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749 Massman Dr.
Nashville TN 37210
Buchanan's Station Cemetery
Buchanan's Station, 1792
By Dr. John Sugden, Cumbria England
John Buchanan’s station, consisting of little more than a blockhouse and palisade some four miles south of the infant settlement of Nashville, had a legendary status among the old Tennessee pioneers. For most of the nineteenth century it was widely remembered as a symbol of the grit that had gone into the making of the state.
To understand the importance of the defence of Buchanan’s Station on the night of 30 September and 1 October 1792 we have to remember the context. Recently founded Nashville then consisted of only about sixty families, and was isolated in what seemed a hostile and threatening wilderness. Communications with the nearest settlements, Knoxville in eastern Tennessee and Natchez, further south on the Mississippi, were long and precarious. Although the ultimate responsibility for the area had been transferred from North Carolina to the United States federal government in 1790, neither had the will or resources to offer the small colony effective protection. Ranged against it were Native Americans, understandably aggrieved at the loss of traditional territory, and international powers. Threatened by the rise of the new American republic, Britain and Spain both encouraged Indian confederacies that would resist its expansion and create a buffer between it and their own colonial possessions. North of the Ohio the British saw Indians as an essential part of the defence of Canada, while Baron Carondelet, the governor of Spanish territory south of the 31st parallel and west of the Mississippi, armed the southern Indians and urged them to unite against the Americans. It was time, one Spanish correspondent wrote, to “place an obstacle to the rapid western progress of the Americans and raise a barrier between these enterprising people and the Spanish possessions.” In these circumstances the positions of isolated American pioneer settlements was unenviable, and in 1792 Bledsoe’s and Ziegler’s stations north of Nashville were overrun by parties of Indians smaller than the one that attacked Buchanan’s later in the year.
The assault on Buchanan’s Station was not a simple raid, but a full-blown Indian attempt to wipe out the Nashville settlements, backed by Spanish arms and supplies secured in Pensacola. Some four hundred Cherokees, Creeks and Shawnees under a noted mixed blood Cherokee leader named John Watts advanced upon Nashville from their towns on the lower Tennessee River. Part of the time they marched in a disciplined formation of three lines abreast. Supposing that the outlying station of Buchanan could be disposed of quickly, the Indians attempted a surprise attack at midnight. The station contained only a handful of defenders, some fifteen men, who manned the port-holes while their women and children, led by Sarah Buchanan, moulded bullets, reloaded muskets and rifles, and supplied sustenance. In a furious fight the Indians attempted to storm the palisade and to fire the roof of the blockhouse, but they were repelled in an encounter of perhaps two hours. Among significant casualties, the Indians lost Cheeseekau, the Shawnee leader who had taken Ziegler’s Station, and who was the older brother and mentor of the famous Tecumseh, also present as a young warrior.
The heroic defence at Buchanan’s saved Nashville, which was unprepared after dismissing rumours of an Indian onslaught as erroneous. On their part, the Indians recoiled, splitting into small parties that caused considerable damage to outlying homesteads but abandoned the major attack on Nashville. Nor was any like invasion attempted again. The defence of Buchanan’s Station not only spared Nashville, but raised the morale of the pioneers at a dark and difficult time, and was frequently recalled in the following decades as a symbol of the courage and determination of the founders of the state of Tennessee.
Although unfamiliar to many modern ears, these events loomed large in the minds of early Tennesseans, as a glance at the pages written by pioneer historians such as John Haywood will readily demonstrate. The site of the station was much venerated, and I think it essential to preserve what is left of it, both to remind this and future generations of the sacrifices made by both sides in the struggle for old Tennessee, and as a mark of respect to those hardy forebears. Some of those defenders lay in peace in the cemetery of the station, which still survives. If any place deserves to stand as a symbol of that time, surely this is it, a necessary piece of frontier heritage. I urge all people who value the past of Tennessee to stand behind its support and preservation.
NOTE: For more about John Sugden's groundbreaking work on Buchanan's Station, see the article on Cheeseekau and Tecumseh farther down this page.
