Early History of Middle Tennessee
By Edward Albright, 1908

Chapter 15
Perils Of The River

     News of the fleet's approach seems to have preceded it down the river, and now at every turn the unhappy voyagers were greeted with signs of hostility. They had by this time reached the Whirl or Suck, ten miles down from Chattanooga, where the river is compressed into less than half its usual channel by the jutting walls of the Cumberland Mountains. While passing through the "boiling pot" near the upper end of these narrows an accident occurred which almost cost the immigrants their lives. John COTTON had attached a large canoe in which he was traveling, to Robert CARTWRIGHT'S flatboat on which his household goods were stored, and into the latter COTTON and his family had gone for greater safety. At this point the canoe was overturned and its cargo lost. Pitying COTTON'S distress those ahead decided to call a halt and help recover the property. They landed at a level spot on the north bank and were going back to the scene of the accident when to their utter surprise the Indians appeared in great numbers on the opposite cliffs above and began firing down on them. The would-be rescuers beat a hasty retreat to their boats and shoving off rowed rapidly down the river. The savages lining the bluffs overhead kept up a brisk fire, during which four of the immigrants were wounded. In the boat of Russell Gower was his daughter, Nancy GOWER. When the crew was thrown into disorder by the attack, Nancy took the helm and steered through the narrows though exposed to all the fire of the enemy. A bullet from an Indian's rifle passed entirely through her body, but she made no outcry, standing bravely at her post. No one knew she was wounded until her mother discovered the blood-stains on her garments. She survived the wound and afterwards became the wife of Anderson LUCAS, one of the first settlers at Nashville.

     It would seem that the events above recorded were enough for one day, but the end was not yet. A boat belonging to Jonathan JENNINGS ran on a large rock jutting out into the water at the lower end of the whirl. The enemy soon discovered JENNINGS' plight, and turning their whole attention to him, kept up a most galling fire on his boat and its occupants. He immediately ordered his wife, a son nearly grown, a young man who was a passenger, and two negro servants, a man and a woman, to throw all the goods into the river that they might thus lighten the craft and get it afloat. JENNINGS himself, being a good soldier and a fine marksman, took up his rifle and returned the fire of the Indians with great effect. Before the boat was unloaded, his son, the young man who was a passenger, and the negro man jumped overboard and started to swim ashore. The negro man was drowned, but the two young men reached the bank where they secured a canoe and started down the river. Mrs. JENNINGS and the negro woman continued their work of unloading the boat, assisted by Mrs. PEYTON, who had gone overland with ROBERTSON. An infant, to which Mrs. PEYTON had given birth only the day before this disaster, was accidentally killed in the confusion and excitement incident to unloading the boat. When the goods were all thrown overboard Mrs. JENNINGS got out and shoved the boat off the rocks. In so doing she nearly lost her life because of its sudden lurch into the water. History has seldom recorded deeds of greater heroism than those accredited to the brave women who were among the immigrants on this most memorable voyage to a new and unknown land.

     The two young men who deserted the boat were met on their way down the river by five canoes full of Indians. By the latter they were taken prisoners and carried back to one of the Chickamauga towns. There young JENNINGS was knocked down by the savages who were about to take his life, when a friendly trader by the name of ROGERS came up and ransomed him with goods and trinkets. He was afterwards restored to his relatives at the French Lick settlement. The other captive was killed and his body burned. All other boats of the fleet were ahead of that of JENNINGS, and though their occupants feared for its safety, they were ignorant of its peril. They had proceeded without incident during Wednesday night, and after sailing all day Thursday, March 9, considered themselves beyond the reach of danger, and camped at dusk on the northern shore. About four o'clock next morning they were aroused by a cry of "help!" from the river. Upon investigation it was found that the call was from the JENNINGS boat, whose occupants were drifting down stream in a most wretched condition. They had discovered the whereabouts of their fellow-travelers by the light of the camp fires ashore. It was little short of miraculous that they should have escaped without the slightest wound, as their boat and even the clothing they wore had been pierced by many bullets.

     The members of this unfortunate family having now been distributed among the remaining boats, the voyage was resumed. After a day of safe passage the fleet anchored again at night on the northern shore.

     On March 12 they came to the upper end of the Muscle Shoals near the present site of Tuscumbia, Alabama. Here, we remember, it had been agreed that a party from French Lick should either meet them or leave a sign which should determine their future course. Doubtless the commanders of this flotilla and the company they were leading looked forward with a sense of relief to a probable journey from this point overland, by which they might escape the further perils of the river. In this, however, they were doomed to disappointment, for upon their arrival at the head of the Shoals neither the party nor the promised sign were in evidence. Colonel ROBERTSON'S reason for not fulfilling this part of the agreement is unknown. A probable explanation is that because of the unexpected length of his own journey he supposed the river party had already passed the Shoals by the time he reached French Lick.

     Nevertheless, the crews of the flotilla, though well aware of the dangers confronting them, were determined to continue the voyage. The Shoals are described as being at that time dreadful to behold. The river was swollen beyond its wont, the swift current running out in every direction from piles of driftwood which were heaped high upon the points of the islands. This deflection of the stream made a terrible roaring, which might be heard for many miles. At some places the boats dragged the bottom, while at others they were warped and tossed about on the waves as though in a rough sea. The passage which was, withal, exceedingly dangerous, was made in about three hours, the entire fleet coming through into the western channel of the river without accident.

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