Early Blount County Tennessee Forts

Blount County was formed in 1795 from Knox County and named for Governor Wm. Blount. Its county seat, Maryville, was named for Mary Grainger Blount, wife of Governor Wm. Blount. The settlement of this county began in 1785 and the early settlers were much harassed by the Indians. Nine places in this county have been deemed worthy of being commemorated by historical markers. These places are as follows:

McGaughey’s Fort

Although McGaughey’s Fort was in Sevier County (established in 1794), it was on the line of the old Indian War Trail which extended through Blount County, and was a great protection to the early settlers in this county, especially to those along Boyd’s Creek Valley, whence they crossed the ridge dividing that stream from Ellejoy.

The country around this fort was the scene of many encounters with the Indians, among the most romantic of which was the narrow escape of W. H. Cunningham and the family of Andrew Creswell which took place in 1793.

McGaughey’s Fort was established prior to 1785, being, of course, contemporaneous with the advent of the early settlers and was located where the Village of Seymour now stands. 1

McTeer’s Fort

Hon. Will A. McTeer gives the following account concerning McTeer’s Fort:

“McTeer’s Fort was situated on Ellejoy Creek. This is a place where numerous springs of cold water come bubbling up along the stream and for some distance on the sides. There was a flat bottom along down the stream for some distance, and shaded with forest trees, the indications are, which are beyond doubt true, that it was a great stopping place with the Indians before the advent of the whites, because a more beautiful camping ground than it was then, would be hard to find anywhere. It was claimed by the old people that Robert McTeer was the first white man to spend a night in that locality, and he procured a grant from North Carolina for a large tract of land including these camping grounds.

“About 1790, under the entanglement regarding the treaties and the trouble between the people of the western territory and the old state, this grant was found to be defective, and he procured a grant after this from Tennessee. The fort was built on a little rise where it commanded a good view of approaches, and, connected with it, Robert McTeer erected the first mill built in that locality.

“The whites were troubled a great deal with the Indians by stealing, raiding and annoying. From this fort Cunningham went out to fields east of this place, was attacked by the Indians who dragged him into a cane brake, and there mutilated and scalped him, leaving him for dead. The whites sallied out, met the Indians, fired on them, killed one while another was traced a considerable distance by the blood. And from this fort the Campbell family started intending to go to either McCroskey’s or McGaughey’s, and in near two miles from the fort were waylaid and massacred, their bodies being found lying dead, and were all buried in the same grave. This grave is near Eusebia Presbyterian Church, and the spot has been conveyed to Eusebia Cemetery. A fund was raised about ten years ago, and a monument erected on this grave.

“From the place of this fort there was a branch of the Indian War Trail, crossing Chilhowee mountain at what is known as Millstone Gap, and leading on to the Indian town in Tuckaleechee. After the whites came into the territory, that was a place of considerable importance, at which Colonel Christian with his command, and afterwards General Sevier on one of his excursions. stopped over and camped. It is now a considerable burgh and center for a prosperous country community.’

Ramsey says, page 369, that McTeer’s station “soon became the nucleus of an excellent neighborhood of intelligent, worthy and patriotic citizens, emigrants principally from the valley of Virginia, who brought with, and diffused around them, republicanism, religion, intelligence and thrift. They were, for several years, annoyed and harassed by Cherokee incursions. The proximity of their settlement to the fastnesses of the adjoining mountains, made it necessary, constantly, to guard their frontier. While one worked in the field, another acted as a scout or a sentinel. They were often driven into stations, and twice had to leave their farms and cabins, and fall back, for a short time, upon the older settlements. But gaining, year after year, additional strength by new emigrations, they gradually extended the settlements down the valley of Elijah and Naill’s Creek. Henry’s, McTeer’s, McCullock’s, Gillespie’s, Craig’s, Kelly’s, Houston’s, Black’s, Hunter’s, Bartlett’s, Kirk’s, Ish’s, and others, were, soon after, the nuclei of settlements.”

Gamble’s Fort

Gamble’s Fort was in a beautiful and strong situation at the bend of Little River below the river gap in Chilhowee Mountain. This was established probably as early as 1785. In 1792 it was a strong station having a lieutenant, William Reagan, and thirteen men, and was kept strong because it was situated near the great war trail and also on the line between the war trail and the Tuckaleechee town.

