17 Mar 1775: Treaty of Sycamore Shoals–a Pivotal Event in Our Genealogy Past

Two old standard references describe in some detail the events surrounding the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, 17 Mar 1775.  I am going to list them first and recommend that if you haven’t read them, you add them to your Spring reading program.

(I understand that Spring is really coming with birds singing and new leaves on the trees and flowers poking their foliage through the dead leaves and debris in our gardens–just hasn’t come close to us yet and more snow is possible.  UGH!)

  1. Pat Alderman.  The Overmountain Men:  Battle of King’s Mountain, Cumberland Decade, State of Franklin, Southwest Territory. Johnson City TN:  The Overmountain Press, 1970.  Reprinted with index, 1986.  Compiled from a series of booklets for “history made interesting.”  With illustrations and anecdotes and  name lists galore–which the genealogist demands.
  2. Samuel Cole Williams.  Dawn of Tennessee Valley and Tennessee History. Johnson City TN:  The Watauga Press, 1937.  Dedicated “to ye Men that are the bold, the brave, and that Daire.”  Cadwallader Jones, 1698.   Chapters 32-33.  Chapter 34 includes Homesites of the Earliest Settlers with their names and their specific origins in VA, PA, MD, SC, and NC.  And many chatty footnotes!

County histories,  heritage books, and articles in genealogy periodicals draw often from these two books.  Williams treatment is based extensively on the Draper Papers–which I will discuss in a later, separate episode of this blog.

The treaty meeting was publicized widely for more than two years, as the principals negotiated with Indian chiefs for support and held off the attempts of both Virginia and North Carolina to stop the negotiations.  Right after Christmas, the Indians began to gather at Sycamore Shoals and by March, 1775 there were over 1,200 of them camped there.

Frontiersmen, statesmen, settlers from all the surrounding settlements also gathered in.  They brought wagon-loads of food–herds of beef and sacks of corn–to provide for their Native American guests.  Writers are not certain how many people actually participated.  Like many significant historical events–name lists are based on recall of those who recorded later who they saw and spoke to.

On 17 Mar 1775, (“St. Patrick’s day in the morning”) and the fourth day of meetings and councils, the Great Deed was signed conveying all the lands between the Kentucky River and the waters of  Cumberland Rivers, including “all its waters to the Ohio River, etc. ”

Title to more than 20,000,000 acres of unplowed, mostly uncleared black soil with all its supports–watercourses, trees, animals, fouls, and fishes.  Transferred to the Transylvania Company (the newly re-named Louisa Company) and its principals  and proprietors.  [Williams names 56 men who were known to have had membership in that  land-stock company.]

The Indians got 2000 pounds sterling and some 8000 pounds-worth of  trade goods, mostly of their choosing.  In fact, the principal chiefs had travelled to Fayetteville NC several months earlier to see the goods.

In subsequent transactions, a substantial portion of eastern Tennessee was conveyed by the Indians to other proprietors:

  1. Path Deed. Carter’s  Valley on Holston River near Powell’s Mountain.  2000 pounds sterling.  Proprietors included John Carter and his partner Joseph Parker, Col. Henderson, Robert Lucas, and Joseph Martin, agent.
  2. Watauga Deed. 19 Mar 1775.  On Holston, Watauga, and New Rivers, 6 miles above Long Island.  2000 pounds sterling.  Proprietors included John Sevier, William Bailey Smith, Jesse Benton, Tillman Dixon, William Blevins, Thomas Price, James Vann, Linguister, and  Charles Robertson, trustee and agent.  Part of  these lands were actually in NC and not in Tennessee–they included Wilkes County NC.
  3. Brown’s Deeds. 25 Mar 1775.  On Nolachucky River and its watersheds including Lick Creek and Limestone.  Proprietors included Jacob Brown, Samuel Crawford, Jesse Denham, Moses Crawford, and Zachary Isbell.
  4. Price Deed. Cherokee Creek.  Proprietors included Thomas Price, William Price his  son, and George Lewis.  Thomas Price was killed in defense of his country, and the North Carolina Assembly later awarded 4,000 acres to the Price heirs west of the Cumberland Mountains.

