an important tub mill which was vital to support the families in these remote areas of the Appalachian.   People from all over Spivey and Coffee Ridge brought sacks of corn to have ground at Foster's mill.  In December 1857, traveling journalists from Jonesborough were leaving Burnsville, NC and proceeded to take a short cut through the Bald Mountain pass to TN.  It was cold and the days were short.  Losing their path and dusk, they came to a sharp drop off  called "Tumbling Fork" only to lose their footing and a horse.   They had to negotiate the rest of trip by foot.  Hungry, lost and cold in the nightfall, the bewildered travelers finally came across  Mr. Chandler's home on the TN side at the foot of Tumbling Fork.  Although Chandler desired to help the men out,  he explained that Kan Foster was better equipped to help.  He had a larger place with an abundance of food.   Kan gladly assisted the travelers, providing them with meals, shelter and assistance, as well as as a little knowledge about the wild woods of Coffee Ridge.  During their short stay, one of the travelers was an artist who took notice of how beautiful Kan's daughters were, in particular Nancy who was described as being "slender and graceful" like a Greek goddess.   The artist sketched the entire Foster family at different intervals to include Kan's sister-in-law and her children which pleased them well.   Kan was married first to Rebecca Kersawn on March 17, 1833, and sired 11 children.  After Rebecca's death, Kan married Caroline Shehan on February 4, 1879, and they had 2 children.  Kan died about 1891 and is buried at the Kan Foster Cemetery on Spivey Mountain.   His Tub Mill was sold to the neighboring Tilsons, after which time was dismantled for parts to support an overshot wheel grist mill.   The Tilson's mill was donated to the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. 

NOTE:  Sketch of Kan Foster, "A Winter in the South" , by David Hunter Strother, Dec. 1857, pg 173,  Harpers Magazine, via Cornell University Digital Collection- MOA  This author is the 3rd great grand niece of Kan Foster through his sister Eleanor Foster [b. 1819].


Jason L. Harris:  He was a skilled blacksmith that saved his friend's life but cost him his.  Jason was born about 1815 in southern part of Old Washington Co., Tennessee [now Unicoi] and lived on Higgins Creek  in the Flag Pond area.   He was the son of Hugh Harris Jr. and grandson of Revolutionary War veteran Corporal Hugh Harris Sr.   On November 16, 1839, Jason married Nancy Hensley (d/o Benjamin Hensley and Louisa Shelton of Flag Pond.  Jason was a man of many important talents:  blacksmith, gunsmith, silversmith, and a maker of violins.   During the outbreak of the Civil War, like many of his kin and neighbors of Flag Pond/Coffee Ridge, he was conscripted into service for Co. K, 64th Regiment CSA as Pvt. on September 13, 1862.  William E. Tilson was Captain and S.E. Ervin 1st Lt.  But the unit dismantled over time and later he served in Company A, 3rd NC Mounted Infantry for the Union for which his wife received a pension for his service.  During the Civil War, Jason received word that his friend was imprisoned in a Confederate jail in neighboring Madison Co., NC.   The crafty Harris was able to create a key from a wax impression to open the jail door to set his friend free. But doing so, Jason was caught by authorities and ended up in an Asheville, NC Confederate prison serving from July 2, 1864 through- January, 7, 1865.   Three months later, on April 11, 1865, Jason died from unknown causes in Asheville and is believed to be either buried in a mass grave in Asheville or some believe his body was moved to the Anderson Farm in Flag Pond.   Family lore has it that Jason discovered a silver mine in the Unaka mountains, however to date it has not been located.   He and Nancy had the following children:  Joseph F., Lucinda, Armstrong, David, Mary L., Sarah J., John Hugh, Martha Patty, William Frankin, Ataceen Manerva, Jason Carson, J. Dedrick, Nathan Dempsey.

NOTE:  Pictured Left:  Handmade tools by Jason L. Harris [top to bottom]:  key, 3-prong screwdriver, scale balance -prized heirlooms of the Harris family.  Jason L. Harris is this author's great great grandfather though his youngest son Nathan D.


