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Parting The Canebrakes -- May 13, 2015

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Johnny Knowles

The express purpose of the writing of this column is very simple. Many, many people and families have moved to Lebanon and Wilson County from other places and have absolutely no knowledge of our history and of how we came to be, of who and what we are.

Long gone are the valued historians such as I.W.P. Buchanan, G. Frank Burns, Dixon Lanier Merritt, J. Bill Frame, Virginia and Dick Lawlor, Eugene Sloan, Hugh Walker, Ellen Schlink, Herman Eskew, Jr., Paul Wooten and many others.
In my last column, I discussed the Native Americans who lived in Wilson County prior to the
"First Family" of Neddy and Layula Jacobs on what later became the Lebanon Public Square and the immediate vicinity.
Today, we will start the discussions on the early settlements in Wilson County, excluding Lebanon.

Again, I must confess to being long winded, but once more, a true and complete history cannot be told by just giving "snippets" of the story. It has to all be told.

"A short distance west of Lebanon rises a ridge of high ground, forested, drained by the headwaters of Spencer Creek, Cedar Creek, and Barton's Creek. It is Hickory Ridge, and in this beautiful setting was established one of the most prosperous and flourishing settlements existing in Wilson County before 1800."

"Today, the communities or neighborhoods of Martha, Leeville, Tucker's Gap, Barton's Creek, Bethlehem, Maple Hill, Egan, Munsey, and Horn Springs occupy the area that to the pioneer was known simply as 'on Hickory Ridge.'"

"Across it have run many main arteries of east-west travel, from the earliest wagon road to the most modern paved highway: the old Lebanon-Nashville road, the Lebanon & Nashville Turnpike, the old N.C. & St. L. Railroad, The Lebanon Branch Railroad, the Tennessee Central Railroad (which became the Leeville Pike after the railroad was discontinued and soon became known as the Old Rail Road Bed), the ever-present Hickory Ridge Road, the Tucker's Gap Road, and the U.S. Highway 70-North." HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Chapter III, G. Frank Burns and Dixon Lanier Merritt, Pages 19 and 20.

"The rolling land was attractive to the early settlers, more so in fact than the low and level ground around the 'big spring' where the county seat was to be located later, for the future site of Lebanon was 'very muddy in rainy times,' according to one pioneer who proceeded on to Hickory Ridge after stopping briefly at the spring. On the ridge, the soil was very fertile, although broken. Timber was large and plentiful." HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Chapter III, G. Frank Burns and Dixon Lanier Merritt, Page 20.

This early wilderness brought men such as John K. Wynne, Charles Kavanaugh, John Harpole and John B. Walker. The noted historian James V. Drake says that they came to this area in 1794, and the Goodspeed's History dated their arrival to 1799. According to the HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Chapter 3, by G. Frank Burns and Dixon Lanier Merritt, Page 20, "the former date appears too early, as Native American troubles discouraged settlement at that time; the latter date is proven incorrect by existing records. The most likely date for this settlement is the autumn of 1797".

Then, "three well-known North Carolinians, Benjamin Seawell, Reverend Green Hill and Seth Mabry, all related by marriage, moved to the 'new country' together some years after the close of the Revolutionary War. Green Hill had visited Middle Tennessee in the summer of 1796, according to his Journal, and he returned with his family in 1799, when he settled in Williamson County. The home of Col. Benjamin Seawell was built near Horn Springs 'before 1799,' according to records. John Wynne, a Virginian, who had first moved to North Carolina, and his son John Knibb Wynne, were the very first of a large family to settle in Wilson County. The date 1797 has been reliably assigned to their first coming. John Knibb Wynne was the first lieutenant colonel commandant of militia in Wilson County. Later, he was a member of the state House of Representatives in 1803 and 1805; then, he served two terms as a Tennessee state senator, in 1811 and 1813. Colonel Wynne served in the Creek War under Andrew Jackson, and it is believed that this is where their friendship began. Colonel Wynne became deeply interested in education; it is recorded that he gave 40 acres of land as a site for Campbell Academy and that he and his brothers contributed liberally, along with others, to its erection. Colonel Wynne was a member of the very first board of Cumberland College, in Nashville". HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Chapter III, by G. Frank Burns and Dixon Lanier Merritt, Page 20. A sister of John Knibb Wynne, Sally Wynne had married Jeremiah Stell in Virginia, where thereafter she then settled with her husband and family on the Bartons' Creek side of Hickory Ridge in 1800. Polly Wynne, another sister, married John A. Granade in 1805".

