WASHINGTON COUNTY lies between Greene and Carter Counties, and is bounded on the north by Sullivan and on the south by Union. Its area is abut 350 square miles. The surface is generally more or less broken, and in the southern part it becomes mountainous. The valleys are fertile, as is also much of the upland. The principal stream in the county is the Nolachucky River, which traverses the southern part. Its chief tributaries are the Big Limestone and Buffalo.
The most valuable mineral of the county is iron, which is found in great abundance.
The first permanent settlement in Tennessee was made in 1769 on Boone Creek by Capt. William Bean, who came in that year from Pittsylvania County, Va. His son, Russell Bean, is said to have been the first white child born in the State. soon after Bean made his settlement, in 1770 and 1771, James Robertson, Landon Carter and others, laid the foundation of the Watauga settlements, which at first were mainly in what is now Carter County. the steady stream of emigrants from the older States, however, soon forced these to overflow into the territory now embraced in Washington and Greene Counties. In 1772 Jacob Brown, with one or two families from North Carolina, located upon the north bank of the Nolachucky River, which up to this time had remained undisturbed by the white man. Mr. Brown had been a small merchant, and brought with him a packhorse loaded with goods with which he soon purchased from the Indians a lease of a large body of land lying on both sides of the Nolachucky. In 1775 he obtained one deed signed by the chief men of the cherokee Nation, embracing the greater part of the present Washington County west of the Big Limestone, and another deed for the land lying between the Big Limestone and a line drawn from a point on the Nolachucky Mountains "north 32 degrees wet to the mouth of Camp Creek; thence across the river; thence northwest to the dividing ridge between Lick Creek and Watauga or Holston; thence up the dividing ridge to the rest of the said Brown's land." This land Mr. Brown sold to settlers at a small price. The government of North Carolina, however, refused to recognize the validity of this deed, and continued to make grants in the territory covered by that instrument.
Among the most prominent of the pioneers who located within the present limits of Washington County were John Sevier, who lived on the Nolachucky, on the farm now owned by William Tyler. His sons, John and James, located on farms near by. John Tipton, the political enemy of the Seviers, lived on Turkey Creek, eight or ten miles east of Jonesboro. the first settlers on Little Limestone were Robert and James Allison, whose descendants still own a portion of the land entered by them. In 1778 Michael Bawn and James Pearn were each granted permission by the county to build a grist-mill on Little Limestone. In the same year an enumeration of the maile inhabitants of Washington County, which included all the settlements in East Tennessee, showed that the aggregate number subject to poll tax was 450. computing from this, upon the usual ration, the population at that time was not far from 2,500.
The first Baptist Church organized in the county was the Cherokee Creek Church, constituted in 1783 by Tidence Lane. Among its first members were James Keels, John Broyles, John Layman, William Murphy, Owen Owens, William Calvert, Reuben, John and Thomas Bayless, Thomas and Francis Baxter. Four years later Buffalo Ridge Church was constituted. Some of the prominent members were Anthony Epperson, Isaac Denton, Joseph Crouch, Peter Jackson, William Nash, David Parry and Nicholas Hale.
At Cherokee Creek Metting-house,
on the fourth Saturday in October, 1786 [Minutes of Holston Association.
Other authorities put it as early as 1779] wasorganized the Holston Baptist
Associations, at which time six churches were represented as follows:
Cherokee Creek- James Keel, John Broyles, John Layman and William Murphy;
Bent Creek- Tidence Lane, Isaac Barton and Francis Hamilton; Greasy
Cave- Richard Deakins and James Acton; North Fork of Holston- John
Frost; Lower French Broad- James Randolph and Charles Gentry.
