Sunday, September 7, 2008

Nashville and Davidson County

Early History
by Debie Cox
A group led by James Robertson are considered to be the first permanent settlers to arrive in what is now Nashville/Davidson County, Tennessee. They came from the settlement at Watauga in what is now upper East Tennessee, walking overland. Along the way Robertson encountered John Rains, a former Long Hunter, and an assemblage of men and families headed from the New River area of Virginia to Kentucky. Robertson talked Rains and his group into joining him on his trek to the Bluffs of the Cumberland. Robertson and company arrived at the site in late December 1779.
John Donelson arrived in April of 1780 with a large group, aboard a flotilla of flatboats. The families of many of the men who had come earlier with Robertson, traveled with Donelson.

Most often referred to as French Lick Station by early pioneers, the main station at the bluff was formally called Nashborough. In addition the Cumberland Settlements was comprised of a number of other forts, some established before the arrival of the Robertson/Donelson group. Freeland's, a short distance north of Nashville was where James Robertson lived. Eaton's was across the river to the northeast. John Donelson's station was at Clover Bottom on Stones River. There were several stations in what is now Sumner County and a fort was located at Red River where the Renfroe's had settled.

In May of 1780, the Cumberland Compact was endorsed as the governing document of the Cumberland Settlers. The Compact listed the names of 255 men who were living in the area. Many of the names are in groups, written in the same hand, perhaps signed by representatives from the stations scattered across the settlement.


Davidson County created 1783

Davidson County was officially established in April of 1783 by an act of the North Carolina legislature. It was named for General William Lee Davidson, an officer of North Carolina in the Revolutionary war.
"Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina, and it is hereby Enacted by the authority of the same, that all that part of this State lying west of the Cumberland Mountain where the Virginia line crosses, extending westward along the said line to Tennessee River, thence up said river to the mouth of Duck River, thence up Duck River to where the line of marked trees run by the commissioners for laying off land granted the Continental Line of this State intersects said river (which said line is supposed to be in thirty-five degrees fifty minutes north latitude) thence east along said line to the top of Cumberland Mountain, thence northwardly along said mountain to the beginning, shall after the passing of this Act be and is hereby declared to be a distinct county by the name of Davidson."

Town of Nashville established 1784

In 1780, the Cumberland Compact referred to the settlement on the bluff above the Cumberland River as Nashborough. Nashborough was also the name used in the minutes of the Davidson County court which commenced in the fall of 1783.

In April of 1784, the legislature of North Carolina passed an act that made the town official, changing the name to Nashville. The bill set aside "two hundred acres of land, situate on the south side of Cumberland River, at a place called the Bluff, adjacent to the French Lick, in which said Lick shall not be included, to be laid off in lots of one acre each, with convenient streets, lanes, and alleys, reserving four acres for the purpose of erecting public buildings, on which land, so laid off according to the directions of this act, is hereby constituted and erected, and established a town, and shall be known and called Nashville, in memory of the patriotic and brave Gen. Nash." Five Trustees were appointed to handle the business of the town and a treasurer was named. A plan of town lots of one acres each and a public square of four acres was surveyed. Proceeds from the sale of the lots was to be used to build a courthouse and a jail on the public square.

In November of 1801
an act provided for the election of seven commissioners of the town. An election was to be held on the first Saturday in April. The commissioners would appoint a clerk, a treasurer and a person to be in lead commission meetings, to be known as the Intendant. Among the duties of the commissioners were to appoint an overseer of the streets and a surveyor for the town. They were to see to the building of a Market House on the public square. An annual tax was imposed upon the citizens of the town to fund the duties and requirements of the commissioners, not to exceed 50 cents on each $100 worth of property, $1 on each white poll and $5 on each billiard table.

In August of 1804 the necessity of a well on the public square led to the enactment of a new tax. The fees were not to exceed 12 and half cents on each $100 worth of property, 12 and half cents on each white poll and 25 cents on each black poll, $1 on each stud horse and $3 on each wholesale and retail store.

On September 11, 1806
an act to incorporate the town of Nashville was passed by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee. The act instructed the sheriff of Davidson County to hold an election at the court house in Nashville, on the first day of October in each year to elect a mayor and six aldermen to serve for a term of one year, unless re-elected. On October 1, Joseph Coleman was elected as the first Mayor of Nashville. James Hennan, George M. Deaderick, John Dickinson, Robert Searcy, Joseph T. Elliston and James King were elected as Aldermen. Other officials were John Anderson as Recorder and John Deatheredge as High Constable.

Originally published 1/25/2006
Copyright © 2006, Debie Cox

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