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Richard Henderson: 

The Authorship of the Cumberland 

Compact and the Founding 

of Nashville. 


(Reprinted iiroin the Tennessee Historical Magazine, September 1916.) 

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(Reprinted from the Tennessee Historical Magazine, September 1916.) 

Ill tbe middle years of the eighteenth century the first con- 
structive movement in the !:^outheru Appahichian region, look- 
ing toward extensive colonization beyond the mountains, was 
initiated by great land companies having their headquarters 
in North Carolina and Virginia. In 1750 that same Dr. 
Thomas Walker who had won repute as an explorer upon a 
former journey when he gave the name of Cumberland to 
mountain, gap and river, was despatched upon a tour of ex- 
ploration to the westward in behalf of the Loyal Land Com- 
pany of Virginia; and in 1751, Christopher Gist, whose name 
is associated in our memory with that of George Washington, 
was summoned from his remote home on the Yadkin, near 
the dwelling place of Daniel Boone, to spy out the western 
lands beyond the mountains in the interest of the Ohio Land 

Although no historian adverts to the subject, there can be 
little doubt that Daniel Boone was given the initial spur to his 
distant wanderings through the stories of the fertile lands 
upon the western waters brought back by his neighbor, Christo- 
pher Gist, who lived above him upon the Yadkin. As early as 
1760, and no doubt much earlier, Daniel Boone, gun in hand, 
was scouring the wilderness of Tennessee, and penetrating as 
far to the westward as the Long Island of the Holston River. 
At Salisbury, the county seat of Rowan, he became known 
to the young attorney, Richard Henderson, who often prac- 
ticed in the court where Daniel Boone's father, Squire Boone, 
presided as one of the "worshipful justices.'' To Henderson, 
richly endowed with imaginative vision, Daniel Boone, the 
scout and hunter, narrated bizarre and romantic tales of the 
rich lands, fertile pastures and boundless hunting grounds 
beyond the towering, olive mountains. The King's Proclama- 
tion of 1763, which was indubitably made to allay for the time 
being the alarm of the Indians along the border, was by no 
means designed to set permanent western limits to the colonies. 

*An address delivered in Watkins Hall, Nashville, Thursday, April 
27, before the Joint Meeting of the Mississippi Valley Historical Asso- 
ciation with the Tennessee Historical Society. 

'J. S. Johnston, "Early Explorations of Kentucky," Filson Club 
I'nblications, No. 13, 1898. 

Ai'CnihaJd Ilcndeyson 

This proclamation gave Henderson the first practical sug- 
gestion to utilize the knowledge and the genius of Boone in 
exploration in behalf of capital and enterprise. Kealizing 
that the western lands must eventually be thrown open to 
colonization, Richard Henderson, soon after the issuance of 
the Royal Proclamation, organized a land company for the 
primary purpose of engaging an expert scout and surveyor to 
spy out the western lands and with the ultimate object in 
view of effecting a purchase from the Indians. The original 
company which consisted of three partners, Richard Hender- 
son, Thomas Hart, and John Williams, was given the name 
of ^'Richard Henderson and Company.'' Boone was engaged 
for the undertaking, not only because of his natural genius 
as an explorer, but also on account of his innate taciturnity 
and his faculty of keeping his own counsel. Henderson was 
wise enough to give Boone discretionary powers in regard to 
prosecuting his inquiries; and in one noteworthy instance, the 
circumspect Boone deemed it the part of wisdom to com- 
municate the purposes of his mission to some hunters, to en- 
able him to secure the results of their information in regard 
to the best lands they had encountered in the course of their 
hunting expeditions. In the autumn of 1764, during the jour- 
ney of the Blevins party of hunters to their hunting ground 
on the Rock Castle River, near the Crab Orchard in Kentuiky, 
Daniel Boone came among the hunters, at one of their Ten- 
nessee station camps, in order, as expressed in the quaint 
phraseology of the day, "to be informed of the geography and 
locography of these woods, saying that he was employed to 
explore them by Richard Henderson and Company."- It was 
upon this journey that Samuel Callaway, his kinsman, ac- 
companied Daniel Boone, who, as Ramsey says, "though he 
had previously hunted on the western waters, came again this 
year (17()4) to explore the country, being employed for the 
purpose by Henderson and Company."^ 

Among the hunters who kept penetrating ever further to 

''John Haywood's Civil and Political History of Tennessee, edn. 
1823, p. 85. Judge Haywood was intimate from boyhood with the 
Henderson family, and was the schoolmate of Archibald Henderson, 
son of Richard, at Springer College in Granville County, the seat 
of the Henderson family. Judge Haywood's successor to the post 
of reading clerk to the North Carolina House of Commons, in 1789, 
was his friend. Major Pleasant Henderson, Richard's brother, and 
pioneer with Boone at Boonesborough and with Robertson at the 
French Lick. On his removal to Tennessee, Judge Haywood formed 
the acquaintance of many of the pioneers, from whom he received 
innumerable accounts of their personal experiences — notably James 
Robertson, John Sevier, and Timothe de Monbreun, 

"Ramsey's Anyials of Tennessee, Phila., 1853, p. 69. 

