December visits to Springfield and Chattanooga...

With the holiday season approaching, I have scheduled just two more book signings before the end of the year. In the month of December, I hope you'll make plans to join me for these two special events...

Robertson County Historical Society -- December 1st

On Monday, December 1st, I visit Springfield, Tennessee to deliver a lecture on John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero to the Robertson County Historical Society. The lecture begins at 12:00 p.m. NOON CT at the Robertson County History Museum located at 124 6th Avenue West, Springfield, Tennessee, followed by a book signing.

This is our second visit with members of the Robertson County Historical Society. In 2013 we delivered a lecture on Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War, so we're grateful to the historical society for their invitation to return to speak about John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero.

Chattanooga History Center -- December 4th

Our final event in 2014 is a return to my hometown. I hope you'll join me for my lecture and book signing at 6:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, December 4th at the Chattanooga History Center. Chattanooga has undergone a renaissance along the riverfront and throughout downtown, with the city's history taking center stage in its vision of the future. And soon, the Chattanooga History Center will open the doors to a brand new museum in the Spring of 2015.

An artist's rendering of the new Chattanooga History Center, scheduled to open in the Spring of 2015.
Image credit: Chattanooga History Center.

While the museum is still under construction, you'll have a wonderful opportunity to get a sneak peak inside the facility, and to hear me talk about John Sevier, a historical figure that has a rather interesting connection to the "Scenic City."

Make plans to join me at 6:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, December 4th at the History Center for this special occasion. The program will be held in the History Center's orientation theatre on the mezzanine of the new facility, which is accessed through the front of the building on the Aquarium Plaza.

Admission is free, but seating is limited and will be available on a first come, first served basis. For more information, or to register, call 423-265-3247, or visit the Chattanooga History Center's website for further details.

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

"This effectually unmans me"

   As John Sevier governed his state of Tennessee, he struggled to maintain peaceful relations with the Native American tribes living within the newly created borders of the state. Tennessee's territorial boundaries stretched from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, and around two-thirds of that territory remained under the control of the Native American population. Managing diplomatic relations and negotiating territorial disputes between white settlers and the tribes of the region consumed much of Sevier's time and attention during his first series of administrations as governor. Congress also demanded that Sevier's citizens honor the federal government's own treaties with Native Americans, which proved challenging as land speculators and settlers extended their reach westward. Native Americans sought to defend their land and their way of life from the overmountain onslaught with frequent raids and violent assaults on established settlements. Tales of "savage" depredations against the white settlers reached every corner of the state and did nothing to help further the cause of peace.

"A map of the Tennessee government, formerly part of North Carolina taken chiefly from surveys by Genel. D. Smith and others. J.T. Scott, sculptor. American Edition of Guthrie's Geographical."
Image credit: Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA), Tennessee State Library and Archives

   In July of 1796, Sevier revealed his discontent with the violence that characterized life on America's first frontier when he declared:

   "I shall always be desirous of preserving and supporting peace between the frontiers and our Indian neighbors, by restraining, as much as possible, the former from intrusion and encroachments of every kind; at the same time hope the latter will be suffered to pass off with impunity, for any violences and depredations they may unprovokedly and wantonly commit. It is a well known fact and shamefully obvious, that all the erratic tribes are accustomed and habituated to licentiousness; and educated to a vagrant, lawless, debauched and immoral life, and nothing but a sufficient conviction of being chastised will ever deter those itinerant nations from their common desperate and rapacious practices."

   By the following year, Sevier's frustration with the federal government's insistence on restraint increased. In a November 26, 1797 letter to Tennessee's Congressional delegation, Sevier lamented, "Will the American Congress cramp and refuse to the Western Americans the great natural advantages Providence has designated for, and placed before them?" With this public proclamation, Sevier revealed a personal belief held by many of his fellow pioneers, that God's mighty hand had delivered the Trans-Appalachian West to its settlers and granted them dominion over all the Indian tribes who may reside within it.

