Tennessee Encyclopedia

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Governor William Carroll

By Jonathan M. Atkins, Berry College

William Carroll served as Tennessee's governor for all but two years between 1821 and 1835. He was a prominent figure in the state's early Democratic Party, and his career symbolized the era's popular protest against established political interests. Carroll was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was the oldest son of the nine children of Thomas Carroll, a merchant who was an associate of Albert Gallatin, the secretary of the treasury for Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. The younger Carroll received only a limited education that emphasized practical fields like bookkeeping, surveying, mathematics, English language and grammar, and probably farming and rudimentary military training. Most of what he learned came from experience working in his father's hardware store and other mercantile ventures, and he devoted his early years toward providing the foundation for his own business career. Carroll possessed a natural intelligence, however, and in his later years compensated for his lack of formal training through his own reading. At his death, the Nashville Republican Banner obituary commended his private pursuit of knowledge and declared him a success in overcoming his early educational deficiencies.

Carroll MonumentCarroll came to Nashville in 1810 at the age of twenty-two with a letter of introduction from Gallatin to Andrew Jackson, which he used to establish the local connections to enable him to open a hardware store and nail factory. The success of these businesses put him at the forefront of the town's development throughout the 1810s. In 1816 Carroll purchased the General Jackson, the first steamboat on the Cumberland River. The next year, he and other leading merchants attempted to bring a branch of the Bank of the United States to Nashville. When the legislature blocked this effort, he was named to the board of directors of the newly created Bank of Nashville.

Carroll gained his military reputation during the War of 1812. He organized and served as captain of a volunteer company, and Jackson appointed him brigade inspector for the campaigns to Natchez in 1812 and against the Creek Indians in 1813. On the latter campaign, he participated in several battles before sustaining a severe wound during Jackson's victory at Horseshoe Bend. Notwithstanding this injury, he returned to the field when he was elected to succeed Jackson as commander of the Tennessee militia after Jackson was promoted to major general in the regular army. Carroll's troops provided Jackson with crucial reinforcement that helped to turn the battle of New Orleans into an American triumph. Because of his contributions at New Orleans, Carroll emerged from the war with a reputation second only to that of Jackson himself.

Following the war Carroll returned to his businesses and prospered until the financial Panic of 1819 forced him into bankruptcy. The panic ruined Carroll commercially, but it launched his political career. Hard times promoted a popular resentment against Tennessee's banks. A political faction of planters and land speculators led by John Overton controlled the banks and suspended specie payment, to the detriment of debtors and small farmers. In 1821 Carroll, as military hero and bankrupt entrepreneur, emerged as the ideal candidate to oppose the Overton faction. Carroll supporters presented him as a poor man standing against the pretensions of the wealthy. In promotional circulars Carroll declared himself "no friend of banks" and speculated that "we would . . . have done better, if we had never seen one in the state." Still, he rejected radical proposals to abolish the banks because "their sudden downfall would be ruinous to the interest of the people." (1) Instead, he favored compelling the banks to resume specie payments, with continued supervision over future operations. This moderately conservative approach actually differed little from that of his opponent, Colonel Edward Ward, who proposed consolidation of Tennessee's banks into one central institution. Carroll's image as a self-made man ruined by the panic, however, contrasted sharply with Ward's standing as the candidate of the Overton faction and as a well-educated scion of inherited wealth, and he defeated Ward by a more than four-to-one margin.

When Carroll first took office, the 1796 state constitution severely limited gubernatorial authority, but Carroll's popularity and personality gave him considerable influence in the general assembly. At his urging, the legislature passed a law compelling the banks to resume specie payments by April 1824, although it later moved the date for resumption back to September 1, 1826. Likewise, in 1825 the assembly repealed a prohibitive tax on banks operating in Tennessee without a state charter, and with Carroll's support the Bank of the United States finally opened a Nashville branch the next year. The 1796 constitution's restriction on gubernatorial service to no more than six years in any eight-year period forced Carroll's retirement in 1827, but in 1829 he was again eligible for office and won the first of another three consecutive terms. The legislature again proved receptive to his proposals, and during the next six years the assembly funded internal improvements, established a penitentiary and mental hospital, reorganized the judicial system, and revised the penal code. During this second phase of Carroll's leadership, the last remaining bank from the Panic of 1819 closed, and Tennessee established new banks that provided the state's financial system until the Civil War.

As a champion of "the people" against entrenched interests, Carroll foreshadowed on the state level Andrew Jackson's rise to national prominence. Still, the governor hesitated to commit himself fully to Jackson's presidential prospects, probably because he believed that the hero lacked the experience and reputation necessary for a serious run for the nation's highest office, but perhaps also because he was aware of his former commander's opposition to banks and preference for an exclusively specie currency. In any case, despite his public endorsement of Jackson and his work as campaign treasurer for the 1824 election, Carroll remained a regular correspondent and advisor of one of Jackson's opponents, Kentucky's Henry Clay. When Jackson won a plurality of the popular vote but lost the presidency in the House of Representatives, Carroll abandoned Clay and avidly supported Jackson's successful candidacies in 1828 and 1832. He worked arduously to ingratiate himself with Jackson, who was aware of Carroll's earlier duplicity. By the early 1830s he had returned to Old Hickory's favor and, once readmitted to the leadership of Jackson's forces in Tennessee, remained a loyal supporter of the Democratic Party. This loyalty even led him to endorse Martin Van Buren, Jackson's hand-picked successor, in the 1836 presidential election instead of following the dissident Tennessee movement for Senator Hugh Lawson White.

Carroll's political career came to an end shortly before Van Buren's election. An 1834 convention revised the 1796 constitution but retained the previous limitations on the governor's term of office. Nevertheless, Carroll attempted to remain in office for a fourth term by claiming that he was eligible for a first term under the new frame of government. The majority of voters disagreed with this interpretation, however, and former congressman Newton Cannon easily defeated the incumbent. Following this loss, Jackson appointed Carroll as an Indian commissioner to conclude negotiations for the Cherokee removal, and in 1838 President Van Buren appointed him a special agent to the Creeks. Critics charged that Carroll used these positions to enrich himself through illicit land speculation. Never proved or disproved, these charges probably stemmed from political motives to foil his future candidacy for the governorship or a congressional seat. Despite Democratic encouragement, Carroll never again stood for public office after his 1835 loss. By the early 1840s his health had declined significantly, and he died at his Nashville home in 1844.
Carroll held the office of Tennessee's governor longer than any other person, and despite the partisan rancor of the 1840s, his death was widely mourned. The Republican Banner, a Whig newspaper, reflected that "the country has lost a great and useful man; who has served her in war and in peace with eminent advantage, success and glory." (2) He was the first chief executive to lead the general assembly in undertaking significant reform, while his image as the champion of the people against wealth and power brought to Tennessee the new democratic style of politics that is usually associated with the emergence of Jackson as a national leader.

Suggested Reading
Jonathan M. Atkins, Politics, Parties, and the Sectional Conflict in Tennessee, 1832-1861 (1997); Paul H. Bergeron, Antebellum Politics in Tennessee (1982).

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – January 01, 2010

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Felix Kirk Zollicoffer

By Larry Whiteaker, Tennessee Technological University

Zollicoffer TombstoneConfederate Brigadier General Felix K. Zollicoffer attempted to pacify Unionists in East Tennessee in 1861 before meeting defeat and death at the battle of Mill Springs in Kentucky. Born in Maury County and educated at Jackson College, he became a printer, newspaper editor, and Whig politician. During the 1830s he served as a lieutenant of Tennessee volunteers in the Second Seminole War. After service as state adjutant general and comptroller and a state senator in the 1840s, Zollicoffer became a power in the Whig Party. In 1852 he won election to the U.S. Congress, where he served until 1859 as a states' rights champion.