Richard Henderson 

the westward, during each succeeding year beginning with 
1760, was a trained woodsman and expert scout, Henry Scaggs, 
whom Boone encountered upon more than one occasion in his 
western wanderings. It was doubtless upon the recommenda- 
tion of Boone, who recognized his great skill as hunter and 
scout, that Henry Scaggs was engaged as prospector by the 
land company known as Richard Henderson and Company, 
As early as 1763, Scaggs (sometimes incorrectly spelled Suggs 
or Scraggins) had already passed through Cumberland gap, 
and hunted for the season on the Cumberland; and in 1765, 
as the agent of Richard Henderson and Company, he made 
an extended exploration of the lower Cumberland, fixing his 
station at what was afterwards known as Mansker's Lick, 
from its supposed discovery by Caspar Mansker in 1771.^ 
Aware of the inadequacy of his knowledge of the western coun- 
try derived from the fragmentary reports brought back by 
Boone and Scaggs, Judge Henderson for a time took no step 
toward western colonization ; but when the news of the Treaty 
of Fort Stanwix reached North Carolina in December, 1768, he 
realized that the western lands, though ostensibly thrown open 
for settlement under the aegis of Virginia on pretext of the 
purchase of the shadowy claim of the Six Nations to the Ken- 
tucky region, could only be legally obtained by extinguishing 
the Cherokee title. The arrival of John Findlay, the Penn- 
sylvania trader, in the valley of the Yadkin late in 1768 was 
singularly opportune; for Boone himself had never penetrated 
further westward than the northeastern fringe of Kentucky, 
whereas Findlay had reached Kentucky as early as 1752, and 
knew the route thereto through Ouasioto Gap and along the 
course of the Great Warriors' Path. Seizing the golden op- 
portunity thus jiresented, Judge Henderson secured the services 
of Boone and five others, including Findlay as guide, to make 
an exhaustive survey and examination of the Trans-Alleghany 
region of Kentucky and Tennessee on behalf of the land com- 
pany. Following a two years' sojourn in this region, in which 
he ranged far and wide through Kentucky and as far down as 
the valleys of the Green and Cumberland rivers, hunting in 
joyous company with Caspar Mansker and the Long Hunters, 
Boone returned to North Carolina with graphic accounts of his 
explorations and of the nature of the country. 

^Haywood's Civil and Political History of Tennessee, ed. 1823, 
p. 35; Ramsay's Annals of Tennessee, Phila., 1853, pp. 69-70; Al- 
brig:ht's Early History of Middle Tennessee, Nashville, 1909, pp. 23, 

ArcJiibald Henderson 


If Daniel Boone was the first great instrument in further- 
ing the speculative designs of the land company, James Rob- 
ertson was assuredly the second, though no whit less impor- 
tant than Boone. In 1772 the Watauga settlers secured from 
the Cherokee Indians, for a valuable consideration, a ten years' 
lease of the lands upon which they were settled; and Boone, 
who had established friendly relations with Robertson in 1771, 
communicated to Henderson the details of the leases and pur- 
chases from the Cherokees of the rich valley lands made by 
Robertson, Brown and Sevier. After consultation with the 
Indians, Robertson informed Boone, Henderson's confidential 
agent, that he believed, if the inducement were large enough, 
the Indians were ready to sell. Following the disastrous fail- 
ure of his own unauthorized and individual effort in 1773 to 
effect western colonization without even attempting to secure 
by purchase the Indian title, Boone in 1774 advised Hender- 
son and his associates to attempt the purchase immediately, 
since the Cherokee, as reported by Robertson, were at last 
disposed to sell their claim to the Kentucky area.'^ Acting 
upon legal advice solicited and received from the highest 
judicial authorities in England — an obscure subject of great 
importance into which I cannot enter at this time — Judge 
Henderson, accompanied by Colonel Nathaniel Hart, person- 
ally visited the Cherokee chieftains in their principal village 
and secured from them their consent to sell their title. Re- 
organizing the land company, originally known as Henderson 
and Company, first into the Louisa and then into the Transyl- 
vania Company, Judge Henderson, with the aid of Boone 
and Robertson, and some of his own associates, carried through 
the Great Treaty at Sycamore Shoals on March 14-17, 1775, 
purchased for 10,000 pounds sterling the Cherokee title to 
the Kentucky and Tennessee areas, and commissioned Daniel 
Boone and his axemen to cut out the passage to the heart of 
Kentucky, famous in liistory as the Wilderness Trail. 


Not the least erroneous statement in Mr. Roosevelt's Win- 
ning of the West is his singular assertion — which his own book 
in i)art denies — that after the confiscation of the Transylvania 
purchase by the Virginia legislature in 1778, Judge Richard 

'^The Harbinger, Chapel Hill, 1834, in which Major Pleasant Hen- 
derson, Judg:e Richard Henderson's brother, and Daniel Boone's friend 
and fellow-pioneer, relates that in 1774 Richard Henderson followed 
Daniel Boone's advice in attempting the purchase of the Kentucky 
area from the Cherokee. 

Richard Henderson 

Henderson "drifts out of history." Surely there is excuse for 
such a statement in view of the strange, yet not wholly in- 
explicable, fact that the Tennessee historians, Haywood and 
Ramsey, upon whom Mr, Roosevelt so strongly relied, com- 
pletely ignore the very man who was the directing and con- 
trolling spirit in the exploration, colonization and government 
of the wilderness empire of the Cumberland. Writing Ten- 
nessee history from the local point of view, magnifying the 
dangers and the hardships of the hunter and the borderer al- 
most exclusively, these historians committed the grave error 
of neglecting to place themselves at the source and of failing 
to study the colonization of Tennessee in the light of economic 
control. Having recently described the true role of Daniel 
Boone as the agent of commercial enterprise," I purpose now 
to narrate, in the light of a wealth of documentary material 
in my possession and inaccessible to Mr. Roosevelt and the 
Tennessee historians, the true story of the Transylvania Com- 
pany in its relation to Tennessee and of the guiding and con- 
structive role of its president in the founding of the great and 
flourishing city in which I now stand. 


Following the stern fight for the rights of the Transyl- 
vania Company which Henderson and Burke made in the 
Virginia Legislature at Williamsburg in the late autumn of 
1776 — a hopeless battle in which they were worsted through 
the all-powerful influence of two great men, Patrick Henry 
and George Rogers Clark — Judge Henderson appeared before 
the Commissioners of the States of North Carolina and Vir- 
ginia at the Treaty of the Long Island of the Holston on 
July 18, 1777, and presented an elaborate memorial in behalf 
of the alleged rights of the Transylvania Company.^ Lacking 
the authority from their respective governments to inquire 
into the validity of private purchases from the Cherokee and 
fearing to jeopardize the delicate business for which the}^ 
were assembled, the Commissioners unanimously voted to 
ignore the memorial of the Transylvania Company. In No- 

"Cf. the following papers by me, dealing- in some detail with this 
phase of the subject: "The Beginnings of American Expansion," 
North Carolina Review, September and October, 1910; "Richard Hen- 
derson: his Life and Times," Charlotte Observer (thirteen instal- 
ments), March 9-June 1, 1913; "The Creative Forces in Westward 
Expansion," American Historical Review, October, 1914; "Richard 
Henderson and the Occupation of Kentucky, 1775," Mississippi Val- 
ley Historical Review, December, 1914. 

