As regular readers of this blog know, I have the honor of serving on the board of the Governor John Sevier Memorial Association. GJSMA supports the programming and operations at Marble Springs State Historic Site, Sevier’s final home in Knoxville, TN.
This year marks an important anniversary in Tennessee history. It’s the bicentennial of John Sevier’s death. To commemorate the occasion, GJSMA is undertaking a special fundraising initiative for 2015, called “$200 for 200.”
We’re asking folks who love history, museums, and Tennessee’s heritage to make a $200 donation to support our programming, in recognition of the 200th anniversary of Sevier’s death. Donors who make this special bicentennial gift will be recognized on our $200 for 200 web page, and will also receive these benefits for one year:
- Free site tours for two adults and our children
- Free admission for two adults and four children to our special John Sevier Days event in September
- 10% off gift shop purchases
- Discounts for our special workshop events
- A discount on site rentals
It’s a great way to support a fantastic historic site and do something meaningful in recognition of an important Tennessee anniversary. If you’d like to join our $200 for 200 effort, you can donate via PayPal at the Marble Springs website or send a check to Marble Springs, P.O. Box 20195, Knoxville, TN 37940.
I know that a lot of you folks who read the blog appreciate Tennessee’s history and its historic places, so I hope you’ll consider a donation. Thanks!
Here’s a little archival item to end one year and ring in a new one. My mom ran across this vintage Marble Springs postcard and gave it to me as a Christmas present. I don’t know the date of the photo, but somebody mailed the card from Knoxville to the tiny town of Godley, TX in 1910. That was thirty-one years before the state purchased the property. As you can see, the place needed some work.
I’ve seen this same postcard image online, and something about it has always befuddled me. If the building in the picture is one of the extant structures on the site, it could only be the kitchen, which is attached to the main cabin by a dogtrot.
Since the main house is a good half-story taller than the kitchen, you should be able to see the gable end over the kitchen’s roof on the postcard. But from the postcard, it looks like there’s no building on the other side of the kitchen. Somebody evidently retouched the image to replace the main house with trees. I have no idea why anybody would do this, unless the smaller, dilapidated kitchen cabin better fit some postcard maker’s notion of what an Appalachian homestead should look like.
I did a little poking around online and ran across a slightly different version of the image from UT Special Collections, dated 1921. Here the main house is clearly visible, as it would be if you were standing there in person. This version, however, also looks heavily retouched. Did somebody try to clean up an earlier, already retouched version and produce this result? I don’t know enough about early photo manipulation to tell precisely what’s been done to the images.
Anyway, it’s an interesting glimpse at a place that’s changed a lot over the years, and one where I’ve been privileged to spend quite a bit of time.
I’ve been reading Massacre at Cavett’s Station by the eminent Tennessee archaeologist Charles Faulkner. The titular massacre was one of the uglier episodes in the long history of white-Cherokee conflict on the Tennessee frontier. It took place on September 25, 1793 when a massive war party (contemporary reports put their numbers as high as 1,500) headed for the territorial capital of Knoxville heard firing from the town and feared they’d lost the element of surprise. Instead, they fell on Cavett’s Station several miles to the southwest, killing the thirteen men, women, and children who were there.
Remarkably, the Indians had managed to approach Knoxville without detection by John Sevier’s militia, but retaliation was not long in coming. In what would prove to be his last Indian campaign, Sevier marched into Georgia and caught some of the perpetrators at Etowah, near present-day Rome. The Indians were in a position to oppose the militia’s crossing of the Etowah River at the town, but when a party of the whites moved south to cross elsewhere, the Indians followed them and left the fording place near the town undefended. The militiamen galloped back to Etowah, dispersing the defenders and putting the town to the torch.
Apparently Sevier decided that defeating the Indians wasn’t punishment enough, because he decided to up the ownage by sending them the following message, a copy of which is preserved in his journal:
Your murders and savage Barbarities have caused me to come into your Country Expecting you would fight like men, but you are like the Bairs and Wolves. The face of a white man makes you run fast into the woods and hide, u see what we have done and it is nothing to what we shall do in a short time. I pity your women & children for I am sure they must suffer and live like dogs but you are the Cause of it. You will make War, & then is afraid to fight,—our people whiped yours mightily two nights ago Crossing the river and made your people run very fast.