"John A. Granade was one of the unique personalities of the frontier and he was intimately connected with the early days on Hickory Ridge. He was a native of North Carolina and began his teaching career in Chesterfield County, South Carolina. When he started having a troubled conscience, he began to attend the Methodist meetings and in 1797 began wanderings that eventually led him to Tennessee. Soon after his arrival on Goose Creek in Sumner County, he cast his lot with the Methodists and one day went into company with John McGee, a Methodist preacher of note, south of the Cumberland River (in Wilson County) to hear William Burke, then traveling the Cumberland Circuit. The turmoil of spirit which possessed Granade filled him with distress and anxiety and torments of conscience for two years. He spent the winter of 1797 and the spring and summer of 1798 in the woods, through snows and rains, day and night, praying and roaring in such a manner that he was believed to be insane and was given the nickname, "The Wild Man of the Woods." Nevertheless, he resumed teaching and continued to teach the Wynne, Babb and Stell children in the Barton's Creek neighborhood during 1799. In a short time, he entered the traveling ministry, continued his forceful preaching until 1803 or 1804. After then studying medicine in Kentucky, he returned to Wilson County, married and died in 1807." THE HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Chapter III, by G. Frank Burns and Dixon Lanier Merritt, Page 21.

People and families came into Wilson County from many different places. Some came from North Carolina, some came from Virginia, some came from Sumner County, and some even came from Nashville, not Nashboro as it has been called. "Among those who came from Davidson County was a man called Henry Turney, whose house was to be the second place of meeting for the Wilson County Court. His purchase of 640 acres of land on the headwaters of Barton's Creek from John Lankester (Lancaster) on December 11, 1798 is one of the earliest transfers by deed on record at the Wilson County Courthouse. Lankester is believed to be the same John Lancaster who was one of the first members of the Wilson County court." THE HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Chapter III, by G. Frank Burns and Dixon Lanier Merritt, Page 21 and Page 22. The Barton's Creek starts out as a very small stream in the Holloway community, just slightly to the north of it, and west of the Old Murfreesboro Road, then it trickles and meanders down to and under Pinhook Road, then the creek runs under Old Shannon Road, then it runs just to the west of the site of Barton's Creek Baptist Church (at the corner of Barton's Creek Road and the Old Shannon Road), then it goes under Franklin Road, then under I-40, under Leeville Pike, under Hartmann Drive, then under West Main Street, then under the bypass, then it runs under Hartmann Drive again, and then under Maple Hill Road, eventually crossing Coles Ferry Pike, where it empties into the Cumberland River. Starting out small, it is aided by numerous small streams and springs until it carries quite a bit of water to the Cumberland River.

This information comes to me from Mr. Timothy Wilder, Chief of the Western Section, Regulatory Branch, United States Corps of Engineers, Nashville District.

Trivia: How did Barton's Creek achieve its' name?
Answer: "Somewhere among the very early parties of hunter-trapper-explorers, there came into what was to be Wilson County, a man named Samuel Barton. He came and went and came again. He was more acquisitive than the others. Not only did he bestow his name on Barton's Creek, but he acquired extensive land holdings along the course of the creek, and elsewhere. Barton may have come first as early as the Henry Scraggins party of 1765. This party conducted extensive explorations-the most extensive so far-throughout this region. One year later came Daniel Boone, with his kinsman Samuel Calloway. They came again another year, all of this before any of their exploits in Kentucky." HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Chapter I, by Dixon Lanier Merritt, Page 3. Goodspeed's History of Tennessee, in a sketch of Daniel J. Barton, the grandson of Samuel and at the time a Trustee of Wilson County, says:

"Samuel Barton was a native of Virginia and came to Nashville when there were but four families residing in the place. Later, after taking a leading part in the settlement of Nashville, Samuel Barton came back to live and to die and to leave numerous progeny in Wilson County." HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Chapter I, by Dixon Lanier Merritt, Page 5.