In 1860 he supported Constitutional Union Party candidate John Bell for the presidency and urged Tennesseans to remain loyal to the Union. When the state seceded, however, he fully endorsed the decision, and Governor Isham Harris rewarded him with a brigadier generalship. In July 1861 Harris ordered Zollicoffer and four thousand raw recruits to Knoxville to suppress the East Tennessee resistance to secession. Zollicoffer treated peaceful Unionists fairly but imposed harsher measures after Union guerrillas burned railroad bridges in November.

In early autumn, Zollicoffer led most of his soldiers northward to protect the Cumberland Gap and the eastern end of the Confederate defensive line that reached from the Gap westward through Kentucky and Tennessee to the Mississippi River. By early January 1862 he and his army had crossed to the north side of the Cumberland River near Mill Springs, Kentucky. This put the Confederates in a poor position to fight an advancing Union force commanded by General George H. Thomas. On January 19 at the battle of Mill Springs, Union soldiers routed the Confederates and killed Zollicoffer. The Confederate line in Kentucky soon collapsed and made Tennessee vulnerable to invasion. Zollicoffer was an able politician, but an ill-prepared and ill-fated commander.

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – March 01, 2011


Ben West

By Don H. Doyle, Vanderbilt University

Ben West MarkerBen West, mayor of Nashville (1951-63), was born in Columbia, Tennessee, in 1911. West came to Nashville as a boy and grew up with his parents in a working-class neighborhood in the Woodbine district. He worked his way through school and attended Cumberland Law School and Vanderbilt University. In 1934 he began work as an assistant district attorney in Nashville. West ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Nashville in 1943 and won election as vice-mayor in 1946 and then as state senator in 1949.

In the Senate West introduced legislation that brought back single-member district elections, replacing the citywide election of Nashville's city council. This represented a major breakthrough for the rebirth of black voting power in city politics because it allowed minorities whose votes were concentrated in a few wards to carry elections they could not hope to win in citywide contests. This reform was also the key to West's political future, as he would depend heavily on the reemerging black voter whose political power, with the repeal of the poll tax and other voting restrictions and the movement of white voters to the suburbs, was increasing.

In 1951 West won election as mayor of Nashville, along with the first two African American councilmen in forty years. As mayor of Nashville West supported other voting reforms, particularly a campaign to reapportion rural and urban voting districts. West championed the cause of reapportionment in the landmark case Baker v. Carr, by which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the "one man, one vote" principle. This ruling forced reapportionment of state legislatures and shifted power to woefully underrepresented cities. While mayor of Nashville, West presided over the Capitol Hill Redevelopment Project, which replaced a squalid slum and vice district surrounding the state capitol building with a green belt, parking lots, and new state office buildings. West's strong alliance with Nashville's black community also helped improve race relations and prepare the city for the challenge of the Civil Rights movement. At one critical moment during the sit-in demonstrations of 1960 protest marchers challenged West to take a stand against segregation. He did so, and the Nashville business community quickly agreed to desegregate department store lunch counters, making Nashville the first southern city to desegregate public facilities. With his base in the old inner city, West opposed the consolidation of city and county government in 1958 and 1963. He lost reelection as mayor of the new Metropolitan government in his 1963 contest with Beverly Briley. West retired to private life and died in 1974.

Suggested Reading
Don H. Doyle, Nashville Since the 1920s (1985); Linda T. Wynn, "The Dawning of a New Day: The Nashville Sit-Ins, February 13-May 10, 1960," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 50 (1991): 42-54.

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – January 01, 2010

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William Driver

By Ophelia Paine, Nashville

Driver TombstoneBorn March 17, 1803, in Salem, Massachusetts, William Driver is credited with nicknaming the American flag "Old Glory." At age thirteen Driver ran away from home to be a cabin boy on a large sailing ship. At twenty-one he qualified as a master mariner and was licensed to sail a ship. His mother and the "girls of Salem" sewed the flag which he hoisted on his first ship and christened "Old Glory." On an 1831 voyage to the South Pacific, Driver's ship was the sole surviving vessel of six that departed Salem the same day. He subsequently escorted sixty-five descendants of the Bounty survivors from Tahiti back to their home on Pitcairn Island and is said to have been convinced that God saved his ship for that purpose.

In 1837 Driver left the sea. His wife had died and he moved with his three children to Nashville, where his two brothers lived. Driver remarried and fathered nine more children. Employed as a salesman for various Nashville businesses, he served as vestryman of Christ Episcopal Church. Every holiday, he displayed "Old Glory" outside his house by a rope extending from an upstairs room to a tree across the street.

During the Civil War Driver remained loyal to the Union and sewed "Old Glory" into a quilt for safekeeping. When the Union army occupied Nashville, Driver gave the flag to the troops to be flown for a short time over the State Capitol.

Driver died March 3, 1886, and is buried in the Nashville City Cemetery. At his request, his rescue of the Pitcairn people was inscribed on his grave marker. "Old Glory" is exhibited at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – January 01, 2010


Charlotte Reeves Robertson

By Carole Stanford Bucy, Volunteer State Community College

Charlotte Robertson TombstoneCharlotte Reeves Robertson was among the earliest settlers to live in Middle Tennessee. She followed her husband, James Robertson, in a journey from the Watauga settlement of East Tennessee to the wilderness of Middle Tennessee, helping to establish settlements in each of these areas. She survived Indian attacks as well as long separations from her husband, who was frequently called away on governmental business. Indians killed two of her sons and she nursed another son back to good health after he had been scalped by the Indians and left for dead at the "Battle of the Bluffs."

Charlotte and James Robertson had moved to Watauga from North Carolina shortly after their marriage. At Watauga Charlotte Robertson and the other women who lived there worked shoulder to shoulder with men, planting crops, tending livestock, and defending themselves from the Indians. At Watauga, Charlotte Robertson's husband was a leader. Because of his knowledge of the Cherokee language, he devoted much of his life to negotiating with the Indians to try to provide a permanent peace. The Robertsons and other families moved further west to acquire land. When James Robertson, a surveyor, identified the spot of the Salt Lick on the Cumberland River, forty families at Watauga decided to leave for Middle Tennessee.

While James Robertson led a group of men by land through the Cumberland Gap to the site later known as Fort Nashborough, Charlotte Robertson traveled with John Donelson and a group of women and children by flatboats via backcountry rivers. Almost immediately, there were conflicts with Chickamaugas who resented the settlers' moving into the region. Charlotte Robertson is remembered as the heroine of the "Battle of the Bluffs," fought in April of 1781. When she realized that the Indians were about to attack, she left the safety of the fort to warn the men. Returning to the fort, she realized that the men would not be able to get inside the walls because the Indians had positioned themselves between the men and the fort. At this point, she unleashed the hounds. They chased the Indians and created so much confusion that the men were able to return to the safety of the fort. Consequently, Charlotte Robertson is credited with saving Fort Nashborough.

The city of Charlotte, Tennessee, and Charlotte Pike in Nashville are named for Charlotte Robertson, who lived in Middle Tennessee until her death in 1843 at the age of ninety-two. She is buried in Nashville's City Cemetery.

