1776 - Native Americans Get New Neighbors
Prehistoric people and historic era Native American tribes once hunted and thrived in this lush setting, including Cherokee, Chickasaw, Shawnee, Creek, and Choctaw tribes. In the late 1700s, company and commerce came to the area when French Canadian trader Timothy Demonbreun established seasonal trade with the Native Americans near the banks of the Cumberland River. The english and French soon competed to dominate trade with the tribes — guns and supplies for valuable furs — putting pressure on available natural resources and creating competition and friction between the tribes. Federal treaties and state laws to keep settlers out of the area were nearly impossible to enforce, and small, stubborn settlements popped up throughout the territory.
1779 -1800 - Fort Nashborough, Translyvania
In the late 1700s, the Cherokee “sold” 20 million acres of land to Judge Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Land Company in exchange for household goods. The exchange violated colonial laws and the Royal Proclamation, but Henderson and a few hundred brave settlers forged ahead to establish the Fort Nashborough settlement. While the Cherokee profited from the deal, other tribes didn’t recognize the settlers’ claim to the land, and attacks on the settlers were frequent and brutal. Henderson later tried to get Transylvania’s 20 million acres (in Tennessee and kentucky) recognized as the 14th colony, but all except a small portion of his land claims were denied. In 1785, a formal agreement defined the settlement area between the Cumberland (north) and the Tennessee Valley Divide (south). Revolutionary soldiers were given federal land grants within these boundaries as payment for their service. Some settled here, and many sold their land to more adventurous folks who would homestead in the area, like the family of Thomas Hart Benton.
1801-1819 - The Natchez Trace and Leiper’s Fork
First a buffalo trail, then a network of Native American footpaths, then a treacherous way home for the kaintuck flatboat operators, the Natchez Trace saw a lot of traffic before it became useful to the Federal Government in the 1800s. In 1801, the trail was designated as an official postal road between Nashville and Natchez, Mississippi, leading to bridges and widened road beds along the way. Communities like Leiper’s Fork began to pop up along the Trace, anchored by general stores, schools, and churches. During the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson’s troops made use of the Trace to get to the Battle of New Orleans, where he became famous for defeating the British.
1820s -1864 - Dynasty on the Duck
Welcome to the seat of U.S. political and economic power in the mid-1800s. The wealth in the Duck River area was comparable to modern oil dynasties, generated by a combination of deep, near-perfect soil, abundant land, and slave labor. The ability to own slaves was crucial to economic growth (and, therefore political power) and to sustaining this way of life. The invaluable historic homes and churches that still stand here illustrate what life was like in the country’s most powerful political and economic circles, whose members included Andrew Jackson and his ally James K. Polk, the country’s first non-eastern presidents.
November 28-30,1864 - Hood’s Big Idea
Civil War history dominates the second half of the Old Tennessee Trail. General John Bell Hood was the youngest general in the Confederacy, a reactive strategist, known for his temper and aggressive decision-making that shaped the outcome of the war. Following Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, Hood moved his troops to Mount Pleasant and set out to organize a risky strategy: taking Union-occupied Nashville and Franklin in order to capture supplies, march on to Virginia, and reinforce Lee’s struggling forces. On November 28, Schofield’s Union troops beat Hood to Columbia. That night, Hood’s troops occupied Columbia south of the Duck. The next day, Hood brilliantly circled his troops to the southeast and beat Schofield to Spring Hill. Hood set up headquarters at Oaklawn and slept soundly, believing that Schofield and his troops were still stationed near Columbia.
Hood’s Fatal Mistake
During the night, General Schofield moved 25,000 men and 600 wagons right past Hood’s troops as they slept, heading north to Franklin, where they began building trenches and breastworks surrounding the Carter House. When Hood woke and realized he had lost his best chance to isolate and defeat the Union Army, he was enraged with his troops and vowed to show them some discipline.
Hood hurried his men to Franklin, staging his troops at Winstead Hill and meeting with his officers at Harrison House. He predicted that the Union would abandon Franklin and head to Nashville if his men attacked, and planned to do so against the counsel of his advisors. Hood’s men had no artillery for the mission, but that didn’t stop him. He ordered his troops to march across two miles of open field, directly into cannon and artillery fire, with no ability to return fire. In just five hours of continued frontal assault, 10,000 men were dead, wounded or missing. Most were Confederates. By midnight, the Union forces were off to Nashville with Hood and his remaining men following the next day. The local residents were left to bury the dead and tend the wounded in their own homes. The recorded accounts of that afternoon are gruesome, with stories of Confederate bodies piled so deep that some of the dead were left standing among the stacks.On December 16 in Nashville, Hood’s struggling army was defeated decisively by Union forces. Hood retreated to Mississippi, where he resigned. The Confederate forces never recovered from the heavy losses suffered under his leadership. The Civil War officially ended April 9, 1865, with General Lee’s surrender in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Out of 2.4 million fighting soldiers, 630,000 were killed.
1865-1870 - A Difficult Reconstruction
Following the Civil War, Tennessee’s new Radical Republican Governor Brownlow made it his mission to keep Confederates out of Tennessee politics, barring them from voting for 5-15 years. It was a controversial move that passed the Tennessee Legislature, but polarized the Republican and Democratic parties.
Political tensions hurt Brownlow’s support in the next election, so he engaged a new voter base, making Tennessee the first state to allow Freedmen to vote in 1867. The win was an easy one, due to African-American voter turnout. This did not sit well with the Conservative Confederates, still unable to vote. The ku klux klan (KKK) was born in Pulaski, Tennessee, with Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest named the first Grand Wizard in 1867. The KKK relied on intimidation and terror tactics to suppress the Freedmen and Radical Republican vote. Violence escalated around the 1868 presidential election, and martial law was declared in nine Middle and West Tennessee counties. In 1869, Grand Wizard Forrest formally ordered the klan to disband, but the movement
had grown too strong, and the organized violence continued. After Governor Brownlow resigned to accept a Senate seat, his successor, Republican DeWitt Senter, faced a tough nomination race for re-election. Senter immediately relaxed all voting restrictions, winning overwhelming Confederate support and easily taking the election. The Conservatives’ voting power also dramatically changed the makeup of the state House and Senate, and support for minority issues disintegrated.
Present Day - Today’s Old Tennessee Trail
This is just one layer of the many Tennessee Stories that pave the Old Tennessee Trail. Today, this area remains both fertile agricultural area and affluent community, with hundreds of stories to tell, on the trail and off.