Daniel Williams Jr.  (1755 – ca. 1823)

by Kathy B. Lauder.

Daniel Williams Jr., first sheriff of Davidson County, was born December 11, 1755, the fourth of thirteen children of Daniel and Hannah Echols Williams.  Many sources fail to distinguish between the two Daniels, father and son: fellow settler Robert Weakley wrote, “Daniel Williams was originally from Virginia but went to South Carolina before the Revolution. There the Tories shot down two of his sons, in cold blood, at their father’s house.”1 This is a clear reference to Daniel Sr., since Daniel Jr. was 20 years old and unmarried when the American Revolution began, but their identities are not always so obligingly unambiguous.  Both Daniels are documented as residing in Middle Tennessee, serving on juries, supervising road construction, and participating in civic activities.

Daniel Williams Jr., along with his brother Sampson, John Buchanan and his brother Alexander, James and John Mulherrin, and others, arrived in the Cumberland region in 1779.2  They had left their families at Clark’s Station, near Danville, Kentucky, “in comparative safety”3 and traveled ahead to establish a settlement. They faced frequent Indian attacks, and several members of the party were injured or killed.

Although Daniel Williams Jr. was the first sheriff of Davidson County, he was not the first sheriff of the district. The colonists had established the Cumberland Court on January 7, 1783, as a regional government to oversee the new settlement. The Court elected John Montgomery district sheriff in January4 and swore him in on February 5, 1783,5  but he was soon replaced by Thomas Fletcher as “Sworn Sheriff of ye Destrict of Cumberland.”6  The hapless Montgomery (almost certainly not the same man as Clarksville’s founder, Col. John Montgomery) appeared in court in January 1784, accused of “Treasonable proceedings on the Mississippi Against the Spaniards.”7 While acquitted of these charges, when Montgomery failed to appear to face subsequent civil allegations, the court seized his property.8

Davidson County, the oldest county in Middle Tennessee, was established by an act of the North Carolina legislature in April 1783 and named for General William Lee Davidson, who had died fighting Cornwallis in the Revolutionary War. At the first session of the Davidson County court, which met October 6, 1783, the justices elected Daniel Williams to a two-year term as sheriff and ordered construction of the first county courthouse and jail.9 The sheriff, paid on a fee basis, made a comfortable living: he received 8 shillings for each arrest and slightly smaller amounts for placing someone in the stocks, collecting bad debts, carrying out whippings and brandings, and so forth.10

According to Col. T. H. Williams, writing to Lyman Draper about 1843, four Williams brothers served as Davidson County Sheriff: Daniel (1755-1823), Sampson (1763-1841), Oliver (1768-1831), and Wright Williams (1776-1815). 11 A list on the website of the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department does not include Oliver Williams, but it does name Daniel Williams (elected 1783), Sampson Williams, who served two terms (1789 and 1791-1794), and Wright Williams (1799).12

Daniel Williams Jr. died in Wilkinson County, Mississippi. Sources vary as to his date of death.  (2014)


Sources:

[Note: Many of the period sources quoted in this paper may be found in Paul Clements’ invaluable book, Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements, 1779-1796. (Nashville: Self-published, 2012) References to all such quotes include not only the original published source (Draper, Haywood, Weakley, etc.), but also the page number where that and additional source material may be found in Clements’ book.]

1 Letter from Robert Weakley to Lyman Draper: Draper Papers, 32S, 519-520 (Clements 150).  

2 Haywood, John. Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee from its earliest settlement up to the Year 1796. New York: Arno Press, 1971 [ca. 1823].

3 Arnow, Harriette Simpson. Seedtime on the Cumberland. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1960, 218.

4 “Minutes of Cumberland Court,” January 7, 1783. Three Pioneer Tennessee Documents. Nashville: Tennessee Historical Commission, 1964, 23.

5 “Minutes of Cumberland Court,” February 5, 1783, 25.

6 “Minutes of Cumberland Court,” March 15, 1783, 29.

7 Wells, Carol. Davidson County, Tennessee, Court Minutes, 1783-1792. Bowie, Maryland: Heritage Books, Inc., 1990, 1-2.8 Wells, 6.

9 Ewing, Andrew, clerk (1783). Davidson County Court Daily Minutes, Vol. A:3. Mf. No 1597. Register’s Office, Davidson County Court House, Nashville, Tennessee. (Clements 199-200)

10 Arnow, 316, note.     

11 Williams, Colonel T. H. Williams Family Notes, ca. 1843. Draper Papers, 5XX: 14 (Clements 510).

12 Davidson County, Tennessee, Sheriff’s Department. “Our History: List of Davidson County Sheriffs.”      http://www.nashville.gov/Sheriffs-Office/About-Us/Our-History/Davidson-County-Sheriffs.aspx  (accessed March 26, 2015)


SUGGESTED READING:

Arnow, Harriette Simpson. Seedtime on the Cumberland. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1960.

Clements, Paul. Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements, 1779-1796. Nashville: Clements, self-published, 2012.

Haywood, John. Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee from its earliest settlement up to the year 1796. New York: Arno Press, 1971 [ca. 1823].

John Montgomery’s Nashville Nap

by Mike Slate.

