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Williamson County
Genealogy and History


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History Records

Goodspeeds Williamson County History

The Beginning

The act establishing Williamson County passed the General Assembly October 26, 1799. The territory was cut off from Davidson County, and embraced the following boundaries: "Beginning at a point forty poles due north of the dwelling house of David MCCLORY on the waters of Little Harpeth, running thence east two miles and one hundred and four poles; thence south seventy degrees, east sixteen miles and two hundred and seventy poles; thence due south to the Indian boundary line; thence with said line westerly to the Robertson County line; thence north with said line to a point due west of the mouth of Little Harpeth; thence in a direct line to the mouth of the Little Harpeth; thence along said river to the place of beginning, to be known as Williamson County." The county was named in honor of General Williamson, of North Carolina.

John JOHNSON, Sr., Daniel PERKINS, James BUFORD, William EDMONSON and Capt. James SCURLOCK were appointed commissioners to select a site for the county seat and to erect a court house, jail and stocks. Henry RUTHERFORD and John DAVIS were appointed to run the boundary line where not sufficiently designated by nature.

By the same act of the General Assembly establishing Williamson County and appointing the commissioners for the town of Franklin, the commissioners were empowered with authority to reserve two acres of ground for a Square, on which they were to erect a court house. This building was erected some time between the erection of the county and establishing the seat of justice for the same and the year 1801. The order for its erection, its size, dimensions, cost or contractors are not matters of record; however, the county court met in regular session November 3, 1800, in the "new court house". This house was a square brick building, and stood in the center of the Public Square. This building was a very substantial structure and served for a court house until 1857. The first steps taken for the erection of the new building was April 1, 1855, by the appointment of John S. CLAYBROOK, John B. McEWEN, Samuel FARMER and C. W. DAVIS as a committee to investigate the needs of the county. The committee made its report, and a new committee, consisted of John W. MILLER, T. F. ATKINSON, John S. CLAYBROOK, Park STREET and B. B. IRVIN. July 1, the lot on the southeast corner of the Square was purchased of Ferdinand STITT for $1,000; the court at the same time appropriated $3,000 to commence work on the house. The present house is a plain brick structure with stone basement. The portico is supported by long, heavy iron columns. The offices are supplied with substantial fireproof vaults for the records. The work on the court house not being entirely completed when the war broke out and the neglect during that period required the expenditure of $3,000 in repairs in 1867.

The Jails

The first jail was a rude structure, and stood on the Square near the market house. This was a very insecure jail, as prisoners were frequently taken elsewhere for safe keeping. Steps were taken October 8, 1816, for the creation of a new jail, and a committee of Robert P. CURRIN, Charles McINTYRE, H. PETWAY, Stephen CHILDRESS and W. T. PERKINS was appointed, whose duty it was to sell the old jail and market house, and to purchase a more desirable lot within the corporate limits. To aid in the erection a jail tax equal to the State tax was levied. A new jail was accordingly erected, which was composed of wood and brick, near where the present one stands. This jail stoo till 1858 , when, April 19, a new committee was selected, whose duty it was to report on the propriety of building a new jail. This committee was composed of John B. McEWEN, John M. WINSTEAD and Samuel FARMER. The committee recommended that a new jail of stone and brick should be built. The contract was let out to Robert H. BRADLEY for the aggregate sum of $8,000, to be completed July 18, 1859, which time was afterward extended to January 1, 1860.

The Poor of the County

Previous to 1829 the poor of the county were farmed out to the lowest bidder and allowances made for them. On October 5, 1829, a committee of John THOMPSON, Jabez OWEN, William DITTO, Robert McCUTCHEN, G. MARSHALL and David C. KINNARD reported that they had bought of Andrew L. ANDREWS, a tract of forty acres of land for $350, a tract of twenty acres from Mark L. ANDREWS for $90. In 1840 W. S. WEBB, Mike KINNARD and R. W. ROBISON, a poor-house committee, bought additional lands to the amount of about 550 acres. At the August term, 1867, a committee consisting of Park STREET, W. A. RODGERS and John M. WINSTEAD were appointed a committee to enquire into the propriety of selling a portion of the poor farm. Six small tracts, amounting to 130 acres.

