The significance of the treaty of purchase negotiated at Sycamore Shoals of Watauga River, about six miles from Johnson City, Tennessee, on March 17, 1775, by Richard Henderson and his associates with the Cherokee Indians has been treated of in a fairly adequate manner by the historians of Kentucky. The acquisition by means of this treaty of the title of the Cherokees to lands south of the Kentucky River and the formation and fate of Henderson's Transylvania colony in the Kentucky country have been given weight as factors in the opening of Kentucky to the westward expansion of civilization. For some reason, not easy of explanation, those who have written the history of Tennessee have overlooked or ignored the significance of the purchases of Cherokee lands that lie within the present limits of Tennessee, and of Richard Henderson's part in the efforts to open up and develop them.
For many years prior to the Revolutionary War there were many and repeated efforts on the part of leading and enterprising men of the Atlantic seaboard to acquire lands and effect colonizations west of the Alleghanies. As early as 1747 a number of the most prominent men of Virginia formed the Ohio Company to which two years later was granted a domain of 500,000 acres to which Christopher Gist was sent as locating agent from his home on Yadkin River in North Carolina. About the same time the Loyal Land Company of Virginia was organized and it received a royal grant of 800,000 acres of land. Dr. Thomas Walker, who later came in contact with Richardº Henderson in the survey of the Virginia-North Carolina state line west of the mountains, was sent to explore the lands of the company.
Encouraged by the apparent ease with which these two companies secured such extensive grants, many other schemes were set on foot for westward expansion and colonization. One of these was the plan projected by Samuel Hazard, a merchant of Philadelphia, in 1754‑5 to procure "a Grant of so much land as shall be necessary for the Settlement of an ample colony . . . to be divided from Virginia and Carolina by the Great Chain of Mountains that run along the Continent from the North Eastern to the South Western Parts of America."1
p6 Following the termination of the war between the British and French in favor of the former, to the British Ministry fell the task of formulating policies respecting the trans-Alleghany territory. As the result of the cabinet's consideration, on October 7, 1763, King George III issued a proclamation declaring that the lands west of the mountains were reserved "for the present" for the hunting grounds and homes of the Indian tribes. This proclamation for awhile was a deterring influence, although it fell short of being an absolute prohibition of white settlements in that settlements were only forbidden when made "without our special leave and license for that purpose first obtained." One of the chief purposes of the proclamation was the quieting of the fears of the several tribes that the advance of the whites would displace them.2
The hopes of promoters revived when in 1768 Sir William Johnson in the treaty of Ft. Stanwix purchased of the Six Nationsº of Indians a large domain claimed by the Cherokees. This purchase was made under authority of the British government and the act was susceptible to the construction that the door was open for the westward advance of settlers provided the Indians could be satisfied in respect of their claims to the soil.
It seems quite certain that Richard Henderson from Gist, directly or through Boone, a neighbor of Gist on the Yadkin, had learned of the Ohio Company and of Hazard's scheme; and in regard to the influence the treaty of Ft. Stanwix had on him Archibald Henderson says:
"In the Virginia Gazette of December 1, 1768, a newspaper in which he advertised, Henderson must have read with astonishment, not unmixed with dismay, that the 'Six Nations and all their tributaries have granted a vast extent of country to his majesty, and the Proprietaries of Pennsylvania, and settled an advantageous boundary line between their hunting country and this, and the other colonies to the southward as far as the Cherokee river, for which they received the most valuable present in goods and dollars that was ever given at any conference since the settlement of America.'º It was now generally bruited about the colony of North Carolina that the Cherokees were deeply resentful because the Northern Indians at the treaty of Fort Stanwix had been handsomely remunerated for territory which they, the Cherokees, claimed from time immemorial. Henderson, who had consulted often with Boone and reflected deeply over the subject, foresaw p7 that the western lands, though ostensibly thrown open for settlement under the aegis of Virginia, could only be legally obtained by extinguishing the Cherokee title."3
The House of Burgesses of Virginia, seeing the advantages offered by the situation, addressed a memorial to Governor Botetourt praying that the southern line of the colony be extended due west to the river Ohio, which it was then thought would be reached instead of either the Tennessee (Cherokee) or Mississippi rivers.
John Stuart, the Southern Superintendent of Indian affairs, wrote a letter of protest to Governor Botetourt4 and also filed with the House of Burgesses (December, 1769) a formal protest, in which he urged:
"It is not necessary for me to observe on the claim derived from Sir William Johnson's purchase of the Cherokee lands from the Northern Tribes, but I humbly conceive it to be his Majesty's intentions by ordering the line from Holston's River to the mouth of Great Kanhaway to be run and marked to prevent the settlement of Lands to the westward of it; which although a very fine country is absolutely necessary for the Cherokees and Chickesaws as Hunters. Individuals would reap great advantages by the establishment of the Line proposed by the House of Burgesses but the Cherokees and Chickesaws would be distress, and all the Indian Nations on the continent would be alarmed by such an Extension of Territory. I humbly submit as my opinion that the commerce of the mother country would not be encreased by the settlement of the Cherokee Hunting Grounds for those Indians would lose their Deer with their Land. . . .
"I humbly confess that I can not see how the Incursions of the Western or Northern Tribes can be prevented by settling the Lands on the lower Parts of the Ohio and Cherokee Rivers, their Road to the interior parts of Virginia and other settlements on the upper part of the Ohio can not be through that Country. . . . There is nothing more certain than that the Cherokees have and still do claim the Lands between the Kanhaway and the Cherokee river, and I am convinced they never will relinquish their claims to the extent of the wishes of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, and I humbly conceive it does not follow as a certain consequence that his Majesty's true Interests are to suffer by the total loss of this p8 country because Adventurers from Virginia are not immediately put in possession of it.
"I can with some degree of certainty affirm that none of his Majesty's subjects were settled to the Westward of the Point where the division line of Virginia and North Carolina intersects Holston's River in 1763 when his Majesty's Proclamation was published. Whatever Warrants have been obtained since that Period to settle those Lands must be irregular and expressly contrary to said Proclamation. I will further venture to affirm that all the settlements to the Westward of Samuel Harnacres which is 50 miles to the east of said point have been made since Sir William Johnson's purchase of Fort Stanwix. . . ."5
Stuart was in position to know the claims of the southern Indian tribes, and his memorial may be taken to be strong corroboration of the insistence of the Cherokees and Chickasaws from the standpoint of a British official.
