Thursday, February 26, 2004

John Nicholson, Revolutionary War Soldier (Part 1)

Last week we looked at the life and service of Revolutionary War soldier, Michael Tanner, who was buried in the Old Choestoe Cemetery.

Another Revolutionary War soldier’s grave is that of John Nicholson who was buried at the Pleasant Grove Baptist Church Cemetery in Coosa District. To access the cemetery and see this grave marker, travel from the square in Blairsville west on (old) Highway 76 for about 7.8 miles. The church was founded in 1842. Although the old gravestone shows neither a birth date nor a death date for John Nicholson, family records attest to his birth being on May 1, 1762 or 1763 in Old Bute County, NC (present-day Warren County). Family history also indicates that John Nicholson died December 20, 1858 at age 96. If he did live to this ripe old age, his birth date then would have been in the year 1762.

John Nicholson had moved from Hall County, Georgia to Union County, Georgia to live with his son Alfred whose farm was in the Harmony Grove section of Arkaquah District. Another son, Walter, lived in the Fodder Creek section of Towns County, Georgia. In 1858, John Nicholson was at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Lewis Akins in the Coosa District near Pleasant Grove Church. This daughter’s name was Luvicia, b. 1802 and called Vica. The family buried their father in the nearby church cemetery. Travel arrangements were not conducive then to transporting the body to Hall or Habersham County where one of his spouses had been buried in the many moves of the family.

John Nicholson (May 1, 1762 or 1763-December 20, 1858), was a son of William Nicholson. The Nicholsons had first settled in Virginia prior to the Revolution and had large land holdings there. The family migrated to North Carolina prior to the Revolution. It was in Bute County (later named Warren County), N. C. where John was born.

John Nicholson, Sr. enlisted in the Revolution from Bute County, NC. His first term of enlistment began in 1780 and lasted for three months. He was under the command of Captain John White and in Colonel Eaton’s North Carolina Regiment, with General Caswell. This Regiment was at the Battle of Camden when General Gates was defeated. This first three-month term was as a substitute for someone else. He mustered out on the Adkin River.

His second enlistment of three months was in 1781 as a private under General Greene, in the N. C. Regiment commanded by Captains Flewallen and Norsworthy. The Regiment was in the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. After this three-month service, he was discharged at Ramey’s Mill.

His third three-month enlistment was under Colonel Linton in the North Carolina Troops. He was discharged at Tarborough.

For the fourth enlistment, again of three months in 1782, he served in Captain Cox’s Company of the North Carolina Regiment under Colonel Sevier. His honorable discharge came on the Tennessee River in North Carolina. Altogether, Private Nicholson served a year during the Revolution.

John Nicholson made application for a Revolutionary War pension on November 2, 1832. He was then a resident of Hall County, Georgia. He had been counted in the 1830 census of Hall County, along with his son, John Nicholson, Jr. (1802-1884). The pension was granted and Private John Nicholson received $40.00 per year until his death for his Revolutionary War service. By the 1850 census, John, Sr. was living in Cherokee County, Georgia in the household of his youngest son, John Nicholson, Jr. who had married Elizabeth Allred in 1827. That same year, 1850, John Nicholson, Sr. paid taxes in Union County, Georgia on land he owned, with his son-in-law, Lewis Akin, making the tax payment for him.

From the records, it would seem that John Nicholson, Sr. traveled about a lot. The aged soldier was probably moved from one child’s home to another to be cared for by them in his dotage. Reaching age 96 in those years was an accomplishment within itself. We can imagine that he had colorful stories to tell his children and grandchildren as he re-lived his four-term enlistment in the Revolution. The battles of Camden and Guilford Courthouse no doubt loomed large in his memory as he recalled the North Carolina farmers mustered out to protect their freedom and to win independence.

[Next week: More on the life and times of John Nicholson, Sr.]

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 26, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Private Michael Tanner, Revolutionary War Soldier

The marker for a Revolutionary War soldier, Private Michael Tanner, stands about in the middle of the Old Choestoe Cemetery. This simple marble monument, typical of war memorials dotting old cemeteries in various locations, is unpretentious. One might pass it by, not recognizing its significance or the contribution the soldier made to the freedom of America.

