Transcribed by Timothy R. Meador, Jr.
December 6, 1951
At the time that Tennessee was admitted to the Union in 1796, there were but three counties west of the Cumberland Mountains, Davidson, Sumner and Tennessee Counties. Since Tennessee had become the name of the State, Tennessee County was divided into the counties of Robertson and Montgomery.
In October of 1799, the Legislature created and established the county of Smith, so named for General Daniel Smith, a hero of the Revolutionary War. The Act creating and establishing the county of Smith describing its boundaries as follow “Beginning upon the south bank of the Cumberland River, at the South end of the Eastern boundary of Sumner County, thence North with said Eastern boundary to the Northern boundary of the State, and with said boundary East to where it is intersected by the Cherokee boundary, run and marked agreeably to the Treaty of Holton, thence with that boundary to the Caney Fork of Cumberland River; thence with the said Fork, according to its meandering to the mouth thereof; thence down the South bank of the Cumberland River, with its meanderings, to the beginning.”
Then in 1801 the Legislation passed an Act extending the boundary of the county from its Southwest and Southeast corners to the Southern boundary of the State. The seat of government for all of this immense territory was the little village of Dixon Springs, which was within six miles of its West boundary.
There has been considerable controversy as to who first made settlement within the limits of the county. There are some who claim that William Walton was the first settler, and there are others who claim that Tilman Dixon was the first settler. After a careful examination of all the evidence to be had, it is the opinion of the writer that Major Dixon was the first settler. The house which he built and in which the first Court of Pleas an Quarter Sessions was held on the 16th day of December, 1799, still stands on State Highway No. 25, one half mile west of the village of Dixon Springs.
The word, Highway, just used, recalls the fact that when Smith County was first established, there were no roads. The Indians were still here, and they had a right to be under the Treaty of Holston until Sept. 1, 1801. There were a few buffalo trails and Indian trails which ran through dense forests and through cane which grew luxuriantly everywhere. These trails were not wide enough for wheeled transportation and, for a long time, about the only method of transportation was by pack horse. It would be hard indeed for any of us in this present time to form any conception of the perils, the toils and the privations of the first settlers in Smith County. There was no scarcity of meat as practically every settler had his rifle, and the woods were full of every kind of game. There was no wheat bread, and the first corn for bread had to be brought from a distance on pack horses. The texture of the bread can be imagined, since it is related that it was made into meal by being pounded in a mortar. The first camps or huts were made in this wise: A large trunk of some fallen or felled tree was selected. Then poles with one end on the ground and the other on the log formed rafters for the roof which was made of the bark of trees. These shelters were, of course, temporary affairs and were intended to furnish shelter until a permanent log cabin could be erected. The erection of these cabins was a more or less intricate process which I shall endeavor to describe in a later article.
In May, 1780, the Legislation of North Carolina, being unable to pay its Revolutionary soldiers in money, passed an act giving them grants of land instead. These land grants varied from 640 acres in the case of a private to 12,000 acres for a Brigadier General. Since these grantees had the right of selection, it is small wonder that many of them were attracted to the vicinity of Dixon Springs by the fertility of the soil. As illustrative of this, the writer has in his possession a copy of a letter written by Major Tilman Dixon from Dixon Springs, addressed to General James Winchester, the commander of this Militia District. This letter was published in the “Clarion and Gazette,” a newspaper published in Nashville, in March, 1812, and was signed by fifty Revolutionary soldiers, all of whom tendered their services to fight in the impending war. Inasmuch as these men were 50 years or more of age at the time of the writing of this letter, their action on the occasion should certainly serve as an object lesson in patriotism to our very reluctant young men of today.
I shall close this article by an extract from “The Travels of F. A. Michaux.” Mr. Michaux was a noted French writer and traveler, who made a horseback tour of this territory in 1802. The extract follows: “Between Nashville and Fort Blount the plantations, although always isolated in the woods, are nevertheless upon the road within two or three miles of each other. The inhabitants live in comfortable log houses, the major part keep Negroes, and appear to live happily and in abundance. For the whole of this space the soil is but slightly undulated, at times very even, and in general excellent, in consequence of which the forests look very beautiful. It is in particular at Dixon’s Springs, 50 miles from Nashville, where Major Dixon lives, where I sojourned a day and a half, that we remarked this great fertility. We saw again in the environs a considerable mass of forests, filled with those canes or reeds I have heretofore mentioned, and which grown so close to each other, that at the distance of ten or twelve feet, a man could not be perceived were he concealed there.”
(Editor’s note. We thank Judge Allen for his splendid description of early life in Smith County and request that he furnish our readers with additional articles.)