Facts and Events
AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A SOUTHERN CONGRESSMAN OF THE BORDERLAND WITH DANIEL BOONE
An Irish Emigrant in Delaware in the Year 1720
From the information afforded by my father and what I could collect from an old and respectable citizen, Mr. William Smart — an elder of the church in Rutherford County, North Carolina, now deceased — relative to our family descent, states, that my grandfather, John Walker, was an emigrant from Ireland about the year 1720, settled in the State of Delaware about or near a small town ealled Appaquinimey, lived and died in that State, was buried in a church called Back Creek Church on Bohemia River.
I passed the church in my travels through that country in the year 1796. Mr. Smart related that my grandfather Walker was a plain, honest man, a farmer, in moderate circumstances, of upright character and respectable in his standing. He, Mr. Smart, made one or two crops with him when a young man. We must suppose he died in the meridian of life. He left two sons and three daughters. The eldest son Thomas died young; my father, the youngest, was bound to the cooper's trade, and followed it some years within my recollection after he had a family.
One of my father's sisters married a man by the name of Humphreys, father of Colonel Ralph Humphreys, who died at or near Natehez about thirty years past, the father of George Humphreys who lives in that county. One sister married Benjamin Grubb, a respectable farmer of Pennsylvania, but removed to South Carolina and died there. The other sister married Colonel Joseph Curry, settled about five miles below Columbia on the Congaree River. I was boarded there to School in the year 1764 at eleven years old. The schoolhouse stood on the site where Granby is now situated. It was then nearly a wilderness, a sandy desert, and so thinly inhabited that a school could scarcely be made up, and now a considerable commercial town.
Adventures of a Huntsman in Virginia 150 Years Ago
My father, John Walker, after his freedom from apprenticeship, went up the country as an adventurer, settled on the south branch of the Potomac in Hampshire County, Virginia. Being a new country and game plenty, he became a hunter of the first order, famous in that profession, in which he practiced nearly to the end of his life. He was with General Washington in Braddock's Army in the year. Previous to that time he married my mother, Elizabeth Watson, of a good family from Ireland, by whom he had seven sons, daughter. I was the eldest, born nineteenth day of July 1753. The names of his sons after my own, were John, James, Thomas, Joseph, George and Jacob. I like to have forgotten William who was the eighth son, although the fourth in succession, and only now living — William, Jacob and myself. After Braddock's defeat, which happened on the ninth day of July 1755, the country exposed to the depredation of the Indians and in continual jeopardy, my father removed to North Carolina, settled in Lincoln County on Lee Creek about ten miles east of the village of Lincolnton, worked at his trade and hunted for his livelihood according to the custom of the time; game was then in abundance.
About this time the Cherokees, a powerful and war-like nation of Indians, broke out and murdered some of the inhabitants on the frontier. He went out as volunteer against the Indians, joined the army from South Carolina under Colonel Grant, a Scotch officer, marched on to the Cherokee nation — a battle was fought at Estitoa, a town on Tennessee River about fifty miles distant from my own residence — in the fall of 1762. Colonel Grant was there repulsed with considerable loss, yet in the event the Indians were partially subdued an made peace, for a time. It did not continue long; the war broke the year after.
Plantation Life in the Carolinas Before the Revolution
On his return from the expedition he purchased a beautiful spot of land on Crowder's Creek, about four miles from King's Mountain, in the same county, and removed there in the fall of 1763, being then a fresh part; he cultivated some land and raised stock in abundance and I can then remember that my mother and her assistants made as much butter in one summer as purchased a negro woman in Charleston. My father hunted and killed deer in abundance and maintained his family on wild meat in style. I remember he kept me following him on a horse to carry the venison until I was weary of the business, which also gave me a taste for the forest. He resided on Crowder Creek until the year 1768 the range began to break and the game not so plenty, his ardor for range and game still continued. He purchased a tract of land of four hundred acres from one Moses Moore, a brother hunter, for one doubleloon, which at this time could not be purchased for five thousand dollars, such is the rapid increase of the value of land in half a century. This is the farm and plantation at the mouth of Cane Creek — second Broad River — in Rutherford County, settled by my father in 1768, on which he resided until he raised his family until they all were grown, and on part of said tract I lived for seventeen years, and had six children born, Betsie Watson, Elvira, Felix Hampton, Joseph, Jefferson and Isabella.