Pioneer Spirit Buried on Massman Drive
Lessons of John & Sally Buchanan Forgotten by Nashvillians
On a rocky bluff above a bubbling Mill Creek, under a canopy of trees that include American elm, black cherry, and sassafras, a group of pioneers—some of the architects of Nashville’s “can do” spirit—lie buried and forgotten. Two of them are especially significant.
Twenty-year-old John Buchanan (later called “Major John”) and his family arrived at the future Nashville during the unusually cold winter of 1779-1780—perhaps even ahead of James Robertson’s founding party—with nothing but a few necessities on pack horses. Unlike many other early settlers, Major John persevered here for the remainder of his life.
After losing his brother Alexander at Ft. Nashborough’s 1781 “Battle of the Bluff” and writing Nashville’s first book, John Buchanan’s Book of Arithmetic, the young land surveyor and his extended family established Buchanan’s Station at Mill Creek, near today’s Elm Hill Pike at Massman Drive. Additional sorrows soon followed as John lost his father, John Buchanan Sr., and another brother, Samuel, in continuing Indian assaults.
The Chickamauga War reached its climax at Buchanan’s Station on September 30, 1792, when only about twenty defenders held off several hundred Native Americans whose goal was to destroy all the Cumberland settlements. Buchanan and his friends stopped them there, saving Nashville without the loss of a single stationer. Nineteenth-century historian J.G.M. Ramsey called this victory “a feat of bravery which has scarcely been surpassed in all the annals of border warfare.”
It was during this nighttime “Battle of Buchanan’s Station” that Major John’s eighteen-year-old wife, Sarah (“Sally”) Ridley Buchanan, in her ninth month of pregnancy with the first of their thirteen children, earned national fame. She encouraged the men, reassured the women and children, molded much-needed ammunition reportedly by melting down her dinnerware, and provided the voice of victory throughout the seemingly hopeless pandemonium. For her uncommon spunk, biographer Elizabeth Ellet referred to her as “the greatest heroine of the West,” and she was heralded in magazines and newspapers from as far away as Boston.
Unfortunately, the Buchanan Station story, as celebrated as it once was, has become lost to contemporary Nashville. Today the primitive Buchanan's Station Cemetery, where Major John and Sarah Buchanan lie buried, is wedged anonymously into a Massman Drive industrial park, where hundreds of workers drive past twice a day completely unaware of the graveyard’s historical import.
A small group of concerned citizens has come together in an attempt to rescue this valuable cemetery. You can help. To join the effort to save this forgotten landmark, please e-mail the Nashville Historical Newsletter at NHN.firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Mike Slate at 615-293-3832.
Note: Photos of the Buchanan Station Cemetery are available upon request. E-mail NHN.email@example.com
Why Are John and Sarah Buchanan Important?
Prepared by Mike Slate in behalf of
The Friends of Buchanan’s Station Cemetery
1. John Buchanan (1759-1832) and his group of settlers arrived at the French Lick (future Nashville, Tennessee) in the winter of 1779-80. Historian Samuel Cole Williams, in his book Tennessee during the Revolutionary War, explains that “Some South Carolinians on the move to the West overtook the Robertson party; and, being smaller in number and less encumbered, reached French Lick first, crossed the Cumberland on ice, and began the building of cabins. The South Carolinians included: John Buchanan and his brother, Alexander; Daniel and Sampson Williams, brothers; James and John Mulherrin and Thomas Thompson.” If Williams is accurate, John Buchanan was one of the very first pioneers to call Nashville home. Today, John (often called “Major John”) is buried at the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery.
2. John Buchanan was the son of John Buchanan Sr., one of Nashville’s first heroes. In the April 2, 1781 “Battle of the Bluff” at Fort Nashborough, John Sr. famously saved Edward Swanson from being killed by a Native American attacker. Alexander Buchanan was killed during this battle. Several years later John Sr. was himself murdered at Buchanan’s Station by Indians; an account of this tragedy is preserved by Featherstonaugh in his Excursion through the Slave States. Samuel Buchanan, another brother of Major John, was also killed by Indians at the station. For an evocative account of Samuel’s death see the article, “The Buchanans of Buchanan’s Station” in the Chicago Magazine, Vol. 1 No. 3, 1857. Buchanan Sr., his wife Jane, and son Samuel are likely buried in the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery in unmarked graves. Though he lost his father and two brothers to Indian warfare, Major John, unlike many others who attempted to settle in Nashville but moved on, persevered here for the remainder of his life.
