Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

Scrapbook Memories

Mildred McConnell's Scrapbook Articles

Collected Newspaper Articles.  Most Photos Are From Either The Scott County Star, Scott County Herald, Scott County Herald-Virginian or Kingsport Times-News.

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Fort Houston

By MILDRED FLEENOR McCONNELL

Some of the sources of my information:

Robert M. Addington "History of Scott Co.

Emory L. Hamilton - Wise Co. Historian

Drapers Manuscripts (4C27)

 

     It hurts me to think that the public is being fooled by the claims that the Fort Houston site was in the middle of the Woods Settlement when it actually was a mile or more east of the residence of Emmett and Pauline Cassell . I was there when Ferg Nickels scraped off the land to build the house. Lizzie Nickels was my best friend and I visited the home a lot. I know there was not arrow heads found there, and the mill site that they thought might be the William Houston Mill was actually the Brack Dean Mill which burned while we lived on the Grigsby farm.

     When we moved to the Grigsby farm in fall of 1921 I was 9 years old but had never heard of William Houston or Fort Houston, neither had my parents.

     The first settler in Scott Co. was Thomas McCulloch 1769. He settled on the upper end of Big Moccasin about a mile west of the Russell Co. line. He is thought to have stayed about 2 years and then sold to William Houston. Johnathan Wood owned several hundred acres west of Will Houston. Johnathan Wood settled on Big Moccasin Creek 1773. (Fort probably built 1774.)

     Johnathan Wood was Sheriff of Scott Co. 1821-1822. He was Sheriff when Fayette McMullen began his first trips by coach to the county. A few years later he married Polly, Johnathan's daughter. In 1826 he purchased 75 acres of land from Johnathan adjoining William Houston. It was known as the Zachariah Salyers place Fayette and Polly separated, later made up and lived together for a while then got a divorce. One source said he went west another writer mentioned Washington. I took it to mean Washington State. Anyway he married a Mary Wood and brought her back here. He went to Marion, VA and lived there until he died.

     Charles Osborne of Castlewood owned the land known as Zackariah Salyers place when we lived on the Grigsby farm and some of his family members live there still, but the big farm house burned a few years ago. John J. Woods a descendant of Johnathan Wood lived in the next house to the west. It sold after we left Big Moccasin section and has changed ownership a time or two since.

October 17, 1787 (Court Minute Book 1 -80)

     Ordered that William Houston view the best way for a road from the Kentucky Road in Big Moccasin Gap to Houston's Mill .

     I played in the mill site and recognized it as foundation of a mill because when I was real young I had gone with my grandmother Fletcher to visit Uncle Bob and Aunt Sarah Blalock who had a big log house where Shirley Pearson's house is now. Uncle Bob had a little log mill about where the bridge across Moccasin Creek is now. I remember it had a wide platform about a step down and near the water. It was as long as the building and about half as wide. Uncle Bob allowed me to trot along behind him when he went across it to turn the water from the sluice back into the creek.

     I tried to tell Dennis George where Houston's Mill was but he said he could find no trace of it and I can understand why. I wasn't able to walk, but the last time I passed in a car I asked the driver to go slow so I could look. Cattle in wet weather had tramped that lot until it was a mess. Dennis found one of the Mill rocks and I told him where he could find the other but it would take a back hoe to dig it out.

     William Houston and Johnathan Woods built Fort Houston for fear of Indian attacks and it was a good thing. A band of Shawnee Indians attacked and laid siege for 3 days then stole everything they could lay hands on and disappeared to the northwest.

     During the siege a man in the Fort decided to go to his house which was in sight, he only got a short distance before Indians shot him. Johnathan Woods rushed out and brought him back into the fort, where he died that night . I never found out the name of the man. Johnathan was shot at but not hit. Somewhere I read there were 7 families in the fort that time. But families back then had several children so there may have been several individuals in the fort.

     Emory Hamilton writes that in 1776 Fort Houston was attacked by a band of Cherokee Indians estimated by those in the fort to be 300 in number . There were 21 families in the fort but it was said the men did not exceed 30. The Woods settlement was warned by Samuel Cowan of Castlewood. Scouts had brought word to Castlewood that the Indians were on the way. I wonder if they came by the way of Damascus and Abingdon. Johnathan tried to get Samuel to stay at the fort but he said he had borrowed a fast horse and that he could get home. He was captured tortured, killed and scalped. The horse however went home. Then a search party was sent out and found Samuel Cowan's body.

