FROM VIRGINIA TO TENNESSEE
More than two decades have passed since the search began for the parents of Spencer Coleman. It has been a long, often frustrating, road to travel. But the data accumulated through those years resulted in one book and a website on the Mobjack Bay Coleman family that has brought a better understanding of where we fit in our place in history. Since this project began because of Spencer Coleman, his story deserves to be told.
Although he lived beyond the age of 83, through some of the most turbulent years in our nation's history, Spencer's name seldom appeared in surviving records. Fortunately, by using those few records, it was possible to track his places of residence from the Virginia counties of King & Queen, Stafford, Shenandoah, Fincastle and Washington, to Watauga, Washington District NC, to Greene, Cocke and Monroe counties in Tennessee.
Sometimes the learning experience of searching for an elusive ancestor is worth the frustration of running into one brick wall after another. The decades-long search for the parents of Spencer Coleman eventually brought results, and it taught us things about Spencer Coleman that we never would have learned from dry, fact-only records.
Spencer (no middle name) Coleman was born in King & Queen County./a>, VA in February (exact day unknown) 1752. In his Revolutionary War pension application, Spencer said when he was "one or two years old", his father moved his family to Stafford County, VA. The Overwharton Parish Register of Stafford County1 listed three children born to a John and Isabel Coleman./a>: John born 6 Aug 1753, Lizie Ann born 13 Feb 1755 and Jesse born 3 Sep 1757. Spencer's birth would have fit perfectly as an older child of John and Isabel Coleman. Years of searching for a John Coleman in King & Queen County of the appropriate age were fruitless until Angie Bird of Carterville, IL found a "Merchant Accounts Book" for King & Queen County. This particular account book listed the name of John Coleman as making a purchase at Ninian Boog's trading post on 22 Jun 1751. Next to John's name was written "son of Robert Sp Coleman". This was a surprise because John was a previously unknown child of Robert Spilsbe Coleman and his wife Sarah Whitehead (surname unproven) of King & Queen County, VA. The discovery of John's existence was incredibly exciting in terms of the search for Spencer's parents. Too many years had passed with little or no progress, and at last a glimmer of a clue had appeared. A John Coleman could be placed in King & Queen County shortly before the birth of Spencer Coleman, and a John Coleman was in Stafford County "one or two years" after the birth of Spencer.
William Coleman stated in his Revolutionary War pension application, filed from Cocke County TN, that he was born in Stafford County, VA on 20 Apr 1761. This William Coleman is believed to be a brother of Spencer for reasons that become obvious later in this narrative.
Often, only circumstantial evidence is available on which to base a theory. The mystery of Spencer's origins is a prime example of having to use circumstantial evidence, since King & Queen County records were burned in a courthouse fire in 1828, and again by Yankee soldiers in 1864. John Coleman's father, Robert Spilsbe Coleman, had a sister Mary who married Josiah Stone and lived in Stafford County. John Coleman's sister, Susannah, married Capt. John Richards on 1 Jan 1754 and lived in Stafford County at "Richards Hill". She would have been Spencer's aunt. These Colemans were all of the appropriate ages in relation to Spencer's birth year, with King & Queen and Stafford county connections.
At this point, the theory was that John and Isabel Coleman had children named Spencer, John, Lizie Ann, Jesse and William. But in a letter from Naomi Coleman of Amber, OK dated January 12, 1999, she wrote, "Dorothea Coleman got a lot of her information from her father-in-law Jacob Coleman (1867-1968). He told her that Spencer Coleman had a brother named Jacob and a brother named Jesse.".
When Spencer was "14 or 15", about 1767, his family left Stafford County and moved to Shenandoah County \(Shenandoah is an Indian word meaning "Daughter of the Stars"\). At the 27 Nov 1772 Shenandoah County court, a Jacob Coleman was sued by James McNeal and had to pay McNeal the L2 he owed him. On the same date, Jacob Coleman was sued by John Cockman for L2 5 shillings current money and was also ordered to pay. This Jacob Coleman would have been Spencer's brother. The court action is a clue that Jacob Coleman was older than Spencer, since he was being sued in his own name and not with the 'next friend' method. Jacob would have been born in King & Queen County about 1750.
The name of Jacob Coleman is on a November 1775 "List of Numbers of the Persons Included in the District of Henry Nelson, Junr." \(Dunmore/Shenandoah Co. VA\\). Capt. Henry Nelson lived in the Conieville area of Shenandoah County, a solid clue that the men on his list also lived in the vicinity of Conieville. The list shows Jacob Coleman with one male over 16 and one female over 16. She would have been the first of Jacob's three wives. Later records show that Jacob and this wife had a son by 1781. Then, in 1788, Jacob married Jane Wood in Shenandoah County, and in 1800 in the same county, married widow Rachel Long. Jacob Coleman signed both of these marriage bonds with a "cross" (not an "x"), a clear indication he was the same man in both marriages. This was interesting because when Spencer Coleman signed his war pension application with a mark, it more closely resembled a cross than an "x".
On 29 Nov 1773, Spencer Coleman married Lucy White in Shenandoah County./a>, VA. Technically, they were married in Dunmore County, which was formed in 1772 from Frederick County. Dunmore was named in honor of John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, who was Governor of Virginia from 1771-76. However, Lord Dunmore's loyalty to England soon made him unpopular in Virginia, and Dunmore County was renamed "Shanando" in October 1777. Lucy may have been a daughter of the William White who migrated in 1734 to Virginia from the Monocacy Valley in Maryland, and settled on land near Mt. Jackson. This land, at and around Smith Creek, later became part of Shenandoah County. Migrating with him were Benjamin Allen and Riley Moore.
