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Wheeler’s Reminiscences

Chapter I

Watauga County

Watauga County, in its capital or County town, preserves the name of Daniel Boone, (born August 22, 1734, died, 1820). He was a native of Berks County, Pa. His father came to North Carolina while Daniel was a small boy, and settled in the Forks of the Yadkin. Here the scenes of his youth and of his early manhood were passed.

In 1769 Boone, accompanied by bold and adventurous spirits left home for the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky, and from that date to 1771 was with them exploring the rich and lovely regions, although constantly exposed to the attacks of the Indians. In 1774 he conducted a party to the falls of the Ohio, and built a fort where Boonsboro’ now stands; here he repulsed at various times the attacks of the savages. In December 1775, a furious assault was made by which Boone lost one man and another wounded; but the Indians were repulsed with great slaughter, and appeared to be reconciled. This caused the whites to be less guarded. On July 14, 1776, as three young ladies (two of them daughters of Colonel Calloway and one of them a daughter of Colonel Boone) were strolling in the woods, they were captured by the Indians. At the time Boone was off hunting, but when he returned, without any aid or waiting to collect a force, he followed the trail of the Indians and came in sight of them, and by his unerring rifle killed two, recovered the girls and returned to the fort in safety. One of these married Samuel Henderson, the brother of Judge Henderson and Pleasant Henderson. This romantic incident obtained more notoriety by its mention in “The Last of the Mohicans,” by James Fennimore Cooper.

In 1778, while engaged in making salt at the Licking River, he was captured and taken to Detroit. He was adopted into an Indian family, and hearing an attack was to be made on the fort at Boonsboro’, he made his escape, and reached the fort, 160 miles distant, in four days during which he had but one meal. He found the fort in a bad condition and put everybody to work to repair it. The Indians finding Boone had escaped, postponed the attack.

On August 8 a large force appeared before Boonsboro’ and demanded its surrender. The assailants were four hundred and forty-four Indians and eleven Frenchmen, commanded by Captain Duquesne. Boone requested a parley of three days, at the end of which he informed the French commanded he would defend the fort to the last extremity. A treaty was agreed upon. After signing it he was informed that it was a custom to shake hands, and the moment the savages took hold of each white man’s hand they endeavored to hold him fast. Boone felt the sinewy grasp, and his companions were betrayed into a like perilous position. Now arose a mighty struggle, a contest for life-

“Now gallant Boone, now bold thy own,
No maiden’s arm is ’round thee thrown
That iron grasp thy frame would feel
Through bars of brass and triple steel.”

Fortune favors at this moment of peril her gallant son, and the knife of Boone found a bloody sheath in his adversary’s bosom ; his men and himself escaped to the fort. The Indians were compelled to raise the siege after a heavy loss and retired. Such was the life that Boone led until the defeat of the Indians by Wayne, in 1792, which brought peace to this lovely section. Boone, when this new territory came into the Union, by carelessness on his part, and cunning and chicanery of others, lost his possessions in Kentucky. This he did not much regret, as he said the country had become too crowded, and “he wanted more room.” He went to Missouri, where he lost his wife, in 1813, and he returned to the house of his son, Major Nathan Boone. In 1810 he went to live with his son-in-law, Flanders Calloway, and died at Chariton, Missouri, September 26, 1820. (Drake’s Dictionary of “American Biography of Men of the Times,” 1876.)

The character of Boone represents the type of the men in the early age of our Republic, brave, enterprising, noble and generous ; nor is his character confined to our own country ; it has been celebrated in the exquisite lines of Byron.

“Of all men
Who passes for life and death, most lucky
Is Daniel Boone, backwoodsman of Kentucky
Crime came not near him. She is not the child
Of solitude. Health shrank not from him,
For her home is in the rarely-trodden wild.”

And tall and swift of foot were they
Beyond yon dwarfing city’s pale abortions
Because their thoughts had never been the prey
Of care or gain. The green woods were their portions
Motion was in their days, not in then numbers
And cheerfulness the handmaid of then toil;
Nor yet too many or two few their numbers;
Corruption could not make their hearts her soil
Serene not smiling even the solitudes
Of this unsighing people of the woods.”

Don Juan, viii, lvi.

John Sevier, born September 23, 1745, died September 24, 1815, was a contemporary of Boone and possessed many similar traits of character with that daring, distinguished and enterprising patriot. He was a member of the 1st Congress (1790) from North Carolina territory formed that year into the State of Tennessee.

General Sevier descended from an ancient family in France whose name was Xavier, and his own uniform, bold and unique signature is something like that chirography. The chirography is a beautiful and curious specimen. His father, Valentine Xavier, was born in London, and emigrated to America in the first part the last century-settled on the Shenandoah in Virginia, where John Sevier was born about 1744.

When but a young man he married Miss Sarah Hawkins, by whom he had six children.

She was delicate, and never moved from Eastern Virginia, but died there soon after the birth of her sixth child.