In the year 1787 my father removed to the mouth of Green River in the same county — about ten miles distant — where he lived until he died on the twenty-fifth of January, 1796, in the sixty eighth year of his age; left that valuable inheritance of land in the Forks of Green and Broad River to his youngest son, Jacob Walker, who lives on it to this day. My mother died on Easter Sunday in April, 1808, about the age of 75, and buried by the side of my father in the family burying-ground on the plantation. I trust she was a good woman and gone to rest.
My father bore several commissions under the old government; was colonel- commandant and judge of the court for many years in the county of Rutherford, but on the commencement of the Revolutionary War he resigned all his commissions, both local and military, and united his interests and efforts in defense of his country against the oppressions of the British government and was a member of the First Public Convention held in North Carolina at Hillsborough in July 1775, on the Revolution of the American States. I was with him at that place. He took an early and decided part in the war, was appointed a regular officer in the Continental Army. His grown sons were all active in that war in defense of their country. He was in person a man of slender habit, full of energy and swift on foot; a suavity in his manners that was graceful and attractive, and a cultivated understanding for his times and his day, and proper enthusiast in his friendship. Among my acquaintances I knew no man of a more liberal, hospitable and benevolent disposition — even to a fault — which often proved injurious to his pecuniary circumstances, but have thought he was wanting in that cool, deliberate, calculating faculties, so necessary in all the occurrenees of life, to balance the scale of our existence; yet he maintained such a consistency of character as insured him the confidence and friendship of society through life and left a good reputation and inheritance to his children. This is a narrative of our ancestors down to the present generation so far as my information extends.
Early Custom of Binding Boys into Apprenticeship
At the age of sixteen my father bound me to a merchant in Charleston — Mr. George Parker, an English gentleman of high standing in trade — for five years. He had three prentices of very singular names, one Nancy Milly Stuckings, one Atlard Belin, and myself, Felix Walker — the youngest. He used to boast that he had three young men of such singular names, none such to he found in the city of Charleston in one house either for names or service. I was highly gratified with my mode of life, well approved by my master, caressed by my mistress, who treated me with the sympathy and kindness of a child. I lived most delightfully for a time while the novelties of the city arrested my mind and occupied my attention.
At length those pleasures began to lag and I became weary and satiated with the continual sameness of the eity. My restless and anxious propensities began to prevail and I thirsted and sighed for those pleasures that variety afforded. Some more than a year after being bound, I solicited my master to give me up my indentures and permit me to go home for a time, under promise to return and serve out my apprenticeship. This he absolutely and promptly refused, saying he could nor would not do without me; my father's and my own acquaintance in the country brought in a great custom. At length my father coming to town, I renewed my solicitations to go home and through the influence of my father, and he seeing I was determined to go, he let me off with seemingly great reluctance. In this I believe my father committed an error in taking me away. He ought to have compelled me to business, and have since thought that tooc indulgence to a child, particularly in the rise or dawn of life, is the greatest injury we can do them. I have experienced something of this in my own family.
During my residence in Charleston in the Christmas of 1769 I heard the celebrated Dart Whitefield preach with great power. He was the greatest awakening preacher that perhaps ever filled the sacred desk. He had most crowded congregations. I felt the power of the awakening spirit under his preaching, but it soon went off.
Paternal Discipline in the Pioneer American Homes
On my return home my father put me to work on the farm, which did not well accord with my feelings. Yet I submitted and worked faithfully for a while. I applied myself to music, for which I had a predominant taste, and soon acquired a great proficiency in performing on the violin — then called a fiddle — in which I excelled, and although accustomed to frolic, I could never learn to dance. My father, discovering I had neither inclination or capacity for a farmer, he put me to school to Doctor Joseph Dobson of Burke County, from whom I received the best education I have ever been in possession of, although no more than the common English, so-called. I returned from school in less than a year and lived at home nearly two years without much restraint, yet I obeyed my father and mother with the greatest punctuality, but at the same time living according to the course of this world, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind and of the vanities of life with the greatest avidity.
