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History of Tennessee :: Sullivan County :: Kingsport



The Goodspeed Publishing Company, Chicago and Nashville, 1887

SULLIVAN COUNTY : named for General John Sullivan

See Current Kingsport Tennessee County Clerk and Government Information

Scan and OCR from pp. 912-921 by Sullivan Combs Researcher C. Hammett

SULLIVAN COUNTY lies on the Virginia border immediately west of Johnson County from which it is separated by the Holston Mountain. The surface of the county is undulating, and the soil generally good. The principal valleys are Denton, Holston Cook and Beaver Creek. The largest stream is the Holston River, which traverses the eastern portion of the county, flowing in a south westerly course until it reaches the Washington County line where it is joined by the Watauga. It then runs in a north westerly direction to its confluence with the North Fork at Kingsport. Its chief tributaries are Sinking Creek, Beaver Creek, Fall Creek, Kendrick Creek, Muddy Creek and Reedy Creek.

The date at which the first permanent settlements were made in Sullivan County is placed by Haywood and Ramsey at 1769. Some local antiquarians, however, assert that a much earlier date is the correct one, but they offer little satisfactory evidence to support their assertions. The fort on the Holston River opposite the upper end of Long Island, an account of which is given in another chapter, was built by a regiment of British troops under Col. Bird, in the autumn of 1758, and was occupied by them during the following winter. At this time a few settlers located in the vicinity, but they were soon compelled to retire to east of the Kanawha. During the next ten years many hunting and exploring expedition parties traversed the Holston Valley, but no permanent settlements were made as low down as the present Tennessee line, until late in 1768 or early in 1769. On November 5, 1768, a treaty of cession was made at Fort Stanwix, N. Y., with the Six Nations, by the terms of which, they and their descendants relinquished all rights and title to the lands north and east of the Tennessee and Holston Rivers. On October 14 of the same year, a treaty was made at Hard Labour, in South Carolina, with the Cherokees, who also claimed the territory. By this treaty the boundary lines of the Cherokee hunting grounds were fixed.

These two treaties afforded opportunity for the expansion of the settlements which had been made on the Holston in Virginia. The colonists who had been waiting upon the frontiers longing to plunge into the wilderness to locate claims, or to take possession of grants already surveyed, lost no time in doing so. Haywood relates that early in 1869(sic), Gilbert Christian, William Anderson, John Sawyers and four others entered upon an exploring expedition down the Holston. They penetrated as low down as Big Creek in Hawkins County, where they met a large party of Indians and were forced to retreat. They turned about and went back up the river ten or fifteen miles, and concluded to return home. About twenty miles above the North Fork they found upon their return a cabin on every spot where the range was good, and where only six weeks before nothing was to be seen but a howling wilderness. When they passed by before on their outward destination they found no settlers on the Holston, save three families on the head springs of that river.*


Prior to 1779 the portion of what is now Sullivan County north of the Holston was believed to be in Virginia, and the first grants were issued by that State. The earliest one of which there is any record was issued to Edmund Pendleton in 1766, for 3,000 acres of land on Reedy Creek. Of the early settlers only a few of the most prominent can be here mentioned. One of the largest and most highly respected families were the Rheas. Joseph Rhea, a Presbyterian minister, came to the Holston settlements from Maryland, and was upon one of the expeditions against the Indians. He returned to Maryland, but in 1776 he came again to the settlement, this time accompanied by his son, John Rhea. He bought land on Beaver Creek, and while in Maryland the next year, preparing to move his family, he died. In 1778 Mrs. Rhea came with the family. Of the sons, John became the most prominent. He was the first clerk of the county court, and early became a leading attorney. In 1796 he was chosen a member of the constitutional convention, and also represented the county in the first and second General Assemblies. In 1803 he was elected to Congress, and continued a member of that body until 1823, with the exception of two years, 1815-17. He never married, and died about 1837, leaving a large estate. He had six brothers: Matthew, Joseph, William, James, Samuel and Robert. Joseph lived where his grandson, Joseph Rhea, now lives; William, in the same neighborhood, and Matthew, just above Bluff City.

Gen. George Rutledge came to the county about 1777, and located on the small stream known as White Top. About three years later, he removed to the farm now occupied by his grandson, William G. Rutledge, where he died in 1813. He commanded a company in Col. Shelby's regiment at the battle of King's Mountain, was a member of the constituent convention of 1796 and of the Territorial Assembly, and after the organization of the State, was a member of the Senate until his death.

