Longhunters & Cumberland Frontier Station Camps

Colonial Militia Forts
The actual colonial military defense of Virginia's extreme western frontier did not begin, on a large scale, until the spring prior to the outbreak on Dunmore's War in the fall of 1774, more commonly referred to by historians as the Point Pleasant Campaign. (1.)

A style of defense, building strong small fort houses out of logs, typically with a second floor and port holes to shoot from was practiced by the militia during that time and it was also used by the VA Army at the start of the revolution. It has been stated by some writers that not a single palisaded fort existed along the Clinch frontier until after the circulation of Lord Dunmore's order (Dunmore was Governor of VA at this time.) requesting that such be built throughout the VA frontier. Prior to 1774 the inhabitants depending on strongly built fort houses with port holes for warding off surprise Indian attacks. ( 1. Ibid) The Virginia Militia set out to create this network of forts, ones with stockade-style military configurations. As settlers advanced westward these forts gave way to cabins surrounded by a stockade type fence. These forts seemed to be a hybrid of military fort and one that was a functional community with homes in side and outside the stockade and encompassed areas to grow food and keep livestock. They became known as a “Station”. Not everyone’s homes existed inside the Station. The Station was a place to retreat when the Indians attacked. The term “station”, is borrowed from the early longhunters  who when group hunting would established a station camp as a large group and then went out in smaller groups to hunt, re-convening at the station to prep and store their pelts for the next hunt out. They were seen as temporary frontier gathering places of safety in a settlement or camp.

Mansker Station, replica today. Photo by Paul Robbins

Trained to Secure Land
Many of the Companies and Regiments defending Virginia’s frontier at the time were men from Botetourt County VA., Holston Settlements and the Watauga Settlements. Many of these men would form bonds that would carry their relationships beyond war to the Cumberland Settlements. They all knew each other through defending the country prior to the Revolutionary War and during the Revolutionary War. And they had built their share of “Station Forts” and understood the significance of positioning them to secure large areas of land. They were seasoned soldiers who knew how to defend such a fortification. This training was key to the success of the Cumberland Settlements.

Capt. Phillip Love’s Company of the Botetourt County Regiment had signed on Privates James Franklin, William Franklin and James Neely. In the Watauga Valley Fincastle Regiment served James Robertson along with Evan, Isaac and James Shelby.  On Feb 15, 1770 in the Court of Botetourt County, VA all of the following received their officer’s commission at the same time: Anthony Bledsoe, Phillip Love, James Robertson, and James McGavock.  Peter Looney was Capt. of the Botetourt County Rangers. Peter is James Franklin’s brother-in-law. 4.  And in that regiment of rangers were the Donelson brothers. All of these Militia and Va Companies fought in the Point Pleasant Campaign against the Indians in 1774. Other famous names on the military rolls that also fought together included Daniel Smith, John Knox, John Sevier, and Joseph Drake. Some stayed in the military to go on and fight during the Revolution against the British in places like Kings Mountain, others went on to become hunters, explorers, surveyors, treaty-makers and leaders in the move west. 5. All were working for the same cause: land. These military rolls are the precursor to the same names that appear over and over in the quest to settle the Cumberland. All became associated with the movement west.

Militia to Longhunter
The Long Hunter was peculiar to Southwest Virginia only, and nowhere else on any frontier did such hunts ever originate. True, there were hunters and groups of hunters on all frontiers in pioneer days, but they were never organized and publicized as the long hunts which originated on the Virginia frontier. Perhaps no group in history, who contributed so much to the knowledge of the topography of our country, have been so nearly completely by-passed by historians as have the long hunters of the late colonial days. In almost every instance when the pioneer settler moved toward the extreme frontier, he had long since been preceded by the long hunter.  (2. Ibid)

From the Mansker Chronicles
“The first account of Mansker's participation in a long hunt is reported by Judge Haywood. In June, 1769, Kasper Mansker was one of "a company of twenty men or more" who assembled with their pack horses on Reedy Creek to cross over into what is now Middle Tennessee on an extensive hunting trip. Among Mansker's fellow hunters were Abraham Bledsoe, John Rains, John Baker, Joseph Drake, Uriah Stone, Obediah Terril, Ned Cowen, and Henry Smith.

