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Home Features Forgotten Times: Scott County wasn't always Scott County

Forgotten Times: Scott County wasn’t always Scott County

Before it was Scott County, and before it was carved out of Campbell, Anderson, Morgan and Fentress counties, Scott County was a part of Jackson County...and that wasn't its first designation

Scott County was named for Gen. Winfield Scott, “Old Fuss and Feathers,” a hero of the Mexican-American War.

Did you know that Scott County was once part of Sumner County?

We’re all familiar with the story of Scott County’s forming in 1849, when this county was carved out of parts of Fentress, Campbell, Anderson and Morgan counties.

But well before that, back in the days when Tennessee’s statehood was brand-new, there was no Campbell County, no Morgan County, no Anderson County and no Fentress County. In this part of the state — which was actually still Indian territory — there was just one county: Sumner.

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These days, Sumner County is to the Northeast of Davidson County; a part of the Nashville metropolitan area and home to cities like Gallatin and Portland. It is bordered by the Cumberland River to the south and by the TN-KY line to the north. It runs more or less parallel to Interstate 65 to the west, and more or less parallel with U.S. 231 to the east.

But in 1796, when Tennessee was granted statehood, Sumner County encompassed pretty much everything north of modern-day Interstate 40 from Nashville to Knoxville — what we now know as the Upper Cumberland, Highland Rim and Cumberland Plateau regions. That’s according to The Newberry, an independent research library in Chicago.

Back then, in 1796, there were just 14 counties in Tennessee. There were Knox, Blount, Grainger and Sevier counties. There were also Greene, Hawkins, Sullivan, Johnson, Carter and Washington counties.

Outside of East Tennessee, however, there was Davidson County, Montgomery County and Robertson County around Nashville, and then everything in between was encompassed by Sumner County — including everything that would become Scott, Pickett, Fentress, Morgan and much of Campbell and Anderson counties.

West Tennessee, and the entire southern half of the state, wasn’t divided into counties and was considered Indian land.

Before statehood

Officially, the region that would become Scott County was Indian territory in those early days, too. In fact, a proclamation by King George III in 1763 reserved all land west of the Appalachian Mountains for the Native Americans. But that didn’t stop colonists from following Daniel Boone through the Cumberland Gap and into the frontier in search of new land, more or less in defiance of King George.

Later, when the British lost the Revolutionary War, North Carolina claimed the land between the mountains and the Mississippi River, and settlers began to flood through the Cumberland Gap. They broke treaties with the Indians by settling on Native American lands, which began years of hostilities between the natives and the white settlers.

Those earliest settlers didn’t set up homesteads in what would become Scott County or on the Cumberland Plateau, but long hunters were already beginning to make excursions into the region. Some time later, Mikel “Grand Mikey” Low — the son of German immigrants to the British Colonies — is believed to have become the first white settler in what would become Scott County, after receiving a land grant on Smokey Creek from the North Carolina government.

Historian and author Esther Sharp Sanderson placed Low’s arrival to Smokey Creek in 1776, but that’s doubtful, since he would have been a small child at the time. Further, records show that he married his wife, Maria Elisabethna Bordner, in 1794 in Pennsylvania — which is where his parents migrated to after leaving Germany.

So, it’s likely that there were no white settlers yet living in what would become Scott County in 1784, when the State of Franklin, or “Franklinland,” was formed, although the first explorers and long hunters had almost certainly reached here by then. Virginia explorer Dr. Thomas Walker had first entered the Western frontier in 1750, building the first permanent residence in Kentucky, and Daniel Boone passed through the Cumberland Gap in 1773.

The purpose for Franklinland’s formation — with Battle of Kings Mountain hero John Sevier appointed governor — was that the settlers felt North Carolina wasn’t doing a good job of protecting them from the Indians. North Carolina claimed all land west of the Appalachians and south of the 36°30′ parallel, while Virginia claimed all land west of the Appalachians and north of the 36°30′ parallel. There were by that time six counties in the Franklinland territory, evenly split between the western base of the mountains and the area along the Cumberland River that would become Nashville. But North Carolina more or less neglected the frontierland, to the frustration of the settlers.

Neither North Carolina or Congress recognized the State of Franklin, and it collapsed by 1788. The next year, North Carolina ceded the land west of the mountains to the federal government as a way to pay off its war debt, and it became known as The Territory South of the River Ohio — or simply the Southwest Territory. President George Washington appointed William Blount as the territory’s governor.

By 1796, Tennessee had petitioned for statehood. And, following a fierce fight in Congress, it was admitted to the Union as the 16th state in a narrow vote. At that point, there were the 14 aforementioned counties. Scott County and the rest of the northern Cumberland Plateau was officially still Indian territory.

TN-KY confusion

The northern part of what would become Scott County was in those days considered a part of Wayne County, Ky. This was due to confusion created by Dr. Thomas Walker when he surveyed the region in 1779.

Walker and his team were charged by Virginia with surveying the 36°30′ line all the way to the Tennessee River, so that the boundary between North Carolina and Virginia (which would eventually become the boundary between Tennessee and Kentucky) could be mapped.

