Skip to content

THE WATAUGAH PURCHASE

April 2, 2013

THE WATAUGAH  PURCHASE

By: Judge John L. Kiener

I have a rare book  that is an invaluable finding aid to researching “The Wataugah Purchase.” The  book is titled “The Wataugah Purchase At Sycamore Shoals March 19,  1775 – AN INDEX.” The  Index preceded by a historical “FOREWORD” was published as A Bicentennial  Contribution in 1976 by Mary Hardin McCown and Irma Bowman Kitzmiller.

     The 27 page booklet  needs to be a part of the Washington County Archives since it  explains

“Why” the original of the county’s first  deed book entry ended up in Nashville then adds a 494 pages  Index of the deeds issued to the area’s  first pioneers. 

     A search of the  internet and book sellers did not turn up additional volumes but only  this

advice: “Find in a library.”  The Overmountain Press in Johnson  City printed  the text in 1976 the date of McCown’s copyright. 

     The complete title of  the book is: “THE WATAUGAH PURCHASE – March 19,  1775 at SYCAMORE SCHOALS  OF WATAUGAH RIVER — THE CHEROKEE INDIANS TO CHARLES  ROBERTSON, TRUSTEE FOR THE WAUAUGAH SETTLERS.”  The title page continues with this  statement: “An index of the Wataugah Purchase, the North  Carolina  Land Grants, and deeds through 1782.  A Bicentennial contribution.  Nov. 12, 1975.  By Mary Hardin McCown and Irma Bowman Kitzmiller.  The copy I have is signed by McCown and  Kitzmiller who are both deceased.

     The importance of the  purchase is explained in a Tennessee Historical Marker erected in Carter County  near Elizabethton on Tennessee Highway 91: “Watauga Purchase – Here on Marcy 19,  1775, at the Sycamore Shoals, the Watauga Association, Charles Robertson,  Trustee, bought from the Cherokee, with Oconostosta as chief, lands along the  Watauga, Holston, and Great Canaway (now New) Rivers.  The consideration for the purchase was  2000 pounds sterling.”

     According to the Tennessee Virtual Archive maintained by the Tennessee State Library & Archives, THE WATAUGAH is  one of “Tennessee Founding and Landmark Documents.” The site  declares: “This volume comprises the first land grant book created for the area  which became Tennessee. Located at the front is the contract or  treaty formalizing the land purchase between the Watauga Association and the  Cherokee chiefs.”  The TSLA  identifies the volume as “Watauga Purchase (Old Book A).

     At one time the  document was part of Washington County’s Records.  Its travel to Nashville involves a story worth retelling.  In “WASHINGTON COUNTY, TENNESSEE Deeds, 1775-1800” (Greenville, South  Carolina, Southern Historical Press, Inc., 1991) author Loraine Rae noted  provides the following commentary concerning the “WATAUGA PURCHASE. – This  volume is a photostatic copy of the original and is in the office of the County  Court Clerk, not the Register of Deeds.  The story I have heard is this: The original volume was taken to Nashville for some state historical celebration and  never returned.  The late Mary  Hardin McCown found it in the state archives.  She was not permitted to bring it back  to Washington County but was allowed to make a photostatic  copy, which she had bound and placed in the Clerk’s office.  This is actually a copy of ‘Old Book  A.’”

     Mrs. McCown in “The  Wataugah Purchase” has an explanation that reads: “The Ledger Book was taken to Nashville from the Washington County Archives in Jonesboro some time in the late 1800’s for an  exhibit by the Tennessee Historical Society, and was never  returned.  Mr. Robert A. Quarles,  the Tennessee State Librarian and keeper of the records, made a Photostat of  this book and entrusted it to Mrs. L. W. McCown, of Johnson City, a member of  the Tennessee Historical Commission (elected in 1951 and this date – 1975 – an  Emeritus member) to return this copy to the Clerk’s Office in Washington  County.”

     Ned Irwin, the  County’s First Archivist, says the copy now exists in the Clerk’s Office.  It is one of the documents that should  be part of the permanent collection in the newly established Washington County Archive.  The digital image online was copyrighted  by the TSLA in 2007 with notations concerning the object’s description as set  out above with the following addition: “It is followed by the entry of the  Watauga grants (generally individual tracts of 200 – 400 acres).  The remainder contains recorded Washington County grants issued by the State of North  Carolina.  The text goes on to provide that the document was entered into at  Sycamore Shoals (then a part of Washington County) in the period 1775-1782.  The document was created by the Watauga  Association.  The TSLA recites that  it is the “Owning Institution” of the document.

