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Events of 1788, Attack on Bledsoe's Fort

This year was made memorable by the death of many brave men, a loss which in its present crisis the settlement could ill afford.

One day in the month of March the enemy crept up to the sugar camp near the Robertson residence, west of Nashville, where Peyton, son of Colonel Robertson, John Johnson and their playmates were making maple sugar. Seeing that the Indians were between them and the house the boys scattered in the woods, but young Robertson was killed. Johnson was captured and carried away to the nation, where for several years he remained a prisoner. The rest of the sugar-makers escaped.

During the month of April the three sons of William Montgomery, John, Robert and Thomas, were killed near their father's house, on Drake's Creek, three miles below Shackle Island. John, the eldest boy, had suffered a broken thigh at the hands of the Indians a year before and was still on crutches. On this occasion he had hobbled out into the orchard where his brothers were trimming apple trees. The Indians rushed out from a neighboring thicket and ruthlessly murdered and scalped the three, leaving their bodies in a heap on a brush pile. Shortly after the events above detailed an attack was made on a colony in Neely's Bend. Mrs. Neely, widow of William Neely, who had been murdered at the salt kilns near the same place a few years before, was mortally wounded. At the same time Robert Edmonson received a shot which broke his arm, but he ran and lost his pursuers in the cane. Robert James was killed near where Major Wilson settled two miles east of Gallatin. Jesse Maxey was wounded while traveling along the road near Asher's Station. Seeing that escape by flight was impossible, he fell face downward on the ground. His pursuers came up, scalped him, thrust a hunting knife into his body and left him to die. He was found by his friends, carried into the fort and nursed back to life.

The 20th day of July, 1788, witnessed an attack on Bledsoe's Station, followed by the consequent tragic death of Col. Anthony Bledsoe next day.

This fort was built in the form of an oblong square. Except at an opening on the front side, in which was built a large double cabin, it was completely enclosed by a stockade. Between the two rooms of the double cabin was an entrance into the enclosure. Because of impending danger during the spring Col. Anthony Bledsoe had abandoned his own station at Greenfield, and with his family and associates had sought safety in the fort of his brother Isaac, which was regarded as more secure. The two brothers, together with their respective families, occupied each a room of the double cabin.

The Indians, as was their custom, chose a beautiful night for the attack. From out the depths of a cloudless sky a full moon flooded the landscape with its glorious light. No signs of danger having recently appeared, there were but few men within the fort. These had gathered into the quarters of Col. Anthony Bledsoe and until a late hour were making merry with story and song. The Indians from afar had spied out the situation during the day. Now, while all within were happy in their supposed security, the savages were creeping up to the fort, secreting themselves around the stockade and awaiting an opportune moment for the onslaught. George Hamilton, who at that time was conducting at the Lick the first school taught in Sumner County, was singing for the entertainment of the company. The Indians, opening the attack, poked a gun through a hole in the back of the fireplace and shot Hamilton in the mouth. Just at this juncture, doubtless by prearrangement, several of the attacking party galloped down the road in front of the cabin. Alarmed by the shot and noise, Col. Anthony Bledsoe and his Irish servant, Campbell, rushed out into the moonlit pass way and received each a mortal wound. These shots came from Indians who were concealed in the fence corners on the opposite side of the road.

With a whoop the savages now sprang as if by magic from their hiding places and began a vigorous assault in an effort to reach the inside. With their tomahawks they chopped through the window shutters of one of the cabins. Hugh Rogan was waiting for them on the inside and fired into their ranks the contents of a heavily loaded musket. Frightened by this shot they ran from that part of the stockade, and going around to the other side, made an assault on the cabin of Wm. Donahoe. Through the cracks they fired a number of shots at the occupants, but killed only a large dog which lay stretched out on the floor. Donahoe blew out the light, leaving the room in darkness. At length, finding their efforts to enter the stockade futile, the Indians withdrew.

Colonel Bledsoe, though dangerously wounded, was yet alive. In the absence of a will providing otherwise, the law of North Carolina, which governed the settlement, allowed the sons to inherit all the real property of the deceased parent. In view of this fact, Mrs. Isaac Bledsoe suggested that before her brother-in-law died he should make provision from his estate for his seven daughters. James Clendening wrote the will, to which the dying man affixed his signature while supported by his brother Isaac. Thus all his children were allowed to share equally his large landed estate. This will was afterwards contested in the courts, but was finally declared valid by the Supreme Court of the United States. It is known to the legal fraternity as the "Polly Weatherhead Case," and is reported in 11th Howard, page 329, U. S. Supreme Court Reports.

At sunrise next morning Colonel Bledsoe died, and on the following day was buried south of the fort on the hill where Bledsoe's Academy now stands. Col. Isaac Bledsoe was subsequently buried by his side.

Colonel Bledsoe's death was the occasion of profound sorrow throughout the settlement, and came as a crushing blow to his life-long friend and comrade, Colonel Robertson, who had so recently, in like manner, been bereft of his own son, Peyton Robertson, whose death is recorded in this chapter.

Campbell, Colonel Bledsoe's servant, died as a result of his wounds on the second morning after the attack. In August a man named Waters was fishing on Bledsoe's Creek below Cragfont. The enemy stole up from behind shot and scalped him, and with their hatchets mutilated his body.

