By: Judge John L. Kiener
By Mrs. L. W. McCown
(Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in the Herald & Tribune on Wednesday, July 2, 1930. It was prepared by Mrs. McCown, of Johnson City, Regent of Col. David Henley Chapter, Daughters of 1812. Thanks to Margaret Holley for saving this article and giving it to J. L. Kiener. The article contains details and comments of the author that can be used for justification for the establishment of a Washington County Archive.)
“A person will never look forward to posterity who does never look backward to his ancestors.” – Edmond Burke.
What is Washington County – the county of which we claim to be the proud residents? I sometimes wonder if we realize just how very important a role this little spot south of the Holston River, lying for the most part northeast of the Nollichuckey has played in the history of this country.
What is now Washington County was first the site of the hunting ground of Daniel Boone about 1760. This was close to the spot where later in 1769 William Bean built his cabin at the mouth of Boone’s Creek, a tributary of the Watauga River. About the same time, or probably a little before, there were other hunters in these parts.
When James Robertson and Daniel Boone were here they had stayed in a cabin of a man named Honeycutt, near the Bean site. Others claim for Andrew Greer and a man named Dugger for the first honors, but let’s give the honor for the first real family life to William Bean, for his child Russell was the first white child to be born in what is now Tennessee.
About this time there began to be some dispute about whether this bit of land south of the Holston River belonged to Virginia or North Carolina, but in 1771 Anthony Bledsoe of Virginia made an experimental survey from Steep Rock to Beaver Creek, and proved that the Virginia line would not fall south of the Holston River.
A short time later in 1771 by a treaty between Virginia and the Cherokee Indians, the land south of the Holston was declared to belong to the Cherokees. Early in 1772 Alexander Cameron, who was Indian agent for the British, declared: “That all persons who have made settlements beyond the said line (Holston River) should relinquish them.”
Therefore you see the dilemma of the settlers along the Watauga. However, many of the Indians were friendly to the whites and didn’t wish to drive them away. According to Moses Fisk’s Historical Sketch of Tennessee, July 1, 1861, James Robertson and John Bean were appointed to make a trade of some sort with the Indians. The Watauga settlers were successful in leasing the land for ten years.
Again, early in 1772, Jacob Brown of South Carolina with two or three families came through North Carolina and settled on the Nollichuckey River. He soon negotiated a treaty and contracted for land in a similar manner. Now the Watauga settlers had to form some sort of government to rule themselves and to secure their lands upon which to live.
So the Watauga Association, the first independent government in America, was formed in 1772. The Brown settlement was separate and distinct from the Watauga Association, and not until North Carolina, in 1775, declared herself independent of Great Britain did the Watauga and Nollichuckey settlements unite and call themselves Washington District, the first geographical division to be named for the Father of his country.
Upon the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776, they petitioned that they be annexed to North Carolina. The petition is in the North Carolina archives and although not dated is marked “Received Aug. 22, 1776.” This is called the Watauga petition or sometimes the Halifax petition for the next Provincial Congress of North Carolina met in Halifax, November 12 to December 18, 1776.
Members at this Congress from Washington District, Watauga Settlement, were Charles Robertson, John Carter, John Haile and John Sevier.
In November 1777, North Carolina formed Washington District into Washington County, North Carolina with boundaries about the same as the present state of Tennessee.
The first court met February 23, 1778. In 1779 the Legislature of North Carolina laid off Jonesborough as the seat of justice for Washington County. John Woods, Jesse Walton, George Russell, James Stuart and Benjamin Clark were appointed commissioners to lay out and direct its buildings. Jonesborough was named for Willie Jones, of Halifax, North Carolina. He had been unusually cordial to the men from this section who had presented the Halifax petition of 1776.
By 1790 the settlements on the Cumberland in Middle Tennessee and the Watauga settlements had expanded until they met. The United States Constitution had been adopted in 1784 and went into effect in 1789. North Carolina stayed out of the union for a while but on entering the union, her first act was to cede to the United States her western territory.
This was accepted April 2, 1790, and on June 8, 1790, President George Washington commissioned William Blount as Governor and Commissioner of the Indian Affairs of the Territory of the United States south of the River Ohio, or The Southwest Territory.
William Blount came to the Watauga Country in October and his first official act was on October 22, 1790, in laying off and organizing Washington County in the Territories South of the River Ohio. Later he organized Sullivan, Greene, Hawkins, Davidson, Sumner and Tennessee counties.
Governor Blount came to the home of a North Carolinian living here – William Cobb – and there made his territorial headquarters until it was moved to Knoxville in 1792. Then followed a period of Indian warfare, until 1794 when, the Nickajack Expedition with John Sevier leading, and the savages were about vanquished.
In 1795 a census was taken of the Territory and it was found there were 66,000 free whites and about 10,000 slaves. So a constitutional convention was called which met in Knoxville January 11, 1796, in the war office of Colonel David Henley, war agent for the Territory under General Knox, Secretary of War for President Washington.
Delegates to this convention from Washington County were five – Landon Carter, John Tipton, Leeroy Taylor, James Stuart and Samuel Henley. Two members from each county were elected by the said county to draft a constitution and Washington County members were John Tipton and James Stuart. It is noted that at this time John Sevier was a member of the Legislative Council, none of the members of which were members of the convention, although Governor Blount was its president.
So, on June 1, 1796, President George Washington signed the bill making Tennessee the 16th state. Thus you can possibly visualize a few of the many records and data which are here in our midst.
SPOTS OF HISTORIC INTEREST
The County of Washington can probably boast of more sports of historic interest than any other county in the entire State of Tennessee. Yet so little has been done to mark these places so they will be preserved for future generations. (Editor’s note: please remember this list was prepared in 1930. How many of the sites have been preserved?)
The following are some of the many spots within the present boundaries of Washington County that are of historic interest.
1. Site of cabin of William Bean on Boone’s Creek, 1768 or 1769.
2. Falls on Boone’s Creek where Daniel Boone hid from the Indians.
3. Daniel Boone Tree site, 1760.
4. William Cobb house, where Governor Blount held his Territorial Government, October 1790.
5. Home of Colonel John Tipton, later house of Landon C. Haynes.
6. Site of “Buck Horne Cottage,” one of first taverns kept by James Stuart and built about 1770.
7. Site of Buffalo Ridge Baptist Church and old cemetery where Jonathan Mulkey lies buried – near Gray’s Station, 1779.
8. Cherokee Baptist Church on Cherokee Creek, 1783.
9. Washington College, 1780, and Old Salem Church and Cemetery where soldiers of all wars lie buried.
10. Site of birthplace of Davy Crockett, 1786.
11. Old stone house at Limestone – “Gillespie Home” – 1792 or before.
12. Embree House on Little Limestone Creek, 1781.
13. Grave site of Robert Young who killed Patrick Ferguson in October 1780 at the Battle of King’s Mountain.
14. Site of home of William Nelson, where Methodist Conferences were held in 1793, 1796 and 1797.
15. Jacob Brown Settlement on Nollichuckey River, 1772.
16. Jonesboro Inn – Old Chester House – on Main Street in Jonesboro where Andrew Jackson held his reception when he was en route to Washington, D. C.
17. Christopher Taylor House, 1773, where Andrew Jackson boarded in 1778 and 1779, when he lived in Jonesboro.
18. Site of Hebron Presbyterian Church, 1792.
19. Boone Trail markers.
20. McAllister’s School House, where one of the first voting places was established in 1796.
21. John Sevier’s Home site on Nollichuckey.