Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Myth and Memory of Col. John Montgomery Part I

Statue of Col. John Montgomery in public
square of Clarksville, TN
        Often times, historical figures tend to be shrouded to some degree in a haze of righteousness and over simplified understandings, especially those related to the founding and settlement of the United States. Details are glossed over, less than righteous deeds forgotten about and heroic acts are magnified. Over time the person we remember and revere bears little resemblence to the real individual.

For me, this poses a problem: Am I to believe in something (spiritual, historical or otherwise) that is based only in a popular understanding with little to no context?

Unfortunately, people who dig into these things and try to flesh out these individuals and events surrounding them are often labeled 'revisionist' historians - a term that tends to bring with it a lot a negative baggage. Revisionist historians are often accused of re-writing histories to suit various agendas or intentionally defaming a historical person.

        While I can't say that there aren't those who do that, I would argue that re-examination and re-interpretation of histories are essential to not only the historians craft but to the public in general. It is important to understand why we revere certain people. It is important to understand the context of their deeds. It is important to discover the reasons why these people are remembered and how that memory has morphed throughout time. Any given generations perceptions of a past event are to some extent colored by their present situations. Obviously, this changes overtime, however; when we rely solely on histories written 4 and 5 generations ago we are also relying on that generations understandings of issues like race, American identity, and gender - issues that have obviously shifted dramatically in just the last 50 years. In the historians world, this usually refers to historiography - basically the history of whats been written about a subject so far. In some cases the historiography is just as important as the issue at hand. It is the record of how historians have thought and argued about the subject.

Supposed grave of Col. Montgomery near Smithland, KY
          So, I want to talk about Col. John Montgomery. Now he's no George Washington or even John Sevier but he has been, and to some extent still is, highly revered by Tennesseeans. Many of Montgomery's deeds have been romanticized and even more of them left out of the secondary literature. The following link is an essay by a local Montgomey County, TN historian, Albert V. Goodpasture written in 1919.:
Goodpasture gives the classic portrayal of Montgomery, emphasizing his work in the Revolution and as an Indian fighter.

"Col. John Montgomery" by A.V. Goodpasture

Be sure to click on "Col. John Montgomery" by A.V. Goodpasture, pg. 145.

          Before we begin talking about how Goodpastures account compares to reality we need to discuss why Goodpasture wrote what he did. We need to understand why Montgomery was remembered the way he was. This can be broken down into the following categories:

Indian Fighting
Service in the Revolution
Time as a Longhunter/ Exploration

Each of these categories held considerable weight in the minds of the 19th century public and historians.

This is going to be considerably long, so I'm breaking it up into a few parts for easy digestion. Next time, I'll continue by dissecting the three themes mentioned above.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Calling out the Militia

Virginia State Library: Executive Papers, Office of Governors Letters
        I have mentioned before that I am working on research pertaining to early Tennessee militia. The overall goal is to place historical accounts of militia use in the Old Southwest into a context that will allow us to see to what degree militias were truly organized (not just on paper). From there the authorized militia actions could be sorted out from unauthorized or "posse" actions.

You will see some of this (hopefully) in the next month or so.

        In the meantime, to the left is an actual Federal order for the Virginia State Militia. This type of order would have come from Secretary of War, Henry Knox in this case, and would be sent to the Governor of a state or territory. This was blank form that could be tailored to the use of whichever state or territory it was sent to. Though this form is filled out for Virginia, an identical form would have been issued to the Southwest Territory.

        Specifially, it was used after May of 1792 when one the earliest of many pieces of legislation was passed to regulate and professionalize the state militias. Further, this form provided the state and territorial governments the rate of pay and forage the Federal government would allow. Only the President could order up militia into service.

        The purpose of this was to provide an alottment of militia for the Governor to allocate to the various counties or regiments in his state or territory. Governor Blount of the Southwest Territory (1789-1796) was especially strict on the authorized use of militia as they were paid by the Federal government (except for that one time at Nickajack). Unauthorized militia actions would have to be paid by the state, however they typically were not paid at all. Many soldiers petitioned for pay for several years after the unauthorized action at Nickajack and Running Water.