William White patented 989 acres near Mt. Jackson. He was deceased by 23 Apr 1772, for on that date a 390-acre tract of land was sold to Adam and Barbara Brewbaker by Wesley White. The land was part of two different tracts "willed to Wesley White by his father William White".
Wesley White, who was born by 1751, was living in Jefferson County, TN in 1783. The birth year of his brother William White is unknown, but William may have been older. His name appears on Henry Nelson's 1775 list with ten members in his household, six males and four females. Of these, three were over 16 years of age and seven were under 16. Since William White Sr. was deceased, it's very likely that his widow was living with her son William and his family in 1775. This would indicate that by that year, William and his wife had two daughters and five sons.
Among a list of men who served in the French-Indian War in 1758 from Frederick County, VA (part of which later became Shenandoah Co.\) were William White, Isaac White, Moses Job, Jeremiah Odle \(O'Dell\), Jonathan Odle \(O'Dell\) and Isaac Pence, familiar names to Coleman descendants. John Sevier, son of Valentine Sevier, owned an extensive amount of land in the NewMarket/Smith Creek area of Shenandoah County. In 1773, John Sevier sold his Virginia land and moved to the Watauga and Nolichucky Settlements in North Carolina (later Tennessee\). Migrating with him were his parents, brothers Valentine Jr., Robert, Joseph and Abraham, and sisters Polly and Catherine.
Spencer and Lucy Coleman had seven surviving children, all named in the 1834 will of their father. These children were Lucy, Jesse, Lydia, Absalom, Edy, Mary and William. There is a strong possibility that Spencer and Lucy had other children who did not survive childhood. This is indicated by gaps in the birth years of their known children. Spencer Coleman's name appeared on Capt. Henry Nelson's 1775 list with one male over 16, one female over 16, and one female under 16, a daughter having been born to them between their marriage in November 1773 and November 1775, when Capt. Nelson's list was compiled. There is no evidence to date that this daughter survived childhood.
Also on Capt. Nelson's list was Spencer's father, John Coleman. Four males and three females lived in his household. Of those seven, four were over the age of 16 and three were under the age of 16. John, his wife Isabel, and their unmarried children were identified, leaving two females under the age of 16 unidentified. It is unknown if these two females were daughters of the household, born after William, or if they were bound children placed under the apprenticeship of John and Isabel Coleman. Virginia law required that bound children be taught to read and write. Both Jacob and Spencer Coleman signed "by their mark", although their brother William signed his pension application with his name. It is possible that William was taught to read and write by someone other than a family member. If so, the two unidentified females in the household of John Coleman were more likely daughters, not bound children.
Based on available evidence, it has been determined that Spencer Coleman was a son of John and Isabel Coleman of King & Queen, Stafford and Shenandoah counties. Their known children, as of this date, were Jacob, Spencer, John, Lizie Ann, Jesse and William.
The surname of Spencer Coleman's mother has been extremely difficult to determine, assuming she lived in King and Queen Co.nty at the time of her marriage to John Coleman. Nearly all the records of King and Queen Countiy have been destroyed with the exception of a few church and tax records. There were two men in King and Queen Co. who could have been Isabel's father, but all efforts to determine if either man had a daughter named Isabel have failed. They were Thomas Spencer and Jacob Minor. If Spencer Coleman was the oldest child of John and Isabel, her surname was probably Spencer. But if Jacob Coleman was the oldest child, as evidence appears to prove, Isabel was more likely a daughter of Jacob Minor. That leaves the question of where did the name "Spencer" come from? The answer may be found in the surname of Spencer Coleman's paternal grandmother, She has traditionally been identified as Sarah "Whitehead", based on the fact that she and her husband Robert Spilsbe Coleman named a son Whitehead. There may have been an entirely different, non-family, reason for naming a child Whitehead. Spencer's grandmother may have been Sarah Spencer, not Whitehead. Until further evidence is found, Sarah's surname will have to remain a mystery.
Other names of men on the Henry Nelson Dunmore/Shenandoah County list who would later appear with the Colemans in the records of Washington County, VA, Watauga and Cocke County, TN were Campbell, McKay, O'Dell, White, Whitson and George Snider, who, years later, would be a Monroe County, TN character witness for Spencer Coleman at the time Spencer applied for a war pension. The fact that these men were in Shenandoah County at the same time as Spencer, and later appeared in the same Virginia and Tennessee counties as he, certainly indicates families migrated together before eventually settling permanently in Tennessee. Evidence later shows that Spencer's brothers, John and William, were among those who also migrated down the valley toward Tennessee.
Shortly before the winter of 1775/6 set in, Spencer and his neighbors from Shenandoah County moved their families to Seven Mile Ford on the Holston River which was then in Fincastle County, VA. This was the first stop on the southward trail over the mountains to the new settlements in what was believed to be the southwestern frontier of Virginia. Traveling was risky. Indians were constantly raiding and killing in an effort to stop the flood of white settlers from moving onto their territorial lands. The Cherokee gave the early settlers more trouble than all the Indian tribes combined. They were the first mountain people of America, and loved the land and liberty they had enjoyed for centuries. The Cherokee were relentless in the pursuit of revenge for the most petty of grievances, and relished fighting, whether it was with other Indian tribes or white men. Quarrelsome and arrogant, the Cherokee would alternately assist, or request aid from, their white neighbors, then a day or a week or a month later, attack and kill those same settlers.
