TNGenWeb Project
The Goodspeed Publishing Co., History of Tennessee, 1887
Pages 864-867

History of Cocke County

Also See: Biographical Sketches
Transcribed by Kris L. Martin

       Cocke County lies in the shape of a triangle with its base resting on the Great Smoky Mountain. It is bounded on the north and northeast by Hamblen and Greene Counties, and on the west and southwest by Sevier and Jefferson. It has an area of about 540 square miles. It is traversed by the French Broad and Big Pigeon Rivers which form a junction a short distance above the mouth of the Nolachucky. These streams, with their tributaries, afford an abundance of water and water power. The latter is utilized by a large number of excellent flouring and saw mills, but no other manufactories of importance have as yet been established. The principal minerals found in the county are iron, baryta, and gold, the first named in great abundance. The territory now embraced in Cocke County began to be settled in 1783, along the "Chuckey." The next year several persons located in that fertile section since known as the "Irish Bottom." One of the earliest was George McNutt, whose daughter was the first white child born south of the French Broad. Josiah, Benjamin and Alexander Rogers, John McNabb, Cornelius McGuinn and Joseph and William Doherty also located in that neighborhood. A settlement was made north of the French Broad by a colony of Pennsylvania Germans, among whom were the Huffs, Boyers, and Ottingers. this vicinity then took the name of the "Dutch Bottom." Peter Fine, who was licensed to keep the first Ferry in the county, settled on the river opposite the old town of Newport. In 1783 John Gilliland, made a crop of corn at the mouth of Big Pigeon, and a year or two later brought his family, eight of whom were sons. He took an active part in organizing the State of Franklin, and was one of the delegates elected to the convention of 1785, to pass upon the constitution of the new State. William Lillard, the first representative of the county in the Legislature, lived on the river below old Newport. The first settlement on Cosby Creek was doubtless made by Samuel Odell. Daniel Adams lived at War Ford of Big Pigeon. His house stood on the lot now occupied by the residence of Maj. William McSween.
       The first road in the county was laid out from this point tot he point on the Nolachucky, where the war path crossed it, in 1784. In 1793 the Jefferson county court appointed Peter Huff, Spencer Rice, John McNabb, William Lillard, Joseph Rutherford, Alexander Rogers, Thomas Christian and Henry Patton commissioners, to lay off a road from the mouth of Pigeon up the south side of the French Broad to the War Ford.
       Although the pioneers of Cocke County suffered less from Indian incursions than some of the more exposed counties, numerous instances of massacres and other depredations might be detailed. In the latter part of 1783 the Indians began to steal the cattle and horses of the few persons who had that year settled along the French Broad and Nolachucky. They then retreated across the mountains to North Carolina. Maj. Peter Fine and William Lillard raised a company of thirty men and pursued them. After killing one Indian and wounding a second, and having regained the stolen property, they began their return and encamped. During the night the indians who had followed them made a sudden attack killing Vinet Fine and wounding Thomas Holland and Mr. Bingham. The savages remained in the vicinity until near morning when they took their departure. The members of the company then broke a hole in the ice of a creek upon which they had encamped, and put body of Vinet fine in the water of the stream, which has ever since borne the name of Fine Creek. The wounded men were carried back to their homes, and recovered. During the next two years it was necessary to keep scouts continually between Pigeon and French Broad, and three forts were built. they were McCoy’s Fort, on the French Broad, three miles above old Newport; Whitson’s, on Pigeon, ten miles above the same place, and Wood’s, five miles below. Notwithstanding these precaustions, Nehemiah and Simeon Odell were killed and scalped, and their guns taken. A boy ten years old, named Nelson, was killed on Pigeon river, and the horse which he was riding was stolen. A little son and daughter of Mr. Huff, living on the French Broad in what is now the First Civil District, were seized by the Indians while passing along the wood. the girl was scalped upon the spot and left for dead, while the boy was taken captive; but the Indians being quickly pursued, and fearful of being overtaken, tomahowked him near the War Ford of Pigeon. The girl afterward recovered. the last depredations were committed in 1793, when a large number of horses were stolen from the neighborhood of Cosby Creek.