        Payment of militia (or lack thereof) was a chronic issue in the Old Southwest as the President and the War Department maintained a staunch defense-only position when it came to militia action and many middle Tennessee militia actions blurred the line between defense and offense. Failure to accomodate Federal policy often led to non-payment and the further alienation and disenfranchising of the settlers in the Southwest Territory.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Renfroe's Station was settled in what?

1st page of the Cumberland Compact. Tennessee State Library
and Archives. Nashville, TN.
        In April of 1780, the "Red River" party of John Donelson's larger flotilla broke off and traveled up the Red River to begin a proposed settlement at the mouth of Parson's Creek, 14 miles upstream. The name of the settlement was Fort Union and was one of the stations designated by the 1780 Cumberland Compact from which one delegate was to be selected to help moderate the new government that the compact set up. This settlement, however, would be short lived.

        This inital settlement effort was made under the auspices of the Transylvania Land Company. In 1775 Richard Henderson, the proprietor, had "purchased" Cherokee rights to what was called "Caintucke" (or some other variation of the word). This included modern day north middle Tennessee north of the Cumberland River. Henderson hired hunters who were well aquainted with the region from prior expeditions. This included men such as Daniel Boone and Kasper Mansker. The idea was to create settlements in the newly acquired territory to encourage people to buy land and set up communities. As Boonesborough became the nucleus of settlement in eastern Kentucky, French Lick/ Nashborough became the same for the Cumberland settlements.

Filson Historical Society,

Copyright David Britton 2012. USGS Topo. All sites are on private property.
Markers have been slightly skewed for protection of sites.
        It is very likely that each station site mentioned in the Compact were previously explored by the men in charge at each settlement. It is just as likely that each were station-camps for previous longhunting expeditions.
Near to Fort Union was a probable station camp called the "Slab-camp", mentioned in early land records. Also adding to the evidence that Fort Union was previously explored is the presence of a large pond 8 miles north called Renfroe's Pond, likely named for it's "discoverer". It is featured prominently in early southern KY land documents.

       The Renfroe party consisted of about 88 people, including 4 slaves. After they arrived at their destination, they began building half-faced camps and planting pumpkins and corn. The settlement lasted through the next two months, but in June things grew tense. A group were out picking mulberries when a few Shawnee were seen stepping out of the woods. They attacked and killed one of the berry-pickers. The next day the same Shawnee killed another man just a few hundred yard out from the station. This prompted the settlers to consider removal to French Lick as they were nearly 40 miles from another settlement.

The spring where the party camped in 1780.
 Photo: David Britton, 2012
        A rescue party from French Lick arrived and the party was divided into two. The first removed successfully. The route used was an existing bison trail/ game path that ran south from the Port Royal region of the Red River, through Robertson County alongside Millers Creek, then through modern-day Coopertown before crossing Sycamore creek and heading into modern-day Davidson county along Whites Creek pk. The rough half-way point was a few miles south of Coopertown and at a double spring. This is the point where the party decided to camp for the night. Early the next morning a band of 50 or so Chickasaws attacked the camp resulting in around 15 deaths.

Southbound trace leaving the camp/ battle site.
Photo: David Britton, 2012
        While this is certainly an intriguing and interesting story, it has been relayed in secondary literature over the past 150 years as being a singular event with no connection to anything else. As if in a vacuum. For me at least, not including the broader context in many ways cheapens the event. But for many, this account represents many aspects of frontier romanticism or all the things they love about frontier history: Indian attacks. A disconnected group of settlers. Bravery and zeal. Fighting to the death. Mystery. Horror. Intrepid spirits of westward-bound patriotism. A brave woman hiding with her two children and managing to keep the calm all day and night until help came the next day.

  Yes, a very good story but as a good friend of mine once said -  "so what?"

