Transcribed by Patsy Bradford, Director, Sevier
County Heritage Museum, in 1997.
Extracted from Goodspeed's History of East Tennessee.
Sevier County borders Blount, Knox, Jefferson, and Cocke counties and North Carolina on the south. It is one of the largest counties in the State, with an area of 660 square miles. The French Broad River flows through the northern portion, and receives the waters of the Little Pigeon River, formed by the junction of two forks beginning in the Smoky Mountains. Boyd's Creek flows through the eastern portion of the county, and empties into the French Broad.
The settlement of the territory (Sevier County) was begun about 1781, although for several years it had been traversed by traders and military bodies operating against the Cherokee. In 1775, two traders from Virginia, Boyd and Doggett, returning from a trip into the Indian nation, were killed by a band of Indians, who threw their bodies into a stream which has since been known as Boyd's Creek. In 1780, one of the early Indian battles took place on this creek, near Rocky Springs. A marker is located at the site and reads: "This shaft marks the site of the battle of Boyds Creek, Dec. 16, 1780. Gen. John Sevier and his Command of East Tennessee Pioneers defeated with heavy loss to the enemy a large force of Cherokee Indians who had attacked the settlers while he and his soldiers were away engaged in the King's Mountain Campaign."
In 1783, a number of settlers, who had located in the vicinity, assembled at Maj. Hugh Henry's near the mouth of Dumplin Creek, and built a fort. Soon after, a friendly conference with the Indians was held at the house of Joshua Gist. It was attended by Maj. James Hubbard, who had settled on the north bank of the French Broad River just about Bryant's Ferry, and was notorious for his enmity toward the Indians. His father's family in Virginia had been murdered by the Shawnee, and he had sworn vengeance against the whole race. He tried to create disturbances to afford him opportunity to satisfy his revenge against Indians, and this occasion was no exception. He attempted to frighten the Cherokee in attendance into action to violate their truce, but he was prevented by Capt. James White, and peace was secured.
In November 1783, Thomas Stockton began built the first grist mill in the county at Christian's Ford on the French Broad River. The following year, pioneers constructed cabins and cleared fields along Little Pigeon River and Boyd's Creek. On the latter stream, two strong forts were built: one at Samuel Newell's, near the head of the creek, the other at Samuel McGaughey's lower down. In 1784, the State of Franklin was organized. In March 1785, the first legislature of the new State met, and among acts passed was the division of Greene County into three separate counties, one of which was named Sevier. It encompassed the greater part of the territory south of the French Broad extending from the Pigeon River to the ridge dividing Little River and Little Tennessee River. The courts were held at Newell's Station, and Samuel Wear became clerk of the county court. At the next election, Samuel Newell and John Clack were chosen to represent the county in the Legislature.
In 1785, the Dumplin treaty was concluded with the Cherokee at Henry's Station, by which the Indians relinquished their right and title to the land comprising Sevier County. After this treaty, the occupation of the land south of the French Broad continued rapidly. Early settlers (besides those already mentioned) were Isaac Thomas, who lived on the west bank of the Pigeon opposite Sevierville; William Cannon, located opposite Catlettsburg; Jacob Huff lived at Catlettsburg, where he built a mill. Samuel Blair located in the same neighborhood and Josiah Rogers further down the river. North of the French Broad were Peter and Allen Bryant, Joshua Gist, the Cates and Underwoods. Below Sevierville was the residence of Thomas Buckingham, who built the first brick house in the county. The Brabsons, Chandlers, Creswells, and Capt. Nathaniel Evans located on Boyd's Creek, and Thomas Sharp at Trundle's Cross Roads. Randall Hill lived east of Catlettsburg, and Thomas Evans, about five miles from the same place on the French Broad. Benjamin Atchley also located in the same neighborhood. In the vicinity of Bird's Cross Roads, a colony of Germans from Virginia located: Jacob Bird, Jacob Derrick, Adam Fox and James Baker. Frederick Emert and Martin Shults settled in Emert's Cove. Andrew Wells and John Baughman lived on Jones Cove. George Bush settled near Fair Garden. William Henderson, John Jenkins and Robert Duggan lived east of Sevierville. Among other early settlers were the Shields, Calverts, Richardsons, and Keelers.
In 1788, the Franklin government came to an end. The government of North Carolina, ignoring the acts of the former including the treaty of Dumplin, still recognized the French Broad, Holston and Big Pigeon Rivers as part of the Indian boundary line, leaving the inhabitants to the south of these streams as trespassers upon the Cherokee lands. Realizing their exposed condition, these settlers adopted articles of association by which to be governed. The constitution and laws of North Carolina were adopted, and all civil and military officers of Sevier County, elected under the Franklin government, continued in office. For general supervision of affairs, a committee, composed of two members from each militia company, was provided for. They met at Newell's Station. This remained the condition of Sevier County until after the treaty of Holston in 1791, and the organization of Jefferson County in July, 1792. The latter included the present Sevier County, and Samuel Wear was one of the representatives in the first territorial assembly. During the first session an act to divide Jefferson County into two distinct counties was passed, and Joseph Wilson, Robert Polk, Samuel McGaughey, Samuel Newell and Thomas Buckingham were appointed to locate the seat of justice. The courts would be held temporarily at the house of Isaac Thomas. The first court met November 8, 1794. Samuel Newell, Joseph Wilson, Joshua Gist, Peter Bryant, Joseph Vance and Andrew Evans were the magistrates present; Mordecai Lewis and Robert Pollock were absent. Samuel Newell was chosen chairman; Samuel Wear, clerk; Jesse Byrd, register; Thomas Buckingham, sheriff; Mordecai Lewis, coroner, and Alexander Montgomery, surveyor.