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – February 24, 2011

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James Robertson

By Terry Weeks, Middle Tennessee State University

James Robertson TombstoneJames Robertson, early leader of both the Watauga and Cumberland settlements, has been called the "Father of Middle Tennessee." Born in 1742 in Brunswick County, Virginia, he was the son of John and Mary Gower Robertson. Physically, Robertson stood close to six feet tall, with dark hair, blue eyes, and a fair complexion. All descriptions of his personality point to an individual who was soft spoken and even-tempered, a person who maintained an inner composure regardless of external circumstances. Charlotte Reeves, who married Robertson in 1768, admired these traits. The daughter of a minister, Charlotte Robertson also persevered under the harsh frontier conditions and established a reputation for resourcefulness and strength. She and Robertson had thirteen children, two of whom died in infancy.

In late 1769, as Robertson grew increasingly frustrated with the provincial rule of North Carolina Governor William Tryon, he became intrigued by the stories of the land west of the Appalachian Mountains and began to consider relocating his family there. Late that year, he crossed the mountains and found a suitable site in the upper Holston Valley near the Watauga River. To establish his claim, he planted corn and built a corncrib and a cabin. On the return trip, Robertson became lost and wandered aimlessly for approximately two weeks before hunters directed him across the mountains.

Encouraged by his favorable description of the land, several of Robertson's North Carolina neighbors decided to accompany him to the new frontier. In May 1772, when the Watauga settlers met to establish a government, they selected Robertson as one of the five magistrates to lead the Watauga Association. In addition, he was elected commander of the Watauga Fort.
In 1777 Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Land Company purchased a large tract of land from the Cherokees, including most of what constitutes present-day Middle Tennessee. In the spring of 1779 Robertson and a small party of Wataugans, acting on behalf of Henderson's claim, traveled to a site along the Cumberland River known as French Lick. There they selected a suitable location for a new settlement. Late that same year, Robertson returned with a group of men to prepare temporary shelter for friends and relatives, who planned to join them in a few months. The men arrived on Christmas Day and drove their cattle across the frozen Cumberland River. Crude cabins were erected for immediate winter housing, and a fort was built atop a bluff along the river. The fort was named Fort Nashborough, in honor of Francis Nash, who had fought alongside Robertson at the battle of Alamance in 1771.

A faction of Cherokees known as the Chickamaugas opposed the Transylvania Purchase and warned the new settlers that trouble would follow their claim to the land. Attacks on the Cumberland settlement lasted several years and reached a peak between 1789 and 1794. Robertson's brothers, John and Mark, were killed, as were his sons, Peyton and James Jr. Another son, Jonathan, was scalped. Robertson narrowly escaped death on two occasions. Once he was shot in the foot while hoeing corn. Another time he was ambushed along a trail and received gunshot wounds in both wrists.

In 1790 Congress created the Territory South of the River Ohio, and Robertson became lieutenant colonel commandant of the Mero District. The following year, President George Washington appointed him brigadier general of the U.S. Army of the same region. Under Robertson's guidance, the settlers worked together and persevered. Eventually attacks on the community decreased, and the population rose with the arrival of new settlers. As the Cumberland settlement entered a period of prosperity, the Robertsons built a comfortable brick home.

Occasionally, Robertson acted on behalf of the federal government to assist in the treaty negotiations with various Indian tribes. In 1804 he was commissioned U.S. Indian agent to the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations. His final mission took him to the Chickasaw Agency at Chickasaw Bluff. In his seventies, Robertson made the trip during heavy rains that forced him to swim several swollen creeks along the way. As a result, he became ill and died on September 1, 1814. His remains were later returned to Nashville, where he received a formal burial in the City Cemetery.

Suggested Reading

Anita S. Goodstein, Nashville, 1780-1860: From Frontier to City (1989); Thomas E. Matthews, General James Robertson (1934); A. W. Putnam, History of Middle Tennessee; or, Life and Times of Gen. James Robertson (1859).

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – January 01, 2010

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Wilkins Tannehill

By James X. Corgan, Austin Peay State University

Wilkins Tannehill TombstoneBorn near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1787, Wilkins Tannehill came to Nashville in 1808; he was involved in politics, intellectual pursuits, Masonic activities, journalism, and publishing in the city for the rest of his life.

Tannehill's political interests led him to serve as an alderman in 1813 and as mayor of Nashville 1825-26. He was a trustee of Cumberland College, later the University of Nashville, from 1814 to 1821 and from 1825 to 1832. As one of the most literate Nashvillians, Tannehill joined the Nashville Library Company around 1810 and served as the society secretary for the Tennessee Antiquarian Society. He launched his career as an author with the appearance of a volume for Masonic use in 1824. By 1827 he had published a more general work on the history of literature. This, and other activities, led to an honorary A.M. from the University of Nashville in 1828.
An especially well-known Mason, Tannehill held high positions more often than anyone else. In the late 1840s and early 1850s, he blended his interest in Masonry with his interest in education. Partially as a result of his influence, money from area Masons supported the Montgomery Masonic College in Clarksville, Jackson College in Columbia, and small colleges at Huntingdon and Macon in West Tennessee and at Bradley in East Tennessee.

Near the end of his career, Tannehill founded a newspaper and a monthly journal. The Daily Orthopolitan, begun on October 1, 1845, supported intellectual causes and scientific interests. The Port Folio; or Journal of Freemasonry and General Literature began in July 1847 and supported various intellectual causes. Tannehill's last great venture before his death in 1858 was the Merchants Library and Reading Room, a subscription library formed in downtown Nashville in 1849.

Suggested Reading

Alfred L. Crabb, "Wilkins Tannehill: Business and Cultural Leader," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 7 (1947): 314-331.

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – January 01, 2010


John McNairy

By Theodore Brown, Jr., Atlanta

McNairy TombJohn McNairy, Andrew Jackson's early friend and mentor, was one of Tennessee's first federal judges. Variously reported to have been born in Pennsylvania or North Carolina, McNairy was the son of Francis and Mary Boyd McNairy. The young McNairy read law under Spruce Macay (as did Jackson) and was admitted to practice law in Rowan County, North Carolina, in 1784.

In December 1787 the twenty-five-year-old McNairy was elected by the North Carolina General Assembly as the judge for the new district Superior Court of Davidson County in the state's westernmost territory. He immigrated to Nashville in the autumn of 1788. En route to his new home, McNairy was admitted to the bar in the Washington County court in Jonesborough. He presided at his initial term of court in early November 1788, and one of his first acts was to appoint his young friend, Andrew Jackson, as prosecuting attorney for the district.

In June 1790 President George Washington appointed McNairy, a protégé of territorial Governor William Blount, as one of three judges for the federal Territory South of the River Ohio. In 1796 Judge McNairy was one of five delegates from Davidson County to the state constitutional convention that met in Knoxville, where he served on the convention's drafting committee. When Tennessee acquired statehood later that year, McNairy was elected as one of three judges to serve on the Superior Court of Tennessee, the state's court of last resort and forerunner of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

In February 1797 President Washington appointed McNairy as judge of the United States District Court for the District of Tennessee, a position he held through various congressionally mandated jurisdictional changes. Beginning in 1807 and continuing for the remainder of his tenure on the bench, Judge McNairy also sat as a member of the Circuit Court of the United States for the Seventh Circuit in cases arising in Tennessee. He shared his circuit court duties with U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices Thomas Todd (1807-26), Robert Trimble (1826-28), and John McLean (1830-33). McNairy retired from the bench in 1834 after a judicial career of more than forty-six years. He was known for decisions that upheld the spirit rather than the letter of the law.

