Francis Baily and the Flavor of the Tennessee Frontier

by Mike Slate.

On the evening of Monday, July 31, 1797, a 23-year-old English sojourner arrived at Nashville, an upstart town in the embryonic State of Tennessee. For our purposes, forget that this refined, yet daring young man would return to England and make a fortune as a stockbroker. Never mind that in the third stage of a charmed life he would become a world-class astronomer and have a moon crater named after him. For if Francis Baily had accomplished nothing else except to bequeath us his American travel journal, that alone would have secured him a place in the annals of history. First published posthumously in 1856, Baily’s Journal of a Tour in Unsettled Parts of North America in 1796-1797 is an invaluable primary source for interpreting an emerging nation.

After nearly starving and drowning on his way up the trail later called the Natchez Trace, sometimes with Indians as companions, Baily approached a ramshackle settlement on the fringes of Nashville. In a lengthy July 31st journal entry, he noted that “Nothing could exceed our joy upon this occasion: we jumped, halloed, and appeared as elated as if we had succeeded to the greatest estate imaginable.” The Natchez-to-Nashville leg of his American odyssey had taken about 27 days by horseback.

A mile and a half closer to Nashville, Baily and some fellow travelers arrived at the plantation of a “Mr. Joslin.” Perhaps this was the Joslin’s Station mentioned by later historians (e.g., Haywood, Civil and Political History of Tennessee, p. 427). Of this outpost and his meal there, Baily wrote:

“It has been formed about seven or eight years, and consisted of several acres of land tolerably well cultivated: some in corn, some in meadow, and others in grain, &c.  His house was formed of logs, built so as to command a view of the whole plantation, and consisted of only two rooms; one of which served for all the purposes of life, and the other to hold lumber, &c.  Our fare, when it came to be served up, was such as we might have expected in such a rough country as this: it consisted of nothing more than a large piece of boiled bacon, and a great dish full of French beans, together with some bread made of Indian meal. However, as it was quantity, not quality, which we stood most in need of, we made a very hardy meal, and devoured with great avidity the homely fare that was set before us.”

Continuing toward Nashville later that day, Baily and a companion named Bledsoe (perhaps a member of the important Bledsoe’s Lick community northeast of Nashville) “even met, within three or four miles of the town, two coaches, fitted up in all the style of Philadelphia or New York, besides other carriages, which plainly indicated that a spirit of refinement and luxury had made its way into this settlement.” Tantalizing tidbits to ponder are the identities and destinations of the passengers in these fine coaches.

Baily entered Nashville that evening and stayed for about two days. In his journal he left us a few precious paragraphs about the town, including this excerpt with its memorable “rude rabble” conclusion:

“This town contains about sixty or eighty families; the houses (which are chiefly of logs and frame) stand scattered over the whole site of the town, so that it appears larger than it actually is. The inhabitants (like all those in the new settled towns) are chiefly concerned in some way of business: a storekeeper is the general denomination for such persons, and under this head you may include every one who buys and sells. There are two or three taverns in this place, but the principal one is kept by Major Lewis [this was, in fact, William T. Lewis’s establishment, later known as the Nashville Inn]. There we met with good fare, but very poor accommodations for lodgings; three or four beds of the roughest construction in one room, which was open at all hours of the night for the reception of any rude rabble that had a mind to put up at the house; and if the other beds happened to be occupied, you might be surprised when you awoke in the morning to find a bedfellow by your side whom you had never seen before, and perhaps might never see again.”

Leaving Nashville in the afternoon of August 2, Baily proceeded across the Cumberland wilderness to Knoxville, a 15-day immersion in further adventures, privations, and scenery. At one point on this trek, he complimented Tennessee’s beauty by noting that “the agreeable diversity of hill and dale with which this state is favored, together with the delightful views of a fine romantic country, served to dissipate that ennui and wearisomeness which, perhaps, I might otherwise have experienced.”

The Nashville and Tennessee portion of Baily’s journal has been extracted in various historical works including Samuel Cole Williams’ Early Travels in the Tennessee Country and J. Wooldridge’s History of Nashville, Tenn. The newly formed state, however, was only one destination of Baily’s much larger American itinerary. Prior to his Natchez Trace expedition, he had visited such eastern cities as Philadelphia, New York, and Washington before crossing the Allegheny Mountains and voyaging down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans. His resulting journal of roughly 300 pages, one of our most engaging firsthand accounts of early American life, begs to be read in its entirety.

