The Historic Blue Grass Line
A Review Of The History Of Davidson
And Sumner Counties,
Sketches of Places and Events
the Route Of The
GALLATIN INTERURBAN RAILWAY
By James Douglas Anderson
Originally Published by the NASHVILLE-GALLATIN INTERURBAN RAILWAY,
Nashville, Tennessee. 1913
I. A SURVEY OF THE CUMBERLAND SETTLEMENT
The historical interest attaching to any given locality in the United States is governed by what that locality has suffered for, and contributed to, the building of the Nation and the development of its policies and resources.
The territory now within the counties of Davidson and Sumner measures up to the full requirements of this standard.
A review of the hardships endured is in order before an enumeration of results accomplished.
It required 14 years to put the Cumberland settlement on a permanent and peaceable basis. These 14 years covered the most critical period in the Nation's history: the last three years of the Revolutionary War, the unsuccessful experiment as a confederation of states, making and ratification of the Federal Constitution, and the first five years of Washington's service as President of the new Nation.
Such unsettled conditions in the other states naturally increased the responsibilities and the hardships of a small settlement, attempted amidst thousands of hostile Indians, 300 miles from the nearest place of succor.
These conditions and the necessity for rules and regulations influenced the Cumberland colony to adopt a constitution, or form of government, with James Robertson as the real, if not formal, head of both the military and civil divisions. In this compact the colonists claimed allegiance to North Carolina.
But North Carolina, at first, was busy with the Revolutionary war and could render no assistance. Even after she acknowledge ownership in April, 1783, by establishing Davidson County, she required all expenses of the County to be borne by the County - none were to be paid by the other part of the State.
Thereafter, as long as the Cumberland colony was within the domain of North Carolina, her Chief Executive and her Legislature persistently ignored every appeal for aid, though they were made thoroughly acquainted with conditions. True, North Carolina sent 200 troops, each of whom was to have 400 acres of land, but their expenses were to be provided for by Davidson County. The settlers bitterly resented this treatment by their parent State and would have resorted to another Franklin experiment but for the prospects of cession to the embryo Federal Government. This event took place in 1790, and President Washington appointed William Blount Governor of the Southwest Territory.
All the attacks by the Indians on the settlers from April 1, 1780, to the formal treaty of peace with England in September, 1783, were instigated or encouraged by British agents.
From the treaty of peace and the creation of Davidson County in 1783, to the cession of the northwest territory in 1790, the Indians were instigated by Spain. These outward influences greatly aggravated internal perplexities and hardships, which must have been bad enough without them. Even before the arrival of the Donelson and Blackmore fleet in April, 1780, the Indians commenced to kill, scalp and chop off the heads of members of Robertson's party - numbering between 200 and 300 - who had arrived four months previous by way of the Kentucky Trace and the present sites of Cross Plains and Goodlettsville.
These men had already divided into groups and had established forts or stations - one near Bledsoe's Lick (now Castalian Springs), eight miles southeast of the present site of Gallatin; another called Asher's, near the present site of old Cairo, seven miles southeast of Gallatin. Mansker's near the present site of Goodlettsville; Ft. Union, half a mile east of the present Spring Hill Cemetery; Stones River or Donelson's, at Clover Bottom, on the Lebanon Pike; Nashborough; Freeland's where the cotton factory now stands, one mile north of French Lick Spring; Eaton's, on the east side of the river a mile or more north of French Lick. Though not mentioned in the compact of May, 1780, another station, known as Renfroe's was built around the same time near Red River by the Renfroes and the Turpins and their connections who had dropped out of Donelson's party.
[Transcriber's note - A. W. Putnam in his History of Middle Tennessee, mistakenly stated that Fort Union was near Haysborough and the error has been repeated by many historians since.]
Thus, it will be seen, that the Nashville-Gallatin Interurban pierces the very heart of a narrow strip of country 80 miles long and not over six miles wide which formed the nucleus of the Cumberland settlement.
