Friday, January 22, 2010

Reminder of Home

NC Pine Trees Thrive in Tennessee

It must have been an adventuresome spirit that carried the 70+ year old Samuel R. Smith and his wife from Granville County, North Carolina to Montgomery County, Tennessee in 1833-34. It was a 500 mile trek through the Cumberland Gap to the untamed country in middle Tennessee. [Do you know anyone in his early 70s? Can you imagine him starting out on a 500 mile walk through wilderness?] There were about three hundred and fifty people in the group making its way to the new land. Their belongings were carried on ox-carts and many of the settlers walked most of the way. Before they reached Montgomery Co, TN, Smith's party was detained for a week by the birth of his granddaughter, so we know that some of his family traveled with him.

The Smiths settled on Piney Fork near what is now Ft. Campbell, KY. Samuel knew he would never return to NC so he carried a piece of North Carolina with him in his saddlebag—seven tiny pine seedlings. One of the first things he did when he reached his new home was to plant the fragile trees.

Samuel Smith was a generous man. He gave land to establish a church near his new home—Asbury Church. It was built of logs and served as both a church and a school. The building was later destroyed by lightning but the Asbury Church survived.

Smith died at his new home on January 16, 1837 just a few years after his arrival. He was buried at a site selected by him near one of his North Carolina pines— still small at the time of his death.

Bicentennial Celebration

By 1976, when this country celebrated its bicentennial, the pine tree near Samuel Smith's grave was well over 100 feet tall. Its needles blanketed the little cemetery where Samuel and five of his relatives were buried. But the graves were covered with undergrowth—overgrown and forgotten. As part of the 200th birthday celebration, the Girl Scouts of America and the 20th Engineer Battalion at Ft. Campbell cleared the grave site and reseated the granite headstones

On August 13, 1976, when the project of clearing the cemetery was completed, a ceremony was held and the spot was dedicated as Samuel Smith Memorial Park. A speaker noted, "The undergrowth has been cleared, and Samuel Smith's headstone feels the sun."

There is a bronze plaque at the entrance to the cemetery.

Why Did Smith Go to Tennessee?

What made Samuel R. Smith leave his home in North Carolina and travel to Tennessee in his old age? His service to his country during the Revolution provides the answer to that question. On August 8, 1833, he applied for a Revolutionary War pension in Granville County, NC.

In his pension application application, Smith stated that he enlisted in the patriot forces in Warren County, NC in 1778 as a substitute for someone whose name he could not remember. He served three months during which time his company marched from Oxford to Wilmington, NC. "Our duty was principally to guard that town and the Country round about from the incursions and ravages of the Enemy consisting principally of Tories. Our service was occasionally to march on expeditions in various parts of the country round about that town; but the most of the time we were on duty in the camp in the suburbs of it."

Smith re-enlisted in late 1778 or early 1779 in Oxford, Granville County, NC as a substitute for William Dodson. [He later married a Miss Dodson!] The company first marched to Hillsboro in Orange Co., NC and then south to Augusta, GA. Smith's pension application states, "We were marched through Salisbury in North Carolina to South Carolina and through many little towns in that State the names of which he cannot recollect and joined the American Army then stationed there for Augusta on the Savannah River." Smith also recalled, "… the men had to march near or quite four hundred miles to the scene of duty [Georgia]."

On February 13 or 14, John Ashe's men, including Samuel Smith, joined South Carolina General Andrew Williamson's troops on the east bank of the Savannah River opposite Augusta. Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell, observing the large number of Patriots across the river, marched his Loyalist troops out of Augusta, moving south along the river. Ashe's troops trailing after them as far as Brier Creek where they set up camp. Smith said, "I was of the detachment that was commanded by Generals Ashe and Bryant who were sent to take post at Briar Creek. … "

The Battle of Brier Creek

Ashe had been ordered to cross the Savannah River and continue after Campbell, but when they reached Brier Creek, they found that Campbell had burned the bridge. The American force moved its camp further up the creek for security. Smith recalled, "[We] were not there stationed but a few days … before the fatal and ever to be regretted attack on us by the British, … ."

Campbell had turned his troops over to Col. Mark Prevost who decided to attack the American force from the rear. While Ashe was engaged in conferring with other American leaders, Prevost moved his troops up the west side of Brier Creek, built a bridge across it, and moved his men onto the east side behind Ashe's men.

The historical marker at the site describes the ensuing rout this way: "Confusion and hysteria reigned among the American soldiers as their officers vainly tried to keep them in line while ammunition was being distributed. …The British opened on the American center with cannon. . … With dead and wounded falling on every side, the center broke and retreated in riot. The British poured through the hole in the American center and within a few minutes, the right … broke and ran into the swamps of the Savannah. …."

In Smith's words, "… our entire defeat and dispersion. [I] with eight others after skulking about and under the banks of Brier Creek, effected our Escape to Savannah River, across which River we obtained a conveyance by paying three dollars a piece to a Boatman." The nine patriots eventually were able to rejoin the American Army.

John Ashe was eventually court martialed for his lack of preparation for the British attack.


Based on his pension application, Samuel Smith was granted 1000 acres in Tennessee for his service during the war.


Samuel R. Smith was married first to Miss Sallie Williams and then to a Miss Dobson. To the first union were born four sons and one daughter: Harry, Elizabeth (Betsy), Charles, John and Wiley. By his second marriage, there were three children: Mary, Samuel R., Jr., and Sarah Long.


[Samuel Smith]
[Transcription by Will Graves of Samuel Smith's Revolutionary War Pension Application]
[Battle of Brier's Creek];; and many others
[Court martial of Gen. John Ashe]

This story was published in The Connector, newsletter of the Tar River Connections Genealogical Society in the Winter 2005 issue.

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