'Haywood's Civil and Political History of Tennessee, edn. 1823, 
Appendix, pp. 500-3. 

Archibald Henderson 

vember of the next year, the Virginia House of Delegates 
deGlared the Transylvania purchase void; but in consideration 
of the very great expense incurred by Richard Henderson and 
Company in purchasing the said lands, '*by which the Com- 
monwealth is likely to receive great advantage, by increasing 
its inhabitants and establishing a barrier against the Indians," 
the General Assembly granted to Richard Henderson and 
Company two hundred thousand acres of land situated be- 
tween the Ohio and Green Rivers, where the town of Hender- 
son, Kentucky, now stands.^ 

With this bursting of the Transylvania bubble and the 
vanishing of the golden dreams of Henderson and his asso- 
ciates for establishing the fourteenth American Colony in 
the heart of the Trans-Alleghany region, all might well have 
seemed lost. But is Richard Henderson disheartened by this 
failure of his imperialistic dreams? Does he, as Mr. Roosevelt 
crassly affirms, "drift out of history?" No; the purest and 
greatest achievement of his meteoric career still lies before 
•him. The genius of the colonizer and the ambition of the 
speculator, in striking conjunction, inspire him to attempt 
to repeat on North Carolina soil, along solidly practical lines, 
the revolutionary experiment which the extension of the sov- 
ereignty of the Old Dominion over the Kentucky area had 
doomed to inevitable failure. It Avas no longer his purpose, 
however, to attempt to found an independent colony, separate 
from North Carolina and hostile to the American government, 
as in the case of Transylvania, which had been hostile to the 
royal government and founded in defiance thereof. Millions of 
acres within the chartered limits of North Carolina had been 
purchased by him and his associates from the Cherokee on 
March 17, 1775. One of the courses of the Great Grant, as it was 
called, read: ''down the sd. (Cumberland) River, including 
all its waters to the Ohio River;"'' and James Robertson in 
his deposition before the Virginia Commissioners, Ai)ril 16, 
1777, describing the Sycamore Shoals Treaty, categorically 
stated: "The Indians then agreed to sell the laud as far as 
Cumberland River and said Henderson insisted to have Cum- 
berland River and the waters of Cumberland River, which 
the Indians agreed to.''^° To establish the fact that this vast 
territory lay within the bounds of North Carolina and not of 
Virginia was the first and most vital consideration of the 
Transylvania Company; for while Virginia had declared the 

'Journal, Virginia House of Delegates, November 4 and 17, 1778. 
Cf. also Heninff's Statutes at Large, X, 571. 
"Draper Mss., 2CC42. 
"Draper Mss., ICC 160-194. 

Richard Henderson 

title of the Transylvania Company void. North Cal^olina, 
under American rule, had shown no disposition to nullify the 
claims of Henderson and his associates. In order to estab- 
lish the fact that the great Cumberland region lay within 
the chartered limits of North Carolina, it was necessary to 
prolong the dividing line between North Carolina and Vir- 
ginia, which had never been extended further to the westward 
than Steep Rock Creek. Henderson's unpublished correspond- 
ence reveals his conviction that the Cumberland region lay 
within the chartered limits of North Carolina; but James 
Robertson was under the impression that the Cumberland 
region, including the French Lick, w^ould, when the dividing 
lines should be run, fall within the bounds of Virginia.^^ 

Judge Henderson's comprehensive design of the promotion 
of an extensive colonization of the Cumberland region now 
moves rapidly toward completion. It is simply a case of 
history repeating itself. Just as Henderson, in his Boones- 
borough project, had chosen Daniel Boone, the ablest of the 
North Carolina pioneers, and his companions, to spy out the 
land and select sites for permanent future settlement, so now 
he chooses as the leader of the new colonizing party the ablest 
pioneer of the Watauga settlement, James Robertson. Large 
inducements to assemble and lead this party were indubitably 
offered by the Transylvania Company to James Robertson. 
Nothing less than such inducements would have influenced 
Robertson to abandon the comparatively peaceful Watauga 
settlements, where he was the acknowledged leader and the 
Indian agent in the employ of the State of North Carolina, 
and to venture his life in this desperate hazard of new for- 

With that untiring energy and sure efficiency so charac- 
teristic of the man, James Robertson now proceeds actively 
to recruit a party for the preliminary exploration, and to 
make all the needed arrangements for subsequent coloniza- 
tion on an extended scale. "The extensive purchase made 
by the Henderson Associates," says Putnam, the picturesque 
historian of Middle Tennessee, "and the further reports made 
by hunters and agents of the large land company as to the 
country beyond the mountains, and the very favorable terms 
upon which large tracts — a thousand acres — would probably 
be granted, were attracting unusual attention. The Hender- 
sons, Hart, and other members of the company were now 
causing it to be extensively known that they were making 
preparations to emigrate, and take possession of the country, 
A considerable number of families agreed to move out in the 

"Putnam's Middle Tennessee, p. 67. 

Archibald Henderson 

fall. Some were to go by land with cattle, and what could 
thus be packed, others to descend the Tennessee to the Muscle 
Shoals, and being there met by their immediate friends, travel 
across to the Cumberland and into Kentucky; or if it should 
be deemed easiest and best, this party, with women and chil- 
dren, should continue all the distance by water."^^ In his 
letter to Gov. Eichard Caswell, of North Carolina, written 
from Washington County on January 14, 1779, in regard to 
a proposed military expedition to be made by North Carolina 
against the Cherokees, James Robertson writes : "I am well 
informed that the first day of March near 200 men and many 
families amongst them, are to meet at the Long Island of 
Holston in order to go down the river, with a design to settle 
Cumberland river, a fork of the Ohio, which might be a con- 
venient time for the Expedition; and posably (sic) under the 
cover of Women and Children they might pass unmolested ; and 
I have told the Indians that people are going to settle that 
country the coming spring."^^ Preparatory to this emigra- 
tion, as pointed out by Putnam, "it was agreed that a number 
of men should go in the spring of the year and plant some 
corn upon the Cumberland, that bread might be prepared for 
the main body of emigrants upon their arrival in the fall. 
Robertson selected his men, or found suitable volunteers to 
go with them, experienced woodsmen and able-bodied men."^* 
On February 6, 1779, as stated by Moses Fisk in his liistorical 
sketch of Tennessee, James Robertson as leader, accom])anied 
by George Freeland, William Neely, Edward Swanson, James 
Manly, Mark Robertson, Zachariah Wells, and William Over- 
hall, and one negro man, "set out on this adventure to exam- 
ine the purchase made by Richard Henderson and Company, 
at the treaty of 1775.'"^ 

The immediately following phases in the story of the 
Cumbei'land settlement are familiar enough to all who are 
acquainted with early Tennessee history. Yet certain docu- 
ments which have recently come to my attention in archives in 

^''History of Middle Tennessee, Nashville, 1869, p. 61. 

