It was an unexpected setting for a significant moment in Tennessee history. Sailboats bobbed in the harbor of the charming Maine seaside village, and visitors in casually expensive shorts and sandals strolled past with their rescued greyhounds and canvas bags from L.L. Bean. But behind the oak and granite walls of a York Harbor pub, a descendant of Nashville founder James Robertson (1742-1814), was unwinding tissue paper from a family treasure.
Dr. Henry J. Llewellyn is a 60-something radiologist who lives and works in the Boston area. A man of great dignity and charm, he has, since the recent death of his sister, begun to consider the fate of various family treasures he holds in trust. What he was carrying with him on this September day in 2002 was a small watercolor sketch, in profile, of a man generations of his family have believed to be a young General James Robertson. Dr. Llewellyn had recently contacted Mike Slate, editor of the Nashville Historical Newsletter, saying he would like to share this heirloom with the public.
The enormity of this find, should the face be Robertson’s, would challenge and delight Nashville and Tennessee historians. Although one confirmed portrait of Robertson does exist, experts agree it was produced after his death. That portrait was painted by artist Washington Bogart Cooper (1802-1888), who arrived in Nashville in 1830 and had become quite a popular artist here by 1838. According to James A. Hoobler of the Tennessee State Museum, Robertson’s widow Charlotte called her children together and commissioned Cooper to paint the portrait by combining, not unlike pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the facial traits “of various family members whose features resembled their father.” Charlotte loved the painting and “swore that it looked just like James had.” It is important to remember, however, that Charlotte Robertson was in her mid-80s by that time, and that her husband had been dead for more than twenty years.
At least some of the Robertson images that appear in various history texts seem to have been copied from the Cooper painting. One other painting, attributed to artist Henry Benbridge (1743-1812), accompanies many modern-day accounts, including the James Robertson entry in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Still another portrait once believed to be of James Robertson has been identified as that of a kinsman. If Dr. Llewellyn’s miniature is, in fact, a portrait of the General drawn from life, it is very likely the only one in existence. Indeed, the story that has come down through the family, passed from parent to child for eight generations, maintains this to be the only likeness ever made of Robertson during his lifetime.
The picture itself is small and imperfect. The oval frame, made in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, is probably not much more than one hundred years old. It is badly cracked. Almost a quarter of the picture has been torn off, in a line running down the right side from top to bottom, and another deep crease runs vertically through the entire figure. A small section of the back of the head, where the page is torn, has been drawn onto the backing paper below by a less artistic hand. Stains and age spots discolor much of the page.
It is very small: the oval frame is four and a half by six inches; the image of the man himself is only three inches high. But it is startlingly beautiful. Less like our conception of a rugged frontiersman than a graceful illustration for a Jane Austen novel, the profile of a handsome young man is outlined in a few delicate strokes. The skin tones are subtle and lifelike; the hair, except for the awkward smear on the backing paper, has an almost palpable softness. It is a lovely piece of historical art that merits further study.
Nashville historians who have viewed the portrait agree that the clothing and other stylistic details of the painting are inconsistent with the period of James Robertson’s youth, and that the young man’s profile is quite different from that of the Cooper portrait. A few individuals have also pointed out that stories passed down through families are subject to the same process we remember from our childhood game of “Telephone,” in which a sentence whispered from person to person transforms into something quite different by the time it reaches the last player. Nevertheless, it is entirely probable, since the portrait has been so carefully tended through the years, that it is indeed a likeness of one of Dr. Llewellyn’s ancestors, perhaps even another member of the Robertson family. (2002)
Robertson Line, General James Robertson to Dr. Henry J. Llewellyn from Sarah Foster Kelley. Children of Nashville. Nashville: Blue & Gray Press, 1973.
Henry Jerome Llewellyn II (15 Jun 1937 – 13 Feb 2009)
b Philadelphia, PA; d Brookline, MA
Father: Clinton F. Llewellyn
Mother: Mabelle Ann Johnson Llewellyn
Spouse: Paige E. Llewellyn
Clinton Llewellyn (5 Dec 1903 – 13 Jan 1944)
b Philadelphia, PA; d Philadelphia, PA
Father: Henry J. Llewellyn (NY)
Mother: Pauline Drescher (PA)
Manager at H. J. Llewellyn Co., his father’s bakery supply company.