McNairy's substantial landholdings (nearly 11,000 acres in Davidson and Sumner counties in 1794) included the 477-acre farm Bellview, where he and his wife, Mary Bell Robertson, lived. In addition to his judicial duties, McNairy served as a trustee of the Davidson Academy, the consolidated Davidson Academy-Federal Seminary, and Cumberland College. He was chairman of the host committee for President James Monroe's visit to Nashville in 1819 and served on a similar committee for the Marquis de Lafayette's 1825 visit to the city. McNairy briefly served as president of the Bank of Tennessee that was created in the aftermath of Panic of 1819. Although he occasionally--and strenuously--quarreled with Jackson, McNairy endorsed his initial, unsuccessful presidential bid in 1824 and served on a committee of Nashvillians who supported Jackson's second, successful race for the presidency in 1828.

McNairy died scarcely three years into his retirement. He is buried in Nashville's City Cemetery.

Suggested Reading

James W. Ely Jr. and Theodore Brown Jr., eds., Legal Papers of Andrew Jackson (1987); Stephen S. Lawrence, "The Life and Times of John McNairy" (M.A. thesis, Middle Tennessee State University, 1971).

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – February 21, 2011

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George Washington Campbell

By Louis Littleton Veazey, Hendersonville

George Washington Campbell TombGeorge Washington Campbell served as a U.S. senator, secretary of the treasury, ambassador to Russia, and U.S. district court judge of Tennessee. He was born in Scotland, the son of physician Archibald Campbell and Elizabeth Mackay Campbell, and migrated with his family to Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, in 1772. After the death of his father, Campbell worked on his mother's farm and taught school. He entered the junior class at Princeton, finished the work of two years in one, and graduated with high honors in 1794. Campbell adopted Washington as his middle name during this period when classmates at Princeton nicknamed him "George Washington" after the fame of the new president. He studied law, opened a practice in Knoxville, and soon ranked among the city's leading lawyers. Perhaps Campbell's most important case was his successful defense of Judge David Campbell in his impeachment trial before the Tennessee Senate.
With the support of Judge Andrew Jackson, George Washington Campbell was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1803, where he served until 1809. During his tenure in the House, Campbell chaired two of the most politically powerful committees, the Ways and Means Committee and the Committee on Foreign Relations. As a Jeffersonian Republican, Campbell supported the president and his administration and fought a duel on Bladensburg grounds with Barent Gardenier, a congressman from New York who claimed the House was under French control. Gardenier was seriously wounded.

In 1809 the Tennessee General Assembly appointed Campbell and Hugh Lawson White to serve as the first justices on the newly formed Tennessee Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals. Campbell served two years before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1811 on a platform advocating war with Great Britain. While in the Senate, Campbell, a Warhawk, served as Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs. In 1812 he married Harriet Stoddert, daughter of Benjamin Stoddert, secretary of the navy in Jefferson's cabinet.

On February 9, 1814, Campbell resigned from the Senate to accept the position of secretary of the treasury in James Madison's cabinet. Due to the unsettled nature of the period, Campbell's tenure in the treasury is often viewed as a failure. In order to gain badly needed funds to finance the war, Campbell arranged to borrow money from Europe through the assistance of American businessman John Jacob Astor. Overwhelmed by the failures of the Treasury Department and his own poor health, Campbell resigned his cabinet post in September 1814.

Campbell's wife, Harriet Campbell, made her own contribution to history during the British invasion of Washington. Upon hearing the news of the impending arrival of the British army, Harriet urged her friend Dolley Madison to leave the president's house. With the help of Harriet and Charles Carroll, Mrs. Madison removed the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington from its frame and fled before the British burned the house and the city of Washington.

In 1815 Campbell returned to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1818. In December 1815 he and John Williams were commissioned to negotiate the extinguishment of the Indian claims in the chartered limits of Tennessee, a process that culminated in the Jackson Purchase.

In 1817, when James Monroe took office, he offered Campbell the position of secretary of war, but Campbell declined. A zealous supporter of the Monroe administration, Campbell chaired the Senate Finance Committee and advocated the charter of the Second Bank of the United States. In 1818 Monroe appointed Campbell Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Russia. In accepting the position, Campbell became the first Tennessean to be appointed to a major diplomatic post. Under Secretary of State John Quincy Adams' direction, on the way to his post in Russia, Campbell adjusted Denmark's claims against U.S. privateers for disruption of commerce during the War of 1812. He served in Russia until 1820, when he was granted permission to resign after three of his children died of typhus in St. Petersburg.

Following his diplomatic service, Campbell returned to the state and accepted an appointment as judge of the U.S. District Court of Tennessee. He also served as a member of the 1831 commission to study French war claims and was named a director for the Nashville branch of the Bank of the United States.

On December 11, 1843, Campbell sold a tract of land known as "Campbell's Hill" to the City of Nashville for thirty thousand dollars, which was transferred to the State of Tennessee as the permanent site for the state's capitol. Campbell died in Nashville on February 17, 1848, and was buried in the family plot in the Nashville City Cemetery.

Suggested Reading

Weymouth T. Jordan, George Washington Campbell of Tennessee: Western Statesman (1955).

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – January 01, 2010

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Ephraim H. Foster

By Jonathan M. Atkins, Berry College

Ephraim Foster TombstoneEphraim H. Foster, United States senator and early leader of the Whig Party, was born in Kentucky. Foster came to Davidson County with his family in 1797 and graduated from Cumberland College in Nashville in 1813. After serving as Andrew Jackson's personal secretary on the Creek and New Orleans campaigns, Foster studied law and soon established himself as a successful Nashville attorney. His prominence as a lawyer helped him win election to three terms in the Tennessee General Assembly; twice he was unanimously chosen as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Foster began his political career as a Jackson loyalist, but his disagreement with Jackson's fiscal policies, along with the president's opposition to Foster's 1833 candidacy for the Senate, led to his advocacy of Senator Hugh L. White's presidential candidacy in 1836 against Jackson's choice, Martin Van Buren. As the White movement developed into the Whig Party, Whigs in the legislature elected Foster to the U.S. Senate in 1838. He resigned fourteen months later, however, after a newly elected Democratic majority in the assembly instructed him to support the policies of Van Buren's administration. Despite the election of a Whig majority in 1841, the "Immortal Thirteen" controversy delayed Foster's return to the Senate until 1843. His most noted action in the Senate was his introduction of a plan for the admission of Texas as a state, but he ultimately voted against Texas's admission because the admission law failed to guarantee slavery in any new state that might be created out of Texas's lands. This vote damaged his popularity, and after the expiration of his term, his loss to Aaron V. Brown in the 1845 gubernatorial election further diminished his standing. As a result, Foster had little influence in his later years with either the state or national Whig leadership.

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – January 01, 2010


Ann Robertson Johnston Cockrill

By Carole Stanford Bucy, Volunteer State Community College

Ann Robertson Johnson CockrillAnn Robertson Cockrill was the only woman among the early Cumberland settlers to receive a land grant in her own name. In 1784 the North Carolina legislature awarded this honor for her contribution to the "advance guard of civilization."

Born in Wake County, Virginia, Ann Robertson moved to the Watauga settlement. In July 1776, when Fort Caswell, near the present site of Elizabethton, came under Indian attack, she mobilized the women to pass caldrons of boiling water to her position overlooking the palisades. Although she sustained several injuries, Robertson continued at her post until the Indians retreated.

