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Events of 1794, The Territorial Assembly Meets

On the first day of this year Governor Blount issued a proclamation calling the Territorial Assembly and Legislature to meet at Knoxville the fourth Monday in February following.

This body consisted of thirteen members. The three Middle Tennessee counties were represented as follows: General James White from Davidson, David Wilson from Sumner, and James Ford from Tennessee. Wilson of Sumner was elected Speaker of the Assembly, it being insisted by the western delegation that as the Governor had been selected from the eastern portion of the Territory, therefore their division was entitled to the presiding officer of the legislative body.

Thus was begun a sectional rotation in office, which has since become law, both written and unwritten, in the selection of Tennessee officials.

By provision of the Congressional Act creating the Territory, it became the Assembly's duty to nominate ten persons from whom the President of the United States should select five, the latter constituting a Legislative Council. From the names presented the following were chosen: Col. John Sevier, Gen. James Winchester, Stockley Donelson, Griffith Rutherford and Parmenas Taylor.

This first meeting of the Assembly was lengthy in session, the same being devoted largely to details of the territorial organization.

At its adjournment on September 24, a resolution was adopted instructing James White, Esq., at that time territorial representative in Congress, to exhibit to the "President of Congress" a list of those who had this year fallen by the hands of the Creeks and Cherokees. He was also requested to assure his Excellency that "if the people of this territory have borne with outrages which stretch human patience to its utmost, it has been through our veneration for the head of the Federal Government (Washington), and through the hopes we entertain that his influence will finally extend to procure for this injured part of the Union that justice which nothing but retaliation on an unrelenting enemy can afford."

Already, as we shall see presently, but possibly without the knowledge of those who framed this resolution, the worm had turned, and a swift vengeance wreaked on a part of this ''unrelenting enemy."

So great now was the peril from the savages that the Governor was importuned by certain members of the assembly for protection on their journey homeward. White. Ford and Speaker Wilson were escorted back to Nashville by an armed guard.

Throughout the early part of this year Governor Blount continued seemingly to have great faith in the councils and negotiations he was still conducting with the belligerent tribes, and lent a listening, if not a trusting ear to all made-to-order "peace talks" from the chiefs. On April 15 he wrote General Robertson as follows: "An attack on Cumberland by a large party of Indians, either Creeks or Cherokees, or both is not to be apprehended this summer. Small parties, however, I fear will yet infest your frontier. I entreat and command you to let neither opportunity nor distant appearances of danger induce you to order out any party (of the militia) unnecessarily large. Economy is a republican virtue which from the injunction laid on me (by the Secretary of War) I feel myself bound to enjoin on you the observance of."

Nevertheless, in the midst of these promises of peace and lectures on economy, the destruction of human life and loss of property went on apace.

But the Governor, or some other agency, had at last brought the Secretary of War to the belief that the people along the Cumberland were exposed to at least some danger which had not been brought upon themselves by any misconduct of their own.

About this time the officials were authorized to raise from the mitial of Mero District one hundred men, allowing twenty-six privates for Davidson County, a like number for Tennessee, and seventeen for Sumner, besides subaltern officers, sergeants and corporals, and a mounted force of thirty men to range throughout the district.

On New Year's Day John Drake with three companions went from his home near Shackle Island in Sumner County to hide near one of the licks in wait for game. They had killed two deer which they were busily engaged in skinning when they were espied by a band of Indians. After firing a volley the latter rushed upon them with uplifted battle axes. In the conflict which followed, so many shots were fired that each of the whites suspected all his comrades slain. Not a man was wounded, and all escaped to Shackle Island. But their rifles and the venison, both of which were deeply mourned, fell into the hands of the enemy.

Miss Deliverance Gray, while passing between the stations west of Nashville, was pursued by the enemy who tried to affect her capture. She was fired upon and slightly wounded, but escaped by flight. John Helen was killed and scalped at a point half a mile from General Robertson's residence. He ran a long way and when finally overtaken, made a heroic fight for his life. He was overpowered by numbers.

Jonathan Robertson, eldest son of the General, had many a conflict with the Redskins.

One day this spring he had as companions three lads by the name of Cowan, aged from ten to fourteen years. They were hunting a few miles west of the Robertson plantation. About ten o'clock they killed some game and swinging it across their shoulders went marching in single file through the woods. Suddenly the rustle of a brush and the gleam of a rifle told them that danger was near. One of the boys raised his gun to fire, but young Robertson stopped him and ordered the party to seek protection behind neighboring trees. Two of the lads sprang behind a tree each, while Robertson and the other boy sought a third. The Indians while yet carefully concealed, fired a shot which slightly wounded Robertson's companion. In trying to get sight of the enemy that he might take a shot, Robertson exposed his head and received a bullet through his hat just above the left ear. The Indian who made this shot thus exposed his own body, and Robertson in turn sent a bullet after him which reached its mark, causing the savage to drop his gun. From behind their sheltering oaks several Indian heads now protruded, at which the youthful hunters each took a shot. In this fusillade another Indian was wounded. Before long the savages were running like troopers, carrying with them their wounded and leaving Robertson and his band in complete possession of the field. In their flight they lost a rifle, which was captured.