3. John Buchanan produced Nashville’s first book. Apparently in a systematic effort to learn the mathematics of land surveying, Major John compiled John Buchanan’s Book of Arithmetic, and dated it June 20, 1781. He did indeed pursue land surveying, and his name is listed on many early Nashville surveys. In the course of his public career, Buchanan himself amassed many hundreds of acres, becoming quite prosperous. Today Buchanan’s book is a Nashville and Tennessee artifact that is carefully protected in the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Ironically, Tennessee has treasured the book but not the grave of the man who produced it.
4. After living approximately four years at Fort Nashborough, Buchanan and his family moved a few miles east and established Buchanan’s Station on Mill Creek, at today’s Elm Hill Pike and Massman Drive. In addition to a stockaded fort with blockhouses, Major John built a grist mill, and some researchers believe that his mill is the one that gave Mill Creek its name. In about 1786 John married Margaret Kennedy, who died after giving birth to their first and only child, John Buchanan II (technically John III), born on May 15, 1787. Little is known about Margaret, who may be buried anonymously at the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery. The descendants of John Buchanan II include Tennessee Governor John Price Buchanan, Nobel Prize winner James M. Buchanan, and contemporary Nashville attorney Alexander Buchanan.
5. John Buchanan was the commander of the fort on the fateful night of September 30, 1792, when several hundred Indians—300-900, according to different accounts—attacked it as the first step of a larger plan to destroy the Cumberland settlements. In this “Battle of Buchanan’s Station,” only about 20 riflemen in the station repulsed the horde, killing several Indian leaders, without the loss of a single settler. Historian J.G.M. Ramsey called the victory “a feat of bravery which has scarcely been surpassed in all the annals of border warfare.” James Phelan offered a similar assessment: "This is one of the most remarkable incidents in the early border warfare of the Southwest. So wonderful, indeed, that even some of the pioneers believed in the direct interposition of Providence." Not surprisingly, the story of the Battle has been recounted in many history volumes, including Theodore Roosevelt’s The Winning of the West.
6. Perhaps the wisest thing John Buchanan ever did was to marry, in 1791, Sarah “Sally” Ridley (1773-1831). Sally was among the first white females born in what would become Tennessee. Her father, Revolutionary War veteran Captain George Ridley, brought his family to the Cumberland settlements about 1790. They soon established Ridley’s Station in the area of today’s Nolensville Road and Glenrose Avenue. Sally, a large woman with a large personality, was destined to become a legend in much of the eastern half of the United States.
7. Throughout the Battle of Buchanan’s Station, Sally, nine months pregnant with the couple’s first child, was the heroic voice of victory. She encouraged the riflemen at every turn, molded bullets when the supply ran low (reportedly by melting her dinnerware), blocked another woman in the station from surrendering herself and her children to almost certain death, and helped fool the Indians by a “showing of hats.” Sally’s uncommon spunk was extolled by biographer Elizabeth Ellet in her 1856 volume, The Women of the American Revolution, which referred to her as “the greatest heroine of the West.” Periodicals from as far away as Boston immortalized Sarah, some fancifully, and she was listed in at least two national encyclopedias of biography (Appleton’s and Herringshaw’s).
8. John and Sarah Buchanan had thirteen children: George, Alexander, Elizabeth, Samuel, William, Jane T., James B., Moses R., Sarah V., Charles B., Richard G., Henry R., and Nancy M. The Buchanan children and their many grandchildren intermarried with members of other settlements around Buchanan’s Station, their families becoming important not only to Davidson County history but also to that of neighboring Rutherford and Williamson counties. Eventually the Buchanan descendants spread to all parts of the United States, and accounts of their accomplishments and contributions to the nation could fill volumes.
