North Carolina was a divided allegiance without the means of enforcing the tax needed to raise a standing army. To fund the Revolutionary War effort, soldiers were offered land beyond the mountains in varying amounts based on rank and length of service. It was in this reserve set aside for soldiers where in 1795, the town of Palmyra was laid off by Dr. Morgan Brown. The acting commissioners for the new town on the banks of the Cumberland River included Benjamin Thomas, son of Stephen. Note that Morgan Brown had earlier surveyed land in Anson County North Carolina including grants in the upper end of the county where my own Benjamin Thomas family were living at that time.
As there were no western points of entry into our young nation, in 1796, an act was passed by Congress to establish this new town of Palmyra as the only western port of entry. The only location allowed to receive imported goods, the act provided a federal officer to receive and manage all imported goods. For a brief two years, until Cincinnati came online, this was the northern most and primary point of entry on the Mississippi river chain. And, at the same time, the county of Montgomery was formed from Robertson and Tennessee was introduced as the 16 state in our Union in 1796.
This was the place in Tennessee where many veterans from North Carolina settled. It is where Stephen Thomas’ Benjamin lived for a period of time. It’s also an area of counties where several children of Benjamin’s brother William settled …John, Nathan, and Stephen. Local history and cemeteries are ripe with the stories of this Thomas family. This was a place I wanted to see. It was a place I needed to see to clarify my own Thomas family history as not what I was about to see in Tennessee.
Making my way to Montgomery County, I needed to also visit Stewart County to the west that had formed from Montgomery by 1806. And then to the south, Dickson County was formed and later Hickman was formed from Dickson. So, in the town of Dover in Stewart County, I remember seeing the below photograph of William H Thomas in the county office. Not far away, and from memory in 1997, I also photographed William’s grave monument with background probably of some electrical generation plant along the river.
Running through the region was the Natchez Trail, an old Indian path that became the primary route transporting a burgeoning population to points south and west. Benjamin, son of Stephen moved a bit south along the trail to point where he built and operated a gristmill on Garner’s Branch of Piney River. Benjamin would later move again, this time following the trail further south to Pike County Alabama where he likely died. But, as for Benjamin’s mill tract, it was eventually sold and assigned to Jacob Humble whose family cemetery still survives. Seeking to locate evidence of the old mill, I made my way south to the Humble Cemetery in Hickman County.
The land bounced along and was green with hills and trees. It did not take long to find an 84 years old Mr. Yates who lived on the creek just up Hwy 48 from Piney River Road. In order to reach his house, I had to cross an old wooden bridge that spanned Garner Creek. Asking Mr. Yates about a mill, his eyes brightened as he began to tell me the story otherwise hinted at only in court records. While a little boy, Mr Yates’ mother told him she used to play on an old mill dam along the creek. Pointing in the direction of the old bridge, Mr. Yates continued to tell of the 1948 storm that revealed part of the mill remains. “Large white oak beams with pinion holes” were exposed and protruded from the cuts in the creek bank. Working with the tractor, he pulled out parts of a tub like water wheel that his wife later used as flower planters on their long front porch. Pointing across the creek to a distant field, Mr Yates pointed to the resting place of those who had purchased Benjamin’s land, the old Jacob Humble cemetery.
Before leaving this loosely written history, I’d like to point out that Benjamin’s nephew Stephen left a last will and testament in Dickson County. He also applied for Revolutionary War pension in Montgomery County. Benjamin’s family is traced to Pike County, Mississippi where descendants applied for a Revolutionary War pension based on his service. And about Mr. Yates, I asked if he had ever heard of Wake County NC? He answered “oh yes, that’s supposed to be where my family came from though I don’t know the details.”