The Robertson Genealogy Exchange
Draper Ms. 6XX50
John and Charles Robertson landed in Philadelphia from Ireland. John went from there to Virginia and married in a family lately from England, a Miss Mary Gower. His first son James was born in June 1742. He then moved to North Carolina near Raleigh; not long afterward moved higher up on the Neuse River. There he died and left a large family, a wife & seven or eight children.
After some years his son James married a Miss Charlotte Reaves, and the next year he and his wife, with a good many others, moved to East Tennessee and settled on the Wataga River.
About this time the Revolutionary War broke out, and then the perfidious Creeks and Cherokees commenced the depredations on the new settlers and they were compelled to build forts for the protection of their families.
Some three or four years afterward James Robertson, John Sevier Governor of the state afterward, and other gentleman, whose name we do not recollect, were appointed to treat with the Indians and by those means peace was maintained a considerable time, and then came a great many emigrants from the Old States and settled on the Holstun River. James Robertson himself located a large tract of land.
After some time the Indians again became very troublesome and the settlers were obliged to move into the forts. James Robertson was the person who discovered that the Indians were prowling about. The circumstances were as follows.
He had a large stock of horses that were feeding in a cane brake near the river which was about four miles distant from his home. Having went down there one morning to look after his stock he heard a noise in the river as if there were canoes. Having slipped stealthily to the river he discovered several canoes full of Indians.
He supposed that they had heard the horse bells and were preparing to steal the horses. He went with all possible speed to his home and on the way discovered a great many signs of Indians and was confident that there was a large number of them in the country to attack the frontier settlers.
He and his family hastily packing up their wearing apparel and closing the door on their little furniture, left in haste for the nearest fort, which was about fifty miles off, and on the way alarming the settlers. They also went to the fort with him.
For some four or five months the Indiana were very troublesome, killing all the hunters and stealing all the horses they could get hold of.
Cols. Robertson & Sevier frequently went out with the men and a great many Indians were killed and their horses recovered also, but it was not done without the loss of several of the white settlers.
A short time after the Indians sent in a flag of truce and expressed a great desire for peace. Col. Robertson and others went for the purpose of treating with them.
After holding council with the chiefs for some days it appeared that nothing could be done with them, and the men I became discouraged and all left with the exception of Col. Robertson and another person, he resolving to stay as long as there was any hope of making a treaty with them. The chiefs intending to hold another council just before sundown Col. Robertson was placed in prison. All the Indians collected in their council house which was some distance from the house in which he was confined.
After some hours of their counselling and an hour or two after dark an Indian woman the wife of a half-breed who could speak some English secretly went to Col. Robertson and informed him that the council had determined that he should I e shot the next day. She opened the door and bid him fly as quick as possible.
He left the house immediately and mounted his horse, which was in readiness for him by the kindness of the woman mentioned, and plunged his horse down a precipice of ten or fifteen feet into the river below which run by the town, and just as he gained the opposite side the council adjourned and discovered that he was gone. He heard them raise their infernal yell and until he had gone several miles he heard them in full pursuit. Avoiding the ordinary route he was much longer reaching home. He arrived at the fort on the third day without eating or sleeping.
He told his wife before he left for the council that if he did not return at a certain period she might expect that some evil had befallen him. Consequently she was in a state of great anxiety and alarm, he having been detained longer than expected.
They had several skirmishes with the Indians that year in which a great many Indians were killed. After this they again entered into another treaty which was amicably concluded.
The settlers once more returned to their homes and resumed their business and the people for some years made considerable progress in their settlements.
Col. Daniel Boone having returned from one of his long hunting expeditions gave such a glowing description of the countries on the Cumberland, Ohio, Tennessee, and Illinois River, that it induced Col. Robertson and nine others to go and explore the country. In the year 1778 they crossed the Cumberland Mountains and struck the Cumberland River high up in Kentucky. They there made themselves with their hatchets some several canoes. They came on down the river without seeing the appearance of human beings until they came to a place called Jones' bend, about fifteen miles above where Nashville now stands.
A man by the name of Jones had moved from one of the Eastern states to Illinois and being dissatisfied with that country he left it and went down the Mississippi until he came to the mouth of the Ohio. He then went up the Ohio until he came to the Cumberland and then going up that river resided for nine months at the bend called after his name. He built him a cabin and cleared a small spot and raised some corn. He lived chiefly by hunting.
