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Sevier County
Genealogy and History

Local History

History of Sevierville
From the J. A. Sharp Collection
Contributed by Sam Maner

By J.A. Sharp

In 1901 Sevierville was incorporated by an act of the Tennessee legislature and Sevierville's present City Fathers should be commended for making preparations for an observance of the 50th anniversary of the town's incorporation. Much of our nation's history may be revealed by a study of local history.
Sevierville is one of the oldest towns in the state, having been established as the seat of government for Sevier County in 1795, one year before the admission of Tennessee to the Union and while George Washington was still president of the United States. The only other older towns in Tennessee are Jonesboro, Rogersville, Greenville, Dandridge, Blountville Knoxville and Nashville. Sevierville, therefore is one hundred forty-five years old.
On July 10, 1795, the legislature of the "Territory South of the River Ohio," meeting in Knoxville, passed an act establishing a town "by the name of Sevierville. The same act named the following town commissioners: Peter Bryant, Joshua Gist, Mordecai Lewis and John Clack. These were to serve as additional commissioners with Joseph Wilson, Robert Polk (Pollock). Samuel McGaughey, Samuel Newell and Thomas Buckingham who were named, September 27P 1794, in the act which established the county of Sevier. The commissioners were authorized to "contract for twenty-five acres of land in the County of Sevier, as near the centre thereof, as may be convenient," and to "contract with workmen for the building and erection thereon of a court house, prison and stocks."
The present site for the infant Sevierville, in the forks of the Little Pigeon, was chosen, and the twenty-five acres was obtained by the commissioners from James McMahan, Sevier County's second register of deeds. For many years there was a tradition in the McMahan family to this effect, and recently the truth of the tradition was confirmed by the discovery of a contemporary Knoxville newspaper account of Sevierville's birth. This glad event justifies the quotation of the following notice which appeared in the Knoxville Gazette., October 23, 1795:
"Sevier County, October 6. 1795. The commissioners, appointed for locating the place for the court house in said County, met at the house of Isaac Thomas, agreeable to appointment and have by a majority of the same affixed upon, the place at the forks of Little Pigeon River, on the land of James McMahan, by his consent, and also have appointed the second Friday in November next for the purpose of purchasing and laying off the said land into a town, by the name of Sevierville according to law. Mordecai Lewis.C.C."

The twenty-five acre tract was divided into half-acre lots, which were sold to the highest bidders. Unfortunately, the surveyor's plat of the town was lost in the courthouse fire of 1856. Buyers of the lots were given two years to "erect, build and finish on each lot 0 one well framed, square logged, brick or stone house, sixteen feet square at least, and eight feet pitch in the clear at least." Titles to the lots, whose owners failed to complete such imposing structures, reverted to the town's commissioners. All money from the sale of lots was spent on the courthouse, jail and stocks.

The system of government, thus instituted for early Sevierville, continued in operation operation for many years. In 1799 the General Assembly of Tennessee appointed the following commissioners: Josiah Rogers, William Henderson, Samuel Blair and Isaac Thomas, and in 1805 another legislative act named William Porter., Isaac Love, John Brabson, Flayl Nichols, Robert Wear, Benjamin Ammonett and William Mitchell as town commissioners.

The act of 1805 also empowered Sevierville's first City Fathers with authority to select a chairman, a clerk and a treasurer, and provided that three commissioners would form a quorum. In addition the commissioners were given authority to levy taxes on lot owners and town residents: fifty cents on each lot, fifty cents on each white poll, one dollar on each black poll and one dollar on each stud horse.

A courthouse and jail of logo were duly erected, and nearby stood the crude stocks for the public punishment of minor culprits of the law. The first court after the formation of the County in 1794 was held at the house of Isaac Thomas, and then, according to tradition courts were held in an old stable, which was so infested with fleas that the local lawyers gave an Irishman a bottle whiskey to burn it. The truth of this has not been verified. However, a legislative act of 1801 does prove that the first jail was burned soon after its erection, and the County Court was authorized to levy an additional tax to rebuild it.

The first organized religious institution in Sevierville or Sevier County was the Sevierville Baptist Church; organized September 29, 1789 the year Washington was inaugurated president under the new Constitution. This was six years before the establishment of Sevierville. For many years the Church and the town were known an the "Forks of the Pigeon." Perhaps the main founder of the church was Spencer Clack, Revolutionary veteran, who settled here soon after the Revolution. His estate was located on the East Fork of Little Pigeon near the town, where he lived and operated a mill. It is said that he gave the site for the Baptist Church. He served an its Clerk from its organization until 1824. Richard Wood was the first pastor, and served until his
death in 1831. Then, Elijah Rogers, Spencer Clack's son-in-law, be­ came pastor and continued as such until his death in 1841. Prominent earl members of the "Forks of Pigeon" Baptist Church were the following: James P.H. Porters Alexander Preston, Isaac Love, William Mitchell, William Henderson, Peter Andes Robert Lawson, Rawleigh Clack, Spencer Clack, Jr., John Ballard, Jesse Shields, William Shields, Richard Shields, Martin Y. Atchley, Samuel Stockton, William Spencer, Levy Spencer, William Varnell, Richard Varnell, Jacob Layman, Isaac Veach, Jonas Moon, Moses Oldham, Stephen Oldman, James Oldham, George Oldham., George Long and James Sewell.
(Note. The writer in indebted to Miss Pollyanna Creekmore one of the custodians of the Tennessee Historical Collection in the McClung Room of the Lawson McGhee Library, Knoxville, for help in the preparation of this article. Miss Creekmore has spent years collecting material on the early history and people of Sevier County. Her assistance has been invaluable.)