     The Indians besieged the fort for 8 days killing and eating all the cattle. It would have taken a lot of meat to feed 300 men for 8 days. I wonder how they made out for food in the fort. There were 21 families but families had several children.

     Relief had started from the Holston (Caption Montgomery's Co.) the Indians left before they arrived and since they didn't meet, leads me to think they went back to North Caroline by way of Abingdon, Damascus and on into North Carolina. That is just a guess.

     Mrs. Samuel Scott of Jessamine County, KY and her father John McCorkle were at Fort Houston during the siege and she is supposed to have written a book about it after they went home to Kentucky. I would love to have gotten one, maybe she would have told how the fort was laid out. I am curious to know about the 4 log buildings that I think were in the fort.

     When we moved to the old Grigsby house there were 4 log buildings on the place. A square one in the middle of the garden was in bad condition; the roof had leaked real badly and the door was missing, part of the floor was rotted so daddy asked and got permission to tear it down and saw up the logs for firewood. Someone said it was a smoke house but it had no smell of meat nor was there any grease. It might have been 10 or 12 ft. square.

     It had a platform built across about 2/3 of the building. The platform was about as high as my shoulders and I remember thinking it would take a tall man to put meat on that shelf but it would be a good place to curl up and take a nap. I was 9 years at the time. I had seen several log houses and had lived in 3 at different times but I had never seen any like these. The logs were all about the size of telephone poles, they had been peeled and were dark brown in color, and fitted so tightly together you couldn't see even a streak of light and there was no putty or dabbing used. There were no windows no chimneys and only one door. All of them were floored and had a shingle roof. The other three buildings using a rough guess I would say they were 10x20 feet as they were narrow and twice as long as wide. They had a shelf on both long sides of the buildings. Several small persons could sleep on it and like number under it.

     One of the long buildings was just outside the yard fence back of the house. At some time it had been used for a hen house but since there was a nice almost new hen house on a knoll a little distance away mother never used that building except to fasten up an old sitting hen to break her from sitting.

     The next building was near and had been made into a corn crib by cutting a small window in the side to throw the corn in through that opening but taken out the door which was in the end of the building. Daddy had sawed planks to fit inside of the door opening. As the crib filled up more planks were added until the crib was filled or all the corn was stored. Then as he started using the corn a plank was removed to make it easier to reach the corn. A shed had been built on one side of this building as large as the building and both were covered with tin. Daddy kept his wagon under the shed.

     The fourth was below the other buildings and was a clean and well kept building. We used it for a smoke house. We put meat on one of the shelves and mother put her cheese press on the shelf on the other side.

     The old brick house was made of handmade sun cured brick and I have heard they were made by slave labor . Even though they had to be made in the summer to be sun cured the workers would need a place to sleep and also to get out of the rain, and that is why I think they moved them from the fort up there. Since they were floored I imagine they could have been pulled by oxen like pulling a sled. In that day and time many people had oxen.

     The other day when some one was describing the block house that was built on the north Holston River it was built as a refuge from Indians. The only difference was it was 2 stories and the buildings on the Grigsby farm were one story. When they told how it was built of round logs fitted so close together there was no putty used yet no light showed between the logs. They said there were no window; I said to myself those buildings at the Grigsby place are bound to have come out of the Houston Fort, because I had never seen any built like them and as I have said I had seen several log houses and had lived in 3 different ones in my early years.

     When we moved to the Grigsby farm there was one field that we found arrow heads every time it was plowed, especially when we hoed corn. We never found any anywhere else although I guess a few arrow heads were found from Moccasin Gap to the Russell County line and beyond. I saw 3 different kinds of arrow head but I only picked up and saved the pretty ones. Not knowing anything of Fort Houston they didn't have any meaning except they were pretty. The ones I saved were quartz perfectly made and sharp edged. They were brown, gold and orange in mingled streaks and light shining through them made the colors show up beautiful. I saw several broken ones I left where they were. I saw a few black slate but I left them too as they weren't pretty. I saw one large black slate point that must have been a spear as it was too big for an arrow. I also saw a few stone but they were ugly clumsy looking things and it would be like being hit with a rock.