During Sevier’s visit to his family in 1773, Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, then fitting out an expedition against the Shawnees and other tribes north of the Ohio river, presented to Sevier the commission of captain, to command a company raised under his own eye and care in the County of Dunmore. This expedition ended with the perilous and fearful battle of Point Pleasant, where James Robertson and Valentine Sevier entitled themselves to much honor and distinction.

The settlers on the Holston, Watauga, and Nolachucka were beyond the influence and power of the State laws and executive officers of Carolina, and therefore, as wise men, who knew the advantage of laws and officers, acknowledged as authoritative, they, in 1772, adopted a form of government called the ” Watauga Government,” and they elected John Sevier as one of four delegates to a convention at Halifax, North Carolina. He attended a session of the General Assembly, and in 1777 procured the establishment of a district and the extension of State laws, establishment of courts, &c. The patriotic sentiments of the man were avowed in the selection of the name for this district where he had cast his lot, and where were the bold and hardy pioneers with whom he was associated. This was “Washington District,” North Carolina. The people had enjoyed the advantages of their inchoate and infant government of Watauga from 1772 to this date, and had accomplished many things worthy of note. They opened paths across the mountains, felled the forests, opened fields, built forts and houses, “subdued the earth,” and began rapidly to “replenish it,” or “they married, and were given in marriage ;” and the State of North Carolina, some years afterward, deemed a good opportunity presented for her to gain the credit of an act of “supererogation,” and passed laws to confirm marriages and other deeds and doings of these wayward “children in the woods.”

July 21, 1776, ” Old Abraham,’ in command of a band of Cherokees from Chilhowee mountains, attacked the Watauga fort, commanded by Sevier and Robertson ; and, as the best feat performed, he chased the “lovely Catharine to the captain’s arms ;” and we have heard her say she used to feel ready to have another such a race and leap over the pickets to enjoy another such an introduction.

On this same day was fought the battle of the Flats. Other skirmishes occurred here and there at different times.

Captain Sevier was actively engaged in the expedition of Colonel Christian, ordered out by Virginia, and joined the Virginia troops at “Double Springs,” and he neglected no opportunity to pursue the Indians or chastise them for any of their insults or outrages. He promptly united with others, without envy, or jealousy, or reservation, and he as readily fitted out expeditions from his own neighborhood and with his own means, without boasting, without fear, and with never a failure. In 1777 he was made lieutenant-colonel.

In 1778 it is probable that his first wife died, for on August 14, 1779, he was married to Miss Catharine Sherrill, of whom it is truly and handsoniely said, “she could outrun, out jump, walk more erect, and ride more gracefully and skillfully than any other female in all the mountains round about or on the continent at large.”

In 1779 Captain Sevier raised troops, entered the Indian territory, burned their towns, made prisoners, and fought the successful battle of “Boyd’s Creek.”

A few days after the battle of Boyd’s Creek, Colonel Sevier was joined by Colonel Arthur Campbell with a Virginia regiment, and by Colonel Isaac Shelby with his troops from Sullivan County, North Carolina, and afterward these three colonels in harmony scoured the Cherokee country, scattered hostile bands, destroyed the homes of the Indians, and then returned to their own in better security and some more confidence of peace.

The critical year of the American Revolution was 1780, certainly so as regarded the Southern States. Charleston surrendered, Gates defeated reverses here and there; money exhausted, provisions, clothing and ammunition scarce, many hearts fainting, fearful and desponding-taking shelter under British protection-certificates.

The tories were numerous, desperate and daring. The British in possession of South Carolina, Georgia and parts of North Carolina and Virginia, the hopes of the patriots were feeble, and the sun of independence well nigh obscured. But soon it beamed forth on the heights of King’s Mountain, (October 7, 1780) which achievement has been frequently referred to in these pages. Sevier had his full share of the dangers, and has received full credit for the same-a sword and a vote of thanks were extended to him by the Legislature of North Carolina. He rendered other important military services at Musgrove’s Mill and other places against the British and tories, and afterward in defending the frontiers against the ravages of the Indians, and in 1781 he conducted several expeditions to the Chicamanga towns. Peace being made with England, yet no peace came to this section; for in 1784 “the State of Franklin” mingled in the seething cauldron of political excitement, and Sevier set up a government independent of the State of North Carolina. Our space and limits do not allow us to give the history of this very interesting epoch in tbe life of Sevier. In 1788 he was arrested and imprisoned in the jail at Morganton. The mil measures of the old mother State toward her young and wayward daughter granting pardons to individuals, and yielding up a section already beyond her control, induced Sevier and his party to come into measures of compromise. The County was ceded to the United States, and organized as the “Territory south of the Ohio river.” The probationary territorial stage was passed through; Tennessee was created a State, and John Sevier (1796-1801) was chosen Governor, and afterward from 1803-9. In 1811 he was elected a member of Congress from Tennessee, with Felix Grundy and John Rhea as colleagues, and was re-elected in 1813. In 1815 he was persuaded by Mr. Madison to accept the appointment of commissioner to adjust the difficulties Creek Indians. This duty, considering his age and health, was too severe, and while engaged in its services he was taken sick at an encampment on the east side of the Tallapoosa river, near Decatur, Georgia, where on September 24, 1815, he died.