|As settlements progressed further and further
down the valleys of the Nolachucky and Holston rivers, in the
upper and older section of Franklin, freed from the terror of
Indian invasions by the buffer vanguard a distinct advance was
made in the scale of living. Many of the houses were enlarged,
the single-room log cabin with its "lean-to shed" giving place
to double log houses, each unit having a loft, or garret. These
units were connected by a roofed passage-way open at both ends,
which served as a porch and storage place for the family
tool-chest, the water-bucket and a day's supply of wood.
Sawmills were not in use in the earlier days, but the whipsaw
contributed to the making of more comfortable houses. The
whipsaw was operated by hand. The timber was first squared with
adze or broad-axe, then raised to a scaffold six or seven feet
high. Two strong men operated the saw, one standing on the
scaffold, the other below it. To turn off one hundred feet of
boards for flooring and trim was a good day's work for two men.
Some of those better circumstanced erected stone houses of the
native blue limestone; these almost invariably were two-story
structures. No use was made of bricks.
Bloomeries and forges for the production of iron were
established on a small scale about 1786-7, and iron nails,
hinges and other structural parts came into more general use.
Improvement, too, was made in agricultural implements and
In the manufacture of bread-stuffs, the sweep and pestle were
superseded by small water-mills which served neighborhoods. The
franchise to operate these mills for toll was grantable by the
county courts in their legislative capacity.
Far removed from markets, effort was directed toward the
production of the essentials of life. Sugar was made from the
sap of the maple trees which grew in abundance. The season for
tapping was about the middle of February when the frost of the
night followed by sunshine produced a free flow of sap. The
sugar-making season continued for four or six weeks, after which
the sap was too poor to make sugar but was capable of being made
into molasses, vinegar, and a species of table beer.
Salt was obtained from the nearby salt-works on the Holston in
Virginia, owned by the minor daughter of General William
Campbell, but operated at this time on an enlarged scale by
Colonel Arthur Campbell, her guardian.
There were few skilled artisans in Franklin. The blacksmith and
the gunsmith plied their trades and were looked upon as men of
consequence. Colonel George Doherty was an expert gunsmith and
marksman. Woodenware, such as tubs, buckets and barrels, was
made by general artisans, as were also, to some extent, chairs.
The last were usually of oak or hickory, bottomed with splints
of white- oak or slippery-elm. Baskets and hampers were woven of
white- oak or hickory splints.
Handcraft in the homes was forced upon the families by
necessity. The clothing was almost wholly home-made.
Linsey-woolsey was the cloth usually worn by both sexes. Linen
made from homegrown flax furnished the chain and wool supplied
the filling or woof. A rough jeans was the cloth out of which
the stouter garments of the men were made. Home tanning and
cobbling customarily supplied the shoes, or shoe-packs fashioned
somewhat after the moccasin of the Indians.
Land was cleared for cultivation by burning; generally the trees
were belted or girdled and after dying they were felled, cut
into logs, rolled into piles and burned. At times when burning
was resorted to, the fire would get beyond control and a large
area would be burned over, thereafter to be called a barren.
Michaux, the younger, describes such a barren, produced in
Franklin days in clearing land just north of Holston river. Wild
strawberry vines matted the earth, and in season the "berries
covered the ground as with a red cloth.1
Fine apples were produced; and the Franklin people were indebted
to the friendly Chickasaws for species of superior peaches and
From the same Indian nation was obtained a fine breed of horses
highly valued by the Franklin people. These horses are said to
have been derived from a breed of Spanish horses left among the
Chickasaws by De Soto, and to have been unmixed with any other
strain. They furnished speed and stamina as mounts for Sevier's
A custom incident to warfare between the bordermen and the
Cherokee Indians was, that the horses captured by the bordermen
from the Indians were put to auction sale, but not until after
those who had lost horses to the Indians had been compensated by
an allotment in kind.
The frontiersmen, as hunters and soldiers, relied for a supply
of bullets largely on a vein of lead ore found on the lands of
John Sevier in the mountains about two and one-half miles from
his residence in Washington county.3
Powder was as necessary as lead and, as merchandise, was at
times not procurable. Necessity forced a home production.
Charcoal, of course, was readily obtainable. Saltpetre was made
from nitrous soil taken from local caves and submitted to a
process of leaching and boiling. The manufacture was at rude
water-mills. A mill consisted of a pole suspended at the middle
by means of a white-oak pin which rested in the two forks of
timber. Another pin was placed perpendicular in the front end,
forming a pestle. The back end of the pole carried a box into
which the water poured, by its weight raising the front end; as
the water rushed out the pestle fell upon the charcoal,
saltpetre and sulphur in a log trough used as a mortar. The
sulphur was brought hundreds of miles, on packhorses usually.
The soldiers under Sevier went to war as mounted infantrymen.
Men to hold and guard the horses were counted off. The onslaught
was one of surprise and accompanied by a piercing yell that
carried terror to the enemy—doubtless the same as the famous
rebel yell of the Civil War. Indeed, the methods and strategy of
Sevier may well have passed, as by descent cast, to that other
great commander of Tennesseans, Nathan Bedford Forrest.
The highways were few and poor. The upkeep devolved upon "warned
in" hands who labored an allotted number of days under an
easy-going supervisor of the neighborhood section. The road
ended in a blazed trail which terminated in a bridle path,
beyond which was the well nigh trackless forest. There were
scarcely any bridges over the streams and few ferries.
streams were navigated by flat-boats, usually of forty or sixty
tons burden, since they were more wieldy and safer. The boats
were constructed of oak, and were proportioned twelve by forty
feet for a forty-ton craft. Only larger ones had any covering.
Most of them were purposely of cheap construction because they
were destined for sale as plank at the down-stream destination.
Boats of sixty tons employed six hands, particularly if a cargo
of goods was to be brought back—poled up-stream.
Few of the villages of Franklin were located on navigable
streams so as to have their goods brought in entirely by boat;
but from a very early day the Boat Yard (Kingsport) at the
junction of the two forks of Holston river was a center for
water transportation, and commerce. Lieutenant Armstrong, of the
United States Army, in giving a report of his official visit to
Franklin (April, 1788) calls "Sullivan Court House the
metropolis of the new State."4 The other villages
were, in the order of their size, Jonesborough, Greeneville, and
Hawkins Court House (Rogersville). Goods sold in these places
were purchased in Richmond, Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Each village had one or more taverns, the rates fixed by
public authority for entertainment being: Diet, one shilling;
lodging, four pence; liquor, half pint, six pence; pasture and
stable, six pence; corn per gallon, eight pence; oats per
gallon, six pence.
One traveling between villages or on the frontier could
always find entertainment in the homes of the people.
Hospitality was the unwritten law. Bishop Hoss says: "To have
turned a hungry man from one's door, would have been to pay a
premium for general contempt, and 'light, stranger, hitch your
horse and come in,' was the salutation most in use when anybody
that was unknown by face rode up to the door."
1 Hence the name of Strawberry Plains for this
2 Hugh Williamson in his Observations (1811), p. 80.
The breed was in repute in East Tennessee in the latter decade
of the eighteenth century. A Rogersville breeder advertised a
celebrated sire named Piomingo; "a fine Spanish horse raised in
the Chicksaw nation." Knoxville Gazette, of March 24, 1792.
3 In this immediate section iron ore was later found
and reduced to pig iron in furnaces for several generations; and
in recent years immense deposits of zinc have been discovered
4 This indicates that the first regular seat of
justice in Sullivan county was at Kingsport prior to the laying
out of Blountville in 1792.