       The first church in Cocke County was organized by the Baptists at Upper War Ford some time prior to 1794, as it was represented in the Holston Association of that year by Joshua Kelly, Peter Fine and John Netherton
       Cocke County was created by an Act of the General Assembly, passed in October, 1797. It was cut off from jefferson County and was named in honor of Gen. William Cocke, one of the most distinguished of the pioneers of Tennessee. The commissioners appointed to locate the seat of justice and superintend the erection of county buildings were Henry Ragan, William Job, John Coffee, Peter Fine, John Keeney, Reps Jones and John McGlocklen. They chose a site about one and one-half miles below the present county seat, at what was known as Fine’s Ferry. Fifty acres of land were donated by John Gilliland, and the town was soon after laid out. A log courthouse and rock jail were then erected; the latter building was about twenty feet square, substantially built. The courthouse was used until 1828, when a new brick building was erected. the jail did service about ten years longer. A building was then erected with double walls of hewed logs, the intervening space being filled with small rock. It was two stories high, with a debtor’s room above and a dungeon below; the latter was entered through a trap door in the floor of the room above. This building was torn down during the war, and when a new one was to built it was erected at the new county seat. It is a small building constructed of rock, and is said to have cost $4,000. On December 24, 1867, the Cincinnati, Cumberland Gap & Charleston Railroad was completed to what is now known as Newport, and the question of the removal of the county seat to that place began to be agitated; a long legal controversy then ensued, pending the settlement of which the seat of justice vibrated between two places. In 1884 it was finally decided in favor of the new town, and the following year the erection of the present handsome brick courthouse was begun, under the supervision of C.F. Boyer, Joseph Murrell and J.H. Fagala; it was completed in 1886 at a cost of $10,000. A few years previous the building occupied as a temporary courthouse was destroyed by fire, and the entire records of the county were lost, nothing can therefore be given concerning the transactions of the courts. The first lawyers in the county were Thomas Gray and William Garrett, both of whom were licensed to practice in 1796. The latter was deputy county clerk in Jefferson County before the organization of Cocke, and for thirty years was clerk of the county court in the latter county. He was consequently, but little engaged in the practice of law. Tilghman A. Howard, who entered the legal profession in Cocke County about 1820, son removed to Indiana, where he distinguished himself as a general in the Civil War. Gray Garrett was admitted to practice in 1821, and in 1838 was elected attorney-general, a position he held for eight years. He was a fine speaker and an able lawyer. About 1825 he removed to Claiborne County. His successors at Newport were DeWitt McNutt and James A. Marshall. Later A. J. Fletcher located at Newport. He was a finely educated man and an able lawyer. He served one or more terms in the State Senate, and from 1865 to 1870 filled the office of secretary of State. About 1846 W.H.M. Randolph began the practice of law, and was soon after appointed attorney general vise Gen. Caswell, then serving in the Mexican war. He was a brilliant young man, but died soon after beginning his professional career. His brother, James H. Randolph, entered the profession in 1848, and soon took a prominent place at the bar. He represented the county in the Legislature in 1857-58 and 1861-62 and in 1865 was elected to the State Senate. In 1868 he was chosen judge of the judicial circuit, and remained upon the bench until 1876, when he resigned to become a candidate for Congress. He was elected and served for one term. Since the expiration of his term he has retired from his profession, and is now engaged in operating a flouring and saw mill.
       In 1857 Maj. William McSween began the practice of law, and has since continued. He had formerly filled official positions in the county for many years, and was a member of the Lower House of the Genera1 Assembly in 1839-40.
       The present bar is composed of the following attorneys: William McSween, M. W. Langhorn, N. B. Jones and W. J. McSween.
       The old town of Newport was laid out in 1799, but it never attained much importance except as the seat of justice. In 1830 it was a village of only 150 inhabitants, and consisted of but two stores and five or six shops. Of the first inhabitants but little is known. One of the first stores was opened by Charles Lewin. The merchants of a later date were William C. Roadman, John and George Stuart, Smith & Siler, Rankin & Pulliam, James W. Rankin and William McSween.
       Some time about 1820 a county academy, known as Anderson Academy, was opened in a brick building about one mile south of the town. The first trustees for the institution were Isaac Leonard, Abraham McCoy, Peter Fine, Daniel MccPherson and William Lillard, appointed in 1806. Later Alexander Smith, Henry Stephens, Francis J. Carter and Augustis Jenkina were added. Among the first teachers were Rev. Robert McAlpin and Nathaniel Hood. About 1840 the academy was removed to the town, where a new brick building was erected, and the school continued to be taught until the war.
       For many years after the town was establisiled it was without a church building. The Methodists worshiped in a house about one mile below town, but subsequenty erected a new building in the town. The Presbyterians held services in the academy until about 1837, when they also built a church.
       Upon the completion of tile railroad to the present Newport. a depot was erected and a town began to build up on both sides of the road between the bluff and the river. The site was owned by Thomas S. and David H. Gorman, the depot having been built upon the line between them. The first store was opened by Thomas Evans. who was soon after followed by C. T. Peterson, Edward Clark and Roadman & Gorman. In 1880 the inhabitants of the town numbered 347, but since that time the growth has been quite rapid, and the population is now about 1,000.