9. Buchanan’s Station also has significant associations with Native American history. It was a confederacy of Creeks, Cherokees, and Shawnees that attacked the station in 1792. During the battle, Chiachattalla (spellings vary), an especially dauntless warrior, was shot near the fort. As he lay dying, he reportedly continued his efforts to set the logs ablaze by fanning the flames with his last breaths. Others killed in the battle were the Shawnee Warrior, brother and mentor of the great Tecumseh, and the White Owl’s Son, brother of Dragging Canoe. The Chickamauga chief John Watts was himself shot through both thighs but was removed from the battleground in a litter and later recovered. For a partial list of Indian casualties at the Battle of Buchanan’s Station see American State Papers: Indian Affairs 4-331.
10. Today John and Sarah Buchanan are almost forgotten. Very few citizens know that their graves, with original headstones, survive in Buchanan’s Station Cemetery, the last vestige of the pioneer settlement. The educational and inspirational lessons of their lives have been largely squandered, and the story of the Battle of Buchanan’s Station has become nearly unknown. Realizing that the Buchanans are an important gateway to understanding the founding of Nashville (see the entire first chapter of Harriette Simpson Arnow’s Flowering of the Cumberland), a number of advocates have formed the Friends of the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery, with the goals of remedying decades of neglect of this historic site and of restoring one of Nashville’s founding families to its proper standing. The Friends invite and encourage all interested citizens to join them.
A Tribute to John Buchanan, Tennessee Pioneer
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all
men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty,
and the pursuit of Happiness.”
--Declaration of Independence
Scattered here and there in Davidson County are precious spots of timelessness capable of transporting curious souls into past eras. One of those magical places is on the Stone’s River Greenway where, at the confluence of Michael Stoner’s Creek and Uriah Stone’s River, a hiker can imaginatively slide into the Long Hunter era of the late 1760s. Another is not far away at the James Buchanan Log House where, on Grand Old Dulcimer Day and other occasions, one can almost hear the spiritual revivals of the Second Great Awakening. And about 3.5 miles closer to Nashville, at the John and Sarah Buchanan Cemetery, a time traveler can visualize scenes from a great American dream—the rags to riches story our country so cherishes.
We can only speculate about why John Buchanan and his family migrated to the lower Cumberland region. Around 1770 the clan moved from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to the Carolinas—some say to South Carolina and others to North Carolina. The North Carolina destination seems more likely, since there they would have learned of James Robertson’s Watauga settlement across the mountains in Tennessee territory, Richard Henderson’s 1775 treaty with the Cherokees, and Daniel Boone’s forays into Kentucky. In North Carolina, too, the Buchanans may have become entrapped in the Regulator Movement that led many to head west.
Whatever the motivation, John—with his parents and siblings as well as some friends—emigrated to Kentucky and resettled near today’s Danville, in Daniel Boone country. Their possessions were carried by packhorses, one of which became known as “Jinglety Bang” after stumbling down a mountain while laden with pots and pans. In Kentucky they would have heard about the Cumberland River paradise in the southern-most part of Henderson’s Transylvania purchase, and about Robertson’s intention to bring settlers there. So off they went to the old French Lick to establish a new town and their permanent home.
Perhaps as few as seven of the Buchanan party initially set out from Kentucky for future Nashville: oldest brother John together with next-oldest Alexander, James and John Mulherrin, Daniel and Sampson Williams, and Thomas Thompson. They arrived at the French Lick during the notoriously cold winter of 1779-1780 and began constructing log shelters. John Buchanan, born January 12, 1759, was just 20 years old. Soon the Robertson party arrived, giving the Buchanans the opportunity to fetch the rest of their group from Danville, including parents John Sr. and Jane, youngest brother Samuel, and sisters Jane and Nancy.
In their pursuits of life, liberty, and happiness some people look inward—into themselves. Others look outward—onto the world around them. The Buchanans apparently were among the outward-looking folk. Like most early Nashville settlers, when John Buchanan surveyed the landscape he saw the obvious: land. Perhaps a single-minded desire for land was precisely why he didn’t sign Richard Henderson’s Cumberland Compact in May of 1780. He may have been a purist and wanted only his very own land, unencumbered by the claims of another.
