Dekalb County, Tennessee History and Genealogy- ALHN

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History and Genealogy

Last updated 12/03/2013

1850 census update

Lucy McDonald house- Love Valley Road

Center Hill Dam construction- ca. 1948 (photo taken by Jack Rowland)




The Beginnings of Dekalb County Tennessee

Dekalb County was formed by an act of the Tennessee Legislature in 1837. The story of the land of which Dekalb County was comprised is actually the history of other counties and of another state- North Carolina:

-Washington County from its formation as a county of North Carolina in 1777 until the formation of Davidson County

-Davidson County from it's formation as a county of North Carolina in 1783 until the formation of Sumner County

-Sumner County from it's formation as a county of North Carolina on November 17, 1786 through the date Sumner County was incorporated into Tennessee at its formation in 1796 to the date of the formation of Smith and Wilson Counties. In 1790 North Carolina had ceded the land which later became Tennessee and that area was then known as "the Territory South of the River Ohio" until the formation of the state of Tennessee.

- Smith County from it's formation as a county of Tennessee on October 26, 1799. At the time of the formation of Smith County only a very small part of what would be the future Dekalb County was included- east of the Caney Fork River. By that same act of the General Assembly Wilson County was formed and included the area that would be the future Dekalb County west of the Caney Fork River. On November 6, 1801, the General assembly extended the southern boundary of Smith County to the Alabama state line, in violation of the 1791 Treaty of Holston with the Indians, and possibly in violation of Federal law, taking away the area of Wilson County that had extended east to the Caney Fork River. Until this 1801 date no counties had extended their territory below the Indian line, meaning that the lower 80% of what would become Dekalb County was then located within a county. Even during the years that the area was in Sumner County from 1786 to 1799, Sumner County stopped at the Indian Line. See discussion of the Indian Line farther below.

- In 1806 White County and in 1807 Warren County were formed from the area of Smith County which would later become the larger part of Dekalb County.

- In 1837 Dekalb County was formed from mostly Smith, White and Warren Counties, and a small western part from Cannon County. Many people writing a history of the formation of Dekalb County are using the proposal made by H.L.W. Hill to the Tennessee Legislature as being the provisions of the act which formed the county. Hill's proposal was modified before it passed the Legislature, and there were multiple adjustments to the county boundaries soon after it was passed. The best account of the formation in 1837 and the subsequent boundary changes is contained in History of Dekalb County Tennessee, by Will T. Hale. Nashville: Paul Hunter, Publisher, 1915. The part that Dekalb County obtained from Smith County roughly corresponds to the part that was north of the 1791 Holston Treaty "Indian Line".

A study of the early settlers of DeKalb County would involve a search for records in these counties. Many would be found in these counties before their land became part of Dekalb County at its formation.

According to the act which established Dekalb County, it is stated that the county was named after "Baron De Kalb, the friend of American liberty, who fell at the battle of Camden in the Revolutionary War." Smithville was selected as the county seat.

In 1842 Dekalb County lost it's northeast corner to Putnam County at it's creation. The formation of Putnam County was ruled unconstitutional in March 1845, and Dekalb County's northeast corner was returned to it. On February 11, 1854 Putnam County was re-established, and again Dekalb County lost its northeast corner, however the loss seems to be less than in 1842. I have an ancestor, Jefferson Rowland, who had land on the east side of the Caney Fork River in Dekalb Co., TN and suddenly found himself located in Putnam County in 1842, but today his land is again in Dekalb County. I have a tax receipt with a note attached which shows that he was confused as to which county to pay taxes in, and he was told to pay them in Putnam County.

Earliest Settlers

These bios open on a new page



Migration into the Area

Many of the early settlers of what would become middle Tennessee, wherein Dekalb County lies, came with the Donelson and the Robertson expeditions in 1779 and other expeditions to follow. The Robertson expedition came overland through Kentucky to "French Lick" (the future Nashville) from Virginia and North Carolina originating from the forts in the Watauga area and partly following the Wilderness Road. The Donelson expedition traveled by flatboats from the same area down the Tennessee River to the Ohio River, then upstream through very dangerous Indian territory up the Cumberland River to "French Lick" where they built Fort Nashboro. Some of the many people who traveled those routes are known to have migrated from the area of Fort Nashboro (Davidson County) and nearby Gallatin (Sumner County) overland to the general area of the future Dekalb County and surrounding counties.

There were also other routes of overland migrations from the east. In 1787 Avery Trace was "blazed" from Clinch Mountain through the future Tennessee to "Beans Lick". It eventually ended at Fort Nashboro. The road ran by a ferry crossing at Flynn's Creek in the future Jackson County, Tennessee, being in Sumner County at the time. This gave a shorter overland route to the area. In 1791 Fort Blount was built near the Flynn's Creek crossing. Immediately after 1800, other roads were being built, including the upper and lower Nashville Highways which roughly followed the paths of present day Highways 70 north and 70 south respectively.

