In the meantime, the wild region upon the Cumberland river was explored, and some temporary establishments formed at the bluff, on which is now situated the city of Nashville. Captain James Robertson was the hero of these bold adventures, and had several times, with a small party of men, cut his way from extreme East Tennessee to that country, passing over the lofty Cumberland mountains and through dangerous Indian settlements. Returning to the Holston, after having made several of these trips, he raised a large company of emigrants, and built boats at Long Island. When they were nearly ready to be launched, he placed himself at the head of a horse party, and set out over the mountains for the Cumberland, intending to leave signs upon the trees at the head of the Muscle Shoals, after going from Nashville to that place. These signs he intended for the purpose of letting the voyagers know whether it would be practicable for them to disembark at the Muscle Shoals and go to the Cumberland by land.
A large number of flat boats, filled with emigrants and their effects, began the voyage from Long Island, upon the Holston. Those recollected will be mentioned, for the gratification of descendants. The large Donaldson family, who, after reaching the Cumberland, settled upon Stone’s river, and became connected by affinity with General Andrew Jackson, all embarked on this occasion. Among the others were Robert Cartwright, Benjamin Porter, Mary Henry, Mary Purnell, James Cain, Isaac Neely, John Cotton, — Rounsever, Jonathan Jennings, William Cutchfield, Moses, Joseph and James Renfroe, Solomon Turpin, — Johns, Francis Armstrong, Isaac Lanier, Daniel Dunham, John Boyd, John Montgomery, John Cockrill, Mrs. Robertson, the wife of Captain Robertson, John Blackman and John Gibson. These persons had families with them, besides slaves.
In consequence of great difficulty in descending the Holston and many unavoidable delays, the rude fleet did not reach the month of the French Broad until March 2, 1780. It was then the habit to tie up at sunset, encamp upon the banks and around large fires, and to make the wild forests resound with noise and merry peals of laughter. All were now happy and filled with the most pleasing excitement. But when they approached the Cherokee towns below they observed great caution. When near Nickajack they were fired upon from both banks of the river by the Indians, but keeping in the middle received no material injury. However, unfortunately, a boat belonging to Stewart, containing his family and Negroes, amounting to twenty-eight souls, who had been compelled to keep behind a few miles on account of the small pox which they had taken, were all killed by the Indians, while their companions in advance could afford them no assistance. In passing the celebrated “Suck” the boats were again fired upon, when several of the voyagers were severely wounded. In the midst of the dismay and confusion a young woman, named Nancy Glover, seized the oar of her father’s boat and steered it safely through the narrows, exposed to all the firing, and receiving a severe wound, of which she never complained. When the terrified voyagers had passed this place they entered a wide and smooth sheet of water, and were out of danger. But just at the termination of the narrows the boat of Jonathan Jennings was stove upon a large rock. The voyagers were forced to leave these unhappy people. The Indians coming upon them, all the effects were thrown out of the boat in great haste, and it was shoved off with Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Peyton in it, who singularly made their escape. The Indians captured Jennings, his son, a Negro, and a young man with them, and carried them to Chickamauga, where they soon burned the latter to death by a slow fire. They knocked Jennings down with a club, but his life was spared by Rodgers, a trader, who ransomed him. After being again attacked near the head of the Muscle Shoals, they finally reached those cataracts, where a consultation was held. Being unable, upon a diligent search, to find the signals of Captain Robertson on the north bank, they resolved to trust their boats to the angry waves below. Fortunately the swollen state of the river carried them safely over the extended shoals. Reaching the mouth of the Tennessee on the 20th of March, an affecting and painful separation took place–Colonel Donaldson and more than half the voyagers going up the Cumberland, and the remainder to Natchez and the Illinois.1
Haywood’s History of Tennessee, pp. 85-94. Mrs. Rachel Jackson, the wife of General Jackson, and the daughter of Colonel Donaldson, who was then but a little girl, was with this party. ↩