Historic Sumner County, Tennessee

By Jay Guy Cisco, 1909

Chapter One

Retyped for the page by Diane Payne

Historic Sumner County, Tennessee

Place one foot of a compass on a line between Gallatin and Bledsoe's Lick, and about six miles east of the first named place. Then draw a circle the diameter of which shall be twenty miles, and you will have within that radius a territory which it would be difficult to find a more beautiful, more fertile, or one richer in historical associations. And, too, it would be hard to find a territory of the same extent in which more men known to fame have had their homes. Within that area was erected the first cabin built by members of the Anglo-Saxon race in Middle Tennessee, and was cleared the first field, and planted the first corn west of the Allegheny mountains. Within that circle was the home of Griffith Rutherford, a famous General in the Revolutionary war, a member of the Provisional Congress, and President of the Legislative Council for the Government of the Territory South of the Ohio River, and for whom Rutherford county, North Carolina, and Rutherford county, Tennessee, named Gen. Daniel Smith, who made the first Secretary of the Territory, United Senator from 1805 to 1809, and for whom Smith county was named; William Trousdale, General Governor and diplomat, and for whom Trousdale county was named; William Hall, General, Governor of Congress; James Winchester, an officer of the Revolutionary war, a Brigadier-General in the War of 1812, and for whom the county seat of county of Franklin; Colonel Anthony Bledsoe, member of the Legislatures of Virginia and Carolina, a Captain in the Colonial army, a Major in the Revolutionary army, a Colonel of militia in what is now Tennessee, and for whom Bledsoe county was named; Colonel Isaac Bledsoe, explorer, pioneer, Indian fighter, and a Major of militia; David Wilson, Major in the war for independence, Speaker of the first Territorial Assembly Tennessee, land for whom Wilson county was named Col. Jas. Lauderdale, who fell at the first battle of New Orleans in December, 1814, and for whom counties inTennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi were named; William B. Bate, soldier, Governor and United States Senator; Senator William M. Gwin, of California, Rev. John B. Morris, Bishop of the Roman Catholic church; William McKendree, Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal church; Robert Hatton, soldier and statesman; Joseph Desha, Governor of Kentucky; Balie Peyton, orator and statesman; Andrew Jack Donelson, diplomat and candidate for Vice-President on the ticket with Fillmore in 1856; William Fulton, Governor of the Territory of Arkansas, and United States Senator from that State; Edward Ward Carmack, the greatest living Tennessean, and many others whose names blaze on the pages of history, have had their homes in Sumner county.


The first authentic account we have of men of Anglo-Saxon blood visiting Sumner County was 1765, when Henry Scaggs explored the Cumberland country and fixed his camp at what is now known Mansker's Lick. The names of his companions are not known.

The next explorer was Col. James Smith, a native of Pennsylvania, who, when a young man in May 1755, was taken prisoner by the Delaware Indians and held by them until 1759. His journal was first published in pamphlet form in 1799, and was reprinted in "Drake's Tragedies of the Wilderness" in 1845.

In 1766 Colonel Smith was in Virginia, and, hearing of the negotiations between Sir William Johnson and the Indians for the purchase of the land between the Ohio and the Tennessee rivers, and that there was a large body of rich land in that region, concluded to explore it. Following is an extract from his journal:

"I set out about the last of June, 1766, and went in the first place to the Holston river, and from thence I traveled westwardly in company with Joshua Horton, Uriah Stone, William Baker and James Smith, who came from near Carlisle. There were only about four white men of us, and a mulatto slave about eighteen years of age, that Mr. Horton had with him. We explored the country south of Kentucky, and there were no more signs of white men there than there is now west of the headwaters of the Missouri river. We also explored the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers from Stone's river down to the Ohio. (Stone's river is a south branch of the Cumberland, and empties into it above Nashville. We gave it this name in our journal in May, 1767, after one of my fellow-travelers, Mr. Uriah Stone, and I am told that it retains the same name unto this day.)

"When we had come to the mouth of the Tennessee river, my fellow travelers concluded that they would proceed on to Illinois, and see some more of the lands to the west; this I would not agree to, as I had already been longer from home than what I had expected; I thought my wife would be distressed and think I was killed by the Indians; therefore I concluded that I would return home. I sent my horse with my fellow-travelers to the Illinois, as it was difficult to take a horse through the mountains. My comrades gave me the greatest part of the ammunition they then had, which amounted to only two and a half pounds of powder and lead equivalent. Mr. Horton also lent me his mulatto boy, and I then set off through the wilderness for Carolina.