Rights to the 1856 edition of the Journal are in the public domain and, fortunately, Google Books offers the complete text online. In addition, used hardcopies of the 1969 Southern Illinois University Press edition can be purchased through such vendors as and  Surprise after surprise awaits the reader of the full travelogue, including a description of Washington city under construction, details on building a flatboat (pertinent to John Donelson’s founding voyage to Nashville), and an almost-incredible account of meeting with none other than Daniel Boone.

This article was first published in the August 2009 issue of The Nashville Retrospect. We thank publisher Allen Forkum for his permission to republish it here.

Daniel Boone in Nashville

by Mike Slate.

Legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone (1734-1820) is most often associated with blazing the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap in 1775 and establishing Kentucky settlements. However, his many wide-ranging expeditions arouse our curiosity as to whether he also explored Middle Tennessee in general and the French Lick-Nashville locality in particular. Kentucky’s plucky pioneer has generated a torrent of literature, and I invite the reader to hike with me down the Nashville fork of the Boone trail. Along the way I think we’ll find that history’s subplots are both interesting and informative.

(photo by Bob Bowman)

Daniel Boone’s short “autobiography,” romantically ghostwritten by Kentucky land speculator John Filson (ca. 1753-1788) and published in 1784, launched the intrepid woodsman to national and international fame. A pertinent but inconclusive sentence therein reports that Daniel and his brother Squire Boone (1744-1815) “proceeded to Cumberland river, reconnoitring [sic] that part of the country until March 1771, and giving names to the different waters” (The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon, Kessinger reprint, p. 56). The Life of Daniel Boone, the seminal tome of renowned archivist Lyman C. Draper (1815-1891), seems to place this exploratory event within a geographical swath ranging from near today’s Bowling Green, Kentucky, south to Castalian Springs (formerly Bledsoe’s Lick) in Sumner County, Tennessee (see p. 264 of the Stackpole Books edition, edited by Ted Franklin Belue). One contemporary writer, Robert Morgan, expands this expedition even farther south, all the way to the French Lick (Boone: A Biography, p. 121).  

Draper reports a more conclusive episode – occurring as much as two and a half years after the exploratory journey mentioned above – in this fascinating passage: “During this period, one Joe Robertson, an old weaver who had a famous pack of bear-dogs and was devoted to the chase, often accompanied Boone into the Brushy Mountain and over to the Watauga, securing loads of bear-skins, which they packed to the settlements and sold. On one of their adventurous trips, they penetrated as far as the French Lick on Cumberland and found several French hunters there” (pp. 283-284). Here we have the earliest narrative I know that places Boone squarely in the heart of Nashville. The time frame for this visit is some seven or more years before the town was founded in 1779-80 by James Robertson (1742-1814) and John Donelson (ca. 1718-1785). Incidentally, I have discovered no familial kinship between Joe Robertson and Nashville co-founder James Robertson, yet the possibility remains intriguing. Furthermore, the fact that French hunters/traders occasionally headquartered at the salt lick on the Cumberland River known as the “French Lick,” site of today’s Nashville, has always been known, the most famous of these traders being Timothy Demonbreun (1747-1826), Nashville’s “First Citizen.”

Through the years other biographers have repeated Draper’s account of Boone at the French Lick: Reuben Gold Thwaites (1853-1913), though he places Boone “sometimes with one or two companions” but not with Joe Robertson or his dogs specifically; John Bakeless (1894-1978); and more recently, historians John Mack Faragher and Michael A. Lofaro. In his acclaimed 1992 chronicle, Faragher sometimes even tags the event with seasons: “Whether with his family or alone, Boone certainly spent the fall and winter of 1771-72 hunting in what would become the state of Tennessee. With a North Carolinian named Joe Robertson, the owner of a notable pack of bear-tracking hounds, he hunted bear, pushing as far west as French Lick (later called Nashville) on the Cumberland River, where he met hunters of some of the numerous French parties that came to those licks each year to hunt buffalo” (Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer, p. 88).

Other than in biographies, I am aware of no complete reference to Draper’s Boone-at-French Lick anecdote in any other Nashville or Tennessee history. The most obvious reason is, of course, that for well over a century Draper’s Boone manuscript existed only in handwritten form and often only on hard-to-read microfilm, until Murray State University’s Ted Franklin Belue brought it to print in 1998. Several state and local historians, however, do place Boone at least in the Middle Tennessee area. A.W. Putnam (1799-1869) notes that “Boone, Rains, Mansker, and others . . . hunted and explored in 1769-70 upon the Cumberland” and reported “its marvelous herds of buffalo and deer” (History of Middle Tennessee, University of Tennessee edition, p. 619). Similarly, Samuel Cole Williams (1864-1947) comments in his discussion of 1769-70 exploratory crews that “Daniel Boone after a hunt in Kentucky joined one of the groups on the Cumberland in the Tennessee region” (Dawn of Tennessee Valley and Tennessee History, Watauga Press edition, p. 330). Harriette Simpson Arnow (1908-1986), who used Draper and many other primary sources, mentions that Boone “hunted over and explored most of the Cumberland at intervals between 1769 and 1775” (Seedtime on the Cumberland, Univ. of Nebraska edition, p. 169). And contemporary historian John R. Finger, using a Draper-like phrase, observes that in 1772 Boone “hunted as far west as French Lick” (Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition, p. 42—which book includes, by the way, the finest bibliographic essay on frontier Tennessee sources that I know of).

