yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee
History of Henderson Co.

From Auburn Powers, History of Henderson County, Tennessee, 1930. Reproduced with permission for personal use only. No further reproduction can be made without written consent of Andy E. Powers and Sherode B. Powers.


Chapter I

Joseph Reed made the first permanent settlement in Henderson County in 1818. He and his two sons, Jack and William, are said to have crossed the mountains from North Carolina into East Tennessee in the summer of 1817, and to have floated down the Tennessee River stopping occasionally to hunt and to stretch their stiff limbs. They, unlike the early settlers of East and Middle Tennessee, were not attacked by the Indians, for terms of peace were being negotiated with them at that time. The father and two sons pulled ashore, built fires, and cooked and ate whenever they chose and in peace. When night came, if they were on land they laid themselves down upon the moss-covered ground under some huge oak or pine and slept in peace. The only thing that there was to disturb their slumber was an occasional hoot of an owl or the call of some wandering animal or the low rumble of the wind--either of which makes sleep the more profound. They were unlike many of the people of today. Their minds were not crowded with the worries of a fast age, but were free and open to thoughts more calm. They dreamed of the fat game, of the rich land, and of the homes that they were soon to have.

The father and two sons traveled thus until they reached a favorable looking place near the mouth of Beech River in the fall of 1817. There they embarked and assembled their few belongings. No one knows just what these belongings were, but probably they consisted of a muzzle-loading rifle, a powder gourd, a "bowie knife", and a few minor things. It was not necessary in those days to carry a large amount of luggage; for such was unnecessary, the men being able to make a living with their rifles.

For the benefit of those who have never seen a muzzle loading rifle, it will be well to mention a few things about one…. The rifle is long and of a clumsy appearance. To load it, a measured amount of powder is poured into the muzzle of the barrel; next some wadding, usually of paper or rags is packed on it; then the round bullet, made by pouring melted lead into bullet molds, is wrapped in a rag and jammed down upon the wadding and powder, by the ram rod. When this part of the operation has been accomplished, the primer is filled with powder and the flint, from which the spark is to come to set off the primer, which in turn sets off the powder, is arranged. Now the gun is ready to shoot. It was very accurate and trusty in the hands of the pioneers.

The Reed party wandered through the forests of what is now Decatur County and into the heart of Henderson County. Here they fell in with a party of the Chickasaw Indians and made friends with them. They hunted and fished with them and lived much as the Indians lived. They soon became such staunch friends that Joseph Reed left Jack and William to live with them until he could go back to North Carolina and bring the remainder of his family.

Late in the fall of 1817 he set out on foot to cross some six hundred miles of new country much of which was a trackless forest never trodden by white man. He carried with him only the things necessary for the trip. Such a trip under such conditions would seem a great one to us nowadays. Not only would it seem a great one but it would be a great one, for we are not accustomed to such hardships. But to the pioneers of our county it was only a common occurrence. They were good woodsmen and hardened to the roughs and toughs of pioneer life.

Jack and William were then only lads of boys and hated very much to see their father go away on such a long journey and leave them with the Indians, for they feared they would never see him again; but the boys knew the need of staying and kept a brave heart. Conditions were not then as they are now. If their father had happened to misfortune and been killed or had frozen to death, the boys would have been years learning it. Or they might never have known what became of him. Thus it was that Joseph need and his two sons parted--the three looking forward to the making of a new home in the wilderness of what is now Henderson County. The winter of 1817 and 1818 was one that Jack and William never forgot. Many stories have I heard of the hardships they underwent. They were alone so far as white friends were concerned--nothing to do except to tramp through the woods and live as the Indians lived. They slept in the cold, ate tough food, and endured the hardships just as did the grown men of the Chickasaw tribe, with whom they lived. They waded snows with only skins wrapped around their feet, and it was not uncommon for them to wade into springs knee deep to melt the snow and ice from around their feet and legs. Spring water seems cold to us, but to Jack and William it was a source of comfort. It soothed their frost bitten feet and stimulated circulation.

To discuss fully what these two boys experienced that winter would take too much space. But the spring of 1818 brought comfort and happiness to them. Their father and the rest of the family, whom they had looked for so long, arrived. They came in a one-horse cart, but Jack and William were as glad to see them as if they had arrived in a Cadillac car.

Soon they set about to build a home and chose for it a site and on the Lexington-Scotts Hill Road. The site was just above a fine spring, which still bears the name of "Reed Spring" and which, for many years, has served as a favorite watering place for both man and beast.

The Judson School and 4·H Club enjoyed a pleasant picnic at these springs Friday afternoon, August 1S, 1930. The County Demonstrator, H. A. Powers and the Home Demonstrator, Miss Georgie Roberts, sponsored the picnic.

The father and boys then went to what is now known as the "Pine Knob" and began to fell trees with which to build their new home. They cut and hewed the logs out of huge pine. The manner in which Mr. Reed hauled them to the desired place is unknown, but he forded Beech River with them, there being no bridges or ferries at that time. They built the house out of these logs and covered it with boards held in place by poles, for there were no nails to be had; but, all-in-all, it was a good house, the logs still being sound and in use in Miss Elvar Reed's home only a few yards from the site of the old house.