Tidence Lane was chosen moderator, and William Murphy, clerk. During
the next fifteen years the association grew very rapidly, thirty-five churches,
new churches, having been constituted up to the close of 1802, when the
membership was 2,474. In that year the association was divided, all
west of a line running from Lee Courthousein Virginia, to Little War Gap,
in Clinch Mountain, thence to Bull's Gap, thence to Fine Ferry (afterward
Newport, Cocke County), thence in a direct line to Iron Mountain, was constituted
the Tennessee Association. In 1811 the number of churches in the
association had reached twenty, and the membership a little over 1,000,
when seven churches were set off to form Washington Association.
The northern line of Holston then became one running through Blountville,
to where the Watauga River enters Tennessee. In 1828 the boundaries
of the association were once more reduced. It then had thirty churches,
with a membership of 1,086, when the Lick Creek, Concord, Bent Creek, Bethel
South, County Line, Robertson Creek, Gap Creek, Long Creek, Slate Creek,
Clay Creek and Prospect were set off to form Nolachucky Association, which
body was organized
on the second Saturday in November of that year. No further change of territory occurred prior to the war except that."
The war greatly depleted the ranks of the members. In 1857 the aggregate membership of the association was 3,500, while in 1865 it was only 1,794. New churches, however, were soon formed, and old ones revived, so that in 1868 twelve churches in the counties of Johnson, Carter and Union were set off to form Watauga Association, leaving twenty-five churches in Holston Association. In 1885 three more churches were set off to hoin the newly organized Holston Association. The Holston Association in 1886 had a membership of 3,430, divided among thirty-five churches. the Baptist Churches in Washington County at the present time are as follos: Cherokee Creek, organized in 1783; Buffalo Ridge, 1787; Fall Branch, 1827; Jonesboro, 1842; Limestone, 1842; New Salem, 1845; Harmony, 1850; Johnson City adn ____, 1869; Philadelphia, 1870; Antioch, 1875.
The work of the Presbyterians began contemporaneously with that of the Baptists. The first preacher was Rev. Samuel Doak, who, in 1778, located near where Washington College now is, and where he established Salem Church. Among other early churches of this denomination were Hebron, afterward Jonesboro, Leesburg and Bethesda. When the separation of the two factions of the church occurred the greater number went with the New School, and about 1858 formed a part of the United Synod. Upon the reorganization of the churches after the close of the war. considerable dissension occurred, a portion of the churches uniting with the Holston Presbytery of the Northern General Assembly, and the remainder going into the the Holston Presbytery of the Southern General Assembly., The churches in the county are as follows: Salem, Jonesboro (Second Church), Chucky Vale and Mount Lebanon, adhering to the Northern Assembly, and Leesburg, Johnson City and Jonesboro (First Church), holding to the Southern Assembly.
The Methodists began work in the county about 1783, but no records are now in existence from which an account of individual churches may be obtained.
In the establishment of a school for the higher education of youth Washington County has the honor of being the pioneer west of the Allegheny Mountains. In 1777 the Legislature of North Carolina granted a charter for Martin Academy in Washington County, and Samuel Doak, who came to the county the following year, established a school under the provisions of the act. At what time he began teaching is not definitely known, but it must have been in 1783 or 1784. He taught at first in a small log building, which stood on his own farm, a short distance west of the present college campus. There he continued his academy until 1795, when the Territorial Assembly passed an act incorporating it as Washington College. the following is the preamble to the act: "Whereas, The Legislature of North Carolina established an academy in Washington County by the name of Martin Academy, which has continued for ten or twelve years past under the presidency of the Rev. Samuel Doak, and has been of considerable utility to the public, and affords a prospect of future usefulness if invested with powers and privileges appertaining to a college. Be it enacted, etc." The trustees appointed were Rev. Samuel Doak, charles Cummings, Edward Crawford, John Cosson, Robert Henderson, Gideon Blackburn, Joseph Anderson, John Sevier, Landon Carter, Daniel Kennedy, Leroy Taylor, John Sevier, Jr., John Tipton, William Cocke, Archibald Roane, Joseph Hamilton, John Rhea, Samuel Mitchell, Jesse Payne, James Aiken, William C. C. Claiborne, Dr. William Holt, Dr. William Pl Chester, David Deaderick, John Waddell, Jr., Alexander Mathes, John Nelson, and John McAllister. The first meeting of the board was held on July 23, 1795, at which time Landon Carter was authorized to dispose of three tracts of land on Doe River belonging to Martin Academy, the property of that institution having been transferred to the college. It was also moved that John Waddell and John Sevier be appointed to collect sundry subscriptions made to Martin Academy in 1784.