More Trivia: How did Spencer Creek achieve its' name?
Answer: "It was not until 1776 that there came the greatest of all the hunters-greatest physically that is-Thomas Sharp (Bigfoot) Spencer, (born March 29, 1754 in Virginia, died April 1, 1794, in Tennessee). Having heard from his neighbors, Kasper Mansker and Anthony Bledsoe, of the rich lands and the abundance of big game, he came here from his home in Virginia in the spring of 1776. He came almost alone. There was with him a man named Holliday, but he did not stay long. Holliday became dissatisfied, and wanted to leave and to return home to Virginia. When they had said their 'goodbyes' and were preparing to part, Holliday discovered that he had lost his hunting knife, whereupon Spencer broke his own knife in half and gave half of his knife to Holliday." EARLY HISTORY OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE, BY EDWARD ALBRIGHT Chapter 9, 1908. Spencer lived for the last year (1779) in a hollow upright Sycamore tree in what is now Castalian Springs, then known as Bledsoe's Lick." The tree was 12 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall and Spencer used to climb into it through the top by way of a ladder that he would haul in after he had entered the tree. The tree is long gone, however a granite monument marks the place where it stood in the field across the road from Wynnewood in Castalian Springs. "He did a large part of his hunting and trapping on the south side of the Cumberland River (in Wilson County) along the Creek which has since borne his name." HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY, TENNESSEE, Chapter I, by Dixon Lanier Merritt, Page 5. Spencer Creek starts on top of Waters Hill, at the very back end of Bethlehem Road, then it runs out to Letcher Ave, then to Arlington Rd, then to the end of Barnes Drive, to Southfork Drive, then to Palmer Road, then it runs under Highway 70 (Nashville Pike), to Tirzah Street, then it runs along Highway 70 to where it runs under Cairo Bend Road, just prior to the rail road tracks, then it joins Martha Branch, then it runs under Highway 109 North, to just before Highway 109 North and the Old LaGuardo Road join, then it runs under "Spence" Creek Drive until it meets up with Cooks Branch, then it runs under Northern Road, until it makes its' way to Old Hickory Lake at LaGuardo, just south of Burton Road.

Frank Burns told me for years that "Native Americans, when they saw the prints of Spencers' big feet in the mud," Frank told me of how they "fled in terror when they saw the footprints."

"His physical strength was legendary. A giant in his day, well proportioned, broad shouldered, huge in body and limb, and weighing nearly four hundred pounds, Spencer always said he feared striking another man due to the fear of killing him. According to one story, Spencer threw a militiaman high over a split ten- 3rail fence to break up a fight at a local militia muster. When the embarrassed man recovered, he begged Spencer to set his horse over the fence also. Others characterized him as having 'the strength of a lion,' as being 'stronger than two common men' and as being 'the stoutest man I ever saw.' His traditional feats of strength are numerous. Spencer was a true gentleman of a man, of quiet and peaceable disposition. Spencer never married." EARLY HISTORY OF MIDDLE TENNESSEE, BY EDWARD ALBRIGHT, CHAPTER 9, 1908.

"On April 1, 1794, Spencer was killed by a single gunshot fired from ambush, supposedly fired by Native Americans. Spencer was then scalped and robbed of $2,000.

At the time, he was returning from Virginia across the Cumberland Mountains, and he reached a hill in Van Buren County where he was ambushed, which has since been given his name."

Walter T. Durham, TENNESSEE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HISTORY AND CULTURE. The town of Spencer in Van Buren County is named for Thomas Sharp (Bigfoot) Spencer.

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