This entire section was covered by a dense growth of cane fifteen feet high - an almost impenetrable labyrinth, broken only here and there by buffalo trails between the various licks. From this ambuscade the Indians shot the pioneers as the filed along the narrow paths or drank from the limpid streams. Even nature seemed to favor the red man in his fight to retain the primeval forest.
The last station built was the first destroyed, more than twenty of the Renfroe and Turpin connection being killed. By the end of the year 1780, the killed, captured and wounded, whose names could be ascertained by the earliest writers, numbered; Killed, 48; wounded, 5; captured, 3. To each of these classifications were added others whose names are not handed down.
To escape a similar fate, a great many settlers went away.
Winter time found all those who stayed, huddled together in three forts - The Bluff, Freelands and Eatons - facing a campaign of war from without and famine from within.
Their horses and cattle had been stolen, or killed or maimed. Even the wild game was kept away from the forts to force the hungry settlers within rifle range of the hidden foe. The supply of ammunition, which had become almost exhausted, was replenished by Robertson's miraculous journey to the East and his return just in time to repel the attacks on Freeland's Station in mid-winter.
The Indians in ambush prevented the growing of a corn crop in 1781. Many more settlers went away. Fewer were killed, because there were fewer to be killed, and because those remaining took greater precautions for their safety. But the foe was there always. At the beginning of winter, conditions were worse that ever. By spring a great many more of the 256 men who had signed the compact had gone away and there was such a strong sentiment for a general evacuation that a council was called.
Through the influence of Robertson, ably seconded by John Rains, Andrew Ewin, Anthony and Isaac Bledsoe, Casper Mansker, Daniel Smith, Isaac Lindsay and other remaining settlers agreed to "fight it out here," alone, till the close of the Revolutionary War should withdraw British influence from the Indians and North Carolina's bounty grants to Revolutionary soldiers should swell their ranks and make them impregnable to Indian attacks. A Spartan band, numbering a few more than 70, pent up in three log forts, contending with countless thousands of Indians for possession of the wilderness!
"In the year 1782, and for several years afterwards," says Haywood, "the common custom of the country was for one or two persons to stand as watchmen or sentinels whilst others labored in the field; and even whilst one went to the spring another stood on the watch with his gun, ready to give him protection by shooting a creeping Indian, or one rising from the thickets of cane and brush that covered him from view, and whenever four or five were assembled together at a spring, or other places where business required them to be, they held their guns in their hands, and, with their backs turned to each other, one faced the north, another the South, another the West - watching in all directions for a creeping or lurking enemy."
The close of the Revolution brought Commissioners, guarded by 100 armed men, to survey bounty grants to Revolutionary soldiers and pre-emptions to the earliest settlers. There was a considerable increase in population and a decrease in the number killed. Some of those who had gone away came back and old forts were re-established and new one built, the line being widened to the north. The settlers believed the worst was over. To their surprise, hostilities continued, with ever increasing energy and brutality. The Coldwater expedition of 1787 revealed the cause and fixed the responsibility upon Spain.
"The inhabitants are all shut up in the stations," wrote Col. Anthony Bledsoe in August, 1787, "and they in general are so weakly manned that in case of invasion one is scarcely able to aid another, and the enemy in out country daily committing ravages of one kind or another, and that of the most savage kind."
"I candidly assure you," wrote Robertson in the same month, "that never was there a time in which I imagined ourselves in more danger."
The count of known killed in this year up to December 11, as filed by Representatives Robertson and Bledsoe in a fruitless memorial to the North Carolina Legislature, exceed 40, which number is being rapidly increased. The next year Robertson himself was wounded and Bledsoe, his colleague, was killed.
These conditions continued until the Cumberland settlement passed under control of the Washington administration in 1790, and then - they got worse.
The Spanish influence referred to as being back of the red man's unremitting hostilities was due to Spain's determination to plant her standard in the Western world.
In 1784 Spain had engaged Alexander McGillivray to form an alliance between the Creeks, Cherokees, and Chickamaugas for the destruction of the Cumberland and eastern settlements.