Equally germane to the case for a Boone visit to Nashville are his professional and personal ties to the Lower Cumberland region. He was above all a Long Hunter extraordinaire who stayed in the woods for months or even years at a time. It strains credulity that he would not at some point come to the French Lick, heralded at least since the late 1760s for its excellent hunting. In addition, Boone was (or became) well acquainted with several Cumberland pioneers including Michael Stoner (1748-1813), Kasper Mansker (ca.1750-1820), and, most notably, Nashville co-founder James Robertson. Both Boone and Robertson worked for the prominent Transylvania Company under Richard Henderson (1734-1785), with Boone the overseer of Henderson’s Kentucky land interests and Robertson of his Tennessee holdings. Williams provides insight into the duo’s personal relationship in his report that Boone’s children, along with Robertson’s, were christened or baptized in Robertson’s Watauga home in East Tennessee, perhaps around 1772-73 (see Dawn of Tennessee Valley, p. 344). Moreover, Draper asserts that their friendship directly influenced the founding of Nashville. Upon returning to North Carolina after the famous 1778 Boonesborough siege, “Boone went by way of Watauga and was there enabled to make such representations to his old friend Capt. James Robertson as induced him the following year to visit the Cumberland country and become the pioneer father of Middle Tennessee” (The Life of Daniel Boone, p. 521).

An argument against a Boone visit to Nashville could pivot on Draper’s interviews with the pioneer’s last-born child, Nathan Boone (1781-1856), who was an intrepid frontiersman in his own right, as well as Draper’s greatest wellspring of information. Fortunately, Draper cites sources for his Boone-at-French Lick passage, with this endnote: “MS. notes of conversations with Col. Nathan Boone and the late Henry Rutherford of Tennessee. Soon after the Revolutionary War, [Joe] Robertson resided in the family of Mr. Rutherford’s father, Gen. Griffith Rutherford, of Rowan County, North Carolina, and used to speak of his hunting and exploring with Boone (The Life of Daniel Boone, p. 294). But his citation of Nathan Boone as a source for the French Lick event is problematic in view of his 1851 interviews with Nathan as presented in a 1999 book. in one interview with Nathan, Draper asked, “Did Colonel Boone ever mention hunting at the French Lick on the Cumberland River?” Nathan’s answer: “Not that I recall” (My Father, Daniel Boone, p. 45, edited by Neal O. Hammon). Throughout his Boone manuscript Draper cited Nathan often, apparently at least one time too many.

Now we come to the testimony of Henry Rutherford (1762-1847), who is ultimately Draper’s chief source for the Boone-at-French-Lick account. If Henry did not receive Robertson’s story firsthand, then he may have garnered it from his father, Gen. Griffith Rutherford (1720-1805), in honor of whom, incidentally, Rutherford County, Tennessee, was named. Recycled reminiscences are common fare for historians of the American frontier, especially when researching such mythologically infilled lives as Daniel Boone and David Crockett (1786-1836); but this one seems fairly straightforward and plausible. A relevant example, however, of the vagaries of memory is that Nathan Boone remembered Joe Robertson and his bear-hunting dogs (though not specifically with any French Lick outing), but recalled him as “John” Robertson (My Father, Daniel Boone, p. 37). Still, whether Joe or John, our Robertson hunting companion no doubt existed.

Did Daniel Boone ever visit the French Lick-Nashville area? A reasonable, one-word answer would be “probably.” If we zoom out a bit and ask whether Boone was significant to the process that led to the founding of Nashville, the consensus would be “absolutely.” Not only was Boone integral to Richard Henderson’s 1775 Transylvania Purchase, which included the French Lick area, but his Wilderness Road was the very route James Robertson and companions took to establish Nashville in late 1779. Although he died in Missouri in 1820, Daniel Boone belongs to many locations, certainly including Nashville.