"About eight days after I had left my company at the mouth of Tennessee on my journey eastward, I got a cane stab in my foot, which occasioned my leg to swell, and I suffered much pain. I was now in a doleful situation; far from any of the human species, excepting black Jamie, or the savages, and I knew not when I might meet with them. My case appeared desperate, and I thought something must be done. All the surgical instruments I had was a knife, a moccasin awl and a pair of bullet moulds. With these I determined to draw the snag from my foot, if possible. I stuck the awl in the skin and with the knife cut the flesh away from around the cane, and then I commanded the mulatto fellow to catch it with the bullet moulds and pull it out, which he did. When I saw it, it seemed a shocking thing to be in any person's foot; it will therefore be supposed that I was very glad to have it out. The black fellow attended upon me, and obeyed my directions faithfully. I ordered him to search for Indian medicine, and told him to get me a quantity of bark from the roots of a lynn tree, which I made him beat on a stone with a tomahawk, and boil it in a kettle, and with the ooze I bathed my foot and leg; what remained when I had finished bathing I boiled to a jelly and made poultices thereof. As 1 had no rags, I made use of the green moss that grows upon logs, and wrapped it around with elm bark; by this means the swelling and inflammation in a great measure abated. As stormy weather appeared, I ordered Jamie to make us a shelter, which he did by erecting forks and poles and covering them over with cane tops like a fodder house. It was about 100 yards from a large buffalo road. As we were almost out of provisions, I commanded Jamie to take my gun and I went along as well as I could, concealed myself near the road and killed a buffalo.

"While I lay at this place all the books I had to read was a psalm book and Watts upon "Prayer." Whilst in this situation I composed the following verses, which I then frequently sung:

"Six weeks I've in this desert been,
With one mulatto lad;
Excepting this poor stupid slave,
No company I had.

"In solitude I here remain,
A cripple very sore,
No friend or neighbor to be found,
My case for to deplore.

"I'm far from home, far from the wife
Which in my bosom lay,
Far from the children dear, which used
Around me for to play.

"This doleful circumstance cannot
My happiness prevent,
While peace of conscience I enjoy
Great comfort and content."

This was doubtless the first "poem" ever written in what is now Tennessee.

After eleven months spent in the wilderness, Colonel Smith arrived in Carolina in October. "When I came to the settlement my clothes were almost worn out and the boy had nothing on that ever was spun. He had buckskin leggins, moccasins, a breech clout, a bear skin dressed with the hair on, which he belted about him, and a raccoon-skin cap. I had not traveled far after I came in before I was strictly examined by the inhabitants. I told them the truth and where I came from, etc:, but my story appeared so strange to them that they did not believe me. They said that they had never heard of anyone coming through the mountains from Tennessee, and if any one would undertake such a journey surely no man would lend him his slave. They said that they thought that all I had told them were lies, and on suspicion they took me into custody and set a guard over me.

"While I was confined here I met a reputable acquaintance who voluntarily became my voucher, and also told me of a number of my acquaintances that now lived near this place who had moved from Pennsylvania; on this being made public I was liberated. I went to a magistrate and obtained a pass, and one of my old acquaintances made me a present of a shirt. I then cast away my old rags and all the clothes I now had was an old beaver hat, buckskin leggins, moccasins and a new shirt; also an old blanket. Being thus equipped I marched on with my white shirt loose and Jamie with his bear-skin about him. In this way I came on to Fort Chissel, where I left Jamie at Mr. Horton's negro quarter, according to promise. I went from thence to George Adams' on Reedy Creek, where I had lodged, and where I had left my clothes as I was going out from home. When I had dressed myself in good clothes and mounted on horseback, no man ever asked me for a pass; therefore I concluded that a horse-thief, or even a robber, might pass without interruption, provided he was only well dressed, whereas the shabby villain would be immediately detected."

In 1778 Mr. Smith received a Colonel's commission in the Continental army, and made a gallant soldier. After peace had been declared he settled in Bourbon county, Kentucky, and was its Representative in the General Assembly from 1788 till 1799. He died in Washington county, Kentucky, about 1812.

