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Letter of Colonel David Campbell of Campbells Station Concerning the Early History of the Station

The following is a transcript of a letter that was provided to Lyman C. Draper by Governor William Bowen Campbell, then of Carthage, Tennessee. The letter was written by Governor Campbell’s grandfather, Colonel David Campbell (1753-1832), and concerns the early history of Campbells Station, Tennessee. The letter may be found in the Draper Manuscripts at 16DD56. In a few places, I have tried to repair Colonel Campbell’s rather tangled syntax, but I believe his meaning has remained intact. Otherwise, the transcription entirely reflects his own words, capitalization and punctuation (or lack of it).

To: [Addressee Unknown]

Pleasant Grove, Wilson County, Tenn. – July 4, 1827

Dear Sir,

I now take up my pen to comply with your request in giving a statement of the first settling of Campbells Station in east Tennessee and the incidental events occurring. On the 7th day of March in the year 1787 Mr. Archibald McCaleb and his family with myself and family and one other man, who we got to assist us to move, arrived at the place. We erected a camp or shelter for our families and in the course of a few days built two small cabins one for each family. In the course of a week or ten days after we took possession, Alexander and David Campbell and their families came to the place and a while after them, Jonathan Douglas and family came also. We had but one man to each family. We built one or two more small cabins, commenced clearing land and planted as much corn as we could get done in time.

Some time after we had gotten our corn planted and was working it, we discovered that there was sign of Indians in the woods about us. No other settlement being nigher than nine or ten miles, we thought it best to be on our guard lest their intentions might be hostile, and kept our guns near us when we were working our corn. One day two of the men were [away] from home, the other three of us were working on corn near the cabins with our guns by us. There was two guns fired about two or three hundred yards from us over a rise or low ridge. We first thought we would go and try to see who it was, but on further reflection, decided that it might be a scheme of the Indians to draw us off from the cabins so that they could have easy access to plunder or do as they pleased. And we went and stayed with the families to guard them. The next day they gathered up all our horses, fourteen head, about five hundred yards from the cabins about the middle of the day and took them off, crossing the Tennessee River about fourteen or fifteen miles below the station.

John Martin an Indian country man, and George Fields a half breed, met them about eight miles from where they took the horses and came and informed us but we could not raise men to follow them in time. There was about twenty of the party of Indians and but five of us. One of the horses that was taken was a two year old stud colt of as good [a] blood line as any in the western country. A short time before he was taken, I gave three hundred acres of first rate land for him. Shortly after our horses were taken, we discovered where a part of the Indians had hid themselves behind large trees and blinds, at the time the two guns were fired, quite on the other side of the cabins within about one hundred and twenty yards, which fully convinced us that their object was to take the advantage of us if they could have the chance of doing it without much risk.

This was a trying time with us. We had not a horse to go to Mill - the nighest being about thirty miles from us, fifteen above where Knoxville now is. Captain John Baird who lived some distance up the country above us and where the country was much thicker settled, heard of our situation, raised a company of men, came down to see us and ranged the country between the Rivers Holston and Clinch for a few days in order to drive off the Indians should there still be any remaining. We now concluded to move our families up to Captain Amos Byrds, who a short time before had settled with his family and a few more families about six miles above us on the River Holston. And [we] got the assistance of Capt Baird and his company to help us to take our families and property to the River about two miles and from there we went up by water in canoes to Byrds. While we were there we tried to work our crops of corn as well as we could at the Station but could [not] get them well attended and had but sorry crops. Those of us who had lost our horses went several times up to the Indian Town on the Tennessee River. [We] had not a horse to ride [but] went on foot, waded the Holston and Tennessee Rivers, got the Indians to meet us at Chota where we held several talks with them on the subject of our horses. We tried to hire them to search for our horses and offered a considerable reward if they should find them and bring them back to us, but none of them would undertake it. They said it was Creek Indians that took our horses and they were afraid of them. However, we heard two or three years afterwards of some of our horses being in the lower towns of the Cherokees but never got them.

We moved our families back to the Station late in the fall, gathered our corn and through the winter prepared for raising a crop the next season. Some of us had procured some horses to work and go to mill, one being now sited where Knoxville now is. We had gotten our crops of corn planted and [had] a tolerable prospect of working them, but perhaps about the latter part of June or beginning of July, the Indians killed Kirks family in the part of the country that is now Blount County. This circumstance opened a new scene of difficulties to us. A party of men who lived above where Knoxville now is, when they heard of the murders being done, raised [a party] and came on down to the Station with the intention of going down and destroying the Indian Town on the south side of the Tennessee River a small distance above the mouth of the Holston. When they came to the Station we hoped the matter could be accommodated without coming to an open war but they could not be prevailed upon to decline this confrontation and insisted on some of us to go with them from the Station. Several of us went, some by water taking down canoes to take the rest of us over the River. It was daylight before we got to the Town, very few of the Indian men were in the Town. The ones that were there took the alarm when we approached the Town and fled. The order was not to injure the women and children. All that was done [was that] one fellow got severely wounded and a woman and child killed. Susanna, the wife of John Martin and mother of George Fields and her family we saved and did not let them be interrogated as Susanna had been uniformly friendly to the White people from the commencement of the Revolutionary War, several time giving their notice when any plot was in agitation against them. We conceived it to be right to favor her and her family.

