by (Mrs.) Sarah Smith, Historian

A Brief Summary of Giles’ Earliest Settlements and Historical Land Boundaries

Part I of II (Revised)


Created for Giles Co, TNGenWeb by Frederick Smoot from his Bureau of American Ethnology Indian Cessions map of Tennessee (56) (694k)


About 1765 the Chickasaws, who had begun to build villages along Big Bear Creek, moved into the country and made a settlement in the great bend of the Tennessee south of Huntsville [Madison County, AL] of today. The Cherokee resented the intrusion and promptly went to war with their former allies; but this brave people of whom it has been said that war was their very way of life could not stand before the imperious Chickasaw who had never known a defeat. In a decisive battle of 1769 the newcomers won a victory, but at such a dear price that they decided to abandon their settlement but not their claim to the country. The Cherokees never relinquished their claim. So eloquently did each nation plead the validity of its rights to this area in the numerous meetings with the United States commissioners that the government recognized the tribal claim of each to the land on both sides of the Tennessee east of Bear Creek. (“A Walk Through Time”, from The Chickasaw and Their Sessions by Frederick Smoot)


Present-day Giles County became part of the Carolina Colony under the King’s Charter of 1665, that colony extending “… west in a direct line as far as the South Seas…,” (1) and in 1775, part of the new Washington District, North Carolina. (2). The land of Giles was part of the hunting grounds for both the Chickasaw and Cherokees, remaining free of whites until 1783, the year the North Carolina legislature passed the “Land Grab” Act. (3)

Weary of dealing with her western frontier citizenry and nearly bankrupted by the Revolutionary War, North Carolina passed the 1783 legislation in order to sell her western lands. William Terrell LEWIS was appointed surveyor, John ARMSTRONG, entry-taker, and on October 20, 1783, a land office was opened in Hillsboro, North Carolina. Numerous of the surveys included land in Giles, but only nine months after opening, on May 25, 1784, John ARMSTRONG’s office was closed due to a second act passed by North Carolina in 1783, the bill ceding her western lands to the new United States Government.(4)

Unlike North Carolina, the new federal government was intent upon treating with the Indians, and land in present-day Giles County was included in the Hopewell Treaties of 1785 and 1786 (Cherokee and Chickasaw respectively). Under the 10 Jan 1786 treaty, the U.S. governement agreed that the Chickasaw boundaries were “… Beginning on the ridge that divides the waters running into the Cumberland, from those running into the Tennessee, at a point in a line to be run north-east, which shall strike the Tennessee at the mouth of Duck river; thence running westerly along said ridge, till it shall strike the Ohio; thence down the southern banks thereof to the Mississippi; thence down the same, to the Choctaw line or the Natchez district; thence along the said line, or the line of the district eastward as far as the Chickasaws claimed, and livid and hunted on, the twenty-ninth of November, one thousand seven hundred and eighty-two. Thence the said boundary, eastwardly shall be the lands allotted to the Choctaws and Cherokees to live and hunt on, and the lands at present in the possession of the Creeks; saving and reserving for the establishment of a trading post … at the lower port of the Muscle shoals … to be used and under the government of the United States of America.” (5)

As is shown by the above, both the Cherokee and the Chickasaw claimed portions of present-day Giles County as hunting grounds. The easternmost border of the Chickasaw land ran to the Chickasaw Old Fields, near Chickasaw Island on the Tennessee River east of Muscle Shoals, almost directly south of today’s Huntsville, Madison County, Alabama, where the Chickasaw and Cherokee lands met and overlapped, including some parts of the Elk and Duck Rivers in western Middle Tennessee. (ibid.)