Asking "so what?" is what keeps history from being simply anecdotal and what provides the impetus for analysis. With this story/ account there are a couple things I'd like to point out, in order to answer "so what?"

       First, is to re-emphasize that the Cumberland settlements were ultimately a business opportunity for men like Richard Henderson. Though Henderson's claim was eventually nullified by Virginia and North Carolina, the Cumberland and it's environs remained a hot spot for land speculators for years to come. The settlement of Ft. Union in 1780 was an organized effort to jump start the land speculation process. Stations were built as a means of protection but also as a base to survey new claims from. This would later shift as un-affiliated settlers came in an built their own stations.
        The story is portrayed in many ways as the genesis of civilization in the region, however, it is also filled with glimpses of an alternate yet broader understanding. Consider the journey itself. Tradition, if only inadvertently, has portrayed the Donelson voyage down the Tennessee River as the first time such a feat had occurred. The Tennessee river had, in fact, been utilized in an identical fashion for nearly 100 years by the time Donelson and friends descended it's waters in 1780. British officials in Carolina (pre north and south) were immensely concerned and pre-occupied by the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers potential for navigation, especially after a few French coureur des bois from Canada showed up at their back door in about 1690. The French were frequent users of the rivers for purposes of trade as were the British, but early on for the purpose of enslaving native peoples. By the 1770s it was a known fact that the Tennessee led to Illinois and the Mississippi valley. Donelson and the Renfroe's were only following a multi-generational tradition.
Chickasaw Indian bust, 1775. Illustration from Bernard Romans’s A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida. Courtesy Library of Congress LC-USZ60-680
        Additionally, we must also consider the presence of the Indians mentioned in the story. On June 25th, 1780 several hundred Chickasaw attacked Ft. Jefferson in what is now western KY on the Mississippi river. The fort and settlement was built under orders from Gen. George Rogers Clarke, much to the chagrin of the Chickasaw who were largely allied to the British. The Chickasaw claimed the land the fort was on. They also claimed much of the land around the Cumberland River. On their return south, a party of these Chickasaw found Ft. Union. From their perspective, the settlers leaving Ft. Union were no different than those at Ft. Jefferson and were likely seen as blatanly defying Chickasaw sovereignty. The mention of Shawnee is also interesting. Shawnee were one of the primary claimants of the region south of the Ohio river and north of the Cumberland river. Early Kentucky history is filled with encounters with various Shawnee. Various bands of the Shawnee had claimed the Cumberland region since at least the mid 17th century, if not earlier. Thus, their encounter here is not suprising.

       It is important to realize that "the Indians" were not roaming bands of unidentifiable "savages", even if some of the primary material reflects that. Remember - anti-Indian sentiment was growing exponentially at this point. Indian relations were increasingly defined in terms of race and the perceived divide between savagery and civility was growing. In order to understand the various Indian groups in the 18th century we must recognize each group individually with unique cultures, practices and understandings of land, law and alliance. Groups like the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, the Creek confederacy and Shawnee, who all had claims to the Tennessee and Cumberland river valleys at one time or another, have deep roots and histories together that are not immediately clear. These histories, however, determined the way in which they interacted with each other and with European cultures later.

        As tempting as it is to see the westward bound settlers of 1780 as the beginning of a new story or chapter,  they were the capstone to a century-plus old story of imperial projections, immense changes in Indian cultures, negotiation and accomodation. By no means does the story get any less complicated after 1783, but it dramatically shifts. Renfroe's Station/ Ft. Union is only a microcosm of much broader event but it helps us understand that broad context. In turn, the broad context gives us the "what" in "so what".

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Tennessee State Parks Celebrates 75 Years!

This year marks Tennessee State Parks 75th anniversary. Below is a link to an article previously featured in the Tennessee Conservationist. This is not the usual blog post, but it's a very worthwhile article to read, written by TN State Parks Chief Historian Ward Weems.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Are you afraid of the Harpe brothers?