A few days later the bodies of two dead Indians, supposed to be the wounded in this skirmish, were found a short distance from the scene of the conflict.

Two of the young Bledsoes, one a son of Col. Anthony Bledsoe, the other a son of his brother Isaac, both named Anthony, had boarded during the winter at Rock Castle, the home of Gen. Daniel Smith. While there they attended a school which had been established on Drake's Creek near Hendersonville. On the afternoon of March 21, while returning to Rock Castle, they were killed at a rock quarry in which the Indians were secreted. Out of this quarry had been taken the stone from which Rock Castle had been built.

A month later, Thomas, another son of Col. Anthony Bledsoe, was surprised and mortally wounded near his deceased father's station at Greenfield. The survivors of this brave family of pioneers now felt that surely their cup of bitterness was full.

On the morning of August 9, Maj. George Winchester was killed and scalped at what is now the forks of the Scottsville and Hartsville turnpike in the edge of Gallatin. He was on his way to attend a meeting of the County Court, of which he was a member.

When the news of Major Winchester's death reached town the court was just assembling and a large crowd had gathered about the court house. Immediately a company of fifty men were enrolled under Maj. George D. Blackmore, for the purpose of pursuing the murderers. The march was begun next morning at daybreak but the Indians were not overtaken, as they were mounted on strong horses recently stolen, and they were a day and night in advance of the whites. Goaded to desperation by the continued recurrence of such outrages, the settlers now determined to break up these marauding expeditions at any sacrifice, and regardless of opposition from all sources, even the Federal Government itself. This resolution General Robertson no longer hesitated to approve.

The task to be undertaken was not light, and concert of action must be had.

The Nickajack Expedition

Sampson Williams, representing the Cumberland settlement, visited Kentucky and laid the proposed plan of action before Colonel Whitley. The latter readily agreed to raise a force and cooperate in the invasion. Returning to the settlement Captain Williams assisted in organizing the local army of volunteers.

Col. John Montgomery raised a company near Clarksville; Colonel Ford levied troops in that region now comprised in Robertson County; while General Robertson and Maj. George D. Blackmore called for recruits in Davidson and Sumner Counties, respectively.

In the meantime Governor Blount had detached Major Ore, of East Tennessee, with a command of sixty men to range along the Cumberland Mountains, and thus aid in preventing the Indians from crossing into Mero District. However, for some reason, a satisfactory explanation of which has not yet found its way to the War Department, this gallant band of patriots did not halt on the crest of the mountains. Instead they straightway pursued their journey westward, and the appointed day found them bivouacked with the volunteers from Kentucky and the Cumberland at the designated place of rendezvous. The latter was at Brown's Block House, two miles east of Buchanan's Station.

As the troops of Major Ore were the only members of the combined force levied under government authority, it was agreed that Major Ore should command the expedition. Col. Whitley, of course, led the Kentucky troops, while Colonel Montgomery and Major Blackmore were selected to command the volunteers from the Cumberland counties. Prominent among the latter were William Trousdale: afterwards Governor of Tennessee, Hugh Rogan, Stephen Cantrell, William Pillow, Captain Joseph Brown, Charles and Beale Bosley and John Davis.

From the first it had been agreed that the point of attack should be Nickajack and Running Water towns. These, as before stated, were located along the southeast shore of the Tennessee River and under the shadow of Lookout Mountain. It was an open secret that from these hives issued those pestilential swarms of marauders which had so long preyed upon the Cumberland settlement. Here also the Creek and Cherokee war parties gathered and crossed the river on their journeys toward the north.

Late in August a small party under command of Colonel Roberts went out with written instructions to "scour the head waters of the Elk," but with the secret purpose of spying out a route for the army to Nickajack and Running Water. This party of scouts was accompanied by Joseph Brown, yet a youth, but who had been long a captive in these towns after the murderous assault upon his father's expedition some years previous to this date. By the time the troops were ready to move Colonel Roberts and his company had returned and reported a feasible route thither.

With young Brown as a guide, the entire army, consisting of five hundred and fifty mounted men began its march on the morning of September 7.