Felix Randolph Robertson, a man of diverse talents, contributed much to the development of Nashville from its beginnings through the Civil War. Born January 11, 1781, to Nashville founders James and Charlotte Robertson, he was the first Caucasian child born in the new settlement.
Although the son of a pioneer, Robertson earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He studied under Dr. Benjamin Rush (a signer of the Declaration of Independence) and graduated in 1806, specializing in children’s diseases.
Robertson courted Lydia Waters in Maryland but, uneasy about asking Lydia to abandon her comfortable surroundings for a frontier town, returned alone to Nashville to build his home and practice. He erected a two-story building at 129 Cherry Street (near today’s 4th Avenue N. and Church Street) that served him as both office and home, and he became Nashville’s first pediatrician.
Eighteen months later Robertson returned to propose to Lydia, who not only accepted but also arranged to bring her mother and siblings to Nashville. The couple married on October 8, 1808.
Lydia and Felix Robertson had eight children before Lydia’s 1832 death at 44. Felix never remarried, remaining a widower for 33 years.
Dr. Robertson made many contributions to the field of medicine but is probably best known for advocating the use of quinine to treat malarial fevers. Founder and first president of the Nashville Medical Society, he served as president of the Medical Society of Tennessee from 1834-1840. He was a professor of medicine in the University of Nashville Medical Department, served briefly as president of the Bank of Tennessee, and was twice elected mayor of Nashville.
In 1826 Robertson, as president of the Texas Association, led thirty men to Texas to survey land and start a settlement in what is now Robertson County, Texas. Though he did not stay in Texas, his cousin, Sterling Clack Robertson did. After winning a legal battle with Stephen F. Austin over the land, Sterling surveyed and established Nashville, Texas, on the Brazos River.
Felix Robertson lived alone in his later years after all six surviving children married and settled outside of Nashville. He died in 1865, at the age of 84, from injuries sustained in a buggy accident caused by a runaway horse. The first-born Nashvillian had lived through the War of 1812, the growth and development of “the Athens of the South,” and the devastating Civil War, in which family members fought on both sides. His positive impact on Nashville is reflected in his tombstone inscription in City Cemetery: “First white child born in Settlement now called Nashville. Distinguished as a physician. Foremost as citizen.” (2013)
Previously published in Monuments & Milestones, the Nashville City Cemetery newsletter.
The earlier of Nashville’s two most famous Indian onslaughts occurred on April 2, 1781. It was probably Charlotte Robertson – stalwart wife of Nashville co-founder James Robertson – who sicced the Fort Nashborough dogs on the attacking Indians, a storied deed that helped foil a clever Indian subterfuge. Another hero of that fateful day was John Buchanan Sr., who darted from the fort and rescued Edward Swanson, who had been clubbed by one of the marauders. These heroics notwithstanding, several pioneers died at the “Battle of the Bluff,” including Alexander Buchanan, thought to be John’s son.
The second of our legendary Indian battles took place on September 30, 1792, at Buchanan’s Station, which had been established about 1784 by Major John Buchanan, another son of the elder John. In his 1853 Annals of Tennessee, J.G.M. Ramsey described the Battle of Buchanan’s Station as “a feat of bravery which has scarcely been surpassed in all the annals of border warfare.” In that nighttime attack as many as 900 Creeks, Cherokees, Chickamaugans, and others were repulsed by about 20 settlers inside the station. Again the hero of the day was a woman: Sarah (called “Sally” or “Sallie”) Buchanan, wife of Major John. The heavily pregnant Sally cheered on the defenders, molded bullets, and perhaps even served up distilled beverages while the men fired away through blockhouse portholes.
Although the battle could have become Tennessee’s Alamo, the besieged pioneers did not suffer a single casualty. However, among the noteworthy Indians killed that night was Kiachatalee (or Chiachattalla), a dauntless warrior who attempted to set the fort ablaze. The Indians intent was to assault Fort Nashborough after destroying Buchanan’s Station, but the plucky stationers confounded the natives’ ambitions.
