Post #1 in the Cumberland County Series.
“The adventures and the perils of Tennessee pioneers, their hearty sacrifices for the general good, their character for conduct and courage in war, their uniform devotion to the honour and greatness of the country, their rapid advance, and the impress of their wisdom, valour and patriotism which they have stamped upon their descendants, invite to the early history of their state the attention of every American, and secures the deepest regard of every Tennessean.” (Ramsey, The Annals of Tennessee To The End Of The Eighteenth Century, p. 13)
To truly understand how Cumberland County came to be, you have to go back to the beginning, the beginning of pioneers like Daniel Boone. More often than not, when reading historical books about Tennessee, you will see the words Cumberland that are referring to the Cumberland River, but on occasion, snipits of the words Cumberland Mountain come across.
What is now the Cumberland Plateau was mostly a hunting ground for the Cherokee, but much of it was uninhabited and unexplored.
“The top of the mountain is described as being then, a vast upland prairie, covered with a most luxuriant growth of native grasses, pastured over as far as the eye could see, with numerous herds of deer, elk and buffalo, scarcely disturbed in their desert wilds at the approach of man, and exhibiting little alarm at the explosion of his rifle or fright at the victim falling before its deadly aim. The frowning cliffs and precipices, that every where surrounded the mountain, and the dark laurel thickets, that obstructed the entrances and ascent to its summit level, had hitherto, excluded even the hunter and Indian from an easy access to it in pursuit of game; and the boundless natural nipotent masonry, presented to the first intruders, the aspect of primeval solitude, quiet, and security. This aspect it wore no longer. The mural escarpment and the mountain waterfall, yielded to the energy of the troop and the guard. Nature doffed her power, her beauty, and her dominion, and succumbed to the reign of art and civilization.” (Ramsey, 501)
When frontier men like James Robertson, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and others came down to Tennessee from Kentucky or over from North Carolina they were looking for solitude and hunting land or simply exploring. While that may be what brought men to Tennessee and began its settlement, that is still not what created the county. Although, that is what created the reason for Cumberland County to be explored.
A road, a specific road, was the beginning of the Cumberland. In 1785 it was decided that a road needed to be guarded by no less than 300 men for the protection of the Cumberland Settlements near the Cumberland River, when the General Assembly of North-Carolina took notice of the exposed conditions of the people of Davidson County.
“During this year, the road, as directed in the act, was opened, from Clinch River to Nashville. Emigrants had heretofore reached Cumberland, by the original route through the wilderness of Kentucky. Hereafter the route was more direct– for not only horsemen, but wagons, and immense numbers of the more wealthy people of the Atlantic sections, sought the Cumberland through the new road, which ran nearly over the same track still pursued as the stage road, by the way of Crab-Orchard, the Flat Rock, and etc.” (Ramsey, 501)
This road was the true beginning of settlement and civilization on the Cumberland Plateau. Its paths mirror what is now I-40 and Highway 70.
Cumberland County is not just a town. Crossville is not just a city. They are a home, a community of people, a safe haven for many who return, a fresh start for newcomers, and back then opportunity.
This road brought immense opportunities for aspiring business men and women. People traveling the road between Davidson County and what is now east Tennessee had to eat, sleep, find a safe haven from crime and weather, and if needed, help.
Now, the Cherokee did not make it easy for the white man to settle on the Cumberland Plateau, especially Cherokee Chief Doublhead. He murdered and ambushed many white men near Crab Orchard.
“The first day of April, 1774, found him near Crab Orchard, on the road from Knoxville to Nashville. On top of a steep hill he secreted his party and lay in wait for the unhappy traveler who might find it necessary to venture across the Wilderness.” (Bullard and Krechniak, Cumberland County’s First Hundred Years, p. 12)
Despite the Chickamauga Cherokees’ fight to preserve their Wilderness the settlers and travelers pressed on. The road and paths were too important to ignore or leave to the Cherokee.
On October 25, 1805 the Cherokee Chief Doublehead saw opportunity and signed the Tellico Treaty handing over the title to their ancient land. Shortly after he was killed by his own people for giving away their Wilderness.
“Immigrant travel over the road grew heavy and a bi-monthly mail was established. In between runs, however, travelers willingly carried mail just as they always had whenever it was entrusted to their care. ‘Stands,’ afterwards called ‘taverns,’ were built at intervals for the travelers’ convenience. Hugh Dunlap’s at Rockwood was the first. In the ‘Wilderness’ were David Haley’s Stand at Piney Creek, Sidnor’s near Crab Orchard, Graham’s (called Grime’s Stand in this county) at Obed River and Johnson’s at the head of the Caney Fork.” (Bullard and Krechniak, p. 15)
This was the beginning of business and settlement on the Cumberland Plateau. These stands, or what would become taverns and inns, were crucial to travelers and families making their way to Davidson County. But what’s even more important is how pivotal those businesses and first families were to our community. They built the town we now call home.