The "Long Hunters"

There is a story found, with variations, in all the histories of early Tennessee and early Kentucky, about the "Long Hunters," "who remained in the wilderness between two and three years." But no two writers agree as to the identity of the members of the party. In fact, there is room for doubt about the story. That there was a party of hunters, some of whom remained in the wilderness for one year, seems to be well established, but who they were is very uncertain. The following account of the "Long Hunters" is condensed from Haywood's Civil and Political History of Tennessee, Ramsey's Annals of Tennessee, Marshall's Collins' Histories of Kentucky:

A company of over twenty men from North Carolina, from Rockbridge county and from the Valley New River, Va., including John Raines, Kasper Mansker, Abraham Bledsoe, John Baker, Joseph Drake, Obediah Terrell, Uriah Stone, Henry Smith, Edward Cowan, Thomas Gordon, Humphrey Hogan, Cassius Brooks, Robert Crockett, James Knox, Richard Scaggs and others, each with one or more horses, left Reedy Creek, their place of rendezvous, on June 1769. They pursued their way through what is known as Powell's Valley to Cumberland Gap; thence to Flat Lick; thence down the Cumberland River which they crossed at a "very remarkable fish which had been made in very ancient times;" they past a place called "The Bush," near the fish dam. Following it for some distance, then crossing the south fork of Cumberland river, they came to a place since called Price's Meadow, near an excellent spring what is now Wayne county, Kentucky, where they made a camp and a depot for their skins and game which they were to deposit there every five weeks. They continued to hunt to the west and southwest through a country covered with high grass, but finding no trace of human settlements; though they found many places where stones covered large quantities of human bones.

After being out for some time, how long I do not know, James Knox, Richard Scaggs and four others whose names are not given, left the main party upon Laurel river because game had become scarce, starting westwardly, crossed Rockcastle river, and going up Scagg's creek, met a party of Cherokee Indians under the old chief, Captain Dick, who directed them to go to Dick's creek, where they would find plenty of meat, to "kill it and go home," which they did.

In June, 1770, some of the hunters returned home, having been out one year, while ten of them, including Mansker, Hogan, Stone, Gordon, Baker, Brooks (the names of the other four are not given in any account that has come under the notice of this writer) built two boats and two trapping canoes, ladened them with furs and bear meat and proceeded down the Cumberland, down the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers to Natchez, where they sold their cargo, and where some of the party settled, the others returning home through Georgia. Of those who returned home only the names of Mansker and Baker are given.

In the fall of 1771 Kasper Mansker, James Knox, Henry Knox, Richard Scaggs, Henry Scaggs, Isaac Bledsoe, Abraham Bledsoe, James Graham, Joseph Drake, John Montgomery, old Mr. Russell; his son, young Russell; Hughes, William Allen, William Linch, David Linch, Christopher Stoph and others, twenty-two in all, with several horses, came out again. It will be seen that five of this party, Mansker, Abraham Bledsoe, Joseph Drake, James Knox and Richard Scaggs, were members of the first party which had gone out in June, 1770.

This party was so successful in getting skins that they were not able to carry them all back with them, and as their hunt was prolonged they built what they called a "skin house," at a common center, in what is now Greene county, Kentucky. Their hunt extended into the barrens of Greene river. One of the hunters, named Bledsoe, wrote on a fallen poplar tree, which had lost its bark: "2,300 Deer Skins lost; Ruination by God."

Some of the members of this company returned to the settlements in February, 1772, because their ammunition was getting short. "Indeed, all of the company except five, namely, Isaac Bledsoe, William Linch, William Allen, Christopher Stoph and David Linch, returned to procure ammunition and for other purposes." These were left in charge of the camp. One of the Linch men was taken sick "with shingles," and Isaac Bledsoe went with him to the settlement. The other three men were left in charge of the camp. They were discovered by the Indians, who attacked them and captured Stoph and Allen. Haywood says "Hughes escaped and met the rest of the company returning to camp." As the name of Hughes does not appear in the list of those who were left at the camp, this must be an error, it should have been Linch. It was two or three months before the men who had gone to the settlement returned, and the attack by the Indians must have been made soon after they had departed. The camp was not plundered, there was nothing missing but some meat, which it was supposed the dogs left at the camp had eaten. The dogs remained at the camp, where they were found by the hunters on their return, "but were quite wild, as they had not seen a human being for two or three months."

