John Nash Read was a Pioneer in Smyrna and Legacy to Templeton Grove Cemetery

July 1, 2021, Susan Harber

I often receive requests to look over a historical relic firsthand, whether to identify architecture or research genealogy. Yet, I could never have imagined the jewel bestowed from a simple phone call that is quite the ‘find’ of my quest for historical preservation.

Frontier forerunner John Nash Read is a fascinating man brought to life through the initiative and strong efforts of local resident and Rutherford County Tennessee Historical Society member, Frances Victory. She assumed great interest in this hometown pioneer and actively coordinated with our Smyrna mayor to provide markers and accommodations for access to the restored Read gravesite. Frances is also working closely with the Center of Historic Preservation at MTSU to preserve this site.

The Reads originated from Wales as immigrants to Virginia. In 1741, John Nash assisted in construction of St. John’s Church. Within this sanctuary, Patrick Henry delivered the stirring words ‘Give me liberty or give me death.’ John and Anna moved to Farmville, Virginia in Prince Edward County and owned 13,000 acres on a tobacco farm. They had eight children. Both John Sr. and John Jr. were sheriffs in Virginia. Three of the Nash children were in the House of Burgesses.

John Nash Read was born on April 25, 1763 in Charlotte County, Virginia to Clemente and Mary Read. He wed three wives and gave life to 21 children. Read’s first wife was Elizabeth Julia Spencer, first cousin of Thomas Jefferson. She had 12 children, nine of whom died early. Some of the surviving children included John Thomas, Clement Nash, Sion, and Laura. His second wife was Elizabeth Fisher, who had one son John Nash. His third wife, Mary Barksdale, daughter of Revolutionary War soldier Nathaniel Barksdale, wed Read on May 22, 1810 in Rutherford County and bore 10 children. Nathaniel was in this area in 1808 and bought land at Stewarts Creek. Mary was 23 years younger than Read. She was a direct descendant of William Barksdale, who was born in Rutherford County in August 1821 and died infamously at Gettysburg in 1863. Several Barksdale graves are in Cannon Cemetery, now on Corps property near Smyrna Airport.

Clement and Mary raised their family in Lunenburg County. Three of their children also served in the House of Burgesses. Their son Abner was Patriot Governor of Charleston, South Carolina and under constant British attack from Lord Cornwallis of the Revolutionary War. Their son General Francis Nash carries Nashville’s namesake. The Nash and Read families were close-knit in Virginia. Three of the Nash children married three of the Read children.

Read, a Revolutionary War veteran, fought in the Battle of Guilford Court House in present-day Greensboro, North Carolina under General Nathaniel Green. He arrived to wilderness (currently Smyrna) in 1806 with family and slaves in tow. According to Register of Deeds, Read had a 600-acre land grant on the West Fork of Stones River near the current site of Enon Springs/Florence Road. The 1820 census indicates he managed a household of 36, including 27 slaves and children, and he was a wealthy man. Slaves were buried with him, and they received a generous annual sum until their death.

John Nash Read was appointed to the First Grand Jury of the Circuit Court of Rutherford County in 1810. Read built with slaves both the Templeton Grove Estate, one of the finest homes in the South, and the Enon (Aenon) Meeting House. Read was an ardent Missionary Baptist following the verse from John 3:23: “John always was baptizing in Aenon because there was much water there.” The slaves cut the lumber for the church assembled on the banks of Stones River. This Baptist Church was the first in our area. Enon Springs Road derived its name from this meeting house. Unfortunately, the church was destroyed during the Civil War and was not rebuilt. John Nash Read’s grandson, Edmund Read, was a Confederate soldier and prisoner at Chickamauga for two years.

Read was an early medical doctor in 1810. Three of his children were physicians, and one was a Major. Son Sion was appointed postmaster of Jefferson. His son Nathaniel built Ingleside where Nissan stands today. Nathaniel was the inventor of the seamless flour sack. Nash was prominent in this area and owned Templeton Grove with the name-sake tied to his mother Mary Nash, who resided in Templeton Manor in Virginia. In 1806, Read established the first tavern in Jefferson. The Read Tavern was later a residence for Nash and a post office that has been meticulously mapped by Toby Francis, who has given fantastic tours of Jefferson. The tavern was torn down in 1901. Read’s great-grandson Sam later managed the Read House in Chattanooga.

Read had relatives who lived in Smyrna for generations. His granddaughter, Julia Johns and great-granddaughter, Mrs. Oliver Mann were members of the First Baptist Church in Smyrna. Julia and Olivia Mann were charter members of this congregation and buried with Read in the Templeton Grove Cemetery.

One of the fiercest battles of the Civil War in Rutherford County was at Templeton Grove. Templeton Manor and the Enon Church were burned by Northern troops. Afterward, soldiers moved into Murfreesboro and the Battle of Stones River. Direct descendant Nathaniel Barksdale Read died in uniform in the war. Several members of the Read family were Confederates and owned slaves.

John Nash Read died at 63 years old in January 1826. His cemetery was actively pursued over time by Frances Victory in her desire to maintain the property. With some strong detective work over three years, she found the Templeton Grove Cemetery with the assistance of master historian Ernie Johns, who documented the grounds in 1971. The stones are stunning and beautiful and a real hidden treasure behind my home on Corps of Engineer property. Within the cemetery lay Read’s sons Edmond and Peter, his slave, and Captain Nat Allen, who died at Stones River. Read was the first known burial at this cemetery with a tombstone depicting an abbreviated history of his life. Also buried here is his third wife Mary Barksdale Read, along with five of their ten children. Travis Davis, James Bryan, Mary Lou Davis, and Sarah Davis are also in this cemetery. There are 12 unmarked graves.

Read wrote his will in 1825 to bequeath his estate to wife Mary and surviving children Thomas, John, Sion, James, and Mary. Several children were deceased including Clement, Harry and John Night. His will read ‘I recommend my soul to the Almighty God for mercy and desire no parade at my death.’

An interesting and successful man, Read chose to live on West Fork in Rutherford County and pursue happiness with his large family and church. He was an original innovator, who formed the prospering town we live in today.

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