Transcribed by Melody Carter
June 9, 1949
Another unusual character of the Pleasant Shade section was George Boston, born in 1793 and lived to be nearly a hundred years old. He was of what was known as “Black Dutch” descent. His father was Christian Boston, who settled on Towtown Branch in the very early days of Smith County or perhaps even before the county was organized in 1799. George Boston’s mother’s name is unknown. He had two sisters of whom we have brief record, one of these being our own great grandmother, Kate, of whom mention has already been made in the Column. The other was Ann, who married a Nash. George Boston’s first wife is said to have been a Propes; his second, a Parkhurst. By these two women he had a large family of children, many of whose descendants still live in the Russell Hill, Pleasant Shade, and Red Boiling Springs sections. Several of the children were married into the Jenkins family, which is quite numerous in Macon, Smith, and Jackson Counties.
Although uncultured and unlettered, George Boston is said to have had a fine mind and a very keen intellect. He operated a grist mill on the stream above Pleasant Shade, where he lived and which is called the Boston Branch for him. Signs of the old mill race are still to be seen in a few places. Gasoline and electric motors were unheard of in his day and time, and about the only power available was water power. Steam power was unknown until Boston was past the prime of his life. In his day and time, it was customary to go far up a stream, build a dam across the creek and then divert the waters to a ditch or race around the hill side, thus getting most of the natural fall of the stream at one place; that is, at the mill. This water then was turned on to the top of a large wheel of wood, 20 to 40 feet across, with buckets to catch the water as it fell. When the buckets on one side had partially filled, the wheel began to turn slowly. Of course, all of the water was “lost” at the bottom of the wheel. From the shaft of the big wheel, “power” was taken for turning the millstones, which generally were not large. The capacity of most of these mills was small, perhaps only a few bushels a day. But when there was a “good head of water,” these mills were operated day and night, with a hopper big enough to carry enough corn to furnish the mill for an all-night run. We do not know the capacity of the Boston mill, but we do know of its location and we have seen the old race, traces of which may be seen till this day. A man with a mill in those early days was “looked up to,” for he was assured plenty of corn for his own use, plenty to make liquor if he so desired, and many of them had such a desire.
The first mill of which we have any record on Peyton’s Creek was located about two miles below Pleasant Shade, near the home of Herbert Sloan. The County Court had to grant a prospective miller the right to place a dam across the creek. About 1802, Joel Dyer appeared before the Court and asked for permission to build a dam across Peyton’s Creek for the purpose of obtaining power for a mill. Where there was large stream running the entire year, it was unnecessary to build a race, but a high dam in the creek gave sufficient fall to the water for the needed power and this is believed to have been the case with the Dyer Mill, for we have never been able to locate any trace of a mill race. A man named Saunders was granted the right to build a dam across Dixon’s Creek in the vicinity of Dixon Springs not long after Dyer’s application was made. Records of these events of the long ago can be found at Carthage in the office of the County Court Clerk.
Going back to George Boston, we note that the Civil War had cast a gloom over the entire country and that soldiers, guerrillas and others were to be found on the roads, in the forests, and even in homes. George Boston was no exception and he found himself the object of efforts to force him from his home. At a time when his home was being forcibly entered by armed men, he went upstairs, giving specific instructions to his family to be certain to let themselves be known if they climbed the stairs. A man named Brockett, a relative of the family, forgetting Boston’s instructions and going up the stairs to tell him that those who had sought Mr. Boston had left, his head had gotten about on a level with the second story floor, Boston, not recognizing him and supposing him to be the enemy, struck Brockett with a heavy corn knife, splitting his skull and killing him. Only two or three hundred yards down the creek from the old Boston home where this tragedy took place, another Civil War episode with fatal results took place. Perhaps we have already given the details of the event, but will repeat them for those who did not read them some months ago. Union soldiers and a band of guerrillas perhaps under Buck Smith met near the juncture of the Boston Branch with the Sanderson Branch, which is about a half mile from the Boston home. In this skirmish, the soldiers were put to rout, fleeing on horseback and pursued by the guerrillas. About half way between the Boston home and the place of skirmish, there was then a large, flat rock in the road. On this rock two of the horses ridden by the fleeing Union soldiers fell, pinning a foot for each rider beneath the fallen horse. Overtaken in a matter of moments by the pursuing guerrillas, the two youthful soldiers found themselves in imminent danger of death, for the guerrillas seldom showed much mercy. One of the boys with his hands over his head, asked for mercy, but was shot in cold blood and died there on the rock. The other, with tremendous presence of mind, having seen the fate of his buddy, bit his tongue until the blood flowed from his mouth. At the same time, he moaned and groaned as if his chest were crushed. One of the guerrillas said: “There is no need to shoot a dead man. He will be gone in a few minutes.” So they left the dead youth and his buddy with the blood pouring from his mouth. Shortly afterward, some member of the family of Uncle Tommie Sanderson who lived a short distance east of the place where the soldiers lay, came by and found one soldier dead and the other apparently in bad condition. Taking the injured youth to the Sanderson home, this good Samaritan summoned old Dr. Stone who soon found that the youth was not seriously hurt and that he would soon be able to return to his command. He informed the Sanderson family about the boy’s condition and asked them not to give away the boy’s secret. This was done and in a few days, with his bitten tongue healed, the soldier left and was heard of no more.
