Jack Neely goes looking for the fortifications that once defended the city in an article for Metro Pulse.
Tag Archives: Appalachia
From The Associated Press:
For years, varied and sometimes wild claims have been made about the origins of a group of dark-skinned Appalachian residents once known derisively as the Melungeons. Some speculated they were descended from Portuguese explorers, or perhaps from Turkish slaves or Gypsies.
Now a new DNA study in the Journal of Genetic Genealogy attempts to separate truth from oral tradition and wishful thinking. The study found the truth to be somewhat less exotic: Genetic evidence shows that the families historically called Melungeons are the offspring of sub-Saharan African men and white women of northern or central European origin.
And that report, which was published in April in the peer-reviewed journal, doesn’t sit comfortably with some people who claim Melungeon ancestry.
“There were a whole lot of people upset by this study,” lead researcher Roberta Estes said. “They just knew they were Portuguese, or Native American.”
Most of the stuff I’ve read linked the Melungeons to some type of Portuguese or eastern Mediterranean ancestry. This latest study focused on families in upper East Tennessee, so it’ll be interesting to see if they extend it to other areas.
I’ve been on a real Tennessee frontier kick lately, visiting places in my home state that I’ve been meaning to see for a long time. A few days ago my cousin and I took another day trip to the Tri-Cities region, which means it’s time for yet another historic site review.
Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site in Johnson City has a story that goes back quite a long way. A spring and cave on the property attracted animals for thousands of years, and the animals attracted humans who hunted them with stone weapons. In the late 1600′s, the first Englishmen to set foot in Tennessee passed through the area; a century later, Daniel Boone stopped there.
In 1784, when Tennessee was still part of North Carolina, Col. John Tipton purchased 100 acres around the spring and cave, building a one-and-a-half-story log home. That same year, some of his fellow settlers proclaimed the creation of a new State of Franklin, consisting of the three westernmost counties of North Carolina, with military hero John Sevier its first governor. The problem was that, as far as North Carolina was concerned, this statehood movement was illegitimate, and the Franklinites were still subject to North Carolina law. As you might imagine, the coexistence of two rival states in the same place presented a rather interesting political dilemma.
Tipton refused to recognize the legitimacy of Franklin, and by late 1786 had become the region’s foremost supporter of North Carolina sovereignty. In February 1788, when North Carolina authorities seized some of Sevier’s slaves and took them to Tipton’s farm for safekeeping, the would-be governor and about 135 fellow Franklinites showed up to demand their return. Tipton and the other North Carolina loyalists holed up in the log house, trading occasional shots with Sevier’s force outside. When reinforcements arrived for Tipton, the standoff turned into an outright skirmish—the only armed confrontation between Franklinites and North Carolina—which ended in a retreat by Sevier and his supporters. The fledgling statehood movement petered out not long after the firefight at Tipton’s farm.
The house and the land around it passed to Tipton’s son in 1813. In 1837 a newlywed lawyer named Landon Carter Haynes received the farm as a wedding gift from his father. Haynes built a number of additions to the house and constructed a small law office adjacent to it, where he attracted clients from across Tennessee and North Carolina. An ardent Southern advocate, he served as a Confederate senator during the Civil War. He obtained a pardon when the war ended, but left his home and moved to Memphis. The state purchased the property in the 1940′s.
This complicated history of prehistoric hunters, stillborn states, and Civil War politicians is told in a fine new exhibit at the Tipton-Haynes visitor center, which includes artifacts excavated from the grounds, Tipton and Haynes family heirlooms, and short video presentations on the State of Franklin and slavery in the Haynes household.
It’s a very attractive site; in fact, it’s difficult to believe that this pastoral little chunk of real estate exists in the middle of modern-day Johnson City. Unfortunately for frontier aficionados such as yours truly, Tipton’s log house was altered dramatically over the course of the nineteenth century. Its present appearance thus reflects the Haynes era more than the period of the Franklin battle, but it’s still a nicely restored structure.
There are a number of outbuildings on the grounds, some of which are original to the Haynes farm, others reconstructed or relocated from other sites. A short path along an old buffalo trail takes you to the spring and cave.
This is a great little site with an effective interpretation of an impressive cross-section of Tennessee history, and of course it’s located right in the cradle of the Volunteer State, so there are a lot of other historic places just a short drive away if you decide to make a day of it. Give yourself about thirty or forty minutes to take in the visitor center’s exhibit and an hour or so to tour the grounds.
