Early History
Early History of Middle Tennessee
By Edward Albright, 1908

Chapter 20
Events Of 1780 (Continued)
Clover Bottom Defeat (Continued)
Bear Hunters

     Unreadable (first 3 words)...and his companions got their boat loaded firs, and, pushing it across to the northern shore, began gathering the cotton, of which there was only a small amount, heaping the bolls on the corn in the boat. It was expected that they would be joined directly by the party from the Bluff, and that thus working together, the task would soon be complete.

     A little later, however, Captain DONELSON was much surprised to see the latter rowing on down the river toward home. He hailed them and asked if they were not coming over. Captain GOWER replied in the negative, saying that it was growing late and they must reach the Bluff before night, at the same time expressing the belief that there was no danger. DONELSON began a vigorous protest against their going, but while he yet spoke a horde of Indians, several hundred strong, opened a terrific fire upon the men in GOWER'S boat. The savages had been gradually gathering and were now ambushed in the cane along the south bank and near to the corn ladened craft, which by this time had drifted into a narrow channel on that side. At the first fire several of the men jumped from the boat and waded through the shallow water to the shore, where they were hotly pursued by the foe. Captain GOWER, his son, and ROBERTSON were killed and their bodies lost in the river. Others were slain and fell on the corn in the boat. Of the party that reached the shore only three, a white man and two negroes, escaped death.

      The white man and one of the negroes wandered through the woods without food for nearly two days, finally reaching the Bluff. The other survivor, a free negro by the name of Jack CAVIL, was wounded, captured and carried a prisoner to one of the Chickamauga towns near Chattanooga. He afterwards became notorious as a member of a thieving band of Indian marauders who, making headquarters in that region, wrought great havoc on the settlements west of the mountains. The village of Nickajack, or "Nigger-jack's Town," which was afterwards founded, took its name from this captive.

      GOWER'S boat, containing the bodies of three of the slain, the corn and two or three dogs, floated unmolested down to the Bluff, where it was sighted during the forenoon of the day following the slaughter. It was brought to shore near the foot of what is now Broad street.

      After assaulting Captain GOWER and his men, the Indians started on a run up the river to a point on the shore opposite DONELSON'S boat, but here they found the water too deep to ford. DONELSON and several of his companions seeing the attack upon the other party, had rushed down to their own boat for their rifles and shot-bags. Returning they found that the other members of their party, alarmed by the roar of guns and yells of the enemy, had fled for safety into the cane. Pausing long enough to fire a volley across the river at the savages, they now attempted to join their comrades. With much difficulty all were collected and a council held. It was decided that they should abandon the boat and make their way through the woods east of the river to a point opposite Edgefield Junction, when an effort would be made too cross over and escape to Mansker's. Mr. CARTWRIGHT, being old and infirm, was placed on the horse which had been brought from the station. All that day they journeyed, each man traveling alone lest any two or more together should make a trail which might be found and followed by the enemy. At dusk they were called in by a signal and huddled together for the night in the leaf-covered top of a large hickory tree which had fallen to the ground. The weather was damp and they suffered much from cold, but dared not build a fire lest they might be discovered. Next morning they tried to construct a raft on which to cross the river, but had neither tools nor suitable material out of which to make such a craft. Gathering sticks and poles such as were found lying about, they fastened them together with grape vines and on this made several attempts to go over, but each time the current drove them back. Finally this rude conveyance was abandoned and allowed to float away.

      At last SOMERSET volunteered to swim over on the horse and ride to Mansker's for help. This he did in safety, thus carrying to the Stationer's their first news of the disaster. Several men from the station, bringing with them a supply of tools, returned with SOMERSET. By these a strong raft was built on which the party was brought over and restored to their friends.

      In these times of danger there was but little communication between the forts. Therefore for some days after the events above related it was supposed by the settlers at the Bluff that the Donelson party hall been either killed or captured. The shocking details of this disaster, which is known in history as the "Clover Bottom Defeat," caused great sorrow among all the people of the Cumberland Settlement. The Indians who were responsible for this attack were not armed entirely with guns, but many of them carried the primitive bows and arrows, using the latter with deadly effect.

      After the supposed destruction of his crop by the summer flood, Colonel DONELSON had contemplated a removal to one of the forts in Kentucky, where he had relatives, and where food was more abundant. Later on the prospect of obtaining corn had caused him to delay, but now that this prospect was gone he made ready and began the journey at once, arriving with his family in due time at Davis' Station.

      Mansker's fort was now broken up for the winter, MANSKER and his wife going to Eaton's. Others who were able to secure horses, among them being James MCCAIN, followed the DONELSON party to Kentucky.