In the fall of 1771 Mansker set out again for the western wilderness, this time in company with Isaac Bledsoe, Joseph Drake, John Montgomery, Henry Skruggs, James Knox and others. The group encamped on Russell's Creek in what is now Kentucky, built a house there in which to store the furs and pelts they took, and hunted in the surrounding country until February 1772. Discovering their supply of ammunition running low, Mansker and all of the party, except Isaac Bledsoe and four others who were left to protect the camp, returned to the settlements to replenish their supplies. While awaiting an improvement in the severe late winter weather to permit their return to camp, the long hunters found Isaac Bledsoe coming in to the settlements to bring David Linch, who had been stricken ill at camp. Bledsoe was then weather-bound with the others and two months passed before they plunged westward to their camp on Russell's Creek. Before reaching their destination, the hunters met one of the three men who had been left behind at the camp when Bledsoe and Linch came back to the settlements. He had escaped an Indian attack on the camp but reported that his two fellows had been captured by the Indians and taken away. On reaching Russell's Creek the long hunters found no trace of the two missing men. The camp had not been disturbed by the Indians and the stored "skins" were all intact.

Mansker and the hunters did not resume camp here but pushed farther west, arriving finally in the middle Cumberland country, probably in late May, 1772. A station camp was established on a northern tributary of the Cumberland River at a point near Pilot Knob hill in Sumner County. The tributary stream has since been known as Station Camp Creek and along its fertile valleys ten years later were located some of the earliest North Carolina preemption land grants.” 3. It holds that name still today.

Traditional long hunts were to acquire pelts for resale. The British market was lost at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Many of these original longhunters went on to participate in the war as Revolutionary Soldiers, not returning to the Cumberland  settlement until after the War. There is no record Mansker fought in the Revolution. But, this group of explorers gathered again at the end of the Revolution, around 1779, to plan for settling westward. It is at this time the longhunters shifted from amassing pelts to exploring land and later escorting settlers to secure the Cumberland Settlements and to later claim their war land grants after the Revolutionary War.  Mansker has a vested interest in being a part of Henderson, Robertson and Donelson’s move to bring settlers to the Cumberland. He had already seen where he wanted to stake his claim 10 years ago. And along with the group he brought to the Cumberland in 1779, they wanted to be the first to stake the best land out. As a Militia member of the Cumberland, defending the settlement, Mansker too would qualify for his preemption land grant and would lay claim with Franklin, McCain and others to some of the best “Blue Grass” land in Sumner County.

Mansker Chronicals 1779
Mansker's elusive tracks are picked up again in the spring of 1779 when he, with others whom we do not know, came to Cumberland at French Lick, where Nashville now stands, and found Captain James Robertson's company making preparations to establish a settlement the following autumn. It is likely that Mansker knew of Robertson's plans for settling in middle Tennessee before he arrived at French Lick in 1779. It is not unlikely that the coincidental arrival of both parties was planned well in advance and that it was their purpose to make preliminary arrangements for their later return with settlers for the middle Cumberland.

In the fall of 1779, Mansker in company with Amos Eaton, Daniel Frazier, and "a number of other immigrants" followed the Kentucky trail and arrived on the frozen middle Cumberland close on the heels of the party guided by Captain James Robertson, probably in January, 1780. Mansker, assisted by William Neely, Daniel Frazier, James Franklin, and others, built a fort on the west side of Mansker's Creek, located three or four hundred yards downstream from the later site of Walton's Campground. It was known as Mansker's Fort and was situated on or near land that he would soon claim under his presumption right as one of "the immortal seventy." 3.

History Unfolds
This writer feels the successful defense of the settlements from the Native Americans was accomplished through strategic military positioning of Station Camps, the experienced Militia and Revolutionary War soldiers knowledge of, and ability to defend these Station Fort- style stockades, and the quick establishment of key Station positions due to the earlier longhunter explorations 10 years earlier. As these small forts or “Stations” sprang up all along the lines of defense against the Indians, settlers would use these stations as points of safe haven when Indian attacks were prevalent.These Station Camp forts:  Fort Nashborough, Mansker Station , Station at Bledsoe Lick, Ashers Station, Stones River Fort, Freelands Station,  Eatons Station and Fort Union became the founding settlements of the Cumberland according to the Cumberland Compact, May 1780.

One author Michael Agee goes as far as tying this type of fortified homestead going back as far as Ireland Ulster model of settlement of the 1580’s and describes it well in a Middle Tennessee State University Paper about settler Richard Henderson. Excerpts below:

 “A Civilizing Enterprise:" The Settlement of Middle Tennessee a Recreation of Plantation Ireland By Michael Agee, March 2005

“On the eve of the American Revolution, a North Carolina land speculator, Richard Henderson, sought to populate the trans-Appalachian West in a manner reminiscent of the Irish plantations from one hundred and fifty years before. Henderson proposed a migration by family units independent of government military supervision or protection. He offered low rent to his adventurers and encouraged them to build fortified farmsteads for self-preservation. He promised wealth and status elevation to the men he chose to lead settlers to his colony.