Some few days before he left, being some distance from home, he saw great signs of Indians. He immediately packed up his things and in his boat went up the Cumberland as far as he could go. He then abandoned the river and traveled on foot until he reached the Holstein settlements. This man had related his travels to Col. Robertson before he left, and he knew as soon as he saw this clearing that it must be the same place.
From there they came to the place where Nashville now stands. Here they made a short stay. They found a small house filled with buffalo tallow. There was no appearance of any person having been there for some time, supposing they had been killed by the Indians. Around the sulphur spring there was no undergrowth and but a few large trees. Every-things seemed beaten down by the large herds of deer, elk, and buffalo that frequented the place.
From there they went down the river to a small creek, where, a great many years afterward. Col. Benjamin Joslin made the first settlement, and there they found some four or five French hunters who camped there for the purpose of killing game at a sulphur spring about a mile off from that place.
These men gave Col. Robertson a description of the country from there to the mouth of the Illinois River. The Frenchmen had some handsomely made skiffs in which they had sailed from St. Louis. Col. Robertson gave them a guinea for one of them. He and his men then went down to the mouth of the Ohio and from there to the mouth of the Illinois River stopping at several old French & Spanish settlements on the way.
When they reached the mouth of the Illinois River eight out of the ten men refused to go any further and they there separated.
Col. Robertson and one of the men pursued their journey up the Illinois River. He was so much excited with the glowing description given by Daniel Boone that he was determined to explore that country as far as he could conveniently go. He slopped at a place called Oak Post, and near or at that place was a large Indian town where he went for the purpose of trading.
After remaining there a short time the Indiana began to suspect that he was a spy and in council determined that he should be burnt.
There was a Spanish trader there that could speak some English. He communicated these things to Col. Robertson and inquired of him what his business was and where he had been & Col. Robertson frankly told him what his business was and where he had been, and also told him that he had heard of their fine Spanish horses and he wished to buy some mares to breed from.
After this the Indians became very friendly and some of them assisted him in buying some mares which he drove through Illinois and across the Ohio into Kentucky and from there back again to the Holstein settlements. Thus ended his travels for that time.
After he came back he gave such a glowing description of the country through which he had passed that he made up a large party to go and settle on the Cumberland River where Nashville now stands. Forty boats were prepared and about filty families were to embark in them and go by water. A good number of the men hired persons to row their families down while they went across the Cumberland Mountains into Kentucky, and from there to where they intended settling, so that they could carry their stock. There was some twelve or fifteen in the party.
The following is the mode in which they traveled.
Col. Robertson had some thirty or forty fine mares. He with one of the men led the van with the horses and being guided by his compass blazed out a path for those behind. Next to this was the cattle and then the hogs, and lastly the sheep which was driven by Jonathan Robertson his oldest son. The van generally camped about sundown and sometimes it was 3 or 4 hours in the night before Jonathan would come up with his sheep. The reason why he was so late was in consequence of an old ram who when tired would run up and down the hills where he could not pursue him with his horse, and when he would get down to drive him the ram would butt him down.
It will be recollected that the year 1780 was the coldest year that had been for the last century. They arrived at where Nashville now stands in December and found the Cumberland River frozen over. They left their stock at Mansco's Creek to winter where the pasturage was good. They commenced build at the place where David McGavock lived and which was afterwards called Freling's Station.
It was expected by Col. Robertson that as soon as the river rose, the families, and men whom he had hired, would rendez-vous at the north fork of the Holstein River and from that point all tlie boats were to take a start and go down the Holstein, and from there to a certain point on the Tennessee which was selected for them to stop, and which they knew by signs that Col. Robertson had made, such as cutting trees, making clearings &c, and that he would pack them from there across to their settlements.
Col. Robertson was under the impression that from the proximity of the mouths of the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers from each other he thought that the distance across was only 30 or 40 miles, but instead of that it was ninety, so they had to go down the Tennessee, up the Ohio to the Cumberland, and up that stream until they arrived at Nashville, which they did in April 1780. After they arrived there they divided and some settled where Nashville now stands and some went to Freling's Station.
