Does the Name Murfrees Spring Ring a Bell?

As published by the Murfreesboro Post, Sunday, November 15, 2009

By Mike West, Managing EditorMurfreeSpring

Does the name “Murfree Spring” ring a bell?

Perhaps it does when you apply it to “Discovery Center at Murfree Spring?”

More than 110,000 youngsters and families explore that popular children’s museum each year, but there is more to the story behind the name.

Long before the interactive Discovery Center was built there, the site was occupied by the Murfreesboro Water Department, which used the massive spring to meet our need for water. Eventually, the city’s needs outgrew Murfree Spring’s output to the point where on an average day, 10 million gallons of water are softened, disinfected, filtered and fluoridated from the East Fork of Stones River and Percy Priest Lake.

But our story predates the Murfreesboro Water Department’s pump site by a long, long time.

You have to go back to the late 1700s to catch the earliest history of the springs.

Murfree Spring was one of the earliest settlements in what later became Rutherford County, but Indian “troubles” predated it.

Back before the arrival of the white man, two massive springs were often the campground of Native Americans who hunted in the area, including the Overhill Cherokees and Chickamaugas. After white settlers moved into the Cumberland River area, the springs were used as a staging area for Indian raids.

In September 1794, settlers began to end the Indian threat by sending the “Ore Expedition” to raid Chickamauga villages along the Tennessee River. On Sept. 12, 1794, a Southwest Territory militia unit under Major James Ore and led by former prisoner Joseph Brown wiped out Nickajack and Running Water. By the end of the year the remaining Chickamaugas had joined the Overhill Cherokees to make treaties with the white Tennesseans.

While Native American resistance did continue, it did subside greatly and finally ended with Andrew Jackson’s victory over the Red Stick Creeks during the 1813-14 Alabama campaign.

An historical aside of the conflict came during the opening days of Ore’s Expedition.

On Sept. 7, 1794, Ore and his men surprised Cherokee Chief Black Fox Inali at the spring that now bears his name.

According to legend, to avoid capture, Black Fox leaped into the spring and emerged from Murfree Spring, which was three miles away.

While that sounds improbable, Black Fox did escape capture and by the early 1800s he became a principal chief of the Cherokee Nations.

A historic marker on U.S. 41, Manchester Road, at Red Mile Road still memorializes Black Fox’s escape.

Because of the plentiful, fresh water, both Black Fox Spring and Murfree Spring became the site of early settlements in Rutherford County and both settlements were considered in 1811 when the state Legislature was considering a new county seat.

On Oct. 17, 1811, the Legislature appointed Charles Ready, Hugh Robinson, Hans Hamilton, James Armstrong, Owen Edwards, Jesse Brashears and John Thompson commissioners to select a permanent seat of justice for the county.

Specifically, they were instructed to select a site with good water and a central location. Sixty acres of land were to be procured by purchase or donation.

Consideration was given to four sites: Charles Ready’s property near Readyville, Thomas Rucker’s property near the current site of York VA Hospital, Black Fox Spring and Capt. William Lytle’s offer were offered.

The commissioners visited each site where they were wined and dined. After the visits were over, they cast their votes with Robinson, Hamilton, Edwards and Thompson – four in favor of Lytle’s offer. The remaining commissioners, Armstrong, Brashears and Ready cast three votes in favor of Rucker’s place.

Angered by their defeat, those three commissioners refused to sign the subsequent deeds.

All of the original deeds bear the names of Hugh Robinson, Hans Hamilton, John Thompson and Owen Edwards. One lot on the southeast corner of the Square was redeeded to Lytle in the new county seat, which was named Cannonsburgh in honor of Newton Cannon.

The sale of lots was advertised in the Knoxville and Nashville Gazette to begin on June 12, 1812. The lots sold at auction and were disposed of rapidly. George Smith received lots 12 and 15 for $116.25. Other purchasers were Daniel Dickinson, William Lytle, Samuel Wilson, Henry Tratt, Robert Jetton, John M. Tilford, Wilson Kerr, Bennett Smith, James Henderson, Blackman Coleman, Fred Barfield, Hezekiah Cartwright, William Bowen, Hugh Montgomery and Abe Thompson.

Proceeds from the property sale were used to finance construction of a courthouse, stocks and a jail.

Slightly less than a year later, (An act of Nov. 15, 1812, amending an act of Oct. 17, 1811), the name of the new county seat was changed from Cannonsburgh to “Murfreesborough.”

Mike West can be reached at 615-869-0803 or [email protected].

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