Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The First White Settlers in Tennessee

It is not often we have an ancestor who has been thoroughly and historically documented. I am fortunate to have 6th great-grandparents (and their immediate descendants) – William Bean (1721-1782) and Lydia Russell Bean (1726-1788) – whose frontier life in Tennessee has been thoroughly examined.

William and Lydia are known as the first permanent European-American settlers in what is today Tennessee.  William was of Scottish descent, and Lydia was of English descent. They were both born in Virginia, a crown colony, and married in 1741.

Daniel Boone was no stranger to the Bean Family, having hunted before with members of William Bean’s family. Both were frontiersmen and longhunters.

Longhunter - Google image
William Bean was a known associate of Daniel Boone and a fellow longhunter. A longhunter was an 18th-century explorer and hunter who made expeditions into the American frontier wilderness for as much as six months at a time, collecting animal skins and drying meat to sell in the colonies. Most “long hunts” started near Chilhowie, Virginia (found in the southwest corner of the state). The hunters were, for the most part, land owners. They would be gone for as much as six months at a time, usually over winter. The information gathered by the longhunters were critical in the early settlement of Tennessee and Kentucky.  Many times, the long- hunters would be employed by land surveyors and to guide settlers into the new lands. [1]

Grainger County Tennessee Historic Society
The picture to the right shows two hunters standing together looking over a valley below Clinch Mountain. The men depicted are supposed to be William Bean and Daniel Boone. The hunters were looking for fresh water and a place to camp for the night. Both men liked the valley because of its wildlife, fertile soil, and tall timber. 

In 1769, William built a cabin close to the junction of Boone's Creek and the Watauga River, near what is today Johnson City, Tennessee. Bean had visited the site with Boone when they were exploring as agents for Richard Henderson, a land speculator who later played an important role in the early settlement of Tennessee. [2] Later that year, Russell Bean, the first child of permanent European-American settlers was born in Tennessee, was born there. [3] The location of the Bean cabin became important in the development of the area. Major roads (highways 25E and 11W) came through the location that became known as Bean Station.

Google image
William was considered one of the best gun makers of his time. His sons inherited his talent. Together they founded a dynasty of gunsmiths, horseshoes, wedding rings, well pumps, and many other items that were all done in the Bean’s blacksmith shop in Bean Station.

As we can imagine, frontier life was not easy – it was dangerous. One of William’s daughters, Judy Bean, was killed by Cherokee Indians; and his wife, Lydia, was captured by Indians. She was later released. However, those are stories for another time.
Today's view from the top of Clinch Mountain - Google Image

[The Bean family is my biological family.]

[1] - Hamilton, Emory L. Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia 5: The Long Hunters. Historical Society of Southwest Virginia, 1970.
[2] Grady, J.A. William Bean, Pioneer of Tennessee, and Hist Descendants. Grady, 1973. 
[3] William Bean's Cabin - 1A5 | Tennessee Historical sign. Retrieved 28 November 2017.

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