When her husband, a justice of the peace in the Washington District of East Tennessee, was killed in an accident, she and her three small daughters joined Colonel John Donelson and a group of pioneers including her sister-in-law Charlotte Robertson in the migration to the Cumberland settlements. During the journey by flatboat, she taught the children, according to tradition, by making small wooden boxes, filling them with river sand, and drawing letters and numbers in the sand.

When the flotilla reached the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, the flatboats had to navigate against the rain-swollen current to reach the mouth of the Cumberland. Some members decided to turn south to Natchez, Mississippi. Ann Robertson took a man's place as the pilot and steered the boat near the bank so the remaining men could pole upstream.

In the fall of 1784 Robertson married John Cockrill, and they had eight children. They established a home at Cockrill Springs at the present site of Centennial Park, where today there is a monument to her memory. She is buried in the Nashville City Cemetery.

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – January 01, 2010

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John Sevier

By Robert E. Corlew, Middle Tennessee State University

John Sevier MarkerJohn Sevier, pioneer, soldier, statesman and a founder of the Republic, was Tennessee's first governor and one of its most illustrious citizens. Married and on his own at age sixteen, he was in the vanguard of frontier life and accomplishment from his late teenage years until his death.  First and only governor of the aborted State of Franklin, six-term governor of Tennessee, and congressman for four terms from the eastern district, he was also a soldier of no mean accomplishment, having risen to the rank of general in the North Carolina militia.

Born near the present town of New Market, Virginia, Sevier was the oldest of seven children of Valentine and Joanna Goad Sevier. His forebears--the Xaviers--were of Huguenot religious persuasion who had fled France for England, anglicized their name, and become prosperous farmers. By 1740 Valentine had arrived in Virginia and settled in the Shenandoah Valley on Smith's Creek.

Not much is known of Sevier's early life. Educational opportunities were limited, but as a child he apparently learned to read and write; later his state papers and correspondence with Andrew Jackson and others exhibited a concise and direct style. Married in 1761 to Sarah Hawkins (1746-1780), a daughter of Joseph and Sarah Marlin Hawkins, the couple settled in the valley of his birth. There Sevier farmed, dealt in furs, speculated in land, ran a tavern, and fought Indians--along with raising an ever-increasing family.

By 1773 he lived on the Holston River, but three years later he had moved to a farm on the Watauga River near the present town of Elizabethton. In the same year, North Carolina authorities created the Washington District, which included the Watauga settlements, and Sevier was sent to the Provincial Congress of North Carolina as representative.

The Revolutionary War began in 1775, and in the following year Sevier was named a lieutenant colonel of the North Carolina militia and assigned first to protecting the frontier settlements. He fought elsewhere but was confined primarily to the South. The encounter for which he became best known was the battle of Kings Mountain (1780), in which he and his fellow frontiersmen fought Tories and British soldiers at a location just north of Spartanburg, South Carolina.

The British, having met with only moderate success in the middle and northern colonies, had turned in late 1780 to the soft underbelly of the rebellious provinces where they prevailed without difficulty in Georgia. Then they moved northward without serious opposition. Major Patrick Ferguson, assigned to the command of the British left flank, viewed the western settlements with disdain. Overconfident, he ordered frontiersmen to lay down their arms and give allegiance to the Crown; otherwise, he wrote, he would march over the mountains, "hang . . . western leaders and lay the country waste with fire and sword." Sevier and others, accepting the challenge, gathered at Sycamore Shoals late in September 1780, determined to engage Ferguson before he could reach Watauga. They soon found him on a narrow ridge in northwest South Carolina where he, with perhaps one thousand men, had ensconced himself, claiming that even "the Almighty" could not drive him off. But the backwoodsmen ascended the heights and assaulted him from both south and west, taking care to remain well camouflaged behind trees, logs, and rocks. Although forced to fall back several times, the westerners rallied each time, and, after about an hour of fighting, claimed victory. They had lost fewer than one hundred men while the British had lost three times that number, including Ferguson. The victory turned the British from the West and pushed Sevier forward as the foremost figure among the transmontane people. One of Sevier's biographers thought it "impossible to state just how great an influence this exerted upon his future political career."

Several months before Kings Mountain, Sevier's wife of nearly twenty years died and was buried in an unmarked grave just outside Nolichucky Fort in Washington County. She and Sevier had raised ten children. Sevier later married Catherine ("Bonny Kate") Sherrill (1754-1838), whom he had rescued four years earlier during a surprise attack by the Cherokees. They reared eight children.

Soon after the Revolution, Sevier became involved in a movement designed to secure separate statehood for the people living in Washington, Sullivan, and Greene Counties. The Continental Congress in 1780 had urged that lands claimed by North Carolina and Virginia should become states soon after hostilities might end. Thomas Jefferson had presented a plan whereby eighteen new states might be carved from the western territories. But North Carolina authorities objected vehemently when western leaders assembled in Jonesborough in August 1784 to make plans for statehood. When they chose Sevier as governor and drafted a constitution, claiming an "inalienable right" to form an independent state, Governor Alexander Martin threatened to "render the revolting territory not worth possessing" if North Carolina did not retain sovereignty over it. Attempts at conciliation divided the Franklin people into factions, and border warfare developed. Several men were killed or wounded, and two of Sevier's sons were captured, threatened, and held briefly.

Sevier's term as governor of Franklin expired in the spring of 1788, and for all practical purposes the state came to an end. Sevier was arrested and charged with treason but never tried. Within less than a year he had taken an oath of allegiance to North Carolina and was elected to the state Senate. A few months later he was restored to his rank of brigadier general in the North Carolina militia.

North Carolina permanently ceded its western lands to the central government in 1789, and in the following year President George Washington signed into law a measure for the governance of the region. Sevier probably was the choice of most of the western people for the post of territorial governor, but Washington appointed William Blount instead. Soon Sevier became a member of the Territorial Legislative Council--a group of five men provided for under the Congressional Ordinance of 1787 designed for the governance of territories. He was among those who urged Governor Blount to call the legislature into session to make plans for statehood as required under the ordinance. Blount complied, and early in 1796 leaders drafted a constitution and applied to Congress for admission. After several weeks of debate--at times acrimonious, as Federalists and Anti-Federalists haggled over terms and reasons for admission--Congress recommended statehood, and President Washington signed into law a bill creating Tennessee as the sixteenth state.

The new constitution had provided for a two-year term for governors with the right to serve "not . . . more than six years in any term of eight." The other qualifications to hold the office of governor were simple. One must be at least twenty-five years of age, possess a freehold of at least five hundred acres, and be a citizen for four years. Sevier met these requirements and became the only serious candidate.

For months before the admissions bill was enacted, Tennesseans had been conducting affairs as though the state had been legally admitted to the Union. Elections were held in late February and legislators convened in late March. On March 29 they examined the returns of the gubernatorial race and determined that Sevier had won. On March 30 Sevier took the oath of office at Knoxville. In a brief inaugural address, he thanked voters for the confidence reposed in him and he pledged to discharge "with fidelity" the tasks of chief executive. A sixteen-gun salute ended the brief ceremonies. When Sevier became governor, the total population of the new state was only about 85,000, but by the end of his gubernatorial service it had increased to nearly 250,000.

Although the office of governor was not considered a full-time task, still Sevier faced the usual problems which the foibles of human nature are sure to create. Indian problems were vexatious as any, and Sevier met them with characteristic vigor. The Tellico and Dearborn treaties, negotiated in 1805 and 1806 respectively, did much to clear Indian claims in both east and west, but the attitude and actions of the federal government in its strict policy of enforcement angered Tennesseans.