   By the close of the eighteenth century, government officials looked to men of faith to quell the violence. Leading up to this moment, an effort to "civilize" the Native populations began in 1791 following the signing of the Treaty of Holston which called for the Cherokee nation to "be led to a greater degree of civilization" in order "to become herdsmen and cultivators, instead of remaining in a state of hunters." In succeeding years, the federal government embraced attempts to educate and civilize the Native American population. In 1797, President John Adams appointed an agent to the Cherokees with orders to instruct them in various methods of farming and domesticating animals. By the time Thomas Jefferson held the presidential office, his administration publicly endorsed religious missionaries in their efforts to educate and instruct the Cherokees.

Gideon Blackburn
Image credit: PCA Historical Center
   Within the state of Tennessee, Governor Sevier followed President Jefferson's determined lead. In 1803, with the cooperation of several Indian chiefs, Sevier authorized a Presbyterian minister named Gideon Blackburn to set up a school at Tellico Blockhouse, an early American outpost now part of the Fort Loudoun State Historical Area located along the Little Tennessee River in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee.

   In his book, Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans, Anthony F.C. Wallace described Blackburn's ambition "to convert the Cherokees to civilization and Christianity by educating their children. In 1804 he constructed a boarding school and in 1805 proudly presented his first class at a kind of graduation ceremony, where little Cherokees, dressed in white clothing, demonstrated their ability to read from books and sing hymns in English."

   In his own account of the ceremony, Blackburn recalled Governor Sevier's emotional reaction to what he had just witnessed. In a December 14, 1807 letter written to a fellow clergyman named Rev. Dr. Morse, Blackburn remarked:

   "...Few of the spectators were unmoved, and many shed tears plentifully. The Governor, a hardy veteran, who had often braved the dangers of war in the same forest, said to me, 'I have often stood unmoved amidst showers of bullets from the Indian rifles; but this effectually unmans me. I see civilization taking the ground of barbarism, and the praises of Jesus succeeding to the war whoop of the savage.' All this time the tears were stealing down his manly cheek."

   Similar civilization programs like Blackburn's continued throughout the American frontier. Over time, however, the federal government's experiments in cultural assimilation and religious education ultimately gave way to a national policy of forced relocation after Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In the course of a single generation, Governor Sevier's tears of joy flowed into an ignominious "Trail of Tears" that came to symbolize our national government's callous treatment of Native Americans for generations to follow.


The Panoplist, Or, The Christian's Armory, Volume 3. "Religious Intelligence" Letter IV. Maryville, Dec. 14, 1807.

Bernard W. Sheehan. Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian philanthropy and the American Indian. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973.

Grace Steele Woodward. The Cherokees. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.

Anthony F.C. Wallace. Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans. Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999.

John Sevier to Andrew Jackson, et al; Nov. 26, 1797, Williams, ed., "Journal of Sevier," East Tennessee Historical Society Publications, No. 3 (1931), 161.

Samuel C. Williams, ed., "Executive Journal of Gov. John Sevier," East Tennessee Historical Society Publications, No. 1 (1929), 113.

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

November lecture at Austin Peay State University

During the month of November, I am honored to have the opportunity to visit Austin Peay State University (APSU) in Clarksville on Wednesday, November 12th for a lecture and book signing sponsored by Phi Alpha Theta-APSU's Theta-Delta Chapter and the APSU History Department in support of our latest title, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero. Early in the afternoon, I will address history students and Phi Alpha Theta members in the classroom, answering questions about my book and discussing the public history profession. At 4:00 p.m. CT, I will deliver a lecture on my book at the Morgan University Center, UC 303 (Theater). This lecture is open to students, faculty and to the public, so I welcome you to attend.

Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. Image credit:

I want to publicly thank Dr. Minoa Uffelman for extending this invitation to me. Dr. Uffelman is an associate professor of history at APSU and the editor of The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams: A Southern Woman’s Story of Rebellion and Reconstruction, 1863–1890. She is also a contributor to the groundbreaking new book, Tennessee Women in the Progressive Era: Toward the Public Sphere in the New South. Both titles are published by the University of Tennessee Press.