        In what was likely a narcissistic tone, Wiley Harp posed this question to James and Robert Brasel in the summer of 1799 while the group of travelers had settled into camp on that steamy mid-July Tennessee night. The Brasel brothers both replied that they had – they were who “was going through the county killing and stealing.” When asked what they would do should they meet such men, both brothers replied that they would likely kill them. Perhaps Robert Brasel’s gut started talking to him or maybe something gave the Harpe’s away but either way ignorance quickly corrected itself and he tried to escape the camp – and made it. Unfortunately, he turned in time to see his brother James’ last moments as one of the Harpe’s slit his throat from ear to ear.

         Micajah and Wiley Harpe, known as Big and Little Harpe respectively, have been part of Southern gothic folklore for the better part of 200 years. While indeed a true story, much has been elaborated over time such as the numbers of victims varying widely and the murders growing more horrific. The Harpe’s have found their way into written “histories” as early as the mid 19th century and been included in many more. As the name Harpe became synonymous with evil, the Harpe’s began popping up in plays, movies and novels. Micajah Harpe was even the name of a comic-book villain in the 1970s. Despite the wide recognition, no one has ever treated the Harpe story to proper historical analysis. While I won’t be doing that here (I am in real life, though), I do want to give you an idea of who they were in reality, a little context and perhaps a little bit of why they matter to the developing American identity of the late 18th century/ early 19th century west.

Photo by Ron Jenkins,
         By most accounts, the Harpe’s began murdering throughout the Tennessee and Kentucky backcountries sometime in 1798, likely winter. They killed seemingly indiscriminately - no account gives any reason for the murder other than the victim was simply “there”. Wrong place at the wrong time, much like the murderous trio in Cormac McCarthy’s “Outer Dark”, only set much earlier. According to the various pseudo-histories and fictional stories the victim count is all over the place. However, primary material places the count still in the unbelievable region – as high as 30. These sad souls ranged from infants (one said to be Micajah Harpe’s own) to the elderly, from dirt poor to the very wealthy. The fact that most of the murders took place along the a road and that they typically looted whomever was killed leads most to consider them “highwaymen” as would become famous along the Natchez trace. Their career consisted of at least one jail-break and ended with a posse hunting down Big Harpe, cutting off his head and placing it in a tree for all to see in what is now Muhlenberg County, KY.

Murdered, from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
          Other than the inordinate body count of the Harpe’s exploits, little seems to set them apart from other villains and “rascals” that plagued flatboaters on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers or later, the masked bandits robbing stagecoaches and shooting up western taverns. What sets the Harpe’s apart is everyone else’s reaction to them and their attempts at explaining why they did the things they did. The explanations are intriguing: They were Tories during the War. They were half-African. They were living with the Chickamauga Indians. Some even claimed that while living with the Chickamauga they participated in the 1781 attack on the French Lick station (Nashville) and the 1793 attack on Buchanon’s station (a few miles east of Nashville).

         To an extent, these explanations are expected. It’s easy to blame the unknown on the known. In this case, the Harpe’s atrocities were blamed on their involvement, or relation to, the only other people whites of the late 18th century believed capable of such things, Indians and slaves. Both peopled groups were seen as less than human and far less civilized than whites and, to the whites, with less civility came savagery and barbarity. However, savagery in and of itself was not so much the issue for most whites but the savagery by white delivered on whites. White savagery had been demonstrated amply throughout the 18th century: The Gnadenhutten massacre, the Paxton Boys, and the horrors committed by Frederick Stump to only name a few. This raises some important question with which I will leave you (can’t give any too much too soon). Had the Harpe brothers started killing 30 years earlier, would it have been noticed? Were connections with Indians given blame due to the ever increasing anti-Indian sentiment of the early 19th century? Are the Harpe’s an example of an 18th century product in the midst of an evolving 19th century backcountry? Not to downplay the horrible nature of what happened, but as is true with most history, there’s always more to the story.