Many disputes over military rank tried Sevier's patience. Free men between eighteen and fifty were subject to military duty, and they elected their own officers. But allegations of fraud permeated the contests in many of the counties and at all levels, and the governor--who issued the commissions--had to decide who had been legally and duly elected. Although Sevier apparently handled these matters as judiciously as he could, he was frequently criticized in many counties for allegedly selecting political friends and favorites. His disputes with Andrew Jackson over these and other matters led to considerable bitterness between the two. Indeed, Jackson's charges that Sevier was guilty of forgery and bribery in his procurement of lands brought challenges to duels and bitter words.

Internal improvements such as wagon roads interested Sevier from his early days as governor. He also frequently mentioned a need for "the encouragement of education," and a measure chartering schools in most of the counties was enacted in 1806. Improving conditions in the state militia and the development of a better means of settling disputes over land titles were other matters of concern.

In March, 1809--a few months before his final term ended--Sevier ran before the legislature for the U.S. Senate but was defeated by Judge Joseph Anderson. Later in that year, voters in Knox County sent him to the state Senate. Then, in 1811, he was elected to Congress. His advanced years and his unfamiliarity with federal procedures resulted in his being an ineffective legislator on the national level, however.

Sevier died on September 24, 1815, while on a mission to the Alabama territory where he had gone with U.S. troops to determine the proper location of the Creek boundary. He was buried on the eastern bank of the Tallapoosa River near Fort Decatur.

Sevier was a product of the frontier and a hero to Tennesseans who understood and appreciated his varied career. When in 1887 his body was reinterred on the courthouse lawn in Knoxville, a monument was erected whose inscription well describes his life of public service: "John Sevier, pioneer, soldier, statesman, and one of the founders of the Republic; Governor of the State of Franklin; six times Governor of Tennessee; four times elected to Congress; a typical pioneer, who conquered the wilderness and fashioned the State; a protector and hero of Kings Mountain; fought thirty-five battles, won thirty-five victories; his Indian war cry, 'Here they are! Come on boys!'"

Suggested Reading

Carl S. Driver, John Sevier: Pioneer of the Old Southwest (1932).

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – January 01, 2010

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Mary Middleton Rutledge Fogg

By Carole Stanford Bucy, Volunteer State Community College

Mary Middleton Rutledge FoggMary Rutledge Fogg, writer and leader in Nashville civic affairs, was a member of one of Nashville's early families, the Rutledges, and the granddaughter of two of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Fogg was an active member of Christ Episcopal Church and served as the president of the Ladies Aid Society. She was also a founding member of the Protestant School of Industry.

Fogg published seven books covering a variety of fields, including poetry, fiction, religion, and education, in addition to her memoirs. In 1858 she published The Elements of Natural Science, a textbook used in Tennessee prior to the Civil War. Her poetry expressed her grief at the deaths of her three children, who died as young adults between 1851 and 1862. These poems were collected and published as The Broken Harp.

After the death of her third child, at the Civil War battle of Fishing Creek in Kentucky, Fogg worked with Felicia Grundy Porter's Soldiers' Aid Society to collect and send articles to the war front. Her last book, Biblical View of the Church Catechism, was published shortly before her death in 1872. She is buried in the Rutledge family plot at Nashville's City Cemetery.

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – January 01, 2010


Lizinka Campbell Brown (1820-1872)

By Bob Holladay, Franklin

Ewell TombLizinka Campbell Brown, a founder of a prominent late nineteenth-century stock farm, was the daughter of former U.S. Senator George W. Campbell of Tennessee, who also served as secretary of the treasury in the administration of James Madison and Minister to Russia under James Monroe. Lizinka Campbell was born in St. Petersburg on February 24, 1820, and named for the Russian Czarina, who had been her mother's friend.

On April 25, 1839, Campbell married James Percy Brown, an attaché in the American Embassy in Paris. After he died in 1844, Brown returned to Nashville to the home of her father on Charlotte Avenue. When Union forces occupied Nashville in 1862, Brown fled to Virginia, and Military Governor Andrew Johnson lived in the house.

While in Virginia, Brown nursed her wounded cousin, Richard Stoddert Ewell, a general in Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The two, who had corresponded for years, fell in love and married on May 25, 1863. The eccentric Ewell often referred to Brown as "my wife, the widow Mrs. Brown."

After the war Brown and Ewell moved to a farm in Spring Hill, Tennessee, on land she inherited from her father. Their Ewell Farm, later significantly expanded by Lizinka's son, Major Campbell Brown, became one of the region's great stock-breeding plantations along with its neighbor, the Cleburne Farm, established by McCoy Campbell. The farms introduced some of the first Jersey cattle to the South and bred some of the first harness-racing horses in the country. Their horse races, cattle sales, and stock auctions were attended by the rich and powerful from throughout America. Bisected by the railroad, Ewell Farm had its own depot and a huge warehouse along the tracks.

In January 1872 Ewell, Brown, and her two children were stricken with a respiratory infection. The children recovered, but Ewell's illness extended over several weeks. Brown contracted the infection while nursing him and died within a week, on January 22, 1872. When the family reluctantly informed Ewell of his wife's death, he asked to see her. He died forty-eight hours later. The two were buried in Nashville's Old City Cemetery. With significance in agriculture and architecture, the Ewell Farm and Cleburne Farm are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – March 09, 2011

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James Knox Polk

By Wayne Cutler, University of Tennessee

James K. Polk, a native of North Carolina, served one term as United States president, 1845-49; won election seven times to Congress and presided over the U.S. House as its Speaker for the last four of his fourteen-year tenure (1825-39); served one term as governor of Tennessee, 1839-41; and represented Maury County in the Tennessee General Assembly, 1823-25. A lifelong devotee of Thomas Jefferson's political creed and a loyal son of Andrew Jackson's democracy movement, Polk holds a unique place in American history as the first "dark horse" candidate for president and as the first former Speaker of the House of Representatives to serve as president.

The son of Samuel and Jane Knox Polk and the eldest of their ten children, young James moved in 1806 with his family from their farm in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, to Maury County, Tennessee, where he attended common schools from 1808 until 1810. Two years of recurring illness ended in 1812 when Ephraim McDowell of Danville, Kentucky, performed a lithotomy procedure and restored Polk to health. Less than a year after his surgery, he began preparation for college and studied Latin under the tutelage first of a local Presbyterian minister, Robert Henderson, and then Samuel P. Black, master of Bradley Academy in Murfreesboro. Entering the University of North Carolina as a sophomore in the fall of 1815, Polk gave himself fully to his studies and won first honors in his class at each of the college's semiannual examinations.

Upon completion of his degree in 1818 Polk commenced legal studies in the law office of Felix Grundy, a renowned Nashville trial lawyer and member of the general assembly. Impressed with his young law clerk, Grundy sponsored Polk's election in 1819 to the post of chief clerk of the Tennessee Senate, which then held its biannual sessions in Murfreesboro. Licensed to practice law the following year, Polk returned to Maury County and started a legal practice with Aaron V. Brown. Election to the Tennessee House in 1823 again took the young lawyer-politician to Murfreesboro in the fall. On New Year's Day next he and Sarah Childress, daughter of Joel and Elizabeth Whitsitt Childress, married and so formed a union of two influential families in Rutherford and Maury Counties.