The Blue Ridge Mountains Chapter, Sons of the American Revolution, seeking to make a more lasting memorial, held a commemoration service at Private Michael Tanner’s grave on November 3, 2001. As a member of the Old Unicoi Trail Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, I was invited, along with other members of my chapter. It was a distinct privilege, toward the end of the memorial service, for fellow chapter member Carole Thompson and me to place a wreath to honor the service of Private Michael Tanner.

Dr. J. Allen Henson, a descendant of Private Tanner, gave a brief biography of his great, great great grandfather. It is to Dr. Henson I am indebted for the following information.

Michael Tanner was born December 4, 1759 in York County, Pennsylvania. Tanner is a trade name, deriving from those who followed the profession of tanning animal hides for fine leather. The earliest-known progenitors of Michael Tanner seem to have originated in Germany, moved to Holland, and then migrated to America in 1721, settling in Pennsylvania.

When Michael Tanner was eighteen, in 1777, he enlisted in the Continental Army in Shenandoah County, Virginia. His first encounters were against the Indians of the area to protect settlers from raids. He then engaged in skirmishes with the Tories who were faithful to the British crown.

When the Revolutionary War officially began, he was ready to bear arms for his country. At first he served as a volunteer, but was drafted when fighting accelerated. He served at first under the command of Captain Raider, General Hand and Captain Mason.

His unit journeyed to Fort Wallin on the Ohio River, the first assignment after he was drafted. Then he moved with his unit to the South Branch of the Potomac River where he was under the command of Captain George Huston and Colonel Simms. From there he fought in Rockingham County, Virginia under Captain John Rush in the Virginia Regiment headed by Colonel Harris.

The highlight of Private Michael Tanner’s military service occurred at Yorktown, Virginia, when General George Washington engineered the surrender of the British Field Commander, Charles, Earl of Cornwallis. At full strength, the American allied forces brought together 8,000 Continental Army troops and 3,000 militiamen at Yorktown, augmented by 15,000 French sailors who blocked Cornwallis’ escape and prevented British reinforcements from arriving by sea. It was a tense confrontation and much hinged on General Washington’s maneuvers, with Alexander Hamilton commanding the light infantry.

Cornwallis, realizing the precarious position of the British forces, began negotiations with General Washington. On October 19, 1781 the American Revolution ended and American independence was secured. Did Private Michael Tanner hear the strains of “The World Turned Upside Down” played from the British ship in the harbor? If he did, its strains must have reverberated in his memory for years to come.

We can only imagine the relief and happiness of soldiers like Private Michael Tanner who had done their part to bring about the surrender. Although it took two more years for hostilities to completely cease, statesmen like Benjamin Franklin, John Jay and John Adams kept negotiating for terms of peace. Questions of what would become of British loyalists (Tories) after the war and the bounds of U. S. territory to extend to the Mississippi River were argued. The Treaty of Paris was signed September 3, 1783.

Private Michael Tanner returned to Virginia following Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. In Rockingham County, Virginia on July 14, 1782 Tanner married Catherine Butt. They migrated from the more settled area of Virginia to the frontier counties of Rutherford and Buncombe in North Carolina. There they reared their family and he earned his living from the soil. Known children of Michael and Catherine were Michael (Jr.), Mollie Tanner Ross, Elizabeth Tanner Ellison, George Tanner, Sally Tanner, Catherine Tanner Harkins and sons Jacob, Adam and Abraham.

When Michael Tanner made application for a war pension, he used his father’s German Bible with family records to establish his birth date as December 4, 1759. From the pension application Dr. Henson learned of the war record of Private Tanner. He was still in Buncombe County, North Carolina, when he received a Revolutionary War pension in April, 1833.

By 1838, Michael and Catherine Butt Tanner had settled in the Choestoe District of Union County, Georgia, moving there to be near some of their children who had migrated before them. Catherine Butt Tanner preceded her husband in death, dying April 12, 1842. Her grave was marked by a fieldstone in Old Choestoe Cemetery. Seven years later, on August 25, 1849, Michael Tanner was laid to rest by his beloved Catherine. In 1989, one hundred and forty years later, Dr. J. Allen Henson had a military marker erected for his ancestor.

