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Southwest history from a unique press release

A membership certificate of the Daughters of the American Revolution.


Associate Editor

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In 1940, Northeast Tennessee celebrated the Sesqui-Centennial of the Southwest Territory. In a unique publicity release from the Watauga Press, Samuel Cole Williams, formerly a Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, authored a 26-page pamphlet titled “Phases of Southwest Territory History.” The document was published under the auspices of The Watauga Press and printed and bound by the Kingsport Press, Inc.

A copy of the Williams’ history along with a series of materials concerning activities of the John Sevier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution were recently donated to the group by Lee Barnes of Johnson City, a family member of Mrs. Mary Sue Hurt Campbell, a Regent of the Chapter in 1936-1938.

Because of their significance in the tracing of the history of Washington County, the Herald & Tribune intends to publish several articles from the materials gathered by Barnes. This article will begin with the History’s Preface and also quote from a History of the John Sevier Chapter DAR.

The Committee on Publicity for the Sesqui-Centennial Celebration scheduled for October 13, 1940 was headed by Leslie R. Driver of Bristol. The committee was composed of the following journalists – Wm. J. McAuliffe of the Kingsport Times, Chairman; Herschal Dove of the Bristol Herald-Courier; Mrs. Edith Susong of the Greeneville Sun; W. H. Hicklin of the Johnson City Press and M.S. Bangs of the Elizabethton Star.

“The Territory South of the River Ohio,” more commonly known as the Southwest Territory, was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from May 26, 1790, until June 1, 1796, when it was admitted to the union as the State of Tennessee.

Rocky Mount, in Piney Flats, also known as the Cobb-Massengill House, was the first territorial capital of the Southwest Territory. The property of William Cobb, the original residence at Rocky Mount, served as the territorial capital from 1790 to 1792.

Dendroarchaeological investigations at the site by the University of Tennessee revealed that the present dwelling dates to the late 1820s. The property is owned by the State of Tennessee and has been operated by the Rocky Mount Historical Association, a non-profit organization in partnership with the Tennessee Historical Commission, since 1962.

The property is a living museum that recreates the year 1791, when William Blount was in residence as governor. A visit to the site is a must if you are interested in the history of the area.

Williams wrote the Preface from his home at “Aquone” in Johnson City. The document is quoted in its entirety – “At the request of the committee in charge of arrangements for a celebration of the sesquicentennial of the organization of the Southwest Territory, the writer prepared a series of articles on ‘Phases of Southwest Territory History,’ designated for publication in the daily newspapers of Upper East Tennessee in furtherance of the publicizing of the event.

“The committee planned, also, to have the series appear later in another form – this pamphlet – as a more permanent memorial of the occasion. The great Kingsport Press, of Kingsport, graciously tendered its facilities to that end.

“The Phases here treated of are those which relate to the four counties of Washington, Sullivan, Greene and Hawkins, which composed the Washington District of the Southwest Territory. At other points in the State of Tennessee there will be other celebrations in the years 1940 and 1941, and in these, no doubt, emphasis will be given to the history of Hamilton and Metro Districts during the territorial period.

“It is to be hoped that at some future time there will appear a definitive ‘History of the Southwest Territory.’ To such a work, this pamphlet may afford materials for some of its chapters.”

Mrs. Mary Sue Hurt Campbell became a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) on April 9, 1915. Her papers include the program from the Sunday, October 13th SESQUICENTENNIAL celebration. It will be discussed in a subsequent article in this series about the Southwest Territory.

A history of the John Sevier DAR Chapter of which she was a member provides in part: “…Through the untiring efforts of Miss Mayes Arnell, the John Sevier Chapter of the American Revolution was organized. It was at Miss Arnell’s home in January, 1907, that a number of representative women of Johnson City, met and organized this Chapter with the able assistance of Miss Mary Boyce Temple of the Bonny Kate Chapter of Knoxville.

“The Chapter was named for the patriotic and courageous John Sevier, whose outstanding characteristic of his amazing leadership was his power in understanding the men with whom he came in contact. It was said he never failed in his duty, even under the most trying circumstances and conditions. He was one of the leaders of the hardy pioneers at the Battle of King’s Mountain, and the first Governor of Tennessee – serving first as Governor of the State of Franklin. Afterwards, he served six terms as Governor of Tennessee. As someone has said, he was a hero in the age of heroes, a man who met with courage every duty, who overcame the deadly foes of his people, and rendered an illustrious service to his beloved Tennessee.

“The Charter Members of the John Sevier Chapter were Miss Mayes Arnell, Mrs. Kathrina Stivers Brading, Mrs. Ella Campbell Berry, Mrs. Annie Brownlow Hacker, Torry Stanley Harris, Mrs. Florence Harris Wofford, Miss Carrie Fain Moser, Mrs. Florence Gerhart Metzger , Miss Rachel Wilder Maher,  Mrs. Harriet W. Osborne, Mrs. Ethel Barlow Millard, Mrs. Clara Brownlow Pritchett, Mrs. Nannie Sevier Sabin, Mrs. Sue Wood Herndon, Mrs. Ada Wood Taylor, Mrs. Sallie Rogan Wood, Mrs. Mary Wayne Williams, Miss Fay Whitesides, Miss Effie Wood, Mrs. Rachel Fain Wood, Mrs. Margaret Seneker Wofford.”

According to THE TENNESSEE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HISTORY & CULTURE, in an article on the SOUTHWEST TERRITORY written by Walter T. Durham, Generals John Sevier and James Robertson commanded the militia of Washington and Mero Districts respectively… After elections for the territorial house were held in December 1793, the representatives chosen met at Knoxville on February 24, 1794, to nominate ten councilors from whom President Washington appointed John Sevier, James Winchester, Stockley Donelson, Parmenas Taylor and Griffin Rutherford to make up the legislative council, or upper house, of the General Assembly.”

A discussion of how matters proceeded to a path for the establishment of the State of Tennessee, the election of Sevier as its first governor, and the termination of the “Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio” will be explained in subsequent articles using material from Mrs. Campbell’s papers.