Few travelers visited Franklin. The barrier interposed by nature between it and North Carolina in two lofty mountain chains deflected the strong current of travel from Carolina to Kentucky and the Cumberland country, through Flour Gap, Abingdon, Martin's Station and Cumberland Gap, and away from the territory of the Franks. The main wilderness road through these places was reached by a lateral road from Franklin which passed near the Long Island of Holston, forming the junction at the North Fork of Holston a few miles southeast of Moccasin Gap in Virginia. Most of the travelers to the West in the years 1784‑1789 passed over the main road; and therefore few journals or diaries of travel relate to the comparatively secluded country of Franklin; and as the Cherokees occupied the country to the south, few travelers to Georgia passed through the territory of Franklin.
It so happens that the only visitors who made anything like ample records of their visits to Franklin were ministers of the gospel — men of intelligence, whose comments are illuminative of life on the frontier.
The Moravian Brethren, who had settled their Wachovia grant around Salem, North Carolina, in 1753, from the outset had it in purpose to spread the gospel among the Cherokee Indians. In 1783, they sent one of the brethren, Martin Schneider, on a visit to the Overhill Cherokees to propose the establishment of a mission in their country. Brother Schneider set out from Wachovia December 19th with letters of introduction from Colonel Martin Armstrong to Colonel John Sevier and Colonel Martin, intending to meet a delegation of the Indians at Long Island. Passing through Flour Gap, by Christmas eve he reached the neighborhood of Colonel Evan Shelby, where he learned that three weeks before nine of the Chickamauga Indians had been at the home of Colonel Sevier, complaining that the white people were settling on their lands. "But Colonel Sevier would not hear them and made as if he did not understand them, on account of which the Indians grew p260very angry and said that next spring they would find the scalps of the white people . . . In the neighborhood were frolics, shooting and fighting. My companion went to one of the frolics at Colonel Shelby's where General Rutherford, of Salisbury, lies with his people, with whom he intends to go to Muscle Shoals in Cumberland where land is measured out for the soldiers.1
Dec. 26th. I pursued my journey alone and arrived in the evening safely in the house of Colonel Joseph Martin, •two miles to the right hand of Long Island and •one hundred and eighty miles from Salem. Here I found not the least appearance of the treaty which was the occasion of my journey. Colonel Martin himself had set out for the Cherokee towns on the 22nd; but his people believed that he was still with Mr. Harland,2 an Indian trader, •forty miles from his home. I set out early on the 27th . . . This morning, I passed the north fork of the Holston river and came in the evening to Captain Amis'3 where I met a young Indian trader whose name was Grantham. He was a very welcome man, for upon my desire he told me the names of the Indian towns and Colonel Martin's Indian name4 that, in case Colonel Martin should be gone and I be obliged to travel alone, I could tell the Indians whom I might meet whither I was going. He also went with me on the 28th over the Holston river, which is here •a quarter of a mile broad, as far as Mr. Harland's. Here I found that Mr. Harland had set out with Colonel Martin on Christmas day. I was at a loss what to do . . . It was impossible for me to return without executing my mission . . . Towards evening I came to Colonel Smith's which is the last house on the road and where the wagon road ceases. He showed me the footpath to his father's5 where I stayed all night.
The 29th. In the morning my horse was nowhere to be seen. I looked for it •two miles around but could not find it. A neighbor's p261wife told me that the same had happened to another man a week ago, and at last it was found that a negro had rode it a side way and then tied it to a tree. I was therefore obliged to offer a reward for my horse, and in an hour it was brought to me. I came till in the evening •fifteen miles, but my path became so undiscernible that I saw no other way but to return the next day to Colonel Smith's. It continued to snow very fast. I therefore made a fire before a leaning or bended tree, which was burnt hollow, and set myself during the night in that hollow tree where I was kept dry, but was dyed pretty black. The next morning the snow was of good service to me, for I had forgot to take my night's lodging near a water, and I could melt snow for my coffee.
The 30th. I arrived again with Colonel Smith, and was obliged to resolve to take a man and horse as guide with me to Island Ford on French Broad •forty-five miles hence, for which they asked three dollars.
The New Year of 1784 found the traveler at the French Broad River. He comments upon the clearness of the western streams, with their stone or gravel beds.