'W. C. State Records, xiv, 247. 

"Putnam, 1. c, 63. 

'"The words quoted are from Putnam, I. c., p. 64. In Fisk's sketch, 
entitled, "A Summary Notice of the First Settlements Made by White 
People within the Limits Which Bound the State of Tennessee," and 
published in the Massachusetts Historical Collections, Vol. 7, under 
date July 1, 1816, it is stated that Robertson, accompanied by "ten 
men, including' a negro, started for the Holston settlement to ex- 
plore and take possession of the country on the Cumberland." 

Richard Henderson 

England, North Carolina and Virginia, give additional inter- 
est and piquancy to the situation. The significant facts are 
as follows: The Long Hunter, Gaspar Mansker, of German 
extraction, in 1771 "discovered" the famous lick which bears 
his name; and influenced by Tom and Sam Bryan, with whom 
he re-visited the Cumberland country in 1775, he claimed this 
land by right of settlement under the State of Virginia.^® 
Furthermore, Col. Arthur Campbell, the Virginia borderer, 
had visited the Cumberland country in the early seventies — 
a fact unknown to the Tennessee historians — and had regis- 
tered, under Col. Wm. Preston, surveyor of Fincastle Co., Va., 
his claim to "1,000 Acres at a place called Caspar's Lick, be- 
ing on a creek that empties into Cumberland below the Bar- 
rens." Col. Campbell also located 1,000 acres of land for 
Col. Wm. Byrd, the third, who devised it to his son Charles in 
his will as follows: "I give my son Charles, who never of- 
fended me, a thousand acres of land in the County of Fin- 
castle, known by the name of the Salt Springs, and which was 
surveyed for me by Mr. Arthur Campbell, being part of the 
land I claim under his Majesty's Proclamation of 1763."^^ 
Most important of all, George Rogers Clark, the Virginian, 
had purchased three thousand acres of land at the French 
Lick in the year 1776; and referring to this purchase in a 
letter to Patrick Henry from Fort Patrick Henry, in the 
Illinois Country, March 9, 1779, he says : "I thank you for 
your remembrance of my situation respecting lands in the 
Frontiers. I learn that Government has reserved on the lands 
on the Cumberland for the Soldiers. If I should be deprived 
of a certain tract of land on that River which I purchased 
three years ago, and have been at a considerable expense to 
improve, I shall in a manner lose my all. It is known by the 
name of the great french Lick on the South or West side 

^"Unpublished letter from Col. Arthur Campbell to Gov. Richard 
Caswell of North Carolina. In this letter, dated Richmond, November 
8, 1782, in speaking of his preemption of 1,000 acres "on the waters 
of Cumberland River," Campbell remarks: "There is a man in that 
country by the name of Mansker who now claims the land by right 
of settlement, but my location was made several years before he 
moved to that country, and I believe he would never have troubled 
me by interfering with my claim had he not been instigated by Tom 
and Sam Bryan, with whom he was intimate — ." Cf. Albright's Early 
History of Middle Tennessee, 28-30. 

"Cf. Arthur Campbell to Richard Caswell, Governor of N. C, 
November 8, 1782, Archives N. C. Historical Commission. For will 
of Col. Wm. Byrd, 3d, which was dated July 6, 1774, and proved 
February 5, 1777, cf. Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 
Vol. IX, pp. 80 et seq. After the Cumberland region was found to 
lie within the bounds of North Carolina, letters and memorials from 
Arthur Campbell and the widow of Col. Wm. Byrd were presented 

Archibald Henderson 

containing three thousand Acres. If you can do anything for 
me in saving it, I shall for ever remember it with gratitude."^^ 
From these, and other pre-emptions doubtless known to 
him, James Robertson suspected that the French Lick lay 
within the bounds of Virginia. In particular, the fact of 
Clark's purchase of the three thousand acres, including the 
French Lick, a purchase doubtless effected through the in- 
strumentality of Col. Arthur Campbell, was well known at 
Watauga and along the border. Although the inducements 
held out to him by the Transylvania Company were greater 
than those held out by the State of North Carolina, Robert- 
son resolved to remain on the safe side by attempting to 
secure from George Rogers Clark as owner, holding the title 
under the Virginia claim, ''cabin rights" to the pre-emptions 
on the Cumberland at the French Lick.^^ Certain it is that, 

in 1782 to the North Carolina legislature for validation of these land 
titles. Neither application was successful. Mrs. Byrd's memorial 
was not brought up for final action in the Noi'th Carolina Legislature 
until four years later; there was some delay caused by the failure to 
attach a copy of Col. Byrd's will to Mrs. Byrd's memorial. In their 
report, dated December 31, 1786, in reply to the petition of Rev. 
Robert Andrews, to whose charge Mrs. Byrd's interests were com- 
mitted, the committee, consisting of General Rutherford, General 
Gregory, Mr. Relfs and Mr. Lewis, state in specific terms: 

"That it appears to your committee by the papers and documents 
before them that the late Honorable William Byrd was entitled for 
his military services to five thousand acres of land under the Procla- 
mation of his Britannic Majesty in Council of 1763. That in conse- 
quence one thousand acres thereof are located, as appears by a 
Certificate of the late Colo. William Preston, Surveyor of Fincastle 
County in Virginia, at the great Salt Lick on Cumberland River 
now called Nashville. 