Maps and more about these roads including the Wilderness Road that the Robertson expedition traveled can be found at these web sites:

For protection from Indians, there was a militia formed by the state of North Carolina. One of my family, Robert Rowland, served in that militia in 1792 under Captain Thomas Scott, of Guilford Co., NC and was associated with North Carolina Senator (and Colonel) Benjamin Hawkins who later became Indian agent. I have a letter that Robert carried to receive gun powder for the families on "the frontier" that was signed by Benjamin Hawkins.

It appears that Adam Dale's migration took the route arriving at Fort Nashboro by way of the Cumberland and traveling overland from there, or so that is the story that is told. Adam Dale arrived rather late in the area, and at that date it is very hard to believe that he was the first to settle within the boundaries of the future Dekalb County. On the date he settled there, the area was in Sumner County. Many of the Revolutionary War solders who had received military bounty land warrants were already living on their granted land very nearby along the north and south banks of the Cumberland River no more than 20 miles away.

The Effects of Indian Treaties on Settlement

The main reason that no settler ventured any earlier into the area which would later become Dekalb County may be that the treaty of Holston between the Indians and the United States government in 1791 created an "Indian Line" or "Cherokee Line" and made it illegal for settlers to cross the line. For the area of the state of Tennessee that we are concerned with, the line started very close to the point where Highway 231 from Murfreesboro to Shelbyville crosses the Bedford/Rutherford County line, and the "Indian Line" continued from that point straight northeast to a point just east of where the Cumberland River crosses the Tennessee/Kentucky state line (Dale Hollow Lake), just west of where Highway 111 in Tennessee crosses the Kentucky line. In present day Dekalb County the line started on the west side where Cannon, Wilson, and Dekalb Counties meet and continued from that point to a point on the east side where Putnam, Smith, and Dekalb Counties meet.

This means that it would have been illegal for any non-Indian to enter about 80% of the future Dekalb County before the third Treaty of Tellico on October 25, 1805. On November 6, 1801 the Tennessee General assembly extended the boundary of Smith County southward to the Alabama/ Tennessee line, but the 1791 Holston Treaty was still in effect, and it was still illegal for non-Indians to cross the line without a pass issued by the Indian agent. This additional land could not be settled, nor could towns be developed, nor could roads be built and was not even purchased from the Indians until 1805 and more in 1806. After this third treaty of Tellico, White County in 1806 and Warren County in 1807 were formed south of the old Indian Line, and as stated above, most of Dekalb County was formed from these counties below the 1791 Holston Treaty Indian Line.

On present day Highway 1 the Indian Line of the 1791 Holston Treaty crossed about a half mile west of Dowelltown, and Liberty was barely outside Indian Territory. Dowelltown, Smithville, Midway and Laurel Hill were in Indian Territory. Alexandria, Liberty and Temperance Hall were not. The site of Center Hill Dam was just inside Indian Territory.

Link to Dekalb County map

including "Indian Line"


If you have any records, photos, or anything regarding Dekalb County's history or the genealogy of people who lived in Dekalb County, your contributions of time and information would be greatly appreciated and encouraged. PLEASE HELP! When we all share, we all get things that we could never have any other way. Just click the graphic below to email me, David Johnson:

On-site Links:



Newspaper Abstracts

More on site records as they are donated or as I am able to do them myself

Links To Off-Site Genealogies:

Descendants of Jefferson Rowland- lived on Caney Fork River off Love Valley Road
Give me the link to your Dekalb County genealogy and I will link to it here

Off-Site Links:

Obituary abstracts at Marie Beckman Grucz web site

Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) North Carolina State Archives
An Inventory of Dekalb County Records on Microfilm Available at TSLA The National Parks System- Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System- main page
Libraries in Dekalb County Search for Civil War Soldiers by Name- both Union and Confederate
Dekalb County's main web site- also links at top of page to histories and information for each town in the county An Excellent History of the 16th Tennessee Infantry Regiment CSA- has soldiers' photos also- wow!
 Google Books has "History of Middle Tennessee Baptists" by John Harvey Grime- Salem Baptist Church starts on page 60. Other Dekalb Baptist churches follow- names a ton of the early settlers- grade A+++ Burial Sites and Death Dates of Civil War Veterans of the 16th Tennessee Infantry Regiment Who Died In Dekalb County
Center Hill Dam and Reservoir All 16th Infantry Regiment CSA Burial Sites
A Genealogy of Adam Dale- with a few sources of proof (see notes for Adam's daughter Elizabeth) Marie Beckman Grucz Dekalb County web site main page
Online book excerpt: "A Brief History of Temperance Hall, Tennessee" query board- Dekalb County
Rootsweb/ query board- Dekalb County  

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