The men who went there during the winter bad cleared some land and they proceeded to put in their crops. They were very little interrupted by the Indians that summer except occasionally when they went out hunting.
It was the habit of the Indians in the fall to go out to their hunting grounds and there camp until they had got a sufficient supply of meat to last them during the winter, and the settlers found that a large number of them had camped on the Big Harpeth and Duck Rivers, and that fall and winter they came in and committed a great many depredations, such as stealing horses, killing cattle, and lying in ambush to surprise and kill the settlers as they went backwards and forwards to the two forts.
The settlers had no salt except a little they made from the sulphur spring with their cooking utensils. In some of the new settlements of Kentucky there was a great deal of salt made and Col. Robertson concluded be would go there and pack over several loads of salt, and he did not expect to be absent more than two or three weeks. After his arrival there he was informed that the Legislature of North Carolina was sitting. He came to the conclusion to go there with all possible speed and request the Legislature to send them a regiment of soldiers for the protection of the settlers.
When he got as far as the Holstein settlements he heard that it had not and would not convene until the following year. He came back to Kentucky and got his salt and returned to the settlements as quick as he was able, and on his return he found his wife had a fine son which was named Felix, who was the first white person born in Nashville.
It was the custom of the men to place their dogs on the outside of the fort to give warning of the approach of the Indians. Col. Robertson and his wife were lying in bed talking, she telling him of the things that had transpired in his absence. The dogs outside the fort were incessantly barking. She observed finally that there must certainly be Indians about. He said not, that the Indians were never known to attack a fort such a moonlight night as that was, and at the same time observed that wolves were howling. His wife replied that there was a certain dog there that was never known to bark at night except when Indians were about.
The dogs were running backwards and forwards as if something was pursuing them. Col. Robertson at length concluded that he would get up and make an examination.
He opened the door that was inside of the fort. His house was next to the corner where the fort gate stood. After opening the fort door very carefully he found that the gate was open and he supposed that they must have used some strategem but he could not account for it unless one Indian had got on the shoulder of another and thus got into the fort and opened the gate. He at first thought that the gate had been left open by neglect and he kept perfectly still until he could see that the Indians were about.
The moon was shining very brightly and it shone so as to throw the shadows across the cracks of the gate. He distinctly saw the shadows of the Indians moving backwards and forwards behind the gate. He apprehended that some of the Indians were in the fort attempting to get the horses out before they attacked the fort.
Col. Robertson instantly closed the door and cried to the men to fly to their guns, that Indians were in the fort, and he immediately ordered a Major Lucas to take command of the other end of the fort. The inside doors of the fort houses were made of clap boards and the light shone through the cracks of these by the fire that was within.
As soon as the Indians found that they were discovered they commenced firing into the door. The head of Mrs. Robertson's bed stood against the inner wall, and the cracks of the house being daubed with mud, several balls went through the wall about eight inches above Mrs. Robertson's head. There was a negro woman lying on the floor. He ordered her to throw the children under the bed, and also to dash a pail of water on the fire.
Col. Robertson requested a Mr. White to go to one of the port holes, and he to the other. The Colonel unplugged his port hole and fired killing one or two of the Indiana. Mr. White was not so fortunate, he unplugged his but was not quick enough, the Indians fired into the hole and knocked so many splinters in his eyes that he thought that they had wounded him.
The Indians, foiled at this place, ran to the other side of the fort and made an attack in that quarter, and also attempted to set several houses on fire.
Col. Robertson's negro man was sleeping in a house that was not finished. When he heard the alarm he ran out into the fort but seeing the fort gate open, ran back, and as he came hack to the door to look out was shot down. As there was a large fire in the room he could be seen very plainly by the Indians. The Indians then attempted to set that house on fire several times but were foiled by the heavy fire kept up from the fort.
Major Lucas, hearing such heavy fire on that house, ran to their relief, but just as he got to the door where the negro was shot, fell, pierced through the thigh with a musket ball, and before he could get up again was shot three or four times more. He died that morning just before day.
After some four or five hours of fruitless attempt the Indians left and retired to the western side of the fort where the settlers had their corn cribbed and fodder stacked, and set it all on fire, and they also shot all the cattle they could find. They then left yelling with hellish fury.
It is well known that the Indians carry off their dead after a battle, hence it could not be ascertained how many of them were killed but it is supposed that several were killed.