     If I had had any idea that Fort Houston had been there I would have taken more notice of things and tried to preserve some of it.

     When we moved to Nickelsville in 1928 I had a large shoe box that men's work shoes had come in filled to the brim with arrowheads. I had 3 younger brothers in school at that time and another brother and sister to start later. When I finished high school in 1931 there was not one arrowhead left as they had been carried to school and traded for marbles and any other thing little boys carried to school in their pockets to trade for. But the boys had a gallon green glass canning jar nearly full of marbles and all I had was memories of the beautiful arrowheads.

     I asked daddy why there were so many arrowheads in that field. He said there must have been a big Indian battle there at some time. Someone else suggested it might have been an Indian camp but they would not have left that many arrowheads lying around camp besides they only had camps when whole tribes lived together. From all I have read the Indians in Scott Co. were warriors or braves ganged up to go on a hunt or to scavenge what they could from the white settlers, and if they could kill a few that only made them a bigger warrior.

     Eva Jean Grigsby Webb whose parents Mr. and Mrs. Joe Grigsby lived the first house above us the last few years we lived in the old brick house, and she was born just before we moved away from it. She said they tended the field some time after we moved away. They plowed the entire field which daddy never did because about once a year the creek would flood and cut across that strip of land and he didn't want it to wash a ditch across it and leave a small island on the other side. As long as it was left with good sod of grass it wouldn't wash and the creek would go down in about three days and didn't damage the grass.

     Eva Jean said when they plowed the lower strip they found a lot of black earth they thought was ashes, they also found cooking utensils and broken pieces of dishes. She too thought they had found an Indian camp as she had never heard of Fort Houston. I told her it could not have been an Indian camp as that far back Indians did not have cooking utensils except for an iron pot they had probably taken from a white family they had massacred and no dishes. Eva Jean said they found several broken arrow heads as well as some whole ones both the quartz and the black slate.

     Daddy only plowed one small fenced field across the creek and I never did hoe corn over there. If there had been arrow heads there daddy would have probably ignored them as they meant nothing to him. He hired a Mr. Osborne to help him work and I guess that is why I didn't hoe corn in that field. I know daddy had corn in that field at least once as an old sow got out of her pen and when mother found her she had crossed the creek and was in the corn field. She tried to drive her out but she would run down the row cross over and run back up another row. Mother finally went out on a little knoll so she could be seen from the house, then hollered and told Kyle to bring a rope and Topsy our little shepherd dog. When they got to her she told Topsy "to go get her" and she did by the end of the snout or nose. That old sow squealed loud enough to be heard about mile. If she moved Topsy bit down a little harder so she soon learned just to stand still. Mother tied the rope to one hind leg and they started home. Mother gave Kyle a tree branch and told him when the sow went too far to the left he was to whack her nose, if she went to far in the other direction Topsy would put her back in line. They had to make her swim back across the creek. When they got a little ways through the field the old sow recognized the hog lot and took off for it as fast as she could go with mother hanging onto the rope. She never got out again, but there was a good bit of fence building after daddy got home.

     I wondered how the fort got enough water to supply a crowd, and it came to me one day when I was thinking about fishing in Moccasin Creek. I thought about how we could catch red-eye after a rain had muddied the creek water at a certain place in the creek. By then it had some kind of brush about knee high that was easy to tangle our fishing line. It was so close to the fence that it was hard to squeeze between the spring and the fence. The fish would come to that fresh water when the creek was muddy. Then it occurred to me that the spring was inside of the palisade fence. There were 2 springs on the farm which has long since gone dry. The first was a spring near the house that we called the Snake spring. It had had a stone spring house at one time but the roof had fallen in and so had some of the stone wall. It was not very far from Moccasin Creek and cottonmouth moccasin snakes came up the branch to it and sunned themselves on the big rocks. At that time there were 5 of us children and we loved to wade the branch, so daddy started killing snakes with his shot gun. One time he killed one close enough that he could rake it out on the grass with a pole. Then with 2 short sticks he pried its mouth open to show us why it was called cotton mouth. Its mouth did look like it was crammed full of cotton.