Minoa has been a supporter and friend for several years, and so I'm grateful to her for this opportunity to present John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero to her students and fellow faculty. I hope you'll make plans to join us in Clarksville for this special occasion.

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

"See The Harvest" through John Sevier's eyes...

   Can you imagine the President of the United States delivering his State of the Union address through a series of four 15-minute videos narrated by an actor portraying George Washington? Likewise, can you imagine a sitting governor delivering his State of the State message through a similar dramatic method? Believe it or not, this actually happened in 1956, as Tennessee Governor Frank G. Clement used "a novel narration technique" to deliver his administration's progress report, conjuring up the ghost of John Sevier in the process to explain his accomplishments.

   Allow me to take you back in time to the following press release issued by Gov. Clement's office on December 1, 1956 announcing the premier of a film series entitled, See The Harvest...

   With the release this month of a film series titled See The Harvest, Tennessee embarks on a unique venture in state government, Governor Frank Clement said today.

   See The Harvest is a series of four fifteen minute films which will be shown on television stations across the state during December. The films depict the progress made in the major fields of state government during the past three and a half years.

   "This is what you might call a mid-term report to the people of Tennessee," Governor Clement told newsmen at his news conference today.

   The first of the series will be seen December 2, and shows progress in highway construction and traffic safety. The second film depicts developments in Education and Mental Health; the third, scheduled the third week of December, takes up the departments of Public Health, Public Welfare, Corrections, Agriculture and Conservation. The final film will reveal developments in the Tennessee National Guard, industrial expansion, the Employment Security Department, and state finances.

   Ten of the state's thirteen television stations have agreed to carry the series during December. The films are in color and will be available to schools, PTA groups, civic and luncheon clubs across the state upon request. The Governor said he hopes a showing can be scheduled for the 1957 General Assembly.

In See the Harvest, "Tom Carter," played by Richard Beauchamp, introduces "John Sevier," portrayed by veteran WSM announcer Grant Turner, to the progress made under the administration of Tennessee Gov. Frank G. Clement.
Image credit: Frank Goad Clement Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

   See The Harvest is a Division of Information project written and produced by Howard Anderson, and photographed by three veteran state cameramen, Paul Moore and Wallace Danley of the Conservation Department, and D.S. McCormac of the Agriculture Department.

   The idea of reporting the progress of this administration in such an unusual fashion was first discussed by Governor Clement in September. The series was then produced in a record two months at a cost of only $158 a film minute. Had the state contracted for the entire project with a film company the cost would have run between $500 and $1000 a film minute, Clement said.

   Maytag Productions, Kansas City, edited the series. The Calvin Company, also of Kansas City, did the necessary laboratory work, and Bradley Studios of Nashville contracted to record the narration.

   See The Harvest uses a novel narration technique. The viewer sees the progress the State government has made through the eyes of John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, played by Grant Turner, veteran WSM announcer. He is conducted on his movie tour by a typical Tennessee youngster, Tom Carter, who is acted by Richard Beauchamp, a senior at West High School, Nashville.

   Lost to time and distant memory, See the Harvest resides at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in its original 16mm format. Due to its age and somewhat brittle condition, archivists have taken measures to preserve See the Harvest for posterity, carefully storing the original film in a secure, temperature-controlled vault. Archivists have also preserved the documents created by government officials involved in the film's production, giving researchers a glimpse into the inner workings of state government at this important time in Tennessee's history.

   Gov. Clement knew that television could convey his administration's mid-term message to a broad audience far more effectively than any speech he might deliver. As indicated in the governor's press release, nearly every television station within the state of Tennessee aired See the Harvest during the month of December in 1956. In addition, documents within the Frank Goad Clement Papers at TSLA reveal that Gov. Clement's administration issued a memorandum to the heads of all departments and agencies within state government urging all state employees to view See the Harvest at Tennessee's War Memorial Building during a scheduled viewing on December 12, 1956. These aggressive publicity efforts ensured that citizens and state employees alike knew about Gov. Clement's accomplishments.