If the Cherokee and other nearby tribes had banded together, they would have numbered more than 14,000 Indians, easily capable of stopping the flow of white settlers. They did not do so, and decades of being lied to, pushed off their ancestral lands and uprooted, eventually broke their spirit. The Cherokee were rounded up and force-marched to reservations in Oklahoma.
By the time Spencer Coleman and his Shenandoah neighbors began their southward migration, the Indians were not a happy people. They were in no mood to welcome the foreigners into their country, not white men who had left a trail of broken treaty promises behind them. The Indians did not hesitate to use their tomahawks on the despised interlopers, whether they were men, women or children. But for the settlers, the yearning for rich soil of their own and for a government free of royal intervention in unclaimed territory was worth the risk of Indian trouble. And the character of the newest wave of settlers was suited for this challenge.
From the earliest days of Virginia's history, white settlers had to contend with various tribes of Indians. At first, the Native Americans were friendly and shared their knowledge of wilderness living with the often clueless whites. That situation began to change as more immigrants flooded the new country with their dreams of vast tracts of land waiting to be settled. The two, very divergent, lifestyles inevitably clashed. For the white settlers, constant watchfulness became a way of life, and the Indians were gradually pushed westward. In 1716, the Blue Ridge Mountains were crossed by an expedition of Virginians led by Governor Alexander Spotswood. Once the beautiful valleys and rivers beyond the ridges were explored and began to be settled, hostilities broke out in earnest. By the time the American Revolution officially began, the settlers of southwest Virginia had two campaigns of war to contend with, the Indians and the Tories of British loyalty. Never in America's history, either pre-or-post-revolution, had this situation occurred. Tory spies fed information to Indian war parties, and men of the settlements were pushed to the limits of endurance between protecting their families and serving their fledgling new country.
In those early days of migration, when the threat of Indian trouble was ever-present, most settlers either moved into existing forts or built their own. Small cabins were built in close proximity to each other, and a stockade fence was erected around them. Fields were cleared for planting, and some men stood watch while others planted crops. Working in the fields was a time of danger for the settlers. Indians hid behind trees and shot at the men. Women and children were left unprotected while the men tended to the fields, and the Indians took advantage of every opportunity to cause havoc among the settlers.
A few months after Spencer Coleman and his Shenandoah County neighbors moved to Seven-Mile Ford, Indians went on a rampage from the Watauga Settlements northward to the Seven-Mile Ford area. Those troubles brought Col. William Campbell, Col. William Christian and Captain William Russell home from the Continental Army to assist in the defense of the Wolf Hills area. In May of 1776, while living at Seven Mile Ford, Spencer became part of Col. William Campbell's command. \(Col. Campbell's wife was a sister of Patrick Henry.\) Neither Spencer Coleman nor William Campbell were aware at the time that more than four years later, they would play a pivotal role in changing the course of American history by helping defeat the British at King's Mountain on the Carolina borders. Spencer's first duty under Campbell's command was with a company of 90-100 other Virginians ordered to guard the lead mines at New River, VA which were under threat of seizure by the Tories. Months passed while the Virginians kept the Tories on the run before ending the chase at Wallus Bottom and claiming victory. Spencer, who worried that his "crop was ruining because there was no one at home to tend it", did not remain with Col. Campbell's men to claim his share from a sale of confiscated property. He returned home in August 1776, having been gone three months. His statement that no one was at home to tend his crops indicates that Spencer Coleman did not live in a fort, but had built his own cabin and tended his own fields. He would have taken Lucy and their children to a nearby fort for safety while he began his war service.
A son Jesse was born to Lucy and Spencer in that year. If his birth occurred before December 6th, his birthplace would have been Fincastle County, VA. After that date, the county became Washington. In the winter of 1776-77, Spencer and the other families from Shenandoah County moved to the Wolf Hills, also in Washington County, VA. The area was just northeast of present day Bristol, TN. The Wolf Hills were named in 1760 when Daniel Boone and several other hunters traveled along the Holston River, which was part of the Indian Trail. On the second night, they camped on the South Fork of the Holston, unaware that a nearby cave was the home of numerous wolves. As night fell, the wolves emerged from their cave and attacked viciously the dogs belonging to Boone and his hunting party. Many of the dogs were killed or crippled by the wolves before they were finally repelled. The area became known as the Wolf Hills, now present day Abingdon, VA. Spencer and Lucy Coleman remained in this area for a few more years. During this time, son Absalom was born.
After he moved to the Wolf Hills, Spencer Coleman's new commanding officer became Col. Arthur Campbell, older brother of Col. William Campbell. The names of the Campbell brothers would appear often in the early records of settling Tennessee. Under their leadership, Spencer not only learned to fight as a militiaman, but to use trees and brush for cover as the Indians did. And part of fighting the Indian way was to issue blood-curdling yells that chilled a man's soul. Men with these skills would later play a large role in defeating the British and settling the wild eastern and southern areas of Tennessee where Indians continued their depredations.
The Cherokee had intensified their plundering and killing of settlers, and Arthur Campbell's men were ordered to stop them. Spencer's company was often called out to fight, sometimes for only a week or two at a time, sometimes for longer periods. He was a farmer and a Private soldier of infantry, the backbone of any army, but Spencer Coleman was not a poor man. He once paid a substitute for a three-month turn of service, most likely out of concern for his crop and the safety of his growing family.