At length, becoming weary of so limited a circle, I solicited my father to suffer me to go to Kentucky — which was then called Louvizy — with Colonel Richard Henderson, who had made a Purchase of that country from the Cherokee Indians. He consented, and accordingly my father and myself set out to a treaty held for that purpose, on Watauga in the month of Februnry, 1775, where we met with Colonel Henderson and the Indians in treaty. I there saw the celebrated Indian Chief called Atticullaculla — in our tongue "the little carpenter." He was a very small man and andd said to be then ninety years of age and had the charaeter of being the greatest politician ever known in the Cherokee Nation. He was sent as an agent or plenipotentiary from his nation to England and dined with King George the Seeond with the nobility, so I heard him declare in a public oration delivered at the treaty. The name of "Little Carpenter" was given him by similitude. The Indians said he would modify and connect his political views so as to make every joint fit to its place as a white carpenter can do in wood. You may find his name mentioned in "Weem's Life of General Marion."
The treaty being finished and a purchase made, there associated and collected together about thirty men. Mr. William Twitty with six men and myself were from Rutherford; and others a miscellaneous collection.
Adventures with Daniel Boone in the Wilds of Kentucky
We rendezvoused at the Long Island in Holston. Colonel Daniel Boone was our leader and pilot. Never was a company of more cheerfull and ardent spirits set out to find a new country. We proceeded and traveled, cutting our way through a wilderness of near three hundred miles, until we arrived within about twelve miles of Kentneky River when, on the twenty-fifth of March, 1775, we were fired on by the Indians while asleep in our camp; Mr. Twitty and his negro man killed, myself badly wounded, the company despondent and discouraged. We continued there for twelve days. I was carried in a litter between two horses to the bank of the Kentucky River, where we stopped and made a station and called it Booneborough. I well recollect it was a "lick." A vast number of buffaloes moved off on our appearance. I saw some running, some loping and some walking quietly as if they had been driven. It was calculated there were near two hundred.
But let me not forget, nor never shall forget, the kindness, tenderness and sympathy shown me by Colonel Daniel Boone. He was my father, my physician, and my friend; attended me, as his own child. He is no more, has gone to rest, but let me pay my tribute of gratitude to his memory and his ashes.
In a few days after we had fixed our residence, Colonel Richard Henderson, Colonel Luttrell and Colonel Slanghter — from Virginia — arrived with about fifteen men who stationed with us. This addition, our company consisted of about fifty men, well armed with good rifles. Colonel Henderson, being proprietor, acted as Governor, organized a government. We elected members, convened an assembly, formed a constitution, passed some laws regulating our little community. This assembly was held about the beginning of May 1775. This was the first feature of civilization ever attempted in that flourishing and enlightened state now called Kentucky.
From the recent occurrences of so unexpected an event, my friend and protector, Mr. Twitty, taken dead from my side, myself deeply wounded without much expectation of recovery, brought me to solemn reflections should I be taken off, what would be my destination in the world to come. I could make no favorable calculations as to my future happiness. Under these impressions I was indeed excited to make every possible exertion to meet death, prayed much and formed solemn resolutions to amend my life by repentance should I be spared; but on my recovery, my feelings wearing off, and my duties declining, I gradually slided back to my former courses and pursued my pleasures with the greatest avidity.