At first light an inspection of the premises produced numerous articles left by the retreating attackers. Several swords were found, including “a fine Spanish blade . . . richly mounted in the Spanish fashion.” Some historians have conjectured that the sword may have been traded to the Indians in exchange for scalps of slain settlers (certainly the Spanish stirred up such trouble for the westward-advancing Americans). Such a sword would have been quite a prize for the victorious stationers, plunder that would not have been treated carelessly. We can easily imagine that they presented it to Sally Buchanan as a tribute to her uncommon spunk.
So what has happened to this splendid Spanish sword? Does a Buchanan family member treasure it today? Does it survive in some museum, under the auspices of curators who have no knowledge of its history? Maybe it awaits us in a dark, cobwebbed attic; or perhaps all that separates us from this luxurious booty is a nondescript floorboard in some old house. Unfortunately, we may never set our eyes on this symbol of pioneer resilience, but all is not lost. In fact, we have something far more precious than a mere sword: we have the Buchanan Station Cemetery, where Major John and Sarah Buchanan are buried, along with other pioneers.
If the Buchanan Station sword were in a display case at the Tennessee State Museum, tens of thousands of admirers would have by now filed past it. But only a handful of Nashvillians have made the pilgrimage to the little cemetery to pay respects to our earliest settlers, upon whose sturdy shoulders rests our local civilization. If you are moved to visit the cemetery, you will find it along Mill Creek near the corner of Elm Hill Pike and Massman Drive. If you turn on Massman into the industrial park, you will find the cemetery on your left just after the first set of buildings. Parking for a few cars is available on the left side of the cemetery, which is now marked by a black fence and informative signage. We think you will agree that the Buchanan Station Cemetery is one of the most fascinating features of Nashville history.
Hundreds of motorists rush past the intersection of Old Hickory Boulevard and Chickering Road every day without realizing they have just glimpsed a bit of early Tennessee history. Nearby, on the property of Percy Warner Park, stands an old two-story log house with white siding, its three limestone chimneys now cold.
This is the Hodge House, built circa 1795 by Francis Hodge, an early pioneer settler who signed the 1780 Cumberland Compact and later received a land preemption of 640 acres. As Indian attacks diminished, many of the settlers ventured out from Fort Nashborough to settle on their own land. In the area of today’s Carden Road, Francis Hodge and his family built a log house which they called Hodge’s Station. It became a gathering place where many early Tennesseans, including James and Charlotte Robertson, came to study Methodism. Hodge later sold that tract of land to Joseph Ewing and built a cabin three or four miles south, on the plot where it now stands — land that had previously belonged to James Robertson.
This second Hodge house, originally a single pen log cabin (as has been determined by Metropolitan Historical Commission staff), stands today in the southeastern corner of Percy Warner Park. Francis Hodge and his two oldest sons, James and George, constructed the two-story dwelling of white ash logs. Over the years, the family added several more rooms, white clapboard siding, and a tin roof. To accommodate the family slaves, they built additional cabins, one of which survived into the late 1950s.
Within a few years the property was purchased by Mary and Samuel Northern, James Hodge’s daughter and son-in-law. The Northerns, whose descendants would live on this land for nearly one hundred years, dedicated an acre northeast of the house for use as a family cemetery. When James Hodge died in 1817, he was the first of the family to be buried in this graveyard, near what is now the Harpeth Hills Golf Course.
Pioneer Francis Hodge died in 1828. His will, written in his own hand, shows the excellent penmanship characteristic of an educated man. The will identifies his sons as John, James, Robert, and George; and his daughters as Elizabeth (Betsy) Armstrong, Sarah Slaughter, and Priscilla Carruthers. No surviving record indicates where Francis is buried. His son George died in 1833, willing the land, the house, and fourteen slaves to his wife Elizabeth. George’s 1829 will also stipulated that after Elizabeth’s death several nieces and nephews should inherit the property. One of the nephews named was Francis Hodge Asbury Slaughter, who, with Sterling Clack Robertson, was part of the first Texas colony.