At the young age of thirty Polk defeated the one-term incumbent, James T. Sandford, for a seat in Congress and began a distinguished career in the House marked by four years of opposition to the administration of John Q. Adams and ten years of loyal support for Jackson and Martin Van Buren. In his first floor speech (March 13, 1826) Polk argued for a constitutional amendment that would have provided for popular election of the president and thereby avoid recurrence of the alleged corrupt bargain between Adams and Henry Clay. Polk gained notice through his opposition to Adams's appointment of ministers to attend the Panama Congress on grounds that the United States should not abandon its tradition of neutrality or participate in a diplomatic agenda in which the objectives were enveloped in uncertainty and darkness. In his second and third terms in Congress he sat on the House Committee of Foreign Affairs before moving in 1832 to the House Committee of Ways and Means.

Polk's work as chairman of a House Select Committee on surplus revenue in 1830-31 established his credentials in the area of government finance, and in his report (January 28, 1831) he expressed in the strongest of terms his opposition to what he termed political "log-rolling." First, he could find no constitutional sanction for internal improvements undertaken either directly by the general government or indirectly through the distribution of surplus revenues to the states. The framers of the Constitution did not grant the general government those consolidating powers precisely because buying voter support, apart from undermining republican notions of civic virtue, would engender prejudices, excite sectional feelings, and destroy the harmony of the Union. Instead of looking to the general welfare, congressmen would engage in disreputable competitions for funding local works that in their appeal to special interests could only result in the corruption of public morals.

Polk led the House minority in its fight against rechartering the Second Bank of the United States in 1832, and he fully supported Jackson's veto of the Bank bill. At the start of the second session Polk moved to the Committee on Ways and Means and led minority members in exposing the Bank's attempt to block the administration's paying off the government's remaining 3-percent stocks, most of which were held by European creditors. In his report Polk argued that the Bank could not be trusted to manage the people's money and hinted at the possibility of removing the government's deposits. His opposition to the Bank's recharter and his exposure of its manipulations placed him near the top of the Bank's enemies list, but the Bank's branch in Nashville could not bring him down in the August election, which Polk won easily.

Jackson's supporters commanded a majority in the next Congress and, of course, placed Polk at the head of the Ways and Means Committee. Polk backed Jackson's removal of federal deposits to state banks, and later as Speaker he would champion creation of a treasury system entirely independent of the banking corporations. The issue remained that of sustaining the broadest diffusion of political and economic power in the agrarian republic, for the Bank war had demonstrated fully the danger of allowing limited liability corporations to set up as rival powers to the elected government.

In Tennessee the Bank Party worked to undermine Jackson's control of the state by bringing forward Hugh Lawson White as the state's favorite-son presidential candidate and so making his candidacy a litmus test in the 1835 congressional and state elections. Polk saw the purposes of the nomination and campaigned against the "caucus of eleven" Tennessee congressmen and their use of White's popularity. Again Polk won vindication at the polls and the continued backing of the president, who gave the dissidents at home the back of his hand by making Polk Speaker of the House in place of John Bell, leader of the White movement in Tennessee. In the presidential canvass of 1836 Polk campaigned across the state for the national party's nominee, Martin Van Buren, but state pride ruled in favor of White. In the 1837 congressional elections only three of the Jackson loyalists held their seats against the tide of economic panic and Bank money. Polk returned to Congress for a second term as Speaker fully aware that the Tennessee Democracy could not survive another such defeat two years hence; before returning to Washington in the fall of 1838, Polk announced his decision to run for governor in the next election.

Polk's race to recapture the state for the Democracy proved his loyalty both to Jackson and to Democrats across the Union. With the help of John C. Calhoun's friends in East Tennessee, Polk won the governorship. Depression pressures for cheap money and public works hounded the state legislature, and the new governor accepted the assembly's "log-rolling" as necessary for the survival of his party both at home and in the Union. The price of consistency would be the loss of the issue at the national level, however. He had hoped that hard times would pass before the 1840 presidential election and that his loyal efforts in Tennessee would win him the party's vice-presidential nomination. But the Democratic National Convention chose not to give Van Buren a running mate. Probably no one on the ticket could have spared Van Buren his defeat to the Whig Party candidates, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler.

In 1841, during his own reelection campaign, Polk stood by his support of Van Buren, as he had done in four prior elections, but he lost his first election. In 1843 Polk again ran for the governorship and against the best advice of his political friends held firmly to his support of Van Buren. In doing so he demonstrated most clearly the heavy price of supporting the former president, which did not go unnoticed at the Hermitage.

Polk won the 1844 Democratic presidential nomination because Andrew Jackson had arranged for the convention to choose a loyal Democrat from the West who could bridge the widening sectional divide and who would support the annexation of Texas. By voting to impose the traditional two-thirds majority rule, delegates to the Baltimore convention assured a choice other than Van Buren. After seven ballots and careful backstage work party leaders brought Polk's name into view, and on the ninth ballot delegates ratified their best chance for electoral victory.

Although the Democrat and Whig Parties engaged in spirit-building rallies and sloganeering not unlike that of 1840, the expansion issue brought the election a more serious side, for the threat of war with Britain over Oregon and with Mexico over Texas framed the political discourse of the campaign. Henry Clay hurt his candidacy by publishing extended and somewhat varied commentaries on the Texas question, and Polk helped his dark-horse bid by limiting his public utterances to a single statement on the tariff issue. The Liberty Party promised to abolish slavery and chose former Democrat James G. Birney to lead their quasi-religious crusade. Democrat hopes for large-scale Whig defections to Birney did not materialize; indeed, Whig alliances with American nativists in Pennsylvania and New York cost Democrats more votes in those crucial states than were gained from Whigs choosing the abolitionist option. The presidential election of 1844 proved that the American electorate had divided almost evenly between expansion and consolidation, between free trade and protection, between immigrant toleration and native xenophobia, and in the larger context between agrarian rule and market revolution. In the midst of one of the Union's most contentious elections, white male voters gave little thought to expanding the boundaries of freedom for African, native, or female Americans.

Elected by less than a majority of the voters and the narrowest of popular pluralities, Polk nevertheless took the presidential oath with a determination to direct personally the administration of the general government and, the annexation of Texas already having been approved by the outgoing Congress, to accomplish four major goals: to settle the Oregon boundary dispute with Great Britain, to reduce tariffs, to establish an independent Treasury, and to purchase California. In the course of meeting his objectives he would lead the nation into war with Mexico in the defense of Texas annexation.

From the Mexican point of view the United States had no right to annex lands west of the Sabine River, and, as promised, Mexico broke diplomatic relations with the United States shortly after Polk's inauguration. Polk sought to restore amicable ties, but Mexican leaders would not accept the loss of their eastern province. For his part Polk could not fail to defend Texas sovereignty or agree to circumscribe its territorial claims, and he did not wish to pursue a long-term defensive border war defending Texas's right of self-determination. Convinced that Mexico intended to move its army into Texas, Polk sent Zachary Taylor and his troops to the Rio Grande, and on April 24, 1846, a Mexican force of sixteen hundred crossed the river and captured an American patrol of sixty dragoons.

Within a week of learning that the Mexican and American armies had clashed, the British cabinet decided to settle the Oregon boundary dispute and sent instructions to its minister in Washington to agree to a partition at the forty-ninth parallel. Some of Polk's advisors, Secretary of State James Buchanan included, had feared that the British would fight over their control of the Oregon Country and that the United States might find itself engaged on two fronts, a land war in Mexico and a maritime struggle with the British navy. Although militarily the United States stood unprepared for either, the president calculated correctly that Britain would not go to war over its commercial interests in Oregon, Texas, or Mexico. Polk's diplomatic successes in settling the Oregon question and his military strategy for winning the war in Mexico did not bring political consensus at home. Whigs blamed him for giving up half of Oregon and charged him with fighting an immoral war in Mexico.