Regardless of Henderson’s intentions, his questionable purchase initiated a great migration of Carolina and Virginia settlers into vast hunting grounds of the southern tribes. To the Cherokee, conceptions of land ownership were similar to these of the 17th century Irish. Gaelic clans and Native American tribes both practiced communal ownership while English and later American speculators distributed individual deeds to permanent tracts of private property. Buying, swindling or perhaps outright stealing from powerful natives, whether Irish noble or Cherokee chief, opened the door to the displacement of both peoples. In Ireland, debt, foreclosure, confiscation and forfeit all ended native Irish land ownership while justifying English and Scottish encroachment. In the New World, because of differing concepts of land ownership, Henderson’s settlers felt equally justified in claiming their newly acquired land. They felt that the chiefs that signed the “treaty” were sovereigns of the Cherokee and had officially relinquished their “property” to the whites. In both cases, settlers dealt with the elite of native society to take land from the group as a whole.

Instead, the Cumberland settlers were to travel together and develop homes in a “compact situation for mutual defense and protection.” This meant the station mode of settlement. The Cumberland settlers built homes near one another, often linked by a stockade and surrounded by community fields tilled by collective labor This was only an initial mode of settlement, however. After securing titles and clearing forests, the settlers’ long-term goal, was to tend individual fields and develop private farms. Henderson prescribed that “All the Emigrants or Adventurers of this Spring would settle in a Town or Township for this year at least on some convenient part of the Land to be chosen for that purpose, that during the year every man may be looking out for such land as he may choose to settle on when safe to disperse.” The Cumberland Compact referred to eight of these stations. The largest Nashborough, Gasper's, also known as Mansker’s , Bledsoe’s , Asher's, Stone's River, Freeland's , Eaton's , and Fort Union and their respective inhabitants formed a community known as the Cumberland Association.

Most of these stations were named for men who built them. Like their 17th century counterparts in Ireland they were maintained and defended by settlers rather then garrisoned troops. In addition, they were in inhabited by families and communities that had lived together in settlements to the East. Many of these frontier leaders, including Kasper Mansker, The Bledsoe brothers, Anthony, and Isaac had hunted and explored the Middle Cumberland a decade before settlement began. Henderson, realizing the value of station leadership and the frontier experiences of these men entrusted them with government responsibilities. Henderson permitted the people of each station to choose who should govern them. The Cumberland Compact, also authored by Henderson entrusted leadership to a tribunal of twelve elected notables.  It authorized, “for safety and defense… to command… the men or militia at such fort or station.” Henderson set up these tribunals in response to hostilities with Native Americans, writing, "Whereas the frequent and dangerous incursions of the Indians, and almost daily massacre of some of our inhabitants, renders it absolutely necessary.” The Compact allowed, “when it shall be adjudged necessary and expedient by such commanding officer, to draw out the militia of any fort or station to pursue or repulse the enemy.” Station leaders could go so far as to impress horses or “in case of disobedience… inflict such fine as he in his discretion shall think just and reason able.” 8.

The Longhunter and the ways of the Station Camp settlers are unique to this colonial time in history and seem to culminate from shared military experience, tradition of Irish group migration and a keen ability too cooperatively create infrastructure and government structure within an bonded leadership that began in VA and NC. It seemed understood this is how you cooperate to establish a settlement. So much of the successful pattern to settle was a part of culture and military training. This tight knit group’s process to set out and claim land was second nature to the Cumberland Settlers. You build, fortify and set up a functioning society with law, order and independence in order to stake claim in land to call your own.

James Franklin of Sumner County, TN was one of these Station Camp settlers. Arriving with a party overland through the Cumberland Gap, lead by Kasper Mansker in 1778 he, along with other men in Mansker’s party he helped create and defend the Cumberland Settlements. While Franklin family stories have said that James Franklin was a long hunter, comparing to his time in military service ending in 1778 would put him in this group of “first-in” settlers lead by longhunters and working along side longhunters in their hunt and defense structure would help maintain the settlement and claim land on Station Camp Creek. My hypotheses claims James Franklin was not a longhunter in the way of Daniel Boone or Kasper Mansker. He was a settler with common family and military bonds to the longhunter families and followed them West eventually becoming one of the founders of Sumner County, TN.




By Emory L. Hamilton
From Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia, Number 4, 1968, pages 1 to 26

2. Historic Blue Grass Line of Sumner County  by James Douglas Anderson

3. Kasper Mansker Cumberland Frontiersman
by Walter Durham

4. Daughters of the American Revolution Lineage Books (152 Vols.)

5. Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800

6. Historic Sumner County, Tennessee
First Settlement
By Jay Guy Cisco, 1909

7. Early history of Middle Tennessee

 By Edward Albright

8. “A Civilizing Enterprise: The Settlement of Middle Tennessee a Recreation of Plantation Ireland By Michael Agee, March 2005

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