Another attempt at the colonization of the western country which evidently influenced Henderson directly was that of the promoters of the Vandalia Colony, Benjamin Franklin, John Sargent and Samuel Wharton, of Pennsylvania being the leaders. The activities of these men began in 1769, following the treaty at Ft. Stanwix, and were on the point of succeeding in 1773. The American newspapers printed much about this colony in 1773‑4.6 That the scheme and the boundaries of Benjamin Franklin's Vandalia were known to Henderson and associates is made clear by the fact that the northeastern boundary of Henderson's Path Deed was made the southwestern boundary of Vandalia, the purpose manifestly being to have the two adjoin.7
The treaty of Sycamore Shoals effected the execution of two deeds on the part of the Cherokee chiefs, led by Oconostata and Attacullaculla to Richard Henderson and his eight associates. One of these deeds, commonly known thereafter as the "Path Deed," conveyed the following boundary: "Beginning on the Holston river, whence the course of Powell's mountain strikes the same; thence up the river to the crossing of the Virginia line; thence westerly (easterly?) along the line run by Donelson to a point six (6) English miles east of Long Island of Holston river; thence a direct course toward the mouth of the Great Kanawha until it reaches the top of the p9 ridge on Powell's mountain; thence westerly along said ridge to the beginning."
Two errors on the part of the draftsman of this deed appear. Powell's mountain lies between Powell's and Clinch rivers, and does not touch the Holston. The first reference to "Powell's mountain" should be Clinch mountain, which does strike or nearly close in on Holston river about the mouth of Cloud's creek near Rogersville. Another error was in assuming that the Virginia line was farther south than after-surveys showed it to be. The northermost point in this deed is about ten (10) miles easterly from Wise C. H., Virginia.
The second deed from the Cherokees to Henderson and his associates covered a far vaster territory and was well called the "Great Grant." Its calls were: "Beginning at the Ohio river at the mouth of Kentucky, Cherokee, or what, by the English, is called Louisa river; thence up said river and the most northerly fork of the same to the head spring thereof; thence a southeast course to the ridge of Powell's mountain; thence westwardly along the ridge of said mountain to a point from which a northwest course will strike the headspring of the most southwardly branch of Cumberland river; thence down said river, including all its waters, to the Ohio river; thence up said river as it meanders to the beginning."8
This deed covered that immense area that lies between the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers. The boundaries of the "Path Deed" and the "Great Grant" adjoin, and conjointly they cover a principality as rich in material resources as can be found in America in equal limits. The calls of these two deeds included the rich coal fields of Wise and Lee Counties, Virginia; the equally valuable eastern Kentucky coal fields, as well as oil fields — all then undreamed of; timber belts beyond one's power to estimate, not to mention the agricultural possibilities (which Henderson did properly estimate from Daniel Boone's glowing descriptions of the region). Henderson visioned a Transylvania. Were he living today to see the remarkable developments going forward in the purchased territory, he would deem it an El Dorado.a
Richard Henderson was born in Hanover county, Va., April 20, 1735, but his father removed to Granville county, N. C., in 1745. Henderson was a lawyer of high rank, and combined business acumen, the result being a rapid rise in his profession and in wealth. Previous to this venture he had been elevated to the bench in the superior court in North Carolina.
In 1774 he learned, through Daniel Boone, of the desire p10 of the Cherokee Indians to realize on their claim to western lands; and he conceived a design of forming a syndicate to purchase a large boundary and colonize it. He associated with him John Williams and Leonard Hendly Bullock, of Granville; William Johnston, James Hogg, Thomas Hart, John Luttrell, Nathaniel Hart and David Hart, of Orange county, N. C.
Daniel Boone had visited the western wilds and had a clearer conception of the fine bodies of land in the west than any other person; and the imparting of this knowledge to such men of means and influence furthered a project dear to Boone's heart — the planting of a colony in the "Caintuck country" — notwithstanding the fact that the colony of Virginia, which then included what is now Kentucky, early in the century passed an act forbidding purchasers of land by private persons from the Indians.
Boone writes in his autobiographyb that he was "solicited by a number of North Carolina gentlemen, that were about purchasing the lands lying on the south of the Kentucky river from the Cherokee Indians, to attend their treaty at Watauga, in March, 1775, to negotiate with them and mention the boundaries of the purchase. This I accepted, and at the request of the same gentlemen undertook to mark out a road in the best passage from the settlement through the wilderness to Kentucky, with such assistance as I necessary to employ for such an important undertaking."
Two of the syndicate, Judge Henderson and Col. Nathaniel Hart, in company with Boone, had visited the Cherokee towns and arranged for a council at Watauga for the negotiation of a treaty; and, on March 17, 1775, at Sycamore Shoals, and doubtless at Fort Watauga, about twelve hundred Indians assembled, to treat through their chiefs Oconostota, Attacullaculla, Tennessee Warrior and Willinawaugh. A treaty was concluded, and signed by the Indian chiefs who for their people granted an immense territory, including parts of Kentucky and Tennessee, to the syndicate which took the name of Transylvania colony. The bounds of the grant began at the mouth of the Kentucky river, thence with that stream and its northerly branch to its source; thence following the crest of the Appalachian (Cumberland) mountains to the source of the Cumberland river; thence down that river to the Ohio; thence the Ohio to the beginning. It contained approximately •twenty million acres, and cost the syndicate, according to the consideration expressed in the treaty, the sum of ten thousand pounds sterling — a little above $50,000.00 or about one-fourth p11 of one cent for each acre granted. The cloud upon the conveyance, incident to the prohibitory act of Virginia, had its effect to depress the consideration sum.
It is said that one of the chiefs told Judge Henderson at Watauga that the lands south of Kentucky river were "bloody ground and would be dark and difficult to settle"; and that another chief, Oconostota, for awhile demurred to the sale, making a pathetic speech.