       The business interests at the present time are represented by the following firms: Ragan & Kniseley, J. S. Susong, Barr & Burnett, Clark, Robinson & Co., D. A. Mimms, Jones Bros. & Co.. C. H. Allen and Robinson & Cody, general merchandise; J. J. O’Neil & Co. and Ramsey & Snoddy, drugs; Hill & Connelly, stoves and tinware; Denton & Willis, furniture and undertakers, and Miss Sallie Anderson, books and stationery.
       The only manufacturing establishment now in operation is the Newport Mills, owned by J. H. Randolph & Son. It consists of a flouring-mill and a saw and planing mill, A large organ factory will, probably, soon be erected.
       The town is well supplied with schools and churches. Newport Academy was erected in 1875 by Newport Lodge, No. 234. F & A. M., and opened under the supervision of Prof. W. R. Manard. The present principal is D. H. Howard. In 1885 a Baptist Seminary was opened under the care of N. E. W. Stokely.
       In 1858, prior to the establishment of the town, a Presbyterian Church was erected, as the successor of the Pisgah Church. The congregation was first organized in 1823 by Rev. Robert Hardin. The principal movers in the erection of the new building were A. E. Smith, Abraham Fine, H.H. Baer and William Jack. In 1875 the Baptists completed a handsome frame building, and in 1886 the members of the Methodist Episcopal Church South erected a fine brick church.
       The second largest town in the county is Parrottsville, situated about six miles north of Newport. It was established about 1830, on the farm of Jacob Parrott. The first store was opened by William C. Roadman. Among others who were engaged in business there, prior to the war, were Rankin & Pulliam, McNabb & Faubion and Mims, Faubion & Co. The present merchants are James C. La Rue and Eisenhour & Horned. The town also has a good school, and a Methodist and a Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
       Big Creek, a station on the railroad, south of Newport. is a considerable shipping-point for lumber and shingles. It was established about 1870 upon land owned by Jesse and Jefferson Burnett.
       Rankin’s Depot is a small village on the railroad, north of Newport.
       The first newspaper in the county was the Excelsior Star, a little sheet published by Joseph L. Bible. It was established at Big Creek in 1875. In September of the following year the editor moved to Parrottsville, and there published the Reporter until 1877, when he removed to Newport. He continued at the latter place until 1880, when he went to Dandridge. The next paper was the Sentinel, established by A. J. Thomas, who continued its publication for three or four years. For a short time during 1886 the Newport Ledger was published by a Mr. Christopher. accurate a list of the officers of Cocke County as could be obtained in the absence of all records;
       Sheriffs--Thomas Mitchell, Isaac Allen, James Jennings, Benjamin B. Coleman, John Allen, Abraham Fine, James R. Allen, Thomas S. Gorman, William Johnson; John D. Smith, 1858-68; Davidson Sprouse, 1868-72; James Netherland, 1872-74; John Bible, 1874-76; C. F. Boyer, 1876-82; John A. Balch, 1882-84; J. I. Waters, 1884--.
       Trustees-William Coleman, Joseph H. Green, Isaac Smith, John Allen, James Dawson, William Robinson, Sanders McMahan, John Cameron, Robert Ragan, J. Wood, Joel Wrenn, John Hale, Henry Penland; M. A. Driscoll, 1878-80; A. M. Stokeley, 1880-84, and B. A. Proffitt, 1884.
       Clerks of the county court-William Garrett, 1798-1828; George M. Porter, 1828-36; William MeSween, 1836-39; John F. Stanberry, 1839-44; John Gorman, 1844-- ; Allen McMahan, L. D. Porter, D. W. Stuart, 1860-62; James C. La Rue, 1862-66; William H. Wood, 1866-68; P. W. Anderson, 1868-74; William H. Penland, 1874-82, and John T. Jones, 1882.
       Clerks of the circuit court-Henry K. Stephens, 1810--; Daniel C. Chamberlain, --- William D. Rankin, 1830-44; William McSween, 1844-56; D. A. Crawford, 1856-59; Isaac Allen, 1859-60; H. H. Baer, 1860-70; William Campbell, 1870-72; H. H. Baer, 1872-74; John F. Stanberry, 1874-82, and C. F. Boyer, 1882.
       Clerks and masters-David Stuart, 1856--58; William MeSween, 1858-64; M. A. Roadman, 1864-76, and John D. Smith, 1876.
       Registers-Alexander Anderson, Alexander Milliken, John H. Penland, William H. Wood, John P. Taylor, Thomas Bell, Charles Brockway, Addison Ragan, 1866-70; William Cureton, 1870-78; Abraham Weaver, 1878--82, and Samuel Cureton, 1882.


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