On September 28, 1795, by order of the trustees, an oratorical contest among the students was held. They were divided into three grades, the best speaker in the first grade to receive $3, in the second $2, and in the third $1. The prizes were awarded to James Anderson, James Trimble and Samuel Sevier respectively. The first graduates were James Witherspoon and John W. doak, upon whom was conferred the degree of A.B. on August 15, 1796. The other graduates for the first ten years were John Robinson, James Trimble, William Mitchell, Charles McAllister, Jonathan Smith, Daniel Gray, A.M. Nelson, Samuel K. Nelson, William H. Deaderick, Jeremiah Mathes, Nicholas Yeager, Reuben White, Thomas Cooper and William W. Holt.
In 1806 J. W. Doak was made vice-president, and commissioned to solicit funds in Georgia and South Carolina for the benefit of the college, where he obtained $836.65. The next year he visited the North and East, and secured $1,575. With these funds a new frame building was erected in 1808. It was 40X24 feet, two stories high, and stood very near the site of the present chapel. In 1818 Samuel Doak resigned the presidency of the college, and was succeeded by John W. Doak, who continued until 1820. He then died and the position was tendered to Dr. Samuel Doak, who refused it. The next year John V. Bovell ws installed as president, and after three or four years was succeeded by S. W. Doak, who was not in actual charge of the college, however, Profs. Rice and W. M. Cunningham, acting as president for that time. In 1829 Rev. James McLin assumed control of the institution, and continued to direct it until 1838, S. W. Doak then succeeded him, and continued for two years.
In 1840 a new college building
86X34 feet and four stories high was built at a cost of $6,000. At
the same time a dwelling for the president was erected., These buildings
were completed in 1842, and the institution under the presidency of A.A.
Doak entered upon an era of greater prosperity than it had known for several
years preceding. In 1850 Mr. Doak resigned the presidency, and for
a short time was succeeded by Rev. E. T. Baird, but he soon resumed his
old relations with the college, and continued until 1857. From this
time until the war, however, the Institution was financially embarrassed.
In 1859 the aggregate indebtedness amounted to $4,793.24. It was
then resolved to sell all the land belonging to the college with the exception
of ten or twelve acres. The successor of Dr. A.A. Doak in 1857 was
Rev. Samuel Hodge who held his position until the beginning of the
Like most other institutions of the kind in the State, the college suffered much during the war in the destruction of its library and damage to the buildings. In 1866 the buildings were repaired, and a school known as the WaShington Female College waS opened under the presidency of Rev. W.B. Rankin, who continued the school with more or less success until 1877. Meanwhile it had again become a mixed school, and Rev. J. E. Alexander leased the property, and continued a sort of graded school until 1883. Since that time the institution has been under the management of Rev. J. W. C. Willoughby, and it has regained much of its old time excellence. the present faculty is J. W. C. Willoughby, president and professor of sciences; Rev. M. A. Mathes, ancient languages; John A. Wilson, mathematics and physical sciences; C. A. Mathes, principal of the preparatory department.