There was some men from the Nashville fort next morning to give aid if necessary. After consultation. Col. Robertson thought it best to leave Freling's station and go to the Nashville fort. They packed up their things on what few horses they had, for they had nearly all been killed by the Indians the night before, with also their women and children, the men guarding both rear and van. After they had crossed the Lick Branch and was ascending the hill on the other side they were fired on by a large party of Indians. However it was too far off to do them any injury. The whites supposed that it was done with the view of scattering them.
Those who were on horseback started in full gallop for the fort. Mrs. Robertson who was one of them, had her infant Felix in her arms, and a little negro boy behind her. She had not noticed the boy for some time and when she did she found that he had fallen off. but looking behind her she saw a woman leading him by the hand and running as fast as they could. They all got to the fort in safety.
As the fort was still unfinished the men went to work to put it in such a situation so they could defend themselves successfully.
That winter some new settlers came in and they spread themselves in different places. There was a settlement made on Stone's river and Captain Donelson with his family made a settlement near where the Hermitage now stands, and another below Page's ferry called Eaton's Station.
All the winter and following spring the settlers were obliged to go and kill game for their subsistence and even when they did not come in contact they saw a great many signs of Indians. After so many depredations by the Indians the settlers concluded they would raise no corn that season, but only a little cotton and garden stuff.
The settlers held a consultation and came to the conclusion that there must be a large number of Indians encamped somewhere near and that every man and horse must be persuaded to go and search for them and if possible to drive them from the country, for the women could not milk the cows or the men go and get a little wood but what they were liable to be shot at. In the morning before the men started on their expedition the people had come out of the fort to pursue their daily avocations, such as milking the cows, getting wood &c. They were fired upon by a large party of Indians in ambush not far distant from where the 1st Presbyterian Church now stands. The fort stood on the bluff near where the old jail stands. The Indians were too far off to do any harm but it was thought that hey fired with the intention of decoying the men off from the fort so that they could get between them and the fort, and thus destroy them, but of course the men would not leave the fort. At ten oclock the men paraded, and all the men they could raise was 21 and their horses.
They left only one grown man in the fort, a Captain White.
When the men mounted with General Robertson at their head and had started the women were out watching with anxious hearts for they knew not but what it might be the last time they should see them. Just as their hats were seen disappear down the hill they were fired upon by a large party of Indians, who were stationed near a spring in ambush, since called Remembrance Spring, below Broad Street. The men were immediately ordered to dismount. There was also some Indians who were stationed on the hill between them and the fort and who rushed down upon them so as to separate them from the fort.
For one hour the brave settlers fought face to face with the nemy with unconquerable firmness so as to gain their way to ie fort. They gained their way to the fort fighting all the way ntil they reached it. The whites had 6 killed and wounded, of them died.
For some two or three hours after the battle the Indians were engaged in carrying off their killed and wounded, the men at the fort firing at them all the time. After the Indians dispersed they went out and found one of our men whose thigh had been shot through soon after he dismounted with a huge Indian beside him dead.
After he was taken to the fort he informed General Robertson that be was shot before he had discharged his own gun.
He lay there prostrated for some time. At last he saw an Indian coming towards him with his tomahawk in one hand and knife in the other, with the intention no doubt, of taking his scalp. His gun was lying beside him, he raised it up, he saw distinctly the Indian grin, and just as the Indian got within a few paces of him he shot him dead. This poor fellow was shot several times while lying there and he supposed it was done from the fort as they were firing at the Indians.
After this battle a sudden panic seized the people and the settlement of Stony River, Manscoe's Creek, Bledsoe's Lick and old Captain Donelson's all left and went to Kentucky with the exception of the Nashville fort and Eaton's Station, for they were compelled to hunt for their provisions and consequently were in continual danger of being massacred.
The next fall a trader came in and told General Robertson that in the last battle there were thirty Indians killed and from that battle up to the next winter they were not molested by the Indians. They were so completely defeated that they went off immediately to their towns.
That year they had no bread and having to hunt their meat they suffered a great deal.
This year as the Indians were not troublesome General Robertson determined to go to North Carolina to the Legislature and make one more effort to get soldiers to guard their country, but returned without effecting his object, in consequence of the Revolutionary war the soldiers could not be spared.
