Sesquicentennial County History (1936)

An Early History of Hawkins County

From the Rogersville Review newspaper, Sesqui-Centennial Edition, November 26, 1936. Transcribed by Billie McNamara in 1998.

Hawkins County can lay great claim to antiquity.  The earliest authentic records we have of civilized man is that of a party of traders and hunters, who lured by the immense profits realized by trafficking with the Indians, began to penetrate this solitude that they might exchange their wares for the trophies of the chase.  Such a party passed through this section as early as 1740 on their way southward to the Cherokee Nation.

Some of these traders and hunters came from Pennsylvania, Virginia and others from England. These men camped 18 months on Powel‘s river and then crossed over into Virginia and Kentucky.

John Carter and Joseph Parker came from the Holston and Watauga settlements and near where Dr. Hoffman now lives set up a store to establish trade with the Indians and the few settlers that might come to the territory.  The store was soon plundered by Indians.  To the “Treaty of Sycamore Shoals” came Carter and Parker to demand reparation. In payment they were given all the land from Chimney Top Mountain, Cloud’s Creek, Devil’s Nose to the Virginia Line, following Clinch Mountain.  Carter and Parker now took in another partner, Lucas.  This was the largest store in the state of Tennessee except the French trading post at Nashville.

Hawkins County was formed from Sullivan county by the state of North Carolina in 1786, while the State of Franklin was functioning concurrently.  It was named for Benjamin Hawkins, who as U. S. Senator co-jointly with Senator Samuel Johnson executed on Feb. 20, 1790, the deed which transferred what is now Tennessee to the United States.

Among the first white settlers in Hawkins county were the Kincaids, Loves, Longs, Mulkeys, Carter, Parker and Lucas. Thomas Amis, who came about 1781, built a large stone house, which was used as an Indian stockade, a blacksmith shop, store house, distillery, saw mill and grist mill.  He also kept a tavern.  Among the early settlers were also William Cocke, who settled at Mulberry Grove about 1780; Joseph McMinn, who became governor of Tennessee; Peter Parsons; Orville Bradley; John A. McKinney; Pleasant M. Miller and Samuel Powel.

Rogersville, the county seat, was established by the state of North Carolina in one of the last acts of the legislature of that state prior to the Act of Cession, in 1789.  The town was named for Joseph Rogers, a brilliant young Irishman the first permanent settler in Rogersville.  From him many prominent families are descended.

The old Rogers tavern was one of the most famous of the old days.  It was built of huge oak logs and is today standing, although weather-boarded and otherwise modernized.  It was the only inn between Knoxville and Kingsport.  Famous men made this their stopping place when traveling through the territory.  Among them were Andrew Jackson, Thomas Arnold, the first T. A. R. Nelson and Judge Lucky.

Several interesting stories are told of Andrew Jackson while stopping at Rogers Inn.  One of the most interesting is related as follows:  young traveling man crossing the country, stopped at the Inn.  Being something of a “dandy” he demanded a room to himself.  But as it was court week and so many people in town, Mrs. Rogers could not furnish him a private room.  Still he insisted that she should grant his request.  Jackson, overhearing the conversation, asked Mrs. Rogers to let him prepare a room for the young man. Jackson called servants and had the corn crib swept out and a table and bed placed there.  Then he showed the “fine fellow” to his private room.  When he saw it was a corn crib, he said he would not sleep there.  Jackson pushed him in and turned the lock.

Joseph Rogers stole his wife, and they were married in the middle of the road.  He was 20 or 21, and she 16 or 17 years of age.  She was the lovely Mary Amis, a French Huguenot, who had come to this country to escape religious persecution.  She was a beautiful girl, and her fine traits of character made a worthy influence on the atmosphere of the tavern.

She was a woman of great firmness of character.  She was very much opposed to card playing and for several days she suspicioned that her wishes were not being respected in this matter.  One day she noticed the men filing upstairs one at a time and all going into the same room.  She ordered a servant to bring an oven into the room directly under the room full of men.  She put red pepper into the heated oven, and the fumes began going up and up.  In a few minutes the men began coming down one by one with suspiciously red eyes and noses.  This was the last time Mary Rogers was bothered with card playing.

Joseph and Mary Rogers had a large family, and their many descendants are prominent figures in the affairs of the town today.  The bodies of these famous people rest in the old Rogers cemetery at Rogersville.  In the cemetery are also a number of Indian graves.  One of which is supposed to be that of a Cherokee chief.  A number of these graves are marked with stones bearing crude inscriptions.

Portraits of Joseph and Mary Rogers have been left by will to the oldest living Joseph Rogers, the last being Dr. Joseph Rogers.

There was little occasion for the establishment of traffic of merchandise out of Hawkins County until perhaps 1810 or 15, when the settlers wagoned their goods from Richmond, Baltimore and Philadelphia.

By 1826 traffic had been sufficiently established that a stage coach was put on the route, which was used until the completion of the old East Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia railroad, which is now the Southern.

The Knoxville Gazette, the first newspaper published in Tennessee, was issued at Rogersville.  The Railroad Advocate, the first newspaper devoted exclusively to internal improvement of railroads published in the world, was published at Rogersville.

Governor Joseph McMinn gave the ground for a boys school.  This was called McMinn Academy and for generations was an institution of learning for the boys of Hawkins county and even surrounding counties.  Gov. McMinn also gave the ground for a college for girls and women.  For years the Rogersville Synodical College was one of the leading institutions of the South and only recently the old building was torn away and a magnificent $100,000 high school building erected on its site.

Joseph Rogers gave to the county the ground occupied by the courthouse, Masonic Hall, and the public square.

The New Providence church at Stony Point is the oldest Presbyterian church in Tennessee.  Still standing is the old Armstrong house, which has sheltered five generations of that family.

Rogersville was for a short time the capital of the state, being moved here from Jonesboro and from Rogersville to Knoxville and finally to Nashville.

The population of Hawkins county is principally made up of Irish, Scotch and Huguenots, thus mingling the best blood of the world for her people.  They are men and women who could be trusted because they understood their duties and had the courage and honesty to perform them faithfully. They marched with Colonel Shelby in 1779 when he went against the blood-thirsty Chicamauga under old Dragging Canoe.  They were with Sevier when he helped to turn the tide of the Revolution at King’s Mountain. And down through the ages the men of Hawkins county have proved themselves “worthy of a grand inheritance of honors bravely won and nobly kept.”

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