The Robertson Genealogy Exchange

Colonel Harlee's Notes on 1221 General James Robertson

To rescue [1221] James and Charlotte (Reeves) Robertson from oblivion was not left to Kinfolks. Their names and fame rest secure in history in the recorded annals of North Carolina and Tennessee and in the published writings of Judge John Haywood who knew them and recorded in his History of Tennessee information received from them; in History of Middle Tennessee or Life and Times of Gen. James Robertson by A. W. Putnam who knew James Robertson's widow and perhaps in his youth, [1221] James Robertson himself; in Annals of Tennessee by Dr. J. G. M. Ramsey who doubtless knew the widowcertainly he and Putnam knew the sons and daughters; in Roosevelt's Winning of the West, a picturesque story well supported by reliable evidence; in Rear Guard of the Revolution and other writings by James R. Gilmore, who used also the nom de plume of "Edmund Kirke," and wrote entertainingly but with little regard for accuracy, as the preface of Roosevelt's work correctly remarks; in History of Tennessee by A. V. Goodpasture and other writings by that reliable historian; and in the writings of other notable writers.

Herein no attempt will be made to present a comprehensive biography of [1221] James Robertson nor to present all the available evidence to support the already well established facts of his notable and distinguished career. Our work will refer more especially to genealogical data of him and his descendants, and but briefly outline his history with some citations which portray him and characterize his achievements.

Some heretofore unpublished source material from the Draper collection of manuscripts is presented.


Dr. Lyman C. Draper, during his travels from 1841 to 1868 in various parts of the country, spent much time in Tennessee interviewing people informed of its early history and acquainted with its pioneers. During this time and for years afterwards he conducted an extensive correspondence and collected an enormous mass of authentic information.

His own notes (Series S) and the letters and various manuscripts collected are now in the library of State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, where they have been arranged in 469 bound manuscript volumes with calendar designations denoting by numerals the volume and by letters the series fol. lowed by numerals to indicate the pagination in the volumes.

The State Historical Society has published three "Calendar Series" volumes, indexing and summarizing the contents of some of the manuscripts, including Tennessee Papers (Series XX) in Volume III, and proposes eventually to do so with the remainder of this immense collection of manuscripts.

The valued services to Kinfolks of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, and particularly of Miss Annie A. Nunns, Assistant Superintendent, who has given considerate and painstaking attention to requests for much help, are gratefully acknowledged.

Many of the Draper manuscripts, as they are commonly called, contain information of those of the Robertson and connected families. In some cases, information not connected with persons within the scope of Kinfolks is deleted; in other cases the full text of heretofore unpublished manuscripts is presented because of their general historical interest.

The copies presented herein are from photostats of the original manuscripts. In some cases the capitalization has been modernized and the paragraphing has been altered. Otherwise the copies are faithful with designations of persons and explanatory notes parenthetically inserted.

[Yet much of the information imparted in the Draper letters is hearsay evidence, and, as such, it is subject to validation by the other evidence. TR]

Transcript of Draper 6XX96.
Synopsis of Draper 6XX48.
Transcript of Draper 6XX49.
Transcript of Draper 6XX50.
Transcript of Draper 6XX65.
Transcript of Draper 6XX70.
Transcript of Draper 6XX71.
Transcript of Draper 6XX97.


(Note: Willie (pronounced Wiley) Blount was younger brother of William Blount, Governor 1790-1796, The Territory South of the River Ohio, now Tennessee. Part of copy made by Dr. Draper of extracts from Willie Blount's papers follows)

From Willie Blount's papers Extract Clarksville 12th Feb 1835.

"The great sufferings of the western settlers for a long series of years were only rendered supportable through the active, signal as well as unceasing efforts made by General George Rogers Clarke of Kentucky, by General Isaac Shelby of Kentucky, by Generals John Sevier & James Robertson, by Col. Wm. Cocke..., by Gen. William Campbell of Virginia, & by Wm. Blountwho were all thus engaged for the period of their youth, to the end of their days; & who were constantly found to be friends to the safety, growth & protection of the West, both through their legislative efforts & measures & by their individual exertions, in conjunction with their fellow citizens, in the defenses of the portions of the overmountain region, & by their efforts in guarding the settlers at great individual risk & expensesome of them at the expense of all they were worth in money & property& thus they guarded & protected those settlers, against not only savage depredations, but against the unfriendly influence & insidious acts & evil machinations of both British & Spanish local authorities on our borders to a very great extent, where theythose foreign powers-held military posts, from which to counsel & aid the Indian tribes on our borders, & within the limits of the U. S.& thus counselled them to disturb the frontier, to prevent a settlement of the West, to obstruct the navigation of our rivers, & particularly that of the Mississippi, & that of Mobile, as well as that of their great tributaries meandering in all directions thousands of miles in & throughout the values of the Mississippi & Mobile; whilst, too, Spain claimed, as will be shown below, not only the right of exclusive navigation of Mississippi & of Mobile rivers, but actually claimed the whole portion of the U. S. west of the mountains for a long term of years; & whilst, too, the Crown of Great Britain also claimed the privilege, as if a right, of participation in the free navigation of the Mississippi, which right some of our American statesmen were willing to yield to that power; & whilst too, Spain openly declared she would never yield that, her alleged right, to the exclusive navigation of the Mississippi under any circumstances whatever& here it may not be amiss to state that a declaration to that effect, & in fact in those very words, made by the Spanish minister near the U. S. in the year 1787 was made to Wm. Blount, then a member of the Old Congress, and whothe ministerthen also mentioned, & with great assurance but with perfect composure, confidently & unequivocally asserted, in the presence of the writer of this sketchthen a boy at school in New York, where the Old Congress then satthat the King of Spain, his master, also claimed & had right not only to all the country west of the Mississippi, but to all the country claimed by the U. S. situated east of that river & lying between the Mississippi river & the Cumberland Mountain, & which right he declared the King, his master, would never yield to any other power under any circumstances whatever, as it was the basis & the key of the product & commerce of the West, through which the Mississippi & its tributaries flowed, to the great & incalculable benefit of Spain, then also in possession of East & West Florida, of the Island of Orleans, & of all the then Province Louisiana, as well as in the possession of all the military posts on the east bank of the Mississippi above, & between the 31st degree of north latitude & the mouth of the river Ohio, taken from the British during the American Revolutionary War, a fact & possession notorious, not only to the U. S., but to all the world& it was equally notorious, that Genl. George Rogers Clarke, during that same war, had in behalf of the U. S., taken from the British all their military posts on the east bank of the Mississippi & situated between the mouth of the Ohio & the lakes in the North & Northwest within the limits of the U. S.a fact so notorious that it is matter of history."


There are references to James Robertson in numerous other Draper MSS., among them the following statements written by men present on the occasion mentioned.

"[126] Col. Robertson marched (1776) to mouth of Chickamauga, burned many towns, one Dragging Canoe's." (16DD62). [Colonel Harlee is mistaken here. It was 126 Colonel Charles Robertson who participated in the Chickamauga Campaign of 1779. TR]

"[1221] Captain Robertson led party in pursuit (of Indians after their attack in 1777 on Fort Patrick Henry) ; killed one Indian and recovered ten horses; waylaid on return; two men wounded." (1XX21).

Medical and Physical Journal, March 1806, contained remarks by [1221] James Robertson on treatment of the scalped head (5XX15). His oldest son was scalped by Indians and survived for many years.

There are references in Draper MSS. to [1221] James Robertson and the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore's War against the hostile Indians on the then frontier before the American Revolution. Further reference to Point Pleasant is made under his brother, [1224] Elijah Robertson....