   Gov. Clement's surrogates throughout each state agency also wrote letters of praise for the film production. In a letter dated December 7, 1956, Commissioner Donald M. McSween of Tennessee's Department of Employment Security wrote, "Having seen all four films in the natural color in which they were photographed, I can attest to their high quality and effectiveness. In fact, it constitutes one of the best jobs of its sort I have ever seen and we understand is without parallel in any of the other states." Other commissioners wrote similar letters expressing pride in the film's production quality achieved at a significant cost savings.

   While See the Harvest received almost universal praise within state government, at least one official expressed concern about a scene in the film depicting a young boy "chained to a tree and scratching the ground" -- a scene meant to dramatically illustrate the state of child welfare in Tennessee and to communicate Gov. Clement's efforts to improve conditions in areas of education and mental health. Tennessee's Commissioner of Mental Health C. J. Ruilmann, M.D., responded to this concern in a December 27, 1956 letter. He stated, "I made some subsequent inquiries and found that the members of the group to whom I talked considered that particular scene to be excellent, hard-hitting photography and that they felt as I do that the scene should be left in. We agree that it is rather forceful but it does tell a story."

   Using this storytelling technique to deliver a "mid-term report" to the citizens of Tennessee and to state employees made perfect sense to government officials at the time, although by today's standards one might view the acting as amateurish and the information delivery method as a bit contrived. Still, See the Harvest spoke to not only how the Clement administration viewed television as a powerful communication medium, but it also spoke to how Tennesseans remembered their first governor. Within the state, many decades after his death, Sevier still captured the imagination of politicians and citizens alike. Bringing Sevier back to life in this creative way gave Tennesseans yet another way to embrace their very own frontier legend, Revolutionary War patriot, and "first hero."


Record Group 137 - Tennessee Department of Conservation, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Frank Goad Clement Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

'Southern Festival of Books' and a visit to Blount Mansion highlight October events

I'm pleased to share news that during the month of October we've confirmed appearances at the following venues in support of our latest book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero...

  • Humanities Tennessee recently announced its schedule for the 26th annual Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. On Saturday, October 11th from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CT. we have the honor of participating in a panel discussion entitled, "From State of Franklin to TVA: Biographies of Pivotal Tennesseans." Traci and I will present our book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero. Participating on the panel with us are Dr. Mark Cheathem (Andrew Jackson, Southerner) and Dr. Aaron Purcell (Arthur Morgan: Reformer, Engineer and Visionary Builder of Modern America). This panel discussion will take place at the Nashville Public Library, Third Floor Program Room, and will be followed by a book signing at War Memorial Plaza. Visit the Humanities Tennessee website for a complete schedule and make plans now to attend this annual event.

  • Immediately following the Festival, we travel to Knoxville on Monday, October 13th for a visit with members and friends of Blount Mansion for a dinner lecture and book signing at The Grill at Highlands Row (4705 Old Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN 37919) at 6:00 p.m. ET. We plan to discuss our book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, as well as Sevier's relationship with William Blount. Visit the Blount Mansion's blog for details, or view the Mansion's "Events" page for further information. For reservations, call 865-525-2375 or email to RSVP for this event.

  • We wrap up October's book tour with an appearance at the "Tennessee History Fair" on Saturday, October 18th at the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park in Nashville. Come see us at the "Author's Table" along with other local historians, and take in the living history demonstrations and other activities. We'll be at the park on Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. CT. We hope to see you there!

After this, we have just three more events on our calendar before taking a break for the holiday season. Details to come. In the meantime, mark your calendars for these outstanding events in the month of October.

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

An "Admirer of Patriotism and Merit Unequaled."

   The following blog post is an edited excerpt from my article published in the October 2014 edition of The Nashville Retrospect. The Nashville Retrospect is a monthly newspaper devoted to Nashville nostalgia and history. It features reprints of long-forgotten news, articles by local historians, and remembrances by older Nashvillians. The Nashville Retrospect can be purchased at a variety of locations throughout Davidson County and surrounding Middle Tennessee counties. Visit The Nashville Retrospect website for additional information.