…there’s a new Knoxville Civil War Gateway on the corner of Gay St. and Hill Ave:
Beginning May first the Civil War Gateway will be open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 AM- 4 PM, providing maps, walking tour brochures, videos, troop information, and graphic presentations of the Civil War story here in East Tennessee. Saturday guided tours will be announced and conducted regularly. Consult www.knoxcivilwar.org for all details.
Sounds pretty cool!
Ward (or Nanye-hi, if you prefer to use her Cherokee name) was one of those intercultural mediators that played such a prominent role on the early American frontier, which in her case consisted of what eventually became northeastern Tennessee.
If you want to see a stellar example of what happens when a community embraces historic preservation, you should visit Jonesborough, TN. It’s the oldest town in the state (founded in 1779, when eastern Tennessee was still part of North Carolina) and a history lover’s paradise. My cousin and I paid a visit the other day, after our tour of Carter’s Mansion in nearby Elizabethton.
The first thing you’ll want to do is stop by the visitor center to pick up a walking guide. These brochures are only $1.00, and they point out all the important historic structures and locations, most of them within easy walking distance. The visitor center also has a nice little exhibit on various aspects of Jonesborough’s past, including some nifty antique fire pumps.
Jonesborough has, at various times, been the seat of Washington Co., created by North Carolina out of some of the western districts across the mountains; a capital of the abortive State of Franklin, which ceased to exist in 1788; a government and economic center for the Southwest Territory, when North Carolina ceded her western lands to the federal government; and finally, a county seat for Tennessee. A monument in front of the current courthouse building marks the approximate spot where a log courthouse sat over two centuries ago.
One of the oldest structures you’ll see in Jonesborough (one of the oldest structures you’ll see in the whole state, actually) is the log home of Christopher Taylor, built in 1788. A young backwoods lawyer named Andrew Jackson lived there for a short time before moving on to Nashville and national fame.
Later, after his election to the presidency, Jackson was a guest at the Chester Inn. Built in the late 1790′s, this building has also hosted Presidents Polk and Johnson, along with various other historic luminaries. Now it’s the home of the National Storytelling Festival. Check out the exhibit on the first floor; it offers a fine overview of the town’s history, and includes some pretty neat artifacts.
Next to the Taylor cabin is the site where Elihu Embree published two anti-slavery newspapers, The Manumission Intelligencer and The Emancipator. The latter was the first newspaper in the country devoted solely to promoting the eventual eradication of slavery. The son of Pennsylvania Quakers, Embree was actually a slaveowner himself until age thirty, joining a Tennessee manumission organization in 1815. The Emancipator circulated as far as Boston, but its run ended when Embree died at a young age in 1820.
Our last stop was the town’s old cemetery, which sits on a hill near the historic district. Noticing a couple of small Confederate flags on one monument, I walked over to have a closer look. Turned out to be the grave of Brigadier General Alfred E. Jackson, who served as a quartermaster and paymaster before spending much of the rest of the war engaged in the small-scale actions that often flared up in the mountains of Appalachia. Jackson was quite unpopular among other Confederate officers; subordinates in Thomas’ Legion (which constituted part of his brigade) considered him “morally and physically unfit” for command and asked Jefferson Davis to give him the boot. The end of the war found this formerly prosperous businessman farming rented land in southwestern Virginia. He was eventually able to recover some of his antebellum prosperity and died in Jonesborough in 1889.
There are plenty of other stories and buildings to check out in Jonesborough, along with quite a few historic inns and small restaurants. The town is just a short drive from some of Tennessee’s best parks and historic sites—Sycamore Shoals, Rocky Mount, Andrew Johnson’s home, and Tipton-Haynes Historic Site, to name a few—so if you’re looking for a place to spend a history-soaked weekend, it’s hard to beat.
Yesterday I finally took care of a nagging bit of unfinished business. Being an aficionado of the Rev War and the Tennessee frontier, I’ve always had a soft spot for Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, but I’d never visited Carter Mansion, the historic house museum just a few miles away operated by the park as a satellite site.
Built sometime around the Revolution, either by John Carter (one of the first settlers in what would become Tennessee and leader of the Watauga Association) or his son Landon (a veteran of the War for Independence and an important political figure on the frontier), the house is one of the oldest and most important structures in the region.