From Haywood's History of Tennessee, pp. 57-58, edition of 1915:

"In the year 1774 the Shawnees and other hostile tribes north of the Ohio commenced hostilities and penetrated as far south as the section of country now called Sullivan County, in East Tennessee. In the month of July of this year it was announced that Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, had ordered an expedition against those Indians under the command of Col. Andrew Lewis. Capt. Evan Shelby raised a company of more than fifty men, in what are now Carter and Sullivan Counties, composed in part of the Robertsons and Seviers. They marched on the 17th of August, and joined Col. Christian on New River; and then proceeded to the Great Levels of the Greenbrier, where they joined Col. Lewis' army about the 1st of September. They then proceeded by slow marches, and ar. rived at the mouth of the Great Kanawha on the 6th of October, where the army lay apparently in a state of perfect security until the morning of the 10th of that month, when [1221] James Robertson (afterward [1221] Gen. Robertson) and Valentine Sevier (afterward Col. Sevier), both of them sergeants at that time, went out of camp before day to shoot a deer, and very unexpectedly met the Indians half a mile from camp, advancing toward the provincials in a line from the Ohio back to the hills, a distance of half a mile. They were on the extreme left of the enemy, and fired on them at the distance of ten steps. As it was yet too dark to see a man distinctly at that distance, it caused a general halt of the enemy, while [1221] Robertson and Sevier ran into camp and gave the alarm. Three hundred men were instantly ordered out to meet them150 under Col. Charles Lewis, to the right, and 150 under Col. William Fleming, to left, up the bank of the Ohio. They had scarcely progressed out of sight of the sentinels when they met the enemy, and a most furious action commenced. The provincials were reenforced from camp, and the battle lasted nearly the whole day. The enemy was composed of Shawnees, Delawares, Mingoes, and others, and had to the number of eight hundred men. The provincials kept the field; their loss in killed and wounded being one hundred and sixty. The killed and wounded of the enemy were about the same number. Thus it has happened that East Tennessee, in the earliest stages of her infancy, has been called on to contribute all in her power to the common defense, and seems to have been made much less for herself than for the protection of her neighbors. It fell upon this occasion to the lot of men from East Tennessee to make an unexpected discovery of the enemy, and by that means to save from destruction the whole army of the provincials, for it was the design of the enemy to have attacked them at the dawn of day, and to have forced all whom they could not kill into the junction of the two rivers. The first Congress of the United Colonies was sitting in Philadelphia at the time this battle was fought. It had the happy effect of quelling the Indians till the year 1776. Cornstalk, a chief of the Shawnees, commanded the combined army of Indians on that day, and on the whole of that day exhibited prodigies of valor; in whatever part of the army his voice was heard from thence immediately issued a thick and deadly fire."

From Draper MS. 11DD82.W (ilkins) T(annehill's) article, Early Times in Tennessee in Louisville (Ky.) Western Messenger, based on Gov. Isaac Shelby's papers:

". . In this state of things (hostility of Indians on the frontiers) the government of Virginia in July, 1774, ordered an expedition against the hostile tribes, the command of which was given to Colonel Andrew Lewis. To co-operate in this expedition upon the success of which in a great degree depended the safety of the frontier settlements, Capt. Evan Shelby raised a company of fifty men, in that part of Tennessee now called Sullivan and Carter counties. They set out about the 17th of August, and in the beginning of September, formed a junction with Col. Christian, on New River. Animated by that bold and daring spirit, which subsequently, in more brilliant scenes, animated their descendants, they bore a part in the celebrated battle of the Great Kenhawa, on the 10th October where the Indians were defeated with considerable loss. In this battle the late [1221] Gen. James Robertson and Col. Valentine Sevier, then both non-commissioned officers, were distinguished for their vigilance, activity and braveryqualities for which they were more particularly distinguished in subsequent contests with the Indians in Tennessee....


(From letter of Col. George W. Sevier, son of Gov. John Sevier, to Dr. Draper).

Forest Hill July 28th 1839.

Dear Sir:

My father was married to his first wife in his 17th year, to Sarah Hawkins, by whom he had 10 children, (to wit): Joseph, James, John, Valentine, Richard, Betsey, Polly, Mary Ann, Nancy & Rebecca.

James, John, Valentine & Mary Ann are living. His first wife died in Washington County, E. Te., then N. Carolina. I cannot now ascertain the year.

His 2d wife (my mother) was Catherine Sherrill by whom he had 8 children, Ruth, Catherine, Geo. Washington, Joanna Goode, Samuel, Robert, Polly Preston & Eliza Conway.

Geo. W., Saml., Robert, Polly P. & Eliza C. are yet living. My mother died the 2d Oct. 1836 at Russellville, Ala....

My father held a commission under Lord Dunmore but was not in the battle at Pt. Pleasant. My uncle Valentine Sevier & [1221] James Robertson, both of them sergeants, were in that battle & first discovered the enemy. My father is the same that held coms. of Lt. Col. from Gov. Caswell. Col. Landon Carter was the Col. of that Regt....

My grandfather Valentine Sevier was a farmer & merchant in Va. He removed with my father to N. Carolina (now Te.) & died in Carter Cty....


(From Dr. Draper's letter 18 Feb 1843 to William Martin, Dixon Springs, Smith Co., Tenn.)

In round numbers Gen. Lewis' army consisted of 1100 men, and probably only 400 were fortifying the camp, & certainly not over 500, but I do not feel altogether certain that he was justified in keeping so many men in camp as four hundred even, while so fierce and doubtful a battle was raging around them.

One other matter, Shelby's old letter distinctly states that two of Capt. Russell's company first discovered the enemy. One was killed, & in a few minutes two of Evan Shelby's Company, [1221] James Robertson & Valentine Sevier, came running in & corroborated what Russell's man had stated. Does this tally with Dr. Felix Robertson's recollection of his father's version?

I have other proof that Val. Sevier was the person with [1221] Robertson, other than Shelby's old letter, & certain it is that Sevier was not killed on that occasion. You must make a desperate effort to coincide in this view of the matter. So much for Point Pleasant.


(From Col. William Martin's letter, 13 May 1843 to Dr Draper).

Point Pleasant. I said in a former letter that I did not remember to have heard of any officer higher than captain in the fight after Col. Lewis fell; that 300 men went out with him at first, and no reenforcements except a few (not five as you have misunderstood me) who went contrary to orders; and that [1221] Robertson and another man first discovered the enemy, that the other man was killed and that Robertson gave the first alarm.

You think I am mistaken in all these particulars. Perhaps I am so. Indeed I now admit I was, as respects field officers, for since you mention them I recollect that Col. Fields was killed, and Major Flemming (I used to hear him called, not "Colonel") was badly wounded.

You say you have the original letters of Shelby and Preston, written directly after the battle, giving particulars, stating that there were not less than six or seven hundred men in the fightthat Robertson did not first discover the enemy &c.

Now these old letters are certainly entitled to more credit than are any traditional recollections, yet I can hardly yield the opinion but that [1221] Robertson made the first discovery of the enemy. For in addition to what he himself told me (so specially that the information was so strongly made that I think I cannot have forgotten, but that the whole, meaning the discovery, is now as fresh in my mind's eye whenever I recur to it), I have an old song or two, made on the occasion, which I used to know when I was a boy. I have labored to recollect them and could get only a little here and a little there. But an old blind sister near me, older than I am (in her 80th year) of fine sense naturally, sound intellect, and unusually good memory, remembers one of them perfectly, and some fragments of another.

Although these songs are not of the sublime, they may be none the less true, as respects the leading parts referred to. The authors, I presume, were actors in that great affair, and they could have had no motive in perverting facts as they understood them. And furthermore, they must have known that a departure from truth would expose to detection. For poets you know are as responsible for truth as other authors, allowance being made for fancy. Hence I consider these songs about equal to record evidence. For you know that ancient history was originally written in poetry.

I am the more confirmed in the correctness of these songs as they agree pretty much with the general history of the affair, and corroborate your understanding of several important particularsviz: as respects the whole number of the troops there at the time the number engaged in the fight, the officers &c. They also corroborate the opinion I fully entertain, that Robertson made the first discovery. If Val. Sevier was with [1221] Robertson as you suppose, why was his name omitted in the song?