Although  the Transylvania Company purchase was later repudiated by North Carolina (Virginia did award Henderson a compensation grant of 200,000 acres in Kentucky), the event electrified America.  Numerous depositions, of persons present at the Treaty signing, were taken in 1777-78 when the Transylvania Company presented its claims to the Virginia House of Burgesses.  Selections from these depositions were printed in The Calendar of Virginia State Papers, Volume I.

How does any of this relate to your genealogy, especially if you are not descended from the men listed above?

__As Virginia and North Carolina worked to stop Col. Richard Henderson and his minions in their great American land steal, publicity sky-rocketed through the eastern Colonies–uniting Americans in their desires to grab some of the landed wealth for themselves.  Hardly a newspaper can be found that did not mention these events.  Legislative debates and heated conversations  in every pub and inn–[you know the drill.  We are in the midst of one of the most thorough, popular investigative examinations of how real estate and money fire the greed and speculation of men–and their women.]

__Thousands  of American ancestors were present during those weeks and months of negotiations.  Col. Henderson sold lands to persons in Maryland, in North Carolina, in Virginia, and in Pennsylvania ahead of clearing the Indian title.  Their names crop up in documents and lists hidden away in little-known and almost never consulted records.  We are too removed from them in time to have much family tradition associated with the event.  So your ancestor could have been present.  Like John Billingsley, sent by his father  from Maryland to take up the lands he had purchased from Henderson.  Only Father Billingsley’s will mentions son John and his acquisition of that land.

__Henderson and his cohorts fired the collective imaginations of thousands upon thousands of Americans poised on the edge of the wilderness, just awaiting the chance to seize title to some of those lands.  This gave staying power to the American cause during the long, harsh international Revolutionary War with its built-in domestic Civil War.  The promise of Kentucky lands alone was an irresistible dream that could not be quenched.  Forget that Dragging Canoe had predicted that winning those “dark and bloody” lands would not be easy.  Consider the tradition of the Rippeto Men handed down over the generations to their descendants:  “11 brothers fought in the American Revolution.”   We have identified probably 8 who fought in both the Revolution and the War of 1812.  Some of whom ended up in Tennessee and Kentucky.

__Land titles overlapped in Kentucky so as to push land purchasers into the courts to fight for their property.  And these court records continue through the most difficult-to-document time period in all of American genealogy–1785-1835.  Even after your ancestors moved on to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, their lawsuits were continued year after year–often identifying exactly where they settled and often, where they came from.

__The migrating hoards of Americans and newly-arrived immigrants seeking lands had a place to go.  Jurisdictions were organized quickly and staffed with persons who chose to stay for a time.  Minutes, and commissions, and voters’ lists and polls, and newspaper accounts and lists record these ancestors.  Did you know that the preamble of many deeds include the origins of your ancestors along with the migration path they took to get their lands.  Citizenship requirements to own land were waived if the immigrant gave these delicious genealogy details!

I could go on and on.  And I will in subsequent posts.  Stay tuned in…Your favorite Tennessee genealogist, Arlene Eakle http://www.arleneeakle.com

PS  And watch for blogs on Kentucky and the Scots-Irish very soon.  There is much mis-information published about these critical areas and the people who settled there early on.  And just who is a Scots-Irish ancestor.

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One Response to 17 Mar 1775: Treaty of Sycamore Shoals–a Pivotal Event in Our Genealogy Past

  1. Joan E. Rambo says:

    I am so excited about your Preliminary Bibliography list for Territory SouthWest of the Ohio River. I’ve printed it out will be checking libraries to see who has what. I checked the FHLC to verify the spelling of Wataugah and they not only have the book by Keese, but have a map in the map cabinet, too. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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