      That brave Irishman, Hugh ROGAN, than whom none played a more heroic part in the early settlement of Middle Tennessee, carried William NEELY'S widow and her family to a place of safety in Kentucky, after which he returned to share the dangers of his comrades on the Cumberland. ROGAN had left his native land some years before, coming to seek his fortune in America. He tarried for awhile in Virginia, but was among the first of the settlers to cross the mountains and seek a home in the far-famed hunting ground. After coming to Middle Tennessee he was led to believe, through the false representation of a supposed friend, that his wife, whom he left in Ireland, had married the second time, thinking her husband dead. He remained under this impression until after the close of the Indian wars. Learning then the falsity of the report, he went at once to Ireland. and there, being happily reunited with his family, brought them to his home in Sumner County. He died many years ago. His remains were buried and now rest in the old Baskerville burying ground near Shiloh Church, in the Tenth District. During the summer of 1780, Robert GILKIE sickened and died at the Bluff, this being the first natural death to occur in the settlement.

      Shortly thereafter Philip CONRAD was killed by a falling tree near what is now the corner of Cherry and Demonbreun streets, in Nashville.

      The first white child born in the Cumberland Settlement was Chesed DONELSON, son of Capt. John DONESLON, Jr., and wife, Mary PURNELL. His birth took place in one of the "half-camps" at Clover Bottom on June 22, 1780. He died while yet young.

      A little later in the same year John SAUNDERS was born at Mansker's Station. He grew to manhood and afterwards became Sheriff of Montgomery County. Anna WELLS, whose birth also occurred this year, was the first girl born in the settlement.

      Because of the scanty supply of food, lack of ammunition and danger from the savages, many left the colony during the fall, going to the several settlements in Illinois and Kentucky. By the first of December only about a hundred and thirty remained. These were indeed dark days for the pioneer, but among the latter were many brave spirits, men and women, who resolved to stay at their posts regardless of the cost. They believed and so expressed the belief that their newly adopted land, so rich in resources and fertile of soil, would in the future become a center of civilization and a seat of learning. In this they were not mistaken. During these trying times the intrepid spirit and unselfish example of Col. James ROBERTSON did much to prevent the breaking up of the settlement. Despite his own privations and personal bereavements, he looked always with the eye of an optimist to the future, believing in and advising others of the better times yet to come. When the supply of fresh meat, their only food, became scarce, mighty hunters under the leadership of SPENCER, RAINS, Jacob CASTLEMAN and others, braved all dangers and made long excursions into the woods, always returning ladened with an abundance and to spare. In one winter John RAINS is said to have killed thirty-two bears in the Harpeth Knobs, seven miles south of the Bluff, and not far from the present location of Glendale Park.

      A party of these hunters went in canoes up the Caney Fork River, and in the course of a five days' hunt throughout the region thereabouts killed a hundred and five bears, seventy-five buffalo and eighty-seven deer. After all we little wonder that the right to possess such a land should make it for fourteen years the bloody battle-ground of pioneer and Indian.

      The first wedding in the colony took place at the Bluff during the summer of 1780. It was the marriage of our brave Indian fighter, Capt James LEIPER, and the young lady who thus became his wife. No minister had yet come to the settlement and a question arose as to whether or: not anyone was authorized to perform the marriage ceremony. Colonel ROBERTSON, who was Chief Justice of the court, sent out to the other Judges a hurry call for a consultation. It was decided by this court that either of its members, by virtue of his office, was empowered to exercise such a function. This decision was probably more "far-reaching" than any yet handed down by the Colonial" Judiciary. It constitutes the first "reported case" in the annals of Tennessee jurisprudence. Because of his official position Colonel ROBERTSON was accorded the honor of performing this the first ceremony, which he is reputed to have done with his usual grace of manner.

      In the fall other weddings occurred as follows: Edward SWANSON to Mrs. CORWIN; James FREELAND, one of the founders of Freeland's Station, to Mrs. MAXWELL; John TUCKER to Jennie HEROD, and Cornelius RIDDLE to Jane MULHERRIN. The ceremony in each of these instances was performed by James SHAW, one of the Judges. Tradition has brought down to us Some details of the festivities attending the Riddle-Mulherrin nuptials.

      It seems these young people were unusually popular in colonial society and their friends were anxious that their marriage should be made more than an ordinary event. As the colony was yet in its infancy there were no silks, broadcloths or other finery in which the bride and groom might array themselves, neither was there piano, organ or other instrument on which to play the wedding march. Of more consequence, however, than either of these was the lack of both flour and meal from which to make the wedding cake, and none was to be had at any of the neighboring stations. But in those days large difficulties were quickly overcome. Accordingly two of the settlers were mounted on horses and sent post-haste to Danville, Ky., then the metropolis of the western settlement, for a supply of corn. Three or four days later they returned with a bushel each of this highly prized cereal, which was speedily ground into meal. From this was made the first "bride's cake" in Middle Tennessee.

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