History of Anderson County

Historical Background
Anderson County, Tennessee

Copyrighted 1971

In 1971, Snyder E. Roberts was asked to write a history of Clinton Senior High School in Clinton, Tennessee (Anderson County). Mr. Roberts was then a history teacher there, and a noted local genealogist and historian. In the first chapter of the book, he wrote a sketch of early Anderson County, with some mention of early settlers, and slanted somewhat toward educational movements. Available in local libraries, the book is out of print. The following has been copied by his daughter, Pat (Roberts) McDONALD, of Spring, Texas.

[All the works of Snyder E. Roberts are now the property of C. S. Harvey and are available in the Roberts-Harvey Archives in Oliver Springs, Tennessee.]

The first white men to enter present-day Anderson County were a group of hunters headed by a man named WALLEN, or WALDEN, who was accompanied by SCAGGS, COX, BLEVENS, and others in 1761. Walden’s Ridge, named in honor of the leader, is a very important landmark. It extends from Cumberland Gap to Chattanooga, and is the geological dividing line between the East Tennessee Valley and the Cumberland Plateau. The south side foot of this ridge was once the Indian boundary. Today Walden’s Ridge divides Anderson County into the mountainous portion and the valley portion. The mountainous portion is Anderson County’s contribution to Appalachia, whereas the valley portion of the county includes the City of Oak Ridge.

Another landmark of importance in Anderson County is the Clinch River which was called “Pellisipi” by the Indians. The story is told that a group of early explorers, which included one Irishman, was fording the river by wading. Each man clasped the hand of the man in front of him and the hand of the man following so as to form a chain that would lend the most aid to the man in the swiftest part of the stream. On this occasion, the Irishman’s hand slipped as he reached the swift portion. As he felt himself in danger of being swept downstream, he became quite excited and yelled, “Clinch me! Clinch me!” Thereafter, the beautiful Pellisipi has been called the Clinch River.

After the explorers, Long Hunters, and traders, the settlers made their appearance in present-day Anderson County. The names of these first settlers are not recoverable from the records. A blockhouse was built in present-day Blockhouse Valley, which gave some protection from Indian incursions.

On November 30, 1792, Gen. John Sevier reported to Gov. William Blount the fort at South West Point had been completed. This fort at present-day Kingston [Roane County] was garrisoned with regular U.S. Army forces which patrolled into parts of present Anderson County providing greater protection from the Indians.

Among the first known settlers in Anderson County were Thomas FROST, Joseph BLACK, David HALL, Isaac COWARD, John CHILES, and John GARNER. [see History of Anderson County by Clifford Seeber]. These men settled in Raccoon Valley, Chestnut Ridge, and Wolf Valley. Their names have been perpetuated in the county to the present by numerous descendants. The FROST family provided the guiding hand that established the Baptist denomination in Anderson County. The HALL family has been well-known in medicine. The BLACKs have namesakes such as Black’s Ferry and Black’s Ferry Road. The CHILES family established outstanding military records. The virility of the COWARDs and the GARNERs has helped to populate Anderson County.

The territory south of Walden’s Ridge was obtained from the Cherokee Indians by the Treaty of Holston made in 1791 and the First Treaty of Tellico negotiated on October 2, 1798. With the extinguishing of Indian title to the land together with the increased protection offered by military forces, the settlers increased to the point where it seemed practical to petition the Tennessee General Assembly to divide Knox and Grainger counties and form two new counties. After ineffectual petitions had been filed, effectual petitions were filed in 1799 that resulted in the erection of the twin counties of Anderson and Gallatin (quickly changed to Roane) in 1801.

The original of the petition heading is written in almost perfect handwriting. The petition heading is followed by approximately 270 signatures. Robert HALL’s name heads the list, and Lazarus CHITWOOD’s name the last. Although some of the signers were not conversant with the rules for the capitalization of proper names, most of the names are legible; and many of them, including the SCARBROUGHs and WORTHINGTONs, are signed in beautiful handwriting. Contrary to common opinion, these Anderson County forefathers were literate in a surprisingly large percent of the cases.

The petition resulted in the passage of a legislative act November 6, 1801 that provided for the creation of Anderson County. The new county was named for Joseph ANDERSON (1757-1837) who was one of the judges of the Territory South of the Ohio River (1791-1796), United States Senator from Tennessee (1797-1815), appointed first Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury, and who helped frame the Tennessee Constitution.

The General Assembly authorized seven commissioners: William LEA, Kinza JOHNSON, William STANDIFER, William ROBERTSON, Joseph GRAYSON, Solomon MASSINGALE, and Hugh MONTGOMERY to purchase land for a county seat. The commissioners were further instructed to supervise the selection of a Court of Pleas and Quarter Session (a body now known as the County Court) to conduct the judicial and business affairs of the county.

In 1802, the county was organized for civil and military purposes into ten companies commanded by Captains LINVILLE, JEOFFERY, HAILE, WILSON, ROBBINS, McKAMEY, STELLES, CLOUD, MEDLIN and DAVIS. This organization provided a system for tax collecting and protection from incursions by Indians. Men between 21 and 50 years of age were enrolled. No records exist as to the literacy of men enrolled in these companies for Anderson County, but the same type organization in Roane County and at the same date, shows that of 275 enrolled only eight were illiterate or could not sign their names [see History of Roane County, Tennessee by Wells]. Anderson County enrollees would probably have compared with Roane Countians regarding literacy.

The above-named seven commissioners selected to choose a site for the county seat were authorized to purchase land not exceeding 50 acres on the Clinch River, “between the Island Ford, and where Samuel WORTHINGTON now lives, and lay off a town with necessary streets and alleys, reserving two acres near the center for the courthouse, jail, and stocks.” The new town was named Burrville in honor of the then popular Aaron BURR. When Burr killed Alexander HAMILTON in a duel and later became involved in a plot to establish a separate government west of the Mississippi, he was discredited and the people of Burrville asked the Legislature in 1809 to change the name of the town to Clinton. The record is not specific as to whether Clinton was named for George CLINTON, a Revolutionary War patriot, or for his nephew, Dewitt CLINTON, who later became Governor of New York and helped build the Erie Canal. The Commissioners followed their legislative instructions and purchased 40 acres from John LEIB for the town site. LEIB was the son-in-law of John CLODFELTER, a German immigrant by way of Pennsylvania who, with his eight sons-in-law, settled Dutch Valley. The 40 acres sold by Leib had been included in a purchase of 640 acres from William BLACK and Charles McCLUNG. BLACK had received a grant for the same tract from the State of North Carolina September 20, 1787.

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