This period of Indian fighting was probably Spencer Coleman's first look at the beautiful valleys, gaps and coves of northeastern Tennessee. The country left an impact on him because within two years, he moved to Watauga and never again lived in Virginia.
Life was about to take a dramatic turn for Spencer and Lucy Coleman and their Shenandoah County neighbors. Word passed throughout the settlements of the disastrous southern campaign against the British in the Carolinas and Georgia. The outcome of the Revolution was at stake. General George Washington could spare neither troops nor supplies to aid the south, so the governments of the Carolinas and Georgia sent a plea for help to the settlers in northeastern Tennessee (known as the Overmountain people). Reports of British atrocities against patriots in the south were a rallying cry among men who were fed up with anything having to do with England. Men, known to be sympathetic to the freedom fight, were captured by British soldiers and either hanged or given to the Indians to be tortured and killed. Women were raped, homes burned, and cattle and crops confiscated. Young boys and older men were killed and dismembered by British soldiers and their Indian allies. The atrocities were endless, and very successful in striking a severe blow to the southern campaign. The British, believing they had defeated the patriots in the south, were now confident they could attack Virginia with equal success.
Colonels Isaac Shelby and John Sevier sent messengers throughout the settlements, calling for volunteers to fight British Col. Patrick Ferguson, the man who designed the bayonet. The colonel had arrogantly boasted of his victories, and threatened to destroy any patriots who dared oppose him.
September 25, 1780 was the designated day of muster at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River \(Elizabethton, TN\). The response to the plea for help was overwhelming, for the entire countryside seemed to have turned out for the gathering. Cattle for meat had been driven to the muster. Men brought their families. Volunteers for the fight were so numerous that young boys and older men were drafted to remain behind to protect the women, babies and settlements. Indian attacks had not abated.
Shelby and Sevier were counting heavily on the support of Col. William Campbell, who brought 200 Virginians to the muster. It was decided that his brother, Col. Arthur Campbell and his troops, among them Spencer Coleman, would remain behind in Virginia to protect the settlements against raids by Tories and Indians.
Col. Isaac Shelby provided 240 men from Sullivan County, and Col. John Sevier commanded an additional 240 Indian fighters from the Watauga and Nolichucky settlements. North Carolinians came from Burke and Wilkes counties, while smaller numbers from South Carolina and Georgia made up the muster. All these men were in a fighting mood. They utterly detested the British.
A community effort ensued. Grist mills worked around the clock to grind corn for making bread. Looms and needles were put to use making and mending clothing for the men. A hillside near the Nolichucky River (near present day Bumpass Cove\) was mined for lead to produce bullets. One of the powder mills was supervised by a woman named Mary Patton. Men, women and children willingly lent a hand.
A painting of the Sycamore Shoals muster by Lloyd Branson shows a disorganized gathering of men, women, children, horses and dogs. Despite the seriousness of the occasion, there appeared to be an air of confident bonhomie on the part of those hardy men willing to risk their lives for an elusive freedom. Women, some with babies in their arms, wore bonnets and shawls and facial expressions of uneasy pride. Children scampered and played with the hunting dogs. Older men wore clothing more suited for dancing and partying, but perhaps they had dressed "up" for the occasion. The majority of the men wore buckskin britches with plain, collarless, long-sleeved linsey1 shirts. Some of them wore fringed, buckskin tunics, having learned from the Indians that fringe was useful as a water repellant. Men wore their long hair tied back with lengths of leather or ribbon. There appeared to be an equal number of wide-brimmed felt hats, and coon-skin or mink-skin caps with their tails hanging down. Every man carried a tomahawk and scalping knife on his belt. And everywhere were the long-barreled, one-shot muskets that would eventually win America's freedom.
Early the next morning, on September 26, 1780 everyone gathered in a grove for a religious service in which Rev. Samuel Doak delivered a sermon praising the men's efforts to assist their brethren across the mountains. Just as the men were preparing to leave, the sound of voices and approaching horses could be heard. Col. Arthur Campbell had arrived with 200 troops to add strength to the expedition. Men of his militia in Washington County had refused to be left out of the fight. Col. Campbell and his mounted men had left Abingdon on September 24th. When the men arrived at Sycamore Shoals two days later, they were greeted with shouts of raucous welcome. Col. Arthur Campbell put his men under the command of his brother, wished his troops Godspeed, turned his horse and left for the return trip home.
One of the men he left in the grove at Sycamore Shoals that day was Spencer Coleman. The name of "Spense" Coleman is on a list of soldiers who fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. When Spencer Coleman applied for his war pension, he did not mention his participation in the Battle of King's Mountain. Although admitting his memory was "not very good", it is still interesting to note that fighting Indians made a much more lasting impression on him than did fighting the British.
The men left Sycamore Shoals in high spirits, and marched into the mountains where snow was ankle-deep. Always on guard for British troops or bands of warring Indians, scouts were sent ahead to determine where Col. Ferguson was encamped. The men were marched on a fast-paced trek across the mountains to the border between North and South Carolina. On a day shortly before joining the enemy on top of King's Mountain (in York Co. SC, a mile and a half from the NC border) the troops were offered the opportunity to return home. Any man who wished to return to the settlements was instructed to step back three paces. Not one man moved.
