Nashville Daily News
September 27, 1902
HOME OF JAS. ROBERTSON RECENTLY DESTROYED
Historic Mansion Which Stood on the Outskirts of Nashville, and Served as
General Headquarters for Early Settlers–First Brick House in State.
By Emma Look Scott
In the recent burning of the B. F. Cockrill residence on Charlotte road Davidson County suffered an irremediable loss, and the State of Tennessee a calamitous happening.
A historic interest attached to this house possessed by no other in the Volunteer State.
It was erected by Gen. James Robertson as a residence for his wife and family, and in point of age antedated the State itself.
It was the first and only brick house in the State when Tennessee was cut off from North Carolina.
It was from this house that the remains of Gen. Robertson were conveyed to the old City Cemetery in 1825, after having been brought from the Chickasaw Agency, where his death occurred eleven years previously, in the year 1814.
It was from this home that the remains of his faithful and honored wife were carried to rest beside him in 1843.
The spot and its surroundings give little indication today of the relentless warfare once waged about it by the red man, or of the terrible tragedies that took place upon its greensward through this invidious foe.
Difficult it is for us under the spell of the peace and quiet beauty of the scene, despite the broken and dismantled mansion, to conceive of the weary hours and anxious days common to the inhabitants of that long past and perilous period.
That the women of that day were possessed of courage and fortitude and faith in prayer, and in an overruling Providence, we have abundant evidence, and that Charlotte Robertson was possessed of these attributes, and many more of such sterling worth, we are in manifold ways assured.
Had it been otherwise she could not, as wife and mother, have withstood as she did the gruesome, heart-devastating experiences it was her fate not once but many times to endure.
Of these dread experiences none, perhaps, swept the innermost depths of her being as did the horrible massacre of her two young sons, almost within her very dooryard, and within sight of the windows of her newly acquired and commodious home.
Going in an unguarded moment to the sugar camp near by to collect the sap of the trees to be boiled into syrup, the youths were set upon and slain by the treacherous savages. Hearing their appealing cries for help, the mother loosened the bloodhounds trained to hatred of the red man, as she had done some years before in the blockhouse on the bluff when defeat and death hung wavering in the balance and thereby assured, say the historians, “the continuance of the settlement.”
But destiny, or what you will, decreed the outcome different in this crisis, and when her hurrying feet reached the scene of the unequal conflict, the foe, frightened by the dogs, had disappeared, but Peyton Robertson lay gasping in the throes of death, and the younger, Randall, writhed in unutterable agony with the scalp severed from his head and the light of his boyish eyes gone out. Merciful death came to his release a few hours later.
Both are buried near the spring, less than a hundred yards distant from the house, close to the bank of Richland Creek.
The date of this catastrophe, 1788, is the only authentic guide of the decade in which the Robertson house was erected. The exact year cannot be learned.
Built of Brick.
The brick for the building was burned on the place, and were larger and heavier than those in present use. The Indians, presumably, aided in the work of brickmaking, as their hieroglyphics and signs are found impressed in several instances on the flat side of the brick. Some of these have been presented to the State Historical Society, and an effort will be made to decipher the meaning of the symbol. With what intent the savage left his mark upon such material it would be interesting to know.
The main structure of the residence was two-story in height, with an attic above and big cellar below; at the side was a low extension, also of brick. Flights of stairways mounted to the upper rooms in unexpected places with long platforms for the turnings. That ascending from the hall was inclosed with a balustrade handsomely hand-wrought, as, indeed, was of necessity, all the woodwork of the house. The floors were of hardwood highly polished with the wear of years. Two presses in the large parlor or guest room set within the embrasure of the great chimney, with its yawning fireplace and glitering brass firedogs, invariably attracted the attention of visitors because of their quaint and unusual fittings; myriad panes of glass of various form and paneled in wood were shaded by plates of perforated brass, which caught the firelight of the room and sent a cheery wave of color across its length. The paper of this room was a unique feature and carefully preserved; the ground work was pure white with trailing bunches of purple grapes against green leaves veined in gold scattered over the surface. The border was of green velveteen with escalloped edges. The windows of the house were numerous and many paned but heavily shuttered; wainscoting in the hall, which, unlike many old houses, was but of medium width, rose to a height of several feet; the doors were closed by means of enormous locks and keys of brass which were always the curiosity of the casual caller; the furniture was solid and substantial rather than showy. A wide piazza extended the full width of the house in front and was inclosed by a low lattice work. Many months must have been consumed in the building of this home, which succeeded the rude block houses on the bluff, as on every hand was evidenced the painstaking and clever workmanship.
Known as “Great House”
It was known far and wide as the “Great House,” being the largest and best built residence in the country, and the place where all important councils were held. General Robertson himself termed it the “Traveler’s Rest,” and the name is significant of the generous hospitality therein extended by “the father of Tennessee.”
The property came by inheritance to the hands of John Cockrill, who had married a sister of General Robertson, Anne Robertson Johnson, whose bravery in defending the fort on the bluff from an invasion of Indians was rewarded by a land grant of several hundred acres in Powell Valley, Tenn.
The interesting story of this defense, which has in some manner escaped the notice of historians, is given in manuscript copy signed by John Cockrill; wherein it is stated that on the night of the day in which Felix Robertson was born–January 11, 1781–the first white child born in Nashville, the lurking Indians made a bold attempt to gain ingress to the fort, which, owing to the absence of Gen. Robertson and others of the settlement, they considered insufficiently protected.
