July 20, 2020, Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal
Upon my visit last week to the ‘new’ Tennessee State Museum, I immediately sought the display of William Lytle’s two stunning Queen Anne Flintlock Pistols (1750s) that he carried in the American Revolution. The pistol is distinguished by the lock plate being forged in one piece with the breech and the trigger plate.
When I reflect on a singular man of influence within the origination of Rutherford County, William Lytle (1755-1829) always reigns foremost in my mind. Many of Captain Lytle’s personal papers are maintained in the Southern Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is one of our acclaimed founding fathers. The birth of our town was manifest and named through legislation in November 1811, just six months before commissioners designated the land offered by William. The decision to use his property was made in April 1812; and the Lytle deed was officially filed in 1813. Lytle’s sixty acres of property on the West Fork of Stones River was the site for our county government. Moreover, the Hilliard family transferred one-third property to the town in 1818. William, an early settler, is an interesting subject, whom we will explore today.
Few realize the grant of land was given to Archibald and not his brother William. When Archibald died, William was bequeathed one-seventh of his brother’s grant. Murfreesboro was not built on William’s Revolutionary War Grant. In 1809, William received a grant for 210 acres from Tennessee as unclaimed land southeast of his property and surrounded on three sides by Hardy Murfree’s land. Murfreesboro was platted on part of this grant and on a section of Murfree’s property.
With many twists and turns, William Lytle led an intriguing journey to his newfound abode. The origin of the Lytle family traces to Clan Little in Scotland of the West March that was one of the best light cavalries in 16th century Europe. William’s father Robert, born 1729, was an Irish immigrant, who settled in Pennsylvania in 1720. By 1752, Robert sold his third share of his inherited estate to James Little. Robert and wife Sarah migrated to Virginia and then to Hillsborough, North Carolina, where Robert served as Justice of Peace. Robert was also a Captain of the North Carolina Militia in 1755. He died at age 45 in 1774.
William Lytle was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania on February 17, 1755 to Robert and Sarah Mebane Lytle (1740-1771). He had nine siblings.
In 1776, Lytle was a Lieutenant in the Sixth North Carolina Regiment with his brother Archibald Lytle. He entered the 21stRegiment of the Revolutionary War in 1781. From there, he transferred to the Fourth Regiment and was commanded by Archibald Lytle, whom he remained close-knit through the end of the war. Archibald willed all of his estate to William upon his early death at age 25.
William Lytle has a familial lineage in our military history. He served in the First, Fourth and Sixth Regiments of the North Carolina Line during the Revolutionary War. He was an active soldier from April 1776 until the end of the Revolution in North and South Carolina and Georgia. Further, he was designated a Captain in 1779 and relocated to Tennessee in 1790. William’s paternal Uncle Andrew Lytle (1731-1784) was a First Lieutenant in the 5th Pennsylvania Regiment and fought valiantly in the Revolutionary War from 1776 until January 1783. Andrew died of camp fever in 1784. William’s brother Archibald was captured in 1779 at Stony Point on the Hudson River, held captive and later released. Archibald was a Lieutenant Colonel and bachelor in the North Carolina Continental Line. Both William and Archibald fought together in major battles, including Cowpens. William’s paternal grandfather Archibald Lytle Sr (1702-1749) was a half-brother to Robert Howe of the Continental Army. Howe was the Major-General in the Continental Army; and he was a prominent commander, whom we study today in our history books. William’s maternal grandfather was Colonel Alexander Mebane (1716-1792) of Ulster, Ireland, who died in North Carolina at age 75. While living in Pennsylvania, Alexander was a Colonel in Royal government and Justice of Peace until the Revolution began. Alexander was first sheriff in Orange County, North Carolina and sent his six sons to serve in the Revolutionary War.