Washington County was laid off by an act of the Legislature of North Carolina, passed in November, 1777, and was made to include the whole of the territory afterward erected into the State of Tennessee. the first magistrates appointed were James Robertson, Calentine Sevier, John Carter, John Sevier, Jacob Womack, Robert Lucas, Andrew Greer, John Shelby, Jr., George Russell, William Bean, Zachariah Isbell, John McNabb, Thomas Houghton, William clark, John McMahan, Benjamin Gist, J. Chisolm, Joseph Wilson, William Cobb, Thomas Stuart, Michael Woods, Richard White, Benjamin Wilson, Charles Robertson, William McNabb, Thomas Price and Jesse Watson*. The first session of the courtof pleas and quarter sessions was begun and held on February 23, 1778. John Carter was chosen chairman; John Sevier, clerk; Valentine Sevier, sheriff; James Stuart, surveyor, John McMahan, register; Jacob Womack, straymaster; John Carter, entry taker, and Samuel Lyle, John Gilliland, Richard Wolldridge, Emanuel Carter, William Ward, V. Dillingham and Samuel and John Smith, constables. At the next term of the court, which was held at Charles Robertson's in May following, the rates of taxation were fixed as follows:
For every one hundred pound's
worth of property .............16s 8d
For building a courthouse, prison, and stocks..................... 2s 6d
For building a courthouse in Salisbury................................ 4d
For the contingent fund of the county................................. 1s
Pound, 6 d
*Watson probably should read "Walton."
The county was then divided
into seven districts, and the following magistrates appointed to make return
of the taxable property: Benjamin Wilson, John McNabb, John Chisolm,
William Bean, Michael Woods, Zachariah Isbell and Jacob Womack. The
first grand jury was empaneled at this term, and was composed of the following
men: William Asher, Charles Gentry, James Hollis, Amos Bird, John
Nave, Arthur Cobb, John Dunham, Peter McNamee, John Patterson, Nathaniel
Clark, James Wilson, Adam Wilson, Drury Goodin, Samuel Tate, Jacob Brown,
David Hughes, Joseph Fowler, Robert Shurley, James Grimes, Robert Blackburn,
John Clark, Hosea Stout, Andrew Burton, John Hoskins, N. Hoskins.
The greater number of the first cases which came before this court were
those of loyalists, and deserters from the Continental Army, who had sought
safety in these remote settlements. The intense loyalty of these
pioneers to the American cause, however, made this section extremely uncomfortable
for tory sympathizers. The first case in the records of the court
is that of the "State vs. Zekle Brown." It was "ordered that
the defendant be committed to gaol immediately, to be kept in custody until
he can be conveniently delivered to a Continental Officer."
Another case was that of the State vs. Moses Crawford, In Toryism. "It is the opinion of the court that the defendant be imprisoned during the present war with Great Britain, and the sheriff take the whole of his estate into custody, which must be valued by a jury at the next court- one-half of said estate to be kept by said sheriff for the use of the State, and the other half to be remitted to the family of the defendant." At the same time, on motion of Ephraim Dunlap, who had been appointed State's attorney, it was ordered that Isaac Butler, be sent to the Continental Army, there to serve three years or during the war. He was soon after released upon giving bond that he would apprehend two deserters, Joshua Williams and a certain Dyer who keeps company with said Williams, "by the 20th day of September next, and deliver them to the proper authorities. At the February term, 1780, John Reding was arraigned for speaking words treasonable and inimical to the common cause of liberty." He plead not guilty and the court, after hearing the evidence, bound him over to the superior court, in the sum of 20,000 pounds continental currency. This was at a time when the continental currency was at its lowest value, and the above apparently enormous sum amounted to less than 200 pounds in specie. The following tavern rates fixed for 1781 illustrate the great depreciation of the currency: Dinner, $20; breakfast or supper, $15; corn or oats, per gallon $12; pasturage, $6; Lodging, $6; West India rum, $130 per quart; peach brandy, $80 per quart; whiskey, $48 per quart; Normandy or Tafia rum, $100 per quart.