Gov. William Trousdale

The following order had previously been issued by General Robertson to Major Ore:

Nashville, Sept. 6, 1794

Major Ore: The object of your command is to defend the District of Mero against the Creeks and Cherokees of the lower towns, who I have received information are about to invade it, as also to punish such Indians as have committed recent depredations. For these objects, you will march, with the men under your command, from Brown's Block House on the 8th instant, and proceed along Taylor's Trace towards the Tennessee; and if you do not meet this party before you arrive at the Tennessee, you will pass it and destroy the lower Cherokee towns, which must serve as a check to the expected invades; taking care to spare women and children, and to treat all prisoners who may fall into your hands with humanity, and thereby teach those ravages to spare the citizens of the United States, under similar circumstances. Should you in your march discover the trails of Indians returning from commission of recent depredations on the frontiers, which can generally be distinguished by the horses stolen being shod, you are to give pursuit to such parties, even to the towns from whence they came and punish them for their aggressions in an exemplary manner to the terror of others from the commission of similar offenses, provided this can be consistent with the main object of your command, as above expressed, the defense of the District of Mero against the expected party of Creeks and Cherokees.

"I have the utmost confidence in your patriotism and bravery, and with my warmest wishes for your success,
I am, sir, your obedient servant.
''James Robertson, B. G."

For some reason unexplained, the army began its march a day earlier than the date indicated in the above order.

They camped the first night on the present site of Murfreesboro. From thence they passed in a southeasterly direction through Coffee County, crossing Barren Fork of Duck River not far from the Old Stone Fort which still stands near Manchester. At a ford south of this they crossed Elk River into Franklin County. From there they proceeded over the mountains and camped on the Tennessee near where South Pittsburg now stands.

This journey had consumed several days, and it was now the night of the 12th. The larger part of the force remained on the east side of the river; a few crossed over at night to stand guard against a possible discovery and an unexpected attack.

On the morning the 13th rafts and floats were constructed, and by means of these, together with a few canoes made of dry hide, the arms, ammunition and clothing of the troops were conveyed to the other shore. The men swam over on their horses, and led by Brown, who was entirely familiar with the country, rode rapidly to within sight of Nickajack. The latter was a small town at the foot of the mountain, inhabited by two or three hundred warriors and their families. A halt was called and the force divided.

Colonel Whitley with his Kentucky troops swung to the right and moved along the base of the mountain. Colonel Montgomery with the remainder of the force turned to the left and moved down the river. The army thus proceeded in two wings in order that they might strike the river above and below the town, and thereby cut off all avenues of escape save by the water.

The march was scarcely begun when some of the party came upon two stray cabins in the midst of a cornfield. Into these some of the troops fired, which shots were returned by the occupants.

These shots alarmed the inhabitants of the village beyond, so that when the troops came up many of them had run down to the river bank and were embarking in canoes. The rest of their number had taken flight toward Running Water town some distance above.

Montgomery and his troops rushed down upon the party on the bank. There they found five or six large canoes already loaded with goods and Indians. About thirty warriors were standing near the water's edge ready to embark. At these William Pillow fired the first shot, after which the entire force opened a deadly fusillade, from the effects of which scarce an Indian escaped. A few dived into the river, and by swimming under water got beyond gun range. Two or three hid under goods in detached canoes, and escaped by floating down stream. In the meantime Colonel Whitley had fallen, with great havoc, upon a small portion of the town cut off by a drain about two hundred and fifty yards up the river.

When the warriors of the Running Water town heard the firing below they started on a run to the assistance of their neighbors. Before going far they met a number of the latter coming with equal haste toward them. After some argument the whole party went again toward Nickajack. At a place between the two towns called the Narrows they encountered the white troops who had now followed on. A desperate conflict ensued, each party taking refuge behind rocks and trees along the mountain side. The Indians were finally routed with great loss by death and capture.

All cabins in the towns were sacked and burned, every vestige of both towns being destroyed. Many articles of property recognized by the militiamen to have formerly belonged to relatives and friends were taken. A large quantity of powder and lead just received from the Spanish Governor at New Orleans was captured. Two fresh scalps, recently taken from the Cumberland settlement, and others already dry and hung up as trophies of war were found and carried away.

Of the Indians seventy were killed. Among the dead was the noted chief, Breath of Nickajack. About twenty were captured. Many of the latter remembered Joseph Brown, whom they called "Co-tan-co-ney." They begged him to have their lives spared, which, thus obeying the biblical doctrine of returning good for evil, he graciously did.

On the evening of the day on which the battle was fought the troops re-crossed the Tennessee and began their homeward journey, none killed and only three of their number wounded.

Thus ended the "Nickajack Expedition."

Of the inhabitants of Nickajack and Running Water, Dr. Ramsey says: "These land pirates had supposed their towns to be inaccessible, and were reposing at their ease in conscious security, up to the moment when, under the guidance of Brown, the riflemen burst in upon them and dispelled the illusion."

