July 27, 2021, Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal
Big Hart’s Spring is one mile west of Smyrna at the head of Hart’s Branch and carries a beautiful history within our county. These waters intersect Sam Ridley Parkway West. This large branch on Taylor’s Trace was a connecting salt spring at Nashboro with Black Fox’s Camp at Cannonsborough following through to Chattanooga. Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Shawnee Indians and pioneers established this waterway as their mainstay.
Hart’s Spring is on the west side of Stones River and was once a fishing hole for crayfish and minnows and a haven for swimming. Wildlife inhabited these waters, and baptisms were common in this branch. When David Lipscomb held a gospel meeting at Smyrna Church of Christ, five baptisms occurred in these restless waters. In the early 1900’s, wagons, with barrels and buckets, carried the clear water from the stream for personal homes and work sites. Children skated on the ice-covered waters in the winter.
In the Fall of 1776, militia returning to Nashboro from Chattanooga camped at Hart’s Spring. James Robertson sent scouts Jonathan Gee and Seward Clayton to Taylor’s Trace to investigate movements of Indians. Both scouts were killed, and Indians moved on to Buchanan Station for an attack. General Robertson pursued Indians afterward at Big Hart’s Spring to no avail.
The branch was named for Captain Nathaniel Hart, who was born February 24, 1744 in Hanover County, Virginia to Thomas and Susannah Rice Hart. After Daniel Boone was in the Overmountain country in 1760, he related magnificent descriptions that strongly influenced Nathaniel and brothers Thomas and David Hart to explore further.
By 1774, the Hart brothers discovered the big spring and branch flowing into Stewart’s Creek, Stones River, and Cumberland River. They immediately realized a future value of the surrounding land. In 1775, these brothers were land speculators and made a treaty with the Cherokees. The deed included Stones River, Stewart’s Creek, Harts Branch, and Harts Spring on Taylor’s Trace.
Nathaniel was a member of the Transylvania Company and chief negotiator to purchase nearly 20 million acres of land in Kentucky and Tennessee from the Indians. Yet, the deal was later void and deemed illegal by 1782. Nevertheless, North Carolina courts acquiesced 200,000 acres in East Tennessee. In the same year, the North Carolina legislature allowed 640 acres to a family who settled before June 1, 1780 on the Cumberland. Progress was forthcoming to settle this prime land in Middle Tennessee. Nathaniel Hart was a man who seemed to be everywhere. He never lived at Hart’s Spring and maintained a home in Boonsboro, Kentucky. Nonetheless, he claimed Hart’s Spring as a land grant.
In 1760, Nathaniel wed Sara Simpson of Fairfax County, Virginia and moved to Boonesboro in 1775. He raised corn every year and was a profitable businessman. He was an original settler of Boonesboro and helped construct the fort there. The Nathaniel Hart House was one of the first homes in Boonesboro on the Boone Trace yet was burned by vandals in 1989.
Nathaniel’s grandfather Thomas Hart, a merchant, emigrated from London to America. Nathaniel’s brother James Hart has a namesake for Hartsville, Tennessee (1817). Nathaniel had nine children: Keziah, Susannah, Simpson, Nathaniel Jr, John, Mary Ann, Cumberland, Chinoe, and Thomas. His daughter Susannah wed Isaac Shelby, first governor of Kentucky. Moreover, Shelbyville, Tennessee is named for this same man.
The Harts played a prominent role in the Revolutionary War. Captain Nathaniel Hart served with the North Carolina Rangers. His brother Captain David Hart was in the Battle of Alamance in 1771. Moreover, his brother John Hart was a Captain in the 5th North Carolina Continental Line, and brother Thomas Hart was a Captain Commissary of the same regiment.
The settlement of Nashville largely included Nathaniel Hart, who was known as an effective communicator and polished gentleman. He signed the May 1, 1780 compact of government for settlers on the Cumberland River. He traveled by boat in 1779 to assist starving settlers at Nashboro.
On July 22, 1782, Nathaniel was killed by Indians at Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky at age 38 near his home. He was buried in the Lisle Family Graveyard in Boonesboro and remains as a luminary today in pioneer exploration for both Tennessee and Kentucky. In 1801, well-known Rutherford County pioneers Mary Overall and husband James Espey purchased over 1,100 acres on Harts Branch.
Robert Weakley surveyed Hart’s land in 1789 after his death. Nathaniel Hart’s 640 acres in Rutherford County on Hart’s Branch was divided among his nine children. Big Hart’s Spring was later owned by the heirs of magistrate George Washington Gwyn, who operated a saw mill, grist mill and blacksmith shop on the branch. Gwynn had a work horse to drown in this spring. The flowing water have also been identified as ‘Blue Spring’, ‘Big Spring’ and ‘Gwyn Spring’ over time; yet the namesake of Hart’s Spring has permanence of the branch that are so vital to our local history.