During the month of October the two Messrs. Durham and a companion named Astill were killed at Belle Meade. Dunham's Station was then abandoned, the occupants returning a second time to the Bluff. Brown and Mayfield established each a station on Mill Creek, in Davidson County, about a mile apart. While at work on the buildings Mayfield, his two sons and a man by the name of Jocelyn, laid aside their guns and ammunition, leaving a soldier on guard. While the latter was off duty a band of Creeks, who had been in hiding, crept in between the guns and the station. Mayfield, one of his sons and the guard were killed. The other son, George, was captured and carried away, remaining for ten years thereafter a prisoner in the heart of the Creek nation. Jocelyn ran for his life and evaded his pursuers. In after years he became a Colonel in the local militia. This station also was now abandoned, the survivors faking refuge with Capt. John Rains, the latter in the meantime having re-occupied his station at Waverly Place.

A week later a like assault was made on Brown's fort. In the course of this attack James Haggard, a settler by the name of Adams, two sons of Mr. Stovall and a young son each of Messrs. Brown and Denton were killed. This fort was likewise broken up, the occupants going to Rains' Station.

During the year Capt. John Carr and others built a fort on top of the ridge in the western portion of Sumner County, It was called the Ridge, or Hamilton's Station. This was located six miles north of Shackle Island and near what is now known as Cummings' Gap.

In November, 1788, Davidson County was again subdivided, the northwestern portion having been organized by act of the Legislature into Tennessee County. This embraced the territory now included in Montgomery and Robertson Counties. Later, as we shall see, this name was surrendered to become that of the great State of which these counties are now a part.

On the roster of the many Revolutionary heroes of North Carolina appears the name of Col. James Brown. Active in behalf of his country during the early years of the struggle for American independence, he later served as guide to the troops of Generals Washington and Lee at the battle of Guilford's Courthouse, on March 15, 1781. For this service he received certificates entitling him to large tracts of land in Middle Tennessee, some of which were in the valley of the Cumberland and others on Duck River, in Maury County. In the spring of 1788 Colonel Brown decided to journey toward the land of his new possessions. There lay before him three routes thither. The first of these was the well-beaten highway through Cumberland Gap, the second that new road but recently opened from Clinch Mountain to Nashville by way of Knoxville and Crab Orchard, the third the water route followed by Colonel Donelson's flotilla in the winter of 1779-1780,

He chose the latter, and with his family, consisting of his wife, four sons and three daughters, set sail from Long Island, East Tennessee, on May 4. With them also were a party of young men consisting of John Flood, John Gentry, William Gentry, J. Bays and John Griffin, together with a number of slaves. Fearing trouble with the Indians, Colonel Brown had fortified the boat in which the party was to embark by placing oak planks two inches thick all around above its gunwales. Through these at suitable distances apart were port-holes and in the stern was mounted a small swivel. About daybreak on the morning of May 9 they passed the first of the Chickamauga towns near Chattanooga. The occupants of the latter sent scouts down the river to notify the inhabitants of Running Water and Nickajack of their approach. When the whites reached the latter towns an hour later they were met in midstream by about forty savages in canoes. These bore in front of them white flags, indicating that their mission was one of peace. Guns and tomahawks in abundance, however, were carefully concealed in the bottoms of their craft. His suspicions having been aroused, Colonel Brown warned them not to come near, and turning his boat about leveled at them the swivel. Just at this juncture John Vann, a half-breed who spoke English, begged Brown not to shoot, insisting that his companions Intended no harm, but desired only to trade for such wares and trinkets as the voyagers might have aboard. During this parley, however, the savages were gradually advancing, and when at length their canoes had surrounded Brown's boat, they clambered up over its sides and rapidly pushed it ashore. Guns and tomahawks now came from their hiding places and flashed on every side. The occupants of the boat were seized and a most treacherous massacre began. One big Indian, drawing a fine sword which had doubtless been captured in some murderous expedition, with one stroke beheaded Colonel Brown and threw his body into the river. Two of the older sons, James, Jr., and John, and three of the young men of the party were killed and their bodies mutilated. Mrs. Brown and one daughter were taken captive and driven on foot two hundred miles south into the Creek nation, where for seventeen months they were kept in a most degraded bondage. During the long journey thither they were not allowed to remove the gravel which from time to time fell into their shoes, thus causing them most excruciating pain. Two of the younger daughters, Jane, aged ten, and Polly, aged five, were spirited away into the Cherokee nation and there held captive for a year. The youngest of the children, a boy, was detained for five years among the Creeks. When released he had forgotten the language of his parents and spoke only in the Indian tongue.

Another son, who afterwards became Capt. Joseph Brown, of Maury County, was held captive for a year at Running Water. While there he was the slave of an Indian by the name of Tom Tunbridge, who was afterwards killed during an attack on Buchanan's Station, in 1792. The Negro slaves with the Brown party were carried to the upper towns and there, by way of reward, became the property of those Indians who had first given notice of the approach of the whites.

Through the efforts of Col. John Sevier, "Old Chuckey Jack," as he was called by the Indians, the surviving members of the Brown family were in the course of time exchanged for Indian prisoners, and returned to their former home in North Carolina. They afterwards removed to the Cumberland and settled on the east side of the river three miles below Nashville. Justice followed the perpetrators of this dastardly outrage with a leaden heel, but as we shall see later they were finally overtaken and Capt. Joseph Brown was largely instrumental in bringing it about.

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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