The diplomatic contest between the confederation and Spain for control of navigation on the Mississippi commenced about the time McGillivray formed his alliance, and Spain pursued dilatory tactics with respect to the treaty to let McGillivray get in his work with rifle and tomahawk, and to allow ample time for other Spanish emissaries, by milder methods, to prevail upon the colonists to become Spanish subjects and get protection by setting up and independent government of their own. By this combination of force, persuasion and delay, Spain hoped to accomplish her purpose. She continued this policy after the southwest territory was created and the Washington administration unwittingly played into her hand.
Spanish emissaries protested to Secretary of War Pickering that the colonists were the aggressors in the troubles on the Cumberland and proclaimed Spains's willingness to help quiet the Indians and her eagerness to please the United States in settling navigation rights on the Mississippi. From this it appeared to Pickering and Washington that any invasion of the enemy's country and killing of Spanish traders, or Indians in alliance with Spain, would defeat the navigation treaty. The Cumberland settlement was, therefore, tied to a tree and McGillivray with a free hand plied the lash.
To do this more effectively, McGillivray went to the National Capitol and "treatied" Washington out of $100,000, and entered into all other treaties, peace talks and pipe smokings suggested or proposed by those who sought to aid Washington in his effort to win McGillivray from Spain, secure control of the Mississippi and bring peace to the Cumberland.
How the Cumberland colony profited by Washington's kindly dealings with McGillivray is indicated by one who fought all through that period - James Gwin: At that time the people of this country were generally shut up in the stations and block houses, and we did not at any time of place feel that we were safe from Indian violence. The plowman had to be guarded in his field, while tending his crop. The sentinel was generally placed outside the field, at those points where the foe would most likely make his approach, or seek to lie in ambush. The time of the greatest danger was in going out in the morning to our work, for at such times we did not know at what moment we would hear the yell of the savages and the report of the Indian's gun. They would lie in close concealment, and the first discovery we would make of them would be by the blaze of their rifles, and so frequently was the laborer arrested and killed on his way to work that we adopted the following method: Early in the morning, before any person would venture out to his farm or field, we would take our rifles, mount some of our swiftest horses, set out our hunting or bear dogs, and pass around the field or place of labor and scour the woods; then guard the laborers as above noticed. We had to keep up guard all night in our block houses, for we were often attacked in the night. The enemy would come sometimes with torches of hickory bark, and attempt to set our station on fire."
Records of murder, butcheries and mutilations, though far from complete, present additional testimony. In 1792 more than fifty were killed, and more that fifteen wounded; twenty-two were captured, eighteen of them in an attack on Zigler's station, near the site of old Cairo. In 1793 more than 50 were killed and more than twenty-five wounded. col. Isaac Bledsoe was scalped while in the throes of death from a rifle shot. Three other Bledsoes - all young men - were afterwards killed and scalped.
In a memorial to Congress, praying for relief, it was shown that between March 9, 1794, and September 6, following, sixty-seven persons had been killed, twenty-five captured, ten wounded and three hundred and seventy four horses stolen, valued at $50 each - $18,700. Among the number killed was Maj. George Winchester, of Sumner, who with William Hall and Anthony and Isaac Bledsoe, had been Robertson's trusted Lieutenants around the council fire and on the field of action.
"The news from this place is desperate with me." wrote Valentine Sevier from the extreme western end of the settlement to his brother, John, December 18, 1794. "On Tuesday, 11th of November, last, about twelve o'clock, my station was attacked by about forty Indians. On so sudden a surprise, they were in almost every house before they were discovered. All the men belonging to the station were out, only Mr. Snider and myself. Mr. Snider, Betsy his wife, his son John, and my son Joseph, were killed in Snider's house. I saved Snider, so the Indians did not get his scalp, but shot and tomahawked him in a barbarous manner. They also killed Ann King and her son, James, and scalped my daughter, Rebecca. The Indians have killed whole families here this fall. You may hear the cries of some person for their friends daily.
"The engagement commenced by the Indianans at my house, continued about an hour, as the neighbors say. 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 of my stock. You will write our ancient father this horrid news, also my son Johnny. My health is much impaired. I am so distressed in my mind, that I can scarcely write."