"He began with the very flourishing state in which his nation once was, and mentioned the encroachment of the white people, from time to time, upon the retiring and expiring nations of Indians. Whole nations had melted away like balls of snow before the sun. . . . The whites had passed the mountains and settled upon Cherokee lands, and wished to have their usurpations sanctioned by the confirmation of a treaty. . . . New cessions would be applied for, and the small remnant of his nation would be compelled to seek a retreat in some far distant wilderness."9 The other chiefs overruled this venerable prophet of his race and the treaty was signed.
The Henderson associates employed Daniel Boone to blaze the way and make a road into the lands so acquired by the syndicate. Boone started upon the perilous undertaking. He followed the trail of the buffaloes and Indians through Cumberland Gap and opened up a road long known as the "Wilderness road" into Kentucky over which countless thousands of settlers rushed in after years to find homes in the blue grass regions.
Felix Walker, who for a time was clerk of the Watauga court, residing on Sinking creek near Johnson City (afterwards a member of congress from North Carolina) was one of Boone's road-blazing party. Walker afterwards (about 1824) wrote an account of this journey, describing the difficulties encountered by Boone's own party, and their relief and delight on discovering "the pleasing and raptuousº appearance of the plains of Kentucky. A new sky and strange earth seemed to be presented to our view."10
A short time after Boone had started, Judge Henderson formed a party to follow in Boone's trail, setting out from the settlement about March 18th. Henderson kept a diary of the journey, in which under date of "Friday, April 7th" this entry is found: "About brake of day begun to snow. About p12 11 o'clock received a letter from Mr. Luttrell's camp that were five persons killed on the road to Cantuckee by Indians. Capt. Hart, upon the receipt of this news retreated back with his company and determined to settle in the valley to make corn for the Cantuckey people. The same day received a letter from Dan. Boone that his company was fired upon by Indians. Killed two of his men — though he kept the ground and saved the baggage, &c."
"Saturday 8th. Started abt. 10 o'clock; Crossed Cumberland Gap about 4 miles. Met about 40 persons returning from the Cantuckey on Acct. of the Late murder by the Indians. Could prevail on one only to return. Memo. Several Virginians who were with us returned.
"Monday 10th. Dispatch'd Capt. Cocke to the Cantuckey to inform Capt. Boone that we were on the road. Continued at Camp that day on acct. of the Badness of the Wether."11
On the 30th the party reached Boonesborough or as Henderson noted in his diary, "Fort Boone."
The Capt. Cocke referred to by Henderson was Wm. Cocke, who afterwards became one of the first senators in the congress of the United States from Tennessee on its organization as a state in 1796.
A litigation growing out of the incident noted in the Henderson diary was begun by Wm. Cocke in the superior court of equity of the territory of the United States south of the Ohio, at Jonesborough, in 1796. The writer has before him the original bill filed by Cocke initiating the suit. It is a most interesting document, drafted evidently by and in the handwriting of Cocke, but signed by his brother lawyer, John Rhea, as solicitor. Rhea was the first member of congress from the first district, a resident of Blountville.
This bill in equity filed against Richard Henderson and his associates sets forth: That after purchasing the Transylvania boundary of the Cherokees, Henderson for his company employed Cocke to enlist or hire men to assist in clearing a road to Kentucky and in finding provisions for the workmen; and that while Cocke was so engaged the Henderson party came up, and arranged to shift from wagons to pack-horses near Cumberland Gap; that starting out again a number of wounded men retreating towards the settlements met them, "among which was two of the name of Inman; and said Henderson seemed much dispirited and seeing that all the men who had gone on before him, being about three hundred, had p13 fled except Daniel Boone and a party of about fifteen who stayed to take care of the wounded; and on being informed that William Twitty and a number of others was killed and fearful lest Boon and the men with him should abandon the country, made your orator (Cocke) an offer of twenty thousand acres of land in any part of the companies' purchase that he might choose provided that your orator would go forward from Cumberland river to Kentucky river and prevail on Boone and the men that was with him to make a stand until the said Richard and the men that was with him could join him on Kentucky river. Your orator was induced as well by the tears of said Henderson as the reward which he offered, the said Henderson shedding tears in the presence of your orator and saying that himself and company was ruined if they did not succeed in making a settlement in the Kentucky country, etc." Cocke sets forth that he engaged to do and did the service, but complains that the agreement to convey him the land as his reward was never kept.12
A third party under Capt. Hart followed in the wake of p14 Boone towards the promised land, and William Calk, one of the number, kept a journal. Abraham Hanks, the father of Nancy and maternal grandfather of President Lincoln, was of this party, which joined with Henderson's party at the home of Col. Joseph Martin in Powell's valley in which is Cumberland Gap — the valley skirting the eastern base of Cumberland mountains, in Claiborne County, Tennessee.
Calk's diary is interesting as a sidelight upon the difficulties p15 that beset the adventurers: "Tuesday, 4th April. Raney. We start about 10 o'clock and git down to Martins in the valey where we over take Coln. Henderson & his Company Bound for Caintuck & there we camp this Night. there they were Broiling & Eating Beef without Bread.
"Wed. 5th. Breake away fair & we go down the valey & camp on indian Creek. we had this creek to cross maney times & very bad banks. Abram's (Hank's) saddel turned & the load all fell in. we got this out this Eavening & kill two Deer.
p16 "Friday, 7th. this morning a very hard snowy morning we still continue at Camp Being in number about 40 men & some neagroes, this eaven Comes a letter from Capt. Boone at caintuck of the Indians doing mischief and some turns back.
"Satrd April 8th. We all pact up and started cost Cumberland gap. We met a great maney people turned back for p17 fear of Indians but our Company goes on Still with good courage, etc."
Again "Abram's mair ran into the River with Her load & Swam over. he followed her & got on her & made her Swim Back agin." "We met another company going back. they tell such News Abram & Drake is afraid to go aney further and turn back. we go on, etc."13
As indicative of the spirit that animated these stalwarts, in a few days after Henderson's arrival at Boonesborough, the Transylvania proprietors called a convention to assemble on May 23, 1775, and by the convention a legislative council was organized with Daniel Boone, Squire Boone and Wm. Cocke as three of the members.