I’d wanted to see it for a long time, but it had been closed every time I’d visited the park, so when I found out about a living history event at the house this weekend, I jumped at the chance to make a special trip. I took my cousin along; he’s a fellow history enthusiast who accompanied me on my last visit to the park.
If this doesn’t fit your idea of a “mansion,” bear in mind that most houses of that time and place were simple cabins; painted siding and brick chimneys weren’t the sort of architectural features you saw every day.
Where the house really knocks your socks off, though, is its elaborate interior. The carved panels, crown molding, chair rails, and fluted columns of the first-floor walls put this home in a different class altogether from the rough dwellings typical of the eighteenth-century frontier. Incredibly, some of the walls still have the original stain, visible above this fireplace in the parlor.
I’ve seen more than my share of historic house museums from the late 1700′s and early 1800′s, and this is one of the most beautifully restored and furnished of the whole lot.
Some members of the Carter family are buried on the grounds…
…although I could’ve sworn I saw John Carter himself treating some of the local militia to a patriotic libation.
A gang of Tories broke up the party by showing up uninvited, more than a little irate that their property had been confiscated. The negotiations didn’t turn out well.
A good time was had by all—except for the Tories, I suppose—and I can finally scratch Carter Mansion off my bucket list. Totally worth the wait.
In the fall of 1861, Felix Zollicoffer, the Confederate general responsible for the troublesome eastern section of Tennessee, moved north from Cumberland Gap along the Wilderness Road into the mountains of Kentucky with about 5,400 men. Union forces in the Bluegrass State responded by sending a small detachment of raw recruits to Wildcat Mountain near present-day London.
The Confederates badly outnumbered the force at Camp Wildcat, so on Oct. 2oth they were reinforced by the arrival of additional troops under Brig. Gen. Albin F. Schoepf, bringing their total to 7,000. They arrived just in the nick of time; the next day, the Confederates launched an attack on a hill occupied by the 33rd Indiana. The Union troops’ stubborn resistance convinced Zollicoffer that Wildcat Mountain couldn’t be taken by assault, so the next morning saw the Yankees still in possession of the ground and the Confederates returning southward toward Cumberland Ford.
The Battle of Wildcat Mountain/Camp Wildcat was small by Civil War standards—the Union forces suffered around 2o casualties, the Confederates around 50—but Zollicoffer’s withdrawal the night of Oct. 21st marked the end of his first attempt to secure control of eastern Kentucky, and gave the Union its first victory in that state. Today the Camp Wildcat Preservation Foundation preserves and interprets the site of the battle. I got the chance to pay a visit this week.
Getting to Wildcat Mountain is both easy and difficult. Easy, because I-75 cuts right through the part of eastern Kentucky where it’s located; difficult, because the site itself is in a rugged, wooded, mountainous area, and the only access is via a narrow gravel road. But it’s well worth the effort. An interpretive kiosk offers visitors an overview of the events leading to the battle and the way in which the struggle played out on the wooded slopes. There are two trails, one of which takes you past the original bed of the old Wilderness Road to a monument near the site of the Union camp.
The longer trail, about an hour’s hike, takes you to Hoosier Knob, the hill where the most intense fighting took place. Both trails feature signage and various interesting sights along the way; to see the whole battlefield requires about an hour and half to two hours.
What impressed me most about the battlefield was the obvious dedication of the CWPF in developing the site. Its location and the nature of the terrain present considerable difficulties to anyone trying to interpret it, but there were a number of visitors there when I arrived, and a large tour group stopped by later in the day. It’s a great place to learn about the Civil War in the Appalachian border region, so see it if you get the chance.
I ran across an interesting tidbit while reading Brian McKnight’s Contested Borderland, a book I heartily recommend. In the fall of 1861, there was apparently a rumor floating around in some of the newspapers that Felix Zollicoffer, then in charge of the Confederate defense of eastern Tennessee, might be replaced with Robert E. Lee.
I’m not too familiar with this period of the war, and I don’t know if the rumors were simply that, or if there was some basis to them. If I’m not mistaken, this was around the same time Lee took charge of the Georgia and South Carolina coastal defenses. Was anybody in Richmond really thinking of sending Lee off to handle the situation near the Tennessee-Kentucky-Virginia border instead?
Even if the whole notion was just so much journalistic hogwash, it’s fun to ponder how things might have played out in the mountains of central Appalachia with Lee in command, especially since Confederate affairs here in this neck of the woods were about to take a turn for the worse.