This last battle seemed to have produced such a panic among the Indians, that but little interruption was met with by the settlers for the succeeding two years, when the country gradually filling up, made it extremely hazardous for the Indians to attack the settlers except in small marauding parties, where such object was plunder, and murder such of the settlers as might be met with single handed and alone, or perhaps an unprotected female, or decrepit old man.
The remainder of the manuscript is in Felix Robertson's hand, and it was written in response to Dr. Draper's queries of June 20, 1853, catalogued as Draper Manuscript 6XX48. In his letter of April 12, 1854, after further discussion with his sister, Dr. Robertson attempted to answer the questions in more detail. Although Draper Manuscript 6XX50 was written and mailed earlier, the second letter was catalogued as Draper Manuscript 6XX49, giving the misleading impression that it was Felix Robertson's first response to Dr. Draper's questions.
Mr. Draper, this memorandum was dictated by my sister Craighead to her grandson some two or three years since & is substantially correct as far as it goes, many important things omitted & some circumstances a little exaggerated as you will perceive. They were dictated from her recollections of conversations with her mother, & altho there may be nothing in them which you have not already gotten, I concluded to send them.
Charles, my grandfather's brother, I expect remained in or near Philadelphia, but our family I think had no knowledge of him after they departed.
I am pretty certain that Black Charles [Colonel Charles Robertson] was not his son.
As I passed through Baltimore in 1808 I called at a merchant's store to see him on business. I had never seen him, but when I stepped in he met me with great apparent pleasure, saluting me by my name. I felt astonished of course & informed him he must be mistaken in the person altho he had rightly named me. It was some time before he was fully convinced that I was not a customer of his who lived in Fredericktown some distance west from Baltimore. I have but little doubt this gentleman was a descendant of my grand uncle Charles.
You will observe that this memorandum places the attack on or the battle of Nashville in the spring of 1781. These notes omit to state that my father left here four of his companions on his way to Illinois to clear a piece of ground & plant some corn. This I expect you have in my notes formerly furnished you.
They cleared the undergrowth from a few acres, planted it, & protected it with a brush fence. Before the corn was ripe they took fright believing that Indians were about, went to Kentucky & did not return until my father came on with his stock in the winter. In the mean time the buffaloes had broken through their brush fence and destroyed their little crop of corn.
I send you a pamphlet containing the narratives of several of the old settlers which may furnish you perhaps with gome items you have not.
I do not recollect whether or not I furnished you with an occurence which may be said to be the equal to the murder of Healing mentioned in Mr. Davis" narrative. After Healing's death my brother determined to push on his new settlement as he had lately married and was very anxious to live on it. It was one and a half miles from my father's fort. For this purpose he hired two young men to work, brothers of the Koen mentioned by Davis as having been killed near Brown's Station. They were cousins to his wife she a sister of John Davis and young men in whose courage he had great confidence.
These three with a negroe man of my brother's, in a short time after Healing's death went to work in the same clearing, having a little Irishman to guard a point at which the Indians might get between them and the houses. They stacked their guns together at a large tree some fifty yards from the edge of the clearing & their plan was that those who should survive the first fire of Indians were to take position at tlie guns & make as good defense as possible.
The cane around the clearing had been a good deal eaten down & was low & not very thick. The Indians crept up as nigh as they could and fired from five guns at them. No one was touched except a light cut across one of the Koen's hand. They all dashed to their guns, the Indians pursuing to the edge of the clearing. When the whites halted the Indians also stopped & a regular fight ensued, the whites finally driving the Indians & keeping the ground. When the Indians fled the whites raised the real Indian yell & those at the house believed it was the Indians & that their friends were all killed. The negroe man fled without stopping to take his gun.
My brother had a most narrow escape. When he reached his gun he saw an Indian take a tree & raise his gun to shoot, my brother fired instantly at that part of his body projecting from the tree, & the Indian fired at the same instant cuting my brother's hat some three or four inches where the crown and brim unite. He had no doubt of having killed the Indian.
One of the Koens fired a British musket loaded with rifle balls into a crowd of them in the edge of the cane & almost made a lane through the cane & had no doubt but he killed or wounded several. It was ascertained some time afterward that five Indians were killed or mortally wounded.
