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Jane Gellespie Brown ~ Tennessee


Jane Gillespie was born in Pennsylvania about the year 1740. Her father was one of the pioneers of North Carolina. Her early life was spent in the county of Guilford, and two of her brothers, Colonel and Major Gillespie, were noted Revolutionary officers. About the year 1761, Miss Gillespie became the wife of James Brown, a native of Ireland, whose family had settled in Guilford. At the breaking out of the Revolutionary War, her husband gave his services to his country, leaving his wife with a small family of children. During the retreat of General Greene, in 1781, on the Dan and Deep Rivers, Brown acted as pilot and guide for Colonels Lee and Washington, and through his knowledge of the country, contributed not a little to the successful retreat of the American army, by which they were enabled to elude and break the spirit of the army of Cornwallis.

For his services, he received from the state of North Carolina land warrants which entitled him to locate large quantities of land in the wilderness of the mountains. His neighbors made him sheriff of the county, and he was rapidly rising in the esteem of his people. Notwithstanding the fact that his future seemed opening up to brighter and higher things, he realized that he could do more for his family by tearing himself away from these prospects, and he set out on his journey to explore the valley of the Cumberland, taking with him his two eldest sons, William and John, and a few friends. He secured land on the Cumberland River below Nashville. In the winter of 1787, he had returned to Guilford to bring his family into this country. At that time there were two routes to the Cumberland Valley, one down the Tennessee River, and one, the land route, a long and tedious one through the Cumberland Gap across the head waters of the Cumberland, Greene, and Barren Rivers. The one down the river was much better when accompanied by women and children, and permitted the transportation of goods, but along the banks of the Tennessee there were many villages of the Cherokee and Chickasaw Indians, with marauding parties of Creeks and Shawnees. Having built a boat in the style of a common flat boat very much like the model of Noah's Ark except that it was open at the top, he entered upon this fearful voyage about the 1st of May, 1788, having on board a large amount of goods, suitable for traffic among the Indians, and his little family and friends. The party consisted of Brown, two sons, three hired men, a Negro man (seven men in all), Mrs. Brown, three small sons, four small daughters, an aged woman, and two or three Negro women, the property of Brown. Brown had mounted a small cannon on the prow of this boat, and I dare say this was the first man-of-war that ever floated down the Tennessee River.

They encountered no trouble until they reached the present site of Chattanooga. Here a party of Indians appeared in canoes, led by a white man by the name of John Vaughn. After pretending to be friendly, and thus gaining admission to his boat through the assurance of this man Vaughn that their intentions were of a thoroughly friendly character, they soon began to throw over his goods into the canoes, break open his chest of treasure, and when Brown attempted to prevent this, he was struck down by an Indian, his head almost severed from his body. They were all taken ashore as captives, Vaughn insisting that these marauders would be punished when the chief arrived. Mrs. Brown, her son George, ten years old, and three small daughters were taken possession of by a party of Creek braves, while the Cherokees were deliberating on the fate of the other prisoners.

In one short hour, this poor woman was deprived of husband, sons, friends, and liberty, and began her sad journey on foot along the rugged, flinty trails that led to the Creek towns on the Tallapoosa River. At this time there lived a man named Thomas Turnbridge, a French trader married to a woman who had been taken prisoner near Mobile and raised by the Indians. She had married an Indian brave and had a son twenty-two years old. This son desired to present to his mother some bright-eyed boy as a slave, for according to the savage code of the times, each captive became a slave to his captor. This woman's son was one of the marauding party who had seized Brown's boat, and from the first knew the fate of the party.

He tried to induce little Joseph Brown to go with him, but the boy would not; but when the boat landed, he took Joseph to his stepfather Turnbridge, who in good English told the boy he lived near and asked him to spend the night with him. This the poor little frightened fellow consented to do, and while on his way out, he heard the rifles of these savage beasts who were murdering his brothers and friends. Later they came to the Turnbridge house, demanding that the boy be relinquished, and when about to surrender him to the fate of his brothers, the old woman, the wife of Turnbridge, begged for his life, and he was saved only later to be scalped. All of his head was shaved and a bunch of feathers tied to the only remaining lock of hair, his ears pierced with rings, his clothes taken off, and he was supposed to be made one of their tribe. His sisters were brought back by a party of Cherokees, and here they were adopted into different families in this same town with Joseph. From them he learned the fate of his mother, his brother George, and sister Elizabeth.