First Market

The date of the building the first market is rather an uncertain quantity, as no order for the erection can be found further than the general order given to the commissioner of Franklin for the erection of a court house, market, jail and stocks. This was not only the place of sale for provisions of all kinds, but also of public sales of various kinds of property, such as slaves, goods, chattels, etc. Within this also was the pillory, a favorite mode of punishment for criminals previous to the passage of the penitentiary law in 1829. This market house stood till 1831, when, on January 4, "on motion it was ordered by the county court that the mayor and aldermen be permitted to erect a market house on the Square of the town of Franklin, or any other building they think for the general good of the public, but the sheriff is hereby instructed to see that all rubbish is removed from the Square and streets." This house stood till the Square was cleared of public buildings in 1858, when the old court house and market were removed from the square.

The Land and Waterways

The surface of the county in the Basin is generally undulating, rising in some places into high bluffs or knobs several hundred feet in height. The water-shed is from southeast to northwest. One range of hills or elevated lands rises in Rutherford County, near Stewart's Creek, and extends southwesterly, but gradually sinks into a level a short distance from Franklin. The waters from the northern slope of this range flow into Mill Creek, so named from its early and numerous mills thereon. This drainage extends over the fertile lands of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Districts. The higher lands afford excellent timber of cedar and other valuable timbers. Separating the Thirteenth and Twenty-first from the Twelfth and Twenty-second Districts is Duck River Ridge, which is the water-shed between the waters of Big Harpeth and the head waters of Rutherford and Flat Creeks. The principal drainage of the county, however, is by the Harpeth and its branches. This embraces a very large portion of the county. The Big Harpeth enters the county at College Grove, near the southeastern part of the county, and leaves it near the northwestern part. Not far from Mount Carmel rises West Harpeth, a stream which flows almost parallel with Big Harpeth, but unites with it a short distance northwest of Franklin. Each of these streams receives small tributaries, the largest and best known being Leiper's Creek, which enters West Harpeth not far from Hillsboro. Within the valley of these small rivers is seen some very fine country. It is even questioned if it can be surpassed anywhere. Formerly it was densely covered with heavy forest trees or a rank growth of cane. A short distance beneath the surface is a bed of limestone, but the soil along the river is a rich, black loam, capable of supporting a luxuriant growth of all the cereals known to the temperate climate, as well as other vegetable products, nor has the cultivation of these been wanting, for the late statistics show Williamson to afford the largest yield of wheat of any county in the State.

Little Harpeth, which flows near the well known Hollow Tree Gap, drains a much smaller amount of land than the other Harpeth, but none the less rich. South Harpeth cuts its way through the Rim or highlands in the extreme western part of the county. This is bordered by high hills and precipitous rocks, with an ever-changing bed. This feature of these rivers is noticeable within the recollections of men; they are much wider than formerly and not so deep; their rise is much higher and quicker than formerly, and their subsidence is much more rapid. The name Harpeth is said to have originated from two noted outlaws, who had their headquarters on Big Harpeth. Their names were HARP, and from their size were designated Big and Little Harp. After bidding defiance to the law and force for many years they were at last brought to punishment. The country lying along the South Harpeth is quite broken and is sparsely settled. Covering a large portion of districts--first, second, third and sixth--is a heavey growth of timber almost in its primitive luxuriance. In some portions of the county there is a sandy soil, from which there is a heavy growth of cedar, and in other parts there is a fine growth of white oak. Fine springs abound in almost every part of the county; these, with the fine grasses grown, make this an excellent stock-raising county, to which attention has been largely attracted since 1871. Besides the numerous other springs the county abounds in various medical springs. These are known as Smith's Springs, Cayce's Spring, and the best known of these now is the Fernvale Spring, owned by J. B. MCEWEN. Analyses of the water of the last-named spring have been made by several eminent chemists. These all show the water to possess high medical properties.