Gen. Evan Shelby located on Beaver Creek, at what was known as the Beaver Dam Bottoms, in 1771, where he erected a fort on an eminence overlooking the site of Bristol. He was born in Wales in 1720, and before coming to Tennessee had taken an active part in the French and Indian war on the borders of Maryland and Pennsylvania. He commanded a company of militia from Sullivan County at the battle of Point Pleasant, and was the leader of the famous Chickamauga expedition. Afterward he was appointed by Virginia a general of her militia. He died in 1794, and was buried in the old family burial ground at Bristol, which was removed a few years ago. His son, Isaac, was made a lieutenant of militia in 1774, and as such participated in the battle of Point Pleasant. In 1776 he was appointed commissary, which position he held at the battle of Long Island Flats. Prior to the extension of the boundary line between North Carolina and Virginia, he served a term in the Legislature of the latter State. His last public service in Tennessee was as commander of the regiments at King's Mountain. Evan Shelby, Jr., was a major in his brother's regiment at King's Mountain. In 1790 he went to Kentucky, where he was killed by the Indians about three years later.

George Maxwell, one of the captains under Isaac Shelby at King's Mountain, came to Sullivan County about 1771. He rose to the rank of major of militia, and in 1781 was one of the representatives of the county in the Legislature of North Carolina.

The Looneys, who were among the first settlers of the county, came from Wales, and lived for a time in Virginia. Col. David Looney lived on Muddy Creek, two miles above the Holston, where he erected a blockhouse. Samuel Looney located on the Holston, one mile below the mouth of Beaver Creek.

Of other early settlers there were in the fork the McKinleys, McCorkles, Scotts, Hodges, Greggs, Torbetts, Dinsmores, Hughes, Kings, Hogans, Sharps and Grosses. Col. William Christie [Christian] lived near where Kingsport now is, on the south side of Reedy Creek. The same neighborhood was the birthplace of Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines. Long Island and much other land in the vicinity became the property of Richard Netherland, the father of Hon. John Netherland. Fort Womack, which stood two miles east of Bluff City, was built by Jacob Womack. It afforded protection for the people who lived in the territory now covered by the Fourth, Sixteenth, Ninth and Twentieth Civil Districts. It is said that when on one occasion the people were forted here a marriage took place between Hal Massengill and Penelope Cobb. From this union have sprung a large number of descendants, many of whom still reside in the county.

The Bledsoes and Beelers located on land adjoining the Shelbys. The Beelers owned the tract of land on Cedar Creek known as Sapling Grove.

At the foot of Eden Ridge (originally Heaton Ridge) on the east side was built a fort known as Heaton's Fort. It was erected by the settlers of Reedy Creek and Cook's Valley, and was one of the first structures of the kind in the county. The Yancey Tavern, a famous house of entertainment, was built near this fort. Russell's fort stood on the Snapp's Ferry road, about six miles from Blountville. [another possible location]

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The first or one of the first mills in the county is said to have been built by John Sharp, an Indian trader. It was a small tub-mill, and stood on the spot occupied by the mill built a few years later by John Spurgeon at the mouth of Muddy Creek.

As the majority of the first settlers of the county was Scotch-Irish the first religious organizations were Presbyterian, and it is said that as early as 1778 two churches had been constituted. These were Concord and Hopewell. Very little is known of them, except that Samuel Doak preached to them for two years preceding 1780. One of them is thought to have been the old "Weaver Church," between Bristol and Union, which, tradition says, was founded by Rev. Joseph Rhea, while on one of his trips to Tennessee. The oldest church of which there is any definite knowledge is New Bethel, which was organized in 1782 by Rev. Samuel Doak. James Gregg, Sr., John Allison and Francis Hedge, Sr., are supposed to have been the first ruling elders.

The first Methodist family in the county was that of Edward Cox, who lived near Bristol from 1775 to 1777. He then removed to a tract of land which he entered, about one mile northeast of Union Depot. It was at his house that the first conference in Tennessee was held, by Bishop Asbury. The first Methodist society in the county, and, it is believed, in the State, was organized some time between 1785 and 1790, about two miles from Blountville, where a house of worship known as Acuff's Chapel was erected. It was a log structure 20x30 feet. Among the first members were the Acuffs, Vincents, Crofts and Hamiltons.

Blountville Circuit was established in 1824. and J. G. H. Speer and Creed Fulton were assigned to it. Among others who had charge of the circuit during its early history were George Horne and D. Fleming, 1825; William Patton, 1826; W. Keener, 0. F. Johnson and George Eakin, 1828; James Y. Crawford, 1829-80; J. B. Doughtry, 1881; R. Gannaway, 1832; W. C. Cumming, 1833; Thomas Rice, 1834-35; R. M. Stevens, 1836-37; H. Johnson, 1838-39: George Eakin, 1840-41; 0. F. Cunningham, 1842; R. Gannaway, 1843; W. H. Rogers, 1844; J. D. Gibson, 1845; George Eakin. 1846.