Experiences as a Civilizer in Forests of Tennessee
Such is the instability of all human resolutions and legal repentance, no power on earth can change the heart but the omnipotent power of the grace of Almighty God. During the time we were there we lived without bread or salt. In summer, perhaps in July, my wounds being healed, although very feeble I was able to sit on horseback by being lifted up. I set out in company with Messrs. Decker and Richard Hogan and returned by the way we came to Watauga, a dangerous route. It was a merciful providence that preserved us from being killed by the Indians, who were then in open hostilities with all the adventurers to Kentucky. However, we arrived safe to Colonel Robinson on Watauga, and from there in a few days I returned to my father's in Rutherford. I lived at home about three months, when that spirit of novelty began to prevail. I wished to be moving, but what course to pursue was undetermined. At length concluded to go to Watauga — This river is a branch of Holston, heads up in the mountains opposite to Ash County, in N. C. — where I had formed acqanintances, on my way to Kentucky. And now being my own man — but with the consent of my father — I set out in October '75 and arrived at Col. Charles Robinson's in a few days, being about ninety miles.
The country being newly settled, in a short time they organized a county and called it Washington. I was appointed Clerk of the Court. It was then a county or district of self-government, not incorporated in the State of North Carolina until some years after. It was then taken in by Act of Assembly and so remained until it was ceded to Congress in 1789, and since a part of the State of Tennessee. This was the first Court ever organized in that section of the western country. I continued in this office for nearly four years.
The war of the Revolution commencing about this time, I considered it a favorable opportunity, a fine theater, on which to distinguish myself as a young man and patriot in defense of my Country.
Accordingly I went to Mecklenburgh County, and meeting with some recruiting officers, by the recommendation of General Thomas Polk — father of Col. William Polk of Raleigh — I was appointed Lientenant in Capt. Richardson's Company in the Rifle Regiment, commanded by James Stuger — then a Colonel — and was there furnished with money for the reeruiting service. I returned to Watauga and on my way throughout that country I recruited my full proportion of men and marched them to Charlestown in May 1776, joined the Regiment, and was stationed on James Island.
Sir Peter Parker with his whole fleet arrived in the Bay while we were stationed on the Island. General Lee arrived in Charleston and took command of the troops, but did not tarry long; he went on to Savannah to assist the Americans against the British and Indians, and to regulate the troops, Sir Peter Parker commanded an attack on Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island on the twenty-eighth of June 1776, was repulsed with loss of two British men-of war and a number of men; did not succeed in the reduction of Charleston.
Ranging the Borderlands with the "Light Dragoons"
The war now becoming general through the American provinces, the British stimulating the Indians on the frontiers, the Cherokees breaking out and murdering the inhabitants of Watauga and Holston, where my property and interests lay, I was constrained to resign my commission, contrary to the wish of the commanding officer, and return home to engage against the Indians in the defense of my property and country.
I was appointed to a command of company of Light Dragoons to range on the frontiers, was stationed at Nolachuckey for a year and prevented the Indians from making any depredations on the inhabitants.
The war subsiding with the Indians, I returned to Watagua, attended to the duties of my office as Clerk of the Court. Having experienced some of bitter with the sweets of life, I became more local in my disposition. Thinking it necessary to become a citizen of the world, in its utmost latitude, concluded to marry.
Accordingly I was married to Susan Robinson, a beautiful girl of fifteen, on the 8th of January, 1778, daughter of Col. Chas. Robinson — where I had resided for 3 years past. In March ensuing, my wife and self paid a visit to my father in Rutherford, designed to spend the summer. On the 28th of June, my dear girl had a miscarriage which terminated her existence. She died on the 9th day of July, 1778, six months after our marriage.
This was the most momentous and eventful year in which I lived, through the whole period of my life. I was so shocked and impressed with so unexpected an event, that my mind was almost lost. Absorbed in grief almost insupportable, I felt so deeply afflicted that I thought all my prospects of happiness were buried with the woman I loved....
I continued at my father's as a home for about 16 months under the pressure of a wounded and broken spirit, rather in a state of despondency, spending my time without much effect. The war now raging in its utmost violence, I was occasionally with the Whig or Liberty party, though took no commission as I might have had. The county of Rutherford was at this time stricken off from Tyron — now Lincoln County — and made a new county. I was appointed Clerk of Court in October 1779, which brought me into business.