Note: The author is grateful to Ted Franklin Belue, Michael A. Lofaro, and John Mack Faragher for taking time from busy university schedules to read and comment on this article. A special thanks, also, for the helpful comments of Katy Schuster-Luck.  

Where is the Buchanan Station Sword?

by Mike Slate.

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.

Photo of Buchanan’s Station cemetery by Esther Victory.

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.

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.  

The Battle of Buchanan’s Station, 1792

Primary Source Document, transcribed by Mike Slate.

An Early, Official Account of the Battle of Buchanan’s Station from American State Papers: Indian Affairs, Vol. 4, pp. 294-295

   Governor Blount to the Secretary of War, Knoxville, October 10th, 1792

Sir:   Yesterday I received an express from General Robertson, by which I have the enclosed account of the attack upon Buchanan’s station on the 30th September: his letter was dated on the 3d instant, on the Indian Trail, four miles from Buchanan’s station, where he was encamped with three hundred men, waiting the return of the reconnoitering party. The express informs me, after he left the General, he (the express) received information of twenty-four Indians being seen on that morning at Fletcher’s Lick, eight miles southwest of Nashville, and seven on the north side of the river, about as many miles distant from the town: the first mentioned fired upon Mr. Joselin and the latter upon Mr. McRory, but neither received any wound. This is all I have yet heard of the large body of the Creeks and Cherokees that passed the Tennessee, from the 15th to the 17th September, as mentioned by the Breath, Charley, and John Boggs. Fourteen days elapsed from the passing of the Tennessee to the attack upon Buchanan’s station, when the distance between could have been marched in from four to six days. Difference in opinion, as to the mode and place of attack, at the rendezvous after they passed at the Tennessee, probably was the cause of the delay; I have no other way to account for it; and it is a rock on which large parties of Indians have generally split, especially when consisting of more than one nation.

It is to be hoped the repulsed party will return with their wounded, and it is to be feared, from the firing of the parties upon Joselin and McRory, that such small parties will continue on the frontiers, and commit depredations, but not such as were justly apprehended, when it was known so large a party had passed the Tennessee. General Robertson received my order of the 14th to discharge the militia in service, under my order of the 11th, on the 20th of September, but hesitated to execute it, because he had been previously informed by Jo. Deraque and Richard Finnelson, that the chiefs of the Lower towns would write me as they did (alluding to the letters of the Galss [sic] and the Bloody Fellow) with an intention to deceive me; the event has proved the truth of the information, and justified the General’s conduct. The express further informs me that the Cumberland people are in good spirits; and employ every hour, when they are not embodied for the common defence, in erecting block-houses and stockades, the better to ensure safety to their families. I am without information worth communicating, both from the Upper and Lower Cherokees, since that received by John Bogs [sic] and the Hanging Maw. Since the 11th of September, the day on which I received the letter from the Turkey and the other chiefs of the Upper towns, giving me notice of the determination of the five Lower for war, and of theirs to continue in peace and friendship, I have omitted no occasion of impressing the people under my government with the necessity of considering the Upper towns as much friends as if the Lower had not declared for war; and I have the pleasure to assure you that their conduct, not only in observing the treaty, but in their treatment of the friendly Indians, deserves the highest commendation; and upon the complaint of the Hanging Maw, that some of the frontier people of North Carolina at Swannano, had behaved “cross,” as he expressed it, to some of the Cherokees of the Upper towns, I thought it proper to forward an address to them on the subject, a copy of which you have enclosed. Nevertheless, I have information on which I fully depend, that several young men of the Upper have joined the Lower towns; and there is no doubt but more will; and even suppose they ultimately all should, (which I do not suspect) [no period mark] I trust it will be thought good policy in me to keep the friendship of as many as I can, until I have the honor of your orders on that head.

Only part of two companies have arrived here since the return made to your office of Major Sawyer’s battalion: but in the course of ten days I expect nearly the whole number called for by my order of the 27th September, of which I gave you information in my letter of that date by Mr. Allison.

The Captain de Mombray, of Nashville, whose name is mentioned in the information of Jo. Deraque and Richard Finnelson, is the bearer of this letter, an old resident of Kaskaskias, where he served as a Captain under General George Rogers Clark; last war, with reputation, and is now a valuable and respectable citizen.

                                                                   I have the honor to be, &c.