The first Baptist society in the county was Kendrick Creek Church, organized by Jonathan Mulkey some time prior to 1786. Among the first members were Peter Jackson, Anthony Epperson, William Nash, David Parry and Nicholas Hale. A second church was organized on the Holston in 1788, and in 1795 a congregation was formed at the Ferry Meeting-house, at Long Island, by Richard Murrell and Abel Morgan. Double Spring Church was also organized by Richard Murrell in 1805. Muddy Creek Church first appears on the minutes of the association in 1826, when it was represented by Amos James and John Spurgeon. In 1846 two new churches were organized, Union and Eden's Ridge. The former was first represented in the association by James White and John Longmire, and the latter by Samuel Bachman and N. Roller.

The first Lutheran immigrants to the Holston Valley located in Sullivan County, Tenn., and Washington County, Va., near the close of the last century. They settled in the neighborhood of Line Church, on or near the headwaters of Reedy Creek; of Buchler's Church, near the headwaters of Cedar Creek; of the Dutch Meeting-house, between the south fork of the Holston River and the Watauga, and of Roller's Church on Falling Creek.

The first ministers who are known to have visited East Tennessee were Revs. Paul Henkel and John G. Butler, and it is thought the first churches were organized by them. The first regular pastors in Sullivan County were Revs. Jacob Zink and Adam Miller. Until 1811 the Lutheran Church in East Tennessee had no regular synodical connection, but in that year they united with the Lutheran Synod of North Carolina, with which they were connected until 1820. The Tennessee Synod was then formed, and the churches of East Tennessee remained with this body until January 2, 1851, when the Evangelical Lutheran Holston Synod was organized at Zion's Church in Sullivan County. It embraced ten ministers of whom only three are now living. They were William Hancher, A. J. Brown, J. M. Schaeffer, J. K. Hancher, J. B. Emmert, J. Fleenor, A. Fleenor, J. A. Seneker, J. Cloninger and J. C. Barb.*

*Condensed from sketch by Dr. A. J. Brown

Sullivan County was the second county formed in what is now Tennessee, and included all the part of Washington County lying north of a line formed by the ridge dividing the waters of the Watauga from those of the Holston, and extending from the termination of this ridge to the highest point of the Chimney Top Mountain. The act was passed in October, 1779, and in February, 1780, the county court was organized at the house of Moses Looney, at which time a commission was presented appointing as justices of the peace Isaac Shelby, David Looney, William Christie, John Dunham, William Wallace and Samuel Smith. Isaac Shelby exhibited his commission dated November 19, 1779, appointing him colonel commandant of the county, and D. Looney of the same date appointing him major. Ephraim Dunlap was appointed State's attorney, and John Adair, entry-taker.

The court adjourned to meet at the house of James Hollis. As the records of this court were almost destroyed during the civil war, but little is now known concerning it. For a few years the courts were held somewhere in what is now the western part of the county, at the Yancey Tavern, near Eaton's Station, or at the house of Mrs. Sharp, near the mouth of Muddy Creek, and possibly at both places. In 1786, Hawkins County having been erected, the Legislature of North Carolina passed an act to remove the seat of justice to a more central location, and appointed Joseph Martin, James McNeil, John Duncan, Evan Shelby, Samuel Smith, William King and John Scott as commissioners to select a site for the county buildings. Meanwhile the courts were ordered to be held at the house of Joseph Cole. For some cause the seat of justice was not permanently located until 1792, when James Brigham conveyed thirty acres of land to John Anderson, George Maxwell and Richard Gammon, commissioners appointed by the county court to erect a courthouse and jail.

These commissioners seem also to have failed to do the duty assigned them, for in the act of the territorial assembly establishing the town, passed in 1795, James Gaines, John Shelby, Jr., John Anderson, Jr., David Perry, Joseph Wallace and George Rutledge were appointed to complete the courthouse. This was a hewed-log structure, which stood on a lot nearly opposite the present courthouse. The jail was built in the rear of this lot. Some time between 1825 and 1838 a brick courthouse was erected on the lot occupied by the present one, which was built about 1850. During the war the latter with its contents was burned, but the walls sustained but little damage and it was rebuilt at a comparatively small cost. The second jail was built in the rear of the courthouse. It was superseded by the present building about 1870. The first building on the site of the town is said to have been a dwelling erected by James Brigham on the north side of the street near the bridge. The first storehouse was built by Walter James, a prominent trader, who located in the vicinity about 1785.