My sister and myself were my father's two oldest children. He had taken an active part. in that war-we thought him the greatest man in the worldheard him talk a great deal about the war as people would come to see him after. he returned home &c.

My uncle Brin was also out on that campaign with my father. He, I have told you before, was a light, superficial good humored man, and he was a great singer too, and I expect myself and sister learned those songs from him.

Indeed I think that where ever Shelby's letter and the songs disagree, the chances for the truth are in favor of the songs, meaning so far as respects important facts. For it seems the letter was written next day after the battle, consequently in the midst of much confusion incident to their situation and before there was time for all the leading transactions to be fully developed. But the songs were composed, I apprehend, after things were settled and all fully understood. Thus I claim for Robertson the credit of the first discovery.

I have another important witness to this fact, namelyEdmund Jennings (who was with Col. Christian) whom I have known for more than 50 years, lived with me a good deal of his after life, and died two or three years ago, aged more than 80, after having spent the last 65 years of his life in Ky. and present Tennessee, and acted a distinguished part in the war from the first to the very last. When you come here I must give you a sketch of his life, I cannot undertake to write it out.

He and I often talked about the battle of the Point and he always said that [1221] Robertson made the first discovery. Indeed the subject of that battle has been familiar to my ears from the time I was a small boy until now, and I never heard the fact that [1221] Robertson first discovered the enemy denied until this old Shelby letter has come to light. So you see I still stick to my text.


The published Colonial and State Records of North Carolina contain many references to [1221] James Robertson, including letters from him vividly relating conflicts with Indians and the affairs and conditions of those eventful times.

The present state of Tennessee was a part of North Carolina until 1790, when it was ceded to the federal government, then became "The Territory South of the River Ohio" and finally, in 1796, was admitted as the State of Tennessee into the Union.

[1221] James Robertson and his brothers [1224] Elijah, [1222] John, [1226] Mark, and [1223] Charles and sister [1227] Anne (Robertson) (Johnston) Cockrill and the sister who married William Cash [1225] were among the pioneer settlers in the present state of Tennessee.


When they first settled in the Watauga valley in present East Tennessee that region was believed to be part of Virginia, Fincastle Co., until a survey in 1771 showed it to be south of the Virginia line and in territory ceded to the Cherokee Indians over which the Province of North Carolina claimed no jurisdiction.

After arranging with the Cherokee Indians for the purchase of the land, the settlers under the leadership of [1221] James Robertson and others, in 1772, formed a government known as the "Watauga Association" and continued as a separate government until the outbreak of the Revolution, when North Carolina and the other British provinces seceded from the British govern. ment which incited the Indians to hostility, against the frontier settlements.

Then, in 1776, the settlers "over the mountains" along the Watauga and Holston Rivers, calling that region the "District of Washington," petitioned North Carolina to be annexed and joined in the struggle against the British forces and their Indian allies.

This petition was signed by John Carter, [1221] James Robertson and his cousin [his uncle TR], [126] Charles "Roberson," John Sevier, Jacob Womack and eight other "Members of the Committee assembled," also by ninety-eight others, including [1221] James Robertson's brothers, [1224] Elijah Robertson, [1226] Mark Robertson and [1222] John "Robinson," his wife's brother, William Reeves, [1261] Julius Robertson and [1263] William "Roberson," believed to be sons of his cousin [his uncle TR], [126] Col. Charles Robertson, Landon Carter..., Valentine Sevier, John Haile, and others who played notable parts in the defense and development of their homeland.

The petition was "laid before the Council of Safety" and endorsed "Received August 22nd 1776." "The Journal of the Provincial Congress of North Carolina held at Halifax" shows that on "Tuesday November 19th 1776...a Petition, from the settlers at Watauga, and District of Washington praying to be annexed to this state, etc was moved and seconded that the three persons who now attended Congress to represent the settlers in Washington District might be permitted to subscribe the test and take their Seats...and carried in the affirmative. Whereupon [126] Mr. Charles Robertson, Mr. John Carter and Mr. John Haile, three of the delegates from Watauga Settlement, and District of Washington, appeared, subscribed the Test, and took heir seats in Congress accordingly." (Colonial Records of North Carolina, Vol. X, pp. 925-6). This same Congress on "Monday, December 23d, 1776...Resolved that John Carter be Colonel, John Sevier, Lieutenant Colonel, [126] Charles Robertson, 1st Major, and Jacob Womack, 2nd Major for the District of Washington and that the commissions issue accordingly" (p. 998).

The petition appears in Colonial Records of North Carolina, Vol. X, pp. 708-11, "Reprinted from Ramsey's History of Tennessee" and is here presented. It is rich in interesting history of the beginnings of the settlement of what is now Tennessee, in the development of which [1221] James Robertson and his kinsmen played conspicuous and heroic parts. They were among the first volunteers in the militia of "The Volunteer State"; engaged in the campaigns against the British forces in the struggle for independence, subduing British allies, the savage Indians set upon the war-path against the outpost pioneer patriots by agents of the British government.

Transcript of the 1776 Watauga Petition.


From Haywood's History of Tennessee. (The pagination is that of the 1915 edition of Publishing House Methodist Episcopal Church, South, Nashville, Tenn.)

"Amongst others who had withdrawn from the oppression which they (the North Carolina provincial officials) had made fashionable was Daniel Boone, from the Yadkin, who removed in 1769 or 1770; and [1221] James Robertson, from Wake County, in North Carolina, early in 1770. He is the same person who will appear hereafter by his actions to have merited all the eulogium, esteem, and affection which the most ardent of his countrymen have ever bestowed upon him. Like almost all those in America who have ascended to eminent celebrity, he had not a noble lineage to boast of, nor the escutcheon armorials of a splendid ancestry. But he had what was far more valuablea sound mind, a healthy constitution, a robust frame, a love of virtue, an intrepid soul, and an emulous desire for honest fame. He visited the delightful country on the waters of the Holston, to view the new settlements which then began to be formed on the Watauga. When he came to the Watauga, in 1770, he found one Honeycut living in a hut, who furnished him with food for his subsistence. He made a crop this year on the Watauga. On recrossing the mountains he got lost for some time, and, coming to a precipice over which his horse could not be led, he there left him and traveled on foot. His powder was wetted by repeated showers of rain, and was so spoiled that he could not use it for the purpose of procuring game for his food. For fourteen days he wandered without eating, till he was so much reduced and weakened that he began seriously to despair of ever returning to his home again. But there is a providence which rules over the destinies of men, and preserves them to run the race which is appointed for them. Unpromising as were the expectations of [1221] James Robertson at that time, having neither learning, experience, property, nor friends to give him countenance, and with spirits drooping under the pressure of penury and a low estate, yet the God of nature had given him an elevated soul, and planted in it the seeds of virtue, which made him in the midst of discouraging circumstances look forward to better times. He was accidently met by two hunters, on whom he could not, without much and pressing solicitation, prevail so far as to be permitted to ride on one of their horses. They gave him food, of which he ate sparingly for several days, till both his strength and spirit returned to him. This is the man who, in the sequel of his history, will figure so deservedly as the greatest benefactor of the first settlers of the country. He reached home in safety, and soon afterward returned to the Watauga, with a few others, and there settled. Boone had been there at an earlier period, and was then there also. [1221] Robertson and sixteen others, in 1772, entered into a covenant with each other to purchase lands of the Indians, if they could do so upon reasonable terms. They did not complete the covenant amongst themselves, which Boone communicated to Henderson, and it eventuated in the formation of a company by Henderson, who actually made a purchase in 1774 and 1775." (Pp. 52-53).

"In 1772 the settlement on the Watauga, being without government, formed a written association and articles for their conduct. They appointed five commissioners, a majority of whom was to decide all matters of controversy, and to govern and direct for the common good in other respects. The settlement lived under these articles for some time. [1221] James Robertson was one of the five commissioners. He soon became distinguished for sobriety and love of order, and for a firmness of character which qualified him to face danger. He was equally distinguished for remarkable equanimity and amenity of manners, which rendered him acceptable to all who knew him." (P. 54).