Before this assault three of Sevier's sons had been killed. Robertson had lost a brother and two sons. Six Mayfields had been shot down. William Hall, afterward Governor of Tennessee, had suffered the loss, at different times, of his father (one of Robertson's advisors), two brothers, a sister and her child, and two brothers-in-law, and another brother-in-law had been twice seriously wounded. These are given as illustrations. Alexander McGillivray left the bloody mark of his passing on the door post of every home, and in the after years of a newer and younger generation there were more than 20 persons in the settlement whose bald heads, at winter firesides, bore witness to McGilliviray's former presence, and served exhibits to stories showing how colonists felt when being scalped alive.
Robertson had experienced great difficulty in holding the settlement in line with Washington's policy of "masterly inactivity." The situation grew so desperate that Robertson finally got out of line himself, organized and led the Nickajack Expedition, dealt the Indians a decisive blow, brought peace; was reprimanded for violating his orders and tendered his resignation as Brigadier-General.
In all civilized warfare soldiers, half of their time, are as safe as when at home. There was scarcely an hour in the fourteen years' guerrilla war on the Cumberland that every white person outside of a house was not in danger of instant death.
For fourteen years - "longer that the siege of Troy" - nearly twice as long as the Revolutionary War, more than three times as long as the Civil War, these Cumberland pioneers, unaided by their parent State, held in check by their central government, surrounded by many thousands of hostile savages urged on to ceaseless guerrilla warfare by two foreign nations, suffered every hardship know to humanity.
In all subsequent wars the "Cumberland settlement" was always to the front with the proportionate part, or more, of troops. They were battle winners too. Omitting fractions of years and counting the Cumberland siege fourteen years, the second British was, including the Creek campaign, three years; the first Seminole war, one year; the second Seminole war, two years; and the Mexican war, two years, the men of Sumner and Davidson were engaged in armed combat twenty-two of the sixty-eight years - or almost one week out of every three - from the founding of Nashborough and Bledsoe's to the end of the Mexican war.
No county or section (outside of the original Cumberland settlement), south of the Ohio or west of the Cumberland Mountains has such a record for self sacrificing patriotism. It is doubtful if any locality in the United States can equal this contribution of service and life in the building of the nation.
The several wars mentioned in the second paragraph above took the Sumner and Davidson troops into foreign and unsettled lands, where all Tennessee troops suffered alike from privation incident to frontier war entered into, for the most part, without any preparation, and carried on without modern facilities for looking after the health of the troops.
A people that suffered so much - what did they contribute to the spread of civilization and the betterment of mankind, the building and preservation of the nation and the shaping of its policies?
(1) They freed all Tennessee north of the Cumberland of hostile savages.
(2) By the treaty of Nash borough (June, 1783), which was later confirmed at Hopewell, they won the lasting and useful friendship of the Chickasaws, and by this and three other treaties effected by 1806, the 26th year from the beginning, they had opened practically all of Middle Tennessee south of the Cumberland to peaceable settlement. John Donelson, James Robertson, and Daniel Smith, of the Cumberland settlement, each rendered valuable services in effecting one of more of these treaties.
(3) In securing to America navigation rights on the Mississippi, which was agreed to by Spain shortly after the Nickajack expedition, the Cumberland settlers exerted an influence that was little less that decisive. The very existence of the settlement itself - together with those in Kentucky - emphasized the possibilities of the Western wilderness in the great scheme of national development and impressed upon the Southern Congressmen the wisdom of opposing Jay's proposition for Americans to forbear from the use of the Mississippi for twenty-five or thirty years.
When the Eastern States voted unanimously for this scheme, through fear of Southwestern rivalry and to find in Spain a purchaser for New England whale oil and cod fish, the entire West was thrown into such a state of indignation and protest that Congress, to quiet Western apprehension, passed a resolution declaring for free navigation of the Mississippi.
In addition to the McGillivray policy of gaining her ends, Spain pursued other and different tactics which have been mentioned, but which should be stated more in detail.
