“To rescue from oblivion the history of a large and honorable family is a praiseworthy achievement. Somebody must begin the work. It is to be hoped that someone will complete it.”
~~~~~ Joseph Woodruff Bozeman, 1885
The goal of this site is to provide you with free information and resources that you may find helpful in your Lewis County, TN genealogy and family history research.
Lewis County is located in Middle Tennessee, southwest of Nashville. It is in one of the state’s three “grand divisions”. Lewis County was established on 23 December 1843 by the legislature from Hickman, Maury, Wayne and Lawrence Counties as a perpetual monument to Governor Meriwether Lewis. Adjoining counties also include Perry County. The legislature also directed that a monument be erected over Lewis’ grave. The first county seat was the community of Gordon because it was the only significant settlement. Newburg was the second county seat because many felt it would become the more prominent town in the county. After the War Between the States began, people left Newburg in large numbers. This caused the county to be disbanded and the lands returned to their original counties. The disbandment lasted about one year. At the end of the war, the state legislature passed a special act to confirm that Lewis County still existed and the county books were returned.
The current county seat, Hohenwald, was instituted in 1897. It is one of Tennessee’s few immigrant communities. It began as a crossroads store and house owned by Warren and Augusta Smith, a German immigrant. Augusta named the area “Hohenwald”, a German word that means “High Forest”.
J. G. Probst, a Swiss American, purchased thirteen thousand acres in Lewis County to form a Swiss colony here. He founded the Swiss Pioneer Union to attract potential immigrant settlers. On 17 Nov 1895, the first Swiss settlers arrived at the boxcar depot. These people had sold everything to move here. Many remained on the train after seeing that there was nothing established and returned to their former farms. Those who did remain barely survived the winter. They had to live in tents and barracks that first winter. The new settlers eventually laid out a town they named New Switzerland. The town was set up in a grid. This escalated when the new settlers clashed with the original citizens. In an effort to resolve this issue and as a result of courtroom proceedings, the towns of New Switzerland and Hohenwald were merged into one town and named Hohenwald. Hohenwald was named the county seat in 1897. In 1910 half of the 1200 residents of Hohenwald were of Swiss descent.
According to the US Census Bureau, the population was 3,687 in 2017 and Hohenwald is the 123rd largest city in Tennessee. Located in downtown Hohenwald, you will find the third largest animal trophy mount collection in North America at the Lewis County Museum of Local and Natural History. Hohenwald is also the home of the Elephant Sanctuary. In addition, Hohenwald is one of only a few mid-American towns that have met the Transition Towns criteria.
Lewis County was named in honor of Meriwether Lewis, the second of three children born to Lucy and John Lewis, in Albemarle Co, VA on 18 August 1774. He was five years old when his father died. His mother soon remarried. He attended locally-run religious schools run by ministers from 1787 to 1792. After the death of his stepfather, Meriwether returned to the plantation and took over the daily running of it.
Lewis joined the US Army in 1794 and rose to the rank of Captain in 1800. In 1801, he was appointed private secretary to Thomas Jefferson when he was President of the United States. Meriwether was a close neighbor to Mr. Jefferson near Charlottesville, Virginia, and when he was wanted at Monticello Mr. Jefferson would signal him with a mirror reflected in the sun. President Jefferson appointed him leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804 to explore the Northwestern Territory which the United States had bought from France in 1803. Lewis invited William Clark to join the expedition. The two men privately agreed to lead it jointly. In addition to command, Lewis served as the party’s naturalist. On the expedition he collected plant, animal, and mineral specimens.
In May of 1804 the expedition sponsored by the US Government, and lead by Lewis and Clark started up the Missouri River from a camp near St. Louis. By late fall, the explorers reached what is now North Dakota and spent the winter there. The following spring they continued along the Missouri and in late summer crossed the Rocky Mountains. They obtained horses, supplies, and valuable information from the Indians they met on their journey. Following the Clearwater, Snake, and Columbia Rivers they made their way to the Pacific coast, which they reached in November of 1805. The party spent the winter on the coast of what is now Oregon and began the trip home in March of 1806. The explorers returned along nearly the same route by which they had come, reaching St. Louis in September of 1806 after traveling a total of 8,000 miles.
Lewis County was named in honor of Meriwether Lewis who, in October of 1809, departed this life about 8 miles from Hohenwald, TN. He stopped at Grinder’s Stand to spend the evening. Though accounts of the event conflict, Lewis died that evening of gunshot wounds to the chest and head. Meriwether Lewis was buried near Grinder’s Stand where a monument was erected in his memory in 1848. He was governor of the Territory of Louisiana from 1806 until his death. His watch was later found in a pawn shop in New Orleans. This watch, his revolver, diary, compass and many other articles that he used on the Western expedition are now in Jefferson Memorial in St. Louis, given the Memorial by Dr. Anderson of Virginia, who is a great-great-grandson of Jane Lewis Anderson, a sister of Meriwether Lewis.
Federal authorities reported that he committed suicide. Others think he was murdered by either bandits on the Natchez Trace, Robert or Priscilla Grinder, his servant, John Pernier, or federal authorities who would have been implicated in shady land deals on the Natchez Trace had he made it back to Washington. Five different scenarios were presented and each scenario was plausable. Which one is correct? We may never know what really happened that night.