The Crops

A comparison of the amount of cereals grown in Williamson County in 1870 and in 1885 will show the rapid incease in these products, and also the amount of these products grown in the county. The product of corn in bushels in 1870 was 1,010,443; of wheat, 227,294; of rye, 4,662; of oats, 99,933; of barley, 10,536. The corresponding cereals in 1885 were as follows: Indian corn, in bushels, 1,439,445; wheat, 315,966; rye, 2,265; oats, 585,522; barley, 499. The number of domestice animals for the same years were as follows: the number of horses and mules for 1870 were 10,314; cattle, 6,988; sheep, 15,226; hogs, 41,703. The same animals in 1885 were as follows: horses and mules, 11,442; cattle, 12,906; sheep, 15,809; hogs, 43,132.

Members of the State Legislature

Senate

  • Chapman White, 1805-07
  • N. T. Perkins, 1807-09
  • Thomas H. Benton, 1809-11
  • Newton Cannon, 1811-15
  • Amos Johnson, 1815-17
  • John Bell, 1817-19
  • Joel Parrish, 1819-21
  • Sterling Brown, 1821-25
  • Newton Cannon, 1827-29
  • Robert Jetton, 1829-35
  • Barclay Martin, 1835-41
  • W. H. Sneed, 1841-45
  • Abram Maney and J. W. Richardson, 1845-51
  • W. C. J. Burrus, 1851-53
  • P. O. N. Perkins, 1853-57
  • W. L. McComico, 1857-59
  • J. W. Richardson, 1859-60
  • A. W. Mess, 1865-66
  • W. Y. Elliott, 1867-68
  • D. M. McFall, 1868-70
  • T. F. P. Allison, 1871-73
  • A. T. Boyd, 1875-77
  • W. D. Fullerton, 1877-79
  • T. F. Perkins, 1879-81

House

  • Chapman White, 1803-05
  • Abram Maney, 1805-07
  • Moses Frierson, 1807-11
  • Amos Johnson, 1811-15
  • William Martin, 1815-21
  • Abram Maney, Jr., 1821-25
  • Samuel Perkins, 1825-27
  • Newton Cannon, 1829-31
  • R. C. Foster, 1831-35
  • M. P. Gentry, 1835-39
  • R. C. Foster, 1839-43
  • A. P. Maney, 1843-44
  • S. Venable and R. W. H. Bestick, 1845-46
  • J. Robison and F. Hardeman, 1847-48
  • E. Thompson and P. G. S. Perkins, 1849-50
  • David Campbell, 1851-53
  • Frank Hardeman, 1853-55
  • C. W. Beale, 1855-57
  • W. L. McComico, 1857-58
  • W. E. Ewing, 1859-60
  • J. W. Richardson, 1864-65
  • D. W. McFall, 1865-67
  • Atha Thomas, 1868-69
  • Samuel Perkins, 1875-76
  • F. M. Lavender, 1877-79
  • T. E. Haynes, 1879-83

Roads

At the February term, 1800, the county court ordered the following roads to be laid off and cut out. Daniel McEWEN was to oversee the road from Franklin to Hollow Tree Gap, and the road was ordered to be called the Hollow Tree Gap road. All persons living on the south side of the ridge and north of Big Harpeth were ordered to assist in clearing the road. The first State case in the county grew out of this, but the case was quashed when it was shown that McEWEN'S help failed to assist him. William EDMUNSON, William MARSHALL, John CUMMINGS, Patrick MCCUTCHEN, William MCGAUGH, John JORDAN, John BUCHANAN and William WALKER were ordered to lay off the road from the mouth of Arrington's Creek to Franklin. Robert CARUTHERS, John RIED, John SLOCUM, Henry WALKER, Richard PUCKETT and Jesse WEATHIER were ordered to cut out the road from Robert CARUTHERS' in Franklin, and to the place where the commissioner's trace crosses the Big Harpeth. This road is what was called the Commissioners' Trace road and connected with what was known as the Commissioners road or Natchez trace. The Buford's Ford road was cut out by George NEELY, Joseph PORTER, John MCKINNEY, Samuel MCCLARY and David LONG. This road extended from Franklin to Buford's Ford on the Little Harpeth. The road from Hollow Tree Gap to the Davidson County line by way of Joseph WHITE'S was cut out by direction of David WHITE and "all those living on the west side of the road as far down the Little Harpeth as the Plum Orchard and the head waters of Beech Creek" were ordered to assist. The McCutchen Creek road was marked out by Samuel McCUTCHEN, Samuel EDMUNSON, Ephraim BROWN, M. GERMAN, John MCKAY, Thomas OWENS and James SCOTT. This road extended from McCutchen Creek and the Big Harpeth to Franklin.