"After the lease made by the Indians of lands on the Watauga a great race was agreed to be run there, at which, on the appointed day, were numbers of persons from all the ad. jacent country. Amongst them were some Indians, drawn to the spot by the same curiosity which collected others there. Certain persons...fell upon and killed one of the Indians... The inhabitants were greatly alarmed at this rash act, as it immediately endangered their repose, and exposed them to the retaliating resentment of the savages in their neighborhood. In this state of alarm and danger [1221] James Robertson undertook a journey to the Indian Nation to pacify them, and allay the irritation which this imprudent act had provoked. The attempt was full of hazard, and required much intrepidity, as well as affection for the people, in him who engaged in it. [1221] Mr. Robertson, however, did engage in it, and succeeded. He proceeded directly to the Cherokee towns, and stated to the chiefs and people that the settlers upon the Watauga viewed the horrid deed which had been perpetrated with the deepest concern for their own character; and with the keenest indignation against the offenders, whom they meant to punish as they deserved whenever they could be discovered. The Indians were appeased by this instance of condescension in the white people, and of the discountenance which they gave to the miscreant. The settlers were saved from their fury, and [1221] Robertson began to be looked upon as an intrepid soldier, a lover of his countrymen, and a man of uncommon address in devising means of extrication from difficulties." (Pp. 56-57).

"On the same day (in July, 1776), that the battle was fought at the Flats, another body of Cherokees, who came up the Nolichucky under the command of Old Abraham, of Chilhowee, attacked the fort at Watauga, in which were [1221] James Robertson, who commanded, Capt. Sevier, Greer, and others forty in all. In the morning at sunrise they made the attack, and were repulsed by the fire from the fort with some loss." (P. 65).

"In the year 1781, on the 15th of January, an attack was made on Freeland's Station by forty or fifty Indians in the still hour of midnight. [1221] Capt. James Robertson had, in the evening before returned from the Kentucky settlements, and having been accustomed, whilst on the road, to more vigilance than the other residents of the fort, he heard the noise which the cautious savages made in opening the gate. He arose and alarmed the men in the station, but the Indians had got in. The cry of 'Indians' brought Maj. Lucas out in his shirt. He was shot. The alarm being general, the Indians retreated through the gate, but fired in at the port-holes through the house in which Maj. Lucas lived. In this house they shot a negro of [1221] Capt. Robertson's. These were the only fatal shots, though not less than five hundred were fired into the house. It was the only one in which the port-holes were not filled up with mud. The whites, only eleven in number, made good use of the advantage they possessed in the other houses of the fort. [1221] Capt. Robertson shot an Indian, which soon caused the whole party to retreat. The moon shone brightly, otherwise this attack would probably have succeeded. The fort was once in possession of the Indians. They found means to loosen the chain on the inside which confined the gate, and they were superior in point of numbers. The Indians received re-enforcements from the Cherokee Nation. They burned up everything before them: immense quantities of corn and other produce, as well as the houses, fences, and even the stations of the whites. The alarm was general; all who could get to the bluff or Eaton's Station did so, but many never saw their comrades in those stations. Some were killed sleeping; some were awakened only to be apprised that their last moment was come; some were killed in the noonday, when not suspicious of danger; death seemed ready to embrace the whole of the adventurers. In the morning when Mansco's Lick Station was broken up, two men who had slept a little later than their companions were shot by two guns pointed through a port-hole by the Indians...Many of the terrified settlers removed to Kentucky, or went down the river." (P. 130).

"In the early part of March (1788), at the plantation of [1221] Col. Robertson, on Richland Creek...a party of Creeks killed Peyton Robertson, his son, at a sugar camp." (P. 245).

"On the 24th of May, 1792, [1221] Gen. Robertson and his son, [12211] Jonathan Robertson, were at or near Robertson's Lick, half a mile from his station, where they were fired upon by a party of Indiana. The general was wounded in the arm, and thrown by his horse amongst the Indians. His son was wounded through the hip, but seeing the dangerous situation in which his father was, he dismounted, though so badly wounded, and fired on them as they "shed toward his father. This checked them for a moment, and gave time to the general to get off, and both got safely into the station." (P. 343).

"At the close of this eventful year (1795) the Spaniards had become reconciled to the people of this Territory. Their limits on our borders were fixed, the free navigation of the Mississippi was yielded to the United States, the northern and southern Indians had suspended their incursions, emigration flowed in full tide upon the country, the people were about to make for themselves a new Constitution and to assume the rank of an independent State. [1221] James Robertson, the first settler both of East and West Tennessee, and the political father of the latter, who had shared in all the dangers and sufferings of the first settlers, still lived; and saw the country, which he had fostered with so much care, smiling for the blessings it enjoyed, and for the still greater blessings which Providence seemed to have in store." (P. 465).

"[1221] Gen. Robertson, on the 13th of May, 1795, finding that the public safety no longer required the arduous military labors which he had so long sustained, and seeing withal that the Nickajack expedition, though it actually put an end to the war of the Cherokees, was snarled at by the Secretary, requested that the Governor might consider his office of Brigadier-general resigned from and after the 15th of August ensuing." (Pp. 483-4).


From Putnam's History of Middle Tennessee or Life and Times of [1221] Gen. James Robertson:

"As [1221] General Robertson was the recognized leader in these settlements (in middle Tennessee), and during all his life acted a most useful and distinguished part here, we deem it no disparagement to others, nor more than due to him, to add his name in the title-page. The fact is, that no just history of this section of country could be given without presenting him at the head of affairs; nor could a faithful biography of [1221] Robertson be written which should not, at the same time, identify him with all that is interesting in the events which transpired here, from the planting of corn in 1779, the planting of a colony in 1780, to the close of the last century." (P. 1'7).

"He was born in Brunswick county, Virginia, June 28th, 1742, and died at the Chickasaw Agency (now in West Tennessee) September 1st, 1814. In 1825 his remains were reinterred at Nashville, with marked honors by the citizens, and an appropriate eulogium by Judge Haywood, the earliest historian of the State."

"When [1221] Robertson was but a youth, his parents removed and settled in Wake county, North Carolina, where he early married Miss Charlotte Reeves, by whom he had eleven childrenseven sons and four daughters. (Footnote: Two sons were killed by Indians, one daughter died at two years of age; four children, two sons and two daughters, yet (1859) live. One of these, Dr. Felix Robertson, ever highly honored, was the first male child born at the Bluffs, or Nashville. He was regarded as a New Year's gift, presented on 11th January, 1781. Filiorum felix Nashvilliensis primaevus.)" (P. 18).

"The 'Old County of Orange' embraced an extensive region of country, and in this year was reduced and changed in its limits by the erection of two other counties. The new county of Wake was organized. Raleigh, the capital of the State, is in this county. Here, and around this central position, were an intelligent people, 'studious of their rights, bold to avow, and brave to maintain them: ...[1221] Robertson was personally acquainted with the leading men of the country, and was intimate with many of the young men who had resolved to sustain the measures...Robertson, when a youth, had seen Washington and other wise and good men in Virginia...." (P. 19).


From Ramsey's Annals of Tennessee:

"Here it is proper to state, that ([1221] General James Robertson) this father of Tennessee this founder of the settlements on Watauga and Cumberland; this most successful negotiator between his countrymen and their Indian neighbours; this citizen, who so well united the character of the patriot and the patriarch; continued to the close of his useful life, an active friend of his country, and possessed, in an eminent degree, the confidence, esteem and veneration of all his contemporaries; and his memory and services to the Western settlements, in peace and in war, are recollected with grateful regard by the present generation." (P. 712).

"The people of Tennessee have reason to venerate the memory of [1221] James Robertson, alike for his military and civil services, and the earnest and successful manner in which he conducted his negotiations for peace and commerce. His probity and strength of character secured to his remonstrances with Indians and Spanish agents respectful attention and consideration. His earnest and thoughtful manner was rarely disregarded by either." (The Am. Hist. Mag., July, 1903, pp. 293-4) .