Copyright 2012 David Britton

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Sevier’s Station: An abstract of documents

View of Cumberland River from approximate station site.
Copyright 2012 David Britton
        On November 11th, 1794 Valentine Sevier's station at the mouth of the Red River was attacked by a party of Indians. The attack occured mid-day and was by all accounts very brutal. Sevier lost most of his family that day. The identity of the attacking Indians were very likely Chickamauga, which would have included people of Cherokee, Creek, Shawnee and possibly even Chickasaw origins. The records, however, indicate a rise in anti-indian sentiment as very few primary records agree on who the Indians actually were. For most, they were simply "the Indians".

        A little more than a month previous, the two Chickamauga towns of Nickajack and Running Water were attacked by the Mero District miltia along with a detachment of Washington District militia under James Ore and a company of Kentucky militia. For the anglo-settlers the attack was a huge success but for the Chickamauga it was devastating. The effects of the attack combined with the withdrawal of Spanish support effectively ended any Indian resistance towards white settlement in Tennessee. This was futher cemented by the 1795 Treaty of Greenville which ended any native resistance in the Northwest. The Chickamauga were not without a final retaliation.

        The attack on Sevier's Station was actually part of a larger "campaign" that begins on October 5th, 1794 with the attack on Isaac Titsworth's family. Titsworth lived in the neighborhood of Port Royal, TN then called the "Sulphur Fork Settlement" and was en route to Russelville, KY when attacked while encamped where the trace crossed the Sinking Fork of Whipperwill creek. Titsworth lost several family members and his 13 year old daughter was taken captive. The Logan county militia pursued the attackers westward into Todd County but lost the trail after stopping to rescue the some of Titsworths younger sons the Indians had left along the way.

        The next attack occurred at the head of Spring Creek in southern Todd County, KY. Obadiah Roberts had relocated to the area adjacent to Shelby's Station after losing his home further south to a fire started by Creeks some years earlier. His daughter, Betsey, was killed near their home by the same party that killed the Titsworths. The Indians proceeded down Spring Creek into what was then Tennessee County (now Montgomery County, TN). At the mouth of the stream near Elliott's Station they attacked the Reasons family, killing both Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Reasons. According to local tradition, there was to be a party at the Reasons house the evening of the attack but was canceled at the last minute for unknown reasons. The attack culminated on the 11th of November with the attack on Sevier's Station, a few miles southeast of the Reasons home.
       The details surrounding the attack on Sevier's Station have since been etched into the annals of local and state history with various inflated stories recounting the bravery and zeal of Col. Sevier while also emphasizing the barbarity and savagery of the Indian attack, especially toward children.

        The question that rises in my mind is why Sevier's Station? Why did the Indians choose the path they did? Why end with Sevier? Why has that event become so well represented in Tennessee history over time? While certainly a brutal attack, it was only one of many that took place in Tennessee during previous 20 years or so.

        It is very likely that Sevier's station was attacked for "visual" or symbolic reasons. Historian Peter Silver has argued very effectively for the symbolism in Indian attacks. Silver argues that bodies were not simply mangled or vulgarly displayed only for reasons of instilling fear but to confer a message. The symbolism ranged from Ministers found with their tongues cut out, spies found with their eyes removed and prolific men found with genitals removed to the destruction of material items that represented white culture i.e., mattresses torn open, plates smashed, cattle killed and cabins burned.

        The attack on Sevier was largely symbolic in that the Indians attacked a man who was highly regarded for his previous "Indian fighting". Sevier, however, had become severely affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, his station was far from being a well-defended stronghold. Contrary to tradition, the station was likely only a small grouping of houses. Sevier's Station would have made for an easy target with added bonus a destroying the family of a famed Indian fighter and brother to the even more infamous John Sevier. The effect of attacking Sevier's Station was not a physical one - it affected the morale of the settlers, especially for a settlement on the western edge of the Cumberland Settlements with little ability to defend themselves.Obviously, this only served to intensify anti-Indian sentiment in Cumberland.

