‘Frontier’ history unfolds
Local historian Shell details Campbell Station history
Lifelong Concord and Farragut resident Malcolm Shell is an expert on area history and area names.
Shell, whose career included public relations, can be called an armchair historian. Over the years he has written newspaper columns and even a book about local history: “From Frontier Fort ... to Town Hall: A Brief History of Farragut, Tennessee, 1787-2009.” He can take us back to the very birth of Farragut, which started under a different name: Campbell Station.
“Back in 1787, when this area was inhabited by the Cherokee who had their own language and the Creeks who spoke Muskegon, the first white man came to settle,” Shell said.
“The first three families to arrive at what is present-day Farragut came on March 7, 1787. The men were Archibald McCaleb and his wife, Polly, David Campbell and his wife, Margaret, and an unidentified man who helped with the move,” he said in a recent interview.
“Campbell was ‘Captain’ David Campbell, a Scotsman from Augusta County, Virginia, who had served with the Continental Army and was one of the heroes of Kings Mountain, a turning point in the Revolutionary War [1776-1781],” Shell said. McCaleb was also a veteran of the war.
“At [what is now] Campbell Station intersection, they built lean-tos and in the course of several days were able to construct two log cabins. As other people arrived, they’d stop and build that person a cabin. You have to remember this whole thing was pristine forest that they cut with axes.
“Then within a few days, they built cabins for their families. In 10 days, Alexander Campbell and “Elder” David Campbell (an elder in the Presbyterian Church), cousins of Capt. David Campbell arrived, along with Jonathan Douglas and then in the spring, James Campbell, another Campbell cousin, Robert Blackburn and family and Joseph Taylor joined the group.
“According to information passed down from each generation in the Campbell family,” Shell writes in his book, “the location of the station was near the present-day intersection of Campbell Station Road and Kingston Pike.”
Tim Baumann, curator of archaeology at The University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, said what we now call “stations,” such as “Campbell’s Station” and “Cavett’s Station,” were really farmsteads with some substantial fencing that afforded some protection, but not the type of fencing one would find at a garrison.
Shell said once the settlers cleared land, they planted as much corn as possible during the growing season. When there were 11 families, they built a stockade around the cabins.
The next closest settlement was 10 miles away, Campbell wrote in a letter. In the first days after their arrival, they realized there were signs of Indians in the woods around them. Not long after, the Indians fired two rifle shots and the settlers working in the fields ran to the cabins. There was an all-night standoff and then about noon the next day, the Indians left with the settlers’ horses that had been tied up about 500 yards from the cabins.
With no horses, it was hard to get to the mill about 30 miles away. Eventually the settlers moved about six miles away to Captain Byrd’s camp on the Holston River. They tried to maintain the crops at Campbell’s Station, but since they could only tend the crops once in a while, the harvest was poor.
They moved back to Campbell’s Station in the fall of 1787, but not long after had to move to White’s Fort for safety. By early fall of 1788, they moved back to Campbell’s Station and never left again.
In 1789, about two years after the initial settlement, an army of Indians marched during the night to White’s Fort in what is now downtown Knoxville where a replica fort now stands.
“Doublehead and John Watts, both Indians, were going to wipe out White’s Fort in Knoxville,” Shell said. “As they rode through the night, they passed within about 200 yards of Campbell Station and apparently, they overlooked it. Doublehead and John Watts didn’t get along. They were trying to reach White’s Fort before the settlers woke up, but they had lost time arguing. The Campbell Station settlers didn’t know the Indians had passed by until morning, when they saw a wide swath of grass had been smashed by the Indian army that they estimated at 1,500 men.”
There was a garrison of troops at White’s Fort and each morning they would fire a cannon, Shell said. The Indians wanted to reach the fort early to surprise the settlers in their sleep, but when they heard the cannon they realized they were too late.
“Then they smelled wood smoke and heard a rooster crow,” Shell said, and they realized there had to be a settlement nearby. It was Cavett’s Station [notice the historic marker on Kingston Pike in the Walker Springs area].
“The Indians tricked them [the settlers at Cavett’s Station],” he added. “They held up a white flag and talked about trading white and Indian prisoners. When the settlers came out, they massacred about 32 men, women and children, burned their houses and then crossed the Clinch River burning other houses along the way.”
Fearing the Indians would attack Campbell’s Station on the way back from Cavett’s Station, Capt. Campbell sent two men on horseback to get help from Col. John Sevier. There were only 11 families at Campbell Station at the time, but they were determined: they would defend the station no matter what.
“Each man had two muskets and a Kentucky-type rifle,” Shell said. “The weapons were all well-loaded, containers were filled with water in case the cabins were set on fire, and then the 11 men anxiously watched for the enemy’s approach.”
A group from White’s Fort heard about the massacre at Cavett’s Station and set out for Campbell’s Station, expecting to find death and destruction. When they got there about noon the next day, they found the group intact and prepared for battle.
Hostilities continued between the settlers and the Cherokee Nation on a sporadic basis until the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Shell writes. David Campbell wrote that it took nine years until the settlers felt safe enough to move out of the stockade and establish farms in the area. Campbell would spend 36 years at Campbell’s Station. He had a successful mercantile business, served as magistrate and postmaster and as a state representative.
“Elder” David Campbell, Alexander Campbell and James Campbell, all remained in the general vicinity of Campbell’s Station., Shell said. James Campbell is thought to be buried in Virtue Cemetery. Elder Campbell served on the board of elders of Grassy Valley Presbyterian Church which was later called Pleasant Forest Presbyterian.
“Archibald McCaleb was one of the first ‘Tennessee Volunteers,’” Shell said.
He fought in the War of 1812 under the command of Gen. Andrew Jackson. After the war, he returned to Campbell’s Station and was killed a short time later on Turkey Creek by a roving Indian party.