Tennessee Records Repository, Giles County, TNGenNet Inc.

A Brief Sketch of the
Settlement and Early History of
Giles County Tennessee

by James McCallum, 1876

Published by the Pulaski Citizen, 1928

[Pages 47-52]
Chapter V--Origin of Land Titles and Land Warrants

       To explain to the rising generation the origin of our land titles, and the reason why so many of our first settlers lost their lands by conflict of title, it is necessary to briefly recur to the legislation of North Carolina, in relation to her Western territory and the mode adopted for the payment of her soldiers and the public debt; together with the action of Congress in relation thereto.
       To carry on the war of the Revolution, - the Provincial Congress had neither money nor credit, and the State of North Carolina issued scrip to pay her soldiers and the expenses of the war, and made it a legal tender. The scrip depreciated until at the close of the war it was almost worthless. With the feelings of a mother for her unfortunate children, the State resolved to make up to her soldiers all they had lost by the depreciation of her scrip, and adopted a scale of depreciation for every month in the year, from 1777 to 1782, and provided for the auditing of all accounts for such depreciation; and issued her certificates for the specie value thereof which she provided might be exchanged for land warrants at fifty cents per acre; and opened a land office at Hillsboro, N. C., called John Armstrong’s office, for the sale of Western land and the entry of all warrants issued in payment of the public debt, and as a permanent reward for the patriotism and zeal of her soldiers, gave lands to them; to each private six hundred and forty acres, and advancing with the officers according to grade, and appropriated a tract of country on the North side of Middle Tennessee fifty-five miles wide. Commencing where, the Virginia line crossed the Cumberland River, and West to the Tennessee River, and issued Warrants for the same,--called Military Warrants, and established an office in Nashville. calling it Martin Armstrong’s office, for the entry of the same, giving the preference to the officers and soldiers within the district thus appropriated. In 1782 the General Assembly appointed Absolum Tatum, Isaac Shelby and Anthony Bledsoe, Commissioners to lay off the lands appropriated to the officers and soldiers; and also twenty-five thousand acres donated to General Greene, and provided that the Governor should appoint a suitable guard, with the requisite officers, not to exceed one hundred men to accompany the Commissioners. Early in 1783 the Commissioners, with a guard and a large number of the settlers, on the Cumberland, set out from Nashville to Harpeth Glades on the Big South Road, and traveled South across the State, crossing Duck River near the mouth of Flat Creek, at what was called the Shallow Ford, and crossing Robertson’s Fork and Richland, and down Bradshaw to within one or one and a half miles of the mouth, where it rained so as to raise Elk River past fording; they then went down the river to where the McCutcheon trace crossed it, and then on a high bluff on the North side of the river took their astronomical observations, to ascertain the thirty-fifth degree of North latitude. Gen. Daniel Smith took the observation, and by his calculation they were about three miles from the South boundary of the State. The river being past fording their purpose was to make a canoe, and send over some of the party to go to the South boundary, but finding a good deal of Indian signs and Indian horses, they finally concluded not to cross. They marked a number of trees on the hill with the names of those present, and the date, and turned back. The place has since been called “Latitude Hill.” Among the settlers who accompanied the Commissioners were the Bledsoes, Shelbys, Casselmans, McCutcheons, Bradshaws, Elijah Robertson, General James Robertson, General Dan. Smith and others, being sixty or eighty in all some of them doubtless going as part of the guard allowed.
       These were the first white men that explored Giles County, or were ever through it so far as is now known. They gave names to most of the creeks, and located or took notes for locating a considerable portion of the best lands in the County. Gen. James Robertson named Richland. Elijah Robertson Robertsons Fork and Haywood; Bradshaw and Indian Creeks were named at that time but it is not known by whom. After they left “Latitude Hill” they went up Indian Creek and over to the head of Buchanan Creek, and thence to Haywood where they camped the first night. After they left Elk River Elijah Robertson located a tract of five thousand acres for John Haywood and it is believed named the Creek; from Haywood they went over to Fountain Greek, and after going down Fountain Creek to the fork, went down Duck River to the Bigby, and below Columbia laid off twenty-five thousand acres for General Greene. The Commissioners estimating the State to be one hundred and ten miles wide at a point fifty-five miles North from the Southern boundary as ascertained by them, run a line West to the Tennessee River; East as far as where the Cumberland River crossed the North boundary of the State, assigning all North of that line as the district st apart for the officers and soldiers. The next Assembly which met the same year, at the request of the officers directed it to be laid off; from the North boundary running fifty-five miles South which was run accordingly in the Spring of 1784 by General Rutherford.
       The last line is eight or nine miles farther South than the first one. In 1783, after the close of the war the General Assembly of North Carolina, declared her boundary to begin at the lines which separates that State from the State of Virginia.; thence with that line West to the Mississippi river thence; down the river to the thirty-fifth degree of North Latitude; and East to the Appalachian mountains; and after assigning new boundaries to the Cherokee Indians in East Tennessee, appropriated all other vacant lands in the State whether claimed by Cherokees or Chickasaws to the redemption of her public debt, and to satisfy the, claims of her officers and soldiers; and opened offices for entering the same.
