KNOXVILLE IN OLDEN TIMES
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
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
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.