But Walker chose the path of least resistance. When he reached the rugged eastern escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau, he headed north through the Cumberland River valley to near modern-day Somerset. From there, he followed an old Indian trail that would later become known as the Tennessee, Ohio & Great Lakes Trail (and, still later, U.S. Hwy. 27) back to what they thought was the 36°30′ line, and continued their journey westward. But they were off by several miles. As a result, the dividing line that would eventually become the TN-KY boundary was about 17 miles north of where it was intended to be. The 36°30′ line actually runs through Oneida’s modern-day Oak Grove district, meaning much of Oneida and all of Winfield was intended to be in Kentucky.

Read More: Part of Scott County was supposed to be in Kentucky

The two states disputed the placement of the line for decades, and that’s why early settlements like Station Camp and No Business were considered a part of Wayne County, Ky. It wasn’t until 1820 that a compromise was reached that saw the Walker Line adopted all the way to the Tennessee River, and confusion over the exact placement of the state line continued until a resurvey was completed in 1852.

The Tellico treaties

The final part of the 18th century and early part of the 19th century saw a series of treaties negotiated between the U.S. government and the Indian tribes. Both the Cherokee and the Shawnee claimed the Cumberlands, though neither tribes established permanent settlements here. The treaties were called the “Treaties of Tellico” because the negotiations took place at the Tellico Blockhouse, a fort that was located between modern-day Vonore and modern-day Greenback on the Little Tennessee River.

The First Treaty of Tellico, signed in 1798, granted land to settlers between the Clinch River and the eastern edge of the Cumberland Plateau. As a result, Anderson County and Roane County were formed in 1801.

It wasn’t until the Third Treaty of Tellico, signed in 1805, that the Cherokee gave up its claims of the Cumberland Plateau to the U.S. government, which opened the northern plateau to white settlement. By that point, Jackson County had been formed, and it included much of the territory that would eventually become Scott County. The following year, in 1806, Campbell County and Overton County were formed, and much of modern-day Scott County was moved from Jackson County to Overton County.

We don’t know exactly when the first white settlers arrived in what would become Scott County. Although it wasn’t until 1805 that the area was officially opened for white settlement, there were land grants given to settlers by state governments even while the region still belonged to the Indians.

It’s likely that Grand Mikey Low and a few other settlers were living in the New River valley by that point, while the No Business Creek valley to the west was home to the earliest white settlers like Richard Harve Slaven and Jonathan Blevins.

Shifting boundaries

Things changed again in 1817. By that time, the farm that is today Charit Creek Lodge on Station Camp Creek had been settled, and there were an increasing number of white settlers in the New River valley. That year, most of the lands east of the Big South Fork River were moved from Overton County to Campbell County. Then, Morgan County was created from parts of Anderson, Overton and Roane counties, and included the territory west of the Big South Fork River, along with areas such as Robbins, Elgin and Glenmary.

In 1823, Fentress County was established. Its eastern boundary followed the Clear Fork River and the Big South Fork River. So, everything west of the river — including settlements like Station Camp and No Business — were in Fentress County. Most of everything south of what would become Huntsville, including the areas that would become Robbins, Elgin and Glenmary, were in Morgan County. Everything else was in Campbell County, except for the highest mountain peaks, which fell into Anderson County.

A new county

Things didn’t change much for the next quarter-century. But by 1849 there was a need for a new county. The remote stretch of terrain between Jacksboro and Monticello required more than a day’s ride to traverse. And getting out required passing through the mountains to the east or crossing the river to the west. Settlers along the river had too far to go to reach Jamestown to conduct legal business, and settlers to the east had too far to go to reach Jacksboro. So, a new county was proposed and approved by the state legislature in 1849. It was named for Mexican-American War hero General Winfield Scott.

Scott County’s original boundaries followed its current boundaries very closely. A survey team followed the highest ridge lines of the Cumberland Mountains in the east and the south, while a separate survey team established the county line to the west.

For whatever reason, Clear Fork was not used as the dividing line between Scott County and Fentress County, although it had previously been the dividing line between Fentress and Morgan counties. But that changed in 1860, when the line was moved. It followed the river as far north as Fall Branch, which is located a couple of miles downstream of Leatherwood Ford, then turned due northwest to the TN-KY line.

In 1871, the county’s eastern boundary changed. It had previously followed what would later become Interstate 75 and included the town of Jellico. But the line was moved west of the mountains for the sake of residents living in the northeast corner; it made more sense for them to be in Campbell County.

There were minor changes in southern Scott County over the next 12 years, as small portions of Anderson and Morgan counties were added to Scott County to accommodate local residents.

In 1897, Scott County’s western boundary was moved west from the Big South Fork River to its current location west of Bandy Creek. That same year, very minor changes were made to the eastern boundary between Scott and Campbell counties.

Scott County’s boundaries have not changed since 1897.

This story is the May 2021 installment of Forgotten Times, presented by United Cumberland Bank on the fourth week of each month as part of the Independent Herald’s Back Page Features series. A print version of this article can be found on Page B4 of the May 27, 2021 edition of the IH.
Independent Herald
Contact the Independent Herald at newsroom@ihoneida.com. Follow us on Twitter, @indherald.
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