The battle began and ended on October 7, 1780. Kings Mountain National Military Park offers a diorama of the battle, a walking trail, and numerous plaques and monuments to the fighting men. A position map of the mountaineer corps shows Col. William Campbell's men taking a right flank, and adjacent to him was Col. John Sevier's company. The frontiersmen were later called the "Ghost Legion" because they seemed to appear from nowhere amidst a thick blanket of smoke from all the gunfire. They had slipped quickly and quietly over the mountains, more than a thousand rugged men filled with a determination to show the British the fight for independence was a serious, to-the-death endeavor for Americans. Their bone-chilling yells and Indian-style fighting were no match for the more rigid, red-coated British soldiers. And no regiment had their endurance and courage more severely tested than 35-year old William Campbell's. Their position placed them in the vanguard of the fight, and they acquitted themselves extremely well. Many of the men threw aside their hats and tied handkerchiefs around their heads to minimize anything catching on limbs and bushes when rushing up the mountain. Col. Patrick Ferguson was among the 150 men who died that day, an unwilling victim of the "backwater yelling boys" he loved to hate.
The Battle of Kings Mountain was a turning point in America's war for independence. After reading reports of the battle, British military leaders worried that the Overmountain men who had defeated Ferguson and saved the southern campaign, would join General Washington in the north. This concern affected British strategy throughout the remainder of the war, and eventually contributed to America's victory.
By 1781, Washington County, VA was no longer considered a frontier. The countryside was too settled. Spencer Coleman and his neighbors from Shenandoah County apparently agreed with that assessment because in that year, they moved their families to Tennessee's Watauga Settlement. The Watauga Association was America's first free government, independent of any other state or colony. The Watauga and Nolichucky valleys were settled by pioneers who thought the land was part of Virginia. These settlers of the early 1770's were the first "Overmountain" people. When they learned that the land on which they had built cabins and planted gardens was actually owned by the Lord Granville family of North Carolina, the settlers established their own judicial and civil rules, based on Virginia law. In 1775, the Wataugans changed their name to "Washington District", and two years later petitioned the North Carolina legislature for annexation. The main settlements in the Washington District were Watauga, Carter's Valley and Nolichucky. "Washington District" became Washington County, NC. Most of present day Tennessee was included within the boundaries of Washington County, NC.
Evidence indicates that John Coleman, Spencer's brother, remained in Washington County, VA. On 20 Mar 1782: "On motion of John Koleman it's proved to the court by the oath of Andrew Millar and Samuel Meek that he lost a piece of the underpart of his left ear in a quarrel about the 12th day of this Instant. Ordered that the Clerk give him a Certificate thereof." \(Washington Co. VA Court Records\) The reason such a court action was necessary was rooted in the laws for punishment of a crime. "Ordered that the sheriff take him to the pillory and nail his ears to the same, and there to stand half an hour and then to have his right ear cut off." \(Orange Co. VA court order, 1776) If a man lost part of, or all of, an ear by accident or as a result of a fight, appearing in court with witnesses and giving a deposition spared him the stigma of being branded a criminal.
John Coleman married, although nothing is known about his wife, and had at least one child, a son John. His son John later appeared in Washington County records in 1814 as "Colonel Coleman" who led a troop of cavalry from Washington County to Richmond, then on to the Northern Neck where the British had landed. Peace was declared on 18 Feb 1815, and the troops returned home. John Coleman's name appeared in the records of Washington County, VA in that year of 1815.
A map showing the probable route Spencer and the other families took to reach Watauga indicates they followed a line of settlements through Bristol, TN until reaching the numerous settlements along the Holston and Watauga rivers. A steady stream of people moved over the rugged mountains from Virginia and North Carolina, to the dismay of the various Indian tribes. Some of these people were seeking freedom and safety from British oppression; others simply wanted land of their own, while a few settlers were fleeing justice.
Buffalo trails were so narrow that travel could only be made by horseback or on foot. Women with babies rode horseback, while men walked and carried their long guns, always alert for trouble. On the trek, children helped drive and herd cattle and other animals. Packhorses carried clothing, cooking utensils, seeds for planting, and the metal parts of axes, plows and other farm implements. The families endured a journey that required physical stamina and a spirit of adventure strong enough to overcome the hardships and threat of Indian attacks.
Once they reached their destination, the Virginians wasted no time in making a new home for themselves. Spencer, with the help of his brother William, would have cleared land and built a log cabin. For decades, cabins and houses were constructed with portholes from which settlers could fight Indians. Dwellings were set amidst a wide expanse of land cleared of trees and bushes, to deny Indians a hiding place from which to attack the settlers. The cabin would have had a lean-to at the back to shelter their horses until a barn could be built. Cracks between the logs were filled with mud. Roofs were made of broad, split boards secured by long poles and wooden pegs. Inside the cabin would be a sleeping loft accessed by a ladder. Floors were hard-packed dirt, and the fireplace was made of rocks or stones. Lucy would have cooked in that fireplace and used the light to sew by at night. Small trees were hewn and tied or pegged together to make beds. Mattresses were made by stuffing grass or straw into ticking. Spencer would have crafted a table and benches from split logs with legs made from narrow trees. They may have had a few pewter plates and spoons, but were more likely to have wooden bowls and trenchers made by Spencer or William. When neighbors gathered for weddings or other social occasions, and knives and forks were in short supply, the men often ate with the razor-sharp knives they carried on their belts. Cooking pots were made of iron and required a considerable amount of strength to use.