The country from Flour (Flower) Gap hitherto is very hilly, on which account most of the plantations lie between two ridges, and are very narrow and long. But the wood, even on the highest mountains is very thick and good, and the land in the valleys is very fertile. Often I wished that we had one of their many limestone hills in our neighborhood. The people there make scarcely any use of it. Towards evening I went into a house to warm myself a little because it was very cold. The man whose name was Happert [Hubbard]6 asked me about my business with the Indians, which I told him. He did not seem to be satisfied. He, however, bid me a forced civil farewell; but I was scarce gone a hundred steps when he called me back in anger and said he must know my business better, for as I was going to Colonel Martin I could have no good intention. I did all I could to pacify him, and assured him that I knew nothing at all of their land affairs, whereby I brought it at last so far that he dispatched me with some curses. This man and many others are such enemies to Colonel Martin that he has reason to be very much on his guard on his journeys, and that merely because he takes the part of the Indians and has effected it with the government that the country of the Cherokees has been confirmed p262to them by an act of Assembly, and will not suffer that the white people settle on their hunting grounds. But these people would rather like to extirpate them altogether and take their land themselves. They scarce look upon them as human creatures, which I could often perceive in their conversations.
In the evening I went to the ford of French Broad river to an island about •three-fourths of a mile broad. The river is but narrow; I tried to ride through it, but in vain, because my guide was not acquainted with it. He showed me the path to Captain Guest's7 •three miles down the river, and then returned home. In the midst of the wood when I had lost my path I met the first Indian who in a very friendly manner showed me by signs the right road. He thereupon shaked my saddlebags, out of which I gave him some bread and meat, and it seemed it was what he wanted. With Captain Guest I stayed all night. His old father,8 who is still living, was in the first times a beloved neighbor of Bethabara9 and knew still the names of all the brethren who then lived there; he rejoiced also heartily to see once more a brother.
The 2nd. Captain Guest brought me over the French Broad river; the ford goes over an island belonging to Colonel Sevier containing •nine hundred acres and is as smooth as a meadow. Captain Guest told me that •eight miles farther up the river was another island of •eight hundred acres, and in the midst of it •a whole acre dug out, •eighteen feet deep. This round hole is full of water and the earth dug out so that in the edge still a ditch remained. On the top of it [the earthworks] was formerly a house of earth of which still something is to be seen. Over the whole island there is a ditch and a breastwork but the Indians themselves don't seem to know by whom or for what purpose all this work has been done. The common report is that once an Indian king had his dwelling there. In the evening I found a fine camp •eleven miles on the other side of Little river, where I could hide myself in a little hut from a heavy rain.
The 3rd. At ten o'clock in the forenoon I came to the first Indian house on this side the Tennessee [Little Tennessee] river, •one hundred and twenty miles from Long Island. One of them showed me the ford; I gave him a tobacco pipe and he explained to me by signs in which house on the other side, which is called Sitiko, Colonel Martin was to be found. Having got on the other side, I saw him creeping out of an Indian hot‑house;10 and he came to welcome p263me in a very friendly manner, and, having read Colonel Armstrong's letter, he said that he would be at my service in my concern as much as he possibly could. He inquired in a very friendly manner about the brethren in Salem, where he gladly had visited long ago and intends soon to do it . . . He took me with him to his lodgings in the house of a trader, Mr. Springston11 who was married to an Indian woman, but whose father-in‑law was not at home during my stay there.
Brother Schneider remained among the Cherokees until the 11th day of January, and gives an interesting account of their customs and mode of life. Not being able to bring the Indians to a final decision in favor of a mission, he set out alone on the return journey, notwithstanding a snow covered the ground and obscured the path. Reaching Sevier's Island he selected a camping place on the lower end. He records in his journal:
12th. . . . Having forgot on the other side my tow and dry chips, and here being all wet, it was almost midnight before I could cook my supper. The wild geese and swans flew about me in great numbers. I could scarce get any sleep and spent the night in much perplexity, for the water grew higher and more rapid and roared beside me most frightfully. There is almost nobody living in the neighborhood of whom I could expect any help, and I saw before my eyes that I would not get over safely, but yet I believed our Savior could help me.
13th. I breakfasted before break of day and put as few clothes on as possible . . . Three-quarters of the way [crossing over the stream] it went very well, but now two large cakes of ice between which I must pass got hold of my horse and with a violent current down the stream till into a hole •twelve or fifteen feet deep, in which but lately a man was drowned. My horse which otherwise could swim very well could scarce keep up on account of the pointed rocks, on which account I was several times in water until under my arms. On the shore there was no place for landing, because there was nothing for rocks which are as straight as a wall and some are hollowed out •twenty feet deep by the violent current. At last I saw a little opening between the rocks where, to my good fortune, was also so much ground that my horse could stand in the water above his belly. I jumped down into the water, took my things off and tied my horse to a piece of wood fastened by the ice, and climbed up through the narrow pass, but which was too straight for my horse . . . All was to me like a dream, and now I had to run •three miles through the snow over hills, without roads or paths in wet p264clothes to Captain Guest's . . . Captain Guest and his family were frightened, seeing me coming without coat and quite covered with ice, and cared for me in a most loving manner and gave me dry clothes. I was so fatigued that I could scarce speak a word. Captain Guest and another man went to fetch my horse out of the water . . . by tying the bridle to a long pole and in this manner swim it to the ford, one pulling before and the other pushing behind.