The Buchanans lived at Fort Nashborough for about four years, enduring the losses and hardships common to the stationers, including Alexander’s death at the hands of Indians during the 1781 Battle of the Bluff. In 1784 North Carolina legislation forced another Buchanan transition. Nashborough became Nashville during that year, and Thomas Molloy divided the new town into a grid of real estate lots. It was time to move from the hub to the spokes of the Cumberland wheel. The Buchanans relocated about four miles to the east, on the elysian bottomlands of Mill Creek. Here on the bluffs of the creek they built Buchanan’s Station, probably made in the image of Fort Nashborough. John, in 1786, married Margaret Kennedy who died after the birth of their son, John II (technically, the III). Then, in 1791 John married newcomer Sarah “Sally” Ridley, daughter of Captain George Ridley whose station was not far to the southeast. Sally quickly became pregnant, and eleven days after the famous 1792 Battle of Buchanan’s Station she gave birth to a son, George Buchanan. Twelve more children followed—in 1794, 1795, 1797, 1800, 1802, 1804, 1806, 1807, 1809, 1811, 1814, and 1818.
Along the way—nobody knows when or how—John became known as “Major John.” Perhaps he was awarded that rank after becoming the 28-year-old surviving elder of the Buchanan settlement, following the deaths by Indians of his brother Samuel in 1786 and his father in 1787.
After the 1794 Nickajack Expedition, war with militant Indians finally subsided. The Cumberlanders had endured 15 years of hellish depredations. Those who were left standing were able to concentrate on building a civilization of mutual happiness. Until his death on November 7, 1832, Major John worked as a surveyor, acquired hundreds of acres of land, operated a grist mill, and multiplied Buchanan offspring. Thank you, John Buchanan, for your pioneering contributions to America.
By Mike Slate in behalf of the Friends of Buchanan’s Station Cemetery, Memorial Day 2012
Cheeseekau and Tecumseh at Buchanan's Station
By Mike Slate
In 1997 an overseas scholar published a book that focused new light on Buchanan’s Station in Nashville, Tennessee. Dr. John Sugden’s well-respected biography of an eminent Native American, simply titled Tecumseh: a Life, includes an account of the Battle of Buchanan’s Station as well as an all-important endnote that argues persuasively that Cheeseekau, Tecumseh’s older brother and mentor, was killed during the battle in the presence of Tecumseh himself. This spotlight on an important aspect of early Nashville history—especially since it shines from a historian in distant East Yorkshire, England—should be a wake-up call for Nashvillians as to the significance of a long-neglected historical site.
Buchanan’s Station, located at today’s Elm Hill Pike and Massman Drive, was an early Cumberland settlement established by Major John Buchanan. He had led a group of settlers to the French Lick (future Nashville) slightly before James Robertson’s 1779-80 founding party. Early on, Buchanan wrote Nashville’s first book, John Buchanan’s Book of Arithmetic, and dated it June 20, 1781, just after his brother Alexander was killed during the Battle of the Bluff. His father, John Sr., was a hero of that Indian attack, rushing from Fort Nashborough to save Edward Swanson from certain death. After establishing Buchanan’s Station on Mill Creek in about 1784, Major John lost his youngest brother as well as his heroic father to successive Indian raids. In 1791 he married Sarah “Sally” Ridley who would soon become “the greatest heroine of the West.”
The singular event that inscribed Buchanan’s Station into state and national history books was the battle fought there on September 30, 1792, when only about twenty riflemen held off hundreds of Indians bent on destroying the young city of Nashville. Sugden relates this Battle of Buchanan’s Station on pages 74-76 of his Tecumseh biography.
According to Sugden, late in 1789 Tecumseh’s elder brother Cheeseekau brought a small party of Shawnees from Ohio country south to Lookout Mountain and joined the efforts of the Chickamaugas to force encroaching white settlers from Tennessee hunting grounds. After a large war conference at Willstown in northern Alabama, a confederacy of Indians, including Cheeseekau and his Shawnee band, travelled to the Cumberland district and attacked Buchanan’s Station around midnight. A stationer named John Mc Crory discovered the approaching marauders, fired his musket and, according to Sugden, probably killed Cheeseekau with that first shot of the battle. The sharpshooters in the blockhouses, aided and encouraged by Sally Buchanan and other heroic women, managed to fell additional Indian leaders during the hour-long, drama-filled pandemonium. Finally, apparently demoralized by their losses, the Indians retreated without having injured a single defender. Understandably, over the ensuing decades the miraculous victory of the stationers was recounted numerous times.
