The History of Jonesborough

         In 1781 the British were overrunning the Carolinas.  Washington County volunteers had long been involved in protecting the south, and now they participated in the Battle of Kings Mountain, what has since been looked upon as a major turning point in the Revolutionary War.  Among the volunteers in the campaign were six men who had been purchasers at the first sale of lots in Jonesborough:  Nathaniel Evans, Charles, Holloway, David Hughes, Robert Sevier, Christopher Taylor, and Jesse Walton.  Robert Sevier, brother of Col. John Sevier, was mortally wounded in the battle and never had a chance to claim his property in the town of Jonesborough.

        According to the 1834 Tennessee Gazetteer, in 1833 Jonesborough "contained a population of about 500 inhabitants; eleven lawyers, four physicians, two clergymen, two churches, two academies, four schools, one printing office, four carpenters, three cabinet makers, two bricklayers, one blacksmith, four taverns, two hatters, four tailors, four shoemakers, one silversmith, two wagonmakers and one mill."

        The town experienced a boom during the early 1840s when many of the existing Federal style brick structures were built.

    The first local post office was established in 1796 with John Waddell as postmaster.  Around 1800 a post route was started and mail was carried by horseback twice a week.  Increasing demands of passenger travel and mail delivery resulted in more stage lines which increased from once a week in 1825 to three times a week in 1834.




        Like many early towns "in the days of wooden buildings, shingle roofs, and wood fuel" Jonesborough was in constant danger from accidental fires.  The original brick courthouse burned in 1838.  In 1854 several wooden businesses and homes on West Main Street burned.

        In 1871 lightning touched off the first of a series of fires in Jonesborough which claimed many buildings, including the railway station (which also housed the telegraph office).  The worst of these was in 1872 when many brick and frame buildings burned.  Following this fire the City Marshal, Capt. J.J. Howren, tried to raise money to purchase fire-fighting equipment, but he was unsuccessful.

        Finally, after years of destructive fires, the equipment was purchased and housed in a small structure behind the Banking and Trust Company, and a volunteer fire department was organized in Jonesborough, with its first chief being Guy E. Sabin.   In 1888 Mr. Sabin was killed falling off the roof of a home while trying to save it from an encroaching fire.  The original fire pumper is on display in the Jonesborough Visitors' Center.



        The Asiatic Cholera first started in this country in the Mississippi Valley in 1832, and had spread to East Tennessee by 1854,  but did not spread as far as Jonesborough.

        The first cases appeared in Jonesborough in early July 1873 when two sufferers from Greeneville were cared for at the home of A.C. Collins.  The visitors recovered but Mrs. Collins contracted the disease. Before it the epidemic had run its course 60% of the population of Jonesborough had Cholera.

    Doctors William R. Sevier, E. L. Deadrick and A.C. Hoss remained to care for the townspeople.   Dr. Sevier later published two papers on the cure of Cholera.  Four ministers remained:  E. M. Lockwood, W.W. Morison, P.D. Cowan and G.C. Thrasher (who died).  Other merchants and public servants, along with ordinary citizens, white and black, remained behind to care for the sick and dying, offer food and medicine, and dig the necessary graves.

    Construction in Jonesborough, just recovering from the war and experiencing a period of growth, came to a halt while carpenters and laborors worked to build coffins for the dead.


James Stewart [Stuart], a surveyor,  came to  Jonesborough after 1768 and built a log cabin outside of town on what was to become the stage coach route.  His home was the first tavern and inn in the area, and he hung the horns of a large buck deer over his front door to welcome travelers.

One day he was outside his cabin and saw an Indian party approaching and recogized that the Indians had a young white girl with them.  He hid from the Indians' view and beckoned to the girl to come to him.  When the girl's guard realized what was happening,  Stewart shot him and the other Indians sent up a howl and retreated.

The girl knew that she had been captured near Fort Chisel, Virginia, but she did not know her name or her parents' names.  Mr. Stewart adopted her as his daughter and she later married John Irwin.   No one ever knew her real name.

My Note: The white frame house with wrap-around porches which stands on East Main Street at the original site of Mr. Stewart's log cabin is still referred to as "Buckhorn."

This story was taken from letters written by John Fain Anderson (1844-1929) to Mrs. J. M. Headman.  It seemed so important to Mr. Anderson that this legend be passed along(and thought a song should be written about it . Maybe it was...does anyone know?), I thought I'd include it here.   Copies of his original letters are on file at the Jonesborough-Washington County Library.



Jonesborough:  The First Century of Tennessee's First Town, by Paul Fink.  Original Report published 1972.  Book published 1989 by The Overmountain Press

Goodspeed's- History of Washington County, 1888

A History Of The Jonesboro Presbyterian Church, Judith Haws Hash, 1965

History of The Lost State of Franklin, by Samuel Cole Williams, 1933

Obituary of Dr. William R. Sevier

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