“The revival of memory may be a benevolent compensation to an old man for the loss of hope.” – Michael Woods Trimble, 1860
Throughout the research phase of my current book project, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, I encountered many interesting historical anecdotes, stories, and legends recalled by the aged pioneers of the Old Southwest and their descendants. These men knew Sevier, or could at least recall the stories told about his frontier exploits. Although writers augmented many of these narratives with hints of patriotic fervor and nostalgia, often the details surrounding Sevier's life survived literary embellishment.
In 1860, Michael Woods Trimble wrote a memoir of his life, and recalled memories of his father, John Trimble, who served as a Captain of a militia company in the Regiment under Sevier’s command at the Battle of King’s Mountain. Michael Woods Trimble took great pride in his father’s associations with Sevier, and in his memoirs he chronicled the stories of his youth.
I located Trimble's memoir in the Diaries and Memoirs Collection held at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and quoted from it in my book. This incredibly vivid memoir speaks to how "the revival of memory" played an important role in how writers chronicled Sevier's life. So without further introduction, here are the "Personal Recollections of Michael Woods Trimble."
Part 1 - The Revival of Memory
If I live to see the 23rd of next January 1861, I will be seventy-three years of age. I am an old man. I have survived all of the friends and companions of my early days. They have all passed away from the stage of action. As I grow old, my memory grows stronger. Especially in this case with regards to the events of my early life. Things which had faded away from my mind many years ago, and had passed into forgetfulness, are revived with all the freshness of recent occurrences. Images of the dead come back to me with faces and voices as familiar as when they lived, and all the scenes through which I passed with them appear to me with more vividness than the events of yesterday. This revival of memory in old age is a mysterious and wonderful provision of Divine Providence.
At my period of life, the hopes of this world are nearly all past. But it is said, when one bodily sense is lost, some other becomes strong. The revival of memory may be a benevolent compensation to an old man for the loss of hope.
My friend, Rev. Henry McDonald, having kindly proffered to perform the labor of writing for me, I will comply with the requests of many friends. I will begin with the account of my father, who was an elder of the church, a member of the Mecklenburg Convention, a Captain of the Revolutionary War and one of the first settlers of East Tennessee, North Alabama, and Territory of Mississippi. Many of the events of his life which I will relate occurred before I was born, but they were narrated to me frequently by himself, as well as by other members of the family, that they indelibly impressed on my memory, and became as familiar as any events I ever witnessed with my two eyes.
My paternal grandfather was John Trimble. He was born in Scotland. In his youth, his parents emigrated to the Northern part of Ireland, where he was reared in the orthodox Presbyterian faith. In those early days the Presbyterians in the Northern part of Ireland were cruelly treated by the British Government. To escape the oppression, they emigrated in large companies to America and established churches, colleges, and seminaries of learning. They were called Scotch-Irish, because they emigrated originally from Scotland to Ireland and to distinguish them from Highland Scotch, who emigrated to this country direct from Scotland and from Roman Catholic Irish, who lived mostly in the more Southern part of Ireland and are the original Celtic race of that country.
My grandfather had seven children--William, James, Joseph, Margaret, Hannah, John, and Robert--all of whom except the last two were born in Ireland. My father was John and he married Susannah Woods, and they had two sons and three daughters. My mother was born 1746. Her sister, Hannah, married a Caldwell and her sister, Margaret married a Lackey, whose sons, Archibald and William, married my two sisters, Isabella and Mary. My mothers brothers, John and Michael Woods were soldiers in the Revolution. John Woods never married. I received my Christian name from my uncle, Michael Woods, who raised a family of four sons and three daughters. He became quite wealthy and died in Tennessee in 1800. I do no know when my father professed religion; it was probably in his youth. He became a member of Hopewell church and was made an elder, which office he filled at that church until 1783. I still have in my possession a certificate, dated 1783, written by the Rev. Hezekiah James Balch, certifying that the bearer, John Trimble, was a member in regular standing and a ruling elder of Hopewell Church; also that his wife Susannah and two sons, Archibald and Robert and his daughter, Rosannah, were members of the Hopewell Church in good and regular standing.
My father was a citizen of Mecklenburg District, and bore and active part in politics and stirring events of the day. In 1775 he was a member of the Mecklenburg Convention, which adopted the celebrated Declaration of Independence. He frequently described the whole scene to me and I often heard him talk it over with Rev. H. J. Balch and Rev. James Doak, and also my grandfather Woods, uncle Michael Woods and Mr. Elisha Baker, all of whom were present and members of the Convention, the two first of whom were prominent and leading spirits in it. I have heard all of these men describe it so frequently that I became almost as familiar with it as if I had been present.
My father was a Captain of a militia company under Col. Sevier at the Battle of Kings Mountain, and in the Battle of Cowpens. At Yorktown, where the War was closed by the surrender of Cornwallis, his regiment served under the command of LaFayette. During the whole War when he was not in the field against the British, he was in service against the Shawnee Indians. I still have in my possession a passport, written by Col. John Sevier, 1785. It is as follows:
"Capt. John Trimble, having made it known to me that he desired to go to the State of Georgia; I have known Capt. Trimble for many years, and he lately distinguished himself as a true patriot and friend to his country."
This paper was characteristic of the time. In those days, public odium ran high against men who were Tories during the War, that persons traveling in strange parts of the country carried credentials to show that they were not of that number.
Michael Woods Trimble's memoir continues in Part 2 published on The Posterity Project.
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.