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Williamson County
Genealogy and History


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More Goodspeeds History

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 enter 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 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 extreem western part of the county. This si 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 bought 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 heavy 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.

A comparison of the amount of cereals grown in Williamson County in 1870 and in 1885 will show the rapid increase 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 domestic 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 as follows: Horses and mules, 11,442; cattle, 12,906; sheep, 15,809; hogs, 43,132.

In regard to the first settlers in 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 Demumhane, son of Capt. Demumhane, 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 De Munbreun, 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. Bryd Hamlet, who settled near Nolensville, has the credit of having raised the first hogshead of tobacco in Middle Tennessee. The following person 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 Parish 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 of 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.

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 the 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 Gen. 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 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, the 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. This committee made its report, and a new committee, with full power to contract for and let the new court house, was appointed. This 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. Other appropriations followed from time to time as the work proceeded. 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. This was done through a committee of R. S. Ballow, J. B. McEwen and S. S. House. Prison bounds for insolvent debtors were established in 1803. The bounds were described as "Beginning at the "race path," thence up Main Street and running so as to include John White's Mill; thence to include the court house, jail and down Main Street, and back to the place of beginning."

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. In November, 1828, a committee of H. L. White, E. T. Collins and William Johnston made the following report; "We find that William Clark, jailer, and his family have conducted themselves so ridiculous and have also become a nuisance to their neighbors, and on his family's account we have thought proper to remove the said Clark and substitute Joel Childress in his place." The committee found that the jail was considerably out of repair, that the family part of said jail was open and torn to pieces, and the "whole requires considerable work and considerable improvement, which we believe to be of considerable importance to the county." This jail stood til 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 committee visited the Nashville jail and got all the information they could, and flattered themselves that "we will have a first-rate jail." The dimensions of the new jail were to be 40x46 and 24 feet high. There were to be two cells below and two above, and two passages through the building each 10x40 feet. The whole building was to be fire-proof. The contract was let 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.

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, and contracted with Mark L. Andrews to erect and improve the buildings on the land purchased of Andrew L. Andrews, to the amount of $350. 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 inquire into the propriety of selling a portion of the poor-farm. The report was to the effect that the county owned more land than was profitable. Six small tracts, amounting in the aggregate to 130 acres, were sold. These were purchased by S. S. Short, Thomas Short, J. B. Gray, G. W. Davis, H. S. Reynolds and H. Hanks, respectively. The purchases amounted to the sum of $2,750. The farm yet contains 413 acres of good land, and has good buildings thereon and is managed with little expenses to the county.

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. As the others were built during the first year of the present county, it is presumed the market-house was also built then, as frequent orders were given for its government in the first years of the present century. 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 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 alderman 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.

Members of the State Legislature: Senate --- Robert Weakley, 1801-05; 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.

To be continued.......

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