Archival records help tell the story of the Cumberland Settlements

Nashville author and historical researcher Paul Clements recently published an important book on the early settlement of Middle Tennessee entitled, Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements. I was lucky enough to secure a copy of Paul's book during the annual meeting of the Society of Tennessee Archivists last fall in Knoxville. I also had the opportunity to introduce Paul during a recent workshop at the Tennessee State Library and Archives where he talked about his research and the interesting stories found in the letters and diaries of those who lived in the Cumberland Settlements at the very beginning of white settlement in the region.

Enjoying tales of early Tennessee history from Paul Clements' new book, Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements, during a recent lecture at Tennessee State Library and Archives. Author photo.

Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements is a massive volume -- 785 pages documenting life on the Tennessee frontier through the original records, and through accounts told by direct descendants and participants in the events of the region. For anyone with an interest in this time period in Tennessee's early history, it's a book that deserves a place in your own library as a valuable reference resource, and a chronicle of the important stories told of this time.

Clements dedicates his book to Lyman Draper, a man who played a significant role in chronicling the story of John Sevier's life -- a subject of deep personal interest here on The Posterity Project. In much the same way that Draper meticulously documented his research, Paul Clements has spent the better part of a decade documenting life on the Cumberland Settlements, and correcting the historical record where he found it in error.

The Nashville City Paper recently published a lengthy article about Paul Clements' work and his book. In the piece, reporter Bill Carey noted that "Clements just moved the understanding of Nashville’s early history forward one very large step. He did this the old-fashioned way — by staring at microfilm for more than a decade in places such as the Metro Nashville Archives and the Tennessee State Library and Archives."

And in a November 2012 article published by The Nashville Retrospect, John Egerton called Chronicles of the Cumberland "a first-person drama, lifted directly from the diaries and letters of people who lived through those perilous times" and "from the writings of second or third parties -- like Lyman Draper -- who went to extraordinary lengths to rescue eyewitness stories from oblivion."

For me, this is the strength of his book. Utilizing the early records contained on microfilm and in the original letters written in the time period, Paul Clements makes the Cumberland Settlements come alive, and shatters several long-held myths along the way. A true friend of the archives, and board member of TSLAFriends, the Friends organization of the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Paul Clements has brought the pages of history to life through this important volume.

For a taste of what you'll find in Paul Clements' book, I would encourage you to read the Nashville City Paper article mentioned in this story. It includes several anecdotes and stories from the book, and describes Paul's work at the Metro Archives and TSLA to uncover this important place in Tennessee history.


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.