        In addition to the confusion of the events caused by well-meaning armchair historians over the past two hundred plus years, the actual location of the site has been heavily disputed. Thus, my abstact of documents found below. This abstract includes every pertinent document to Sevier's Station.
Valentine Sevier's grave in Riverview Cemetery, Clarksville, TN. The wooden post on the right is said to be his original marker. The one of the left was placed by the DAR.


-          Station was never stockaded

-          Station was not defendable [1]

-          All accounts refer to Sevier’s “houses”

-          There were a minimum of four separate buildings. (see “Houses” section below)

-          Sevier’s house may have been a blockhouse [2]

-          Sevier’s Station was located where Col. James Ford’s station had previously stood “at mouth of Red River, on the high point of land below.” (As in below Red River on Cumberland?)

-          Ford’s Station was located near a spring [3]

-          Indians attacked from the Northeast. Bell’s account refers to the Indians having killed Reasons and wife at the mouth of Spring Creek prior to attacking Sevier’s Station. The mouth of Spring Creek is northeast of the approximate Sevier’s Station site.

-          The Indians attacked from a “woody, bushy hollow just back of the houses”.

-          The station was likely situated to be accessible to both the Cumberland River ferry (Trice’s landing?) and the Red River ferry (Red River landing).[4]

Houses and Residents:

-          Charles Synder’s Blacksmith/ Gunsmith shop

-          Charles Snyder and family’s house

o   Charles (killed during 1794 raid)

o   Betsey (killed during 1794 raid)

o   John (killed during 1794 raid)

-          John King and family’s house

o   John

o   Ann (killed during 1794 raid)

o   James (killed during 1794 raid)

-          Valentine Sevier and family’s house –

o   Valentine, sr.

o   Mrs. Sevier

o   Robert (killed 1792)

o   William (killed 1792)

o   Valentine, jr. (killed 1792)

o   Rebecca (wounded 1794 during raid)

o   James
Mouth of the Red River at the Cumberland River

o   Alexander

o   Joseph (killed during 1794 raid)

-          Other residents

o   David Wallace [5]

o   Benjamin Lindsey [6]

o   Unnamed Slave

Accounts of Sevier’s Stations referencing its location

1.         …Col. (James) Ford’s Station at the Mouth of the Red River, on the high point of land below, where Col. Val. Sevier afterwards had a station. About the first of July (1787), the Indians became troublesome and killed Mrs. Staten in open day, while washing at the spring near Ford’s Station and stole horses from the settlement.[7]

2.         …Col. Sevier settled his station about 1790 or ‘91 (at) the same place where Col. Ford’s station formerly stood.[8]

3.          Dick Finnelson, a half-breed Cherokee, and a Frenchman, doubtless (Joseph) Deraque, came to Bell’s and Sevier’s, telling us that a party of Creeks would be there on a certain day, when the sun was midway in the sky, and attack Sevier’s Station.  (They would) kill all, the gunsmith Charles Snyder in particular, who they surmised made and repaired all the white men’s guns in that region.  George Bell advised Sevier and Snyder that they had better be on their guard.  Snyder particularly gave no heed to these warnings. On the very day (Finnelson) had said, and at midday too, the same party that had massacred the Titsworths, Miss Roberts, and Reasons and wife, made their appearance issuing from the woody, bushy hollow just back of the houses. Sevier’s Station never was stockaded – port holes in the houses. (They) went to Snyder’s shop at work and struck him with a tomahawk on the back of his head as he was in the act of escaping through a window and killed him with a single blow, scattering the brains around. Joseph Sevier, a young son of Sevier’s some eight years old, crept under the bench.  An Indian shot him but he was left unscalped. Another party had already gone to Snyder’s house and killed his wife and child, the child cut nearly into with a tomahawk. (Next, they) went to John King’s house, who was away shucking corn a short distance off, and killed his wife and child. (They) threw his child into the fire. It was soon after taken out with life, but so shockingly burned that it soon died. They went to Col. Sevier’s house, (and) caught his daughter Rebecca, a young lady grown, knocked her down with a war club, scalped her and left her for dead. She recovered. This was probably just out of doors. Col. Sevier barred his door, he and his wife all alone (with perhaps a child of Snyder’s). Having no bullets, he broke up some glass tumblers and with these and some old cut nails, loaded his old blunderbuss and finally fired out to scare the Indians who were knocking down his son with the same hatchet they had killed Snyder with and bespattered a log with the brains and blood. The Indians ran off at the report of the blunderbuss, which made no small scattering of glass, nail, etc. Thomas Lindsey, who was at work in the station, ran at the first alarm and in jumping a fence, slipped and put his elbow out of joint, then ran up the river over 2 miles and in the crippled condition swam over Red River at the mouth of West Fork and made his way to Bell’s Station. Upon the first report of the guns, William Bell and (I) seized (our) rifles and ran for Sevier’s Station and a very few also ran over from Clarkesville. The Indians had all gone. They had done their bloody work in a few minutes and (then) escaped. The dead bodies were gathered together and the next day were buried in one common grave. Col. Sevier’s other son, Alexander, a lad of perhaps 12, was out, perhaps hunting and escaped.[9]