Virginia asserted authority and title over the lands so purchased that lay above the North Carolina line, and the officials of that colony held the deed inoperative so far as of title in the grantees was concerned, in that such purchases from the Indians were inhibited by the royal proclamation of King George III, wherein also all colonial governors were forbidden to grant lands or issue land warrants locatable west of the mountains.14 In the contest over this matter, which was waged personally by Henderson before the Virginia legislature, he came into contest with George Rogers Clarke,º who was then becoming an active factor in the Kentucky country. Both of these men were stalwarts, and embodied much of the modern American spirit of aggressiveness, initiative and projective force — colonial prototypes of our present day captains of industry. The result in Virginia was that Henderson and his associates took nothing by virtue of their two deeds, but instead they were granted 200,000 acres of land in what is now Henderson county, Kentucky.
p18 As early as the fall of 1776, the inhabitants of the western district filed a petition with the general assembly of Virginia, setting forth that a North Carolina company had made a purchase of the Cherokee title, convened an assembly and opened a land office. The validity of the purchase was attacked; and the petitioners prayed for the extension over them of Virginia's jurisdiction. Accordingly Kentucky county was at that session created and civil and military officers appointed. It was later, at the October session, 1778, of the general assembly of Virginia, that the act was passed granting to Henderson & Co. the above mentioned twelve and one-half square miles of land on both sides of Green river near its mouth by way of compensation for services in the extinguishment of the Indian title, and in helping to settle the country.
This action of Virginia left Henderson freer to devote himself to the husbanding and development of his company's acquisitions in North Carolina (later Tennessee).
Taking on himself the management of the company's business and governmental affairs in the Kentucky country, Henderson, within a few days after the treaty (March 31, 1775) gave a power of attorney to Col. Joseph Martin, empowering him to settle the company's lands in Powell's Valley, in Lee county, Virginia, extending southward into Tennessee. About the same time a proclamation was issued offering favorable terms to settlers in that valley.15
Martin, it seems, had already moved into this valley (Lee county), with a small band of settlers.
Henderson, writing from Kentucky to Martin, July 20, 1775, expressed concern that settlers would locate too low in the valley, provoking the Cherokees to incursions: "Keep your men in heart if possible; now is the time; the Indians must not drive us . . . We did not forget you at the time of making laws; your part of the country is too remote from ours to attend our convention. You must have laws made by an assembly of your own. I have prepared a plan which I hope you'll approve, but most of that when we meet which I hope will be soon."16
Martin's station in Powell's Valley was too far removed from the Holston and Watauga settlements for safety and the beginning of an Indian war caused an abandonment of the station in the spring of 1776.
p19 In July, 1777, when the North Carolina commissioners appointed to make a treaty with the Cherokees met at Long Island of Holston (Fort Patrick Henry, now Kingsport, Tenn.), Henderson and his advances filed with them a memorial, of date June 18, 1777, setting forth their purchase at Sycamore Shoals, March 17, 1775, the fact that the Virginia assembly would consider the validity thereof at its approaching session, "at which time your memorialists have no doubt but that the assembly will disclaim all pretensions to the lands in dispute, and the title of your memorialists become firmly and indisputably established"; and praying that no line be run within the bounds of their purchase and that no part of the lands be yielded to the Cherokees.
Evidently induced by this interest of himself and his associates in the protection of the treaty-purchase on the Cumberland, Henderson, in 1779, accepted the appointment as one of North Carolina's commissioners appointed to extend the North Carolina-Virginia state line at Steep Rock creek (now Laurel Fork of Holston), west of Stone mountain, westward to the Tennessee river, the legislature of Virginia having, the year previous, appointed a like commission to co-operate with one from North Carolina. Henderson became the master spirit of the North Carolina commission, and Dr. Thomas Walker took the lead in the Virginia commission.
An interesting phase of the history of this survey is the fact that it was more immediately occasioned by an election contest in the Virginia general assembly of 1778 between Anthony Bledsoe and William Cocke, on the one part, and Col. Arthur Campbell and William Edmiston, on the other, respecting seats in the Virginia House of Deputies. The principal ground urged by the two latter as contestants was that Bledsoe and Cocke resided south of the Virginia line and were elected by citizens of North Carolina participating in the election. The assembly was loath to adjudge against the commonwealth's claim to the disputed territory, and Bledsoe and Cocke retained their seats, though in fact North Carolinians. James Robertson, while a resident of what is now Carter county, Tennessee, had several years before acted as magistrate under the jurisdiction of Virginia — Botetourt county.17
Naturally, Henderson, who had the year before been deprived by the Virginia assembly of the full fruits of his efforts in making the Transylvania settlements in Kentucky, p20 stood ready to see that North Carolina got at least justice in the projection of the state line. By so far as the line could be located to the northward, the lands of the Henderson associates above the Cumberland river and also in Powell's Valley would be increased.
The Walker-Henderson survey was commenced September 6, 1779, running westward. The commissioners proceeded •about forty miles, and crossed the north fork of Holston near Long Island (Kingsport). "At this time the pilots and hunters gave it as their opinion that both Cumberland Gap and the settlements on Cumberland river, at the French Lick (Nashville), would both fall into Virginia. A halt was made and several days passed in making observations, debating, and even abusing one another." (Col. Arthur Campbell's report to the governor of Virginia, 1787).
"The Carolina gentlemen conceived that the line was farther south than it ought to be. . . . It was proposed by us, and agreed to by the Carolina gentlemen, that as we differed so much in observation we would each run his own line, and let future observers hereafter to be appointed determine which was right." (Walker's Report of Survey, 1780.)
Henderson and Walker persisted in their respective contentions, and made separate surveys and locations, their lines lying about two miles apart.
By March 31, 1780, Henderson had carried his line to the Cumberland river below Nashville, as appears from the diary left by Col. John Donelson, during his voyage from Fort Patrick Henry (Kingsport) down the Holston and Tennessee rivers, thence up point Cumberland river to French Lick, in "the good boat Adventure."