Taking advantage of the dissatisfaction growing out of the possibility of the Jay treaty being adopted, Gov. Mero offered to all Western settlers liberal grants of land in West Florida and still brighter prospects in a magnificent city planned for a point near the St. Francis River. The revenue restrictions on Mississippi River traffic were relaxed. But all of these efforts to draw the Cumberland settlers away from their mother country were unavailing.
"Then," said the Spanish minister, "if you will not become the subjects of Spain on a West Florida plantation or I our city on the St. Francis, establish a form of government of your own, independent of the Federal union, and Spain, I am authorized to say, will guarantee you free navigation of the Mississippi, but under no other conditions can you obtain this privilege." This appeal had no effect.
"At length," says Ramsey, "Spain, embarrassed in European wars and still apprehensive of invasion of her American possessions by the pioneers of the West - whom all her intrigue had been unable to seduce from their allegiance to the Union - intimated her willingness to negotiate," and free navigation of the Mississippi was secured.
(4) The massacre of Ft. Mims in Mississippi territory on August 30, 1813, was the beginning of a campaign, encouraged by the British, to wipe out all the Western settlements from the great lakes to the gulf, and restore the Indians to their ancient possessions. Led by Jackson, of Davidson, aided by Coffee, of Davidson, the troops from Sumner and Davidson (and other Middle Tennessee counties made possible by Sumner and Davidson), bore the greater part of this six months' campaign. Result: The Creek nation was destroyed, and the Creeks were forced to give up their lands and consent, finally, to be moved west of the Mississippi. Alabama became a Territory, the remaining portion of the Mississippi territory a State, and both were forever freed of Indian troubles.
(5) Some writers say that the result of the Creek campaign brought the Commissioners of Ghent to their senses and made possible a treaty of peace between England and the United States - even thought that treaty did leave unsettled the issues which produced the war. But this question - the right to seize and search American vessels - was settled at New Orleans, by Generals Jackson, Coffee, and Carroll, of Davidson County, and their small army, inspired to greater heroism at New Orleans by the success of the Creek campaign. These Tennessee troops were mostly from Davidson and Sumner and other Middle Tennessee counties opened to civilization by the Cumberland settlement. At New Orleans, Jackson, Coffee, and Carroll, of Davidson, broke up England's plan to ascend the Mississippi and tributaries and meet the victorious British army from the North and lay the entire country in waste. At New Orleans it was demonstrated by men of the Cumberland and other Tennessee counties that the United States was a "world power."
(6) General Jackson (1816-1818), acted as one of the Commissioners in making several treaties with the Indians. By one of them, all of West Tennessee was surrendered by the Chickasaws as a result of the establishment of the Cumberland settlement.
(7) In 1818, General Jackson, of Davidson, with 1100 volunteers, went to Florida, and with the assistance of a few more troops already there in command of another Tennessean, Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, he scattered the Spanish and Indian allies, captured three forts, hanged two British subjects, rant the Spanish Governor to Havana and caused the cession of Florida to the United States and the settlement of the dispute over West Florida.
(8) The last Indian treaty effected by Robertson was in 1808 and the first effected by Jackson was in 1811, the year Robertson died. For more than forty years Robertson had been fighting Indians, single handed or as commander, as occasion required. Jackson's experience as a private in fighting Indians had been next to none at all, nor had he ever commanded troops in battle until within twelve months prior to Robertson's death. Robertson was then 72 and for 34 years had been the accepted and beloved leader of this advanced guard of civilization. Jackson was then 47 and for 32 years thereafter he exerted an influence, unparalleled by any other individual, with two possible exceptions, in building the government and in shaping its course on important national questions. His successes in the Creek campaign and at New Orleans are no less notable that his views on nullification, which strengthened the Northern cause in the sectional conflict fifteen years after his death; no less notable than his currency views which fall upon the issues of this day with force almost as great as when originally expressed.
The first invasion of this country by the white man, the record of war and statesmanship and the general progress and development of the country necessarily produced many incidents and left many marks and impressions in or near the Public Square at Nashville, and in Gallatin, and along the main highway between. Some of these events and places will be noted after due reference to this historic highway.
Copyright © 2006, Debie Cox.