This lifestyle was not for the faint of heart. Lucy would have had to be self-reliant, able to plant and nurture a garden, milk a cow if they had one, churn butter, card the wool Spencer sheared from any sheep they may have had, spin the yarn and weave it into cloth on a loom made by Spencer. She would have gathered and boiled berries, leaves and other bounty from nature to use for dye on the cloth she wove. Lucy would have made all the clothing worn by her family, including the buckskin clothing cured and worn by Spencer. The women in the settlements wore clothing made of linsey2, including their petticoats. They wore coarse shoes, along with stockings and buckskin gloves if they had them. Lucy would have nursed her family with herbs she gathered from the nearby woods, and made soap from ashes and lye. She and her pioneer sisters would have given birth under the most primitive of conditions, a situation that undoubtedly contributed to the high infant mortality rate. While living in Watauga in 1782, daughter Edy was born to Lucy and Spencer.
In the early settlements, the need for commodities to barter was greater than a need for money. A man's wealth depended on the amount of land he owned, the number of horses, cattle and other stock in his barn, the number of pelts he accumulated on hunting forays, and the quality of linens in his household. Above all, it was the land. With acreage, a man's future was secured.
Skins and fur pelts were the basic currency of the settlements. Spencer and William would have joined hunting parties to provide meat for their family and the community. \(Widows with small children were given a share of the hunt by the men of these hunting parties.) Game was plentiful, and in keeping with the Indian way, no part of an animal or bird was wasted. Buffalo, elk, bear, deer, geese, turkey and smaller animals provided food. The skins from buffalo and bear provided warm coverings in cold weather. Bear grease was also a necessity to provide fat in their diets. Deer and elk skins provided clothing and material for a variety of use on a homestead. The pioneers also utilized deer and elk antlers for clothing racks, and carved eating utensils from horn. Feathers collected from geese and other birds were used to stuff pillows and mattresses. Skillful hunters could mimic a turkey, owl, wolf or deer. Early settlers, especially hunters, were superstitious. A wife would often throw an axe at her husband as he left home to hunt. This supposedly brought him good luck (unless her aim was accurate). If a hunter returned home without any game, his gun was believed to be under an evil spell. One way to get rid of that spell was to borrow patching3 from another hunter.
Survival necessitated constant vigilance and relentless work. The ability to take raw materials and turn them into food for humans and animals, for clothing, linens, weapons and furniture was truly remarkable.
The term "neighborly" was taken seriously among the settlers. Everyone worked together to accomplish tasks before winter set in. Helping to harvest each other's crops, or pick seeds out of cotton, or burs and lice from sheep, hog-killing, quilting bees or barn raisings were also opportunities to have a barbeque. Although theirs was a hard life, it wasn't all work.
"Play-parties" were held by our Smoky Mountain ancestors at which singing games were a favorite. The east Tennessee mountaineer ballads brought from England evoked romance with their beautiful words and rhythmic melodies. Songs such as "Barbara Allen", "Skip To Ma Lou My Darling", "Limber Jim" and "Jolly Is The Miller" were often accompanied by dancing.
William Coleman enlisted to fight in the war on September 1, 1781 from Watauga, Washington County, NC. His brother Spencer remained in Watauga until a year after peace was declared in 1783. In his pension application, Spencer said he moved to Big Pigeon. The NC General Assembly had designated the boundaries of the Cherokee hunting grounds as the Holston, the French Broad and the Big Pigeon rivers. Spencer and his brother William settled where Cosby Creek joined the Big Pigeon River, thoroughly entrenched on the border of Indian country. Their names appeared on the first Greene County tax list in 1787-88. Each man paid a tax on 75 acres of land, adjacent to each other. There were 87 names on that tax list with the Coleman brothers. Among the familiar names from Shenandoah County, VA were McKay, White and Whitson.
After Spencer Coleman's name appeared on the Greene County, TN tax list, his name never again appeared in any existing record, until he filed for a pension in 1832 and wrote his will two years later. The land grant system involving Tennessee, North Carolina and the federal government was very confusing. If Spencer Coleman had received a land grant for his Revolutionary War service, the grant would have been in Kentucky, since his service was with Virginia. Spencer may have sold any Kentucky land granted to him, preferring to remain in Tennessee. His brother William served with a North Carolina unit, and that state granted land in what later became Tennessee. The amount of land granted for Revolutionary War service was based on a man's rank of service. Since Spencer was a Private, he would have received 100 acres, but his sporadic times of service may have rendered him ineligible for a land grant.
"William Coleman cleared a plot of ground in the Fork of the Pigeon and French Broad rivers and built one of the first cabins in the county, in 1783 or 1784. This plot of ground was next to that of James Gilliland and formed the nucleus of the settlements of the valley of the two rivers".4 William was granted this 150 acre parcel in Greene County (later Cocke Co.\) and apparently shared the land with his brother. No evidence has been found in any record to indicate either a grant or purchase of land in Spencer Coleman's name, yet he paid tax on 75 acres adjacent to his brother William's 75 acres.
The oldest document among Vinson family records confirms the purchase of 150 acres of land from William Coleman and mentions grant #661. The sale of this land indicated the acres were "bordered by the Big Pigeon River and William Whitson's property". \(Lydia Coleman Vinson was a daughter of Spencer and Lucy Coleman.\)
In the early days of Greene County, "William Whitson's property" was actually a fort located on Big Pigeon River where Cosby Creek flows into it. A bit north of this location, where the Big Pigeon joins the French Broad River, is Newport, TN. Two other forts, McKay's and Woods', were within a ten mile radius of Whitson's property. The entire vicinity of these forts was heavily guarded and scouted between the years 1783 and 1788. For many years, until after the turn of the century, relations between the Cherokee and whites remained unsettled.