Entering Public Service in First Days of American Politics
After some time, my spirits began to revive and gradually emancipate me from my drooping situation, and viewing myself as a young man and must travel through life on some ground, thought it best to marry and become a citizen of the world once more. Accordingly, after some preliminary acquaintance, I was married to Isabella Henry on the 10th of January, 1780, in the 27th year of my age and 17th of hers, a daughter of William Henry, Esquire, of York, South Carolina. Mr. Henry was a reputable citizen, a plain, honest, reputable character; was a member of the Legislature, and was one of the first settlers in the frontiers of the Carolinas. He raised a reputable family of sons, all of whom took an active part in the Revolutionary War; of a decided military character, invincible courage, feared no danger, and always ready for the most eventful enterprise.
Grandfather Henry — it is asserted — was descended from a wealthy family in Ireland, the only son of his father, who possessed a large estate. His mother dying young, his father married a second wife, and he not liking so well his next mother, eloped from his father about 18 years of age, came to America and never returned to see for his hereditary inheritance. He settled in Augusta County in Virginia, there married your grandmother, Isabella McKown, of a good family. My acquaintance with her enables me to say she was a woman of the first class in her time and her day. She died about the age of 56. Mr. Henry removed to Carolinn about 75 or 80 years past, and resided in York District, South Carolina, for 65 years, and died at the advanced age of 102 years, a complete century, which one in ten thousand never arrive to....
I was highly gratified in my second marriage, happy in the woman of my choice, and believe I could not have selected a better had I traveled and traveled till this day. I resided at my father's and father-in-law's alternately for a while; no place a home, but in camp, the War being so severe and Tories all around.
Driven thro' Wilderness by Enemy in War for Independence
Charleston, S. C., was taken by the British the 12th of May, 1780, after which temporary victory and encouraged by the Tories, they advanced up the country with the greatest rapidity, overran the country in the frontiers of North and South Carolina. Myself with many others were compelled to retreat over the mountains to Watagua and Holston in Tennessee for refuge. I took my wife and property with me, and had to take a circuitous route by the head of the Yadkin River through the Flour Gap, by New River to the head of Holston down to Watagua in Washington County, Tennessee, waiting there the event of the War. At length an army of Volunteers from the Western waters, under the commands of Cols. Campbell, Shelley, Sevier and Cleveland, marched through the mountains, joined a few militia from North and South Carolina, under the command of Col. Williams and Col. Hambright. A battle was fought on "Kings Mountain" 1st of October, 1780, where a complete victory was obtained by the Americans, being all militia, over the British Regulars, and Tories, commanded by Major Ferguson, who was shot from his horse, bravely exhorting his men. Seven bullets went through his body, it was said. He was a brave and meritorious officer from Scotland, and it was well he was killed to prevent his doing more mischief.
In February following, the Battle of the "Cowpens" was fought, and a complete victory gained by our troops commanded by Genl. Morgan over Col. Tarlton and his legion of horse and regulars. These two victories were a decisive blow to the British arms in that section of Country, and the same fatality pursued them throughout the remainder of the War, until Cornwallis was taken at little York in Virginia, which was the last battle fought between the Americans and the British in the Revolutionary War.
Accumulating Wealth in Early Land Speculation
In April 1781 I returned to Rutherford, built a cabin on my father's land at the mouth of Cain Creek. Betsy was born in September 1782. I removed in a year to the mouth of Green River settled, cultivated my farm and attended to the duties of my office as Clerk of Court, there resided to the year 1787. These five years were my halcyon days, the millenium of my life. I gathered property, lived comfortable with my little family, in friendship with the world and generally at peace with myself.
But, alas, my restless propensity which I fondly hoped was abated, was only slumbering to rouse with double solicitude. A dazzling prospect of the Western country presented to my view the ten thousand advantages that I might acquire, with such irresistible force, that I resigned my office with a fixed resolution to remove there in a few months.