Natchez trace, the old government road, entered the county from the south near old Harpeth Church, and passed a little east of Beechville postoffice; thence south through Districts Nos. 7 and 6; thence through No. 3 by way of Hillsboro; thence into No. 2 a little west of Boston and out of the county a little east of White Oak postoffice.

Railroad

The first efforts for a railroad in Franklin were in November, 1831, when books were opened to receive subscriptions for what was then called the Nashville, Franklin & Columbia Railroad, but no success was made till the charter was granted to the Tennessee and Alabama Railroad in 1852. The road was not completed to the Alabama line till 1859.

Districts

Under the new constitution the divisions were numbered according to the ordinal numbers, viz; First, Second, Third, and so on to Twenty-fifth. The justices presiding in 1836, when the new constitution went into force were:
  • No 2, Thomas Powell
  • No 3, O. D. Moffitt
  • No 4, Joseph Burnett
  • No 5, I. W. Briggs
  • No 6, R. A. Hunt
  • No 7, J. S. Breathitt
  • No 8, John J. McKay
  • No 9, Holland White
  • No 10, George Lang
  • No 11, Daniel Baughn
  • No 12, William Crutcher
  • No 13, Mike Kinnard
  • No 14, G. W. Hunt
  • No 15, Horatio McNish
  • No 16, J. A. Holland
  • No 17, James Andrews
  • No 18, John Bostich
  • No 19, R. W. Robinson
  • No 20, M. Marable
  • No 21, J. W. M. Hill
  • No 22, John Hall
  • No 23, J. W. Carson
  • No 24, John Richardson
  • No 25, S. B. Robinson
The work of the division of the districts was not reported to the court till February 4, 1836. The following persons were designated by the General Assembly for laying off the county into districts of convenient size: Richard HILL, James W. CARSON, Isaac IVY, Michael KINNARD and John L. MCEWEN. The commissioners, be fore proceeding to make the division, qualified before Gilbert MARSHALL, a justice of the peace in Williamson County. the committee found that the county contained 3,000 voters, and on that basis divided the county into twenty-five districts. After making the divisions the commissioners designated the following places of election in the respective districts:
  • No 1, John Graham
  • No 2, Thompson Davis
  • No 3, John Adams in Hillsboro
  • No 4, Joseph Yates at the Sulphur Springs
  • No 5, James Southall
  • No 6, Robert Hill
  • No 7, William Leaton
  • No 8, Mrs. Gracy Goff
  • No 9, courthouse
  • No 10, Douglass' Camp Ground
  • No 11, M. M. Andrews at Pinkney's postoffice
  • No 12, Horton's Camp Ground
  • No 13, Andrew Campbell at Snatchett
  • No 14, Mrs. Holland Davis
  • No 15, Alexander Smith
  • No 16, John M. Winstead
  • No 17, Sutherland M. Camp's
  • No 18, H. P. Bostick
  • No 19, Jason Winsett
  • No 20, Dr. William S. Webb
  • No 21, William Munbreun
  • No 22, Isaac Smith
  • No 23, Chestly William in Manchester
  • No 24, Allen N. McCord
  • No 25, Robertson & Ransom in Versailles
The number of districts changed from time to time to suit the varying population, the whims, or the conveniences of people. The boundary lines have been frequently changed. The number of districts was first twenty-five; in 1864 the number was twenty-three; and in 1865 it was raised to twenty-four, and which it remained till 1869, when it was reduced to twenty-two, at which it has since remained.