Soon after returning to camp the party traveled on through the forest to the southwest and fixed their camp at a place to which they gave the name Station Camp creek, which it has retained to this day. There they remained from May, 1772, to August of the same year, hunting and exploring the country. It was from members of this party that several geographical local ties in Sumner county took their names. Drake's pond, Drake's creek and Drake's Lick took their names from Joseph Drake. Bledsoe's Lick, Bledsoe's creek were so named for their discoverer, Isaac Bledsoe. Kasper Mansker gave his name to Mansker's Lick and Mansker's creek.

In July or August, 1772, about twenty-five Cherokee Indians came to the camp in the absence of the hunters and plundered it. The hunters continued there for some time afterwards until their ammunition was about exhausted, when they broke camp and started for the settlements. When they had gone as far as Big Barren river, in Kentucky, they were met by another party of hunters, upon which Mansker and four or five others returned and hunted to the end of the season, then went to their homes in the New River country.

Some writers call any company of hunters who were out for any considerable length of time, "long hunters." L. P. Summers, in his very interesting book, "Southwest Virginia and Washington County," says "the most noted 'long hunters' were Elisha Walden, William Carr, William Crabtree, James Aldridge, William Pitman and Henry Scaggs."

In November, 1775, Mansker and some other hunters, the only names of whom that have come down to us are the Bryants, again visited the Cumberland and encamped at Mansker's Lick. Most of them soon became dissatisfied and returned to their homes, but the brave "old Dutchman," Mansker, and three others, remained for some time hunting and exploring.

Dawn of Civilization

Thomas Sharp Spencer and others, whose names are not given, "allured by the flattering accounts they had received of the fertility of the soil and of the abundance of game which the country afforded, determined to visit it. They came in the year 1777 to Cumberland river and built a number of cabins about one-half a mile west from Bledsoe's Lick. There they made a small clearing, and in the spring of 1778 planted some corn. That clearing was the first to be made in the Cumberland country, and that corn was the first to be planted by men of the Anglo-Saxon race in Middle Tennessee, or west of the Allegheny mountains. Most of the party returned to the settlements after planting the corn. Spencer and another man remained in the country till 1779.

Spencer was so pleased with the prospects for further settlement which the situation afforded that he could not be induced to abandon the place and return home, as his companion in vain persuaded him to do. The latter, however, determined to leave the wilderness, but, so the story goes, having lost his knife, was unwilling to undertake the long journey without one with which to skin his venison and cut his meat. With backwoods generosity Spencer accompanied him as far on his way as the barrens of Kentucky, put him on the right path, broke his own knife and gave him half of it, and then returned alone to Bledsoe's Lick, where he made his home for the next six months in a large hollow sycamore tree which stood about fifty yards south of the Lick. The tree was said to have been nine feet in diameter, and being but a shell, made a commodious and comfortable home for the brave hunter.

Tradition says that Spencer and his companion quarreled, and as a result of that disagreement, "Holliday" determined to leave. But this writer is unable to reconcile Spencer's generosity with this story. He was a peaceable man, kind and generous, as all brave men are, declining personal wrangles and disputes, slow to resent a wrong and quick to forgive. It is more likely that "Holliday" became homesick, and that that alone prompted him to return to civilization and to his family. Spencer remained because he wanted to live with nature, where he could hear the throb of nature's heart.

And right here another doubt arises. The first published account of Spencer's spending the winter in a hollow tree was given by Haywood in his "Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee," published in 1823. In that work the name of Spencer's companion is given as "Mr. Drake." But in his "Civil and Political History of Tennessee," published in the same year, he gives the name as Holliday, and this is followed by all subsequent writers. Which is correct, or whether any such an incident actually occurred, will never be known.

The story of Spencer and his hollow tree was told and retold around the firesides of the pioneers for more than forty years before it was put in print for the first time in 1823. Tradition does not always correctly transmit either dates, names or incidents. Stories repeated around the camp fires and the fireside are apt to gain or lose by repetition, the narrator often drawing upon his imagination, adding to the facts or omitting them. The name of Joseph Drake appears frequently in the early history of Sumner county, but the name of John Holliday appears in no other connection.

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