From the very first there was much trouble with the Indians (Cherokees) in the way of incursions and stealing, with occasional attacks on the settlers when they ventured out. In 1793 the situation was acute. At this time the government of the United States, under President Washington, was endeavoring to effect a treaty with the Indians and the Territorial government and the settlers were forbidden to make invasions of the Indian territory howsoever strong the provocation to do so might be. The policy of the government was not to allow the passions of the Indians to be inflamed.

The Indians quickly realized the situation and took advantage of it. On January 22, 1793, they killed and scalped John Pates on Crooked Creek. On January 29, they stole three of William Davidson’s horses from Gamble’s Station, and on February 26, they stole ten horses from Cozby’s Creek. These aggressions caused the spontaneous assemblage of the militia at Gamble’s Station. They were keen to march to the Indian towns and to inflict severe retaliation upon the savages [Native Americans]. So incensed, indeed, were the people of this settlement and vicinity that Governor Blount sent Colonel Kelly to them in an effort to pacify them. He also issued a proclamation requiring the citizens to refrain from invading the Indian territory. Blount finally went in person to Gamble’s Station to make a personal appeal to the settlers in the effort to preserve peace; and, in this, he was aided by Col. Jas. White, the founder of Knoxville. To the same end he also ordered a company of cavalry to range from the Holston River to the Little River. Quiet was finally restored.

Craig’s Fort

Craig’s Fort was situated where Maryville, the county seat of Blount County, now stands. It was located on a bluff above a large flowing spring, where the Sevierville road (now Main street) crosses Pistol Creek. It was a beautiful and strong position. This station was a leading stronghold, and many casualties occurred there and near it. It was built in 1785.

In April, 1793, a party of 500 Indians attacked the place. As the approach of them was learned in time, the women and children were sent out along the creek where there was a thick undergrowth of privet and shrubbery about two miles northwest of the fort and there they remained concealed until the fight was over. There was no casualty among the whites and the Indians carried away their dead and buried them to keep the white men from seeing them. At this time there were 280 men, women and children at this station, who lived in much discomfort in the inadequate and congested quarters.

Burnt Station, or Gillespie’s Fort

Burnt Station, or Gillespie’s Fort, named for William Gillespie, was situated on Little River near Rockford. It was probably built about 1785. At that time the boundaries of Brown’s settlement extended on the west down the Nollichucky River, below the mouth of Big Limestone Creek, and as that neighborhood was the weakest and the first exposed, a fort was built at Gillespie’s and a garrison was stationed in it.

In 1776, the Cherokees, under old Abraham of Chilhowee, invaded the settlements hoping to surprise and annihilate Gillespie’s Station. But, being apprised of the pending attack, the little garrison prudently abandoned the fort and withdrew to Watauga.

On October 15, 1788, a party of Cherokees and Creeks numbering two hundred or three hundred, commanded by John Watts, attacked Gillespie’s Station and twenty-eight persons were killed and several were carried away as prisoners. In a letter left signed by the Indian chiefs and addressed to Mr. John Sevier, and Joseph Martin, and to you, the Inhabitants of the New State the first sentence is : “We would wish to inform you of the accident that happened at Gillespie’s Fort, concerning the women and children that were killed in the battle.” The Indians burned the fort which was afterwards, on this account, called Burnt Station.

Ish’s Fort

Ish’s Fort was established in the early days of the settlement, about 1785, where Louisville now stands. It was one of the most important stations in the county, having, in 1792, a garrison of eight men in charge of Sergeant Matthew Karr.

Many encounters with the Indians took place here and in the vicinity of the fort and many white people were killed and wounded. In 1793 the Indians surprised a man named Ish in a clearing, shot and killed him. He was buried where he fell and that interment was the beginning of burial grounds which are still used for that purpose.

General Sevier was at Ish’s Fort, expecting to intercept a large body of Indians, who, according to report, were on their way to attack White’s Fort. The Indians, however, traveled a route farther north and, learning of General Sevier’s whereabouts, became alarmed, massacred the Cavet family and returned without attacking Knoxville. The firing at Cavet’s could be distinctly heard at Ish’s where preparations were made for an immediate pursuit, and an invasion of the Indian country. Captain Harrison with his company of light horse set out for the trail of the Indians who, it was ascertained, had abandoned their attack on Knoxville.