The crux of Sugden’s assertion that Cheeseekau died at Buchanan’s Station rests on an Indian called “Shawnee Warrior.” It has always been known that Shawnee Warrior was killed at the battle. Territorial Governor William Blount, in a November 1792 report, lists Shawnee Warrior as having died there. And John Haywood, in his 1823 book, The Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee, confirms that John Mc Crory indeed killed a Shawnee chief. But the identity of Shawnee Warrior has been masked behind his generic southern name. Sugden’s revelation is that Cheeseekau and Shawnee Warrior are one and the same person.
Sugden’s argument that Cheeseekau and Shawnee Warrior are identical is made in one of the book’s endnotes. Lengthy note #1 beginning on page 421 generously attributes the original idea to 19th century archivist Lyman Draper, whose speculation was never published or clinched. The note continues on to present a well-reasoned and well-sourced case for the identification, before triumphantly declaring that “the only conclusion from the foregoing, that Cheeseekau and Shawnee Warrior were the same person, enables me to present the first full and accurate account of this phase of his and Tecumseh’s lives.”
Clearly, Sugden believes that Tecumseh was with his older brother at Buchanan’s Station, but he does not present a systematic argument to that effect. Instead, he posits in earlier pages that Cheeseekau was the young Tecumseh’s mentor, that the two were mostly inseparable, and that Tecumseh did make the southern trip with his brother. Interestingly, that Tecumseh was at Buchanan’s Station was apparently a part of 19th century oral tradition. In the November 1878 edition of Annals of the Army of Tennessee and Early Western History, Thomas Washington opined: “There is a tradition current in this country that Tecumseh was present at the attack upon Buchanan's Station in this neighborhood. I think the authenticity of that tradition may well be doubted.” Nevertheless, while Washington had doubts, Sugden has none.
Cheeseekau’s death in the presence of Tecumseh at Buchanan’s Station seems to be fairly widely established as “fact”, and no doubt Sugden is the seminal source for this modern conclusion. However, most Nashvillians—even those who drive by the Buchanan’s Station site every day—are unaware of this far-reaching detail. Moreover, it would be a rare passerby who would know even that buried in the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery, which is the last vestige of the original settlement, are Nashville pioneers John Buchanan and his storied wife.
A small group of local patriots has recently formed the Friends of the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery, with the goal of preserving that historically sacred ground for the edification of present and future citizens. The Friends are confident that many more layers of significance are waiting to be discovered at Buchanan’s Station.
The Founding of Nashville: A Chronological Problem
By Mike Slate
A mystery is afoot that could lead to revising the chronological structure of the founding of Nashville, Tennessee. Let’s begin with Henry Ridley Buchanan, son of Major John Buchanan of Buchanan’s Station fame. Henry became the Buchanan family historian and, in 1855, recorded some of their story. His narrative appears in a 1933 book titled Tennessee Records: Bible Records and Marriage Bonds, compiled by Jeannette Tillotson Acklen. Therein Henry makes this statement: “Maj. John Buchanan moved to Nashville, Tenn., Dec., 1778.” This sentence, apparently, is the beginning of the problem.
Henry Buchanan’s 1778 date for his father’s arrival at what would become Nashville defies the traditional understanding of our founding chronology, and appears to be incorrect by one year. Overwhelmingly, James Robertson and his party are credited with founding Nashville in the winter of 1779-80, at which time no one else lived here. If Henry happens to be correct, then John Buchanan and his group would displace Robertson and his settlers as the rightful physical founders, turning our established knowledge upside down. Henry must be wrong, but before declaring that he simply made a mistake, let’s jump forward from his 1855 account to one that is 23 years later.