"Your Committee considering the nature and extent of the sd. 
proclamation, and it being fully ascertained to them by the exten- 
sion of the boundary line between this and the State of Virginia, that 
the aforesaid entry was made on lands within the proprietary part 
of the Carolina's {sic) and consequently not within the gift of the 
Crown, are of opinion that the claim of the late Honorable William 
Byrd to the said lands is inadmissible." Archives of the N. C. His- 
torical Commission. Cf. State Records of N. C, xviii, 33, 190. 

"B. M., Add. Mss., 21, 782, f. 199. This letter is printed in "George 
Rogers Clark Papers, 1771-1781," Vol. viii, Illinois Historical Collec- 
tions, Vol. Ill, Virginia Series, edited by J. A. James, 1912, pp. 304-5. 
In a letter to William Mayo, Virginia, 1. c, pp. 380-1, copied from 
Draper Mss., 50 Jl, George Rogers Clark, writing from Louisville, 
Kentucky, January 8, 1780, says: ". . . but in order to have done 
with it I have purchased that quantity (10,000 acres) of Improvement 
on Cumberland and Inclose a memorandum (sic) the Best Land in 
that Countrey as they war first Chose." 

'""Robertson had agreed to go to the Illinois and purchase 'cabin 
rights' of General George Rogers Clark, from whom some of the 
emigrants recently from Virginia gave assurance that such land- 

Richard Henderson 

shortly after planting corn on the present site of Nashville, 
and taking other necessary steps attendant upon the estab- 
lishment of an infant settlement, Robertson made a long trip 
through the wilderness to Post St. Vincent, visited General 
Clark at Fort Patrick Henry, and "had an understanding 
with him, to be carried into execution upon subsequent ap- 
plication. "^° The nature of this understanding is easily sur- 
mised, namely that the settlers on Clark's lands on the Cum- 
berland would, at some future time, pay him the purchase 
money for the "cabin rights" to their pre-emptions, should the 
French Lick, on the extension of the North-Carolina-Virginia 
line prove to fall within the chartered boundaries of Virginia. 


As early as 1777, following the Treaty at the Long Island 
of Holston in July of that year, it became manifest to the 
commissioners of the State of North Carolina and Virginia 
that, owing to the progress of emigration westward and the 
growing aggravation of uncertainties as to land titles, it 
would be eminently desirable to extend still further westward 
the boundary line between North Carolina and Virginia. In 
the latter part of 1778, acts providing for the extension and 
marking of the boundary line were passed by both North 
Carolina and Virginia; and among the Commissioners ap- 
pointed from North Carolina were Judge Richard Henderson, 
Col. John Williams, and Capt. William Bailey Smith, all of 
whom had played active parts in the founding of the Colony 
of Transylvania. The Commissioners from each State agreed 
to meet in the latter part of the summer of 1779 at the western 
end of the line formerly run, and thence to prolong the line 
westward. Meantime the colonization of the Cumberland, in- 
stigated by Judge Henderson as President of the Transylvania 
Company, and to be engineered by James Robertson, had been 
delayed ; and the party of settlers had failed to start from the 
Long Island on March 1st as prophesied by Robertson. Col. 
Nathaniel Hart, one of the proprietors of the Transylvania 
Company, living at Boonesborough, Kentucky, actively fos- 
tered the plans for the expedition by water of Col. John Don- 
elson, and supplied him with some corn for the journey. "In 
connexion with the early history of Kentucky," records his 
son. Col. Nathaniel Hart, Jr., "it may not be amiss to state 

claims could be procured for very small sums." Putnam's History of 
Middle Tennessee, pp. 64-5, 67. The present research thus first ac- 
curately accounts for Robertson's long and arduous journey to the 
Illinois country. 

'"Putnam, I. c, p. 65. 

Archibald Henderson 

that Cumberland (now Middle Tennessee) was also mainly 
settled under the auspices of Henderson and Co."-^ Judge 
Henderson left his home in Granville County, North Carolina, 
on August 18, 1779, and together with John Williams and 
William Bailey Smith, joined the Virginia Commissioners at 
a waste cabin on Steep Rock Creek on September 1." 

In the course of the running of the line, so graphically 
described in the Journal of Daniel Smith;-^ there developed 
a lack of agreement between the commissioners of North Car- 
olina and those of Virginia with reference to the observations 
upon which the running of the line must depend; and upon 
reaching Cumberland Mountain, on November 18, the Caro- 
lina Commissioners abandoned the further running of the line. 
Judge Henderson, accompanied by his brothers. Pleasant, 
Nathaniel and Samuel, and a few others, went on in order to 
observe the Virginia Commissioners continue their line to the 
Tennessee River; and reached Boonesborough on Christmas 
Day, 1779.-* On this same date, the swarm of colonists from 
the parent hive at Watauga, which had gone overland under 
Robertson's guidance, passed their first day at the French 
Lick, and on January 1, 1780, crossed the river on the ice to 
the present site of Nashville.^^ 

It is most significant that the document, known as the 

""N. Hart, Jr., to Wilkins Tannehill, in Louisville News-Letter, 
May 23, 1840. 

"In connection with the running of the dividing line, the follow- 
ing passage from a letter of Col. Richard Henderson's now in my 
possession, postmarked Holston, September 12, 1779, is of more than 
ordinary interest: 

"The Virginia Commissioners, to wit Doctor Walker and Major 
Daniel Smith (of Clinch) who from some inaccurate observations 
before we came had given out in speeches that the Long Island would 
be miles in Virga. and thereby had blown up the inhabitants with 
hopes of great extension of territory, are brought to bed. — Indeed 
the people here in General look as if they had lately miscarried, and 
hourly are making applications for Land from our Company &c. — 
Men who, two years ago, were clamorous against Richard Henderson 
and Company, and Damning their title, are now with pale faces, 
haunting our Camp and begging our friendship with regard to their 

"'Tennessee Historical Magazine, March, 1915. 

""In Fleming's Journal we read, under date of December 25, 1779: 
"Sam. Henderson arrived with some of the Commissioners from 
Carolina having quitted running the line on some disagreement with 
the Virginia Commisrs. who continued to go on with the line. — Dec. 
26. Clear and moderate. Mr. Henderson took the Lat. and made 
this place 37° 48'." In Durrett Collection, University of Chicago 

"Putnam's History of Middle Tennessee, p. 66. 

