By: Judge John L. Kiener
I have a rare book that is an invaluable finding aid to researching “The Wataugah Purchase.” The book is titled “The Wataugah Purchase At Sycamore Shoals March 19, 1775 – AN INDEX.” The Index preceded by a historical “FOREWORD” was published as A Bicentennial Contribution in 1976 by Mary Hardin McCown and Irma Bowman Kitzmiller.
The 27 page booklet needs to be a part of the Washington County Archives since it explains
“Why” the original of the county’s first deed book entry ended up in Nashville then adds a 494 pages Index of the deeds issued to the area’s first pioneers.
A search of the internet and book sellers did not turn up additional volumes but only this
advice: “Find in a library.” The Overmountain Press in Johnson City printed the text in 1976 the date of McCown’s copyright.
The complete title of the book is: “THE WATAUGAH PURCHASE – March 19, 1775 at SYCAMORE SCHOALS OF WATAUGAH RIVER — THE CHEROKEE INDIANS TO CHARLES ROBERTSON, TRUSTEE FOR THE WAUAUGAH SETTLERS.” The title page continues with this statement: “An index of the Wataugah Purchase, the North Carolina Land Grants, and deeds through 1782. A Bicentennial contribution. Nov. 12, 1975. By Mary Hardin McCown and Irma Bowman Kitzmiller. The copy I have is signed by McCown and Kitzmiller who are both deceased.
The importance of the purchase is explained in a Tennessee Historical Marker erected in Carter County near Elizabethton on Tennessee Highway 91: “Watauga Purchase – Here on Marcy 19, 1775, at the Sycamore Shoals, the Watauga Association, Charles Robertson, Trustee, bought from the Cherokee, with Oconostosta as chief, lands along the Watauga, Holston, and Great Canaway (now New) Rivers. The consideration for the purchase was 2000 pounds sterling.”
According to the Tennessee Virtual Archive maintained by the Tennessee State Library & Archives, THE WATAUGAH is one of “Tennessee Founding and Landmark Documents.” The site declares: “This volume comprises the first land grant book created for the area which became Tennessee. Located at the front is the contract or treaty formalizing the land purchase between the Watauga Association and the Cherokee chiefs.” The TSLA identifies the volume as “Watauga Purchase (Old Book A).
At one time the document was part of Washington County’s Records. Its travel to Nashvilleinvolves a story worth retelling. In “WASHINGTON COUNTY, TENNESSEE Deeds, 1775-1800” (Greenville, South Carolina, Southern Historical Press, Inc., 1991) author Loraine Rae noted provides the following commentary concerning the “WATAUGA PURCHASE. – This volume is a photostatic copy of the original and is in the office of the County Court Clerk, not the Register of Deeds. The story I have heard is this: The original volume was taken to Nashville for some state historical celebration and never returned. The late Mary Hardin McCown found it in the state archives. She was not permitted to bring it back to Washington County but was allowed to make a photostatic copy, which she had bound and placed in the Clerk’s office. This is actually a copy of ‘Old Book A.’”
Mrs. McCown in “The Wataugah Purchase” has an explanation that reads: “The Ledger Book was taken to Nashville from the Washington County Archives in Jonesboro some time in the late 1800’s for an exhibit by the Tennessee Historical Society, and was never returned. Mr. Robert A. Quarles, the Tennessee State Librarian and keeper of the records, made a Photostat of this book and entrusted it to Mrs. L. W. McCown, of Johnson City, a member of the Tennessee Historical Commission (elected in 1951 and this date – 1975 – an Emeritus member) to return this copy to the Clerk’s Office in Washington County.”
Ned Irwin, the County’s First Archivist, says the copy now exists in the Clerk’s Office. It is one of the documents that should be part of the permanent collection in the newly established WashingtonCounty Archive. The digital image online was copyrighted by the TSLA in 2007 with notations concerning the object’s description as set out above with the following addition: “It is followed by the entry of the Watauga grants (generally individual tracts of 200 – 400 acres). The remainder contains recorded Washington County grants issued by the State of North Carolina. The text goes on to provide that the document was entered into at Sycamore Shoals (then a part of WashingtonCounty) in the period 1775-1782. The document was created by the Watauga Association. The TSLA recites that it is the “Owning Institution” of the document.