Captain William Lytle wed Nancy Ann Taylor (1770-1825), who was the daughter of John and Sarah Day Taylor. At the time, he was 31 and Nancy was a mere 17 years old. Her father Lieutenant John Taylor was a charter member of the Society of Cincinnati and a Captain in the Revolutionary War. William and Nancy’s children were Jennet Jane, Nancy Ann, Sarah Ann, John Taylor, Julia Margaret and William Franklin Pitt. Both Julia and William Franklin were born in Rutherford County. William (1805-1863) served as trustee of Soule College in 1854. His daughters were educated in the Female Academy of Nashville. In 1850, Nancy’s sister Margaret resided in the home of William Franklin Pitt Lytle of Murfreesboro.
The Lytle children flourished in Rutherford County. Sarah wed Richard Caswell, whose father General Richard Caswell was governor of North Carolina. Richard and Sarah raised William Richard Caswell, who was a Brigadier General in Tennessee, having fought in the Mexican War and Civil War. In 1810. Richard died at age 25 and was buried in the Lytle graveyard in Murfreesboro. His wife Sarah Ann then wed Benjamin McCulloch (died 1847), and she bore 14 children. Julia married William Nichol, who was Mayor of Nashville and President of the Bank of Tennessee, as well as an early millionaire in the state. Their son Dr. William Lytle Nichol (1828-1901) was a surgeon for the Confederacy in the War Between the States. Jennet Lytle wed Ephraim Hubbard Foster of Bardstown, Kentucky, who was a Whig and Senator from Tennessee.
William Lytle was in Tennessee around 1790. He arrived with land grants from his service to the Revolutionary War. Coupled with his inheritance from Archibald, he acquired approximately 26,000 acres covering several counties in Middle Tennessee. One grant included 4,600 acres on the West Fork of Stones River. After a rampant setback of Indian attacks in Rutherford County, Lytle moved his family back to Davidson County. Two years later, he returned to settle in Rutherford County and remained until his death. Ironically, William was involved with the Cherokee Treaty of 1791. He was established in a settlement around 1799 on the West Fork of Stones River. In 1803, Rutherford County was formed.
Lytle’s first home was a log cabin with grist and sawmills and cotton gin near his property. In 1810, he built a mansion near Lytle Creek known for sheer beauty. Bricks were manufactured on a kiln on his property. The cabinetry arrived from Nashville’s Cumberland River to Stones River and on to Jefferson. The house showcased fluted columns and stood 117 years before being demolished for the Carnation Milk Plant. In 1811, the Lytle families were hosts to lavish parties. The home was located at the corner of present-day Broad Street and Old Fort Parkway. The grand plantation incuded a two-story brick dwelling. There were five bays with double chimneys at each gable end. The central bay was on the first floor by the front door. A colonnaded porch was on the 2nd floor, along with three arched windows.
When the demolition of the Lytle home was a surety in 1927, the house was salvaged for doorways, fanlights, columns, and mantles and thus moved into other grand Murfreesboro homes.
During the Civil War, Bishop Rosecrans (brother of General William Starke Rosecrans) lived in the Lytle home, along with Catholic Nuns where the house was used as a hospital. For seven months after the Battle of Stones River, Union soldiers camped on Crest lawn.
Marion Lytle, William’s grandson defined his grandfather in 1896 as both curt and cordial, while maintaining a brilliant, mechanical mind. William was a large man of 200 pounds, and he enjoyed good humor with friends. He was intent on honesty and often displayed resolute and strong-minded attributes. William was generous in deeding a lot on Vine Street to the Presbyterian Church; and he deeded land on Maple Street for education. The Murfreesboro Female Academy was later built on this lot.
William Lytle died on September 4, 1829 and was buried with his wife Nancy in a family plot at his home. Lytle Street in Murfreesboro bears his name today. The gravestone for William was laid by his youngest son reading ‘Universally beloved for his honesty and firmness in all the relations of life.’
William Lytle led a life packed with transition and exciting revelations forthcoming in an everlasting manner. He was an integral patriarch to the early history of Rutherford County and will always be remembered with great respect and high regard for contributions we still heed today.