First Settlers

In regard to the first settlers of Williamson County, there is an interesting tradition; in fact it must be traditional in part, at least, as HAYWOOD, RAMSEY and PUTNAM do not give it. It is to the effect that in 1797 three men, named, respectively, GRAHAM, BROWN and TINDEL, accompanied by a negro and a dog, went out on an exploring expedition to the vicinity about Franklin. The men were absent some time, and did not return, neither any tidings of them. A party was sent in search of the men but no trace of them was found until their arrival at Hollow Tree Gap, where the party met the dog in a half starved condition. True to the instincts of his nature the dog led the party to where lay the remains of his masters. It seems the party had found traces of a bear, which they had followed some distance from their course before they came up with the animal. The bear was killed and the party had encamped on the spot. Attracted by the firing upon the bear or by the camp fire, a party of Indians found the lonely party and surrounded the camp and killed the entire number. Fate was generous enough to make these men fight desperately and slay several times their number of Indians. the faithful dog had kept vigil over his dead companions until driven away by hunger.

The Indian titles being extinguished north of Duck River very early settlers began to enter the territory of Williamson before 1800. David McEWEN, of Statesville, N. C., with several families, moved to Nashville in 1796, but owing to the disturbances by the Indians, did not proceed on their journey till 1798. In that year Mr. McEwen passed through Hollow Tree Gap and on to Roper's Knob, where he settled. Mr. McEwen was the father of a large and influential family that has been prominent in Williamson County since its inception. William DEMUMBANE, son of Capt. DEMUMBANE, the pioneer settler of Nashville, was born at the mouth of Mill Creek, on the Cumberland. Leaving his parents when quite young he passed through the wilderness of woods and canebrakes and settled near College Grove, where he became a wealthy planter.

Mr. SLEDGE, who came to the county about the time of DeMUNBREUN, brought only his wife and a few household utensils on a pack-horse, and settled near Peytonsville. Here he lived several years under a temporary shelter. Samuel CROCKETT, John WILSON and David MCEWEN, mentioned above, had each settled and built a cotton-gin before 1804, as appears from Dr. RAMSEY. In 1798 Andrew GOFF, William MCEWEN, George NEELEY and a number of others settled on Spence's Creek. Thomas H. PERKINS and Mr. MCCONNICO settled at the fork of the West and Big Harpeth Rivers about 1810. About the same time came Matthew JOHNSON and William EDMONDSON. Thomas SPENCE, Daniel MCMAHAN and Thomas WILLIAMSON each settled on the creek bearing the name of the former in 1800. Ewen CAMERON is said to have built a house in Franklin in 1797. Abram MAURY, upon whose land the city of Franklin was built, and Thomas MCKAY, at whose house the first court was held, were both residents before 1800. Byrd HAMLET, who settled near Nolensville, has the credit of having raised the first hogshead of tobacco in Middle Tennessee. The following persons had made settlements previous to 1800, the most of whom were connected with the county officially: James BUFORD, James SCURLOCK, Nicholas PERKINS, Edmond WALL, Chapman WHITE, Solomon BRENT, Stephen CHILDRESS, William HULME, William SMITH, Sion HUNT, Robert CARUTHERS, R. P. CURRIN, Richard HIGHTOWER, James NEELEY, John HARNESS and many others. Joel PARRISH was one of the first to erect a mill on Harpeth; he was also prominently connected with other business interests of the county. The increase in population of the county for the first decade is remarkable, the population in 1810 amounting to over 13,000, while in 1800 it was numbered by the hundreds. The county in 1810, however, embraced a much larger area than now.