Richard Henderson 

Cumberland Compact, explicitly testifies — although the fact 
has been ignored by historians — that the French Lick was 
founded under the auspices of the Transylvania Comj)any and 
the patronage of Judge Henderson, and gives the date of 
the founding as January 1, 1780. The rate of valuation at 
which payment for the Cumberland lands was to be made, in 
case the title of the Transylvania Company should be con- 
firmed, was fixed, viz. : "According to the value of money on 
the first day of January last, being the time when the price 
was made public (and) settlement encouraged thereon by said 
Henderson. "'° 


Meanwhile the fate of this colony which he had promoted, 
and upon whose efforts the subsequent fate of the Transylvania 
Company depended, was weighing heavily upon the mind of 
Judge Henderson. The terrible hardships of this bitter winter, 
ever afterwards known as the "hard winter,'' which he had 
endured in the course of his difficult and dangerous journey 
to Boonesborough, brought to his mind the thought of equal 
or greater hardships which Robertson and his party must 
likewise have borne in their arduous journey overland to the 
French Lick. But his concern was, if anything, greater for 
the party of men, with many women and children, also des- 
tined for the French Lick, who under the leadership of Col. 
John Donelson had set sail from Fort Patrick Henry, on 
Holston River, in the good boat Adventure on December 22, 
1779. With paternalistic care and a lively sense of responsi- 
bility for the welfare of these two parties which he had him- 
self induced to make the great venture. Judge Henderson pro- 
ceeds to purchase, in Kentucky, at huge cost a large stock of 
corn for the colony at French Lick. In a letter of John Floyd's, 
dated Harrodsburg, 20th Feb., 1780, is found the following 
statement: "I have no bread yet, but expect a small supply 
from my friend Col. Henderson at Boonesborough, who has 
greatly befriended me by sparing that which he may want him- 
self, and only waits for high water to send it down with his own 
on the way to the mouth of Green River, where he is about 

^"Cf . the facsimile accompanying this article, on which these words 
appear. Putnam records: "Col. Henderson was a sound lawyer, 
a man of thoroug:h education, an accomplished gentleman, an honor- 
able and patriotic man, and sought and took no advantage of the 
confidence placed in him. Sales were made, but payment conditioned 
on a confirmation. Purchasers here were never urged to make any 
payments on contracts into which they had entered. Old settlers 
ever entertained for Henderson a very high regard as a gentleman 
and patriot." Middle Tennessee, 88-9. 

Archibald Henderson 

to form a settlement."-' The corn for the Cumberland settle- 
ment, hundreds of bushels, purchased by Judge Henderson at 
Boonesborough, was on March 5, 1780, "sent from Boones- 
borough in perogues under the command of the late Major 
William Bailey Smith of Ohio County, Kentucky, This corn 
was to be taken down the Kentucky River, and over the falls 
of the Ohio, to the mouth of the Cumberland, and thence up 
that river to the fort at French Lick. It is believed to have 
been the only bread which the settlers had until it was raised 
there in 1781; for although corn was planted there in 1780, 
yet the place was so annoyed by the Cherokees, that the set- 
tlers were not permitted to cultivate it."-^ There is a note of 
deep impressiveness in this heroic triumphing over the obsta- 
cles of obdurate nature and this thoughtful provision for the 
exposed Cumberland settlement projected and promoted by 
the Transylvania Company — the purchase by Judge Hender- 
son and the shipment by Col. Hart, in that awful winter of 
bitter cold and obstructed navigation, of this indispensable 
quantity of corn valued at sixty thousand dollars in depre- 
ciated paper. 

While Major William Bailey Smith, with his precious 
cargo of corn, was making the long journey by water to the 
French Lick, Judge Henderson, accompanied by his brothers, 
Pleasant and Nathaniel, and by Col. Nathaniel Hart, started 
overland to join Robertson and Donelson, and to draw up a 

^'Draper Mss. 33 S 317. "Green river," which flows into the Mis- 
sissippi not a great distance from the mouth of the Cumberland river, 
is an obvious error in the above statement. It should read "Cumber- 
land river." The settlement, as we know, was not to be made at the 
mouth of the Cumberland. 

""This statement is made by Col. Nathaniel Hart, Jr., son of Col. 
Nathaniel Hart, one of the partners of the Transylvania Company. 
Col. Hart continues: "This corn had been raised by my father at 
Boonesborough, in 1779; and I have now before me an account against 
Col. Donaldson (Donelson) for nine bushels, which he says ought 
to rate high at the French Lick, as it had been worth $200 per bushel 
at Boonesborough." Nathaniel Hart, Jr., to Wilkins Tannehill, Spring 
Hill, April 27, 1839, in Louisville News-Letter, May 23, 1840. Clearly 
Donelson derived the information as to the price of the corn from 
Col. Richard Henderson, the purchaser, at their meeting on March 31. 
In Butler's History of Kentucky (1834 ed.), note, p. 99, the follow- 
ing abstract from Col. John Floyd's correspondence states: "The 
price of corn fluctuated from fifty dollars per bushel in December, 

1779, to one hundred and sixty-five dollars per bushel, in January, 

1780. These prices were at a period of obstructed navigation, and 
in depreciated paper; but its value in gold and silver is not knovni." 
It is clear that by February, 1780, the price had risen still higher, 
to the almost incredible price of $200.00 per bushel. 