The memorial service held on November 3, 2001 was a solemn, dignified and uplifting ceremony. The strains of patriotic music from fife, drum and bagpipe echoed through the trees and hills around Old Choestoe Cemetery where this Pennsylvania-born, Virginia-bred, Yorktown patriot found his final resting place. The honor guard dressed in military regalia gave a proper twenty-one gun salute. It was a worthy tribute to an humble soldier-farmer whose ancestors had come to the shores of America in 1721 seeking freedom.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 19, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Happenings Along the Famous Logan Turnpike

Charles Roscoe Collins, who himself traveled with his father as a lad, and made his first solo trip on the Logan Turnpike at age 17, points to the site where two Runyon brothers were hanged by Confederate Home Guards during the Civil War. Mr. Collins shared many stories of happenings along the Logan Turnpike.

Mr. Charles Roscoe Collins was my guide in 1992 for a delightful day back into history as he pointed out where the Logan Turnpike was located and told me significant happenings along the famed toll road. I couldn’t have had a better mentor, for he himself had traveled the road as a lad with his father, James Johnson Collins. Then as a responsible teenager of 17, he was trusted to take his first wagon load of produce to Gainesville and return with goods to be sold in the Collins store.

“This is the place the Runyon boys were hanged from a strong limb of a large chestnut tree during the Civil War,” Collins stated as he pointed to the site. We could still see the old Logan Turnpike roadbed, but the chestnut tree had long since disappeared, hit by the blight that took those once-productive trees from the mountain soil.

“I used to be afraid when my father and I passed by here,” he said. “I was afraid the ghosts of the Runyon boys would come out of the woods to haunt us.”

He explained that the Runyon brothers met their deaths at the hands of the Home Guard, self-appointed vigilantes who hunted down and often disposed of those who hid out in the mountains to escape conscription into the Confederate Army. Mr. Collins also noted that many in the mountain region were pro-Union, siding with the North in “the late unpleasantness” as the Civil War was sometimes called.

I looked at the spot where the chestnut tree once stood and had a gruesome picture in my mind of a sad chapter in the area’s history as the young men met their deaths in such a cruel, untimely fashion.

“I’ll have to tell you about Jack Shuler and his boys and how they were hired to keep the north stretch of the Logan Turnpike passable,” Mr. Collins stated.

“Jack Shuler operated his farm and the Ponder Post Office near the present-day Union Baptist Church. Mr. Shuler received seventy-five cents per day for his labor to keep rocks, limbs and debris out of the road and to fill in the ruts after a gully-washer rain. When his strong sons worked, they received ten cents a day for their labor, even after they had grown nearly to manhood.” He pointed out rocks piled alongside the old roadbed, saying that, no doubt, they were some Mr. Shuler and his sons had piled there while clearing the turnpike.

“And this is Big Spiva Bend,” Roscoe Collins said. “Near here is the place where Newt Spiva hid out during the Civil War. The Home Guard found him and ordered him to surrender. He refused, preferring death to conscription. He was shot at a rock outcropping here. This place was named Spiva Bend after him.”

Spiva Bend was hard to manipulate with four-wheeled vehicles. Mr. Collins told of the time when his own older brother, Tom Collins, together with Perry Hood and Tom Calloway, had been hired by a Mr. Jarrard to transport a huge steam boiler from the gold mines of Coosa District in Union County to Cleveland, Georgia (across Tesnatee Mountain).

When they came to Spiva Bend, they had problems getting the large implement and the specially constructed four-horse wagon vehicle with extensions around the bend. The young men considered whether they would have to disassemble the engine and put it back together again. However, the men placed winches in strategic locations, and with their mountain ingenuity managed to get their load around the hazardous Spiva Bend without taking the engine apart. The next day the three men delivered the steam engine, all in one piece, to Mr. Jarrard at his place on Town Creek near Collins Mountain in White County, Georgia.

That day with Mr. Collins, we did not walk the seven-plus miles across Tesnatee Mountain to the south side of the old toll road. Instead, we drove Highway 129/19 southward across Neal Gap.