The stout-hearted Brother, traveling up Dumplin Creek then down Long Creek, a distance of •twenty miles, came again into the "plantations." He notes the courtesy shown by the settlers in accompanying him over obscure parts of the trail, until he again reached the home of Colonel Smith; thence he passed on to Long Island where he stayed on the night of January 17th.
In going and coming, Schneider did not pass through the more closely settled portions of the country. He notes regretfully that failure to see Sevier "because he lived •twenty-five miles out of my way, on Chuckey river."12
In July, 1785, Governor Sevier was visited at his home on the Nolachucky by Piomingo, the greatest chief produced by the bravest and most chivalrous of all the Southern tribes, the Chickasaws. He was accompanied by several other Chickasaw chiefs and went as high up as Long Island of Holston while in Franklin. Everywhere he was given a cordial reception. Piomingo made a distinctly favorable impression. A letter from Franklin in the Pennsylvania Packet,13 reporting his visit, says: "He seemed to be a man endowed with more than ordinary prowess of mind and humanity, for an Indian. In his speeches, he delivered himself fluently and with great force of argument, disclosing a clear knowledge of the strength and interest of the Southern tribes, and of the causes and effect of the late Revolution. These people are more comely in their persons and kindlier in their dispositions than any of the nations I have been acquainted with. If their present temper is well improved by the commissioner of Congress very valuable effects may be produced."
In another account it is said that Piomingo spoke freely of the p265growing power of the Americans and of the danger of his people having their country wrested from them. "He is urgent in soliciting a trade down the Tennessee, and says he will protect it from the plundering parties of the Cherokees. A small essay may be made. If it succeeds well it will be an inducement for the merchants on James river to embark largely, as it is certain the Tennessee is the nearest and best communication between the eastern navigation and the Mississippi."14
The object of this visit was to seek the opening of a trade with Franklin and to form a sort of alliance against the Creek Indians. The following year the king and chiefs of the Chickasaws sent a talk to Governor Sevier in which the visit of Piomingo was referred to. "As Piomingo and you promised to let each other know any news that would be worth sending, and as the Creeks have since got mad, we beg to know what time you intend to destroy them; or, if you intend to let them always kill your white people and yet make up with them."15
A young Methodist preacher from New Jersey, Thomas Ware, rode the Nolachucky circuit for one year, in 1787‑8. He was educated and observant, and in later years recorded his experiences which are interesting in that they give the impressions made upon one of a sensitive nature, unaccustomed to the rude life and the ruder conditions of the frontier. He says:
In the fall of this year (1787) our presiding elder received letters from persons low down the Holston and French Broad, deploring their destitution of the gospel, and entreating him, if possible, to send them a preacher. These letters he read at a quarterly-meeting conference; and it was agreed that I should go and see if I could form a circuit in those parts. Accordingly I went. There are many things which rendered itinerating in that section of the country, at the time I went, peculiarly painful to a person like myself. I was still young in the ministry, and deeply sensible of my want of qualifications to act well the part of a pioneer; but, having pledged myself to go and having evidence that my feeble efforts had been crowned with some success, nothing could deter me from redeeming my pledge.
The winters are shorter and the climate less frigid in East Tennessee than in New Jersey; but sometimes the cold for a few days is intense. At these times, especially when I had to ford rivers and creeks at the risk of life, as I often had to do, and to lodge in open p266cabins, with light bed‑clothing and frequently with several children in the same bed, I was much exposed to taking cold, and traveling there on these accounts was rendered exceedingly crossing to my nature. But, in addition to these, much of the time my path was infested with savage men, the deadly foe of white men who had but too justly incurred their resentment; and more subtle and terrible enemies among human beings could not be imagined than were the native red men, incensed at the wrongs inflicted upon them by the whites. Several families and individuals had been murdered by them in places directly on the routes I had to travel; and once, at least, I narrowly escaped being murdered or taken prisoner. My course led through a fine bottom covered chiefly with crab-apple trees. I passed along very slowly, making my observations on the richness of the soil, the timber and grass which at that late season was yet green, and had thoughts of halting to muse a little in the grove; but, recollecting at the moment that I had heard a rumor about hostile Indians in that vicinity, I concluded not to stop, but rather mend my pace. I had now approached a lofty grove when suddenly my horse stopped, snorted and wheeled about. As he wheeled, I caught a glimpse of an Indian but at too great a distance to reach me with his rifle. I gave my horse the reins and hastened to the nearest settlement to give the alarm. I had been told that some horses were singularly afraid of an Indian. Be that as it may, I have reasons to suppose that the sudden fright which mine took at seeing one was the means, under God, of saving me from death or captivity.
