In Search of Uriah Stone

As published by the Murfreesboro Post, Mike West, Sunday, July 19, 2009

Maybe the name Uriah Stone tickles something in your memory?

But more likely, not.

Clover Bottom Mansion was built by John Donelson at the confluence of the Stones and Cumberland Rivers in present-day Nashville.

Clover Bottom Mansion was built by John Donelson at the confluence of the Stones and Cumberland Rivers in present-day Nashville.

Uriah was perhaps the first white man to travel up the stream now named in his honor. Yes, Stones River is named after this long hunter who passed through what would become eventually known as Rutherford County, Tenn.

In 1767, a party of white hunters passed through the area.

Col. James Smith, of Pennsylvania, explored what was later called the Cumberland country during the summer of 1766. The following is an extract from his journal:

“I set out about the last of June, 1766, and went in the first place to the Holston River, and from there I travelled westwardly in company with Joshua Horton, Uriah Stone, William Baker and James Smith, who came from near Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

“We explored the country south of Kentucky. We also explored the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers from Stone’s River down to the Ohio. Stone’s River is a South branch of the Cumberland and empties into it above Nashville. We gave it this name in our Journal in May, 1767, after one of my fellow travellers, Mr. Uriah Stone, and I am told it retains the same name unto this day.”

While little is known about Uriah Stone, he predated the first settlers in the area and carried tales of this bountiful, uninhabited land with him when he returned to North Carolina. It was 14 years, however, before the first settlers arrived.

Between the naming of Stones River and the arrival of the first settlers in Middle Tennessee, Stone hunted along the river bearing his name with a French trader, who managed to steal his boat and furs.

Stone returned to what now is known as the Cumberland valley in 1769 along with fellow hunters Kasper Mansker, Isaac and Abraham Bledsoe, Joseph Drake and Robert Crockett. Although Crockett was killed, the various trails, salt licks and camping spots identified by the 1766 and 1769 expeditions would later help guide the first white settlers to the Middle Tennessee area.

Uriah Stone was the father of at least two sons, William Stone and Archibald Stone.

When settlers lead by John Donelson moved to “Fort Nashborough” Indians moving up Stones River posed serious concerns.

In the spring of 1780, Donelson knew Nashville area pioneers seriously needed to plant a corn crop to insure their survival.

Donelson and his family again boarded the flatboat Adventure looking for alluvial fields, which did not require clearing to plant. Rounding a bend in the Cumberland, Donelson discovered what he was looking for near the confluence of the Cumberland and Stones rivers.

Donelson docked his boat along Stones River at a spot still called Clover Bottom. The family quickly built dug-in shelters on the bluff overlooking the river. This spot became the first home of Rachel Donelson in Tennessee. Ultimately, 15-year-old Rachel would marry politician/businessman Andrew Jackson.

Harassment from the Indians, and heavy rains, caused the Donelson family to move to Mansker’s Fort for protection. But by fall, the corn was ready to pick and John Donelson sent word to Fort Nashborough.

Men from the fort harvested the corn, while on the opposite bank of Stones River, Donelson and his family worked to harvest cotton. When the boats were loaded, Indians attacked with only three settlers from Fort Nashborough surviving.

Subsequently, Robertson became more aggressive dealing with the Indian threat. Teams of scouts were dispatched to watch for activity and ultimately the settlers took action in their own hands. In 1787, Gens. John Sevier and Griffin Rutherford destroyed Indian villages near Muscle Shoals, which had the result of making the native Americans even more aggressive.

In 1794, Robertson sent a expedition lead by Gen. Orr to crush the Indian villages on the Tennessee River in northern Alabama. The brutality of the attack was effective, but isolated incidents still occurred through 1795 when the United States signed a treaty with Spain, opening the Mississippi area.

Eventually, settlers were able to move up Stones River and into what later became Rutherford County, settling into early communities up Stewart’s Creek and near Black Fox Spring.

Owen Edwards, Thomas Nelson, Thomas Howell, William Atkinson and John Etta were early settlers on Stewart’s Creek with Edwards’ descendents saying he first moved here in 1797.

Another early settlement was on the West Fork of Stones River near where Stones River National Cemetery now stands. Samuel Wilson and Nimrod Menifee were among the first settlers there. Wilson was said to have killed the last elk seen in the county.

On the east fork of Stones River, Thomas Rucker and others purchased 5,000 acres from Issac Shelby, who had received the land in a grant from the state of North Carolina. It is said Rucker built the first grist mill in Rutherford County in 1799.

In 1786, Archibald Lytle and Hardy Murfree were awarded land grants in the area now known as Murfreesboro. Lytle’s relative, Capt. William Lytle, moved to the area probably in 1799.

Rutherford County wasn’t authorized by the Tennessee legislature until Oct. 25, 1803. Prior to that, the various parts of the county had been under the jurisdiction of Davidson, Sumner, Wilson and Williamson Counties.

Originally, the county was much larger than it is now. Bedford County was chopped off in 1807 and in 1836, Cannon County was established. Prior to that, Rutherford’s boundary had extended nearly to Woodbury. Eagleville was added to the county after the Civil War by two acts of the legislature in 1867 and 1871 following construction of a road to Murfreesboro.

County government was first established in the town of Jefferson at the forks of Stones River near the current city of Smyrna by land agents Robert Weakly and Thomas Bedford. A log courthouse was completed in 1806 along with a jail, stocks and whipping post.

By 1811, the county’s population had shifted to the south and east. Commissioners Charles Ready, Hugh Robertson, Hans Hamilton, James Armstrong, Owen Edwards, Jesse Brashear and John Thompson Sr. were appointed by the legislature to pick a new county seat. This panel considered sites owned by Thomas Rucker, William Lytle, Charles Ready and Black Fox Camp.

Lytle’s property won over Rucker’s by a one-vote margin.

The original act named the new town Cannonsburgh in honor of Newton Cannon of Williamson County. With Lytle offering the county 60 acres of land to erect a courthouse, the commission suggested the town be named Lytle instead. Lytle suggested naming the town after his recently deceased friend, Col. Hardy Murfree.

The legislature accepted Lytle’s suggestion and the new town was named Murfreesborough. The ‘ugh’ was dropped from the name after the Civil War.

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