“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 3 - How many were destroyed was never ascertained
My father was appointed by the Governor one of the first Justices of Peace of Blount County, and held the office as long as he lived there. My brother-in-law, William Lackey, was second sheriff of Blount County. My brother, Archibald, and D. W. Brazeale, my mother's cousin, who afterward lived and died near Port Gibson, Miss. built the first court house and jail in Knoxville. Gen. Sevier succeeded Gov. Blount in office, and was the second Governor of Tennessee. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Blount was the Territorial Governor of Tennessee before statehood. In 1796, Sevier became Tennessee's first Governor following the state's admission into the Union.]
Soon after the counties in East Tennessee were laid off, a dispute was raised about the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee set up a claim to a part of Blount County and the Government wished to conciliate them to peace, ordered all the settlers off until claims could be investigated. My father's land was in the disputed territory and he, with other settlers, was ordered off. He moved to the other side of the Holston River, but left part of the family in the house so as to require the Government to eject them by force. Suit was instituted against the Government for illegal ejectment. At the end of about a year, the dispute about the boundary was settled by restoring the land to the settlers, according to the first settlement.
Immediately they passed a law, prohibiting any person from carrying whiskey in or through Indian Nation, except by a passport from the Indian agent. Jonathan Return J. Meigs was the agent and lived at South West Point, in a garrison at the mouth of Clinch River, forty miles below Maryville. That was long before the temperance reformation commenced, and the traffic and use of ardent spirits was carried on to an extent which is not easily comprehended at this day. It was not considered wrong, and religious people, and even ministers of the Gospel were extensively engaged in it.
The Rev. Gideon Blackburn and Bartley McGee, a wealthy planter had a quantity of whiskey which they wanted to take to Mobile, but had to go through the Cherokee and Creek Nations. Mr. Blackburn believed that he could not get a passport from Col. Meigs, but Col. Meigs had a son, Timothy, who acted as his agent in his absence. Mr. Blackburn embraced that opportunity to take the whiskey through the Indian Territory. They built small boats twelve miles above my father's home; prepared wagons to haul them, launched their boats, we went down the Tennessee River some hundred miles and up the Hiawassee River eighty or ninety miles, when they had to haul their boats twelve miles across the headwaters of Coosa River, which led into the Tombigbee. They brought their teams across by land. They built a house at the head of navigation in which they put the whiskey while they were cutting roads and hauling their boats. The Indians collected from all quarters--Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Creeks--three or four hundred men, women and children., Two young men, Lowery and McGee, were left to guard the house while the rest were hauling the boats. But the Indians burst open the door, rolled out three or four barrels, broke in the heads and commenced drinking. They filled two bottles and gave them to the young men and told them to leave as soon as possible or the Indians would kill them when they got drunk. The young men watched them for some time at a great distance. They killed and butchered each other with knives and clubs, and crowded around the house. They were all drunk. In the scrap, the house caught fire and the whiskey exploded like a powder magazine. All in and any where near the house were killed, many burned up. How many were destroyed was never ascertained, as it was near the corner of the Nation and some hundred and twenty miles from the white settlement.
Mr. Blackburn went to Washington City and managed to get paid for his losses. The affair created great prejudice at the time, but his great talent and splendid eloquence bore him through it. He was a most eloquent preacher, and when the temperance movement commenced, he became one of the most zealous of temperance men, and did a great deal to promote that cause. In 1834 or 1836, I heard him preach in Fayette, Jefferson County, Miss. on temperance and a splendid lecture he delivered. Several of my friends joined the Temperance Society that day, to whom I remarked that if any man ought to preach temperance it ought to be Gideon Blackburn. I went to school with his two sons in Maryville.
In 1800, my father sold his place in the forts of the Holston and Tennessee Rivers and moved to the new purchase, called Muscle Shoals Land, above the Muscle Shoals in the Tennessee River. The government purchased this land from the Cherokee Indians, including the two counties in Alabama of Limestone and Madison. At that time it was part of the territory of Mississippi. It was considered among the richest and best land in the world.
As soon as it was opened, an immense tide of immigration poured into it. My father was among the first settlers. He built a house on the spot where Cottonport now stands. But the land speculators invented a scheme to get clear of the first settlers; by their intrigues after the Chickasaw Indians set up a claim to it, as having won it from the Cherokees at a Ball play; and in order to investigate the claim, the government ordered all settlers off. By the order probably more than a thousand settlers were removed.
My father put his family in flatboats, and descended the Tennessee River to Bayou Pierre, he moved to the territory of the Mississippi, where my brother Robert was living.
This entry marks the conclusion in this series published on The Posterity Project. Published previously in this series, Part 1 and Part 2.
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.