     The spring we used was a little way up the road that went over to the old Free Hill School and the valley that ran parallel to Moccasin Valley. The spring was nearly in the road. Mother had what she called a spring box in the spring. It was an oblong box with a hinged lid that could be fastened down. It would hold several crocks of milk or butter or boiled custard or anything she need to keep cool in the summer. There was room for the water to run through the box. Those springs have been dried up for several years and the one on the creek may be too.

     Moccasin Creek itself is a lot smaller than when we lived there 80 years ago. I think Fort Houston should be remembered as it played a big part in the settling of Scott County. Had it not been a strong fort and able to withstand the raid of at least 2 Indian war parties the Woods settlement would have been wiped out, setting back the settling of that part of Scott County for several years.

     Much-a-do was made of the Kilgore Fort House. There was never an Indian attack on it, nor were there any lives saved by it; I was all for it being restored as there was only one of it's kind and worthy of remembering.

     On the map I drew of the Houston Fort I only drew in the line I knew was where the East Wall, palisade or what ever it was called. I never went all the way around the fence of the creek so I don't know if there was still a mound of earth. There was nothing to show on the north or west as the field had been plowed. The mound on the east still existed because the wire fence had been built on top of it . I thought that was a funny way to build a fence.

     When I went into the mountain to visit an old couple or to pick blackberries I cut through the field to a log jam in the creek, a log lay from the land to the jam about the middle of the creek. After crossing the jam the creek was shallow on the other side and we could wade across it easily but under the log it was deep and swift. Had we fallen off the log we would have been sure to have drown. I talked to Eva Jean Grisby Webb's son the other day and he asked if we tended the fields across the creek . He said they found arrow heads there and in another field farther east.

     Daddy only plowed one fenced field across the creek, the other was cow pasture, and we didn't have to cross the creek to bring the cows home at milking time. We had a little shepherd dog that just loved to go get them. When we went out with the milk buckets in the afternoon she just jumped up and down she was so anxious to go. Daddy would point which direction and say "go get the cows Topsy" and she would take off. If she didn't see them soon she would go upon a point and look for more signals then she would go in whatever direction daddy pointed and in a few minutes she would be coming with them. Some times they would go in the woods at the foot of the mountain to get in the shade and away from some of the flies, but she would hunt until she found them. It just took longer to find them.

     Thanks to Ann Hillman who got on the internet and got a stack of information for me. I have a lot of information on forts and where they were located. I also found that Fort Houston was considered a weak fort so Tate's Fort was built. More about it later.

     John Carr who was in Fort Houston with his mother and father when the Indians attacked, He was 3 years old but said he remembered his father holding him up to a port hole to see the Indians firing on the fort. That answers one of my questions about the fort having port holes. Now if I only knew how the 3 log houses that I think came out of the fort were positioned inside the fort I would be very well satisfied. I wonder if the grist mill was a part of the fort wall. The fence what followed the same line as the stockade cornered with the mill's foundation indentations. The mill was built before the fort. It was build by William Houston to accommodate his neighbors by grinding their corn into meal. I don't know why the mill was moved but I'm sure in my own mind that the building that was in the middle of the garden was the mill. It was different from the other 3 buildings in that it was square, it was taller and more weather beaten than the others, and the door which was missing had been in the middle of one side and it would have fit the place where the mill had been.

     If I could only find out the position of the 3 log cabins then I would be free to quit my searching and reading, although I have learned a lot in my searching. I now know there were a lot of forts that I had never heard of.

     Tate's Fort on Moccasin Creek in Russell County was another fort the early historians completely over looked, and only two historical references brought to light . The first made by Mrs. Samuel Scott of Jessamine County, KY who in referring to her story on the Clinch makes this statement.

     "We moved out of Tate's Fort, close to Moccasin Creek over to Holston to get ready to come to Kentucky. This was in the spring of 1780 and she joined a party of immigrants to Kentucky in 1784."