At another time while I was preaching at the house of a man who had invited us by letter to visit their settlement, we were alarmed with the cry of "Indians!" The terror this cry excited at that time, none can imagine except those who witnessed it. Instantly every man flew to his rifle and sallied forth to ascertain the ground for the alarm. On coming out we saw two lads running with all speed and screaming, "the Indians have killed mother!" We followed them •about a quarter of a mile and witnessed the affecting scene of a woman weltering in her blood. It was what the people called a good sugar day, and Mrs. Carter, a brother's wife of the man at whose house we had met, chose to stay at home for the purpose of making sugar rather than go to the meeting, though it was in sight, and several of her friends had tried to persuade her to go with them.
The maple grove, or sugar bush was, near their dwelling, skirted on the side next to the river by what is called a canebrake. Here Mrs. Carter sat by the side of a large buckeye tree which had fallen down, spinning and watching her sugar while her sons were gathering wood. They happened at the time to be at a distance and in the direction of their uncle's house. The Indians were concealed in the canebrake and, coming up slyly behind the fallen tree, drove the tomahawk into her head before she knew they were near. The Indian who did the bloody deed was seen by the boys just as he p267struck their mother, but they were at a sufficient distance to make their escape.
Ware gives an account of the Sevier-Tipton skirmish, but from hearsay. He was filling an appointment on the French Broad at the time and there came in contact with what he describes as "a large company of men going to attack Colonel Tipton." Ware endeavored to dissuade them from their purpose, and in such a way that they concluded he was a friend of Tipton. Some of them proposed (probably for sport) to take him before the governor, who was •about ten miles distant, for trial as a spy. He proceeds with the narrative:
While they disputed I withdrew to an adjoining room, hastened to the stable by a back way, saddled my horse and was out of their reach before they knew I was off. Thus I escaped the vengeance of infuriated men, but became exposed to imminent danger from another quarter. It was now near night; and I had •twelve or fifteen miles to ride in order to reach the first settlement. The river I had to ford was •fifty rods wide and filled with floating ice which in some places was congealed into large cakes, rendering the passage extremely difficult and dangerous. But my noble beast carried me safely over.
I had a very imperfect knowledge of the way, and as the marks of the trees were my principal guide, it was a matter of much doubt whether I could find it in the night. As I feared, it so happened. I took a path which soon came to an end. By this time I had become so chilled that I could scarcely keep myself awake upon my horse. I was apprized of my danger, dismounted immediately and ran to and fro until I became warm. After taking several cow‑paths which led into the forest from the river, all of which shortly came to an end, I concluded to throw the bridle on my horse's neck and let him have his course, and a little before midnight he brought me to the house where I wished to go. The night was so exceedingly cold, and the house of my friend so open, that he and his family had found it more comfortable to remain up and keep a good fire than to retire to rest. In this condition I found them; and never was a good country fire and a kind reception by friends more welcome to my feelings.16
To conserve and advance the work of Ware and his fellow-laborers, Bishop Asbury, the first apostle of American Methodism, made a journey across the mountain ranges and organized the first annual conference in the West. From that time until the close of his life he continued, in feebleness of body, to make those journeys p268which in the history of Christian heroism are unmatched except by those of the apostle Paul and Livingston.
Starting westward from North Carolina, April 28, 1788, the good Bishop records in his journal:17
After getting our horses shod, we made a move for the Holston, and entered upon the mountains, the first of which I called Steel, the second Stone, and the third Iron mountain: they are rough, and difficult to climb. We were spoken to on our way by most awful thunder and lightning, accompanied by heavy rain. We crept for shelter into a little dirty house where the filth might have been taken up from the floor with a spade; we felt the want of fire, but could get little wood to make it, and what we gathered was wet. At the head of Watauga we fed, and reached Ward's that night. Coming to the river next day we hired a young man to swim over for the canoe, in which we crossed, while our horses swam to the other shore. The waters being up we were compelled to travel an old road over the mountains. Night came on — I was ready to faint with a violent headache, the mountain was so steep on both sides. I prayed to the Lord for help; presently a profuse sweat broke out upon me and my fever entirely subsided. About nine o'clock we came to Greer's. After taking a little rest here, we set out next morning for Brother Cox's on Holston river. I had trouble enough; our route lay through the woods, and my pack horse would neither follow, lead nor drive, so fond was he of stopping to feed on the green herbage. I tried the lead and he pulled back. I tied his head up to prevent his grazing, and he ran back. The weather was excessively warm. I was much fatigued and my temper not a little tried. I fed at I. Smith's and prayed with the family. Arriving at the river, I was at a loss what to do, but providentially a man came along who conducted me across. This was an awful journey to me, and this a tiresome day, and now, after riding •seventy-five miles, I have •thirty-five more to General Russell's. I rest one day to revive man and beside.