Since the Cherokee had assisted the British during the Revolution, North Carolina did not feel obligated to honor the Indians' claim to the land. All of Tennessee was opened for sale except: "a reservation where the Indians actually lived, bounded on the south by the southern boundary of the state, and on the north, west and east by the Tennessee, Holston, French Broad and Big Pigeon rivers". Men who had settled on Indian land were allowed to purchase the acreage, and a drawing was held to determine the order of surveys. On 11 Jul 1788, William Coleman was granted 150 acres "on NE side of Big Pigeon River". The grant, #661, was "entered" on 7 Jun 1784, meaning the date on which William Coleman had claimed that particular piece of land. In 1808, he also acquired a grant of 171.75 acres \\(Bk. 1, grant #89), and in 1826 an additional 100 acres (Bk. 11, p. 526, grant #12897).
Spencer Coleman apparently lived on "vacant and unappropriated land", meaning Indian land, until 18 Apr 1806 when the federal government, North Carolina and Tennessee agreed to certain provisions, one of which: "The people south of French Broad and Holston, and west of Big Pigeon rivers, should be secured in their rights of pre-emption and occupancy". Persons entitled by the laws of Tennessee to rights of occupancy and pre-emption would have preference of entry or purchase, up to 200 acres at 12-1/2 cents an acre. If Spencer Coleman took advantage of this law, no record of any grant to him has been found.
The land on which Spencer and William lived officially became Cocke County in 1797, a year after Tennessee became a state. All of Cocke County south of French Broad and Big Pigeon was the Cherokee hunting ground. Spencer left Cocke County in 1826 and moved south to Monroe County, TN, but William remained in Cocke County and died there in 1844.
An important part of any community is a church. Gatherings for purposes of worship were also occasions for members to trade political news, announce new additions to their families, and relieve the monotony of living in isolated areas.
Primitive Big Pigeon \(Baptist\) Church, the first church in what later became Cocke County, TN was officially organized on December 6, 1787. The first log building of this church stood on the east bank of the Big Pigeon River where the road from the French Broad settlement intersected with the Cosby road. The second log building is located on Fine's branch on the old public road from Newport to Cosby. In 1786, William Whitson and Abraham McKay had presented a petition to the Baptist Association held at Kindrick's Crick in which a request was made to establish a church. The request was granted and many familiar names to Coleman researchers appeared in the church minutes during the following six decades. The name of Abraham McKay, clerk of Big Pigeon Church for more than 37 years, was on the list of people living in Henry Nelson's District in Shenandoah County, VA.
Church meetings were held once a month, usually on the Saturday before the first Sabbath, at 12:00 o'clock. The names of Spencer and Lucy Coleman do not appear in existing church minutes. This does not necessarily mean they were not members. The names of two of their children did appear, and Spencer's brother William Coleman was very active in the church.
Fourteen people made up the first congregation. Until after 1812, when funds were raised to erect a meeting house, church meetings were held in members' homes. Reading church minutes offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of our ancestors. Members could be excommunicated or excluded from membership for using profane language, drinking, gambling, adultery, disorderly conduct, and having a child out of wedlock.
Other familiar names found in the church minutes, connected with the Colemans, are Sisk, Vaughn, Vinson, Coffee, Huff and Lillard. On August 8, 1789 Col. William Lillard was appointed a Ruling Elder. Lillard's daughter Nancy married Absalom Coleman, son of Spencer and Lucy.
Mary White was referred to as "widow" White by April 13, 1793, although the name of her husband was not mentioned. On April 2, 1796 she and Jemimah White were granted Letters of "Dismition". Almost two years later, on May 5, 1798 Jemimah White was Excluded from Society for having a baseborn child.
Spencer's brother, William Coleman, joined the Big Pigeon Baptist Church by experience in July 1798. On July 14th of that year, a church meeting was held at William's home, the first of many. His name appeared often in the church minutes until October 1832, when his health might have started to fail. William was several times appointed a delegate to the annual Association meeting. In May 1799, he and a Mr. Snelson reported that Henry Stiers drank to excess, gambled and kept a quantity of "led" for some time. On December 5, 1801 William Coleman was appointed a Deacon of the Church. In September 1820 he gave the church a book in which to record the amounts people tithed for the support of their church. The book was to be kept by Benjamin O'Dell, another familiar name from Shenandoah County, VA. The last mention of William Coleman's name in the Big Pigeon Church minutes was a report of his death on October 1, 1844.
"Edee" Coleman, daughter of Spencer and Lucy, was baptized at the Big Pigeon Church in 1802, but her sister Lydia Coleman Vinson did not join the church until 1827. Six years later, Lydia and her son, Anderson Vinson, were in disfavor with church leaders and were excluded from membership. Anderson was accused of drinking too much and getting into a shouting match. His mother did not get along well with other members, and church leaders did not expect her disposition to improve.
On April 1, 1809 Nancy Colman was Excluded from Society "for marrying a man while her former husband is living". Church leaders may have been a bit harsh regarding Nancy's situation. Her first husband, Catron "Cate" Sandusky, was Excluded from Society in June 1803 for fornication. He died shortly after the birth of their only child in August of that year. Nancy then married Joseph Allen who abandoned her before the birth of their daughter in 1806. Believing Mr. Allen was dead, Nancy married Absalom Coleman about 1809, son of Spencer and Lucy, for which she was Excluded from Society.