Richard Henderson 

form of government for the infant settlement on the Cumber- 

The most memorable entries in Donelson's famous journal 
are the references to Henderson and Robertson — projector and 
leader, respectively, of the Cumberland settlement. Although 
James Robertson failed to meet Donelson's party at the Muscle 
Shoals or to leave signs there for their guidance, they were 
met further up the river, on Friday, March 31, by the watch- 
ful and anxious Henderson. The entry in Donelson's journal, 
demonstrating the wise forethought of the promoter of the 
settlement, reads as follows: "Set out this day, and after 
running some distance, met with Col. Richard Henderson, 
who was running the line between Virginia and North Caro- 
lina. At this meeting we were much rejoiced. He gave us 
every information we wished, and further informed us that 
he had purchased a quantity of corn in Kentucky, to be 
shipped at the Falls of Ohio, for the use of the Cumberland 
settlement. We are now without bread, and are compelled to 
hunt the buffalo to preserve life."^° 

Judge Henderson, his two brothers, and Col. Hart arrived 
at Col. Daniel Smith's camp, at Amos Eaton's, on Friday, 

""This party must have started about the middle of March; for 
on March 10 Judge Henderson was still at Boonesborough. In a 
letter describing conditions in Kentucky, written from Boonesborough, 
March 10, 1780, one reads: "A Boat of Colo. Henderson's is setting 
off tomorrow or next day for the falls (Louisville) by which we 
shall send an address to Colo. Clark to superintend this matter and 
obtain his answer as soon as possible. Mr. Henderson's boat will 
be at Leestown on Tuesday next and will be convenient for you to 
send by." A. L. S. in Draper Mss., 50 J 18, printed in George Rogers 
Clark Papers, 1771-1781, pp. 396-8. This letter contains the follow- 
ing endorsement: 

"March 10, 1780. 

"At a full meeting of the inhabitants of Boonsb'gh Collected on 
the melancholy Occasion of the foregoing Letter it was unanimously 
agreed that the sd. Letter should be Written which was accordingly 
Done, and Capt. David Gess Direct'd to subscribe his name Thereto 
for and in Behalf of the Whole. Certified under my hand this 10th 
of March, 1780. Richd. Henderson." 

""Putnam: Middle Tennessee, p. 75. In a statement made by Mrs. 
Donelson, she relates: "When they met Col. Rd. Henderson, Gen. 
Dl. Smith & Capt. Nathl. Hart, on Cumberland, all were rejoiced, 
particularly Colo. Donelson, who was highly delighted — learned of 
Capt. Robertson's safe arrival at the Salt Lick (now Nashville) — 
that corn had been purchased in Kentucky." The information that 
Capt. Robertson and party had arrived safely at the Salt Lick prior 
to March 14, was furnished by General Daniel Smith, who was there 
on that date. Through inadvertence, he makes no reference in his 
journal to the presence of Robertson and his party at the French 

Archibald Henderson 

April 7, and left that place shortly after April 10^^ for the 
French Lick, doubtless arriving there in advance of Donelson 
and his party. Silently eloquent of the granite endurance and 
courageous spirit of the typical American pioneer — thankful- 
ness for sanctuary, for reunion of families and friends, for the 
humble shelter of a log cabin — is the last entry in Donelson's 
Diary, of date Monday, April 24, 1780 : 

"This day we arrived at our journey's end at the Big Salt 
Lick, where we have the pleasure of finding Capt. Robertson 
and his company. It is a source of satisfaction to us to be 
enabled to restore to him and others their families and friends, 
who were entrusted to our care, and who, some time since, 
perhaps, despaired of our meeting again. Though our pros- 
pects at present are dreary, we have found a few log cabins 
which have been built on a cedar bluff above the Lick by Capt. 
Robertson and his company." 


The lapse of time now forbids me to pursue further this 
story of the strenuous struggles and incredible hardships of 
the Cumberland settlers, who established here a permanent 
buhvnrk against the copper-hued savage and laid here forever 
the foundations of what is now the great and populous city of 
Nashville. I will content myself with presenting to you one 
fundamental historical truth as the culmination of this re- 
search. This is the question in regard to the authorship of 
the famous Cumberland Compact. The cocksure Mr. Roose- 
velt, with his habitual dogmatism, concludes, without proof 
or evidence, that the author of that remarkable document was 
James Robertson.^- The inherent truth of the situation, if 
other evidence were not finally conclusive, demonstrates this 
to be impossible. The best informed writer on this subject, 
Putnam, who in 1846 discovered the original document now 

Lick. In reference to Mrs. Donelson's statement (Draper Mss., 
32S304-305), Draper observes that Mrs. Donelson thinks the corn 
never came. This is an error. The corn vv^as brought safely in to 
the French Lick; and Major William Bailey Smith, who was in com- 
mand of the boats which bore the corn, reached the French Lick 
in time to sign the Cumberland Compact. Doubtless Mrs. Donelson 
was thinking of Isaac Bovirman's batteau from Kaskaskia, which fell 
into the hands of the Chickasaw Indians. 

""Cf. Daniel Smith's "Journal," Tennessee Historical Magazine, 
March, 1915, p. 63, which contains the following: "April 7th. Friday 
Horses not all found — Received a letter from the Governor to go to 
the Falls of Ohio on particular business. Col. Henderson brought 
this letter." 

'"'A study of the original document would have repaid Mr. Roose- 
velt and have saved him from error. 


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Richard Henderson 

jealously preserved in the archives of the Tennessee Historical 
Society, says : "As Richard Henderson, and the other members 
of the 'Transylvania Land Company' were here at this junc- 
ture (April, 1780), he (Henderson) was foremost in urging 
some form of government."^'* A brief inspection will dem- 
onstrate its character. First of all, tlie Cumberland Compact 
is a mutual contract between the co-partners of the Transyl- 
vania Company and the settlers upon the lands claimed by the 
company. It is, moreover, a bill of rights, through careful 
provisions safeguarding the rights of each party to the con- 
tract. The significant feature of the document is that it is an 
elaborate legal paper which could have been drafted only by 
one intimately versed in the intricacies of the law and its 
tierminology. Nothing, indeed, could more effectively exhibit 
the purpose for which the Association was established and 
the Compact drawn up than the following clause in the in- 
strument itself: 

''That as no consideration-money for the lands on Cum- 
berland River, within the claim of the said Richard Hender- 
son and Company, and which is the subject of this Association, 
is demanded or expected by the said Company, until a satis- 
factory and indisputable title can be made, so we think it 
reasonable and just that the twenty-six pounds thirteen shill- 
ings and four pence, current money, per hundred acres, the 
price proposed by the said Richard Henderson, shall be paid 
according to the value of money on the first day of January 
last, being the time when the price was made public (and) 
settlement encouraged thereon by said Henderson, and the 
said Richard Henderson on his part does hereby agree that 
in case of the rise or appreciation of money from that — an 
abatement shall be made in the sum according to its raised or 
appreciated vahie."^* 

The indisputable facts that Richard Henderson, eminent as 
lawyer and jurist, was the only lawj^er on the Cumberland in 
May, 1780, and that his name heads the list of two hundred 
and thirty-odd signatures to the document known as the 
Cumberland Comjiact, has led one of the justices of your own 
Supreme Court, a deep student of early Tennessee history, the 
Hon. Samuel C. Williams, to state in print that "without se- 
rious doubt" Judge Henderson was the draftsman of the com- 
pact of government. 