4.        Snyder was at work at the fire, with Benjamin Lindsay, an apprentice boy of 15, at the bellows.  Little Joseph Sevier was in the shop, and in the fight (he) ran under the work bench and was killed there.  Snyder was shot through the body and much mangled with the tomahawk.  Lindsey dashed out of the shop, broke through the Indians, jumped the yard fence, and fell upon and broke his elbow joint.  The Indians then killed Mrs. (Elizabeth) Snyder and child, (John), then Mrs. (Ann) King and child, James – both children of some (five) years old. James Sevier, then 17, was out with a negro man in a neighboring field pulling corn.  Hearing the screams, (he) knew the cause.  The negro was anxious to go to their relief, and said he wanted to die, if necessary, in his master’s defense.  Young Sevier thought it not prudent to go, as both were unarmed.  John King was shucking corn nearby.  They ran for the river, and (rowed) in a canoe to alarm the people of Clarksville.[10] 

5.        At the alarm Rebecca Sevier was running from some other house to her father’s, and was overtaken.  When Colonel Sevier heard the Indians, he took down his old blunderbuss from the rack over the door, and fired.  It was so heavily charged that it knocked him down and knocked out two of his teeth.[11]

6.        Colonel Sevier was then suffering from rheumatism, but fired his old brass blunderbuss at a crowd of Indians by a large sugartree in the yard, not over 20 steps from the house.  One Indian toppled over, and the others dropped their plundered guns, scrambled them up again, and (got) their wounded companion.  For a second load, Colonel Sevier not having bullets, Mrs. Sevier broke up some pewter spoons and glass, loaded, and (Colonel Sevier) shot a second time, with no effect except to deter them from any further attempt upon the blockhouse.  That morning Sevier had lent his gun to a young man who lived at the station, (who) had taken off nearly all the bullets.  At the fire of the blunderbuss, which was understood as a signal of attack or danger, Amos Bird and Anthony Crutcher mounted their horses and dashed over – swimming the river – and reached there shortly after the Indians left.[12]


7.        It was thought there were some Chickasaws in the attacking party.  The Chickasaws were in the habit of bringing guns to Snyder to repair at the expense of the government, and had several (guns) there at that time.  They were placed in the upper part of Snyder’s shop, with no ladder or stairs to get up.  These were gotten by the Indians.[13]

8.        After the Nickajack campaign, Doublehead repaired to Nashville with a party, made a peace treaty with General Robertson, and (they) returned down the Cumberland in their canoes.  (They) called at Sevier’s Station, such as needed it got (Charles) Snyder to repair their guns, and left.  After they had progressed some distance, Doublehead proposed that they return and kill (Valentine) Sevier, a brother of (John Sevier), who had waged many a fight against the Cherokees.  Some of the Indians reminded him that he had made peace with Robertson, and that Snyder had kindly repaired their guns without pay, and some refused to return. [14]