In 1878 a local judge and historian, Josephus Conn Guild, published a well-known book titled Old Times in Tennessee. In his chapter on the Buchanans, Guild claims that they emigrated from Kentucky to the French Lick (future Nashville) and arrived on December 14, 1778. There “they found Gen. James Robertson and family and one other family living in humble log-cabins on the bluff near where the county jail now stands….” Again, it appears that Guild perpetuated an error and is off by one year. But let’s look still further, 20 years forward.
In a memoir dated 1898 and available on the Internet, Thomas Buchanan, grandson of Major John Buchanan, also submits that the Major and his family arrived at Nashville on December 14, 1778. Furthermore, Thomas uses language almost identical to that of Guild, stating that “on his arrival he found General James Robertson and one other man living in log cabins on the bluff of the Cumberland River where the county jail now stands.” Thomas evidently informed Guild, though the reverse is possible.
We have, then, three related accounts placing John Buchanan in geographical Nashville in 1778. On the face of it, it appears that these reports constitute an example of how to regurgitate a historical error through the latter half of the 19th century. But let’s thicken the plot by adding still another account, this one from a contemporary article.
On Wikipedia’s “Fort Nashborough” entry, in reference to the Buchanan party we find this sentence: “The settlers then headed down the Cumberland River and, in early [emphasis mine] 1779, built a fortified station at French Lick (later to be called Fort Nashborough).” The author continues on to describe Robertson as bringing his settlers to Nashville in late 1779. So, a modern writer presents us with practically the same scenario as the 19th-century accounts: namely, that the Buchanans settled here about a year before Nashville is ordinarily thought to have been founded. For the record, I believe this Wikipedia version is also incorrect, and I will now cite the chronicle that I suspect is the accurate one.
In his 1944 book, Tennessee during the Revolutionary War, astute historian Samuel Cole Williams avers: “Some South Carolinians on the move to the West [in the winter of 1779-80] overtook the Robertson party; and, being smaller in number and less encumbered, reached French Lick first, crossed the Cumberland on ice, and began the building of cabins. The South Carolinians included: John Buchanan and his brother, Alexander; Daniel and Sampson Williams, brothers; James and John Mulherrin and Thomas Thompson.” This view aligns with John Haywood’s classic 1823 account and sensibly explains how John Buchanan’s coterie came to arrive at the French Lick ahead of Robertson’s. Instead of preceding Robertson by a year, Williams would have Buchanan arriving before Robertson by only a matter of days.
Yet, the Buchanan family tradition—that John Buchanan emigrated here in 1778—could still contain a grain of truth. A long line of scouts, explorers, longhunters, and adventurers visited the French Lick in the 1760s and 70s. In fact, James Robertson himself, in preparation for bringing settlers here, scouted the area in early 1779. In like manner, John Buchanan could have investigated the region prior to relocating here, and that might explain why he confidently preceded the Robertson party—he already knew precisely where to come and start building cabins. That initial Buchanan exploration could have occurred in 1778, leading Henry Buchanan to assert that the Major settled here in December of that year.
Fortunately, contemporary researchers such as Lawrence Epps of Texas and Judy Hamill of North Carolina are dedicated to delineating and solving such mysteries as the one outlined above. Our overarching task, I believe, is to recognize that Buchanan’s Station and its cemetery is an important gateway to understanding the dynamics of our city’s founding era.
Arnow Took Buchanan’s Station Coast to Coast
By Mike Slate
Harriette Simpson Arnow (1908-1986) wrote the novel on which the 1984 Jane Fonda movie, The Dollmaker, was based. In addition to novels and short stories, Arnow produced two books of historical non-fiction: Seedtime on the Cumberland (1960) followed by Flowering of the Cumberland (1963), both published by Macmillan of New York. Her fictional works, as well as her Cumberland volumes, are available across the United States, including in such public libraries as those of New York, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Arnow opens Flowering of the Cumberland with a 29-page chapter titled “The Siege of Buchanan’s,” which she utilizes as a gateway to understanding the social dynamics of the middle Cumberland River’s first settlements, notably those of today’s city of Nashville, Tennessee. After introducing John and Sarah (“Sally”) Buchanan and their Buchanan’s Station location, Arnow pivots throughout the chapter from the Buchanans to various other outstanding personalities and forts of the early Nashville area. She then concludes her chapter with a rousing account of the Battle of Buchanan’s Station (1792), a signal event of the Chickamauga Wars. In a stroke of symmetry, about 400 pages later Arnow ends her book with a reference to Sally Buchanan.