Theodore Roosevelt in The Winning of the West, VOL 1, pp. 166-193, describing the "Watauga Commonwealth" states that John Sevier and [1221] James Robertson "towered head and shoulders above the rest in importance and merit special attention; for they were destined for the next thirty years to play the chief parts in the history of that portion of the Southwest which largely through their efforts became the State of Tennessee."

He carried on the probable error, started by the generally accurate historian, Judge John Haywood, and carried on by Putnam and others, that [1221] James Robertson grew to manhood illiterate. He states: "[1221] Robertson first came to the Watauga early in 1770. He had then been married for two years," and then continues, probably incorrectly, "'learning his letters and to spell' from his well educated wife; for he belonged to a backwoods family, even poorer than the average and he had not so much as received the rudimentary education that could be acquired at an 'old field' school."

Evidence does not support that reflection on this Robertson family which was a respected one which had taken special pains to educate its young who, without exception, when they grew to maturity became outstanding and notable men and women. The records of the sons indicate that theirs was a leading family in their community. They may have been poor in worldly wealth, but the records of [1221] James Robertson and his brothers and sisters indicate that this was not an illiterate family. They were a "backwoods family," to be sure, but so were the most of the good families who pioneered in this country and lit the torch of education wherever they settled. The marriages these Robertsons contracted with those of families of well known high standing and attainments and the positions they attained and ever active life they led do not indicate that they received their schooling from their wives and husbands after marriage. Indeed, the men spent too much time in the open and away from home to receive, after maturity, such education as their records certainly show that they had. [1221] James Robertson's own record shows that for the first few years after marriage he was away from home much of the time engaged in exploring and in warfare and other errands among the Indians, and we soon find records of an extensive correspondence he conducted. It is hardly believable that he had not the rudiments of an education at the time of his marriage. It is certain that he could write in 1776 when he and his brothers signed the petition for "Watauga Settlement and the District of Washington" to be annexed to North Carolina. The record shows who wrote their signatures and who signed by making their mark. His younger brothers who wrote their signatures were certainly not educated by their wives for they then had no wives and some of them were probably under 21 years old. They certainly, and presumably, [1221] James Robertson also, received some education in their youth. Nobody knew how to spell very well then. Spelling had not then become standardized. Dictionaries did not appear in this country until later.

Roosevelt continues: "But he was a man of remarkable natural powers, above the medium in height, with wiry, robust form, light blue eyes, fair complexion and dark hair; his somewhat sombre face had in it a look of self contained strength that made it impressive; and, his taciturn, quiet, masterful way of dealing with men and affairs, together with his singular mixture of cool caution and most adventurous daring, gave him an immediate hold, even among such lawless spirits as those on the border."

Later on he states: "[1221] Robertson's energy and his remarkable resourcefulness brought him to the front at once; although, as already said, he had much less than backwoods education, for he could not read when he was married, while most of the frontiersmen could not only read but also write, or at least sign their names."

There is much other mention of [1221] James Robertson in all the four volumes of this work of Roosevelt, especially in Vol: II in Chapters VIII and X under "The Holston Settlements" and in Chapters XI and XIII under "The Cumberland Settlements," and, except for his elaboration of the alleged early illiteracy of James Robertson, his work is interesting and well documented with evidence.


From American Historical Magazine, April 1898The Watauga Association, by A. V. Goodpasture:

"The first decade of Tennessee history centers in the little settlement on the Watauga River, of which [1221] James Robertson (1742-1814) was the leading spirit. [1221] Robertson was a native of Brunswick County, Virginia, but in his youth had removed with his parents, John and Mary (Gower) Robertson, to Orange County, North Carolina...on October 20, 1768 [The source of this date has not yet been determined. TR], [1221] Robertson was married to Charlotte, daughter of George and Mary Reeves, who had come to Orange from Northampton the spring of 1770, he crossed the mountain with the avowed intention of finding a home for himself and family, and with commissions to do alike service for many of his friends who wished desirable locations near his own..."

"On his return he found great excitement, not only in Orange, but in Rowan and Dobbs Counties as well. Goaded to desperation, the Regulators had defied and resisted civil officers, assaulted and beaten attorneys and broken up courts. The tyrannical and energetic governor took active steps, not only to suppress, but to crush the fourteenth of May, 1771, Governor Tryon encamped on the banks of the Alamance, with a force of more than eleven hundred men. On the sixteenth the battle of the Alamance was fought, in which the Regulators were routed...the first fruits of this great exodus (following the Battle of Alamance) were James Robertson and his family and friends, who crossed over to their Watauga homes in the spring of 1771."

"[1221] Robertson has justly been called the 'Father of Tennessee.' It is true his name is more intimately linked with the history of the middle portion of the State, but his public services here antedate the settlement of the Cumberland valley by a period of nearly ten years, during which time he was the leading spirit of the Watauga settlements, where he proved himself in every way worthy of the affectionate title he has received. He had an elevation of soul that enabled him to take upon himself the burden of the whole community. He was wholly unconscious of self. He never sought popularity, nor honor, nor position. If there were a service too humble to attract the ambitious, a post so perilous as to make the brave quail, or a duty so diffi. cult as to fill every other heart with despair, that service or post or duty was accepted as a matter of course by [1221] James Robertson. And his head was so cool and clear; he had such a brave, resolute and devoted spirit; and his vigilance was so alert and active, that success followed him like the blessings of a special providence."


From American Historical Magazine, Vol. I, No. 1, January, 1896:

"Fragments of the correspondence of this remarkable man, consisting of copies of letters written by himself, and preserved among his papers, the original letters written to him by correspondents, and copies of important contemporaneous documents, have been preserved. They are bound in manuscript in two large volumes, and are among the treasures of the library of the 'University of Nashville and Peabody Normal College.' Most of the copies of his own letters and of contemporaneous documents are in [1221] Gen. Robertson's own handwriting....

"These letters have been invaluable to the historians of Tennessee. They supply pictures of social, political and military life, drawn by the leading. actors in the events to which they relate. Yet only two or three of them have ever been published. They will be given successively in issues of this magazine." (They were published in successive issues. WCH).

"The correspondence, etc., of [1221] Gen. James Robertson, who has been styled the 'Father of Tennessee,' was obtained from his son, [12216] Dr. Felix Robertson of Nashville, with permission to select from it such papers as might be considered worth preserving; inasmuch however as many of those, that were of a private nature, contained the allusions to political occurrences and Indian border troubles of the day, it was deemed best to preserve the correspondence entire. I accordingly arranged them in chronological order and had them bound in these two volumes. NATHL. CROSS. Nashville University Library. 1840."

These letters not only are invaluable to historians but abound in human interest. Since the series of issues of the magazine in which they were published are not generally accessible there was temptation to republish parts herein, but this work would exceed its limitations of space if not restrained in such indulgences.


From American Historical Magazine, April, 1896 The Family of Gen. James Robertson by Lavinia R. (Hill) Brown....:

"[1221] Gen. James Robertson was the son of [122] John and Mary (Gower) Robertson, born in Brunswick County, Va., June 28, 1742...There were other sons and one daughter (there were two or more daughters. WCH) born to [122] John and Mary (Gower) Robertson...[1221] James the eldest son, went to Wake County, N. C.; there married Charlotte Reeves, daughter of George and Mary Reeves, October 20, 1768...he left his beautiful home, 'Travellers Rest' (near Nashville, Tenn.), to spend his last days with the Chickasaw Indians in the interest of the government; ....he died after a few days illness, September 1st, 1814, and was buried in the Agency where his remains rested until removed to Nashville, Tennessee, about 1825, and reinterred beside his wife, Charlotte, in the City Cemetery...Charlotte Reeves...was born in North Hampton County, N. C., Jan 2, 1751."


By Maj. E. C. Lewis in American Historical Magazine, July, 1903.

