Four Recent Answers from Two Old Documents

by Guy Alan Bockmon.

Published studies of the frontier in Middle Tennessee, Davidson County, Nashville and her urban and suburban areas tell little or nothing about the area which would become Madison, Tennessee. In them Fort Union may or may not be mentioned, but most of the published sources consulted agree that in the mid-1780s the Rev. Thomas Brown Craighead came to the frontier to establish the first church and school, that his Meetinghouse was erected near the southwest corner of Madison’s Spring Hill Cemetery, that its size was about 24 by 30 feet and that it was built of stone.

Image of a similar early stone church, from the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

Four questions present themselves: 1) in that troubled time why settle so far from the protection of the fort at Nashville; 2) why build a structure so much larger than the courthouse; 3) why use stone instead of logs; and 4) who supplied the manpower to finish the construction in time for the Meetinghouse to be used by September 25, 1786?

After some “digging” I found an answer to the first question in a Tennessee Historical Society document, “The trustees of the church of Nashville and Springhill,” transcribed on pages 24-25 of Madison Station. There are the names of nearly sixty pioneers and the amounts they pledged in pounds, shillings, and pence to Craighead’s church in 1786. Many contributors lived at Nashville, but others were from stations scattered from Castalian Springs to Goodlettsville to White’s Creek to Mill Creek and to Robertson Road. Realizing that he was their only minister, Craighead evidently sought and found a site centrally located to all the stations. Spring Hill was accessible from the Cumberland up that historic creek near where in 1780 had stood Fort Union. The branch has been named successively for Spencer, Buchanan, Craighead, and Love. Spring Hill was also accessible from the “road” which became Gallatin Pike.

A document among the Draper papers, “Edmondson’s Defeat at Neely’s Bend-1787” yielded answers to the remaining questions. On page 23 of Madison Station is a facsimile revealing that some twenty families from Washington County, Virginia emigrated with Craighead to Spring Hill. So large a congregation required a large church and provided the necessary labor. The chosen material was stone because it fire-proofed the Meetinghouse-fort at “The Irish Station,” the existence of which had been forgotten until publication of Madison Station. (1998)

Guy A. Bockmon (1926-2005) was a professor of music with degrees from Murray State College in western Kentucky and the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He authored and/or edited several college textbooks in his field and served as director of music in Baptist, Congregationalist, Methodist, and Episcopal churches. He was the author of Madison Station, a history of Madison, Tennessee, published by Hillsboro Press in 1997.

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