Some Early Settlers of Upper Sumner County, Tennessee
The Hobdy, Cotton, Durham, Gillespie, Perdue, Absher, Mattox, Cochran and Mayes Families

Compiled by
Lee Alton Absher, M.D.

Knoxville, Tennessee
© Copyright 1966
Reprinted with permission


"To the Memory of My Father and Mother
to Whom I Owe So Much; to Whom I could Repay so Little
This Volume
Is Most Affectionately

Sumner County is one of the older counties of Tennessee. It was established November the 17th, 1786, from a part of Davidson County, while this territory still belonged to North Carolina.

This narrative concerns principally the northern portion of Sumner County, I. e., the portion which lies above the Highland Rim and borders on Kentucky. Very little has been written about this section of the county, yet many interesting things have occurred here and several prominent people have lived here.

It was at Old Fountain Head, of North Sumner County, that the first Methodist Conference of Tennessee was held in 1812. Here the first Methodist Bishop of Tennessee, William McKendrie, lived and died. He was originally buried at Old Fountain Head Cemetery.

The famous humorist, writer and lecturer, Opie Read, was reared on a farm near Richland Station, now Portland, Tennessee. He was educated in Nolan's log schoolhouse, near Richland Station, immediately after the war between the states.

Camp Trousdale was located about one and one half miles northeast of Richland Station, at Cold Springs. It was a training and recruiting camp for the Confederate soldiers. Colonel Hatton's regiment and some others were organized here. General Felix K. Zollicoffer was in command of the camp.

This narrative concerns some of the pioneer settlers of Sumner County, Tennessee. They are by no means all the pioneers, just those who are ancestors of the author. Most of these pioneers settled northeast of Drake's Creek, and its tributaries, in what is now the 13th civil district of Sumner County. They came many years before the railroad was built, and certainly before Richland Station, the forerunner of Portland, Tennessee, was founded. Most of them were of pure Anglo-Saxon stock and practically all of them belonged to the older Protestant faiths.

When the first settlers came to the northern portion of Sumner County they found a vast, virgin wilderness. The only inhabitants were the Indians. They forest were filled with animals such as buffalo, deer, bear, elk and all the smaller wild game. Wild bees with their wild honey in abundance.

According to the information handed down from one generation to the other, these pioneers came to upper Sumner County through Kentucky. Since all of the people mentioned herein, came from Virginia or North Carolina, it is assumed that most of them came through the Cumberland Gap, across Kentucky by the Wilderness Road and down into Tennessee.

Most of these early settlers either walked, rode horseback or came in wagons. There were no roads, just animal or Indian trails. They brought a few iron tools, such as axes, hoes and mattocks and an occasional plow. Very few, if any, household goods could be brought. Their cooking utensils consisted of a single iron pot or oven. Some stock, horses, cows and sheep were sometimes brought.

When the first settlers of upper Sumner County selected a spot for their dwelling they felled the trees with an axe, cut the logs and used them to erect a cabin. The cabin floors, if any, were laid with broad, hewed timbers known as puncheon. The roof was made of boards or shakes, split with a frow or an axe. The chimneys were rock and stick and dirt. No glass for window panes was available. All cooking was done on the fire place. Bread was baked on a Johnny Cake board. The meat, most of which was of the wild variety, was either roasted on a spit over the fire place or cooked in the iron pot. Wild honey was used to sweeten the food, and little, if any, salt for seasoning could be obtained.

The kitchen and household furniture was crudely made by hand. The kitchen furniture consisted of a table made of a broad poplar or walnut slab, hewed in the same manner as the floor puncheons. A washing tub, a water pail, and a piggin, often were made with no tools other then a butcher knife and a chopping axe. The parlor furniture consisted of a few round or square benches made out of the same material as the table. Their dishes were a few pewter plates and wooden trenchers (plates). There were very few table knives and forks, but each citizen had one or more butcher knives. The forks were made from small canes.

Homemade candles, grease lamps or pine knots were used for illumination.

All Clothing was made from skins of wild animals or was hand woven and hand tailored.

The author's ancestors, who first came to Sumner County, Tennessee, were the Hobdys, the Cottons, the Durhams, the Gillespies, the Perdues, the Mattoxs, the Cochrans, the Abshers and the Mayes. Most of them settled in the vicinity of the present 13th district. The Gillespies settled "below the ridge" near the present Bethpage, Tennessee. The William Durham plantation was just north of Bethpage, near the present Mount Vernon Church. The Thomas Cottons settled on a land grant and founded Cottontown, Tennessee.

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