Godspeed’s History of Johnson County (1886)

The following information was transcribed from Godspeed’s History of Tennessee (1896).

JOHNSON COUNTY is the extreme eastern county of the State. It is bounded on the north by Virginia and on the east and southeast by North Carolina. The area in acres Is 249,600, or in square miles about 890. It is well watered by springs and streams. The Watauga River forms the dividing line between this county and Carter for a short distance. and receives the principal stream of the former, Roane Creek. The remaining streams of the county are Little Doe River, a tributary of Roane Creek, and Laurel Fork and Beaverdam Creek, which waters enter the Hoiston River. The surface of the county is usually broken. The Iron Mountain traverses it from northeast to southwest, and Stone Mountain marks the boundary of North Carolina. Doe Mountain lies wholly within the county, and extends a distance of about twelve miles. The most fertile lands lie along Little Doe, Roane Creek and the district known as Shady. The mineral resources are exceedingly valuable. This is especially true of iron ore, which exists in extensive beds, and for nearly a hundred years has been worked in a small way.

The first settlement in Johnson County is said to have been made about 1770, on Roane Creek, near its confluence with the Watauga, by a man named Honeycut. Other settlements were made soon after farther up Roane Creek, and on Little Doe and the Laurel. Shady was also settled at a comparatively early day, Among the pioneers who had found homes in the territory now embraced in Johnson County prior to 1778, were Joseph Hoskins, George and Samuel Heatherby, Thomas, John and Charles Asher, Richard and Benjamin Wilson, John and Henry Grimes, Joseph Gentry, John, Jesse and Josiah Hoskins and John Higgins. At that time the entire population of this section did not exceed 150. Among those who came during the next twenty years and located in Little Doe were Jacob Perkins, George Brown, George Crosswhite, Ed. Polly, Joseph Timpkins; and David Stout. Jacob Perkins died about 1820, leaving five sons: Joseph, Joshua, Amos, Jacob and John. The others all have a number of descendants in the county. Of the settlers on Roane Creek, duriug the period from 1778 to 1798 may be mentioned, Leonard Shown, John Barry, John Vaught, David Wagner, Jacob and Michael Slimp. Vaught bad a mill and “still-house” which he left to his son, Joseph Vaught. Shown located at the cross roads, which has long borne his name. David Wagner lived east of Shown’s Cross Roads. He was the father of Mathew, David H., Jacob and John Wagner, At a very early day Nathaniel Taylor erected iron works on Roane Creek, He afterward transferred them to his son, James P. Taylor, who sold them to David Wagner.

Among the settlers on the Laurel were James Keys, Charles Anderson and the Wills. Of the remaining settlers of the county prior to 1800 many have been forgotten, while the names of others’ are’perpetuated by their descendauts. A few only can be enumerated here. These were Peter and John Cain, Benjamin and Daniel Cuthbert, Peter Snyder, Abraham Dorson and Joseph Sewell, Joseph, John and Garland Wilson, Robert and John Walters, William Woodby (now Widby), William Netherly and Anthony and William Fisher.

The first church organized in the county was known as Roane Creek Baptist Church, constituted on April 20, 1794. Benjamin Brown was chosen moderator, William Jackson clerk and George Brown elder. At the next meeting in May George Brown, Stephen Wheeler, Benjamin Brown, Joseph Gentry, John Grimes, John Asher and William Jackson were also appointed to sit, as the church, at Mr. Loyd’s, to receive members, on the second Saturday in June. Among the first members mentioned were Benjamin Cuthbert, Reuben and John Asher, Jacob Perkins, John and William Brown, Stephen Gentry, Joseph Tompkins, William Clark, William Pembleton, James Parsons, John Mullins, John Smith, Benjamin Sewell, Hezekiah Boone, Samuel Cole, Thomas Thornton and Joseph and John Jackson. To them should be added about thirty-five names of female members belonging to the families of the above men, making an aggregate membership of about sixty-five. This church then included all the Baptists in Johnson County, and some from the contiguous territory. In 1797 it was decided to build three houses of worship-one on Lower Roane Creek, another on Upper Roane Creek, and the third on Little Doe. Whether these buildings were erected could not be ascertained, but it is probable that they were not built, but services were held at private residences in the three settlements in turn. The first pastor was James Tompkins, installed in 1797. In 1801 the members on Cobb Creek were constittited a new church, and at the same time a new society was formed and given the name of Meadow Church. It was first represented in the association in 1803 by George and William Brown. In 1844 Little Doe Church was admitted to the association, and the next year Pleasant Grove. The delegates from the former were D. M. Stout and John Shefilleld, and from the latter W. A. Gamble, D. Wagner and N. Stout.

