Early History of Middle Tennessee
By Edward Albright, 1908

Chapter 14
Donelson's Voyage
The River Fleets Begin Their Long Journey

     Because of delays incident to such occasions, the fleets under Colonel DONELSON and Captain BLACKMORE did not sail for nearly two months after the departure of the land force. Finally, however, the voyage was begun by each about the same time; DONELSON'S party from Fort Patrick Henry, five or six miles above the north fork of Holston River, and that commanded by BLACKMORE, from Blackmore's fort on Clinch River. Of the adventures of the latter we know but little until after they were united with DONELSON'S fleet at the mouth of Clinch River some time thereafter.

     Colonel DONELSON was aboard the "Adventure," the largest boat in the flotilla, and for this he kept a journal in which was recorded all the principal events of the journey from the time of sailing until it reached the French Lick four months later. Fortunately this document has been preserved, and is now in the archives of the Tennessee Historical society at Nashville. It is styled a "Journal of a voyage intended by God's permission in the good boat Adventure from Fort Patrick Henry on Holston River to the French Salt Springs on Cumberland River, kept by John DONELSON." From this journal we gain the information that the first mentioned wing of the fleet took its departure from Fort Patrick Henry on December 22d. At that time, as we have already seen, the land party was within a few days of its destination. >From there the Adventure and its companion boats fell down the river to Reedy Creek, where they were stopped by low water and excessive cold. Here they remained for some time, finally reaching the mouth of Cloud's Creek on Sunday evening, February 20, 1780. They passed the mouth of French Broad River on Thursday morning, March 2. About noon that day one of the boats which was conveying Hugh HENRY and family ran on the point of William's Island two miles above Knoxville, and by force of the current sank. The freight therein was much damaged, and lives of passengers greatly endangered. Colonel DONELSON ordered the whole fleet tied up while the men of the party assisted in bailing the sunken boat and replacing her cargo.

     The same afternoon Ruben HARRISON, one of the party, went hunting in the woods along the shore and did not return. During the afternoon and night many guns were fired to warn him. Early next morning a small four-pound cannon, the property of Robert CARTWRIGHT, and which was mounted on the Adventure, was also fired, the voyagers hoping thereby to attract the attention of the lost man. Numerous parties were sent out to scour the woods, but all to no avail. On Saturday morning, March 4th, after leaving the young man's father and the occupants of a few boats to continue the search, the main body moved off down stream. About ten o'clock that day young HARRISON was found and taken aboard from the shore some miles below, to which place he had wandered the day before. The party camped that night on the South bank of the river in Loudon County, near the present beautiful and picturesque site of Lenoir City.

     Sunday morning, March 5th, the fleet was under way before sunrise, and at noon passed the mouth of Clinch River in Roane county, where Kingston now stands. Three hours later they overtook the boats under command of Captain BLACKMORE, the whole party camping again that night on the shore.

     DONELSON'S Journal does not record the number of boats in this fleet, but James CARTWRIGHT, for many years a citizen of Gallatin, and whose father, Robert CARTWRIGHT, was with DONELSON on the Adventure, related that when the boats from the Holston united with those from the Clinch they were about forty in number. These consisted of scows, canoes, and pirogues, the latter being a kind of rude craft hollowed out from the trunks of trees. Nearly all the boats had two or more families aboard. In the combined party there were a hundred and thirty women and children, and about fifty men.