To the Cherokees and their warriors if they Have Any.
Ouch. Not much for the niceties of spelling and punctuation, but the guy definitely knew how to twist the rhetorical knife.
If you’re a student looking for some public history experience or a Civil War buff who loves sharing your knowledge with people, here’s a neat opportunity for you. The Knoxville Civil War Gateway is recruiting volunteer docents and walking tour guides. If you’re interested, e-mail KnoxCivilWarGateway@gmail.com, or call (865) 277-6398.
We just had our annual John Sevier Days Living History Weekend at Marble Springs, along with our “Sevier Soirée” fundraiser. Thanks to everybody who stopped by; I think both events went over really well.
It gave me a good excuse to take a brief respite from doctoral work and do a little public history. I really enjoyed the time I spent working in museums, and interpretation was always my favorite part of the job. Part of me has always missed it, so it was nice to get to do it again this weekend.
Plus, there’s nothing like sitting on the step by the door of the Sevier cabin and listening to an afternoon rain shower. Rain doesn’t do much for visitation, but something about the way it sounds against a two-hundred-year-old roof is just wonderful.
We’re throwing a bash at Marble Springs State Historic Site in three weeks, and you’re all invited. Here’s the deal.
Sept. 20-21 is our annual John Sevier Days Living History Weekend. On Saturday from 10:00 to 5:00 and Sunday from 12:00 to 5:00 we’ll have reenacting, demonstrations, crafts, food, historic presentations, and tours of the buildings. Admission is $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for kids aged seven to fifteen; kids six and under get in free.
Saturday night there’ll be a little something extra. We’ll be having our second annual Sevier Soirée fundraiser on Sept. 20 from 6:30 to 8:30, with a BBQ dinner, open-hearth appetizers, live music, and a silent auction. Tickets to the soirée are $50 per person. Reserve your seat before Sept. 15 online, by mail (P.O. Box 20195 Knoxville, TN 37940) or via phone at (865) 573-5508.
It’ll be a blast. Hope to see some of you there!
The second oldest home in Knoxville is the James Park House, located downtown on Cumberland Ave. Google Street View doesn’t really do it justice, but it’s better than the photo I tried to take with my phone while stopped at a red light a couple of days ago.
I wanted to snap a picture of the Park House because it’s got an interesting connection to John Sevier. “Nolichucky Jack” didn’t live here, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
Sevier purchased this downtown lot and started building a home there in the 1790s, around the same time he was serving as Tennessee’s first governor. Construction didn’t get very far. Nothing but a brick foundation and part of a wall had been completed before a financial setback forced Sevier to abandon the project. For a man so accustomed to winning, whether on the battlefield or in politics, it must have been an irksome disappointment. He sold the lot to his son G.W. Sevier in 1801, and it passed out of the family’s hands six years later.
James Park, an Irish immigrant and Knoxville mayor, bought the lot and built the current structure on Sevier’s foundation in 1812. The house stayed in the Park family for a century; after that, it served time as a Red Cross facility and a medical academy. Gulf & Ohio Railways acquired it to use as a headquarters building a few years ago and undertook an extensive restoration.
Although Sevier never got to build the home he wanted on the lot, it’s just a stone’s throw from the courthouse lawn where his remains were reinterred in the 1880s. One fellow who did get to spend some time in the Park House was Sevier’s mortal enemy Andrew Jackson, who stopped by for a visit in 1830.
In a sense, the story of the house lot on Cumberland Ave. mirrors the larger story of Sevier’s place in Tennessee’s history. In both cases, Sevier secured the land and laid the foundation, but it was left to others to build up the structure, which obscured and overshadowed the contributions of the man who made so much of it possible. And in both cases it happened around the same time. While James Park was building his house in 1812, Sevier’s great rival was on the brink of national fame and state preeminence, but Sevier himself was in the twilight of his long and very eventful life.