Mr. Reed finished his house, moved into it, deadened timber and planted a crop, and became the first white settler in Henderson County. The land that he occupied still remains in possession of his posterity.

The following year, 1519, Henderson County was opened up for legal settlement.

Since the Indians had withdrawn peaceably from the whole region, white people were eager to possess the fresh lands, and, as a result, many settlers came to Henderson County in the next few years.

Samuel Wilson came in 1821 and settled on a 726 acre track of land at present site of Lexington. He built his home where Will Parkers store now stands. It faced in the same direction as does Mr. Parkers store, and the town of Lexington was built.

Abner Taylor and Dr. John A. Wilson settled near him the following year. There was a very sad tragedy in Dr. Wilson's home. A little daughter of his was wilfully drowned by a slave woman. This was the first murder that we have record of in Henderson County. And the negro woman was the first person to be executed in the County. She was hanged.

Major John T. Harmon settled at the headwaters of Big Sandy in 1821. Jacob Bartholomew and William Hays settled at the headwaters of Beech River a few miles west of Lexington. Jackie Powers came from South Carolina to Henderson County about 1823 and settled where W. O. Millner now lives nine miles east of Lexington on the Lexington-Decaturville Road. Some six years later, his brother Bennett, came. No one knew of his coming until his nephew, Henry Powers, accidentally met him at Lexington, Henry being on the way to see his sweetheart. The meeting of his kinsmen was a great delight to Henry, but whether that delight counterbalanced the disappointment in failing to see his sweetheart no one knows, for back in the "good old days" it was not uncommon for a boy to walk ten or fifteen miles to see his girl. But anyway, Henry directed his uncle to Jackie's home where all spent the night and had a brotherly reunion. It was from these two brothers, Jackie and Bennett, that all the Powers of Henderson County have descended.

Jonathan and Jerry Crook, the ancestors of perhaps all the Crooks in Henderson County, came to this county about 1819 or 1820. Their ancestors came from Wales in Great Britain to Spartenburg District South Carolina and from Spartenburg District to Henderson County. One of Jonathan's grandsons, Wiley Crook, now in Star City Arkansas, was a citizen of Henderson County. His great-great-grand mother came from Wales when ship loads of women were brought to the Colonies to become the wives of pioneers. Her husband paid for her passage to America in tobacco. However, they knew each other before leaving the old country.

Billy Howard, father of Sam and Ben and grandfather of Dick, Charlie and Jim, came to this county in 1822 and bought a 600 acre track of land for 14 cents an acre on the credit, and settled upon it. He planted a corn crop in June, laid it by in the same month, and made fifty bushels of corn to the acre. It was not necessary to clear the land, for there was no undergrowth. It had only to be deadened.

An early settler in the southwestern part of the County was Ferry Odle, who settled on what is now known as the Phelps Land, eleven miles southwest of Lexington. He came in the spring of the year and brought with him a set of cards, a spinning wheel, a rifle, some salt, and a few other necessities.

Other early settlers were Wm. Cain, Wm. Desmukes, who settled on the north branch of Forked Deer River; John Purdy, after whom the town of Purdy was named: James Taylor: and Jesse Baker. Still others were the McClurs, Brigances, Trices, Strongs, Shackelfords, McGees, Hopkins, Greers, Gillums, Reeves, Tates, Phillips, Rhodes, Rodgers, Garners, and others.

Settlers came in all manners of ways. Some floated down the Tennessee River and walked the remainder of the way. Some drove through in two wheeled carts drawn either by oxen or horses. Some brought their scanty supplies on pack horses and themselves walked. And some even walked without cart or horse. They poured into Henderson County until by 1830 there were 7294 white people and 1447 negroes, five of whom were free, thus making a total population of 8741, all coming since the first settlement in 1818. (This was taken from the census of 1830.)

In consequence of the rapid immigration into the County, it developed very rapidly. The census of 1840 shows a total population of 11875; that of 1850 a population of 13164; that of 1860 a population of 14491; that of 1870 a population of 14217; and that of 1880 a population of 17430. Notice that the population in 1870 was less than that in 1860. Can you account for this?

  1. When, where, and by whom was the first permanent white settlement made in Henderson County?
  2. Tell of the journey of the father and sons from North Carolina.
  3. What were probably some of the things the first settlers brought with them? Why no more?
  4. Describe a muzzle-loading riffle.
  5. With whom did Jack and William live while their father was gone back after the other members of the family?
  6. Mention some things they did during the winter of 1817-1818.
  7. When and how did the father and other members of the family arrive?
  8. Describe their new home.
  9. When was Henderson County opened up for legal settlement?
  10. Tell of Samuel Wilson's settlement.
  11. Tell of the first murder and execution in Henderson County.
  12. When and where did Major John T. Harmon settle?
  13. Tell of Bennett Powers' coming to Henderson County?
  14. How did the great-great-grand-mother of Wiley Crook come to this county?
  15. Tell of Billy Howard's settlement?
  16. How did settlers usually come to Henderson County?
  17. How many people came to Henderson County from 1818 to 1830?

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