     A brief note on the  formation of the  Watauga  Association is contained in the “History of Washington County Tennessee” (Johnson City: The Overmountain Press, 2001) in a 43-page a article titled “The  American Revolution” written by Michael Toomey, Ph.D. of the East Tennessee Historical Society:

     “The colonists  established permanent settlements in what is now Washington County by 1770.  Many followed the Shenandoah Valley south from Virginia, including John Sevier who settled on the Nolichucky.  James Robertson and others crossed the Appalachian Mountains from eastern North  Carolina and  settled on the Watauga. In 1772 the British government labeled them squatters  and ordered them to leave. The inhabitants, however, had made gifts to the  Cherokee Indians and had received permission to stay as long as they encroached  no further on Indian lands.  The  settlers called a convention, organized themselves into the Watauga Association,  adopted the laws of Virginia, and established as court with five  magistrates, a sheriff and a clerk.”

                                                         RETURN OF A COPY

     The loss of the  original of the document obviously alarmed Mrs. McCown.  She reported on her delivery of the copy  of the Watauga Purchase to Washington County during the nation’s Bicentennial – April 26, 1976.   This book was presented on Monday  at the Quarterly meeting of the Washington County Court of Pleas and Quarterly Sessions in Jonesboro.  Judge Jack Wiseman accepted it for Washington County.  Mrs. L. W. McCown then charged Judge Wiseman and Mrs. Roy Phillips,  County Court Clerk, to never permit it to be borrowed by anyone for any exhibit  whatever at any time.  It is the  property of Washington County, Tennessee.

     Present besides the  Magistrates of Washington County were Dr. Henry Jablonski, Vice Chairman of the  Washington County Bicentennial; Paul M. Fink, Washington County Historian;  Dorothy Whitlock Wood, of the Jonesboro Civil Trust; and Irma Kitzmiller, my  index assistant.

   The copy of the Watauga Purchase  now “owned” by Washington County was described by Mrs. McCown as follows: “The book measures 10 inches by 16 inches by 3 & ¾ inches thick, and weighs  13 ½ pounds.  It is hard-back cover  and bound inside.”

     As the original entry  in Washington County Deed books the grant from the Cherokee  Indians to Charles Robertson (also spelled Roberson) consists of pages 1 through  4 in Old Book A.  Thereafter are  grants to individual settlers that read like a “Who’s Who” of the pioneers who  founded this area that would become the State of Tennessee.

   As transcribed by Mrs. Rae the  entry provides (with spellings as in the original document): March 19,  1775. —  “ Oconistoto,  Chief Warrior and first representative  of the Cherokee Nation or Tribe of Indians & Amacullicully & Savanuka  otherwise Coronok to Charles Roberson / Robertson of the setelment of Wataugah;  on Watauga, Holston and Great Canaray or New River.  The consideration is 2000 pounds  sterling.  The document was signed  with their “X” marks by Oconistoto, Atticullicully, Tennesy Warrior, and  Willinawaugh. The witnesses for the Wataugah settlers were John Sevier, Bailey  Smith, Jesse Benton, Tilman Dixon, William Blevins and Tho Price.  Other data of interest as listed by Rae  are that Wm Bailey Smith and/or James Smith were surveyors for a number of  tracts of land included in the Watauga Purchase.

     Mrs. Rae’s book  contains a well-written 16 page article titled “From North Carolina’s ‘Western  Lands’ to Washington County, Tennessee” which is a great aid in understanding  the historic significance of the county’s deed records.  She also notes in her text concerning  the Watauga Association: “This government lasted until 1775.  Unfortunately, no official papers  survived.”  The Association is often  referred to as having drawn up “the first articles for government of a free and  independent people in America.” President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that  the Watauga settlers were the “first men of American birth to establish a free  and independent community on the continent.”                

                                                            ABOUT THE AUTHORS

     I remember Irma as  being most helpful to me when she worked for Washington County.  The endnote of “The Wataugah Purchase” states she is a native of Jonesboro and a graduate of Jonesboro High  School.  The text continues: “After business training at Southern School of Commerce in Johnson City she has worked in various offices in the Washington County Courthouses at Jonesboro and Johnson City.  Married Homer Kitzmiller and resides in Jonesboro.  Has two daughters and four grandchildren.  Descendant of several pioneer families  of Washington County, including Bowman, Walker, Sherfey, Miller, Range,  Campbell, Armentrout, Crouch and Taylor.”