At the November term, 1778, the commissioners appointed to lay off the place for erecting the courthouse, prison and stocks. Jacob Womack, Jesse Walton, George Russell, Joseph Wilson, Zachariah Isbell and Benjamin Gist, reported that they had selected a site, and the following May term the court convened at that place in the first courthouse erected in Tennessee. "This house was built of round logs, fresh from the adjacent forest, and was covered in the fashion of cabins of the pioneers, with clapboards." In December, 1784, the court recommended that there be a courthouse built in the following manner: "twenty-four feet square, diamond corner, and hewn down after it is built up; nine feet high between the floors, body of the above the upper floor, floors neatly laid with plank, shingles of roof to be hung with pegs, a justice's bench, a lawyer's and clerk's box, also a sheriff's box to sit in." The contract was let to John Chisolm, who was to receive for his work an amount to be fixed by two men chosen by himself, and two chosen by the commissioners, appointed to superintend its erection. At the same time Alexander Greer took the contract for repairing and completing the prison upon the same terms. The latter building stood on the creek opposite the present jail.
During the years 1785 and 1786, but little is known of the transactions of the court, as most of the minutes were lost in the struggle betwen Tipton and Sevier. It is known, however, that both county and superior courts were held at Jonesboro, under the authority of the Franklin government for nearly three years, although for the greater part of that time a majority of the people of the county avowed allegiance to North Carolina. It was not, however, until February, 1787, that a court of pleas and quarter sessions was established under the authority of the latter State. On the first Monday of that month John McMahon, James Stuart and Robert Allison met at the house of William Davis, on Buffalo Creek, and organized a court. George Mitchell waS elected sheriff pro tem.; John Tipton, clerk protem, and Thomas Gourley, deputy clerk. John Tipton presented his commission as colonel of the county; Robert Love, as second major, and Peter Parkinson, David McNabb, John Hendricks and Edward Simms as captains. The magistrates appointed from the county were John Tipton, Landon Carter, Robert Love, James Montgomery, John Wyer, John Strain, Andrew Chamberlain, Andrew Taylor, Alexander Moffitt, William Porsley, Edmund Williams and Henry Nelson.
At the May term following , Jonathan Pugh was elected sheriff, Alexander Moffitt, coroner, and Elijah Cooper, ranger. It was ordered by the court that the sheriff demand the public records of the county from John Sevier, former clerk of this court; also that he demand from the ranger his records and that he demand the key of the jail at Jonesboro, from the former sheriff. the series of conflicts between the two parties, which followed these orders are detailed in another chapter and will not be repeated here.
In May, 1788, the Franklin government had ceased to exist, and the courts of Davis were held unmolested. At that time John Hammer, William Pursley, Robert Love and William Moore, commissioners appointed by the preceding General Assembly of North Carolina to select a sight for a prison and stocks, reported that they were of the opinion that Jonesboro was the most convenient place. From this it may be inferred that it had been the intention of the General Assembly to remove the seat of justice from Jonesboro, that place having become obnoxious on account of its adherence to Gov. Sevier. The excitement and ill feeling had somewhat subsided at this time, however, and after hearing the above report, the court ordered that John Nolan be paid 25 pounds in part for completing the public buildings at Jonesboro. In November, 1790, the first session of the county court under the Territorial government was held, at which time Charles Robertson, John Campbell, Edmund Williams and John Chisolm were the magistrates present. On May 16, 1796, the court was again reorganized to conform to the provisions of the State constitution. The magistrates commissioned by Gov. Sevier were James Stuart, John Tipton, John Wise, John Adams, John Strain, Henry Nelson, Joseph Young, Joseph Crouch, William Nelson, Robert Blair, Jesse Payne, Isaac DePew, Charles McCray, Samuel Wood, Jacob Brown, John Alexander, Joseph Britton, John Norwood and John Gammon.
The General Assembly of North Carolina in 1782 passed an act providing for the holding of a court of oyer and terminer and general gaol delivery twice a year at Jonesboro for the counties of Washington and Sullivan. Previous to this time it was necessary either to take all cases coming under the jurisdiction of the superior court of Salisbury, or to allow the crime to go unpunished, or the wrongs unredressed, an alternative in which there was but little choice.