The daring inroad of almost the entire available force of Cherokees and Creeks, under John Watts, went far to convince the authorities of the Territory and President Washington that it was no longer safe or wise to continue the past policy of limiting the action of the country to defensive warfare only against the Indians. Accordingly, starting from Ish’s Station, Sevier struck a sudden and destructive blow at the very heart of the Indian nation at Etowah (now Rome, Ga.). This was the last military service rendered by Sevier and the only one for which he ever received compensation from the government.

Hunter’s Fort

Hunter’s Fort was located on Nine Mile Creek about 1788 at a place since known as Baker’s Creek, ten miles southwest of Maryville. Following upon the massacre of the Kirk family, on Little River, in 1788, the militia under command of Colonel Sevier, assembled at Hunter’s Fort to the number of several hundred.

Thence they followed the Indians to their towns and severely punished them.

Houston’s Station

Houston’s Station was one of the forts on the advanced frontier and one of the most important in the county. It was located probably before 1785, on Nine Mile Creek, about six miles south of Maryville.

In 1785 Houston’s Station was occupied by the families of Col. James Houston, McConnell, McEwen, Sloane and Henry. Colonel Houston, the commander, was a man of great courage and determined will and of marked intelligence. He was of the same stock as Gen. Sam Houston. At this fort one of the most desperate battles with the Indians was fought in 1785. Ramsey in his Annals, pages 370-371, gives the following account of it:

“It was attacked by a party of Indians, one hundred in number. They had, the day before, pursued the survivors of the Citico massacre, in the direction of knoxville, many of whom they had killed. Elated with their preceding successes, they determined, on their return, to take and murder the feeble garrison at Houston’s. A vigorous assault was made upon it. Hugh Barry, in looking over the bastion, incautiously exposed his head to the aim of an Indian rifle. He fell, within the station, fatally wounded, having received a bullet in his forehead. The Indians were emboldened by this success, and prolonged the conflict more than half an hour. The garrison had some of the best riflemen in the country within it, and, observing the number and activity of the assailants, they loaded and discharged their guns with all possible rapidity. The women assisted them as far as they were able. One of them, Mrs. McEwen, mother of R. H. McEwen, Esq., of Nashville, and since the wife of the Senior S. Doak, D. D., displayed great equanimity and heroism. She inquired for the bullet moulds, and was engaged, busily, in melting the lead and running bullets for different guns. A bullet from without, passing through the interstice between two logs of the station, struck the wall over near her, and rebounding, rolled upon the floor. Snatching it up, and melting and moulding it quickly, she carried it to her husband and said: “Here is a ball run out of the Indian’s lead; send it back to them as quick as possible. It is their own; let them have it in welcome.’”

In 1784 the State of Franklin had been formed and John Sevier, who had been chosen governor in 1786, adopted the policy of penetrating into the enemy’s country in order thereby to cause the immediate return of the marauding Indians and also to punish them. Houston’s Station was made the rendezvous for his troops. The expedition was eminently successful and, as a result, few attacks were made on the whites for some time.

Site of the home of the Kirk family

The Kirk family lived on Little River, not far from Houston’s Fort. The horrible murder of this family by the Indians is told in detail by Haywood, page 181, and following, and has been condensed by Ramsey, pages 410 and 411 as follows:

“In the month of May, 1788, Kirk lived with his family on the southwest side of Little River, twelve miles South of Knoxville; whilst he was absent from home, an Indian by the name of Slim Tom, known to the family, came to them and requested to be supplied with provisions, which they gave him, and he withdrew; having seen who were there, and the situation they were in with regard to defense, he soon after returned from the woods with a party of Indians, and fell upon the family—massacred the whole of them, eleven in number, and left them dead in the yard. Not long afterwards, Kirk coming home, saw his dead family lying on the ground; he gave the alarm to the neighborhood, and the militia assembled under the command of Colonel Sevier, to the number of several hundred; they met at Hunter’s Station, on Nine Mile Creek, which runs into Holston on the South side; thence they marched under the command of Colonel Sevier to the Hiwassee River, and early in the morning came upon a town which had been burned in 1779.”

The account goes on in considerable detail relating the movements of this expedition which resulted in the killing of some Indians and the capture of others, who, though prisoners, were killed, in Sevier’s absence, by young Kirk, the son of the Kirk whose family had been massacred.

Source

Moore, J.; Trotwood, Foster; A. P., S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. Tennessee: the volunteer state, 1769-1923, vol 1, pp. 709-713. Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1923.

Footnotes

  1. See Ramsey’s Annals, pp. 578 and 590.[]

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