Accompanying [1221] Robertson on his first visit to Tennessee, in 1770, was the intrepid and famous Boone.

[1221] Robertson went immediately to work, cleared his patch, and planted his crop; which having yielded well and been housed after some sort of fashion, [1221] Robertson returned for his family, then consisting of his wife, Charlotte (born Reeves), and one child.

[1221] Robertson now seeing the town of Nashville organized, procured from the Legislature of North Carolina a charter for Davidson Academy, with an endowment of two hundred acres of land, to be free from taxation for ninety-nine years.

This was the nucleus of Nashville University and the Peabody Normal, and it may be said the starting of Nashville as an educational center.

The Constitutional Convention of the State of Tennessee was called to meet in 1796. Davidson County was represented by [1221] James Robertson, John McNairy and Andrew Jacksonan illustrious trio. Not for forty years was this Constitution changed.

[1221] James Robertson, a most worthy citizen, both of Virginia and North Carolina, a pioneer patriot and patriarch in Tennessee, diplomat, Indian fighter, maker of remarkable history, Brigadier General of the United States Army, founder of Nashville, Governmental Agent to the Chickasaw Nation, died at the Agency in West Tennessee, September 1, 1814.

The body of Robertson was buried at the Agency, and there remained until 1825, when, by act of the Legislature of Tennessee, his remains were removed to Nashville and reinterred, and yet lie in what is now known as the old City Cemetery, in South Nashville....


Inscriptions on tombstones in "Old City" Cemetery, Nashville, Tenn.:




In Centennial Park, Nashville, Tenn., near the Parthenon is a granite shaft with base bearing the following inscriptions.






The portraits of [1221] James Robertson and his wife, Charlotte (Reeves) Robertson, herein reproduced are from oil paintings now in Memorial Building, Nashville, Tenn.

[1221] James Robertson, having died in 1814 long before photography was discovered in France and first practiced, about 1840, in this country, and it being unlikely that artists braved the dangers of the frontier region where all hands must be gunmen to repel hostile Indians, and there being no evidence that he visited New Orleans or the cities of the Atlantic seaboard where artists may have flourished, this writer made inquiries as to the authenticity of the portrait of [1221] James Robertson. In response Dr. W. A. Provine, Curator of The Tennessee Historical Society and Editor of its publication, The Tennessee Historical Magazine, wrote:

"The portrait of James Robertson is what the artist calls a 'composite' one, not from real life, but an assembly of family resemblances and traditions, hence largely imagination. That of Mrs. Robertson was painted from life and can be relied on as a fair representation."

Mrs. Octavia Zollicoffer Bond...wrote: "Let me give you an account of the circumstances under which the portrait of [1221] General James Robertson was painted, long after his death. It was told me by his great granddaughter, Mrs. Nellie (Robertson) Cannon (7770165c), who said she had always heard that at the time when the locally noted artist, Cooper, was painting the portrait of the widow, Mrs. Charlotte (Reeves) Robertson, it was the wish of the family and of the public that a portrait of her distinguished husband might be painted. There was no likeness of him in existence then. Mrs. Robertson said she could give an accurate description of him if the artist were willing to undertake the work with that to guide him. Following his agreement to do so, she brought into his presence various descendants, one of whom she pointed out as having the General's eyes, another his hair, still another the shape of his head, features, etc., supplementing these illustrations with descriptions of his expression. When she was shown the resultant completed portrait, her usual calm gave way to tears of delight at seeing what she pronounced to be a perfect likeness of her deceased husband."

Draper. MS. 3XX8From Dr. Draper's letter, 24 Sep 1842, to Col. William Martin:

"A few years since, [12216] Dr. (Felix) Robertson persuaded a portrait painter to attempt a likeness of his father from such directions as he would be able to give, & from family features where they were known to exist& actually produced, the Doctor informs me, a very good likeness & readily recognized by the General's old acquaintances."


By Mrs. Felix Robertson Hill, Jr. in World Outlook, Nashville, Tenn., September, 1932.

"Editors note: [1221A] Mrs. Lavinia Craighead..., who was the youngest daughter of [1221] Gen. James Robertson, the founder of Nashville, was the grandmother of Dr. Felix Robertson Hill..., who was born in Nashville, and who for half a century served great churches in Southern Methodism as pastor...Mrs. Felix R. Hill, Jr., at the request of the editor, furnishes the following story of the Robertson Bible."

"After a brief visit to North Carolina in 1784, [1221] General Robertson returned to the tiny frontier post, flung as it were on the very outskirts of civilization by his own adventurous hand, and with him he brought the Bible which is now a cherished keepsake of his descendants. This book, bound in sheepskin and published in London in 1774, is as sturdily put up as was the stockade which protected the early home of Nashville's illustrious founder, in which it served as the family Bible. It is eight and one-half inches long, five and one-half inches wide, and three inches thick. In the one binding are two volumes, the second volume beginning with the book of Isaiah.

"Inside the front cover is the original signature of 'J. Robertson,' as attested to by his son, [12216] Dr. Felix Robertson..., the first white child born in the settlement, and by [1221A] Lavinia, the youngest daughter. On the back of the title-page of the New Testament there appears a complete record of the births of [1221] James and Charlotte Robertson and their eleven children. Soon after [12214] Peyton..., then twelve years old, was killed by the Indians, another son [12219] was born and was named for his massacred brother. Two daughters also bore the mother's name, Charlotte.

"[1221] General Robertson died in 1814, but Mrs. Robertson lived to the advanced age of ninety-two and was buried from Old McKendree Church in Nashville in 1843. Sometime after her death, her youngest daughter, [1221A] Mrs. Lavinia Craighead, in whose home she died, gave the Bible to her daughter, Mrs. Georgianna Hill. She, in 1876, gave it to her son, Dr. Felix Robertson Hill, Sr. Charlotte Robertson's great-grandson, who was born in Nashville the year following her death and who for more than half a century served Southern Methodism as a pastor. When he gave it to a son (Dr. David Spence Hill..., who now has it. WCH), several years before his death in 1917, he expressed the wish that it be kept in the possession of a lineal descendant of [1221] James Robertson.

"This old book was brought to the Cumberland Settlement only a decade after the first regular Conference of Methodism in America was held in Philadelphia, and some three years before the first Methodist circuit rider, Benjamin Ogden, made his unheralded appearance in the Cumberland Settlement. Peter Massie, 'the weeping preacher,' and Wilson Lee soon followed, and it was under the leadership of the latter that James and Charlotte Robertson became members of the first society of Methodists ever organized in Middle Tennessee."

Transcript of James Robertson's Family Bible.


Late in 1769, [1221] James Robertson travelled from his North Carolina home, near the present City of Raleigh, then in Orange, now in Wake Co. over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Watauga River in company with Daniel Boone who continued westward. [1221] Robertson was seeking a location for new homes for families of his community. He planted corn near where William Bean had settled on the banks of the Watauga, and then, in 1770, returned alone to his home. The vicissitudes of his homeward trip are vividly narrated by Mrs. Octavia Zollicoffer Bond in Old Tales Retold, a fascinating work which "gives us a lifelike picture of the noble and rugged character of [1221] James Robertson" and the "perils and adventures of Tennessee pioneers."

Shortly after the Battle of Alamance, the opening encounter of the Revolutionary struggle, which occurred 16 May, 1771, near his home and in which he probably participated with the defeated "Regulators," he led a party of sixteen families, including his own wife and infant son, to the Watauga.

Their location there was believed to be in Virginia until the latter part of 1771 when a survey of the Virginia line showed them to be on lands reserved in a treaty to the Cherokee Indians. Finding themselves thus abandoned by all provincial governments, they set up, in 1772, a government of their own, the "Watauga Association," governed by a commission or court of five, of which [1221] James Robertson was a member. "A Company of five riflemen were accordingly enlisted and put under [1221] Capt. James Robertson."