Anne Robertson Johnson, quick in action and resourceful in emergency, assumed command of the situation, and ordered that quantities of hot water should be placed in vessels ready for her use. This being done, she mounted a ladder inside the stockade, and as vessel after vessel of the scalding fluid was handed her, she deftly poured it upon the heads of the invaders, and successfully accomplished their defeat.
After John Cockrill the property passed to possession of Mark Robertson Cockrill, who, it is alleged, gave a heartier money support to the cause of the Confederacy than any man in Middle Tennessee. The sobriquet of “the wool king” attached and clung to Mr. Cockrill from his exhibition of fine Merino wool at the first Paris Exposition, where he was awarded the gold medal and presented with a large silver ewer which is still carefully treasured in the family. Mr. Cockrill died in ’73 of infirmities due to old age.
His eldest son, B. F. Cockrill, is the present owner of the historic property.
The house is unfortunately destroyed beyond reconstruction.
…Its People and Environs
by Sarah Foster Kelley
In 1804 General Robertson cut the Nashville-Charlotte Road, which led to the newly founded town of Charlotte, Tennessee. Both the turnpike and the town were named for General Robertson’s wife, Charlotte Reeves Robertson. He no doubt travelled a portion of this road on his trip to the Chickasaw Nation. The United States War Department commissioned the Indian negotiator to go and treaty with Chief Piomingo for the sale of land in a great portion of Tennessee. He stayed six months and persuaded the chief to sell title to their lands at a cost to the government of $22,000.00 in cash plus an annuity of $2,000 and $10,000 in merchandise.
In 1806 the old General drilled his Silver Grays, a group of white haired Revolutionary soldiers who offered their services during the Aaron Burr crisis. He drilled these men at the campground below his home at Richland Creek. Several years later he again drilled these men in preparation of the Creek War. At that time the War Department gave Robertson a commission to act as agent to the Chickasaws. If it had not been for the influence of the old general during the last two years of his life, the Chickasaws might have united with the Creeks and the British and defeated the nation. The services of General Robertson given while an agent to the Chickasaw was said to have been the most valuable ones rendered by him during his lifetime.5
Leaving the comforts of his fireside at Travellers’ Rest, later known as the Richland, General Robertson spent the last two years of his life at the post of duty. He died at the Chickasaw Agency near present Memphis on September 1, 1814 with the consolation of his wife at his side. In 1825 a cortege carried the coffin containing the remains of General Robertson, which had been brought back to Nashville by an act of the Tennessee legislature. The National Banner and Nashville Whig dated October 10, 1825, read as follows:
“The remains of the late General James Robertson having been removed from the Chickasaw Agency, will be interred with Masonic honors on Saturday, 15th. Instant at ten o’clock a.m. in the public burying ground. A discourse will be delivered on the occasion in the Presbyterian Church by Judge Haywood.”
Known as the Father of Tennessee, the old Revolutionary patriot had warmed his feet at the hearthstone in his brick home on the southern shore of Richland Creek. The old limits of West Nashville is what James Robertson referred to as “home.”
The children of James and Charlotte (Reeves) Robertson were as follows: Jonathan Friar Robertson who married Ciddy Davies; James Randolph Robertson, killed Delilah Robertson who married John Bosley; Peyton Henderson Robertson, killed by Indians; Charlotte Robertson, died young; Felix Robertson who married Lydia Waters; Charlotte Robertson who married Richard C. Napier; William Blount Robertson who married Leodocia Erwin; Peyton Robertson who married Ellen Davis; Lavinia Robertson who married (1) Attorney John Beck, Junior, (2) Attorney John B. Craighead; and John McNairy Robertson who married Lucy Scales.
5 Sarah Foster Kelley, General James Robertson, The Founder of Nashville. 1980. Page 72.
Kelly, Sarah Foster. West Nashville. Pages 8-9
Roster Of Soldiers and Patriots of the American Revolution Buried in Tennessee (1974)
Compiled by Lucy Womack Bates, Chairman
Revised 1979, by Helen Crawford Marsh
Published by Tennessee Society, NSDAR
American Revolution Soldiers Buried at City Cemetery
Robertson, James (b 6-28-1742 Brunswick County, VA/ d 9-1-1814 Chickasaw Agency near Memphis, TN) Buried in Old City Cemetery, Nashville, TN Col-CS-PS. Helped organize �Over the Mt. Men� in Watauga Settlement. One of the leading organizers in forming the Watauga Association. �The Father of Middle Tennessee.� Grave DAR marked. M 1-21-1768 in Wake County, NC to Charlotte Reeves b 1-2-1751/ d 1845. Ch.: Jonathan Friar b 6-13-1769/ d 10-24-1815 m 12-17-1791 Ciddy Davis; Delilah b 11-30-1773 m 8-12-1789 John Bosley; Felix b 1-11-1781 m 10-9-1808 Lydia Waters; Peyton Henderson b 7-11-1775/ d 3-12-1789 killed by Indians; William Blount b 1785/d 10-24-1839 m 12-5-1807 Leodocia Erwin; James Randolph b 12-11-1711/ d 12-10-1792 killed by Indians; Charlotte b 7-11-1778/ d 11-13-1778 died in infancy; Charlotte II b 3-11-1783/ d 5-15-1843 m 1798 Richard Napier; Rachel Lavenia b 2-23-1790 m 1st J.E. Beck, m 2nd J.B. Craighead; Peyton II b 12-11-1787/ d 9-17-1840 m 1820 Ellen Davis; John McNairy b 4-26-1792 m Lucy Scales. Ref: DAR #426432; McGee; Hist of TN; SR 1909-10; S.G.; N.M.; American History Mag., Vol 1-4, 1896-97, p 174, 175, 277.