The Methodist Church began its work in the county during its earliest settlement, but it was not until many years after that any hoitac of worship was built. One of the first was at what is known as Deep Spring, built some time prior to 1833.

The Presbyterians have had but very few members in the county, and no organization has been successfully maintained. The Christian Church has formed several societies, and has a considerable membership, but it is not well supplied with ministerial services.

The organization of Johnson Cotinty took place in 1836. The first sessions of the county court was begun and held at Pleasant Grove Schoolhouse on May 2, 1836. The magistrates present were John Ward, Thomas Johnson, Andrew L. Wilson, Jared Arrendiell, James W. Warren, Joseph Robinson, James W. Wright, Andrew Wilson, James Brown, Jesse Cole, Levi Heath, M. M. Wagner, John Dugger, Sr., and Phillip Shull. M. M. Wagner was elected trustee, David H. Wagner, register; Benjamin Wilson, entry taker; S. E. McQueen. surveyor; William Keys, coroner, and Levi Heath, ranger. This court continued to meet at Pleasant Grove Schoolhouse, which was situated on Vaught Creek, near Roane Creek. for nearly a year. One or more sessions were then held at the house of Col. Greet’ Moore, in Taylorsville. In October, 1836, the county commissioners were given authority to contract for the building of a court house, to be not more than forty feet square, and two stories high. This structure was completed about one year later. Two years later the jail was completed at a coat of about $1,000.

The first circuit court of Johnson County was held on March 28, 1856, “at the house formerly occupied by Thomas Johnson, deceased.” [NOTE: The preceding is from the Court Records. It is alo contented by some persons who should know that the first court was held in a school house just southeast of town*] Samuel Powell presided, and Alfred D. Smith qualified as clerk. The grand jury impaneled at the next term was composed of the following men.. Andrew Potter. Thomas Barry, William Tompkins, Michael Smithpeter, John H. Vaught, Robert L. Doran, John Wagner, Casper Cobb, William Adkins, Hughes Warden, Peter Wills, Stephen Jackson and Jacob Rose.

Among the lawyers who resided in the county prior to the war were H. C. Smith, his brother, A. D. Smith. William Smithpeter, H.P. Murphy and Roderick B. Butler. The first named removed to Carter County at about the beginning of the war. A. D. Smith served as clerk of the circuit court, and clerk and master during nearly his entire professional career. He died during the war. William Smithpeter began the practice of law a few years before the war, but did not attain much prominence. The last two named above are still residents of the town. Mr. Murphy has, however, retired from practice. The honorable career of Mr.Butler needs little mention here. He came to the county when a youth as a tailor’s apprentice. and by his own unaided exertions he succeeded in securing a practical education and a good knowledge of the law. Upon the reorganization of the courts after the war he was made judge of the First Judicial Circuit; he resigned in 1867 to enter Congress, where he remained eight years. Since that time he has devoted his attention to his profession, but is now congressman-elect from the First District.

The present bar of the county is made up as follows: R. R. Butler, A. T. Donnelly, B. W. Jenkins, Thomas S. Smythe, Joseph A. Wilson, Joseph S. Jenkins, W. P. Sharp and James H. Church.

The commissioners appointed to locate the seat of justice were Green Moore, John Ward, James Brown, James B. Mosely and Ezekiel Smith, who, after viewing several places, purchased twenty-five and one-half acres of land from William P. Waugh, and laid off a town, to which was given the name of Taylorsville, in honor of the Taylors of Carter County. The site formerly constituted a part of a large tract of land owned by John Wagner, who lived near where the residence of Noah Wagner now is. The sale of lots took place on September 6, 1886, at which time thirty-three lots were disposed of at comparatively high prices. One of the first residents of the town was Col. Green Moore, who built the house now occupied by Mr. Giles Gregory, where he kept a hotel and store. Andrew L. Wilson also sold goods in a log house standing on the site of the upper end of the Central Hotel. At about the same time M. M. Wagner opened a store in a portion of the same house where he now lives; afterward he built the large brick building, where since the war, his sons, Joseph H. and N. J., have been engaged in business. Archibald Broufute was another early merchant; his store stood in the south part of the town. George Alderson, Hughes & Davis, and Samuel Kilby were merchants of the town at little later date.