County Courts

The court of pleas and quarter sessions was established February 26, 1799, while the General Assembly was in session at Knoxville. The court first met on the first Monday in February 1800, at the house of Thomas MCKAY, in the town of Franklin. The court continued to meet here till November 3, 1800, when the session was opened in the courthouse. The first justices holding court were John JOHNSON, Sr., James BUFORD, James SCURLOCK, Chapman WHITE and Daniel PERKINS. James SCURLOCK, who had previously qualified before a justice of Davidson County, proceeded to administer the oath to the others. The court organized by electing Scurlock chairman, but after the organization he resigned, and was succeeded by Chapman WHITE. The court then proceeded to elect a clerk, when N. P. HARDEMAN was chosen and gave bond in the sum of $5,000. Edmund HALL was chosen the first sheriff, and gave bond in the sum of $10,000. Chapman WHITE was made register; Francis HALL, solicitor; Joseph PORTER, ranger; Joel WILLIAMS and John HARNESS were chosen constables; Henry RUTHERFORD was made first surveyor; William WHITE, William ASHTON and David LOGAN were made "searchers or patrolers" from Parrish's mill dam; Big Harpeth to the mouth of West Harpeth; thence up to the dividing ridge; Ed RAGSDALE and Spencer BUFORD for the remaining part of the county.

The following constituted the first jury: James SCOTT, Samuel MCCUTCHEN, Samuel EDMUNSON, Ephraim BROWN, James HOPKINS, Richard HIGHTOWER, Andrew GOFF, James NEELEY, George NEELEY, Joseph PARKE, Thomas MCKAY, George STRINGHAM, William EDMUNSON, Henry WALKER, Isaac BALEMAN, Reuben PARKE, Joseph STEVENS, James MCCOMICO, Peter EDWARDS, Samuel MCCRARY, David MCKINNEY and Henry CHILDRESS. The jury for the superior court of the Mero District consisted of Henry RUTHERFORD, David MCEWEN, Thomas MCKAY, Abram MAURY and Richard HIGHTOWER. The tax listers were Daniel PERKINS, who had that territory "north of the dividing line between Big and Little Harpeth, thence up Little Harpeth to Richard HIGHTOWER's and the Davidson County line," James SCURLOCK all "east of the commissioner's trace' and Chapman WHITE "all west of the commissioner's trace." Patrick MCCUTCHEN appeared the first day and recorded his stock mark as a "crop and slit in the right ear and a half under crop in the left." William MARSHALL had an "underbit in each ear." The first State case was the State vs. David MCEWEN, for which the grand jury returned a "true bill," but on May 6, 1800, the case was marked "presentment quashed." In May, 1800, Seth LEWIS, Jessee WHARTEN, Joseph HERNDON and John DICKINSON were admitted as attorneys, and John MCNUTT was made solicitor pro tem. On November 3, 1800, Frances HALL offered his resignation as solicitor, and Joseph HERNDON was appointed in his place. Edmund HALL also resigned his office as sheriff and Henry CHILDRESS was appointed in his place. The court allowed Hall $30 for ex officio servciesas sheriff. Bennet SCARCY, who became circuit judge a short time after, was admitted before the Williamson bar in February, 1801, and William SMITH at a little later date. Henry RUTHERFORD was allowed $24 for running the line between Williamson and Davidson counties. In 1803 Parry W. HUMPHREYS and G. W. L. MANNS became attorneys, and Thomas STEWART, who became the first circuit judge, resigned as solicitor, and was succeeded by Peter R. BOOKER. Mr. Booker soon after moved to Columbia, and finally quit practice for business.

The circuit court was authorized by an act of the General Assembly November 16, 1809, entitled an act establishing a circuit court and a supreme court of errors and appeals. By order of the General Assembly of November 14, 1811, Thomas STUART became judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit of "law and equity." By the same act the judge was compelled to be a resident within his circuit. Judge STUART received the oath of office before Justice ROBERTSON in the court house in Nashville. He served from the organization of the court till 1836. The officers of the court were William HULME, sheriff; William SMITH, clerk, with Felix GRUNDY, R. B. SAPPINGTON, Thomas Smith and Henry CHILDRESS, as bondsmen. Alfred BALCH was the first solicitor before this court.

Source: The Goodspeed History of Maury, Williamson, Rutherford, Wilson, Bedford, Marshall Counties of Tennessee. Reprint from The Goodspeeds History of Tennessee, 1886

To be continued.......

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