This affair is only worth notice as it was, I believe, the only instance where tlie whites, when fired on in the field at work, were able to hold their ground & drive the Indians.
Benjamin & Abram Koen were the names of the two young men.
In my notes furnished you did I give an account of each time that my brother had been fired on & wounded by the Indians? The members of his family killed and wounded by them?
Dr. Ramsey has given a meagre account of his last trip in the mountains. I think I gave you some account of that, & his frequent trips through the wilderness to seek for aid from the Legislature of N. Carolina.
The great difference in the situation of the Cumberland settlers & all other frontier settlers was their remote & isolated situation, their sparse numbers, and the great length of time they had to suffer. I am fully convinced that no [sic] spot in America did the people suffer so much.
I have looked over the narratives in the pamphlet sent & believe, with the exception of Rains's and perhaps Dr. Shelby's, they are substantially correct. Rains's is such a confused affair that but little can be extracted from it. I believe nearly the whole of his account of his father's first visit to this country & doings in Kentucky are confused imaginings. I never heard any of them before & I always understood that he, I mean his father, fell in with my father's company between east Tennessee & the settlements in Kentucky, where Rains was removing to, & my father persuaded him to continue over with him to Cumberland. The father and the narrator were both weak in habit & very vain, always the heroes of their own tales. His statement about my fathers affairs has not one fact of truth in it.... Rains is several years older than my father & has been for years in a state of intoxication. It was from John Rains Sen. that Haywood collected most of his material for his history of the Cumberland settlements. He found a nigh neighbor to him & Haywood was a most singularly credulous man.
I think Rains removed from Washington County, Virginia, but I am not certain.
Captain Caffery removed at a pretty early day to the neighborhood of Natchez & remained there until his death. When he died I cannot learn.
Benjamin Joslyn died at Fletcher's Lick, the place he first settled at.
Elisha Green removed to Duck River in what is now Hickman County, I think about 1805, and lived there with his relations uiitill his death, the date of which I am unable to state. He never married.
Alexr. Moore & a younger brother Amos, removed at a pretty early day on the Mississippi in what is now Arkansas. In 1819 I descended the Mississippi in a keel boat to N. Orleans. At Point Chico [parenthetical note in Dr. Draper's handwriting: Chicot] some distance below Memphis, we called at a small settlementthey were then on the river bank. I found living there Amos Moore & family, he informed me that his brother Alexr. had died there some time previously, but the length of time I have now forgotten. Alexr. Moore, I think, never married.
I have not yet been able to obtain any reliable account of Freeland d'Ramey but will still endeavor to do so & send it to you.
Captain Hays, who distinguished himself so much in Texas & the war in Mexico, is a descendant of the Hays killed on Stone's River, mentioned in Davis's narrative.
Captain McCullock, another distinguished Texan, was raised ill Rutherford County adjoining this county. I was intimately acquainted with his father Benjamin McCullock.
Zachariah Maclin was a brave Indian fighter of the early settlers. He & Abraham Castleman acted together as scouts or spies, & would some times assume the Indian dress to deceive the Indians, fire on them, & if compelled to separate, meet at a place agreed upon. It was said they molested the Indians a good deal in this way. Neither of them was killed.
I notice that in Davis' narrative the names of Maj. Thos. Murray is speled wrong. He was not of the Maury family who settled near Franklin & for one of whom, Abram Maury, the county of Maury was called. Lieutenant Maury of the U. S. Navy is a nephew of Abram Maury son, I think, of Richard and was raised in the neighborhood of Franklin. Majr. Thos. Murray died in this neighborhood some thirty or forty years since. He left children but I recollect nothing of them with the exception of a son, who commenced here as a lawyer, with very fair prospects, & was considered a young man of talents, but he soon became dissipated and died young. Majr. Murray was considered a very brave & efficient officer. I know that my father had great confidence in him.
Since commencing the above I have ascertained that my brother Jonathan F. Robertson was born in '69, but I cannot yet ascertain the month. This, I think, pretty certainly fixes my father's marriage in '68. My brother died Octr. 1814. His widow is still living, & at present on a visit to three of her sons who live in Texas. March 11th, 1854.
Source: William Curry Harlee, Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, 3 vols. (New Orleans: Searcy & Pfaff, 1935-37), 3: 2502-2513.
Last updated: Tuesday, September 9, 2003
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