9.        The Indians burnt Colonel Sevier’s houses without doing any further mischief, yet after crossing the Cumberland stood in open view of Clarksville, apparently in defiance, which has caused the greater part of the inhabitants of the town to move off, which seems to leave the West Fork people more exposed than usual.[15]

10.       Yesterday was the most tragical scene that I ever saw.  The Indians made an attack upon Colonel Sevier’s station, killed Snyder, his wife, and child, and one of Colonel Sevier’s children, and another wounded and scalped (who) must die.  On hearing the guns, four or five of us ran over.  We found the poor old Colonel defending his house, with his wife.  The crying of the women and children, the consternation of the people, was a scene that cannot be described.  This is a stroke we have long expected, and from intelligence, we hourly expect Clarksville to be assailed.  Colonel Sevier is now moving.  Clarksville will no doubt be evacuated in a day or two unless succor is given by the people of the interior.  Pray use the influence of all our friends with General Robertson to help us.[16]

11.        Yesterday about eleven o’clock in the morning, a heavy firing commenced at Colonel Sevier’s by a party of Indians.  The Colonel bravely kept the savage band from entering his house, but they cruelly slaughtered those around him.  Three of his own children fell dead.  We were not, for the want of men, prepared to go to their assistance.  I was the first man on the ground, and the spectator of the horrid sight – some scalped and barbarously cut to pieces, and the helpless infants committed to the torturing flames.  We consider ourselves in imminent danger.  We stand in great need of protection.  If not speedily granted protection, Clarksville will be evacuated.[17]

12.        The news from this place is desperate with me.  On Tuesday, November 11, about twelve o’clock, my station was attacked by about 40 Indians.  They were in almost every house before they were discovered.  All the men belonging to the station were out, (but) Mr. Snyder and myself.  The Indians shot and tomahawked Snyder in a barbarous manner, but did not get his scalp.  Snyder, his wife Betsy, his son John, and my son Joseph, were killed in Snyder’s house.  They also killed Ann King and her son James, and scalped my daughter, Rebecca – I still hope she will recover. The engagement, commenced by the Indians at my house, continued about an hour.  Such a scene no man ever witnessed before.  Nothing but screams and roaring of guns, and no man to assist me for some time.  The Indians have robbed all the goods out of every house, and have destroyed all my stock.  My health is much impaired.  I am so distressed in my mind that I can scarcely write.[18]                                                                                       

Copyright 2012 David Britton

[1] In the fall of 1792, Sevier and his family had removed to Bell’s Station during the threat of Indian attack. Lyman C. Draper Manuscript Collection, Wisconsin State Historical Society, Microfilm accessed at Tennessee State Library (TSLA). Hereafter referred to as Draper. 11 DD p. 97

[2] See entry 6 below

[3] See entry 1 below

[4] The 1796 deed from Valentine Sevier to William Gordon specifically mentions the transfer of the “now established” ferries. Montgomery County Deed Book A, p. 491

[5] Draper 32 S, p. 208

[6] Bell says Lindsey’s first name was Thomas, Rebecca Sevier says it was Benjamin.

[7] Interview with Hugh F. Bell, Draper 30 S, p. 212

[8] ibid., p. 232

[9] ibid., pg. 229-232

[10] Interview with Rebecca Sevier Rector, Draper 37 S, p. 204-6
[11] Interview with Col. G.W. Sevier, Draper Papers 30 S, p. 319

[12] Draper, 32 S, p.305-08

[13] ibid., p.205

[14] ibid., p. 318

[15] James Drumgoole to Isaac Shelby, 17 February 1795, Shelby Family Papers, mf. #62, reel 1, p. 1024, TSLA
[16] Anthony Crutcher to William Crutcher, 12 November 1794, American State Papers, Vol. IV, Indian Affairs, p. 542. Hereafter referred to as ASP.

[17] John Easton to General Robertson, 12 November 1794, ASP, 542

[18] Valentine Sevier to General John Sevier, 18 December 1794, Ramsey, J.G.M., The Annals of Tennessee, 619. Kingsport, Tennessee: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1967