An account of the attack, by the Creeks and Cherokees, upon Buchanan’s Station, on the 30th September, 1792

On the 30th September, about midnight, John Buchanan’s Station, four miles south of Nashville, (at which sundry families had collected, and fifteen gun-men) was attacked by a party of Creeks and Lower Cherokees, supposed to consist of three or four hundred. Their approach was suspected by the running of cattle, that had taken fright at them, and, upon examination, they were found rapidly advancing within ten yards of the gate; from this place and distance they received the first fire from the man who discovered them, (John Mc. Rory.) They immediately returned the fire, and continued a very heavy and constant firing upon the station, (blockhouses, surrounded with a stockade) for an hour, and were repulsed with considerable loss, without injuring man, woman, or child, in the station.

During the whole time of attack, the Indians were not more distant than ten yards from the blockhouse, and often in large numbers round the lower walls, attempting to put fire to it. One ascended the roof with a torch, where he was shot, and, falling to the ground, renewed his attempts to fire the bottom logs, and was killed. The Indians fired 30 balls through a port-hole of the overjutting, which lodged in the roof in the circumference of a hat, and those sticking in the walls, on the outside, were very numerous.

Upon viewing the ground next morning, it appeared that the fellow who was shot from the roof was a Cherokee half-breed of the Running Water, known by the whites by the name of Tom Tunbridge’s step-son, the son of a French woman, by an Indian, and there was much blood, and signs that many dead had been dragged off, and litters having been made to carry their wounded to their horses, which they had left a mile from the station. Near the blockhouse were found several swords, hatchets, pipes, kettles, and budgets of different Indian articles; one of the swords was a fine Spanish blade, and richly mounted in the Spanish fashion. In the morning previous to the attack, Jonathan Gee, and Clayton were sent out as spies, and on the ground, among other articles left by the Indians, were found a handkerchief and a moccason [sic], known one to belong to Gee, and the other to Clayton, hence it is supposed they are killed.      

Our Story . . .

A Nashville native, Mike Slate (1947-2021) attended Metro public schools and held degrees from Lipscomb University, Harding School of Theology, and Peabody College. Concerned by Nashville’s lack of a publication dedicated to “saving and conveying the local historical knowledge of its citizens,” Mike founded the Nashville Historical Newsletter (NHN) in January 1997 as a “medium for historical sharing.”

Mike Slate (photo by Tim Slate)

Mike was also one of the presenters in the WNPT production of “Memories of Downtown Nashville,” which still appears frequently during station fundraisers. (Here is a segment of that program dealing with the history of Union Station: After many requests for the NHN collection in book form, Mike and his wife Kathy Lauder published The Confederate Twenty-Dollar Irony and Other Essays from the Nashville Historical Newsletter, a compilation of selected essays, in 2004. A second book, From Knickers to Body Stockings and Other Essays from the Nashville Historical Newsletter, followed in 2006. In recent years, Mike had become a zealous advocate for Buchanan’s Station, helping to organize the Friends of Buchanan’s Station Cemetery, a group formed in 2012 to raise awareness of the site and to provide needed funding for its protection, preservation, and ongoing maintenance. After a kick-off event commemorating the 220th Anniversary of the Battle of Buchanan’s Station in September 2012, the group collected more than $10,000 in donations to construct a metal fence around the cemetery, marking and protecting the site. In addition to organizing cleanup days, members have also raised funds for repairs and an archaeological assessment of the property. Their efforts ultimately encouraged the owner of Pinnacle Business Products, who owned the 1.46-acre site, to donate it to Metro Nashville Government in 2015. The Metro Parks and Recreation Department now manages the property, which is located on a proposed future expansion of the Mill Creek Greenway system.

Kathy Lauder, current NHN administrator, moved to Nashville from Maine in 2003. She taught high school English and theatre for 30 years in Maine and Maryland and was an employee of the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) from 2003 until her retirement in late 2013.

Kathy Lauder (r) with Vanessa Williams in a still from “Who Do You Think You Are?” 2011

As part of her work with TSLA, Kathy completed the research and writing for the award-winning online exhibit “‘This Honorable Body’: African American Legislators in 19th Century Tennessee”, which was featured in the Nashville Public Television documentary, First Black Statesmen: Tennessee’s Self-Made Men. She also appeared in the NBC television series Who Do You Think You Are, providing historical background for the 2011 episode featuring Vanessa Williams. Kathy joined the NHN staff as editor in 2002, shortly after the newsletter’s transition from printed to online publication. As a board member of the Nashville City Cemetery Association, she edited that organization’s newsletter Monuments and Milestones for several years. Currently engaged in a project to locate and restore missing names of people buried in Mt. Ararat and Greenwood cemeteries, she publishes a short biography of one of those individuals every Friday on the Greenwood Project Facebook page. A published poet, she is also an occasional contributor to The Tennessee Conservationist magazine. (Oct 2021)