Transcribed By Pamela Vick
September 7, 1950
Cal has lately been doing some research work that brought to light a lot of information about the early County Court meetings of Smith County, from which Macon, in part, was formed more than 100 years ago. All the east half of Macon County was once a part of Smith County. Since the early records of Smith County have been largely preserved, it is presumed that quite a lot of our Macon County readers will be interested in learning of events that affected at least half the county from 1799 to the year 1842, when Macon became a separate county. In our write-up of the old records of the meetings of the Quarterly Court of Smith County, we plan at this time to place the various items from the records in quotation marks, to be followed with some of Cal’s remarks.
It should be remembered that Smith County when formed in 1799, extended from the Kentucky line on the North to Alabama on the South. Toward the west it joined Sumner County, which was formed a few years earlier than Smith. On the east, it is supposed to have joined one of the East Tennessee counties. In other words, Smith County, at its beginning, embraced most of the Cumberland Mountain area in Tennessee and the hills and valleys of all the counties that lie along the western border of the Cumberlands.
Davidson County was formed in 1783; Knox, in 1792; Sumner, 1786; and Wilson, in 1799. This would signify that the east border of Smith County when it was formed 151 years ago was Knox County; and that the western border was Sumner County and perhaps Wilson.
The exact date of the formation of Smith County is not known, the year having been 1799. But the first session of Quarterly Court convened in the home of Capt. Tilman Dixon, just below the present Dixon Springs, on Monday, Dec. 16, 1799. Dixon had arrived in the Dixon Springs section in the late 1780’s. For him the Creek near his home was named. His old home, the very building in which the County Court of 1799 met, still stands. But later two brick rooms were added. This is the large old house about a quarter of a mile below Dixon Springs. If these old log walls could speak and tell of the events of the past century and a half of time, what a tale they would unfold. It has been said that one of the future kings of France once slept in this old house, that he had to sleep in the bed with one of the boys in the home.
The records of Smith and Sumner Counties have been largely preserved, and they form a valuable insight into conditions of long ago. We are sad when we think that Macon County records, which should go back to the formation of the county in 1842, were nearly all burned and that our records go back, for the most part, to only 1905. Courthouses used to burn down now and then, and destroy all the records that could not be saved from such burning structures. We wish that all our county records had been preserved, but this cannot be.
“Smith County Minute Book, 1799-1804 and 1835. State of Tennessee, Smith County, December 16th, 1799--Then the following persons: viz. Garrett Fitzgerald, William Alexander, James Gwinn, Tilman Dixon, Thomas Harmon, James Hibbetts and Peter Turney, Esquires, being convened at the dwelling house of the said Tilman Dixon, publicly took the oath to support the Constitution of the United States of America. Also the oath to support the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, also the oath of office which is prescribed by law to be taken by a Justice of the Peace and a Justice of the County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, which several oaths were administered to the above persons by Moses Fisk. After which the same oaths were administered to the said Moses Fisk by the said Fitzgerald. Then by the unanimous vote of the Justices thus in Court Assembled, the said Garrett Fitzgerald, Esquire, was chosen as Chairman of the said County Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions for the said County of Smith.”
Above is the very first paragraph of the record of the work of the County Court of Smith County. We have no knowledge thus far in the record as to the various districts or sections from which these Magistrates had come. Garrett Fitzgerald may have been the ancestor of the Fitzgerald family now in Clay County, but we do not know this. William Alexander was very probably an early settler in the Dixon Springs section, but we do not have proof as yet on this point. James Gwinn, so far as his home or section he represented is concerned, is unknown. Tilman Dixon was for many years a leading citizen of the Dixon Springs section and was a large landowner and slave owner. We have no information at this time as to who Thomas Harmon was. We find his name in the old records spelled in various ways. Harmond is one variation. James Hibbetts was probably the man for whom our Hibbett’s Gap was named. This Gap is between the head of Dog Branch and Pumpkin Branch, and is about eight miles southeast of Lafayette. We do not know positively about this place being named for Squire Hibbetts, but we are merely supposing that it was possible.
Peter Turney is said to have lived on what is now called the Young Branch of Dixon’s Creek, at the place on which Bud Garrett lives at this time, but he may have been a resident of some other section of Middle Tennessee at the time the Court met in Squire Dixon’s home. This man Turney was the ancestor of the Governor Turney of later date.
It will be noted that there was no person present who had authority to administer an oath, so far as is shown. But this difficulty was overcome by having one man administer the oath to the others, one of whom then administered the oath to the “first administer.” As to Moses Fisk, we know nothing. We wonder if he was not the ancestor of Bill Fiske, who lived for many years at Celina and who founded the paper known as “Bill Fiske’s Bugle.” Pioneers were not very particular as to how they spelled the other fellow’s name. So the Fisk of 1799 might be the ancestor of the Fiskes of the 19th and 20th century.
There was another variation in the spelling of the name of Squire Hibbetts. In one place in the old records the name is spelled Hibets. In another it is Hibbits. So variations in spelling ought not to cause confusion in tracing family history. We are giving these surmises in the hope that others better informed than Cal may give us additional light. If any reader has additional knowledge as to the descendants of the above early Squires of Smith County, let us know and we shall be glad to publish same.
The next item in the old records is as follows: “Moses Fisk was appointed Clerk pro tempore.”
The word, “tempore,” is incorrectly spelled in the record, but we know that it meant temporary clerk in the above case. We presume that the old record for one day was written by him. Many of the old-timers were pretty fair penmen and some of them were experts. But time has faded the paper and ink until it is nearly impossible to read these old records for any great length of time without doing damage to one’s eyesight. As we peruse these old records, we see one reason why records should be clearly and legibly written.