In October, 1795, Sevierville was laid off at the junction of the east and west forks of Little Pigeon River. Previous to that time however, the Forks-of-the-Pigeon Baptist church was organized in the vicinity September 29, 1789. Tradition has it that the first courts after the town was established were held in a building previously used as a stable, and because of the great number of fleas infesting it, the lawyers accomplished its destruction through an Irishman and a bottle of whisky. A jail and courthouse, both probably built of logs, were then constructed. Around 1820, a new courthouse and jail were built. The former was a frame structure and stood just north of the present building. The jail was solidly built of logs.
The first court for Sevier County, held under the new State constitution, was held July 4, 1796. The justices present were Samuel Newell, Joshua Gist, Joseph Wilson, Andrew Cowan, Joseph Vance, Robert Pollock, Peter Bryant, Mordecai Lewis, John Clack, Robert Calvert, Adam Wilson, James Riggin, Alexander Montgomery, Jesse Griffin, and Isom Green. The county officers, who had served under the territorial government, with the exception of the register and coroner, were retained. James McMahan was elected register and James D. Puckett, coroner.
At this time and for more than thirty years afterward, the people south of the French Broad and Holston, who had occupied their lands under treaties made by the Franklin government, were harrassed by laws of both the United States and Tennessee attempting to compel them to purchase their land at the rate of $1 per acre. The settlers obstinately refused to comply with these laws. An act was finally passed in 1829, allowing occupants to enter a tract of not more than 200 acres, including their improvements.
Among the first settlers of Sevierville were Alexander Preston and M. C. Rogers, merchants; Benjamin Catlett, tavern-keeper; Richard Catlett, hatter; John Catlett, carpenter; Spencer Clack, who had a mill on the right bank of the East Fork just above town; James McMahan, the county register, and Isaac Thomas, who lived on the left bank of Pigeon, and owned and operated a mill there. Hugh Blair was the first blacksmith and resided below town.
In 1806, James Reagan, Hopkins Lacey, Thomas Hill, Allen Bryant, and Isaac Love were appointed trustees of Nancy Academy, to be established at Sevierville. Three years later four new trustees, James P. H. Porter, John Cannon, Spencer Clack and Alexander Preston were added. At what time the institution began to operate is not known, but in 1813, an act of the Legislature was passed authorizing the drawing of a lottery for it, and the school was no doubt opened a short time later. The first building was erected about one-fourth mile south of town. It was succeeded by a brick structure, which was replaced in 1849 by the present frame academy. The school was named in honor of Nancy Rogers, the wife of James P. H. Porter, daughter of Josiah Rogers. She was the first white child born in the county.
Among the first lawyers of Sevierville and Sevier County were James P. H. Porter and Lewis Reneau. Porter lived in the town until his death, May 1, 1846. He was considered a good lawyer and prominent as a politician. On one occasion, as the Democratic candidate for the Legislature, he was defeated by a single vote. Reneau began practice about 1825. He lived near Henry's Cross Roads. He served three terms in the Lower House of the General Assembly, and was twice elected to the Senate. About 1850, he moved to Georgia. About 182l, three young men, Ignatius Reagan, Isaac A. Miller, and Felix Axley, began the practice of law at Sevierville. The first named remained until about 1837, when he moved to Cleveland, TN. Miller represented the county in the Legislature from 1838 to 1842, and soon after his second term moved to Texas. Axley moved to Murphy, N.C., about 1837. Early in the thirties, Col. Wilson Duggan began the practice of law, which he continued until his death, a period of over forty years. He represented the county in the Legislature for ten consecutive years, from 1842 to 1852, and was again elected for one term at the close of the war. He was the father of W. L. Duggan, who served two terms in each branch of the General Assembly. Among other attorneys prior to the war were John Bell and W. W. Mullindore. The former came from Greeneville in 1846, and died four years later. The latter was admitted to practice in 1857, but after one year moved to Washington County, and remained until after the war. In 1869, G. W. Pickel, then attorney-general of Tennessee, located in Sevierville, and continued to practice there until 1876, when he moved to Newport. The present bar is composed of W. W. Mullindore, William Fowler, B. M. McMahan, J. R. Penland and G. W. Zirkle.
The principal merchants of Sevierville up to the war, (besides those already mentioned), were Brabson & McCown, W. C. Murphy, Miller & Swan, Agnew & Hill, and S. B. Henderson. On March 26, 1856, the town was visited by fire, which almost completely destroyed it. In 1850, the old frame courthouse had been replaced by a brick structure, and it, with all its contents, was consumed. The jail also burned, and one prisoner confined in it perished. During the next fall, another jail and courthouse were erected.
Since the close of the War Between the States, Sevierville has increased in population, but some believe its growth was greatly retarded by the absence of railroad facilities. The business interests of the town in 1869 were: John Murphy, Emert & Emert Bros., P. Maples and J. L. Snapp, dealers in general merchandise; Miller Yett and Hugh Murphy, groceries; William Fowler, millinery and jewelry; John P. Wynn, hardware, and C. H. Stump, furniture. The manufactories consist of a saw mill, operated by the Sevierville Lumber company, and a merchant mill owned by McNabb & Bowers. The town is also supplied with two good hotels, conducted by J. H. Walker and E. S. Snapp respectively.