Holland Higgins was murdered by the "King of Bald Mountain."   Holland was born about 1779 migrating to Washington Co., [now Unicoi] from Buncombe Co., North Carolina.  He was known as an "Irishman with blacksmith skills" who came to the Embreeville area to work in the ore mines and perform iron works.  He later moved to the southern part of the county to the  Higgins Creek area [near Flag Pond] to apply for a large land grant.  Legend says he was killed by  "Hog Greer" before the application was adjudicated.  His murderer, David Grier (Greer), moved to the Flag Pond/Indian Creek area in 1789 from the ports of South Carolina.  He worked for David Vance and was considered a man of "strong mind and fair education."  Around 1802, he decided to live as a hermit after his heart was broken from a romantic obsession he had with Colonel David Vance's daughter.  Greer's home was in a cave nestled deep in the Unaka mountain range on Big Bald Mountain which straddles the TN-NC boarders.   He purchased 9 acres in the wilderness, raised hogs and cattle and for several years lived in complete isolation [20 miles from the nearest town].   Any interaction he had with the local people was perceived as hostile.  Greer refused to pay taxes and when he was summons to court to pay a bill of 75 cents, he stormed the courthouse and chased the judge and attorneys with a rifle in hand.  Local lore explains that he proclaimed himself to be the King of Bald Mountain.  Eventually settlers were closing in on his isolated domain.  This included Holland's large land tract interest.  In a intense quarrel about land rights, on November 30, 1824, "Hog Greer" shot and killed Holland.  Greer was charged with murder in Washington Co., TN.  The State vs. David Greer, March Term 1825, the court found him not guilty on grounds of insanity.  After being cleared by the court,  he published pamphlets in justification of his act and sold it on the streets.  One day in 1834, Greer returned to his  home to meet his death at the hands of one of  Holland's friends and fellow Blacksmith, George Tompkins of Higgins Creek.  Greer left papers of interest, containing his autobiography and opinions of life showing that he was a deist and a believer that every man had the right to take the law into his own hands to settle disputes.  After Holland's death in 1824, his sons came through with securing the large tract of land in the Higgins Creek area after which a church, creek, cemeteries and road are named.  Holland Higgins was the son of Holland Higgins Sr. of Virginia and Margaret Peggy Ellis of North Carolina.   Holland sired two daughters, Elizabeth and Lucinda (married to William A. Hensley)  with an unknown woman (some speculate she was Cherokee and died --no proof to date).  Around 1810, he married Barbara Hensley [d/o  Henry Harry Hensley and Barbara Angel] in Old Buncombe Co. [now Yancey Co. Bald Mountain area].   They had the following children:  Ellis (md. Ruth Tilson), John (md. Mary Lucinda Arrwood), Sarah (md. Hugh H. Bell), Nancy, James, Samuel (md. Elizabeth M. Tilson), Barbara (md. Olmstead "Armp" Hensley), Malinda, George Washington (md. Mary Jane Hensley), Margaret Ann.  Barbara never remarried and raised her 10 children with the help of her brother Benjamin Hensley and Louisa Shelton who lived a few doors down from her in the 1830 Washington Co. census.   Holland is buried in a field off Rt. 19-23W  in Temple Hill visible from the road. Barbara is buried at Higgins Chapel Cemetery, Flag Pond, TN. 


NOTE:  There are two spellings for David Grier/Greer. Holland Higgins is my 4G grandfather through his daughter Lucinda who married William Allison Hensley of Spivey Mountain buried at the Hensley Cem #3.  Tombstone photo courtesy Mike Shelton. "Shadows" photo was taken in Feb 2014 (bbpytel) giving perspective of Holland's grave which sits between two yards in a residential neighborhood off Temple Hill Rd.  The parents of David Greer are unknown at this time, but I strongly suspect he is related to Andrew Greer  who came from Gaughwaugher, Londonderry County, Ireland in 1750; settled in the vicinity of Philadelphia and after the death of his first wife, migrated to North Carolina. Andrew and his first wife, Ruth Kincaid (died 1761) had 3 sons and 2 daughters:  Alexander, Joseph, Andrew, Jane, Ruth. After the death of Ruth, Andrew Greer migrated to NC and married Mary Vance (d/o Samuel Vance and Sarah Colville of Virginia) and they had 3 sons and 3 daughters: Margery, Thomas, John, twins David and Vance, and Mary (Polly). Being connected with the Vance family through his mother lends suspect to how David Greer became educated, owned land, perhaps politically connected to compel the court to dismiss the murder on grounds of insanity.  Additional links on Grier and Higgins:


Charles Lanman Letter XVIII - June 1848 about David Greer

The Hermit of Bald Mountain - pg. 335, History of Western North Carolina

Excerpt taken from David C. Hsiung's, Tale of Two Mountains, pgs. 125-126


William Allison Hensley is arguable the "First Settler of Spivey Mountain" or so his tombstone reads and his family descendants declare.  What we do know is that he is the youngest child of Revolutionary War Veteran Sgt. Henry Harry Hensley and Barbara Angel, born on September 18, 1798.  Like his brother-in-law, Holland, William A.  was also a skilled blacksmith who left Yancey Co., North Carolina before 1848 in search of his own land on the Tennessee side.  His brother Benjamin and sister, Barbara Hensley-Higgins had already moved over to Washington Co., TN by the 1830 census.   His widowed  mother, Barbara Angel and unmarried sister, Zania, decided to leave the Bald Mountain area of Yancey Co., and move with William A. and his family to Tennessee.   After securing a large track of land on the summit of Spivey [1000 acres excellent for logging/ farming and development] he and his family left for Tennessee where they resided until their deaths.  Before coming to Spivey, in 1835-1836, he served as a Deputy Sheriff in Yancey Co., and also served as a frequent juror in court.   His father was a key surveyor [juror] mapping the passage wagon road through Spivey Gap which cuts through the Unaka mountain range between Tennessee and North Carolina.  Some family descendants refer to William as "Black Bill" because he was remembered as a having strong hands from being a blacksmith and also a "great fist fighter."   It's evident he was a caring father and brother who ensured the financial security and safety of his widowed mother and unwed sister, Zania through out their lives.  William and Lucinda had 9 children:  William Kimsey, Cornelia, Robert Burton, Elizabeth "Betsy", Louisa Jane, Richmond, John H., Barbara, Silas -most of whom are buried at the Old Hensley Cem #3, Spivey Mountain.

NOTE:  William A. is this author's great-great-great grandfather through his youngest son Silas.


John Quillen Tilson"From Log Cabin to Congress"   On April 5, 1866, John Q. was born in a country house in the remote woods of the Spivey Gap area near Clear Branch,  Unicoi Co.   His parents were William E. Tilson and Manerva Katherine Sams.    John grew up on a large farm where his parents acquired nearly 4000 acres in the Appalachian mountainous area.  He came from a large family with 7 siblings many of whom remained in the area for most of their lives.   Although his parents were self-educated, they were strong advocates of education, community service and faith in God.   Attending both public and private schools in nearby Flag Pond, Tennessee and later at Mars Hill, North Carolina, John excelled in his studies and continued to on to college.  In 1888, he graduated at Carson-Newman College, Jefferson City, Tennessee.   He was accepted at Yale University and in 1893 received a law degree.  He only practiced law for a year before he was sent off to serve in the Spanish-American War.   In 1898, John was 2nd Lieutenant, 6th Regiment,  US Vol. Infantry.  Post the war, John returned to practicing law.  However, the war left an impression on him, and  John desired to become more involved in politics to inspire and lead change.   He supported the Republican party, and from 1904- 1908, he served 4 years in the Connecticut House of Representatives.  He continued his political aspirations to the federal level and was elected to United States House of Representatives serving from 1909 to 1913.  With a loss in the subsequent race, he came back the next term serving continually from 1915 until his resignation in 1932.  During WWI he served as a member of the Military Affairs Committee with an initiative to provide US  troops in France with Browning Machine guns --see NY Times Article May 27, 1918.   He was the Majority Leader for the 69th Congress, 70th Congress, and the 71st Congress.   During his last term in 1932, he was also delegate to the Republican National Convention.   As an esteemed alumnus of Yale, he served as a guest speaker at the Ivey League University discussing topics on parliamentary law and procedure based on his book Tilson's Manual.  Often he would return to his Appalachian roots in Clear Branch to visit his family, but lived most of his life up north.   On August 14, 1958, John Q. died in New London, Connecticut and is interned at the Tilson family cemetery nestled in a hollow off  Tilson Mountain Road Rt. 19-23w at the foot of  Spivey Mountain.