Members of the Hodge family married into other local families whose names are still well known in the area: Betts, Becton, Harding, Northern, Osborne, Page, Reams, Sawyer, Slaughter, and Wilkes. The old house saw the Civil War come and go, with both Union and Confederate soldiers marching past on the historic Indian trail in front of the property. Hodge descendants occupied the home until its sale in 1895. In 1927 the property became part of the Warner Parks and is now listed on and protected by the National Register of Historic Places. According to the Warner Parks website, it is the “only early rural farmhouse of its type under public ownership in the county.”
The house served for many years as a residence for Parks Department employees and their families. In the early 1990s it was boarded up because of its deteriorated condition and was left vacant until a group of Hodge descendants began lobbying for protection and restoration of the property. Renewed interest in the site led to a survey of the old Hodge-Northern cemetery, during which sixteen unmarked graves, including several burial sites of children, were discovered. Moreover, as part of this year’s  celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Warner Parks, the Hodge House has been designated for renovation, in order to make it a more valuable, hands-on local history resource. The Friends of the Warner Parks (FWP) has been working side-by-side with the Nashville Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation to acquire funding for the project. Their first objective is to restore the original white ash log cabin. FWP Director Eleanor Willis, who has spearheaded the project, describes the logs now visible in the attic area as “beautifully preserved.” Work on the foundation and the limestone chimneys is already underway. Visitors will soon be able to view the historic Hodge House as it appeared two centuries ago to the early settlers of Middle Tennessee. (2002)
April 24, 2003, marks the 223rd anniversary of the historical founding of Nashville. On that well-known date in 1780, John Donelson’s flotilla of about 30 flatboats and several pirogues completed the 1006-mile voyage via four rivers to the French Lick’s almost-completed log central station. Here the travelers joined James Robertson’s overland settlement party that had traveled into the western North Carolina frontier to cross the frozen Cumberland River on Christmas Day 1779 to establish an outpost of civilization. This two-prong settlement of Nashville was described by Theodore Roosevelt in Winning of the West as “being equal in importance to the settlement of Jamestown or the landing at Plymouth Rock.”
Not as well known is that this year also marks the 100th anniversary of the October 11, 1903, dedication of the Robertson Monument in Centennial Park. The monument’s towering 50-foot granite shaft is actually seven years older than its year of dedication, and the story of the monument’s creation in Nashville’s first public park is nearly as interesting as the Robertson pioneers it memorializes.
The monument’s existence is due to the energy, dedication, and vision of Nashville’s Major Eugene C. Lewis (1845-1917), owner of theNashville American newspaper and a consulting civil engineer. It was Lewis’ friend, local architect William C. Smith, who suggested in a late-1893 speech to Nashville’s Commercial Club that “a spectacular Tennessee Centennial be held to alleviate financial distress and to divert the attention of the people” from the long and severe depression that had engulfed America after the Panic of ’93. Before the depression, according to W. F. Creighton inBuilding of Nashville, local attorney Douglas Anderson had suggested in local newspapers that a celebration be held in Nashville to celebrate the centenary of Tennessee’s 1796 statehood. Although Anderson’s earlier suggestion had evoked favorable public response, no action was taken until Smith renewed interest in the project. The Nashville Tennessee Centennial Exposition Company was formed and by the summer of 1895 was beginning to acquire financial support for the event. John W. Thomas, president of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad, served as president of the Centennial Company and chairman of the executive committee of the Exposition, and Major E. C. Lewis was named director general. The site selected for the Exposition was the West Side Race Track and Park, located on the old fairgrounds surrounding the historic Cockrill Springs area at the end of Church Street and the terminus of the West End Avenue streetcar line. The first Tennessee State Fair had been staged on the site in 1869, with subsequent fairs held in 1873, 1879, and 1884.