Soon after we returned home from this little expedition, an open war now being expected, the General of the Brigade gave orders for several of the frontier stations to break up and join others to strengthen them and promised to give them aid. Our Station was directed to join Whites Station where Knoxville now is – which we did. That summer or fall, Brigadier General Joseph Martin commanded an expedition against the Cherokees of the lower Towns [and] had a skirmish with the Indians on the end of the lookout mountain where the road crosses it. After we returned home from the campaign, we began to prepare to move back to the Station and in the latter part of the fall we took possession of it again and never broke up any more.

The Assembly of North Carolina this year (1788) passed a law authorizing a company of men to be raised to be continued one year in service, if not sooner discharged by the Governor, for the protection of the frontier and families moving through the wilderness to Cumberland. And authorized the commanding Colonels of Sullivan, Washington, Hawkins and Greene to carry this law into effect by appointing the officers to raise and command the men and appoint the place [where] the company should be stationed. It so happened that our Station was the place [where] the company was formed and I was appointed to raise and command it. The company was not to be over thirty-three privates. I tried to raise the men but never could succeed in raising the whole of them - perhaps about half – but with what I raised we built some Block houses and other houses as we needed and some stockades. We made a very good fort. However, the company was discharged by the Governor of North Carolina a considerable time before the year was out. In all the time that we were under the Government of North Carolina – which was about four years or nearly that length of time before we became a Territorial government – we had but a very moderate protection. When the militia was ordered out for our protection the commissary could very seldom furnish anything to support them and would get the families to take them in and board them with an expectation and promise of the commissary making a return of their rations to Government and drawing pay for them. Whether the returns were made or whether government [North Carolina] refused to pay I never have learned. But I know in the four years just before the Holston Treaty, that some of us would have from three to six or eight at a time boarding with us several months in the year. We never got a cent for it but we were glad to get the protection on almost any terms, although it bore very heavy upon us. After the Territorial government took place it was quite otherwise. We were well protected and paid for everything we could expect government had a right to pay us for.

The number of families increased after we got a good fort built. About the time the Territorial government took place there was about ten or twelve families in the Station. From the second year after we settled the place until the Holston treaty took place we experienced a kind of a half peace half war. And indeed the same scene took place after the treaty. The Indians frequently stealing our horses and leaving some of us without any. About two years after the Holston Treaty the Indians became rather more troublesome, frequently killing and stealing horses and devastating parts of the country. Col. John Sevier marched about six or seven hundred men down to the frontier and encamped at his fort on the south side of Holston River about five miles from Campbells Station. While this army was encamped the Indians massed an army of perhaps fourteen or fifteen hundred. When they came to the Tennessee about fourteen or fifteen miles below our Station, they sent two spies, Double Head and his Brother, the Pumpkin Boy to view Sevier’s encampment in the night. They came near to where a sentry stood [who] shot and killed Pumpkin Boy. About this same time another spying party went up as far as Cavetts, about half way between our station and Knoxville, and stole a horse from Cavett and came back by us and took a horse out of the field about the middle of the day without being discovered until some hours after. The second night after taking these horses, the army of Indians passed along us within about four or five hundred yards of our Station, went on to Cavetts and destroyed them all, burned the houses went across the country to Clinch River burning some houses as they went along. We did not know of their passing along until the next morning when we found the trails where they marched along. We concluded there were at least two thousand and that their view was to take Knoxville and then return by us and take the Station on their way back. We immediately sent two of our men on two of our best horses to inform Col. Sevier. There was just eleven men of us in the Station at the time. We unanimously concluded to try to defend the place while we were able to shoot a gun. Most [of the men] were good gunners and tryed [sic] soldiers – each man had two good muskets and an excellent rifle all well loaded and ready by his side. We fixed everything in as good order as we could, filled all our vessels with water – least they might attempt to set the houses on fire, then watched for their coming with anxiety, every moment expecting to see them coming. Until, toward evening a party of men from Knoxville who had heard of the fate of Cavetts family came to the place to see what was done. And when they came there they concluded to ride down to our Station to see what had become of us. The Indians crossed Clinch River, went down and recrossed the Tennessee below the mouth of Clinch, dispersed and went home without being checked. Col. Sevier commanded an army of the militia into the Indian country in the fall season, had a skirmish with them, killed some of them and destroyed some of their Towns. There was still a kind of partial warfare with the Cherokees until the Nickajack Campaign which put an end to the war with that nation. We were confined to the Station for about nine years before we could settle safely out on farms.

Note: This valuable statement was written by Col. David Campbell of Campbells Station, Tenn. & given me by his grandson W. B. Campbell of Carthage, Tenn. – L. C. D. [Lyman C. Draper]