"Friday 31st — Set out this day, and after running some distance, met with Col. Richard Henderson, who was running the line between Virginia and North Carolina. At this meeting we were much rejoiced. He gave us every information we wished, and further informed us that he had purchased a quantity of corn in Kentucky, to be shipped at the falls of Ohio (Louisville) for the use of the Cumberland settlement. We are now without bread, and are compelled to hunt the buffalo to preserve life."18
James Robertson had the year before, the spring of 1779, led a band of Wataugans to French Lick to settle that region. The conclusion is irresistible that Henderson had influenced Robertson to lead this movement, as he had in previous years p21 influenced the intimate friend fellow adventurer of Robertson, Daniel Boone, to take the lead into Kentucky.
James Robertson's connection with the Sycamore Shoals treaty has gone all but unnoted by our historians. Dr. Archibald Henderson, a descendant of Richard Henderson, says that Robertson after feeling out the Cherokees informed Boone, who was then acting as Henderson's confidential agent, that his belief was that the Cherokees would sell if the inducement was made large enough.19 Thus early was Robertson in contact with the movement.
Robertson was on the ground when the treaty was made at Sycamore Shoals. The treaty ground was but a few miles from his residence. When proof was being taken in 1776‑7 by commissioners appointed by the Virginia legislature touching the merits of a petition of Henderson and associates (to the effect that no settlements under the authority of Virginia be allowed within the limits of their treaty purchases) Robertson left his home on the Watauga river and went to Abingdon, Virginia, to give his deposition which was distinctly favorable to the Transylvania promoters.
It is noteworthy that his testimony is clear and pronounced on a point much debated in later years — that the southern boundary of the great grant was not the Cumberland river proper but that there were included the waters flowing into the Cumberland from the south. Robertson, deposing April 16, 1777, said:
". . . Upon the second day of the Treaty the Indians proposed to sell sd Henderson the land upon the north side of the Kentucky, to which said Henderson replied, he would not have that land, as it was already claimed by the Virginians, and that if he could not get the lands asked for, he would keep his Goods, upon which the Dragging Canoe got angry and withdrew himself from the Conference. And the other Indians immediately followed him and broke up the Conference for that day — Some person in the hearing of Deponent told John Williams one of the co‑partners not to pay any attention to Dragging Canoe's going off in a passion as the head men might be still got to sign a deed privately. Col. Williams replyed, he would not give anything for every Indian there to sign a Deed unless it was done in open Treaty. When the Indians met sd Henderson the third day of the Treaty, p22 told them that the lands he had mentioned before were the lands he had brought his goods for.
"The Indians then by their talk seemed inclined to let Henderson have some land but complained that the goods were too few for the number of persons who were there, and if they gave up the land they hoped he would consider them at another time. Henderson answered that they had seen the goods and that if they gave him the lands he would give them the Keys of the House in which they lay, and he could promise no more. The Indians then agreed to sell the lands as far as the Cumberland river, and sd Henderson insisted to have the Cumberland river and the Waters of Cumberland river which the Indians agreed to after telling Henderson them were their hunting grounds and their children then growing up might have reason to complain, also observing that it was a bloody country and if he went to it they would not hold him by the hand any longer, and must do it at his own Risque and must not blame them if anything happened to him.
"On the Fourth day of the Treaty a deed was produced and read and interpreted sentence by sentence which was signed by them."20
Robertson thus substantiated the claim of Henderson's company to the lands on the south of the Cumberland river, where was later laid out the town of Nashborough.
On completion of the running of the state line, Henderson went to Nashborough (Nashville) to open a land office for the sale of the company's lands. We find him there heading the settlers (whom he had been so solicitous to succor with supplies from the Ohio) in the formation of a government, he becoming the draftsman of the "compact of government" or constitution, which he and his associate in the company, Nathaniel Hart, and a brother, Nathaniel Henderson, signed along with two hundred and forty-three settlers, on May 13, 1780. Henderson's impress, as a lawyer and the only lawyer then on the Cumberland, is stamped on this document (compared by Roosevelt to an ancient "Court Leet"), and the interests of his company were treated of and carefully guarded. p23 Twelve men from the various stations were provided by this compact to be elected, "which said persons, or a majority of them, after being bound by the solemnity of an oath to do equal and impartial justice between all contending parties, according to the best of their skill and judgment, having due regard to the regulations of the land office herein established" — the land office of Henderson & Co., the entry taker in which Henderson reserved the right to appoint by express stipulation in the compact. This constitution for the infant settlement further recited: "That no consideration money for the lands on Cumberland river, within the claim of the said Richard Henderson and company, and which is the subject of this association, is demanded or expected by the said company until satisfactory and indisputable title can be made, so we think it reasonable and just that the twenty-six pounds, thirteen shillings and four pence, current money, per hundred acres, the price proposed by Richard Henderson, shall be paid according to the value of the money on the first day of January last, being the time when the price was made public and settlement encouraged thereon by said Henderson, etc."
On these fair terms settlers on the Cumberland took and held under the Henderson and company title until its annulment by North Carolina, and "the purchasers were never urged to make any payments on contracts into which they had entered. Old settlers ever retained for Henderson a very high regard as a gentleman and a patriot."21
In May, 1783, the Henderson syndicate memorialized the North Carolina legislature for a recognition of the validity of their Cherokee conveyances. The petition was referred to a committee which reported that the purchases were illegal, but that by means of the conveyances obtained by Henderson from the Cherokees peaceable possession might be obtained from the Indians, and that compensation should be made the company.22 º
Accordingly, by act of N. C., 1783, Ch. 38, entitled, "An act to vest certain lands in fee simple in Richard Henderson and others," it was enacted:
"Whereas, it has appeared to this assembly that Richard Henderson, Thomas Hart, John Williams, William Johnston, James Hogg, David Hart and Leonard Henly Bullock, Nathaniel Hart and John Luttrell, John Carter and Robert Lucas, have been at great expense, trouble and risque, in making a p24 purchase of lands of the Cherokee Indians; and whereas, it is but just that they should have adequate compensation.
"Be it therefore enacted by the general assembly of the state of North Carolina that two hundred thousand acres be, and are hereby granted to said Richard Henderson, Thomas Hart, John Williams, William Johnston, James Hogg, David Hart and Leonard Henly Bullock, the heirs and assigns of Nathaniel Hart, deceased, and theirº heirs, devisees and assigns of John Luttrell, deceased, to Landon Carter, heir of John Carter, deceased, his heirs and assigns forever, and the heirs and devisees of Robert Lucas; the said two hundred thousand acres to be laid out in one survey and within the following boundaries, to wit: Beginning at old Indian town in Powell's Valley, and running down Powell's river not less than four miles in width on one or both sides thereof to a junction of Powell's and Clinch rivers, then down Clinch river on one or both sides not less than twelve miles in width for the aforesaid complement of two hundred thousand acres; provided same is laid out and surveyed on or before last day of next November, otherwise and entered shall obtain title.
"Ten thousand at the lower end to vest in Landon Carter and his heirs, assignee of Robert Lucas; one-eighth each to Richard Henderson, Thomas Hart, John Williams, William Johnston, James Hogg, Nathaniel Hart and John Luttrell, deceased; and one-sixteenth each to David Hart and L. H. Bullock.
"To hold the aforesaid portions in severalty as tenants in common and not as joint tenants."
As this act indicates there had been sales of interests and parts of interests of the copartners intermediate the deeds of 1775 and 1783. There were at the outset eight full shares, Henderson, Williams, Johnston, Hogg, Thomas Hart, Luttrell and Nathaniel Hart taking full shares; and Bullock and David Hartº taking half shares. It would appear therefore that Robert Lucas, an early Wataugan and with Henderson a signer of the Cumberland compact, had purchased the shares of Williams and Johnston, and assigned a portion of his holding to John Carter, for whom Carter county, Tennessee, was named — the county of his residence.
The state of North Carolina issued a grant in accord with this act; and the grantees proceeded to have the lands surveyed and platted by Stokeley Donelson, surveyor. The boundary was divided into lots, "A," "B," etc., beginning at the extreme northwest or at Old Town Creek in Claiborne county, Tennessee. The eastern boundary of the granted tract begins p25 about five miles (direct line) from Cumberland Gap, and the western boundary of that portion that lies on Powell river is just east of Jacksboro. The surveyor in running the southwestern boundary caused it to run off at an acute angle from the northeastern boundary (patently contrary to the spirit of the legislative act and the grant), the evident purpose being to leave out of the grant to Henderson and associates a very fine body of agricultural land between the southwestern boundary and a line that very nearly is represented by the present line of the Knoxville & Ohio branch of the Southern railway at Caryville, Tenn. The tradition is that Donelson, who was affected by land lust, and who was perhaps the largest owner of acreage in the west, so ran the lines that he might acquire, under a later grant to himself, the tempting lands in this angle. This he proceeded to do; and the tradition further runs that Donelson's action in this matter led to a breach between him and Henderson.
A part of the grant to Henderson and associates was located on Clinch river, and on streams south thereof — extending south of Bull Run creek, which is near Heiskell station, in Knox county. The grant covers land in the present counties of Claiborne, Union, Campbell, Anderson and Knox. The northwestern boundary skirts the foothills of the Cumberland mountains, which rise abruptly from Powell's valley. The object of the grantees was to so lay the grant as to include Powell's and Clinch rivers and their fine bottoms, little dreaming that they were thus purposely avoiding and excluding a section in the Cumberland mountains that has since proved to be of immense value because of its coal seams.
The plat of the partition survey shows allotments as follows: Richard Henderson, four parcels; Thomas Hart, three parcels; Nathaniel Hart, four parcels; David Hart, two parcels; L. H. Bullock, two parcels; James Hogg, two parcels; John Williams, four parcels; Walter Alvis, three parcels; Robert Barton, one parcel; John Umstead, three parcels — the parcels being of various sizes. Thus are indicated further transfers of interests between the dates of the act of North Carolina, 1783, and the partition. Partition deeds were executed inter parties, and this title has always been recognized as the superior title and prevailed as such.
At first blush the two consolation grants to Henderson and company, by Virginia and North Carolina, aggregating 400,000 acres, may appear to have been adequate compensation. In this connection, however, it should not escape notice and comment that neither of these commonwealths hesitated to p26 treat the Path Deed and Great Grant to the Henderson syndicate as having virtue to quiet the Indian title so far as these sovereign states were concerned; but voidable so far as vestiture of title in the vendees was attempted — good against the Indian, invalid as to the Indian's vendee. Later on the United States of America assumed to itself the function of sole treaties with the Cherokees as a nation, and the national government in like manner availed itself of the benefit of the Henderson and company purchases as against the Indians.
Thus, at the treaty of Hopewell (South Carolina), the first negotiated under national authority (Nov. 17, 1785), the Cherokee chiefs made claim to a vast territory, and roughly drafted a map showing the limits of the territory their nation claimed, including the greater portions of Kentucky and Tennessee. Being reminded by the government's commissioners that "this claim covered the country purchased by Colonel Henderson, who was now dead, and whose purchase must not therefore be disputed, the chiefs consented to relinquish that portion of it." The commissioners, as they declared, adopted certain lines of the Henderson purchase as boundary calls of the treaty (Ib., p38) it not being deemed necessary to treat in respect of lands, title to which had passed from the Cherokees to the syndicate.
In the light of these after contentions and the benefits derived from the Henderson grants from the Cherokees, it may be doubted whether the syndicate received fair treatment and compensation at the hands of Virginia and North Carolina.
There can be less doubt that the Tennessee historians have not given adequate credit, or even explicit recognition, to Richard Henderson as the projector of the Cumberland settlement, and as the author of the Cumberland compact. Less than that is less than his desert.
The true greatness of Richard Henderson is in no other way more amply demonstrated than by the selections he made of able lieutenants. A man who could find and put to the service of his company such forceful men as Daniel Boone, James Robertson and Joseph Martin must have possessed discernment, mastery and projective power to an unusual degree. Strange to say, of these three agents Boone, the least endowed with mentality and ability to mould events to his will, has become the greatest national figure. The work of Robertson and Martin was, in large part, in less romantic fields and roles — as Indian agents and community builders, p27 and much of their most effective service brought but little of glamor to their names.23
Henderson's part in the treaty by which Transylvania was acquired does not measure in full the benefits his labors brought to the western country and its first settlers. Availing themselves of Henderson's efforts in bringing the Cherokees to Watauga for negotiation, the Watauga settlers two days after the main treaty was signed followed in the step and negotiated a second treaty with the Cherokees by the terms of which, for a consideration of two thousand pounds, there was ceded to Charles Robertson (as trustee) the land on Watauga and Holston rivers then settled and being settled.
Even a third treaty entered into on March 25, 1775, at the same place, quieted the title of Jacob Brown to a veritable principality, lying west of the Watauga's purchase, and on Nolachucky river comprising much of the best land now in Washington and Greene counties, Tennessee. Richard Henderson signed this last conveyance as a witness, and in all probability he was the draftsman of all the treaties.
It seems quite certain also that the name of Nashville (Nashborough originally) was fixed by Henderson, and in honor of Gen. Francis Nash who had served as the clerk of the Orange County (N. C.) Superior Court over which Henderson presided as judge. Several of the Transylvania associates, Thomas Hart, John Williams and William Johnston, resided in Orange county.24 A brother of Richard Henderson, Pleasant Henderson, also lived in that county and he was at French Lick with Col. Henderson in 1779.25 The then recent death of Gen. Nash in action October 4, 1777, in the battle of Germantown, Penn., appealed to his fellow Carolinians for commemoration. The suggestion has been well made that a tablet be erected in the city of Nashville commemorating Richard Henderson's connection with our early history. It seems fitting that this should be taken in hand by the Colonial Dames of Tennessee in conjunction with the Tennessee Historical Society. The memory of no colonial figure is worthier of preservation.
Sam'l C. Williams.
1 Alden's Governments West of the Alleghanies, p2.
2 Ib., p14.
3 Forces in American Expansion, 20 Am. Hist. Review, p86.
4 Jackson's John Stuart, 3 Tenn. History. Magazine, p183, summarizes their letter from Journal of House of Burgesses 1770‑72 (January 13, 1770).
5 MSS. Division N. Y. Public Library.
6 Alden's Governments West of the Alleghanies, p28.
7 Ib., p54.
8 Mann Butler's Appeal, p26.
9 Haywood's History of Tenn., p58.
10 DeBow's Review, 1854.
11 Hulbert, Boone and Wilderness Trail, p102.
12 This bill in equity was filed Oct. 1, 1796, and dismissed at the September term, 1799. It has never been printed, and follows:
Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio.
Superior Court of Equity, etc.
The Bill of Complaint of William Cocke against Richard Henderson, Thomas Hart, John Williams, James Hogg, Leonard Henley Bullock, William Johnston, Nathaniel Hart, David Hart, John Luttrell in company.
Humbly showeth unto your Honors that in the year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five the said Richard Henderson and Company purchased a large tract of country of the Cherokee Indians on the waters of Kentucky, Cumberland and Tennessee and employed your orator to inlist or have men to assist in clearing a road and sending provisions for the said workmen while they were imployed in cutting a road from a place called the Block house to Martin's station in Powell's Valley and your orator doth expressly charge that he imployed a number of men to assist in cutting the said road and worked himself and found two negro fellows who worked on said road untill Richard Henderson, One of the Company and chief director of the Companies consarns overtook your orator & Samuel Henderson who had been employed as aforesaid together with a Number of men in the said Hendersons employ and to whome your orator had furnished provisions for at the Special instance and request of the said Richard Henderson being informed that the way to Kentucky was so intolerable that it would be with great difficulty that waggons could be taken to Kentuck who then directed the Waggons to be unloaded and the horses packed and the said Richard Henderson, Nathaniel Hart, John Luttrell, your orator and a number of men as well as your orator recollects to the number of about forty or fifty men set out for the purpose of Settling (p14)the Kentucky Country and was met near Cumberland Gap by a number of wounded men among which was two by the name of Inman. The said Henderson seemed much dispirited and seeing that all the men who had gone on before him — as your orator believes being about three hundred had fled except Daniel Boon and a party of about fifteen who stayed to take care of the wounded and being informed that William Twitty and a number of others was killed and fearfull lest Boon & the men with him should abandon the Country made your orator an offer of Twenty Thousand Acres of Land to be taken by your orator in any part of said Companies purchase that he might choose provided that your orator would go forward from Cumberland river to Kentuckey river and prevail on Boon and the men that was with him to make a stand until the said Richard and the men that was with him Join the men that was with the wounded that was on Kentuck river. Your orator consented to go for Ten Thousand Acres of Choice Land provided he the said Henderson could get any person to go in company with your orator and the said Henderson made offers through out his camp then being at Cumberland river of ten Thousand Acres of Land to any person who would go with your orator to Boons Camp on Kentuck river since called Boons Borough about a hundred miles distance whare the wounded men lay but no person would consent to go but your orator who was partly induced as well by the tears of the said Henderson as the reward he offered of ten Thousand Acres of Land which he promised to give unto your orator the said Henderson then shedding tears in the presence of your orator and saying that himself and Company was ruined if they did not Succeed in making a Settlement in the Kentuck Country. And your orator doth expressly charge that he set out from Cumberland river by himself and performed the service which he had undertaken for the said Company and that the said Henderson when he Joined Boons Company expressed himself to be much oblige to your orator for the service he had rendered to himself and Company and said your orator should have the Lands he had promised him and the said Henderson for himself and Company promised to your orator that he should have five Thousand Acres of Land for the services he had rendered the work which himself and hands had done in Clearing the road at twenty Shillings Sterling money or the value thereof for each hundred acres to be paid for in the provisions which your orator furnished the said Company and the Labour of his negroes and the Sale of a servant man Named Joseph Leech which your orator purchased of Andrew Greet and Let the said John Luttrell have. And your orator doth expressly charge that in consequence of the payments made to said Henderson and Company as above set forth for the five Thousand Acres of Land so purchased and paid for that entries for the same was made in a Book kept by said Richard Henderson & Company called Their Book of Entries and titles promised your orator (p15)for the five Thousand Acres of Land by Richard Henderson for himself and Company. Your orator doth further expressly charge that said Richard Henderson after the State of Virginia had allowed the said Richard Henderson and Company two hundred thousand acres of Land and as the said Richard Henderson was returning from the assembly at the house of John Mitchell in Virginia and in presence of William Johnsonº the said Richard Henderson Complained that the State of Virginia had taken a way from himself and Company the greater part of the Land claimed by them but said it would not effect his promise to your orator and told William Johnsonº one of the partners that the