     The other statement was made by Captain John Carr of Sumner County, TN who was born on Carr's Creek in Russell County, VA in 1773 and moved with his widowed mother to the Cumberland settlement in 1784. In speaking of the year 1776 he states "My father settled on Big Moccasin Creek with some 15-20 families from Houston's Fort. The Indians were so troublesome that we built a "new fort" it was called Tate's Fort, where we forted in summer and returned home in winter." Carr's statement needs some clarification and he does not mean that his father settled on Moccasin Creek in 1776 but that it was this year in which they moved out of Fort Houston where they had refugeed in the past and built a new fort for their convenience. His father had settled on Moccasin Creek much earlier for John himself was born there in 1773 and his father died there in 1782. This then places the construction of Tate's Fort in the year 1776.

     That Tate's Fort was a stockade affair certainly can not be doubted for 15 or 20 families could never have crowded into a fort house. It must have been manned and defended by its occupants for I find no record of militia ever having been stationed there.

     This fort was built on lands of Colonel John Tate who settled on Moccasin Creek in the year 1772 on a tract of 174 acres of land surveyed for him Dec. 13, 1774. I have not found any account that this fort was ever directly attacked by Indians.

     The map is not drawn to scale. It is just to show location to certain things. Some I knew for certain, other things just seemed to fit. I have never heard how the fort was made. I saw on T.V. how they were building a fort in Elizabethton, then I knew what that mound of earth under the wire fence was. That had been dirt piled on each side of high posts driven into the ground, to make up the stockade or palisade.

     Did they have gun ports or watch towers on the comers of the palisade or how did they know what the Indians were doing? Where inside the fort were the 3 buildings located? Cooking must have been done outside as the ashes were in the bend of the creek and the buildings had no chimney or windows so they could not use a stove. I know where the East and South wall of the fort was as it followed the bank of the creek. I do not know where the West or North wall was as plowing and tending the field erased all visible sign. I remember where I found most of the arrow heads, so they must have been shot from a knoll near where the cemetery is now. The arrows I picked up had been shot over the wall in hopes of hitting someone.

     This has little or no connection to Fort Houston but while I had this information I thought I would pass it on.

     It has been stated that not a single palisaded fort existed before 1774. A few strong built house with port holes for warding off surprise Indian attacks. One was the Old Osborne house in lower Castlewood and the Dickenson house on the Clinch River north of Castlewood. The old Kilgore Fort House was such a house, but it was never attacked by Indians. A few Indians were seen one time on the bluff across the creek from the fort house, but they went on their way where ever they were going.

     There was supposed to be a peace treaty but that paper didn't mean anything to the savages. Oct. 10, 1773 part of Daniel Boone's family was killed on Wallens Creek as they were on their way to Kentucky to found Boonsburough.

     John McCulloch whose father Thomas McCulloch settled on Moccasin Creek in 1769 states that in June 1771, all of Moccasin Creek was evacuated for fear of Indians and remained so for more than a year.

     There were 7 of the original forts erected in compliance with Lord Dunmore's orders 4 on the lower Clinch under Captain William Russell's Militia command and 3 on the upper Clinch under Captain Daniel Smith.

     July 13, 1774 Captain Russell wrote to Colonel Preston that the people wanted more than 2 forts and had built one in Cassell's Woods called Fort Preston. A second 10 miles above called Christian, a third 5 miles below the first called Fort Byrd.

     There are 4 families at John Blackmore's that will never be able to stand alone without a company of men. None of the names given to the forts by Captain Russell were ever used by the settlers.

     Fort Preston was on lands of David Cowan in upper Castlewood (Russell Co., VA) it stood just back of the present Masonic Lodge Hall. It was also called Russell's Fort. Later Charles Brickey bought the land and it was called Brickey's Fort. It was a smaller fort than Moore's and Blackmore's but was attacked more than once. On one occasion Ann Bush Neece was attacked, tomahawked, scalped and survived.

     Fort Christian better known as Glade Hollow Fort lies between Dickensonville and Lebanon in Russell Co., VA. After the Indian hostilities ended the old Glade Hollow Fort was converted into a church known as the Glade Hollow Church.