The dead soldier was said to have been a son of the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky at that time, but we do not have his name. The body was laid to rest in the Sanderson Cemetery and years later, was removed and taken back to the soil of his native Kentucky.
But we would like to go back in our account of the mills of the long ago. We recall having heard of a small mill on the head of Defeated Creek which had a capacity of only about a bushel of meal per hour. The owner and operator of this mill and we might give his name, but it is not necessary, had several daughters. One of the girls made this remark about her father’s mill: “I reckon pap has the smartest little mill in the world. Just as soon as it gets through with one grain of corn, it jumps right on another.” This remark has come down through the years and shows something of the “speed” of the grist mills of the long ago.
From our boyhood days down to adult life, we heard of a sack of corn called a “turn.” We had no idea in the world as to what it meant for a long time, but eventually learned that it was so called from the custom of each mill patron to have to wait “for his turn” in getting his corn ground into meal. So by and by a sack of corn or even wheat was called a “turn.”
Those old “overshot” mills of the long ago now are virtually a thing of the past. There are two in this county that still operate, one of them being on a branch of Long Hungry Creek and the other being in the vicinity of Underwood in the north side of this county. The meal made by these old mills was usually very fine, being ground slowly and without the heat generated by the fast-moving burrs of today.
Another mill in the Pleasant Shade section was on Big Peyton’s Creek near the old Parkhurst home. the old mill race here is still to be seen in places. The stones used in building a dam across the creek are still to be seen, as can the rocks used here and there to hold the earth for the mill race. For many years, the old Parkhurst mill did a big volume of business, for that day and time, but it is only a memory and all those connected with it have gone “the way of all the earth.”
Still another mill in the Pleasant Shade section was known as Sanderson’s Mill, located about 100 yards above the present home of Hugh Hackett. This was of the same kind as the Boston and Parkhurst mills, obtaining its power from the damming of the creek. The turning aside of the water from their natural course, keeping them coming around the hillside and finally getting most of their fall at one place on the water wheel. The old mill race at Sanderson’s is still visible. Many years ago, one of our relatives, a Miss Gregory, married, I believe, a Sanderson. Anyway, later as she was passing along this old millrace, she accidentally dropped her baby into the stream and the child came near to drowning before her mother could recover her infant. We seldom pass along the road, which runs within a few feet of the old mill race, without thinking of this episode of about 1825.
A short distance above the old mill site the Sanderson family established its first home in Middle Tennessee. This was prior to 1811, the old home being built near a large, fine spring, which was the custom in that day and time when there were few wells and when a good spring would often determine the location of a home. The family lived in this pioneer house near the spring that had flowed boldly and unfailingly for perhaps centuries ceased to flow. Instead of digging a well, the family built another house at a spring down the valley a few hundred yards. This account was given the writer in 1917 by the late Joe Sanderson, who was a descendant of the original Sanderson family, and who was himself a man with one of the finest minds we have ever contacted. Uncle Joe was a plain man, living his life in a simple way and yet possessed of mind capable of grappling with the greatest of mental problems.
These old water mills served their time in a very acceptable manner, but we are moving too swiftly now to wait on the slow-moving water to furnish us our power in our rural communities. Moreover, the streams now do not have perhaps one fourth as much water as they once carried. In the summer time, some of the creeks that used to support water mills are virtually dry and hardly a trickle of water runs along the stream bed for weeks at a time.