The next item is: “William Walton, Esquire,
then came into Court and the oaths before mentioned were administered by the
Chairman.” William Walton is said to have been the man for whom the old Walton Road was named. It came down from Cumberland Mountains by way of Snow Creek to Carthage and thence to Dixon Springs. It is known till today as the Walton Road. William Walton is believed to have been the first permanent settler in what is now Smith County, having established a pioneer home in 1786 where Carthage now stands. He was a prominent man for many years. He is believed to be the ancestor of the numerous Waltons now living in Macon County.
The very first settlers in what is now Smith County are said to have come from Virginia by way of Cumberland Gap, to have crossed the Cumberland River at the present site of old Fort Blount, and to have settled on the lower end of Turkey Creek, which is the first stream flowing into the Cumberland from the North side of the River, above Carthage. Near the mouth of this short creek of only about three miles in length, these early settlers are said to have built cabins, dug cellars and perhaps made one or two crops. But their location is reported to have been unhealthy and that chills and malaria fever were so bad that it was decided to abandon the location and to return to Virginia. They are said to have abandoned their cabins, perhaps left part of their number in new-made graves, to have loaded their meager belongings onto pack horses and to have set out on the return trip to Virginia. The story is told that at Fort Blount they met friends and relatives in rather large numbers who were emigrating to one of the points much farther West than Middle Tennessee. Abandoning their plans to return to Virginia, these first, if temporary, settlers in Smith County joined their Virginia friends, relatives and acquaintances and moved toward new homes in sections far west of Smith County, Tenn. It would perhaps be impossible to find documentary proof of all the above statements, but these are the reports brought down by tradition from that day and time some 170 years ago. Signs on lower Turkey Creek of the old cellars are reported to be seen even till today on the site of the early location.
The next item from the old records is as follows: “Amos Lacy was then appointed Constable pro tempore.” So Smith County’s first Constable was Amos Lacy, a name that is now “extinct” so far as we have any record in Smith County. We believe there are numerous other records of Amos Lacy in the old minutes of the County Court and later investigation may present more facts.
The next item left on record by the Clerk of 151 years ago is: “The Court then adjourned till Tuesday morning at ten o’clock.” Thus ends the day’s work for the early Magistrates of the once large and widespread pioneer county of Smith, which some say was named for Daniel Smith and others say Malcolm Smith. We do not know which is correct. Any light on this point will be gratefully received.
The next item reads: “Tuesday, Dec. 17th, 1799. The Court met according to adjournment and proceeded to appoint Sampson Williams to be the Clerk off the said Court; John Martin, Sheriff of Smith County; and Charles F_____ Mabias (or Mobias), Coroner of said County.”
Sampson Williams is supposed to have lived either on Defeated Creek or near the lower end of Salt Lick of Cumberland. The cross roads on Defeated Creek was known for many, many years as Williams Cross Roads, and there are or were many persons of this name residing in the Difficult section in the writer’s early manhood. On the other hand, we know that there was once a town near the River between the mouth of Salt Lick Creek and the Old Fort Blount river crossing, known as Williamsburg, and which was the county seat of Jackson County for some years. We have seen the old log jail at Williamsburg and presume that it is still standing. Anyway, Sampson Williams relieved the temporary clerk, Moses Fisk, of his duties and became the first regular Clerk of the Court. We do not know who John Martin was, but presume that he was a relative or perhaps a brother of William Martin, who was one of the early settlers on Dixon’s Creek and a leader in the work of the old Dixon’s Creek Baptist church. However, we want to be corrected if the two were unrelated.
Coroner Mobias or Mabias, it is hard to tell which spelling is intended,
filled an important office in the wild times of the early history of
Smith County; when violent deaths were virtually every day occurrences and someone in authority had to pass on the cause of death of those who were found either dead or murdered. We have no record of any of his descendants, that is, not now available. In other words we know of no family now living that has the name, Mobias or Mabias.
“The said Sampson Williams then entered into bond with Tilman Dixon and Garrett Fitzgerald, his securities, in the penal sum of ten thousand dollars for the faithful discharge of the duties of his office. And also took the oath of office in open Court,” reads the next item in the old faded records. So Williams had to make what was then a “stiff bond” for the discharge of the duties of his office, as ten thousand dollars then would be equal to perhaps $200,000. Another thing is quite evident, and that is that Tilman Dixon and Garrett Fitzgerald had the utmost confidence in Williams, that they were men of wealth for that day and time and that Williams himself undoubtedly must have stood very high in the matter of honesty, ability and integrity.
The next item is as follows: “Letters of attorney, Elizabeth Young to William Marchbanks, proved by the oath of John Young, one of the witnesses.” We suppose this was what we call today, “a power of attorney,” which enables one person to act for another in the absence of the maker of the power of attorney, with the same force and authority as if the maker were present and doing these things for himself in person. Who Elizabeth Young or William Marchbanks was, we do not know, but perhaps some reader may have some light to shed on this woman, the first mentioned in the records of the County Court. The name, Marchbanks, appears elsewhere on some early records, if our memory serves us right; but we know of no person today bearing his name. The same line of thought also applies in so far as any history of his life is concerned.
Next week we hope to resume where we are leaving off this work. If readers like the old records and our comments on the various points involved, we shall be glad to hear from you. If any reader can shed light on the descendants of any of the parties mentioned in this article, please feel to write us. We believe that the people of rural sections of Tennessee have been entirely too indifferent about their line of family descent and that we ought to strive to know more about our ancestors.