Migration From Sumner Co., TN

by Karl Collins

ã February 2000

Edited and re-typed for the page by Sherry Falcon

Foreword: Karl was kind enough to answer questions about whether or not there was rhyme or reason behind the migration of Sumner Countians to the north and west. His experiences and observations were very informative, so we asked him if he would share his opinions with our readers.

I have often tried to guess or imagine what drove our ancestors to where they finally came to a stop. Overall, I'd speculate that migration was basically a case of supply and demand for land. When land became scarce, it was necessary for the progeny to migrate, perhaps taking the "old folks" with them so they could be cared for, and leaving an eldest son with the "old home place."

The city of Gallatin and Sumner County, Tennessee were at the end of a prominent migration trail that led out of the Carolinas. It was also the start of another trail that went up through Kentucky and crossed the Ohio River at Shawneetown, Illinois. Shawneetown was one of the earliest settlements in Illinois.

A river-ferry service was established there, and for a while it was quite prosperous, thriving on the incoming transients. In fact, the bank building still stands in Shawneetown where the city of Chicago came, in its infancy, to try to borrow money to get Chicago to grow and develop as a city. The Shawneetown bank authorities decided that Chicago was simply too far from Shawneetown to ever amount to much and that the venture was not a good risk. Loan denied!

Shawneetown, located as it was on the bank of the Ohio River, was prone to frequent and severe flooding. Even now, the high water marks can be seen on the interior walls of the bank lobby, each with the accompanying date of occurrence--the water went up the walls 10 to 14 feet and more.

Because of these continued devastating floods, and the refusal of the locals to acknowledge the fact and move out, the Federal Government sponsored a move of the entire city to a site on higher ground about three miles west of the old site. The U.S. paid most of the expenses of the move for the locals. So when you look on the map, you will see both towns listed. Just south of "Old Shawneetown" is Cave-in-Rock, the hideout/headquarters of some of the region's most ruthless river-pirates. An interesting bit of trivia is that The Cave was featured in the movie "How the West Was Won", perhaps remembered as the place where the young "bandit-girl" took Jimmy Stewart to see the "varmint."

When the migration was at its peak during the mid-1800s, travelers crossed the river, and came first to the county of Gallatin. That name was certainly no coincidence as many of these people were from Gallatin, Tennessee. Later, Gallatin County split and eventually became Gallatin, Saline and White counties. In turn, Hamilton County was split off from White County. Living anywhere close to the Ohio River had its problems in that the river was prone the enormous floods mentioned above. This tendency toward flooding would cause the more cautious to migrate away from the water.

As these settlers soaked up the better farming land, it was necessary for newcomers to go even further west into Franklin County. Much of this land was given as bounty to restless pioneers. For example, one of my Ing ancestors spent a total of about 60 days in the army during the War of 1812 and parlayed that into 120 acres of farmland in Franklin County. Also, to entice settlement of the new frontier, the price of land was reduced from $1.25 per acre to 12-1/2 cents per acre. True, the land wasn't of the quality as in central Illinois, but it was there, it was available, and it was cheap.

Incidentally, the very north central part of Alabama was settled by the same strains of folks as was southern Illinois. Sumner County seems to have been the "splitting place." With the diminished availability of land in and around Sumner County, it was necessary to migrate if the young'uns wanted a sizeable place of their own. While upward and into Southern Illinois was a viable option, there was another choice available and that was to go south about 150 miles, and cross over into the wide-open Cherokee Territory of Alabama where no land had been claimed. Coincidentally, these Cherokee lands lay about the same distance from Sumner County, Tennessee as Shawneetown, Illinois did.

In fact, the "squatters" would come down, build a place and start farming their spread. The Army would come along every once in a while and chase them off the property since it was Indian Territory. The squatters would move back across the border into Tennessee until the Army had made their token showing, then return to their same houses and same farms and just keep living as before. The local history books make no secret of the fact that those responsible for the early life of this (Limestone County, Alabama) and neighboring counties were those same "squatters."

When we first moved to this part of Alabama, we found it to be completely different from the central and southern parts of Alabama. We found the folks quite similar in speech, manners, ethics, etc. to those we knew in Southern Illinois. They came from the same stem stock--both were from Gallatin, Sumner County, Tennessee. Good people!

Return to Interesting Sumner Tidbits Page

Return to Sumner County Main Page