[1221] Robertson arranged with the Cherokee Indians for the purchase of the lands occupied by the Watauga settlers. A band of 600 Cherokees came there to celebrate the agreement. During the festivities one of the Indians was murdered by a renegade white man. The Indians left in a savage mood. [1221] Robertson then proceeded alone, at the imminent risk of his life, through the wilderness 150 miles to the Indian village and prevailed upon them to desist from hostilities.

In 1774, [1221] James Robertson and his brother [1224] Elijah joined Capt. Evan Shelby's company and participated in the hard fought Battle of Point Pleasant. [1221] James Robertson and Valentine Sevier, then sergeants, while scouting located the advancing Indians, fired on them, and aroused the white troops sleeping in bivouac.

In 1776, after the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the Watauga and nearby Nolichucky settlements convened and selected a Committee of Safety of 13 members, including [1221] James Robertson. This committee with 98 other settlers signed a be annexed to North Carolina. This petition is replete with interesting history.

In July, 1776, the Cherokee Indians, instigated by British agents, attacked these frontier settlements and were heroically repulsed. [1221] Robertson commanded the white forces.

Following a treaty with the Cherokees, [1221] Robertson was appointed by the North Carolina government as Superintendent of Indian Affairs. His duties required him to reside among the Cherokees. The following quotations are from State Records of North Carolina, Vol. XII.

"Senate Journal...21 Dec., 1777...On motion, resolved that [1221] Capt. James Robertson be allowed at the rate of four hundred pounds per annum for his services as Superintendent of Indian Affairs to commense from the time of his appointment, which was the twenty-seventh of July last....(P. 240).

"Thursday 13 Aug., 1778...Your Committee are also of the opinion that the Superintendent of Indian Affairs cannot render that service to this State that might be expected unless he resides in the Indian Nation. Therefore it is recommended to the General Assembly that [1221] Mr. James Robertson, the Superintendent, be directed to reside in the said Cherokee Nation during his continuance in once. Concurred with." (P. 780).

In 1778, [1221] Robertson explored the region to the westward, concluded to remove to a location on "the Bluffs" of the Cumberland River where Nashville now stands, planted crops there, and went on foot to Illinois to secure from George Rogers Clark "cabin rights" for the settlers.

Then he returned to the Watauga and in 1779 led a number of men overland to the Cumberland after arranging for the women and children of their families to come by boats down the Holston, and Tennessee Rivers and up the Ohio and the Cumberland to "the Bluffs," where the men and other families induced by [1221] Robertson to join the settlement awaited them.

The party of women and children, in charge of John Donelson assisted by a few men, set out three days before Christmas in 1779 in rudely constructed boats and arrived at "the Bluffs" 24 April, 1780, after a memorable four months voyage amid the rigors of winter and the hazards of unknown waters, after desperate attacks by Indians, with many tragic experiences and display of heroism by men, women, and children. The story of that voyage of over a thousand miles is graphically related in the diary of John Donelson, now in the archives of the Tennessee Historical Society at Nashville.

Here again a government had to be established. The "Cumberland Compact" was its foundation. Under it the twelve "notables," with [1221] James Robertson as chairman, governed the new settlements until they were organized in 1783 as Davidson County, N. C.

The settlement at "the Bluffs" was called Nashborough until 1783 when its name was changed to Nashville.

[1221] James Robertson was unanimously elected Colonel of the Militia of these settlements. From their beginning until 1794 there was constant warfare with Indians in which he was the leading participant.

In 1784, the State of North Carolina granted him 640 acres of land for his services in the Revolutionary War against the Indian allies of the British government.

He was a Justice of the Peace of Davidson Co. when it was part of North Carolina, resigning in 1788 (State Records of N. C., Vol. XXI, pp. 53 and 57). He represented Davidson County in the Senate of the North Carolina Assembly which convened in 1787 at Tarboro, over 600 miles distant. To attend the sessions he travelled this distance, most of it through a trackless wilderness infested with hostile Indians. At the same time his brother, [1224] Elijah Robertson, represented Davidson Co. in the House of Representatives.

In 1790, when North Carolina ratified the U. S. Constitution and thereby joined the Federal Union, its part of the "Territory South of the River Ohio," was ceded to the Federal government. The territorial governor, William Blount in 1790 appointed [1221] James Robertson a Justice of the Peace and Colonel Commandant of Davidson County Militia.

In 1791, President Washington appointed him Brigadier General in command of the forces in the Mero District which concluded the region now generally known as Middle Tennessee.

From the beginning of the settlement on the Cumberland in 1779 until 1794 when his forces crushed the hostile Indians he was engaged in efforts to prevent hostilities with Indians and in conflicts with those who could not be persuaded to be peaceful.

These were tragic and trying times in Tennessee. [1221] Robertson's oldest son, while hunting was wounded, scalped, and left supposed to be dead by Indians during a surprise attack on the settlement at "the Bluffs." It was on this occasion that [1221] James Robertson's wife, after seeing the Indians displaying the scalp of her son, [12211] Jonathan Friar Robertson, rode horse-back, with her infant son, [12216] Felix, in her arms, from the fort, circumvented the Indians, warned the men, all of whom were at work in the fields, to come to the fort, and eluded the Indians on her return to the fort. While the white men, returning from the fields, were fighting off one part of Indians another party intervened between the white men and the fort to cut off their return. She turned loose upon these Indians the pack of dogs the fort and enabled the white men to cut their way through while the Indians were engaged with the ferocious attack of the dogs. These incidents occurred 2 Apr 1781 and are related in fascinating style in the Battle of the Bluffs chapter of Mrs. Bond's Old Tales Retold.

The second and third sons of [1221] James Robertson, in their youth, and his brothers [1226] Mark and [1222] John Robertson, were killed by Indians.

When Tennessee was admitted to the Union in 1796 as a state, [1221] James Robertson was a member of the convention which framed its constitution which remained unchanged for over 40 years.

In 1811, when Tecumseh was attempting to combine all of the Indians in general warfare against the whites, Robertson was engaged by the national government to reside among the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians to persuade them from becoming allies of Tecumseh. He allied them with the whites and used them as a barrier against the hostile Creeks and other Indians and resided among them until his death at the Chickasaw Agency in 1814.

Presumably he died intestate. No record of his will was found in the records of Davidson Co., Tenn....


Charlotte (Reeves) Robertson was daughter of George Reeves b 1716 d 19 Feb 1808 and his wife, Mary, b 1726 d 29 Oct 1813.

William Reeves who followed the fortunes of her husband, [1221] James Robertson, in Tennessee was her brother. He accompanied her during the eventful voyage from the Watauga to the Cumberland.

Some incidents of her life are dramatically related in The Delineator, July, 1904Great Women of Pioneer TimesCharlotte Robertson, by Landon Knight. The following extracts are from it.


One of the revered figures in the annals of Tennessee is Charlotte Robertson, wife of the "Gallant Hero of the Cumberland"....

Why he should have wished to abandon wealth, comfort and honor (in their Watauga home) to plunge once more into the dangers of the untried wilderness, is by no means apparent at this time. But farther to the westward on the Cumberland lay a fair land....

He, with most of the men, driving their cattle before them, began the journey across the wilderness. A few days later Charlotte Robertson, with four small children. her sister-in-law and her brother with their servants, joined the families of the other colonists on the Holston River, where they embarked in flat-bottom boats, and one of the most remarkable voyages of history was begun.