A brief note on the formation of the Watauga Association is contained in the “History of Washington County Tennessee” (Johnson City: The Overmountain Press, 2001) in a 43-page a article titled “The American Revolution” written by Michael Toomey, Ph.D. of the East Tennessee Historical Society:
“The colonists established permanent settlements in what is now Washington County by 1770. Many followed the Shenandoah Valley south from Virginia, including John Sevier who settled on the Nolichucky. James Robertson and others crossed the Appalachian Mountains from eastern North Carolina and settled on the Watauga. In 1772 the British government labeled them squatters and ordered them to leave. The inhabitants, however, had made gifts to the Cherokee Indians and had received permission to stay as long as they encroached no further on Indian lands. The settlers called a convention, organized themselves into the Watauga Association, adopted the laws of Virginia, and established as court with five magistrates, a sheriff and a clerk.”
RETURN OF A COPY
The loss of the original of the document obviously alarmed Mrs. McCown. She reported on her delivery of the copy of the Watauga Purchase to Washington County during the nation’s Bicentennial – April 26, 1976. This book was presented on Monday at the Quarterly meeting of the WashingtonCounty Court of Pleas and Quarterly Sessions in Jonesboro. Judge Jack Wiseman accepted it for Washington County. Mrs. L. W. McCown then charged Judge Wiseman and Mrs. Roy Phillips, County Court Clerk, to never permit it to be borrowed by anyone for any exhibit whatever at any time. It is the property of Washington County, Tennessee.
Present besides the Magistrates of Washington County were Dr. Henry Jablonski, Vice Chairman of the Washington County Bicentennial; Paul M. Fink, Washington County Historian; Dorothy Whitlock Wood, of the Jonesboro Civil Trust; and Irma Kitzmiller, my index assistant.
The copy of the Watauga Purchase now “owned” by Washington County was described by Mrs. McCown as follows: “The book measures 10 inches by 16 inches by 3 & ¾ inches thick, and weighs 13 ½ pounds. It is hard-back cover and bound inside.”
As the original entry in Washington County Deed books the grant from the Cherokee Indians to Charles Robertson (also spelled Roberson) consists of pages 1 through 4 in Old Book A. Thereafter are grants to individual settlers that read like a “Who’s Who” of the pioneers who founded this area that would become the State of Tennessee.
As transcribed by Mrs. Rae the entry provides (with spellings as in the original document): March 19, 1775. — “ Oconistoto, Chief Warrior and first representative of the Cherokee Nation or Tribe of Indians & Amacullicully & Savanuka otherwise Coronok to Charles Roberson / Robertson of the setelment of Wataugah; on Watauga, Holston and Great Canaray or New River. The consideration is 2000 pounds sterling. The document was signed with their “X” marks by Oconistoto, Atticullicully, Tennesy Warrior, and Willinawaugh. The witnesses for the Wataugah settlers were John Sevier, Bailey Smith, Jesse Benton, Tilman Dixon, William Blevins and Tho Price. Other data of interest as listed by Rae are that Wm Bailey Smith and/or James Smith were surveyors for a number of tracts of land included in the Watauga Purchase.
Mrs. Rae’s book contains a well-written 16 page article titled “From North Carolina’s ‘Western Lands’ to Washington County, Tennessee” which is a great aid in understanding the historic significance of the county’s deed records. She also notes in her text concerning the Watauga Association: “This government lasted until 1775. Unfortunately, no official papers survived.” The Association is often referred to as having drawn up “the first articles for government of a free and independent people in America.” President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that the Watauga settlers were the “first men of American birth to establish a free and independent community on the continent.”
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
I remember Irma as being most helpful to me when she worked for Washington County. The endnote of “The Wataugah Purchase” states she is a native of Jonesboro and a graduate of Jonesboro High School. The text continues: “After business training at Southern School of Commerce in Johnson City she has worked in various offices in the Washington County Courthouses at Jonesboro and Johnson City. Married Homer Kitzmiller and resides in Jonesboro. Has two daughters and four grandchildren. Descendant of several pioneer families of Washington County, including Bowman, Walker, Sherfey, Miller, Range, Campbell, Armentrout, Crouch and Taylor.”