"Fond man the vision of a moment made, Dream of a dream and shadow of a shade." (Younge)
This was the greatest error I ever committed in my temporal transactions through life. I had considerable property, owed nothing and resigned an office worth $1,000 per annum. Col. Lewis in whose favor I resigned office, made a fortune worth $50,000 in thirty years. But being providentially prevented — as I believe — from going to the West, I went down to York District, lived there one year, 1790, returned to Rutherford, purchased a part of my father's old plantation at the mouth of Cain Creek, settled and lived there 17 years. My children Betsy Stanhope, Elvira Watson, Felix Hampton, Joseph Emanuel, Jefferson and Isabella were born there, after I was settled and fixed in my residence. My acquaintance and intercourse had been and was very extensive. I had the confidence and friendship of society in general. They put up my name for the Assembly and I was elected, losing few votes, in the year 1792. The Assembly then sat at Newburn, N. C.
On my return from the Assembly, I commenced merchandise with a tolerable capital, for the country, which prevented me from continuing in the Legislature. I pursued that line of business about 5 years. Went to Maryland and Virginia and purchased several droves of negroes. I was now much in the spirit of the world, and like to have forgotten I was purged from my old sins, but on reflection, collecting my scattered fragments and little remaining strength, abandoned the iniquitous practice of buying and selling human beings as slaves, which I found to be in violation of my conscience, in direct opposition and in the very face of all morality and religion, and have ever since that conviction abhorred the principle and the practice.
In the year 1795 I engaged in a large land speculation in the Western counties of Buncombe and Haywood, calculated I had made an immense fortune by entering lands. I was not mistaken, and had the line between the United States and the Cherokee Indians been run according to treaty, I would have realized a fortune indeed; but it was run otherwise by the commissioners, and divested me of 10,000 acres of the best land I entered. What I saved I was forced into a lawsuit with Col. Avery for 12 years. Although I gained it, it profited me little, having expended so much money in the defense of the suit.
On Floor of Congress in Early Days of Republic
In the year 1799 I was again elected to the General Assembly by almost a unanimous vote, and continued, with the exception of a few years to represent the County until the year 1806, which was the last year I was in the Assembly. At length, becoming weary of the drudgery of legislation, I fled from the scenes of popular solicitations and removed to the mountains of Haywood in 1808, warned by the langour of life's evening ray, thought I would house me in some humble shed with full intention of lasting retirement for the remainder of my life. But, as says a great man, the spider's most attenuated thread is cord, is cable, to man's feeble ties, I consented to have my name announced for Congress. The competition was with Governor Pickens, late Governor of Alabama. He beat me by a small majority. I was then opposed by Judge Paxton. I obtained my election by good majority, and continued to represent the District of Morgan for six years in succession.
My situation was so enviable that I was opposed every election, but so feebly as scarcely to be felt.
In the year 1823, Doctor Vance of Buncombe, Genl. Walton of Rutherford, Col. Reyburn of Haywood, all offered for Congress. Walton had 978 votes, Reyburn 492, Vance and myself tied at 1913 votes each. The Sheriff of Burk gave the county vote to Vance and elected him. It was well known that Walton and Reyburn bore on my interest. Had Vance and myself met single hand, I should have beat him 1,200 votes; and it was afterwards ascertained I had a majority of 71 votes over Vance, although in counting the ballots they made a miscount or misdeal. The next election my name was announced as a candidate, but on considering my age and growing infirmities, I withdrew my name from the list and dropped out of the circle, to the disappointment of the great majority of the District. Such was my standing when I shut the door on public life.
Admitting Missouri, Mississippi, Maine, Illinois into Union
My standing in Congress is pretty generally known. I took a share in public debates, with what credit society must judge. We must all submit to Public opinion. I was one who advocated with the utmost ability the conduct of Genl. Jackson in the Seminole War. Also in most of the most interesting and popular discussions, I threw in my mite on the floor — the Missouri questions, the reduction of the army, the Revenue and Bankruptey bill were all debated in my time. The State of Missouri, the State of Mississippi, the State of Illinois and me State of Maine — 4 new states — were admitted into the union during my service in Congress, under Mr. Monroe's Administration.