       The treaty of peace having been signed in Paris in November 1782, although not fully ratified until Feb. 1, 1783; and the whole State being open to location and entry; and every holder of the warrants permitted to enter wherever he chose, saving the lands in East Tennessee assigned to the Cherokee Indians and the district reserved for the officers and soldiers. Very soon a host of warrant-holders, locators and surveyors, traversed the State from the mountains to the Mississippi River making locations for which no system had been adopted; no road or path led from one part of the State to another except a few Indian trails. The creeks and streams were unknown and without name. These were named by the first explorers and sometimes different names were given to the same stream.
       To add to their difficulties the Indians were greatly exasperated at the entering of their lands, so that much of the land so located was done by stealth, as it were, for fear of the Indians. Having no concert of action two or three locations were occasionally made on the same land, and often the calls of one entry conflicted with those of another. The description of land located was often indefinite; so much so that many of them could not afterwards be identified. As an illustration: One location in the South-east part of the County described the land as beginning on a particular “tree, on the bank of the branch where we camped the night and killed the bear.“ While these men lived the land could probably be identified but not by strangers. After the organization of the Federal Government, the States having within their boundaries unappropriated land were urged to cede them to the General Government as a common fund for the payment of the public debt. None of the States except Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina, had any unappropriated land within their boundary. Virginia claimed all that immense territory out of which has been made the States of Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin; and with a liberality worthy the “Mother of Statesmen” ceded all her unappropriated country North of the Ohio River reserving only a small portion for the satisfaction of her military warrants. The residents in what is now Kentucky, had already taken steps to become an independent State. Georgia claimed all the territory West of the Chattahoochie, to the Mississippi, between the parallels of 31 and 35 degrees of North Latitude out of which the States of Alabama and Mississippi have been formed. She refused to cede her territory, or to recognize the right of the Federal government to interfere therewith and made two efforts to sell her territory to certain Companies called-the “Zazoo Companies” one of which was the Tennessee Zazoo Company composed of Zachariah Cox and others embracing a number of the most prominent men in Tennessee who, in 1795, purchased all North Alabama for sixty-five thousand dollars; and attempted to sell it. But those sales were opposed by the Federal Government and all attempts to sell the territory under these Purchases called the Zazoo purchase was prohibited. Georgia. finally repealed the Act and ceded to the United States her territory in 1802 for one million, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The object of Georgia was by enlisting -individual enterprise, to have her territory speedily settled, and thus protect her citizens against the Indians.
       North Carolina, by Act of General Assembly, in December, 1789, ceded her territory West of what is now her West boundary to the General Government subject to the satisfaction of all her land warrants and the fullfillment of all her just obligations to her awn citizens.
       The deed of cession was signed in 1790, and soon after accepted. In the same year the Federal Government organized the territory thus ceded into a territorial government called the territory of the United States South of the Ohio, and appointed Wm. Blount, Governor. Soon after the cession the Federal Government by Act of Congress, stopped the entering of land in the territory ceded and declared all entries made after the cession void.
       In June, 1796, Tennessee was admitted into the Union as a State and on her admission a Bill was introduced in Congress enacting a forfeiture of all rights to lands in Indian territory, in case the claimants should go on the land or have it surveyed or the lines marked. Some of the delegates from States that had no land to cede were dissatisfied at the small amount likely to be realized from the public land in Tennessee; and took the ground that entries made on lands to which the Indian title had not been extinguished, were void; that; that the State of North Carolina could convey no title, having no title herself. This gave rise to a debate on the subject of the tenure of the Indians in which Mr. Madison, Mr. Gallatin, and others, took part. Mr. Madison said, “It was unnecessary to investigate the Indian -mode of occupancy, and opposition to civilized society; that all the Nations in Europe who had Possessed territories on the American Continent held that the Indians had only a qualified property in the sail; that if it was con ’ ceded that they have an unqualified title, they could not be prevented from ceding to foreign governments their lands within the limits of the United States.”
       Mr. Gallatin took the same view, and both sustained the right of North Carolina to dispose of her lands as she had done.

OCR Transcription of this page by
Fred Smoot

Return to
McCallum Table of Contents
Giles County, Home Page
Click “Back” to return to your last page visited