    Irma died in 2002.  A tribute to her in the Watauga  Association of Genealogists (WAGS)

Bulletin  read in part:

Irma Bowman Kitzmiller, 1915-2002 — Irma  was a long-time member of WAGS. She served as treasurer from 1980-1999 and on  many committees, contributing much to WAGS. She and her late husband, Homer,  spearheaded the effort to clean up and preserve the old BuffaloRidgeCemetery.      Mrs.  Irma B. Kitzmiller, 87, Jonesborough, died Saturday, Nov. 2, 2002, at Johnson  CityMedicalCenter.  Mrs. Kitzmiller was a WashingtonCounty  native and a daughter of the late James B. and Cleo Campbell Bowman. She was an  active member of Central Christian Church, Jonesborough. Mrs. Kitzmiller was  employed by WashingtonCounty  and retired after 35 years of service in various offices of the Jonesborough and WashingtonCounty  courthouses. She was a long-standing officer of the Watauga Association of  Genealogists of Upper East  Tennessee and  a member of the Book Committee for the publication of the “History of Washington  County, Tennessee,” in 1988. Mrs. Kitzmiller was preceded in death by her husband, Homer Kitzmiller;  and one brother, Jack C. Bowman. Survivors include two daughters, Ellen  Hattaway, Asheville, N.C., and Becky Wimmer, Ferrum, Va.; four grandchildren,  Earl Hattaway and Eric Hattaway, both  of North Carolina, and Sara Hatman and Clay Bailey, both of Virginia; and two  great-grandchildren.      The endnote on McCown  states: Mary Hardin McCown, a native and still a resident of Johnson  City, Tennessee. Graduate of Science Hill High  School,  with a BA from the University of Tennessee, did graduate work at Columbia University.  Taught at Milligan College, and during World War I in the Washington and Carter County Schools.  A member of several historical and patriotic societies.  A publisher of several historical books  and records.  Descendant of Tipton,  Taylor, Reneau, Hyder, Williams, Gourley, Haun and other early settlers in the  Watauga region.  Married Leonidas W.  McCown.  One son, Hardin McCown, an  attorney at Manteo, North  Carolina;  three grandchildren, Cameron, Linda and Hardin, Jr.

     Mrs. McCown was named  one of 108 “Notable People” in the History of Washington County, Tennessee” previously referred to as a 2001  publication.  A history by the same  name was prepared by WAGS in 1988 and was the source of this sketch prepared by  Ed Speer:

     McCown, Mary Hardin  (1891 – 1985) was a native of Johnson City, Tennessee.  She graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1911.  She was a genealogist, historian, and  member of the Daughters of the War of 1812, the Huguenot Society, the Colonial  Dames, and the John Sevier Chapter of the Daughters of the American  Revolution.  She was a member of the Tennessee Historical Commission and was named city  historian in 1979 by the board of commissioners of Johnson City.

      Her publications  include: “Soldiers of the War of 1812 buried in Tennessee” – four editions  published between 1959 and 1977 in English and held by 101 libraries  worldwide;  “Washington County,  Tennessee, records” —   one  edition published in 1964 in English and held by 63 libraries worldwide;  “Soldiers of the War of 1812 buried in  Tennessee” — two editions published between 1959 and 1977 in English and held  by 27 libraries worldwide;  “The  Wataugah Purchase, March 19, 1775 at Sycamore Shoals of Wataugah River” — two editions published in 1976 in English  and held by 21 libraries worldwide; Brief chronological history of Johnson City,  Tennessee” — three editions published between 1963 and  1969 in English and held by 18 libraries worldwide; “Glimpses of yesterday’s  lights for tomorrow” — two editions published in 1979 in English  and held by 17 libraries worldwide;  100th anniversary, history and directory, 1871 — 1971, First Christian  Church, Johnson City, Tennessee — one edition published in 1971 in English  and held by 12 libraries worldwide;  “ A King’s Mountain diary” — one edition published in 1942 in English  and held by three libraries worldwide and The “J. Hartsell memora” : the journal  of a Tennessee captain in the War of 1812 by Jacob Hartsell in English and held  by three libraries worldwide.

    For additional information  about Mrs. McCown, the Archives of Appalachia on the campus of East Tennessee State University have a collection of her writings and  other papers.  The series is  arranged into four series: Series I, Historical Files, 1866 – 1985; Series II,  Genealogical files, 1790-1983; Series III, Personal Files, 1890-1982, and Series IV,  Photographs, 1869-1982.

Advertisements
2 Comments
  1. May I use this information on Ancestry.com for William Blevins, who’s name is on the The Watauga Purchase, March 19, 1775

    • chadfredb permalink

      Our Digging For Your Roots articles are public articles published in the Jonesborough Herald and Tribune. You can use this, as long as you cite your source!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: