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Chapter 32

This webpage reproduces a chapter of History of the
Lost State of Franklin

Samuel Cole Williams

published by the
Press of the Pioneers,
New York, 1933

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 34
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p255  Chapter XXXIII

Modes of Life

As settlements progressed further and further down the valleys of the Nolachucky and Holston rivers, in the upper and older section of Franklin, freed from the terror of Indian invasions by the buffer vanguard a distinct advance was made in the scale of living. Many of the houses were enlarged, the single-room log cabin with its "lean‑to shed" giving place to double log houses, each unit having a loft, or garret. These units were connected by a roofed passage‑way open at both ends, which served as a porch and storage place for the family tool-chest, the water-bucket and a day's supply of wood. Sawmills were not in use in the earlier days, but the whipsaw was operated by hand. The timber was first squared with adze or broad‑axe, then raised to a scaffold six or seven feet high. Two strong men operated the saw, one standing on the scaffold, the other below it. To turn off one hundred feet of boards for flooring and trim was a good day's work for two men. Some of those better circumstanced erected stone houses of the native blue limestone; these almost invariably were two‑story structures. No use was made of bricks.

Bloomeries and forges for the production of iron were established on a small scale about 1786‑7, and iron nails, hinges and other structural parts came into more general use. Improvement, too, was made in agricultural implements and household utensils.

In the manufacture of bread-stuffs, the sweep and pestle were superseded by small water-mills which served neighborhoods. The franchise to operate these mills for toll was grantable by the county courts in their legislative capacity.

Far removed from markets, effort was directed toward the production of the essentials of life. Sugar was made from the sap of the maple trees which grew in abundance. The season for tapping was about the middle of February when the frost of the night followed by sunshine produced a free flow of sap. The sugar-making season continued for four or six weeks, after which the sap was too poor  p256 to make sugar but was capable of being made into molasses, vinegar, and a species of table beer.

Salt was obtained from the nearby salt-works on Holston in Virginia, owned by the minor daughter of General William Campbell, but operated at this time on an enlarged scale by Colonel Arthur Campbell, her guardian.

There were few skilled artisans in Franklin. The blacksmith and the gunsmith plied their trades and were looked upon as men of consequence. Colonel George Doherty was an expert gunsmith and marksman. Woodenware, such as tubs, buckets and barrels, was made by general artisans, as were also, to some extent, chairs. The last were usually of oak or hickory, bottomed with splints of white‑oak or slippery‑elm. Baskets and hampers were woven of white‑oak or hickory splints.

Handcraft in the homes was forced upon the families by necessity. The clothing was almost wholly home-made. Linsey-woolsey was the cloth usually worn by both sexes. Linen made from home-grown flax furnished the chain and wool supplied the filling or woof. A rough jeans was the cloth out of which the stouter garments of the men were made. Home tanning and cobbling customarily supplied the shoes, or shoe-packs fashioned somewhat after the moccasin of the Indians.

Land was cleared for cultivation by burning; generally the trees were belted or girdled and after dying they were felled, cut into logs, rolled into piles and burned. At times when burning was resorted to, the fire would get beyond control and a large area would be burned over, thereafter to be called a barren. Michaux, the younger, describes just such a barren, produced in Franklin days in clearing land just north of Holston river. Wild strawberry vines matted the earth, and in season the "berries covered the ground as with a red cloth."1

Fine apples were produced; and the Franklin people were indebted to the friendly Chickasaws for species of superior peaches and plums.

From the same Indian nation was obtained a fine breed of horses highly valued by the Franklin people. These horses are said​2 to  p257 have been derived from a breed of Spanish horses left among the Chickasaws by De Soto, and to have been unmixed with any other strain. They furnished speed and stamina as mounts for Sevier's troopers.

A custom incident to warfare between the bordermen and the Cherokee Indians was, that the horses captured by the bordermen from the Indians were put to auction sale, but not until after those who had lost horses to the Indians had been compensated by an allotment in kind.

The frontiersmen, as hunters and soldiers, relied for a supply of bullets largely on a vein of lead ore found on the lands of John Sevier in the mountains about two and one‑half miles from his residence in Washington county.3

Powder was as necessary as lead and, as merchandise, was at times not procurable. Necessity forced a home production. Charcoal, of course, was readily obtainable. Saltpetre was made from nitrous soil taken from local caves and submitted to a process of leaching and boiling. The manufacture was at rude water-mills. A mill consisted of a pole suspended in the middle by means of a white‑oak pin which rested in the two forks of timber. Another pin was placed perpendicular in the front end, forming a pestle. The back end of the pole carried a box into which the water poured, by its weight raising the front end; as the water rushed out the pestle fell upon the charcoal, saltpetre and sulphur in a log trough used as a mortar. The sulphur was brought hundreds of miles, on pack-horses usually.

The soldiers under Sevier went to war as mounted infantrymen. Men to hold and guard the horses were counted off. The onslaught was one of surprise and accompanied by a piercing yell that carried terror to the enemy — doubtless the same as the famous rebel yell of the Civil War. Indeed, the methods and strategy of Sevier may well have passed, as by descent cast, to that other great commander of Tennesseans, Nathan Bedford Forrest.

The highways were few and poor. The upkeep devolved upon "warned in" hands who labored an allotted number of days under  p258 an easy-going supervisor of the neighborhood section. The road ended in a blazed trail which terminated in a bridle path, beyond which was the wellnigh trackless forest. There were scarcely any bridges over the streams and few ferries.

Several streams were navigated by flat-boats, usually of forty or sixty tons burden, since they were more wieldy and safer. The boats were constructed of oak, and were proportioned twelve by forty feet for a forty‑ton craft. Only larger ones had any covering. Most of them were purposely of cheap construction because they were destined for sale as plank at the down-stream destination. Boats of sixty tons employed six hands, particularly if a cargo of goods was to be brought back — poled up‑stream.

Few of the villages of Franklin were located on navigable streams so as to have their goods brought in entirely by boat; but from a very early day the Boat Yard (Kingsport) at the junction of the two forks of Holston river was a center for water transportation, and commerce. Lieutenant Armstrong, of the United States Army, in giving a report of his official visit to Franklin (April, 1788) calls "Sullivan Court House the metropolis of the new State."​4 The other villages were, in the order of their size, Jonesborough, Greeneville, and Hawkins Court House (Rogersville). Goods sold in these places were purchased in Richmond, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Each village had one or more taverns, the rates fixed by public authority for entertainment being: Diet, one shilling; lodging, four pence; liquor, half pint, six pence; pasture and stable, six pence; corn per gallon, eight pence; oats per gallon, six pence.

One traveling between villages or on the frontier could always find entertainment in the homes of the people. Hospitality was the unwritten law. Bishop Hoss says: "To have turned a hungry man from one's door, would have been to pay a premium for general contempt, and 'light, stranger, hitch your horse and come in,' was the salutation most in use when anybody that was unknown by face rode up to the door."

The Author's Notes:

1 Hence the name of Strawberry Plains for this locality.

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2 Hugh Williamson in his Observations (1811), p80. The breed was in repute in East Tennessee in the latter decade of the eighteenth century. A Rogersville breeder advertised a celebrated sire named Piomingo; "a fine Spanish horse raised in the Chicksaw nation." Knoxville Gazette, of March 24, 1792. See also Smith's Tour, I, page 139.

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3 In this immediate section iron ore was later found and reduced to pig iron in furnaces for several generations; and in recent years immense deposits of zinc have been discovered and mined.

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4 This indicates that the first regular seat of justice in Sullivan county was at Kingsport prior to the laying out of Blountville in 1792.

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