PHOTO:  Library of Congress - Bain Collection Call No. LC-B2- 6235-14[P&P]


David Jonathan "DJ" White:  A prominent county surveyor who helped define the official boundaries of Unicoi County.  "DJ" was born on January 15, 1840, in the Greasy Cove area of Old Washington Co., [now Unicoi], Tennessee.  He was the son of Margaret White and [unknown] and the grandson of John White [b.1771] and his first wife, Margaret Odell [1785] of the Greasy Cove area on the Indian Creek, Washington Co., TN.   DJ's mother, Margaret, was a widow in 1850 and she and her children resumed her maiden name.   Times were hard and Margaret struggled to raise 5 children on her own.  On February 5, 1855, Margaret agreed that DJ [ age 15]  move to Jonesborough to live on the Harris plantation.   The Harris' were a well to do family with a huge tract of land with a  staff of servants/slaves.  Dr. Alexander Nelson Harris [s/o Rev. War veteran Benjamin Harris and Jane Crampton] was a Methodist minister and had a son named Nathaniel Edwin Harris [who later became the Governor of Georgia from 1915-1917 and founder of GA Tech University].  He was 6 years younger than DJ.   Nathaniel writes in his autobiography* that his father worked out an arrangement with widow Margaret to raise and educate DJ as if he were officially bound to him in accordance to State law.   He also agreed, that at the age of 21, DJ would receive a horse, furniture and other household items of his choice to get him started on his own.  Living with the Harris' for 6 1/2 years, DJ played a major role and influence in Nathaniel's life.  In addition to being a voracious reader and quick study, DJ would also work on the plantation along with the staff.  Nathaniel writes in his memoirs, "DJ awoke within me the ambition to succeed which followed me the remainder of my days."  When DJ left the plantation on or about 1862, the Civil War was manifesting; the Harris' were Confederate sympathizers.  During the war, DJ was conscripted for 15 months through April 1864 to work at the Embreeville Iron mine (also known as the Confederate Iron Works) that was purchased by General Duff Green.  This ore was used for confederate cannon balls.   After the war, he traveled to Indiana for a time, and then returned to his hometown serving as a school teacher.  After 1870, he became a surveyor for Washington County.  In 1875, Unicoi County was carved out of Washington and Carter counties and DJ played a major role in defining the official county boundaries and NC - TN state lines.  DJ owned a farm in the Fishery area of Unicoi Co.  Later in life, he became county Magistrate adjudicating marriages and a traveling Methodist Preacher.   On December 25, 1873, DJ married Martha C. Garland [d/o Hampton Chrisenberry Garland and Jane Elizabeth Burleson of Red Hill, Mitchell Co., NC].  DJ and Martha had 8 children; he and Martha are buried in Fishery Union Church Cemetery, Unicoi Co., TN next to his mother Margaret White.   DJ kept many journals of his work and life experiences (see writings of DJ White) .  He craved knowledge and spent a lifetime learning.  He said,  "Books became an idol to me.   I esteemed time as precious."

NOTES:  *Nathaniel E. Harris, Autobiography: The Story of an Old Man's Life, with Reminiscences of Seventy-five Years (Macon, Ga.: J. W. Burke, 1925).   DJ is the great great grandfather of this author.  Photo is of DJ at age 50+, courtesy of Fred White, grandson of DJ;  Example of DJ White's survey maps filed with the Unicoi Co. land records.    "The Genealogy of John White Family of Washington Co., Tennessee," by David Jonathan White, 1920 [unpublished manuscript at the Erwin Public Library, Genealogy Room]


   The Writings of DJ White  




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