July 8, 2020 July/August Froe Chips, Susan Harber
Thomas Bedford was a trailblazer in the creation of both Jefferson and Rutherford County.
He was born 1758 in Goochland County, Virginia. Thomas later lived on Drakes Branch in Charlotte County, Virginia with his mother Mary Coleman and father Thomas Bedford, Sr, who was one of the wealthiest and most prominent land holders. Thomas grew up the fifth child in a home with 14 siblings. Stephen Bedford, Thomas Jr’s grandfather, served as Justice in Virginia. Thomas Jr married Ann Robertson on December 27, 1780; and she bore him eight children, including Mary, John, Thomas, William, George, Nancy, Benjamin, and Littleberry. His wife Ann was the daughter of John and Sarah Robertson, first cousins of Thomas Jefferson.
Bedford enlisted in the Revolutionary War on February 5, 1776 as a private in John Brent’s Company, 4th Virginia Regiment. Near the end of the war, he was promoted to a lieutenant by the Justices of that county. Bedford served in the last military campaign against Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown with a Volunteer company. He refused a new promotion in the army because he had promised the mothers of his young soldiers he would stay with their sons during fighting and bring them safely home.
Bedford later represented Charlotte County in the Virginia Assembly. After his brief political service, he moved to a new settlement in East Nashville, where he accumulated hefty real estate holdings for his service in the Revolutionary War. He also owned a land grant of 5,000 acres in Christian and Harrison Counties in Kentucky. A burgeoning pioneer, Bedford soon partnered with Robert Weakley in December 1801 to form tracts of land in the new town of Jefferson with a joint 3,840 acres. The first sale of lots in Jefferson was on June 10, 1803, as Bedford brimmed with excitement with this profitable investment. In January 1804, records indicate Bedford as the overseer of clearing roads from Stones River to Nashville on the county line. Nevertheless, Bedford was unable to see this dream within the forks of Stones River come true, as he perished suddenly at age 46 in 1804 in Old Jefferson. Bedford left no will, and nearly all his holdings were lost through outstanding debts.
In 1807, when a new county was organized on the Duck River, General Joseph Dickson proposed the county be named in honor of Thomas Bedford. The citizens of Rutherford County living south on the Duck River and Stones River successfully petitioned Governor John Sevier to split Rutherford County in two land masses. The Stones River watershed would remain in Rutherford County. The bill to establish the new, sparsely populated Bedford County passed the Senate in Knoxville on December 3, 1807. Today, (2020) Bedford County is an area of 45,000 residents with 475 square miles. His ties to our county seat of Jefferson were an exceptional moment in history in 1803. Thomas Bedford was a man of great vision and a founding father within Rutherford County.