Harber’s History Lesson: Rucker helped to establish Rutherford County

Harber’s History Lesson, Daily News Journal, November 30, 2014, Susan Harber

I have always enjoyed studying Thomas Rucker (1759-1843), originally from Amherst County, Virginia, as our forefather in Rutherford County.

What struck me about this man was his intelligence and keen acumen for business.  A 1797 deed indicates Rucker acquired land on the east fork of Stones River near what is now the York VA Campus.

In 1801, he purchased (with others) an additional 5,000 acres of land owned by Isaac Shelby, who moved on to serve as governor of Kentucky.  This land was a slice of Wilson County at the time.

From 1804-1806, there are recorded deed transactions of Rucker buying and selling land.  He had an exceptional aptitude for business, and he prospered.

Much was happening in a successive manner with the creation of Rutherford County in 1803, as Rucker and Charles Ready were original petitioners.  Most of our county was carved from Davidson County established in 1783.  Thomas Rucker was actively in the midst of trailblazing an original foundation intact today.

One of the earliest mills in Rutherford County was Cave Mill, built by Rucker in 1799.  With fertile soil producing bounteous corn, this mill was a sensation on Stones River.  Rucker’s impressive home on Lebanon Highway was the site of the first meeting of the Rutherford County Court on January 3, 1804.  William Nash of the Davidson County Court swore in seven justices of this foremost session as a very historic moment in time.  Two of the charter members were Charles Ready and Thomas Rucker.  Nash resigned his position in Davidson County to join the Rutherford County Court that met in Jefferson until 1805.  Nash also owned and operated a successful store in Jefferson.

Rucker’s property was considered for a new county seat, yet Jefferson was no longer an ideal site for the seat of government.  A decline in river traffic and a population shift had changed the dynamics.

After careful consideration and a competitive bid, William Lytle’s central location on Stones River was chosen in 1811. Rucker’s property between Jefferson and Murfreesboro lost by one vote.

In 1804, Rutherford County was divided into three divisions.  Thomas Rucker, John Howell and Thomas Mitchell were the leaders to devise future plans.  A first division was a line along the west fork of Stones River to the west branch of the Indian ‘trace’.  The second line included all west of the river to the western boundary; and the third was north of the road leading from Smith and Cumming Mill and east of Stones River.

Thomas Rucker protected his honorable name in an aggressive manner and was not one to be blighted by scandal.  Colonel Edward Bradford tangled with Rucker over a militia drill resulting in Rucker’s neck being placed between two rails of a fence.  When released, Rucker brought false imprisonment charges and received a $600 judgment against Bradford. This debt was later dismissed, as the two men joined the Baptist church and reconciled their differences.

Thomas was the son of Benjamin and Elizabeth Rucker of Orange, Virginia. Benjamin was a captain in the Revolutionary War in 1776.  He invented the James River Bateau, a clever tobacco boat.  Thomas was born in 1759, and his wife was Sallie Reade.

The four Rucker brothers included James, Thomas, Gideon and Bennett, and his sisters were Lucy, Mildred, ad Sophia.  The brothers all married sisters, who were daughters of the Reade family of Bedford County, Virginia.  Records indicate these men were ministers but not all in the same church.  The brothers also raised pigeons and owned flourishing plantations.

The elder brother James purchased land covering the current York VA site, as well as much of Walter Hill.  He was a cotton inspector and erected an original cotton gin in the early 1800s.

Gideon purchased land in present-day Cannon County, including a high hill referred to as ‘Rucker’s Knob.’  He also bought land at Locke Creek.  Gideon built a Georgia brick house in 1804 at Rucker’s Knob.

By 1817, Gideon sold his home to his brother Bennett and moved to his property on Locke Creek.  He then built a second two-story home of red cedar logs.  In 1827, he owned a grist and sawmill and cotton gin.  Gideon had nine children, including local schoolteacher James Harvey.  Upon his death, Gideon owned several thousand acres.

Notable relative Dr. William Rucker practiced medicine in Rutherford County in 1817.  He was assistant surgeon under Andrew Jackson in the war with Indians. He was a charter member of the First Methodist Church in Murfreesboro in 1821, and he was trustee of Soule Female College.  William died in 1861 on the apex of the Civil War.

Thomas Rucker had an outstanding family but was integral as a leader himself in the establishment of Rutherford County. His fortitude to press onward is extraordinary, and he will always be remembered as a founding father.

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