From the moment the voyagers entered the Tennessee until they reached the Ohio River, they were almost constantly beset by the combined tribes of the Western Indians, and thru the scenes of the most marvellous battles, shipwrecks, defeats, victories and escapes, we see Charlotte Robertson as a conspicuous figure. The timidity of the delicately nurtured woman was transformed by danger into heroism as great as ever exhibited by her husband on the field of battle. At one time it is recorded, under a fierce fire from both sides of the river, she coolly placed her babies in the bottom of the boat and built a barricade of bedding and boxes around them, then amid the singing bullets loaded the rifles, altogether indifferent to danger. Again she took the place of a wounded boatman at the oars, and, forging ahead, was attacked by a war canoe filled with painted warriors. With a stroke of the paddle she upset the craft, and, as its occupants rose from the water, she rained blows upon their heads until they sank or were compelled to swim for shore. Then, when the smoke of battle has cleared, we see her again, no longer the Amazon, but the angel of mercy binding up the wounds of the injured and whispering words of comfort and hope to the dying.... Matters were still further complicated by the desertion of their pilot; leaving but three men on board the "Adventure." The rapid current of the great river was filled with masses of ice and heavy driftwood, which every moment threatened destruction.... [1227] Mrs. Johnston..., a sister of [1221] Captain Robertson, acted as pilot, and "Mistress Charlotte" and her maid Hagar, worked at the oars with the men. The weather grew bitterly cold, blinding storms. of sleet and snow swept over them, and their provisions gave out. To attempt to procure game was but to fall into the hands of the savages, who were closely following them on both sides of the river. Therefore, keeping well to the middle of the stream and living on scanty rations of parched corn they struggled on thru miserable days and still more horrible nights, always under the shadow of death, but stern, resolute, unconquered and unconquerable. At last, more than four months from the day they had embarked, the prow of the "Adventure" was grounded at a spot now marked by the foot of Market Street, Nashville, and the trying voyage was over. [1221] Captain Robertson and his companions had reached the spot several weeks earlier....

The powerful tribes of Middle and East Tennessee had resolved to exterminate the whites, and they waged a continuous, relentless warfare that spared neither age nor sex. In one year Mrs. Robertson was forced to look upon the mangled remains of her sons, [12214] Peyton and [12212] Randolph, two splendid little fellows, who were murdered while gathering sugar sap within a stone's throw of the fort.... The wily savages discovered the defenceless condition of the fort and planned to carry it by storm. The attack was sudden, but the women, under Mistress Charlotte, flew to arms and repulsed the first onslaught. A party of twenty-five braves, however, found a lodgment under the walls of the fort and were making desperate efforts to fire it. The defenders could not reach them with their rifles, and matters were looking desperate when Captain Robertson's sister [1227 Ann Robertson] was seized with an inspiration. It was "wash day" at the fort. Seizing a bucket of boiling water and bidding the women supply more, she mounted the parapet amid a shower of bullets and directed a scalding stream upon the enemy. Thrice she was severely wounded, but held her position until poor Lo was forced to seek shelter in the woods. When the men reached the fort the battle was over, and although several of the women were injured, victory remained with them along with fifteen dead and many more wounded Indians.

Hostilities had ceased.... We see the colonists on an April morning hastening away to their fields. Not a man was left in the fort capable of bearing arms except (her son) [12211] Jonathan Robertson..., and at daylight he had gone to hunt wild turkeys on the hill where now stands the Capitol. Mistress Charlotte, with her infant [12216] Felix, the first white child born in Middle Tennessee, in her arms, was overseeing her servants in the little loom shed where the spinning wheels droned and hummed and the weavers' shuttles clashed and rattled...the pack of blood hounds, trained to hunt Indians, now slumbering in the sunlight before the door, aroused themselves, sniffed the air and began to growl. Climbing to the lookout, ...she saw a band of Indians dancing around a prostrate object. In a flash the truth dawned; they had slain her son. In the same moment came the conviction that something must be done if the whole colony was to escape a similar fate. Bidding her servant bring two horses and a gun, she instructed the women in the defense of the fort until aid should come. Then, holding little [12216] Felix in her arms and followed by Caesar (her negro slave), with the rifle, she passed out of the gate and heard it barricaded behind them. Cautiously they skirted the forest until a friendly hillock screened them from view. Then they give a free rein and dash down the narrow path. [1221] Capt. Robertson, working with his men on their Richland farm, now West Nashville, sees the riders, and divining the situation, gives the danger signal. In a moment all along the bottom horses are cut loose from ploughs and nineteen farmers, with unslung rifles, are following their leader and his heroic wife in the mad race for the fort. They reach the fort none too soon, for a party of Indians is advancing through the cane brakes. Dismounting, the pioneers drive them rapidly backtoo far, for at this moment a half moon line of battle deploys between them and the fort. They have fallen into a trap, and it is nineteen against a thousand. But [1221] Captain Robertson's face was never calmer as he bids his men seek cover and waste no powder. In a few moments rifles are ringing and clouds of white smoke are floating over the cedars. Fiercer the conflict rages, and the half-moon line is closing and forcing them back into the river. At this moment Mistress Charlotte is standing, rifle in hand, on the lookout watching the battle. Her trained eye now tells her that the crisis has arrived. At a word from her, Caesar unlooses the hounds, and with loud baying they rush upon the rear of the warriors' reforming line. The manoeuvre is understood, the charge is sounded, the pioneers close in upon their antagonists, who, now assailed in front and rear, waver and break and flee, and the battle is over. A rescue party was formed, and with it went the distracted mother. At a spot now marked by the south entrance to the Capitol grounds, they found [12211] Jonathan still alive, but unconscious (He had been wounded and scalped by the Indians and left apparently dead). He was borne to the fort, and in time was nursed back to health and strength to become a prominent figure in the new state, by the heroic mother, whose courage had saved its most important settlement from destruction....

Her husband was now one of the great men of the West, ...and in 1788 he felt himself able to gratify Mistress Charlotte's desire for a handsome home. The fine brick mansion, the first in Nashville, was reared in a magnificent grove of forest trees on the highway which is still known as Charlotte Pike.

Her first thought was to share the comforts of her new home with her aged parents. The General's time being wholly occupied with public duties, she, with [12216] Felix and the faithful Caesar, made the journey on horseback across the wilderness to North Carolina and brought her parents back with her.

This done, her next ambition was to give her children a thorough education.... [12216] Felix and [1221A] Lavinia, she insisted upon sending to Philadelphia, the former to study medicine, the latter to complete her education in a fashionable boarding school.... At Mount Vernon, their father's warm friend and admirer, President Washington, detained the young travelers for a week and on their return they were entertained by other distinguished personages in the straggling village which had been recently founded as the national Capital.

They were not as the historian Putnam says, ignorant, but were remarkably well educated, belonging by birth and breeding to that class from which was evolved the aristocracy of the South. But thev were the soul of kindness and hospitality and the old General loved to call his place "Travelers' Rest," a name which clung to it until its destruction by fire two years ago. (It was known also as "Richland House" and was later the residence of his grand nephew, Benjamin Franklin Cockrill....WCH).

She survived her husband almost thirty years, living a busy, useful life to the end.... She lived to see a great city, with broad streets and handsome homes, arise on the spot where she had once beheld herds of buffalo and deer, to see the remains of her honored husband borne along those streets by the citizens, accompanied by United States soldiers, sent thither by the Government to honor the memory of "the Father of Tennessee." She died in 1843, at the age of ninety-three, and was laid to rest beside her husband in the old city cemetery of Nashville.... It is sacred ground to the Tennesseean, who, in the reverence of his heart, has erected a memorial more enduring than the hands of man could fashion from marble or brass.


On 4 Jun 1798, [1221] James Robertson...witnessed a deed of gift of negroes to his nephew, [12245] James Robertson....

"A debt due from [1221] James Robertson for the sum of four hundred dollars" was an item in the inventory, 15 Jan 1803, of estate of Sackfield Maclin....

[1221] James Robertson witnessed, 14 Feb 1814, a contract for the development of a trading station at Gordon's Ferry between the Chickasaw Indian Chieftain, Colbert, and Capt. John Gordon....

Source: William Curry Harlee, Kinfolks: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, 3 vols. (New Orleans: Searcy & Pfaff, 1935-37), 3: 2492-2548.

Last updated: Monday, November 17, 2003

All original material Copyright ©2003 Tom Robertson. All rights reserved including those of electronic transmission and reproduction of the material in any format.

Site Map
Guest Book

Member Site