About 1845 or 1846 a county academy was built on the hill north of town. It was two-story frame building, and about ten years after its completion was destroyed by fire. The first teacher in this school is said to have been William Smithpeter, who was succeeded by Prof. Austin. About 1870 a three-story brick building was begun by Tayorsville Lodge, No.248, F. & A. M., but was not completed until three or four years later. A school known as the Masonic Institute was then opened under the direction of Rev. James Keys and Rev. Thomas W. Hughes. The institution has since been successfully maintained. The present principal is William Keys, assisted by Henry F. Ketron.

After the establishment of the town the society of Baptists known as Roane Creek Church, who had worshiped at or near Shown’s Cross Roads, removed to Taylorsville and about 1858 completed the present brick house. This work was largely effected through the efforts of M. M. Wagner and Rufus Moore, the latter of whom has been clerk of the church for more than half a century.

Soon after the completion of the courthouse the Methodists began holding services there, and continued until about 1858, when a small brick church was erected. A few years after the war this building was sold for debt, and was purchased by members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Mr. A. Murphy furnishing the greater part of the funds.

The town now has a population of about 400. In 1885 its name was changed from Taylorsville to Mountain City, which from its location as one of the highest valleys of Tennessee is very appropriate. The business of the town is now conducted by the following persons: A. A. Murphy’s son, James S. Mitchell, C. C. Yarbrough, general merchandise, and H. S. McDade druggist. The first named is also the proprietor of a tannery.

The leading newspaper of the county is the Tennessee Tomahawk edited and published by W. H. Keys. It was established as the Taylorsville Reporter and received present name after the change in the name of the town. The Mountain City News is a small two-column folio which was recently established by C. C. Yarbrough.

From the organization of the county to the present time the officers have been as follows: County Clerks – R. C. White, 1836-40; A. Bradfute, 1840-44; A. T. Wilson l844-48; A. Bradfute; 1848-52; H. L. Wilson, 1852-60; Calloway Elrod, 1860-62; Frederick Slimp. 1862-64; John K. Hughes, 1864-65; H. E. Berry, 1865-70; Richard H. Butler, 1870-78; John A. Eggers, 1878-82; H. E Berry, 1882.

Clerks of the Circuit Court-A. D. Smith, l836-56; James W. Wright, 1856-60; Frederick Slimp, 1865-70; R. E. Berry. 1870-78; W. P. Sharp,1878-82; E. F. Johnson, 1882.

Clerks and Masters-A. D. Smith, 1856-80; Green Moore, 1860-; Thomas S. Smythe, 1866-68; J. H. Smith, 1868-73; H. A. Donnelly, 1873.

Registers-David H. Wagner, 1836-40; Alfred T.Wilson, 1840-44; Joseph Slimp, 1844-46; A. Bradfute, l846-50 M. S. Dickson, 1850-54; William Smithpeter, 1855-56; Daniel Slimp, 1858-64; A. C. McEwen, 1864-85; David Slimp, 1865-70; Francis M. Chappell, 1870.

Sheriffs-Reuben White, 1886-40; Calvin J. Moore, 184244; Isaac W. McQueen, 1844-50; James W. Wright, 1850-56; Samuel E. McQueen, 1856-60; R. L. Wilson, 1860-64; – Wilson, 1864-65; H. A. Donnelly, 1865-66; 1. F. Shown, 1866-72; Joseph A. Sutherland, 1872-74; I. F. Shown, 1874-76; E. F. Johnson, 1876-82; M. L. Moreland, l882-86; M. L.Moreland, 1886.

Trustees-M. M. Wagner, 1836-52; E. L. Dugger, 1852-54; James D. Donnelly, 1854-58; Benjamin W. Jenkins, 1858-62; R. A. Donnelly, 1862-64; S. E. McQueen, 1864-65; John M. Roberts. 1865- 66; Samuel Howard, 1866-68; H. H. Donnelly, 1868-70; Joseph A.Sutherland, 1870-72; C. A. Shown, 1872-74; N. T. Wagner, 1874-76; J. C. Donnelly, 1876-78; H. L. Wilson, 1878-82; James S. Laws, 1882-84; W. L. Johnson, 1884.

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