     The cargo consisted of the household goods and personal effects of those aboard and of those who had gone with ROBERTSON by land. The Adventure carried the largest number of passengers. Among them were the wife and five children of James ROBERTSON, Robert CARTWRIGHT and family, and Colonel DONELSON'S family, including his daughter, Rachael, who afterwards became the wife of General Andrew JACKSON. The names of other persons who came with this fleet are as follows: John DONELSON, Jr., son of Colonel DONELSON, Benjamin PORTER, Hugh ROGAN, James MCCAIN, Isaac NEELY, John COTTON, Jonathan JENNINGS, William CRUTCHFIELD, John BOYD, Isaac RENFROE, John and Solomon TURPIN, Francis ARMSTRONG, John MONTGOMERY, Isaac LANIER, Daniel DUNHAM, John COCKRILL, John CAFFREY, Thomas HUTCHINS, Benjamin BELEW, John GIBSON, Hugh and Thomas HENRY, Frank HANEY, Russell GOWER, Daniel CHAMBERS, David GWINN, M. ROUNDSEVER, and MESSRS. MAXWELL, STUART, PAYNE and JOHNS, also Mrs. Mary PURNELL and Mrs. Mary HENRY, and their respective families.

     The flotilla now proceeded in a body. During Wednesday, March 8, they came to the first inhabited Indian town on the Tennessee river near Chattanooga. Its in habitants were of the treacherous Chickamauga tribes, who, on sighting the boats, came flocking to the river and insisted that the voyagers should come ashore. They gave signs of friendship, calling the whites brothers and addressing them in other familiar terms insomuch that John DONELSON, Jr., and John CAFFREY took a canoe and rowed toward them, the fleet having anchored on the opposite shore. When DONELSON and CAFFREY were about mid-stream they were met by Archie COODY, a half-breed, and several other Indians who warned them to return to the fleet. They did so, followed by COODY and his companions. The latter seemed friendly, and Colonel DONELSON distributed among them presents, with which they were much pleased.

     Looking across toward the village just at this time they saw a large party of Indians armed and painted in red and black, embarking in canoes on the other side. COODY at once made signs to his companions ordering them to quite the fleet, which order they readily obeyed, while he remained with the whites and urged them to move off at once. The boats were scarcely under way again when they discovered the village Indians, still armed and bedecked in war-paint, coming down the river, seemingly to intercept them. However, the whites were not overtaken. COODY rowed along in his canoe with the fleet for some time, but finally assuring Colonel DONELSON that he had passed all the Chickamauga towns and was, therefore, free from danger, turned about and rowed back toward the first village.

     The whites had not proceeded far, however, before they came in sight of another mud-cabin town situated likewise on the south side of the river, and nearly opposite a small island. Here the savages again invited them to come ashore, calling them brothers as on the previous occasion. However, the settlers were too wise to be led into such a trap, and headed their boats for the opposite channel around the island. Seeing this, the Indians called to them through one of their number who could speak English, telling them that the channel chosen was unsafe, and that their side of the river was much better for such passage.

     Captain BLACKMORE'S boat ran too near the northern shore, and was fired upon by a band of Indians who lay concealed near the bank. Young Mr. PAYNE, who was aboard the craft, was killed as a result of such an unexpected volley.

     There was with the flotilla a boat carrying twenty-eight passengers, among whom an epidemic of smallpox had broken out. To guard against a spread of this disease to other members of the fleet agreement had been made that it should keep well to the rear, its owner, Mr. STUART, being notified each night by the sound of a hunting horn when those ahead went into camp. Therefore, this unfortunate party was far behind while the events above mentioned were taking place. When they came down opposite the towns the Indians were on the shore in large numbers and seeing them thus cut off from the rest of the fleet swarmed out in canoes and with cold-blooded, murderous intent killed and captured the entire crew. Cries of the latter were distinctly heard by those in the boats ahead, but they were unable to stem the swift current and thus return to aid their perishing comrades.

     But the Indians suffered a swift and righteous retribution for this wanton act of cruelty. They became infected with the disease of their victims, and for many months thereafter smallpox raged, not only among the Chickamaugas, but in the tribes of their neighbors, the Creeks and Cherokees. When stricken with the malady and while the fever was yet upon them, the savages would take a heavy sweat in their huts. When driven to madness by the fever and heat, they would rush out and leap into the river, from the effects of which folly they died by scores. Old persons of to-day well remember the traditional accounts of a great and terrible mortality which prevailed among the savages after the capture of STUART'S boat.

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