Polk made every effort to resolve the Texas issue through diplomacy and offered to purchase Mexico's northern provinces, not because he believed in manifest destiny but because he knew that an agrarian republic like the United States could not close its borders to prevent emigration. Polk's expansion policies postponed the demise of the agrarian republic but did not resolve the problems of a Union bereft of compatible economic, religious, and racial interests. In four tumultuous years he accomplished his basic goals, and true to his word he declined all interest in a second term. Although blessed with a strong constitution, "Young Hickory" fell victim to cholera and died at his home in Nashville on June 15, 1849.

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – February 23, 2011

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John Shelby (1785-1859)

By James X. Corgan, Austin Peay State University

Shelby VaultA significant figure in Tennessee’s early medical history, John Shelby submitted a medical dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania “On Gunshot Wounds,” the interest of a true frontiersman. Shelby was the first Caucasian child born in what became Sumner County. When he finished medical school in 1809, he settled in Gallatin, where he began a practice that initially served Gallatin and Nashville. In 1813, he left a wife and daughter to become a military surgeon under Andrew Jackson in the Creek War and at the Battle of New Orleans. He returned home with one eye and a war orphan, an infant Creek Indian boy that he adopted.

Shelby resumed his medical career and became a state senator from Sumner County, serving from 1815 to 1817. In 1817, he bought land in Nashville and then moved with his wife, two daughters, and adopted son. In 1818, Shelby acquired 640 acres in Edgefield, across the Cumberland River from Nashville. He spanned the river with a covered stone bridge, built a sawmill, and developed the area. He later bought land elsewhere, but medicine remained his profession. Through the 1830s, he often practiced in partnership with prominent Nashville doctors, including Boyd McNairy and Robert C. K. Martin.

While Shelby’s ties with medicine continued, he gradually deemphasized patient care. He was treasurer of the Tennessee State Medical Association from 1838 to 1844, and he hosted a statewide medical convention in October 1847. By the 1840s, scientific agriculture took much of his time. A Tennessee Agricultural Society became active in 1840 with John Shelby as president. He held that office until the organization faded in 1846. When a new Tennessee Agricultural Society formed in 1851, Shelby was again the president. From 1840 through 1845, the first Tennessee Agricultural Society published a monthly journal, The Agriculturist. Tolbert Fanning, Gerard Troost, and John Shelby were co-editors. He was also president of the Davidson County Agricultural Society, helped establish Tennessee’s first insane asylum, and served on the board of commissioners for the Tennessee Silk Company and Agricultural School.

John Shelby had other interests. From 1849 to 1852, under U.S. Presidents Taylor and Fillmore, he was Nashville’s postmaster. An Episcopal vestryman, he supported Christ Church in Nashville and gave land for a church in Edgefield. In 1857, when Tennessee physicians began to organize a new medical school in Nashville, Shelby lent his support. It opened in 1858 and was called Shelby Medical College in his honor. When John Shelby died in 1859, he was very wealthy. Records in the Tennessee State Archives show that litigation over his assets continued for years. Fatherland and Boscobel, the names of Shelby’s mansions, are now Nashville street names. Shelby Street and Shelby Park in Nashville also memorialize him.

Published – January 05, 2010

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Gerard Troost

By James X. Corgan, Austin Peay State University

Troost TombstoneGerard Troost, geologist, was born in s'Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, on March 5, 1776. As Tennessee state geologist (1831-50) and the state's best known antebellum scientist, Troost promoted mining, planned transportation routes, described soils, and wrote forty-three geological reports. As he traveled the state searching for geological resources, Troost also studied botany, zoology, and archaeology, publishing pioneering work in these fields.

From his arrival in Tennessee in 1827 through 1832, Troost operated the Nashville Museum of Natural History, where he displayed his personal collection of zoological specimens, aboriginal artifacts, fossils, and minerals. His principal employment from 1828 through 1850 was the professorship of science at the University of Nashville. From 1840 through 1845, he coedited The Agriculturist, a monthly journal of applied science. Troost was a leader in the Nashville lyceum, in the mechanics institute movement, and in anything that involved libraries. He was obsessively bookish and owned a private library exceeding 7,000 volumes. As his death in 1850, his natural history collection contained some 22,000 specimens, including almost 14,000 well-catalogued minerals.

Troost lived a nomadic life before settling in Tennessee. His travels began in 1794-95, when French troops captured his home town and changed the name to Bois le Duc. Troost used both Gerard and Gerritt as his name, making it hard to distinguish his educational records. Clearly, he was an M.D., with a second diploma in pharmacy. He served as a foot soldier, then as a surgeon in the French-dominated Dutch army, and was wounded twice.

By 1802 Troost was making pharmaceuticals at The Hague, and he was also a well-known mineral collector. From 1807 to 1810 he was based at the natural history museum in Paris, managing the royal mineral collection of Louis Bonaparte, a French-imposed king of the Netherlands. Troost traveled widely, enhancing the royal collection. In Paris he was the protégé of Abbé René Just Haüy, the father of crystallography. In 1808 he translated Alexander von Humboldt's Ansichten der Natur into Dutch. Eventually, Troost was competent in Latin, Greek, Dutch, German, French, and English.

In 1810, with the collapse of the Dutch monarchy eminent, Troost left France for Philadelphia. He claimed to be departing on a trip to reconnoiter Java for Louis Bonaparte, but he carried letters of introduction to American scientists. In 1811 Troost married Margaret Teague of Philadelphia. In 1811 or 1812 he joined a group that planned a chemical manufacturing business at Cape Sable, Maryland. It was one of America's first chemical industries and an economic disaster; litigation surrounding the endeavor continued until the fall of 1828.

In 1812 Troost became the founding president of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, an office he held until 1818. Although he continued to attend Academy functions, Troost moved to Maryland by January 1814. Sometime later he returned to Philadelphia and served as one of two professors of pharmacy at the nation's first pharmacy school, the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. In the 1820s he lectured, managed the Academy mineral collection, and mapped the geology of Philadelphia. In addition, he worked on a revision of the first geological map of North America prepared by William Maclure and wrote fifteen papers for American journals.

Troost's wife died in 1819, leaving him with two small children; he then married Mary O'Reilly, a widowed mother of two. By January 1826 the Troosts had settled in New Harmony, Indiana, the site of a communal experiment sponsored by the industrialist Robert Owen and William Maclure. Troost was hired at $500 per year to teach science and mathematics. Before the community declined in 1827, he lectured and wrote seven papers on regional geology.

While collecting minerals at Smithland, Kentucky, Troost met George Bowen, a friend from Philadelphia who taught chemistry at the University of Nashville. The Troost family soon relocated to Nashville and his personal letters brim with zeal for what he called his Tennessee Citizenship. Before becoming State Geologist, Troost provided many public services. For example, he contributed the idea for a railroad tunnel at Cowan and chose the site. In 1990-94, the tunnel still served twenty-seven to thirty trains per day, an enduring donation to all Tennesseans. Though his salary of $250 to $500 per year barely covered the cost of travel and research, clearly Troost enjoyed the labor from which so many Tennesseans have benefited and after years of wandering made the state his home.

Suggested Reading

James X. Corgan, ed., The Geological Sciences in the Antebellum South (1982).

Published – December 25, 2009 | Last Updated – February 28, 2011


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