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.


Facts:

-          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



3 comments:

  1. Who was this David Wallace? I'm related to the Wallace's of Stewart County, TN and Trigg County, KY.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Account 12. [18] from Ramsey was part of the letter Valentine Sevier, Jr., wrote to his brother, John Sevier. In said letter, he asked his older brother to please inform their ancient father of what had taken place. When I first read the account of this massacre, I was sickened. Rebecca was only 12 when she was scalped. She was guilty of pulling her four-year-old nephew from the fire! I am happy to say she did, indeed, survive and forever wore a tar-cap. These are my ancestors, through John Sevier.

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