Familiarity with original letters of the sturdy Robertson — 
with both his chirography and his mental processes — and also 
with the chirography and contents of the Compact conclu- 

'"Putnam: Middle Tennessee, p. 84. 
'^Compare plate I. 

Archihald Henderson 

sively dispels the notion that Robertson may have been the 
author and draftsman of the compact. I am now, and have 
been for some years, able to alter the "without serious doubt" 
of Judge Williams into "without any doubt whatsoever," by 
the categorical statement that the document of May 1, and 
also the document of May 13, 1780, are written throughout in 
the same handwriting; and this handwriting is the bold and 
characteristic chirography of the man who purchased the ter- 
ritory, projected and personally co-operated in the settlement, 
sedulously nurtured it with the fruits of the earth purchased 
at fabulous cost, and led in urging the adoption of a written 
form of government at the French Lick — the President of the 
Transylvania Company, Judge Richard Henderson, of North 

It may be the time is not far distant when in this great 
city of Nashville, patriotically signalized by its monuments 
and memorials to James Robertson, sagacious and paternal 
leader, and to John Donelson, intrepid and successful pioneer, 
there shall be erected some adequate memorial to the pioneer- 
ing genius and empire-building imagination of the man who 
inaugurated and engineered the hazardous and arduous enter- 
prise of a settlement at the French Lick, drafted the Cumber- 
land Compact, and is rightfully entitled to divide with James 
Robertson and John Donelson the honors in the founding of 
Nashville. Archibald Henderson. 

Fordell, University of North Carolina. 

PLATE 111. 


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^-ffv—^ O-t-ZT 

Richard Henderson 


In connection with the question of the authorship of the Cumber- 
land Compact, I append an affidavit made by the two Tennessee 
historical scholars who have made the most minute and critical study 
of the original document, preserved in the archives of the Tennessee 
Historical Society. My thanks are now gratefully expressed to these 
gentlemen, Mr. John H. DeWitt, president of the Tennessee Historical 
Society, and the Rev. W. A. Provine, D.D., for their minute com- 
parison of the documents; to Mr. J. S. Walker of Nashville, for 
valuable assistance and suggestions; and to Professor St. George 
L. Sioussat for courtesies extended. I am indebted also to the late 
Gen. Gates P. Thruston, sometime president of the Tennessee His- 
torical Society, for courtesies extended me several years ago in con- 
nection with the present research. 

All historical scholars without exception, who have compared the 
original manuscript of the Cumberland Compact or facsimile thereof 
with attested specimens of Judge Richard Henderson's handwriting, 
testify that the original Cumberland Compact is drafted throvighout 
in Judge Henderson's handwriting. It is jierhaps worthy of note 
that in the body of the document Judge Henderson employs a formal 
or conventional capital R, of a sort which he did not habitually use 
in making his own signature. The six (6) signatures which I have 
traced from the original documents or from facsimiles, photographic 
or photostatic, shown on a plate (III) accompanying this article, ex- 
hibit variations in the making of the capital H as well as in the mak- 
ing of the capital R. 

The interested student may compare the facsimiles of documents 
which accompany this article — the one being a page of the Cumber- 
land Compact (Plate I), the other being a letter from Judge Hen- 
derson to Capt. Holder (Plate II). 

In the paper above printed, with accompanying documents, it is 
now established that Judge Henderson drafted the original Cumber- 
land Compact. It is not unreasonable to suppose, although there is 
no proof of it, that certain clauses in the document were drawn by 
Judge Henderson with the assistance of Captain James Robertson. 
Indeed, the laws, as drafted, represented the collective will of this 
pioneer community; and it may be that both Robertson and Donelson, 
voicing this collective will, thus aided Judge Henderson to draft a 
series of articles for the government of their association. 

Archibald Henderson. 

Archibald Henderson 


State of Tennessee, 
County of Davidson. 

We, W. A. Provine and John H. DeWitt, make oath that on April 
28, 1916, with Dr. Archibald Henderson, of Chapel Hill, North Caro- 
lina, we carefully examined the original Cumberland Compact (in 
the custody of the Tennessee Historical Society), and compared the 
same with certain photographic facsimiles of certain pages of writing 
furnished us as the genuine handwriting of Judge Richard Hender- 
son of North Carolina, who was president of the Transylvania Com- 
pany, to-wit, a page of the diary of Richard Henderson written in 
1775, the original of which is in the Draper Mss. at Madison, Wis- 
consin; a photostatic copy of his memorial to the Legislature of 
North Carolina in 1784, the original of which is in the archives of the 
North Carolina Historical Commission, Raleigh, North Carolina; 
and a pencil tracing of his signature as judge of the Superior Court 
of North Carolina, the original of which is in the court house at 
Salisbury, N. C. (The information as to the nature and location 
of these papers being furnished us by Dr. Archibald Henderson.) 
While our attention was not given to the subject-matter of these 
writings, nevertheless, we made a very careful comparison of the 
handwriting with the handwriting of the text of the Cumberland Com- 
pact and the name of Richard Henderson as the first signer thereto; 
and we are both convinced without reservation that the handwriting 
of the Cumberland Compact and all of the aforesaid documents is 
one and the same. We especially noted that the signatures of Judge 
Richard Henderson as traced from the Salisbury court house records 
and as appended to the Cumberland Compact are identical. 

We are convinced from these comparisons that Judge Richard 
Henderson was the draftsman and author of the original Cumber- 
land Compact. 

(Signed) W. A. Provine. 

John H. DeWitt. 

Sworn to and subscribed before me, on this the 30th day of May, 
1916. John H. Lechleiter, 

(Seal) Notary Public. 

I iiii 









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