That route afforded more rich stories from Mr. Collins’s repertoire which I will retell at another time. Our destination was the south stretch of Logan Turnpike which we accessed by going Kellam Valley Road leading off Highway 129/19 north of Cleveland, Georgia.

Homer Nix and a Miss Satterfield are pictured in front of the old Logan Inn on the south end of the Logan Turnpike in 1920. Records show that the fiery South Carolina senator, and later vice-president of the U. S., John C. Calhoun of SC, made this inn his place to spend nights as he traveled to and from Lumpkin County to check on his gold interests there.

There, at the spot of the old Logan Inn, which today is the location of a private dwelling, we were welcomed inside by the owner, Mrs. Marion Crawford who looked after her 98-year old mother, Mrs. Sarah Mathis Ethier. They knew the history of the old turnpike and were glad to share their knowledge and show us pictures.

Shadows of trees make an "X" marking the beginning of the old Logan Turnpike, a toll road that crossed Tesnatee Gap mountain from White County into Union County. This picture shows the south access of the old road that operated from 1821 through 1925.

We went to a tree, still marked with a sign reading “Logan Turnpike. Pay tolls here.” We were told that John C. Calhoun, famous in South Carolina and U. S. history, and other notables made the old Logan Inn their place of rest when they traveled the turnpike. (Picture courtesy Union County Historical Society)

A milestone in deciding toll fees came as a spunky lady named Roxanne Durfee of Atlanta came chugging northward in her Overland Country Club Roadster in 1917. When she stopped to pay the toll, the gatekeeper didn’t know what to charge her because hers was the first car and driver to seek access to the toll road. Finally, a fee of fifty cents was set, and Mrs. Durfee paid and went along her way. She somehow managed the hazardous curves, overheated brakes, frequent stops and frazzled nerves to arrive later at the Christopher Hotel on the square in Blairsville. She was a pioneer, paving the way for other motorized vehicles to cross Tesnatee on the Logan Turnpike.

As I walked portions of the old Logan Turnpike, I sensed a strong touch, a nexus with the past. Over this same road my grandfathers, Francis Jasper Collins and Elisha Bluford Dyer, and my own father, Jewel Marion Dyer, had taken wagon loads of produce from their Choestoe farms to barter on the market at Gainesville and exchange for “store-bought” goods.

I thought back even farther to the Old Union and Unicoi Turnpikes, parallel roads into the mountain region, over which earlier ancestors had traveled to settle on 160-acre land lots in the early 1830s.

I thanked Charles Roscoe Collins for being my excellent guide on the journey back into history, a delightful time-warp.

I heard a faint rattle in the bushes, and there, hopping along the old roadbed, was a gray rabbit, intent on getting as far away from us as possible.

Choestoe in the Cherokee language means “the dancing place of rabbits.” Poet Byron Herbert Reece wrote in his poem about the place:

We could believe they danced and wish them dancing;

They came to sport forever in the name our country bears,

One that the Indians gave it.

Even more real than the dance of the rabbits was hope that ‘sprang eternal’ in the hearts of mountain men and women—my ancestors, your ancestors. An old roadbed lies as a symbol of their faith and optimism, of their dreams, of the harsh realities they faced. All combined to make us, their descendants, what we are today.

If you go to seek out the old Logan Turnpike roadbed, closed to traffic in 1925 when Neal Gap (now Hwy 129/19) opened, maybe you, as I, will have a deeper appreciation of your roots and the forces that made us uniquely a proud and industrious mountain people.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 12, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 5, 2004

The Logan Turnpike

If you want to travel the Logan Turnpike today, you will have to walk over portions of it or use a two-wheeled vehicle. The present-day Richard Russell Scenic Highway basically is cut through the northern roadbed of the turnpike. At Tesnatee Gap, the Logan Turnpike led from Union County across the mountain into White County. If you access it from the south, Kellam Valley Road north of Cleveland, Georgia will lead you northward to the old turnpike. It was first known as the Union Turnpike.

It was my privilege in 1992, while the venerable Charles Roscoe Collins, better known to family and friends as “Ros,” was still able to travel and give his historical accounts, to spend a day with him and have him personally give me a tour of the Old Logan Turnpike. His knowledge and memories provided a colorful roadmap to places and times in our history which have long since vanished.