So well-researched and distinctively written were the Cumberland books that in 1995-96 the University of Nebraska Press republished them along with introductions by Margaret Ripley Wolfe. Today both volumes are for sale on Amazon.com. Meanwhile, in Nashville very few citizens are aware that the original Buchanan’s Station Cemetery, where Arnow’s beloved John and Sally Buchanan are buried, still exists in their midst. A small group of patriots, however, are issuing a clarion call for the cemetery to be developed into an educational site.
Nashville Slept while Caruso Sang…
But a great awakening is at hand
By Mike Slate
Famous operatic tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) sang at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium on April 29, 1919. No heads in the enraptured audience would have nodded off during his noble performance. But forty years later another Caruso sang a classic song of a different kind, and Nashville slept soundly throughout that presentation, thereby missing an opportunity to right a historical wrong.
John Anthony Caruso’s (1907-1997) “song” was in the form of a book. First published in 1959 and titled The Appalachian Frontier: America’s First Surge Westward, Caruso surveyed the early history of America’s trans-mountain borderlands that would become the states of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The West Virginia University professor covered all the major events, including the French and Indian War, the advance of the long hunters, the establishment of the Watauga settlements, Lord Dunmore’s War, Richard Henderson’s Transylvania enterprise, the battle of King’s Mountain, and the founding of the Nashville area. Written in a popular style and embellished justifiably with imaginative details, Caruso’s book caught on and can be found today in countless libraries throughout the United States.
The volume’s final chapter, “Making of Tennessee”, is primarily about the epic struggle between homeland Indians and new-coming white settlers, with territorial governor William Blount unsuccessfully walking a peacemaking tightrope. The future state’s most prominently featured confrontation is the 1792 attack on Buchanan’s Station, which miraculously resulted in foiling the Indians’ attempt to destroy the Cumberland settlements. The chapter’s first fifteen pages provide the larger context for that climactic event. However, modern Nashville, asleep at the Cumberland wheel, failed to capitalize on this emphasis.
If the mark of a classic book is its reprinting by an academic institution, then The Appalachian Frontier went classical in 2003 when the University of Tennessee Press republished it along with a valuable bibliographic introduction by the University of Georgia’s John C. Inscoe. This edition, too, is widely available and can be purchased directly from UT Press as well as from Amazon.com. Nashvillians will want to acquire the book and read about the pivotal battle that occurred within their city limits.
Buchanan’s Station, much ballyhooed across the eastern United States in the aftermath of the battle, was founded in 1784 on Mill Creek, a tributary of the Cumberland River. Today, the remains of the original settlement consist solely of the all-important Buchanan’s Station Cemetery grounds, where Major John Buchanan (1759-1832)—a founder of Nashville—is buried. Beside him lies his heroic wife, Sarah Buchanan (1773-1831), whom Caruso mentions by name, and near them rest other Buchanan family pioneers. Incredibly, the cemetery has been largely hidden in plain sight for well over a century, until September 30, 2012, when the newly formed Friends of Buchanan’s Station Cemetery held a public commemoration there in honor of the 220th anniversary of the Battle of Buchanan’s Station. Now reintroduced to Nashville’s consciousness, the Metropolitan Historical Commission is working with the Friends group to have the cemetery property transferred to the Metro Parks Department for preservation and development into an educational site.
Stars are now aligning for a renaissance, an awakening to the broad implications of Nashville’s founding era. The 2009 publication of Drake. Masters, and Puryear’s Founding of the Cumberland Settlements atlas series may be said to have begun the process. Metropolitan Nashville’s commitment to refurbish or rebuild the old Fort Nashborough replica will play a major role. And Paul Clements’ already-indispensable 2012 tome, Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements, will provide much of the primary documentation for the period. Finally, Nashville’s acquisition of the Buchanan’s Station Cemetery will put an exclamation mark on the stellar alignment. As the Civil War Sesquicentennial years draw to a close, look for a rebirth of our pioneer spirit.