The prison in Cocke County, TN was destroyed by fire in 1801, and a special tax was levied to rebuild it. The tax was not to exceed a period of two years, and was set at 12-1/2 cents on each white poll, 25 cents on each black poll, 12-1/2 cents on each 100 acres of land, one dollar on each stud horse for covering mares, and 25 cents on each town lot.
In 1826, Spencer moved his large family of children, grandchildren, in-laws and out-laws, to Monroe County./a>, TN. He was 74 years old. Little is known of Spencer's life after the Revolution. He lived quietly as a farmer, and died after June 1835 in Monroe County. According to the 1835 Tennessee Pension Roll, Spencer collected an annual pension of $30.00 for his Revolutionary War service. His pension began on June 8, 1833 and at the time the Pension Roll was compiled, Spencer had collected $90.00 (over a 3-year period). He was still living in June 1835, but is presumed to have died by 1840. The burial places of Spencer and Lucy are unknown, but they were probably buried on their home place and any markers have long since vanished. Ellen Rewis of Palatka, Florida kindly shared the results of her research in which she located the land on which Spencer Coleman once lived.
In 1847, their son William Coleman sold 210 acres of Monroe County land "on which he lives and was granted to his father Spencer Coleman". \(Monroe Co. TN Deed Bk. D, p. 39 dated 9 Jan 1847). No evidence of that land grant has been found. After selling the Tennessee land, William and his family moved across the mountains to Cherokee County, NC where he purchased 164 acres of land and farmed a variety of crops.
The exploration and settlement of the lands that became Tennessee is one of the most interesting and fascinating chapters in American history. The men and women who made their way over the rugged forested mountains of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia, fought for new land against thousands of Indians of various tribes. They cleared that land and planted crops while keeping a wary eye out for angry natives eager to take their scalps. Those early pioneers persevered to forge a new life for themselves, their families, and all their descendants. They fought the British and they fought the Indians. Then they fought to establish their own free government by forming the State of Franklin after politicians turned against them, the "backwater" pioneer folk who had helped win America's freedom. They were the settlers who first exhibited America's "can-do" spirit. They had a dream and were determined to turn that dream into reality, regardless of the sacrifices. The hardships were overcome, he wilderness was conquered and a sturdy breed of Americans emerged. When the land became crowded and the urge to find new soil was the impetus to migrate, they began to leave their hard-won Tennessee land to search for new horizons.
The Colemans and their kin eventually settled all across America, in flatlands and hills, in cities and on farms. But no matter where they went, they took with them the spirit of adventure and love of freedom that was in their blood. And gave us a legacy to cherish.
1The Register of Overwharton Parish, Stafford Co. VA, 1723-1758, George H.S. King
2A coarse cloth made of linen and wool, or cotton and wool.
3Material used to clean the barrel of a gun.
4Over the Misty Blue Hills, The Story of Cocke Co. TN, Ruth Webb O'Dell, p. 84
History of Shenandoah County, Virginia, John W. Wayland, 1927, Shenandoah Publ. House, Inc., Strasberg, VA, reprinted 1980 by Genealogical Publishing Co. Inc., Baltimore, MD
History of Southwest Virginia, 1746-1786, Washington County 1777-1870, Lewis Preston Summers, 1903, The Overmountain Press, Johnson City, TN
The Overmountain Men, Pat Alderman, 1970, The Overmountain Press, Johnson City, TN
Big Pigeon Baptist Church Minutes, Cocke Co. TN, 1787-1874
The following sources, some no longer with us, contributed their family genealogy in order to compile the descendants of Spencer Coleman:
Barbara Smith Bailey of Aransas Pass, TX (author of The Coleman/Palmer Family\), Juanita Coleman Barnett of Murphy, NC, Spencer Barron of Griffin, GA, Angie Bird of Carterville, IL, Anna Beth Coleman Black of Ventura, CA, Marilyn C. Black of Carbondale, IL, Lucy J. Brennan, Juanita "Billie" Carter of Washington, IL, Donald F. Coleman Jr. of Louisville, KY, Mary Kimsey Coleman of Murphy, NC, Naomi Coleman of Amber, OK, Richard Coleman of Provo, UT, Joyce Culver of Denison, TX, Katherine Coleman Donaldson of Doraville, GA, Alan Giles of Uniontown, OH, Janet Gecowet, Beverly Hammond, Sue Harris of Athens, TN, Grace Zella Hilton, Brian Honeycutt of LaCenter, KY, John Hysler, David Jolly of Union, KY, Lillard Family Website, Stella Maxcy of DeLand, FL, Linda Coleman Mays of Flint, MI, Bill and Jennie McCamish of Anna, IL, Leland McCrary of St. Louis, MO, Rev. James M. McEvers of Makanda, IL, Cindi Bonney Meyer of Roseburg, OR, Tammy Miller, Grayson Newman of Ducktown, TN, Karen Nutt of Mableton, GA, Donna Parker of Oakton, VA, Margaret Patton of Knoxville, TN, Lucinda Whitener Radford of Murphy, NC, Janine Marie Ramsey, Steven and Sandra Ratledge of Cleveland, TN (authors of Appalachian Ancestors\), Lila Rogillio of Temple, TX, Mary Saurhage, Mary Shields Shore, Smoky Mountain Historical Society Newsletter, Jeanne Tefft of Brasstown, NC, Edith Ward of Monroe Co. TN, Barbara Ledford Wright, Beverly Burlison Yates of Morse Mill, MO,