This structure now forms a part of the Easley House, and was not entirely completed when Mr. James White, on a trip to Baltimore, met in that city William Deery, an Irish peddler, who had traveled among the settlements of Tennessee. He proposed to sell his house and lot in Blountville to Mr. Deery, and a trade was finally made. Mr. Deery bought a stock of goods, which were loaded into Mr. James' wagon, and together they returned to Blountville, when the former began a long and successful career as a merchant. At his death he was the wealthiest man in the county. Late in life he married a Miss Allison, and became the father of three sons and two daughters. His sons, James A. and William B., were the owners of the famous "Allisonia Mills," in Middle Tennessee, and also the steamer "Cassandra," the only steamboat that ever entered Sullivan County. James Rhea, John Fain, Sr., and Jesse J. James were also early and successful merchants.

At a little later date, and from that time until the war, the most prominent business men were Samuel Rhea, Shaver & Gammon, J. R. Anderson & Co., W. W. James, John Powell and William Dulaney. Nearly all of the above named men accumulated large fortunes, and Blountville became the center of an elegant and cultured society. Among other citizens of the town during its palmy days was Lawrence Snapp, who for many years kept the leading tavern, and James D. Rhea, a lawyer of fine ability, who, however, abandoned the profession for the more peaceful pursuit of farming. Dr. Elkanah Dulaney was one of the first physicians of Blountville, and several times represented the county in the Legislature. He was the ancestor of a large number of physicians, one of whom still lives at Blountville. Col. John Tipton, the hero of the Tipton-Sevier battle, is said to have lived for a few years before his death at or near Blountville. John K. Snapp, a prominent stockraiser, and Jacob Storm, the first mayor of the town, are also remembered among the early settlers.

The academy provided for Sullivan County by the act of 1806 was named Jefferson Academy, and William Snodgrass, John Punch, E. R. Dulaney, Abraham Looney and William Baird were appointed a board of trustees for the institution. In 1817 Matthew Rhea, Jr., Audley Anderson and Samuel Rhea, Jr., were appointed additional trustees, and it is probable that at about that date a building was erected and the school opened. The building was a log structure, which was used until about 1836. It was then removed and replaced by a brick building, which, in a comparatively few years, was found to be unsafe. It was torn down, and the present building erected. Among some of the earlier teachers in this institution were Mr. Wilhelm, Rev. Andrew S. Morrison, John Tyler, William Roberts, Archimedes and Jonathan Davis, and George K. Snapp. During the three or four years prior to the war Dr A. J. Brown was the principal. About 1830 a female department was opened in a small building standing upon the Masonic Institute lot. This was succeeded by the latter institution a few years before the war. The Masonic Female Institute was established jointly by Whiteside Lodge. No. 13, F. & A. M., and the trustees of Jefferson Academy, which institution furnished $3,000.

The first church in Blountville was the Methodist Church, which was organized early in the century. At about the same time a two-story brick building, 40x30 feet was erected for a house of worship, the two principal movers in the work being Col. William Snodgrass and Thomas Rockhold. This building became a place of worship for all denominations that chose to use it, and later was used for school entertainments and political meeting. Afterward it was repaired, and was again kept sacred to religious purposes until about 1855, when it was removed and the present church erected. It stood on the north side of Main Street nearly opposite the Easley House.

The Presbyterian Church was established in 1820. The next year fifteen persons were received into the church, and in December, 1821, Rev. A. Campbell became pastor. The first ruling elders were James King, Samuel Evans and Samuel Rhea. Mr. Campbell remained as pastor for about two years, when he was succeeded by Rev. Andrew S. Morrison, during whose pastorate a house of worship was erected. He continued until 1830. Among his successors have been T. G. Potts, Daniel Rogan, James McLin. John B. Logan 1855-61; J. P. Briscoe 1862-73, John R. King, A. S. Doak, R. F. King and James B. Converse, who has served the church very acceptably since 1881. The Baptist Church of Blountville, was organized in 1842 by Rev. William Cate, and the next year was represented in the association by James Poindexter, Noah Cate, Stephen Fisk and E. Rader.

The second oldest town in the county is Kingsport. which for several years was also the largest and most important. It was at first known as "Boat Yard", and prior to the advent of railroads it was the shipping point for the greater part of the salt from King's salt works in Virginia, besides a large amount of iron, castings and produce. The salt works were established about 1800, and in 1833 4,000 barrels of salt were shipped annually by flatboats. At this time Kingsport had a population of 317, while Blountville had only 209, and Bristol had not been thought of. Among the merchants of the town at that time and subsequently were John Lynn, Lynn, Wall & Co., Daniel Hogan, and Zadock Simpson. The water power at this point is exceptionally fine, and three or four factories, of considerable extent for this time, were established. Lynn, Wall & Co. had a cotton spinning factory; Frederick A. Ross a cotton factory, which made a sheeting of a coarse grade, and Jacob Meyers a hemp factory. A Presbyterian and a Methodist Church was organized in the early history of the town, and a house of worship was also erected by each. Since the advent of railroads the town has steadily declined, and now is represented by only a few straggling houses.

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