Company could never have made their settlement the year they did had it not have been for the assistance of your orator; and the said Richard Henderson and William Johnston then Both assured your orator that he should have the whole fifteen thousand Acres of Land which Had been promised to your orator. And your orator doth expressly charge that the said Richard Henderson at many times after, and shortly before his death repeated the same promises. Shortly after the death of the said Richard your orator made his demand for said Land or compensation from James Hogg at Fayettville who promised to do all in his power that your orator should obtain Justice from the Company & said he was sorry that the Company had so long delayed to do Justice to your orator & said that he James Hogg would lay your orators claim before the Company who he informed your orator was to meet at Hilsborough about twelve months after & desired your orator not to make himself uneasy for that he your orator should obtain full sattisfaction for all the services that he had rendered the Company but your orator does not know or has he any reason to beleave that the said Hogg gave him self any trouble to settle amicably with your orator as he the said Hogg had promised. And your orator further expressly charges that about the month of December 1794 your orator see Thomas Hart one of the Company at Lexington at Kentuckey and informed the said Hart that the Company had not fulfilled the promises made to your orator, that they had deceaved your orator by repeated promises and delays. The said Hart then informed your orator that he Thomas Hart was indebted to the Company and that if your orator could Obtain an order on him that he should not be treated as your orator had been but that he would punctually pay your orator to his sattisfaction. Your orator shortly after wrote Letters to James Hogg wishing to know what the said Hogg had done or was likely to do in the matter but has receaved no answer which Induces your orator to beleave that the promises made by James Hogg has not been fulfilled by him or that any conclusion is made by the Company to sattisfy your orator for the great expence danger and trouble to which he has been exposed and subject to. Now may it please your Honors as (p16)all such actings & doing of the said Richard Henderson and Company and the heirs and representatives of such of the said Company hasº have desceased is contrary to Equity and good conscience and tend greatly to injure and Oppress your orator who is wholly with Out remedy save only by the aid and assistance of your honorable Court whare fraud of this kind is only conisable and releaveable — to the end therefor that they may true and perfect answer make to all and singular the promises as plainly fully and absolutely as if hearin agin repeted and interogated and that they may answer and say
Did not the said Richordº Henderson for himself and Company promise to give unto your orator ten thousand acres of good land on the Cantuckey provided your orator would go and inform Daniel Boon & the party that lay with him at Boonsborough that the said Richard and the men that was with him at Cumberland river at the time of making of such offer was on their way to Join the said Boon for the purpose of settling the Kentuckey Country. Did not the said William Cocke under take to go for the land aforesaid and did he not perform the service and not the said Richard often times in his life time inform the Company or some of them of the great service your orator had done them and also inform them of the promises he had made your orator for such service. Did not your orator pay unto the said Richard Henderson fifty pounds Starling money for five thousand acres of Land and enter the same on a book kept by the said Richard or how much did your orator enter and pay for & what has become of the entry books of said Company in whose hands and possession are they what is the value of the money paid by your orator to the said Company and what is the value of the provisions found & labour done and what the value of the Land entered and paid for. Is it not worth thirty thousand dollars if not how much is it worth.
May it please your Honours to grant unto your orator your writ or writs of Subpona direct to the said Richard Henderson & Company their heirs and representatives and each and every of them commanding them and every of them under sertain pain to be therein limited to appear before your Honours at a certain day to be appointed to answer the premises and then and there that your Honours will decree that thatº they make unto your orator a good and indefeasible right and title to the above described Land or in lieu thereof that they be decreed to pay unto your orator such damages as shall be agreeable to equity and Good Conscience and your orator as in duty bound shall ever pray &c.
Attorney for William Cocke.
Demurrers were filed by Hugh Lawson White as solicitor for James Hogg, John Umstead and Walter Alves, John Williams, and Richard Bullock as executor of Leonard Henley Bullock. George W. Campbell demurred for James Watson "a claimant under Richard Henderson."
(p17) It may be thought that Wm. Cocke delayed for a long time in bringing suit. It appears that but a few years previous others interested in Transylvania lands began to concert plans to protect their interests. In the Charleston (S. C.) Gazette of February 18, 1789, the following advertisement appeared under the heading Transylvania:
"The proprietors of land in Transylvania, alias Kentucky, particularly those who purchased of Col. Dry, under Henderson's grant, are requested to meet at Williams's Coffee-house, on Friday evening, the 20th instant, at 6 o'clock, in order to determine on such measures as may be deemed necessary for having their lands located and secured; it being apprehended that unless something to this effect is done very speedily, their property there, already become so valuable as to worth a dollar per acre, will be irretrievably lost."
13 Hulbert, p113.
14 2 Martin's No. Carolina, p339.
15 Haywood, p514.
16 Week's Martin, p419.
17 Summer's S. W. Virginia, pp108, 264.
18 Putnam's Middle Tennessee, p75.
19 Henderson's Forces in Westward Expansion, 20 Am. Hist. Review, pp85, 105.
20 Va. Col. State Papers, Vol. I, p285. Among those present at Sycamore Shoals when the treaty was executed were: Wm. Farrar, Sam'l Wilson, John Lowry, John Reid, Charles Robertson, Thos. Price, Thos. Houghton, Abraham Hite, Nathaniel Gist, Isaac Shelby and James Robertson. The depositions disclosed that of his associates, John Williams, Nathaniel Hart and Thos. Hart were with Richard Henderson at the treaty place.
21 Putnam's Middle Tennessee, p89.
22 Am. State Papers, Ind. Affairs, Vol. I, pp40, 628.
23 It is worthy of notice that Henderson also brought into the service of his company two other forceful men, then young, Wm. Cocke, as has been noted, and Isaac Shelby — the latter as surveyor in the Kentucky country.
24 Wheeler's North Carolina, p334.
25 Putnam's Middle Tennessee, p101.
a In 1919, when this article was published, the great Appalachian coal fields of eastern Kentucky were beginning to be exploited, creating a boom that opened up an "inner frontier" of land that had never been found useful for anything before: see for example The History of Jenkins, Kentucky, Section C, "They Built a Town".
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