“I rode the turnpike many times with my father, James J. Collins, in our two-horse wagon,” Collins remembered. As a lad, his major job was braking the wagon on the steep inclines. He told of cutting blocks of wood to use as “scotches” for the wheels. One time, he cut pine saplings and tied them behind the wagon to impede speed on the steep grades. In the winter, he also traveled ahead of the wagon and broke ice in the streams so the horses could cross.

When he was about seventeen, his father allowed him to take the wagon and its precious cargo on the Logan Turnpike to Gainesville to market. Collins felt that he had indeed “arrived,” being entrusted with the wagoner’s job without adult supervision. His father had a country store and the cargo for the trip to Gainesville included live chickens, farm produce, chestnuts and chinquapins in season, and cured animal pelts. These were items the country folk had brought to the Collins store to trade for “store-bought” items. Likewise, in Gainesville, Ros Collins bartered what he had hauled from Choestoe at the wholesale houses for coffee, sugar, cloth, shoes and other items which his father would sell in their store. Barter was the name of the game and adventure was par for the course. The round trip on these trading ventures took five days.

In tracing the history of the turnpike, this notation was found in the “Digest of Laws for the State of Georgia” for 1821: “John Lyon, Joel Dickerson and Company shall hereafter be a body corporate by the name and style of the Union Turnpike Company, for the purpose of constructing a turnpike road from Loudsville in Habersham County, through the Tesnatee Gap in the Blue Ridge Mountains, by way of Blairsville to some eligible point on the northern boundary of this state in a direction toward the Tellico Plains in the state of Tennessee.”

Specifications called for the turnpike to be twenty feet wide with a causeway of twelve feet. No railroad or other road or canal could be built within ten miles of the turnpike for fifteen years.

Since, in 1821, Indians were still in the area, it is reasonable to assume that the turnpike followed an Indian trail. The Union Turnpike was finished the same year it was chartered. A companion road, the Old Unicoi Turnpike to the east, paralleled the Union Turnpike. Unicoi was chartered in 1813 and led from North Carolina across Unicoi Gap, through the Nacoochee Valley and into present-day Clarkesville. Clearing for the Unicoi Turnpike began in 1812.

These two roads, the Union and the Unicoi, were used by early settlers arriving in the area. Once settled, the pioneers made good use of the roads as trade routes.

The Union Turnpike became the Logan Turnpike because of the Logan family. Francis Logan migrated from Rutherford County, NC, traveling over the Unicoi Turnpike. He settled on March 10, 1822 in Nacoochee Valley. His land grant was north of Cleveland in the Loudsville Community. He married Hulda Powell on August 12, 1825.

Certain events have a way of setting off a chain reaction. In 1828 one of Francis Logan’s slaves found a gold nugget along Duke’s Creek with a weight of more than three ounces. This set off the famous North Georgia Gold Rush. More gold was found along the Chattahoochee River, at Hamby’s Ford, at Bean Creek and at Black Branch. Soon thousands of gold-hungry prospectors were digging for the precious metal. When found (and they did find gold in them hills), the ore had to be taken to the nearest mint, Bechtler’s, in Rutherford County, North Carolina. Both the Unicoi and the Union Turnpikes were used to transport the gold northward to the mint. Later, as the gold rush escalated, a U. S. Mint was established at Dahlonega, Georgia.

Francis Logan had a son named Major Willis Logan. He had extensive land holdings south of the mountains in western White County. Records show that Major Logan purchased all rights to the Union Turnpike for $3,000. The road then took the name Logan after the man who bought it. He had a charter and operated the road for thirty years. Members of his family continued to operate it until Neel Gap opened up in 1925 with US Highway 129 and the Logan Turnpike was no longer needed.
Logan Turnpike was seven and one-half miles over the mountain, from Loudsville in White County, northward across Tesnatee Gap, by Ponder Post Office and on into Choestoe where it connected with the old Union Turnpike. Stagecoaches traveled from Augusta, Georgia to Tennessee. Major Logan operated a stagecoach inn that took in overnight boarders and offered meals. Tolls were charged. The tollgate was near Logan’s Inn.
[Next week: More on the Logan Turnpike.]

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Feb. 5, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.