War was now going on between the Indians and the people of Cumberland and east Tennessee. Two thousand warriors, principally Cherokees, were laying waste everything before them in east Tennessee. They had stormed Fort Gillespie, torturing men, women and children, and carrying off Mrs. Glass, the sister of Captain Gillespie. In the spring of 1789, an exchange of prisoners was agreed upon, and a talk held with General Sevier, in which it was stipulated that the Cherokees should surrender all white persons within their borders. When this occurred, young Brown was out on a trading trip, and did not return until all the prisoners had gone up to Running Water. On his return, he was sent also to Running Water, but his little sister would not leave her Indian mother, who had treated her kindly, but Brown finally took her forcibly with him. His eldest sister was claimed by a trader, who said he had bought her with his money. Joseph being unable to redeem her, was obliged to leave her behind. At the conference with the Indians, Brown refused to be exchanged unless his sister was brought in by the Indians, the old chief sent for the girl, and she was brought to Running Water, where on the 1st of May, 1789, young Brown and his sisters were once more restored to liberty. Having nothing and being entirely alone, these three young people were sent to relatives in South Carolina until their mother should be released from captivity from the Creeks.

Mrs. Brown's experiences were full of horror and agony, a prisoner with a knowledge of her three children captives among the savages, not knowing what their fate was to be. She was driven forward on foot many days and nights over these terrible roads and through this wild country, arriving at the town of her captors to find herself their slave doomed to work for a savage mistress, and, to add to her distress, her little son and daughter were taken to different towns and she was left alone. At this time Alexander McGillivray, a half-breed Creek of Scotch descent, was chief of the Muscogee Indians, and assumed the title of commander-in-chief of the upper and lower Creeks and the Seminoles, being also the recognized military leader and civil governor of all the Indians of Florida, Alabama and lower Georgia. He combined the shrewdness of the savage with the learning of the civilized man.

Mrs. Brown fortunately was taken to a town in which lived the sister of McGillivray, who was the wife of a French trader by the name of Durant. She pitied Mrs. Brown, and told her her brother, the chief of the Creeks, did not approve of his people making slaves of white women, and advised Mrs. Brown to go to him. She offered her a horse and saddle, but told her that she must take them herself. Mrs. Brown being ignorant of the country, an aged Indian was chosen to act as her guide. At an appointed hour, Mrs. Brown mounted her friend's horse, and started in pursuit of her Indian guide, whose demeanor was that of entire ignorance of her existence. As Mrs. Durant had told Mrs. Brown, her brother showed the kindest interest in her story and offered her every protection under his roof. In a few days her savage master appeared and demanded her return. Colonel McGillivray informed him she was in his house and he would protect her. He threatened to kill Mrs. Brown, but McGillivray persuaded him that a dead woman could do no work, and finally offered a rifle, powder and lead, some beads and paint for his wife, which overcame his spirit of revenge, and Mrs. Brown became the ransomed captive of McGillivray.

This is a noted instance of the chivalry of the savage chieftain. Here Mrs. Brown taught the Indian women needlework, and they became very fond of her. On a trip to one of the upper Creek towns, McGillivray found Mrs. Brown's daughter, aged eleven years, and purchased her from her master, restoring her to her mother. He also tried to gain possession of her son George, but the Indian who had possession of him had grown very fond of him, and would not surrender him.

In November, 1789, Colonel McGillivray arranged for a peace conference at Rock Landing, Georgia, and took Mrs. Brown and her daughter with him and there delivered her to her son William, who had come hoping to hear news of her. After spending some time in South Carolina, she returned to Guilford, at the end of two years only, she had had all these privations and experiences. In 1788, her benefactor, the Creek chieftain, passed through Guilford and paid her a visit. Her brothers offered to pay him any sum for the ransom of Mrs. Brown and the children, but he refused it, and promised to use every effort to restore her son to her.

In 1792, a formidable body of Indians, Creeks, Seminoles, and Shawnees invaded the Cumberland Valley, attacking Buchanan Station. Joseph went to the assistance of Buchanan, but the Indians had retreated. What was his astonishment on approaching the scene of action to find his Indian brother lying cold in death. Later on Joseph Brown led a successful campaign against the Indians. His knowledge of the country during his captivity, and the fact that this Indian chieftain had been killed previously, made him well fitted for the position of leader. As they had spared his life, so he spared the lives of the Indian prisoners; and soon after this generous act on his part, his brother, young George Brown, was liberated by the Creeks.

In 1812, during the Creek War, a large number of Cherokee Indians offered their services to General Jackson. General Jackson asked Joseph Brown to take command of these Indians, but this he never did. He served as an aid of General Robards in the army, and was a most valuable interpreter and guide. When General Jackson became President, Colonel Brown obtained an allowance from Congress for a part of the property lost by his father in 1788.

Mrs. Brown lived to be ninety years of age, having spent one of the most eventful lives, and exhibited the greatest heroism amidst the trials of the women of even that day. Her son George became a noted citizen of Mississippi, and her captive daughter Jane, the wife of Mr. Collinsworth, became well known in Texas where they resided. No history can do adequate justice to the sufferings and heroism of Mrs. Brown and these early pioneers of the Holston and Cumberland Valleys.

Women of America

Source: The Part Taken by Women in American History, By Mrs. John A. Logan, Published by The Perry-Nalle Publishing Company, Wilmington, Delaware, 1912.


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