Irma died in 2002. A tribute to her in the Watauga Association of Genealogists (WAGS)
Bulletin read in part:
Irma Bowman Kitzmiller, 1915-2002 — Irma was a long-time member of WAGS. She served as treasurer from 1980-1999 and on many committees, contributing much to WAGS. She and her late husband, Homer, spearheaded the effort to clean up and preserve the old BuffaloRidgeCemetery. Mrs. Irma B. Kitzmiller, 87, Jonesborough, died Saturday, Nov. 2, 2002, at Johnson CityMedicalCenter. Mrs. Kitzmiller was aWashingtonCounty native and a daughter of the late James B. and Cleo Campbell Bowman. She was an active member of Central Christian Church, Jonesborough. Mrs. Kitzmiller was employed by WashingtonCounty and retired after 35 years of service in various offices of the Jonesborough and WashingtonCounty courthouses. She was a long-standing officer of the Watauga Association of Genealogists of Upper East Tennessee and a member of the Book Committee for the publication of the “History of Washington County, Tennessee,” in 1988. Mrs. Kitzmiller was preceded in death by her husband, Homer Kitzmiller; and one brother, Jack C. Bowman. Survivors include two daughters, Ellen Hattaway, Asheville, N.C., and Becky Wimmer, Ferrum, Va.; four grandchildren, Earl Hattaway and Eric Hattaway, both of North Carolina, and Sara Hatman and Clay Bailey, both of Virginia; and two great-grandchildren. The endnote on McCown states: Mary Hardin McCown, a native and still a resident of Johnson City, Tennessee. Graduate of Science Hill High School, with a BA from the University of Tennessee, did graduate work at Columbia University. Taught at Milligan College, and during World War I in the Washington and Carter County Schools. A member of several historical and patriotic societies. A publisher of several historical books and records. Descendant of Tipton, Taylor, Reneau, Hyder, Williams, Gourley, Haun and other early settlers in the Watauga region. Married Leonidas W. McCown. One son, Hardin McCown, an attorney at Manteo, North Carolina; three grandchildren, Cameron, Linda and Hardin, Jr.
Mrs. McCown was named one of 108 “Notable People” in the History of Washington County, Tennessee” previously referred to as a 2001 publication. A history by the same name was prepared by WAGS in 1988 and was the source of this sketch prepared by Ed Speer:
McCown, Mary Hardin (1891 – 1985) was a native of Johnson City, Tennessee. She graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1911. She was a genealogist, historian, and member of the Daughters of the War of 1812, the Huguenot Society, the Colonial Dames, and the John Sevier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She was a member of the TennesseeHistorical Commission and was named city historian in 1979 by the board of commissioners of Johnson City.
Her publications include: “Soldiers of the War of 1812 buried in Tennessee” – four editions published between 1959 and 1977 in English and held by 101 libraries worldwide; “Washington County, Tennessee, records” — one edition published in 1964 in English and held by 63 libraries worldwide; “Soldiers of the War of 1812 buried in Tennessee” — two editions published between 1959 and 1977 in English and held by 27 libraries worldwide; “The Wataugah Purchase, March 19, 1775 at Sycamore Shoals of Wataugah River” — two editions published in 1976 in English and held by 21 libraries worldwide; Brief chronological history of Johnson City, Tennessee” — three editions published between 1963 and 1969 in English and held by 18 libraries worldwide; “Glimpses of yesterday’s lights for tomorrow” — two editions published in 1979 in English and held by 17 libraries worldwide; 100th anniversary, history and directory, 1871 — 1971, First Christian Church, Johnson City, Tennessee — one edition published in 1971 in English and held by 12 libraries worldwide; “ A King’s Mountain diary” — one edition published in 1942 in English and held by three libraries worldwide and The “J. Hartsell memora” : the journal of a Tennessee captain in the War of 1812 by Jacob Hartsell in English and held by three libraries worldwide.
For additional information about Mrs. McCown, the Archives of Appalachia on the campus of EastTennessee State University have a collection of her writings and other papers. The series is arranged into four series: Series I, Historical Files, 1866 – 1985; Series II, Genealogical files, 1790-1983; Series III, Personal Files, 1890-1982, and Series IV, Photographs, 1869-1982.