History of Campbell County, Tennessee
 

Time Line

KNOXVILLE IN OLDEN TIMES

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. 

     It was on a summer day in the year 1787 that a couple of horsemen stopped on the northern bank of the Holston River. The location was about four miles below the mouth of the French Broad River. Here they halted to survey the picturesque scene which was everywhere about them. It was a scene of such quiet and peace the weary travelers had ever experienced. The dense growth of trees indicated a rich soil, and the numerous springs that bubbled up along the margin of the narrow stream would supply a never-ending supply of pure water for a settlement. Thus, an appropriate site for the home of which these men were in pursuit. Moreover, the summit on which they stood was nature's own location for a fort. Furthermore, without a fort no frontier settlement was in those times safe from the vicious attacks from the Indians.

     There were bothersome times in this vast territory, west of the Alleghenies. The settler who built in this wilderness area put his own life at risk. Most certainly a spring, ford, or a hamlet, or a wooded path among the hills of these lands comprising of Kentucky of Tennessee, had experienced some sort of act of violence from the Indians.

     For nearly twenty years the conflict had been waged; a handful of whites against the Creeks, Choctaws, Cherokees, and Chickasaws. The Cherokee and the Chickasaws were considered the most warlike.

     John Sevier was considered the greatest of all Indian fighters. When he was within striking distance the home of the white man was safe. Since Sevier was not always present the settlers sought additional security in a sturdy barrack of logs erected in the heart of every settlement. The fort, which was first mentioned, was erected on the summit of the ridge overlooking the Holston and was the type of all that were built beyond the Alleghenies.

     At the fort, as I first mentioned, covered a triangular piece of ground of about half an acre. At each corner was a cabin of hewn logs a foot or more square. The ends were morticed, and the logs fitted closely one upon the other, so as to form a wall impenetrable to bullets.

     Two of these cabins were of two stories, the upper story projecting about two feet beyond the lower. This projectory was pierced with portholes, from which the settler could see and keep at bay an enemy should he advance near enough to scale the stockade of set fire top the buildings.

     The stockade filled the foremost spaces between the cabins, and was of timber a foot square and eight feet long, imbedded firmly in the ground. The upper ends were sharpened, and the whole construction set so closely together as to be resistant to small arms. A wide gate hung on stout wooden hinges, and was secured by heavy hickory bars, opened toward a little stream. From it a path led down to one of the many springs along its border.

     The fort was certainly of a rude structure, and not very impressive in appearance, but it was all in all invincible to any attacks from such aimless warriors as the Indians, unless they should come upon in overpowering numbers, or by a customary siege to starve out the garrison.

     The fort at Knoxville was built by two Revolutionary War veterans -- James White and James Conner, from Iredell County, North Carolina. These two men thus laid the foundation of the future capital of Tennessee. The two and their comrades cut down the trees about the barrack, and cleared the ground of stumps to prevent them from becoming hiding places for the Indians. They thus cleared the land and planted the corn, and then left for their families. They returned with them the same year, and with the family of another Revolutionary soldier, took up their residence in the fort; thus began the first settlement at this remote outpost of civilization.

     They were in the heart of the primitive forest, and the life they led was of the most primitive description. Pounded corn was their only bread; their only meat and game brought down by their rifles. they pounded flax, and this the women made into garments; the men had scarcely clothing other than the deerskin leggings and hunting shirts of the Indians. However, they did live long here long. Emigration was rolling rapidly westward, and soon other settlers came about them. Among them were some whose names have gone down in a casual mention in history. One of these gallant men was John Adair, the patriotic tax collector (entry-taker) of the district of Washington, now the whole State of Tennessee.

     Another settler who built his cabin a few miles from the fort at Knoxville was James Cosby, an old Indian fighter. He was one of the most trusted of John Sevier's lieutenants. He headed the little expedition which invaded North Carolina and rescued Sevier, when Sevier was under the ban of outlawry, and being tried for his life by a hostile invasion of the mother state, North Carolina.

     Knoxville, the first capitol of Tennessee, grew slowly; it did not, like some western towns, flourish in a single moment of time. Its progress was more normal, unlike some western towns, and increased by moderate stages. First came the rude cabin of hewn logs with puncheon floor and unglazed windows. Then, at the end of half a decade, a frame building was constructed. This was the Governor's house, and it stood alone in its glory for another half-decade. But soon after 1796, when commenced the long reign of John Sevier. This era brought to the entire frontier peace, security, and flourishing prosperity. thus, the whole town developed into clapboards and before long displayed itself in dingy bricks and mortar. This prosperous period of time found dwellings and public buildings rapidly being erected.

Time Line



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