     Moore's Fort the largest fort on the Clinch was located in lower Cassell's Woods on the road leading to Dungannon. Land now owned by W. S. Banner, known as the "Sally Meade" place. When the fort was built land was owned by William Moore who along with his brother Joseph settled in Castlewood in 1769.

     No description is left on size or shape of Moore's but it had 2 gates, one in front opening toward the spring, and one in back. This fort sheltered Daniel Boone and his family after they returned to the Clinch after Boone's son and others were killed by Indians on Wallen Creek. By petition of people of Blackmore's Fort Daniel Boone was placed in command at Moore's and Blackmore's Forts in 1774 as Captain of Militia and continued until he went to Kentucky in 1775 to found Boonesboro.

     While living on the Clinch a son was born to Daniel and Rebecca Boone whose name was William, who died soon after birth and lies in an unmarked grave in the old Moore's Fort Cemetery on the front of a hill overlooking the Fort and the Clinch River.

     An amusing story is told of the Boone family while they were living at Moore's Fort by Mrs. Samuel Scott of Jessamine County, Kentucky, who was also living at the fort. Mrs. Scott says the men had become careless in guarding the fort, lounging outside the gate, playing ball and in general lax in their duties. One day Mrs. Boone, her daughter Mrs. Hannah Carr and some other ladies loaded their guns lightly went outside the gates and closed the gates and fired their guns off in rapid succession like the Indians did. The men all scrambled for the fort but found the gates shut and none could get in. One man was able to climb over the wall; some of the men ran through the pond in front of the fort. After they were finally let in at the gates the men were so mad some of them wanted the women whipped.

     Fort Moore had to be a large fort because there were continually 20 some families, most families had several children and with the 20-25 men out on patrol as Indian spies. There were 150 to 200 people in the fort.

     Moore's Fort was attacked many times and many settlers and militia men were killed in and around the fort.

Blackmore's Fort

     This was a small fortification. Being more exposed, it was attacked by Indians more often than Moore's Fort, and many people were killed and captured in and around this fort.

     Across the road in a fringe of trees and brush and slightly northeast of where the old fort stood is the old fort grave yard with rows of small uncut stones marking the final resting place of those who died from either the stroke of disease or the tomahawk.

     The village today bears the name in reverse, Fort Blackmore.

     The following map is not made to scale, just to give an idea of the lay of the land.

A. Spring was cotton mouth moccasin snakes favorite place to sun. Spring house roof had rotted and fallen in; some of the big rock had also tumbled down. Been dried up for several years now. So is the spring we used which was up that country road a little ways.

B. Herbert George's house, built long after we moved.

C. Country road leading to old Free Hill School.

D. Houston's grist mill.

E. Where the East wall of fort was.

F. Spring that supplied water to fort.

G. Where I found so many quartz arrow heads.

H. Where a cemetery is now.
I.
Log jam, not there when fort was there. I included it because that is where I crossed the creek when going to the mountain.

J. Where millstones from Houston's mill were found.

K.Where ashes, broken dishes and pieces of cookware was found.

The seven original forts and officers

Blackmore's Fort, 16 men, Sergeant Moore in charge.

Moore's Fort, 20 men, Daniel Boone in charge.

Russell's Fort, 20 men, Sergeant W. Poage in charge.

Glade Hollow Fort, 15 men, Sergeant John Dunkin in charge.

Elk Garden Fort, 18 men, Sergeant John Kinkead in charge.

Maiden Spring's Fort, 5 men, Sergeant Joseph Cravens in charge.

Witten's Big Crab Orchard, 3 men, Ensign John Campbell in charge.

     The map is not drawn to scale but only to give you some idea of what it might look like. In all the material I collected there was not a description of the fort given. One fort was said to have placed their cabins 20 feet inside the palisade walls.

     William Houston built his mill before the Fort was ever built; one writer said it was so he could grind meal so his neighbors could have bread. He must have built the log cabins because they were made the same way as the mill and I had never seen any built like them before and as I said else where I have seen several log houses in my time and lived in 3 different ones.

     I cut out 3 pieces of paper, marked one them where the doors where then tried to place them. I put a large question mark on them to indicate I didn't know how they were located. I don't want to mislead anyone.

 

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