The first term was begun August 15, 1782, by Hon. Spruce McCoy, who appointed Waightsill Avery attorney for the State, and John Sevier, clerk. John Vance, Isaac Choate and William White were convicted of horse stealing, and sentenced to be executed on the 10th of September following. This court continued to be held until the passage of the first cession act by North Carolina in June 1784, and after the repeal of that act Washington District was erected from the counties in East Tennessee and a superior court established.
There is no evidence, however, to show that this court was organized until February 15, 1788, at which time Judge David Campbell held a superior court of law and equity at the courthouse in Washington County for the district of Washington. F.A. Ramsey was appointed clerk, and William Sharp was admitted as an attorney. At the next term Judge Samuel Spencer sat with Judge Campbell, and it was at this time that he issued the warrant for the arrest of John Sevier.
In accordance with the provision of the ordinance establishing the territory south of the Ohio River three judges of the superior court were appointed. They were David Campbell, Joseph Anderson and John McNairy, all of whom remained upon the bench until the adoption of the State constitution.. Gen. Jockson was upon the bench of the superior court from 1798 to 1804, and it was while sitting at Jonesboro that he made the famous arrest of a criminal who had defied the sheriff and his posse. This occurred at the September term, 1802. Russell Bean, a resident of the town, doubting the paternity of a child born to him, cut off its ears, thereby causing its death. A warrant was issued for him, but Bean refused to be taken, and the sheriff, Joseph Crouch, so reported to the court. Judge Jackson ordered him to summon a posse to aid him. He replied that he had a summoned a certain number, but to no avail. Jackson then told him to summon the whole town if necessary, whereupon Mr. Crouch summoned his Honor, Judge Jackson. The latter arose from the bench with the exclamation that, by the eternal, he could take him single handed, and, procuring a pistol, started for Mr. Bean, and demanded his surrender. The culprit, terrified by the determined look and flashing eye of Judge Jackson, succumbed at once without a struggle, and was taken into court. There he was convicted, but brought to the bar for sentence plead the "benefit of clergy," which was granted. He therefore escaped with a light sentence. He was branded upon the left thumb, and confined in the county jail for eleven months.
Another case which attracted much attention at the time, was tried in September, 1806. Mary Doherty was arraigned for the murder of her father, and being called upon to plead to the indictment "stood mute," whereupon a jury was empaneled "to inquire whether the defendant stands mute through malice or through the visitation of God." After a thorough examination the jury reported it as their opinion that Mary Doherty, the prisoner at the bar, stnads mute through the visitation of God. It was thereupon ordered by the judge, that a plea of not guilty be entered and the trial proceeded, resulting in the acquittal of the girl, who, it is said, walked out of the courtroom with a smile upon her face, and entered into conversation with her friends. The case is remarkable from the fact that she was an ignorant country girl, who had no counsel from any source, and yet she was able to deceive the court, jury, attorneys and jailor.
In 1809 the superior court was abolished, and in 1810 the circuit court was organized by Judge William Cocke, who appointed James V. Anderson as clerk. The chancery court for Washington, Carter, Johnson and Sullivan Counties was organized at Jonesboro September 5, 1836, by Judge Thomas L. Williams, who appointed Seth J. W. Lucky clerk and master.
The first attorney admitted to practice in a court in Tennessee was Waightsill Avery, in August, 1778. At the same term, but a day or two later, Ephraim Dunlap was electedstate's attorney, although he had not yet been licensed by the superior court. Both of the above ment continued to practice in the courts of the State for several years. Other attorneys admitted to practice were Spruce McCoy, 1779; William Cocke, 1780; William Johnson and Reuben Wood, 1784; Archibald Roane, David Allison, Jospeh Hamilton, James McNairy and James Reese, 1788; Alexander McGinty, 1787; John Rea and Hopkins Lacy, 1790. Of these early attorneys only one or two were residents of Washington County.
Transcribed by Pat Sabin
Please note: In the process of transcribing
this history I recognized what I believe are typographical errors in surnames.
If you notice a mistake, please contact me. If the mistake is present
in the printing, I will make a correction in the form of a postscript.