The Centennial Exposition, held May 1 through October 30, 1897, was “essentially a fair on a grand scale,” wrote A. W. Crouch and H. D. Claybrook in Our Ancestors Were Engineers. Attractions included 12 large buildings featuring exhibits on the commercial, industrial, agricultural, and educational interests of the state; a “midway” including Egyptian, Cuban, and Chinese villages; a “Giant See-saw” designed by local engineer and steel fabricator Arthur J. Dyer; Venetian gondoliers on newly created Lake Watauga; a Venetian Rialto bridge designed by local architect C. A. Asmus; parades and “sham battles” by the Tennessee Militia; fireworks and other entertainment; and a 250-foot flag staff designed by E. C. Lewis. Major Lewis also had conceived the idea to create a replica of the 5th-century B. C. Athenian Parthenon to house the art exhibit, then commissioned local architect W. C. Smith to make the needed drawings. (The Parthenon, built during 1895-1897, and the city park board’s 1920 decision to have it rebuilt as a permanent structure is a story unto itself.)
Among the exhibits featured at the Exposition’s Mineral and Forestry Building was a towering, 50-foot granite shaft. The impressive monolith is attributed to the “Barry Vermont Granite Quarries” by Creighton in Building of Nashville, but Leland Johnson wrote in The Parks of Nashville that the “granite shaft was quarried at Stone Mountain, Georgia, by Venerable Brothers of Atlanta and shipped to Nashville for display during the 1897 Centennial Exposition. Oral tradition says a portion of the shaft broke off during transit to Nashville.” The shaft’s original flat-stone base remains today on the west bank of Lake Watauga and bears a metal plate commemorating the Centennial Exposition.
After the Exposition closed, all buildings except the Parthenon were torn down and removed. The success of the Exposition, as well as the progressive movement of the late 19th Century to establish public parks, planted the seed for Nashville’s park system. In 1901 Mayor James Head appointed five men, one of whom was Major E. C. Lewis, to the new Board of Park Commissioners. Negotiations were begun by the city in early 1902 with the owners of the 72-acre Centennial Park to purchase the land for a permanent city park. After months of complicated offers and counter-offers, described in The Parks of Nashville, Nashville Railway and Light Company purchased Centennial Park and its title was presented to the city park board on December 22, 1902.
On January 13, 1903, Major Lewis addressed the Tennessee Historical Society on the subject of James Robertson. He began his speech by informing the assembled members of “a fortunate circumstance that transpired only a few days ago. . . .For the first time in all its history, Nashville has park ground worthy of the Capital of Tennessee. The title to the Centennial Grounds, upon which the city has already contributed a large sum of money toward the adornment thereof, is now in the city of Nashville. The Park Commission. . .has so far determined upon but one measure, and that, the erection in Centennial Park of a monument [for] James Robertson, the founder of Nashville.” He concluded his lengthy profile of Robertson by asking, “What have we of Nashville done to honor this man’s memory? Has even the memory of all the good Robertson did been interred with his bones?. . .Are we a grateful people?”
Major Lewis had made prescient provisions to answer his own questions. When negotiations had begun to purchase the Centennial land, he purchased the 50-foot granite shaft for $200, then his fellow-commissioner Samuel A. Champion “resolved that it be erected in the park as a monument to the memory of James Robertson.” Lewis also purchased the flat-stone base for $10 in 1903 to remain beside Lake Watauga as a memorial to the Centennial Exposition. A new granite base was needed to support the heavy shaft after its relocation, but no record has yet been found of the base’s creator or its procurement. Wherever the massive base originated, Johnson described the monument’s creation in The Parks of Nashville: “With a tripod made of three large oak logs and block and tackle, Major Lewis raised the shaft into position and then constructed the foundation beneath it.” The granite shaft and its base weigh a total of 52.5 tons. Text is inscribed on a plaque on each side of the monument:
North Side Text: “James Robertson/Born in Brunswick County, Virginia, June 28, 1742. Moved to North Carolina in 1750. Came to Tennessee in 1769. Settled Nashville in 1780. Died in Tennessee Sept. 1, 1814. Reinterred in the City Cemetery at Nashville, 1825, under authority of the Tennessee Legislature.”