“Stand at Cumberland Gap and watch the procession of civilization, marching single file – the buffalo following the trail to the salt springs, the Indian, the fur-trader and hunter, the cattle-raiser, the pioneer farmer – and the frontier has passed by.”  Frederick Jackson Turner, 1893

How does someone get into a major history book by taking a nap? Whatever his reasons, iconic 19th-century historian Lyman C. Draper (1815-1891) thought an account of John Montgomery’s Nashville nap important enough to insert into his biography of Daniel Boone. Draper’s anecdote, virtually unknown except to Boone scholars, is reproduced here by permission of Stackpole Books (The Life of Daniel Boone, ed. by Ted Franklin Belue, p. 266):

“Among this band of Nimrods was John Montgomery. Having hunted awhile around Station Camp Creek and the neighboring licks, he concluded he would like to go alone and visit the French Lick region and informed his companions as he started not to be alarmed on his account should he be a week or two absent. He loitered around French Lick a day or so, and then went to what was afterwards called Robertson’s lick on Richland Creek, five miles west of the present city of Nashville. His object was not game but to view the country. Entering a thicket adjoining the lick, he lay down to take a nap and soon dreamed that if he did not take care, the Indians would kill him. So vivid was the dream that it alarmed and awakened him. While thinking of it, a gun was fired not apparently a hundred yards from him, and in a few moments a stricken deer came dashing through the bushes and fell dead almost at his feet. Knowing that Indians were close upon him, he hesitated whether to waylay the fallen deer or retreat further into the thicket; but upon a moment’s reflection he concluded that he had better quietly withdraw; for, should he wound or kill an Indian, he feared it would at least fill the minds of his hunting companions with apprehensions of retaliation, or even break up their hunting expedition with the loss of some of the party.  Acting upon this discreet conclusion, he crept carefully away and returned to the Station Camp.”

This statue of John Montgomery now stands in downtown Clarksville, Tennessee (photo from NHN collection)

While Draper’s Montgomery story may initially seem only mildly intriguing, a second look suggests some significant “firsts,” as well as a tragic irony. To my knowledge, this is the youngest age at which the future founder of Clarksville and source of Montgomery County’s name enters substantively into the historical record. According to Draper’s summary of John Montgomery’s life, which appears near the end of our story’s chapter (p. 272), Montgomery was born in 1748. Since the context of Draper’s anecdote is a 1771 group hunting and exploring expedition, Montgomery was only about 23 years old when he had his frightful dream near the natural salt licks that would, about eight years later, give rise to the new outpost of Nashborough (later Nashville).

Although there is a Station Camp Creek associated with Daniel Boone in eastern Kentucky, in our narrative Draper is no doubt referencing the one in today’s Sumner County, Tennessee. Groups of “Long Hunters,” so called because of their lengthy hunting expeditions, often established central camps in the wilderness and launched from there in smaller groups. It was from our nearby Station Camp that Montgomery began his exploration of the country around French Lick.

Draper’s reference to “Robertson’s Lick on Richland Creek” may also be a first. His 1771 context is the earliest point I know in which this salt lick and creek become elements of our written heritage. Shortly after James Robertson co-founded Fort Nashborough in 1780, he claimed land along Richland Creek that included the buffalo and deer lick and moved his family there. For a while the family lived in a log house, a replica of which stands today in H.G. Hill Park at 6710 Charlotte Pike, but Robertson soon built a comfortable brick home that, had it survived, would be located near today’s Robertson Avenue in West Nashville.

So how did John Montgomery (and later Robertson himself) manage to discover the Richland Creek/ Robertson’s Lick area? That was probably easy enough. Buffalo and deer made paths from salt lick to salt lick, with Indians stalking after the game. No doubt Montgomery simply followed the buffalo-Indian trail that ran from French Lick, the geo-historical epicenter of future Nashville, out to Robertson’s Lick, a future suburban area. Like other Nashville thoroughfares, today’s Charlotte Pike may originally have been a natural buffalo trace, and Montgomery was probably among the first white men to travel that ancient “road.”

Daniel Boone was the most famous of the Long Hunters.

Some historians malign the Long Hunters as ne’er-do-wells who escaped the drudgery of homesteading by taking to the woods, leaving wives and children to fend for themselves. While such criticism tends to counterbalance overly romantic views of the storied woodsmen, it certainly does not apply to John Montgomery. Far from lazy, he was among the busiest of American frontiersmen. After his career as a Long Hunter, he commanded troops under George Rogers Clark in the Illinois campaign of the Revolutionary War and, in concert with Col. Evan Shelby, quelled the fierce Chickamauga Indians near today’s Chattanooga, Tennessee. In 1780 he returned to the French Lick, presumably with his family, aboard the Donelson flotilla to Fort Nashborough, where he signed the Cumberland Compact. He served briefly as sheriff of the Cumberland district before co-founding Clarksville in 1784 with surveyor Martin Armstrong. Montgomery named the new city for his former colonel, George Rogers Clark.

After returning from the apocalyptic 1794 Nickajack expedition, in which he once again led troops against the Chickamaugans, Montgomery was killed and scalped by Indians while hunting near Eddyville, Kentucky, on November 27, some 23 years after his prescient dream at Robertson’s Lick. Although history’s ironies often delight us, this one compels a moment of silence. Draper, perhaps after his own quiet reflection, eulogized our fallen luminary as “brave to a fault, generous, and kind; six feet, two inches in height, with blue eyes, auburn hair, ruddy complexion, handsome features, possessing great strength and activity, and presenting altogether a real border war hero whose ‘lofty deeds and daring high’ excite our liveliest admiration” (p. 272).


Sources: Draper’s The Life of Daniel Boone; Durham’s The Great Leap Westward: A History of Sumner County, Tennessee; Haywood’s The Civil and Political History of Tennessee; Kelley’s West Nashville…Its People and Environs; Consultation with Ilene Jones Cornwell; Goodpasture’s “Colonel John Montgomery,” Tennessee Historical Magazine 5 (1919), pp. 145-150, and online.  


This article was first published in the January 2010 edition of The Nashville Retrospect.  We thank publisher Allen Forkum for his permission to republish it here.