In 1799 Williamson County was created from Davidson and references to land now in Giles are also found in land warrants as early as 1803, although those records located to-date were all east of the Elk River. (6) On 23 Jul 1805, the Chickasaw ceded to the United States (partial) “… up the main channel of the Tennessee River to the mouth of the Duck River; thence up the left bank of Duck River to the Columbian Highway or road leading from Nashville to Natchez; thence along the said road to the ridge dividing the waters running into the Duck River from those running into the Buffaloe River; thence eastwardly along said ridge to the great ridge dividing the waters running into the Tennessee River from those running into the Buffaloe River near the main source of Buffaloe River; thence in a direct line to the great Tennessee River near the Chickasaw Old Fields or eastern point of the Chickasaw claim on that river; thence northwardly to the great ridge dividing the waters running into the Tennessee from those running into Cumberland River, so as to include all the waters of the Elk River; thence along the top of the said great ridge to the place of the beginning …” (5)

The Chickasaw Cession of 1805 still left that nation possessing all lands east of the red diagonal (on the above map), and on 7 Jan 1806, they became the sole Indian custodians of these hunting grounds when the Cherokee relinquished “…all right, title, interest, or claim … to all that tract of country which lies to the northward of the river Tennessee, and westward of a line to be run from the upper part of the Chickasaw Old Fields, at the upper point of an island called Chickasaw Island, on said river, to the most easterly head of the waters of that branch of said Tennessee River called Duck River…” under the Dearborn Treaty. (ibid.)

That same year, Congress enacted the U. S. Congressional Reservation which prohibited non-Indian settlement on the reservation, described as “Beginning at the place where the eastern or main branch of Elk River shall intersect the [southern] boundary line of the State of Tennessee; from thence running due north, until said line shall intersect the northern or main branch of Duck River; thence down the waters of Duck River, to the military boundary line, as established by the seventh section of an act of the State of North Carolina…thence with the military boundary line, west, to a place where it intersects the Tennessee River . . .”* (7)

* On 11 Sep 1807, an “Elucidation” was signed with the Cherokee Nation restating the bounds, including the additional statement that “…which tract of country had … been claimed by the Cherokees and the Chickasaws; the eastern boundary whereof is limited by a line so to be run from the upper part of the Chickasaw Old Fields, as to include all the waters of the Elk River … the eastern limits of said ceded tract shall be bounded by a line so to be run from the upper end of Chickasaw Old Fields, a little above the upper point of an island, called Chickasaw Island, as will directly intersect the first waters of Elk River, thence carried to the great Cumberland Mountain, in which the waters of Elk River have their source, then, along the margin of said mountain, until it shall intersect lands heretofore ceded to the United States, at the Tennessee Ridge.” (ibid.)

On 18 Apr 1806, an Act of Congress authorized Tennessee to issue grants and perfect titles to lands described as “lands north and east of the Congressional Line, and established the legal description of that Line as “…beginning at the place where the eastern or main branch of Elk river shall intersect the southern boundary line of the state of Tennessee; from thence running due north, until said line shall intersect the northern or main branch of the Duck river, thence down the waters of Duck river, to the military boundary line… thence with the military boundary line, west to the place where it intersects the Tennessee river; thence down the waters of the river Tennessee, to the place where the same intersects the northern boundary line of the state of Tennessee.” (8) 



Created for Giles Co, TNGenWeb by Frederick Smoot from his Bureau of American Ethnology Indian Cessions map of Tennessee (54) (694k)


Tennessee began issuing grants, including in Maury County, erected from Williamson in 1807. Bright’s survey errors were discovered soon after his survey, as shown by early Maury County Second District Surveys of land now in Giles which was located between the true and false Congressional Reservation lines (probably on or near Indian Creek north of Elkton), referring to land west of “… the line run by Mr. BRIGHT as the congressional line,” and land “on the supposed reservation line,” warrants issued in 1803 and surveyed in 1808. (4)

On 14 Nov 1809, by an act of the Tennessee General Assembly, Giles was created from Maury, and described as:

“AN ACT TO ESTABLISH A COUNTY SOUTH OF MAURY COUNTY, AND NORTH OF THE SOUTHERN BOUNDARY OF THE STATE. That there be a new county established within the following described bounds, to wit: Beginning at the southeast corner of Maury County; thence due south to the southern boundary of the State; thence west as far as to form a constitutional county; thence north to the line of Maury County, and with said line to the beginning, which county shall be known by the name of Giles County…” (9)

Neither the 1807 or 1809 Tennessee enactments make mention of Indian treaties or the Congressional Reservation lines, although both impacted strongly on land claims before and during Giles’ early years. James McCallum, in his History of Giles…, describes the Chickasaw Indian boundary line as “… from Lewis’ Grove at the South-west corner of Maury County to Ditto’s landing on the Tennessee River, and crossed Elk River two or three mils [sic] above Prospect, leaving the West and South-western portion of the County in Indian territory.” He also adds that “Few persons came to the County until after the Indian title was extinguished. Although a large portion of the best lands in Giles County was located and entered soon after the passage of the Act in 1783, and grants issued for a considerable portion of it, yet the owners were not permitted to go on their lands, or to have them surveyed or the lines marked, until after the treaty of January, 1806. And until after that time it is believed there were no permanent settlements in the County.” (10)

McCallum admits elsewhere that he did not actually know that there were no earlier settlements, but only that he was unable to learn of any earlier than 1806. An understanding, however, of the effect of the varying treaties and lines on even the later (1806+) Giles settlements is necessary to an understanding of the actual lives of these early settlers, particularly the “intruders” who settled west of the Congressional Reservation line: from the destruction of their improvements and the removal of their families by federal soldiers from Fort Hampton; i.e., according to McCallum: “In 1809, 1810 and 1811, U. S. Soldiers from Fort Hampton situated on Elk River four miles above its mouth, were sent out in the month of June to drive all the settlers off the Indian land as it was called, although some of the settlers had grants for their land. They acted very rascally; cut down the corn with large butcher knives, threw down and burned fences and houses and forced the settlers back over the line…”

Among the settlements named by McCallum as locations where the U. S. Army did their “… villainous work of removal and destruction …” were West of Campbellvill [sic], Weakly Creek, Shoal Creek and West of Prospect. He also noted that Senator Felix Grundy, in a speech to the United States Senate in 1812, “urged the early extinguishment of the Indian title to the lands West of Maury and Giles, embracing the Western and South-western part of Giles, and to the Mississippi River…”

Continued in Part II, The Intruders, the story of the settlers who “intruded” on reservation land prior to the Chickasaw Treaty of 1816.

The author especially acknowledges the generosity of Frederick Smoot for his online contributions to this initial effort to define and develop our knowledge of early Giles. More historian than genealogist, I have long held an interest in early Giles, specifically the original settlers of the southwest, and the effect of the various Cherokee and Chickasaw treaties in respect to settlement and migration.
(Mrs.) Sarah Smith

Note: The author has attempted to use on-line resources when possible. A complete bibliography of sources is planned for the future.

Historical Highlights of North Carolina: Colonial Period, North Carolina Encyclopedia, State Library of North Carolina

Washington County History, Washington County History, The Watauga Association and Washington District, Washington County, TNGenWeb

“This Land is Our Land! Tennessee’s Disputes with North Carolina,” by Gale Williams Bamman, CG, CGL, Genealogical Journal, Vol. 24, Number 3, 1996

“Land Registration in Early Middle Tennessee, Laws and Practice” (thesis), by Daniel Byron Dovenbarger, Nashville, 1981

The Chickasaw and Their Cessions, Frederick Smoot, TNGenWeb

Early Land of Giles, 1783-1805, S. Smith, Giles County, TNGenWeb

Tennessee Second Surveyor’s District), (Frederick Smoot, TNGenWeb)

8 Chickasaw Cessions, The State of Tennessee and the Federal Government…)

Goodspeed’s History…

10 McCallum’s History…