The backbone of the long Indian war was now broken, and peace was in sight. The savages could never rally from the disastrous effects of the above assault. Other depredations were committed, the most notable being the attack on Sevier's station, soon to be recorded, but these were probably by roving bands of irresponsible marauders.

Soon after the raid on the lower towns Governor Blount wrote to General Robertson an official letter severely criticizing his act in authorizing the expedition.

In all probability the Governor was previously advised of the entire scheme, and having at last lost faith in the treacherous promises of the savages, secretly approved the same. His motive in thus censuring General Robertson was probably close akin to that which actuated Gen. Frank Cheatham on a certain occasion during the Late Unpleasantness. While out on a foraging expedition one day the writer's father, together with his cousin, Frank Hunter, and several other hungry soldiers in Cheatham's army, located a hog, penned up in a chimney corner. A carefully planned raid was effected, and the next morning found his hog ship dressed, quartered, and distributed among several mess parties about the camp.

Just before breakfast time the hog's owner appeared and complained to General Cheatham of his loss. The latter hastily called up the entire troop and demanded the names of the guilty parties. Of course, no one could furnish the desired information. Thereupon ''Old Frank" stormed and raged in high dudgeon about the quarters. He swore by all that was in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, to say nothing of what was under the seas, that he would have them all court-martialed and shot, or find the culprits.

After this performance had proceeded to some length, the owner of the hog departed in great peace of mind, feeling fully compensated for both loss of property and mental suffering occasioned thereby. When he was gone the General quickly relented, and suggested to the boys that while he guessed they needed it all a fresh ham delivered over at his tent would be very acceptable, as he was rather "hog hungry" himself.

Maj. George D. Blackmore, who was in command of a part of the troops on the Nickajack expedition, was a native of Hagerstown, Md., and served for three years in the war of the Revolution. At the close of this conflict he came to the Cumberland country, residing for a while at Bledsoe's Station. He was one of the gallant defenders of the latter in its assault by the Indians, as previously recorded. Later on he commanded what was called a horse company, and was also employed as Quartermaster in supplying provisions for the troops stationed at the various forts. He was a brave soldier and an honored citizen. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Neely, and reared a large and highly respected family. Among them were Dr. James Blackmore, and Gen. William Blackmore, a hero of the Mexican war. The latter was the father of Hon. James W. Blackmore, now a prominent citizen of Gallatin. At an early date Major Blackmore settled on the tract of land now owned by David Barry, St., in the Second Civil District of Sumner County. On the present site of Mr. Barry's residence he built a settler's log cabin in which he lived for many years. He died in 1830, and was buried in the family burying ground in sight of his former residence.

This narrative of bloody atrocities will be closed with an account, now to be given, of an attack on Col. Valentine Sevier's Station at noon on November 11, 1794. Though greatly bereaved by the loss of his sons, this brave old warrior had determined to remain at his post. Accordingly with his little band he began clearing new fields and building larger improvements. In the meantime a small colony formed on the Cumberland below the mouth of the Red River, and thus established the town of Clarksville.

On the day above indicated all the grown men of the station were away except Colonel Sevier and a Mr. Snyder. About twelve o'clock without warning a band of forty Indians rushed out upon them from the neighboring thickets. So sudden was the attack that the enemy were in almost every cabin before their presence was discovered. Mr. Snyder, his wife, his son John, and Colonel Sevier's son, Joseph, were tomahawked in Snyder's house. Mrs. Ann King and her son, James, were killed, and Colonel Sevier's daughter, Rebecca, was scalped. Snyder, though saved from the scalping knife through the efforts of Colonel Sevier, was butchered in a most barbarous manner.

The people in the village below, hearing the firing, hastened to the relief of the station. On their arrival they found Colonel and Mrs. Sevier alone and side by side in the midst of the dead, bravely loading and reloading their rifles as they returned the fire of the enemy.

At the approach of reinforcements, the Indians beat a hasty retreat, carrying with them the bleeding scalps of a part of their victims. The survivors now abandoned the station and removed to Clarksville.

This was the last attack of consequence made on any station within the bounds of the territory now included in Middle Tennessee.

The destruction wrought in the Nickajack expedition, together with the effect of a great victory won on the 20th of August by General Wayne over the northern Indians and Canadian militia on the banks of the Miami, broke the spirit of the hostile tribes and paved the way for a subsequent formation of satisfactory treaties of peace.

Early History of Middle Tennessee

Early History of Middle Tennessee, BY Edward Albright, Copyright, 1908, Brandon Printing Company, Nashville, Tennessee, 1909

 

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