   On September 7, 1851, the Nashville Daily Gazette triumphantly announced the dedication of a monument erected in Nashville’s City Cemetery honoring Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier. The newspaper’s editors declared, “This monument, in design and execution, is worthy of the distinguished man whose many virtues and heroic services it is intended to commemorate.”

   Sevier’s memorial at the Nashville City Cemetery provided Tennesseans with a fitting tribute to a man historian Carl S. Driver later described as “Tennessee’s first hero.” Stone masons carved upon this fifteen-foot marble shaft a relief depicting two swords crossed, surmounted by a wreath, and beneath an Indian tomahawk and quiver of arrows. The noted North Carolina historian John H. Wheeler described this design as “emblematic of the triumph of our arms under the heroic auspices of General Sevier, and the blessings of peace and the arts of civilization succeeding the bloody and protracted Indian wars which illustrate the early history of our State, in which he acted a most arduous, responsible, and distinguished part.”

In 1851, A. W. Putnam erected this fifteen-foot tall cenotaph on the grounds of the Nashville City Cemetery and dedicated it to the memory of Sevier’s accomplishments as a “Noble and successful defender of the early settlers of Tennessee.”
Author photo.

   For nearly four decades, the monument erected at Nashville’s City Cemetery stood as the only memorial tribute to John Sevier on Tennessee soil. Few Tennesseans realized, however, that Sevier’s body remained buried on a plot of land hundreds of miles away in an overgrown field in Alabama, with little more than a charred oak stump and a small headstone to mark his grave. Aggrieved to discover that no monument to Sevier existed in Tennessee’s capital city, Albigence Waldo Putnam vowed to correct posterity’s oversight.

   As a lawyer, businessman, public official, writer, and founding member of the Tennessee Historical Society, A. W. Putnam devoted much of his life to preserving Sevier’s legacy and documenting the memory of Tennessee’s earliest settlers. Putnam located and preserved a variety of historically significant letters, including the papers of Sevier’s son, George Washington Sevier. Putnam’s collection provided a window into Sevier’s world and a rich narrative of early Tennessee history found nowhere else.

   On Sevier’s grand obelisk at the Nashville City Cemetery, Putnam instructed stone masons to inscribe words declaring Sevier to be a “Noble and successful defender of the early settlers of Tennessee,” and his epitaph proudly proclaimed Sevier “served his Country for Forty years faithfully and usefully and in her service died.”

   Sevier’s posthumous benefactor held no desire for public recognition. The words engraved on the cenotaph only revealed Putnam as an “Admirer of Patriotism and Merit Unequaled,” leaving the identity of the owner of Sevier’s monument at the Nashville City Cemetery a complete mystery. The Daily Gazette credited “This elegant tribute to one of Tennessee’s earliest defenders” to “the munificence and public spirit of a single individual,” unnamed by the paper, “a gentleman who has devoted much of his time to the investigation of the early history of Tennessee.”

   Today, Putnam’s memorial at Nashville’s City Cemetery still stands as resolute and firm as the man he chose to exalt. Putnam once wrote of Sevier, “His was a busy life; never at rest, never a retired man or private citizen.” The same could also be said of A. W. Putnam. His tireless devotion delivered Sevier from the shadows of obscurity and far beyond the pages of history. Putnam cast Sevier’s legend into stone and placed his memorial tribute alongside Nashville’s most prominent citizens at the Nashville City Cemetery, insuring that posterity recalled the legacy of “Tennessee’s first hero.”

Look for the complete text of this article within the pages of the October 2014 edition of The Nashville Retrospect on newsstands now.


A. W. Putnam. History of Middle Tennessee; or, Life and Times of Gen. James Robertson. Nashville, Tenn., 1859. Introduction to the New Edition by Stanley F. Horn, published April 1971 by the University of Tennessee Press.

Albigence Waldo Putnam Papers, 1775 - 1869. Tennessee Historical Society, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

John H. Wheeler. Historical Sketches of North Carolina from 1584 to 1851: A reprint of the original edition as written in 1851. New York: F. H. Hitchcock, 1925.

"Monument to Gen. John Sevier." Nashville Daily Gazette, September 7, 1851.

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.
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