Another very early settler of the same area of the future Dekalb County was John Fite, a revolutionary War veteran from New Jersey, who moved to the "vally of Smith Fork", and is credited as being the first person to have driven a wagon into the valley of Smith's Fork also at the current day town of Liberty. His story was told by an article in "The Tennessee Baptist" in 1852. This article was reprinted in the following book viewable at Google Books: The Biographical and Genealogical Records of the Fite Families in the United States by Elizabeth Mitchell Stephenson Fite in 1907. This book seems to imply that he had actually cut a road in the wilderness 55 miles in 16 days from Mill Creek near Nashville to Smith Fork of the Caney Fork River. Actually Fort Blount Road, part of the Avery Trace, already existed from Nashville to Fort Blount, in the current Jackson County. from there a road existed to the familes on the military bounty warrant land on the south side of the Cumberland River at Rome and Carthage. To believe that he actually cut a road 55 miles long when one already existed defies common sense. The road that he cut was probably the 5 or 10 miles from the settlements near Carthage to the present town of Liberty, and he did not clear it alone, having his sons and at the very least his brother Leonard Fite and his family accompanying. His road was then used by a flood of families entering the area.
Elizabeth Fite's book can be viewed here. John Fite's complete story starts on page 28, and the "Tennessee Baptist" article starts on page 29 .
John was listed as an 81 year old Revolutionary war pensioner living in the household of Henry Fite (John's son) in the 1840 census of District 2, Dekalb County, Tennessee. The 1850 census of Dekalb County, Tennessee lists John Fite at the house of his son Moses in District 13 [Liberty], household 131/131, age 92, a Baptist preacher, and gives this information as a note beside his entry in the census:
"A Revolutionary soldier and of the first settlers in the mero District Smith County brought the first waggon to the vally of Smith Fork ever brought to said vally in 1798."
A note like this in the census was very rare, and shows that John Fite was very highly esteemed and respected. John Fite was the son of Johannes and Catherine Fite of Sussex County, New Jersey where he was born on April 1, 1758. His Revolutionary war service and ancestry has been described by the book A Biographical and Genealogical Narrative of The Johannes Branch of Fites in the United States, 1950: "Saffell gives the name of John Fite in the list of Capt. Hazlett's "Minute Men" under Col. McKinney, in the Continental Army, during the Revolution. He served under Capt. William White, James Anderson, Mackey, David Phillips and Major Hoope." This book of Fite genealogy is located on the internet here. John died in Dekalb County, TN on February 15, 1852 at Liberty and is buried at Salem Baptist Church Cemetery.
John Fite is listed as a church member beginning in 1809 at the founding of the Salem Baptist Church at Liberty in Dekalb County, Tennessee by the church minutes of that church. He became an Elder of that church and in 1815 was ordained as a minister. From July 1821 to sometime in 1837 he was the minister of Goshen Church at Dismal Creek, and from July 1837 he was pastor of Prosperity Church on the banks of Smith Fork just over the line in Wilson County until he retired. His son Henry Fite was also a Baptist preacher.
copyright David Johnson, 2008
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