Friday, May 2. Rode to Washington,18 where I met brother Tunnel on the way to Mr. C's. We have to put up in houses where we have no opportunity for retirement.
Virginia: — Saturday 3. We came to General Russell's — a most kind family, in deed and in truth.
Sunday, 4. Preached on Phil. II, 5‑9. I found it good to get alone in prayer.
Tuesday, 6. I had many to hear me at Easly's on Holston. I was much wearied riding a strange horse, having left mine to rest. It is some grief that I cannot be so much in prayer on the road as I would be. We had a good time, and a large congregation at K's.
p269 Tennessee.19 — The people are in disorder about the Old and New State: two or three men, it is said, have been killed.20 At Nelson's21 I had a less audience than was expected; the people having been called away on an expedition against the New State men; my subject was Hebr., VI, 11, 12. Rode to Owen's, and met our brethren from Kentucky, where I preached on Psalm CXIV, 17, 18, 19, with some fervor. Came to Hubbard's and Keywood's where we held conference three days, and I preached each day. The weather was cold; the room without fire, and otherwise uncomfortable; we nevertheless made out to keep our seats until we had finished the essential parts of our business.
1 Br. Schneider evidently was confused by the talk he heard of the country in the Big Bend of Tennessee, and thought the Muscle Shoals were in the Cumberland river. Rutherford was on his way to Nashville.
2 Ellis Harland or Harlin.
3 Later, Rogersville.
4 Gluglu, as given by Schneider in another part of his journal. Probably gulkalu (tall) as it sounded in the ears of the traveler.
5 James Smith, Senior and Junior, were from North Carolina. The one was on the in the early part of 1775. He served as the first clerk of the land office under Charles Robertson, Trustee; was a member of the Committee of Safety of 1776; and coöperated in defense of Fort Caswell, on the Watauga in the same year. The other remained longer in North Carolina where he commanded a company under the Carolina Committee of Safety, and in the same year became a member of the Committee. N. C. Col. Rec., X, 309, 311. He arose in rank to a majority which he resigned January 2, 1779. Ib., XIV, 6. Both father and son were advocates of separation.
5a Of the Jefferson county family of Gentry, among the earliest settlers in that region.
6 James Hubbard, elsewhere mentioned.
9 One of the Moravian churches in Wachovia Settlement. For the Gists in that neighborhood see Fries, Moravian Records, I, passim. They were relatives of Christopher and Nathaniel Gist.
10 "Every family has, besides the dwelling house, a still smaller hot‑house. This has but a very small opening to creep into it, and this is their abode in cold weather, etc." (Schneider's Journal.) See on the hot‑houses, Williams, Memoirs of Lt. Timberlake, 61.
11 A trader and trusted messenger of Colonel Martin.
12 MSS. of "Br. Martin Schneider's Report of His Journey to Long Island on Holston River, and from thence farther to the Upper Cherokee Townes on Tennessee River, from Middle of December, 1783, till January 24th, 1784." The entire Journal appears in the author's Early Travels in Tennessee, published in 1928.
13 Issue of September 30, 1785.
14 Pennsylvania Packet, October 27, 1785.
15 Ib., December 30, 1785.
16 Ware, Sketches of Life and Travels.
17 Asbury's Journal, II, 31, 32.
18 Washington Court House, now Abingdon, Virginia.
19 The word "Tennessee" was evidently inserted by Bishop Asbury in a revision of his journal at a later date when that name had been adopted for the Commonwealth.
20 Reference is to the skirmish at Tipton's house in February.
21 William Nelson's home was on a ridge, northwest of and just outside the limit of the present Johnson City, and on the farm now owned by Richard Carr. The Nelson house was a favorite stopping place of the Bishop — described by him, in 1806, as "an ancient home and stand for Methodists and Methodist preaching." Journal, III, 206. A marker of granite is on the farm, commemorating the fact.
Images with borders lead to more information.
Lost State of Franklin
History of Tennessee
History of North Carolina
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 3 Aug 13