East Side Text: “Charlotte Reeves/Wife of James Robertson/Born in North Carolina, Jan. 2, 1751. Married to James Robertson, 1768. Died in Nashville, Jun. 11, 1843. Buried in the City Cemetery. Mother of the first male child born at Nashville. She participated in the deeds and dangers of her illustrious husband: won honors of her own and along his path of destiny cast a leading light of loyalty, intelligence, and devotion.”
South Side Text: “A worthy citizen of both Virginia and North Carolina. Pioneer, patriot, and patriarch in Tennessee. Diplomat, Indian fighter, maker of memorable history. Director of the movement of the settlers requiring that hazardous and heroic journey so successfully achieved from Watauga to the Cumberland. Founder of Nashville. Brigadier-General of the United States Army. Agent of the Government to the Chickasaw Nation. He was earnest, taciturn, self-contained, and had that quiet consciousness of power usually seen in born leaders of men. ‘He had winning ways and made no fuss.’ (Oconnostota) He had what was of value beyond price–a love of virtue, an intrepid soul, an emulous desire for honest fame. He possessed to an eminent degree the confidence, esteem, and veneration of all his contemporaries. His worth and services in peace and war are gratefully remembered. Amiable in private life, wise in council, vigilant in camp, courageous in battle, strong in adversity, generous in victory, revered in death.”
West Side Text: “James Robertson/Founder of Nashville/’We are the advance guard of civilization. Our way is across the Continent.'” Robertson—1779
The monument to James and Charlotte Reeves Robertson was presented to the city of Nashville on October 11, 1903, by Major E. C. Lewis on behalf of the Park Commission. About 100 Robertson descendants from all over the United States and one foreign country attended the ceremony in Centennial Park, according to Sarah F. Kelley in Children of Nashville. Three-year-old Dickson Wharton Robertson, descended through Dr. Peyton Robertson, was dressed in Scottish-plaid kilts and pulled the string to unveil the towering monument honoring his great-great-grandfather. Among those offering memorial tributes to Nashville’s founder were Governor James B. Frazier and Mayor James Head.
“History often repeats itself,” wrote Kelley. “On June 28, 1972, the descendants of James Robertson gathered once again in Nashville to celebrate Tennessee’s ‘James Robertson Day’ proclaimed by Governor Winfield Dunn.” Among the descendants gathered around the Robertson Monument in Centennial Park was the same Dickson Wharton Robertson who had participated in the monument’s unveiling 69 years earlier.
As the Robertson Monument approaches its centenary, the 107-year-old shaft has weathered well, as have the 100-year-old base and four bronze plaques. Attesting to the passage of a century is that the massive base appears to have sunk several feet into the earth since 1903. Without measured drawings to provide dimensions of the original base, however, a definitive conclusion cannot be made. Thus we celebrate the founding of Nashville with the hope that Centennial Park’s terra firma will continue to support the city’s monument to its founder, so that future Nashvillians may enjoy a bicentennial celebration of the Robertson Monument.
Winning of the West, Volume II: From the Alleghanies to the Mississippi, 1777-1783, by Theodore Roosevelt (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1889).
Tennessee Old and New, Sesquicentennial Edition, 1796-1946, Volumes I and II (Nashville: Tennessee Historical Commission and Tennessee Historical Society, 1946).
Seedtime on the Cumberland, by Harriette Simpson Arnow (New York: The Macmillian Company, 1960).
Building of Nashville, by Wilbur Foster Creighton; revised and enlarged by Wilbur F. Creighton, Jr., and Leland R. Johnson (Nashville: Wilbur F. Creighton, Jr., and Elizabeth Creighton Schumann, 1969).
Children of Nashville: Lineages of James Robertson, by Sarah Foster Kelley (Nashville: Blue and Gray Press, 1973).
Our Ancestors Were Engineers, by Arthur Weir Crouch and Harry Dixon Claybrook (Nashville: Nashville Section of American Society of Civil Engineers, 1976).
The Parks of Nashville: A History of the Board of Parks and Recreation, by Leland R. Johnson (Nashville: Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Board of Parks and Recreation, 1986).
Andrew Jackson Slept Here: A Guide to Historical Markers in Nashville and Davidson County (Nashville: Metropolitan Historical Commission of Nashville and Davidson County, 1993).