Time and theater have a way of shrouding people important to the history of a place (whether it be George Washington, or in the case of the history of the Washington District, John Carter). This month’s muster will be at the Carter Mansion, a grand place, full of significance for this part of the state. This is the month, as well, where the Washington County Militia honors the life and achievement of John and his son, Landon Carter. I thought it would be appropriate to trace the life and legacy of John Carter. He was certainly no bumbler and was by the standards of the time, a cosmopolitan and erudite man. Much of the information comes from Mildred Kozsuch’s book, Historical Reminiscences of Carter Co. Tennessee.
John Carter, early Tennessee settler and Revolutionary War officer, was born in Virginia in 1737. As an adult John lived in Amherst, Virginia, where he was a merchant. He married Elizabeth Taylor about 1758, and the couple had three sons, Landon, John Jr., and Emmanuel.
In 1770, Carter moved to Tennessee and established a trading post with William Parker on the west side of the Holston River in an area that later became Hawkins County. In 1772, after a robbery by Indians where his trading post (about a mile from Volunteer HS on 11 W ) was pillaged and burned to the ground by the Shawnee , Carter moved his family to Watauga Old Fields (Elizabethton). HOWEVER at the treaty of Sycamore Shoals in1775 he acquired title to a section (640 acres) of land in Elizabethton and ALL of what is now Carter’s Valley in Hawkins County in reparation for the raid. In the 1780s, perhaps John Carter, but more likely his son Landon, built the Carter Mansion. The John and Landon Carter Mansion on the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals, Elizabethton, is one of the oldest and most architecturally significant houses in Tennessee. Documentary evidence does not refer to such a large house until the 1790s, indicating that his son, Landon Carter, may be responsible for building the house prior to his death in 1800. Based on its architectural styling, typical of the 1780s, either Carter could have been responsible for the house’s construction.
John Carter’s most famous son, Landon, may have resided with his parents, since he did not marry until 1784. Serving as administrator of his father’s estate, Landon inherited the 640-acre home place in 1781. References to such a grand house do not appear until 1796 and 1800, when French botanist Andre Michaux and Governor John Sevier visited the Carters.
The imposing two-story frame house combines a common Pennsylvania interior floor plan with interior details typical of more academic design. It is composed of six rooms, three on each floor, plus a cellar and garret. Its first floor follows the Penn plan with a large hall on the right and two smaller rooms with corner fireplaces on the left. The builder embellished this plan by raising the first-floor ceiling to nine feet and employing carpenters and painters to create an elegant interior.
Typical of fine homes of the eighteenth century is the floor-to-ceiling paneling throughout the first floor and its distinctive chimney pieces. The great hall features a fireplace adorned with a curvilinear pediment resting on fluted pilasters. At the rear of the great hall is a small cabinet stair with square, fluted newels and turned balusters. Of the two smaller rooms, the south parlor is the most completely academic room with a quartered and reversed circle design above the mantel and a hanging wall cabinet. These elements and the doorways of this room are embellished with finely carved keystones.
The second floor’s fine styling is evident in its wainscoting and painted details. The smooth, flat, pine surfaces were painted to simulate marble, wood veneer, and wood paneling. The large second-floor bedroom contains an overmantel painting featuring a hunt scene, with hounds chasing a stag. The unknown artist created a similar country scene for the fireplace of the north parlor on the first floor.
The unadorned stone cellar with its dirt floor and large fireplace was most likely used for storage since it lacks access to the first floor. The large garret finished with wide boards may have been used as sleeping quarters for children although there is no evidence of partitioning; nor did it have a fireplace .
The house remained in the Carter family until 1882. In 1973 the State of Tennessee bought the house and several acres. After restoring the mansion to its original appearance, the state opened it to the public as part of the Sycamore Shoals State Historical Area (Owens, TNEncyclopedia/Carter Mansion, 1998).
While he was alive, John Carter also extended his property by several thousand acres (all of the land in what is known now as the East Side Community was Carter’s). By the time of his death, he had added more than two thousand acres to the original holding, making him one of the largest landholders west of the mountains at that time and one of the wealthiest men in North Carolina with an estimated wealth on his death of $1.5 million in today’s currency.
In terms of his accomplishments, in 1772 Carter headed the government established by the Watauga Compact. In 1776 he commanded the fort that defended settlers against Indian attacks associated with the Revolutionary War. By virtue of his position as chairman, he was also chief justice of the court,president of the legislative body and Chairman of the executive board. Carter served as chief justice of the first court held south of the Ohio and west of the Alleghenies. It was said that he was patriotic and intelligent and his administration was known to be wise and popular. When the Watauga Settlement became Washington District in the North Carolina Assembly at Halifax, Carter was appointed colonel by the North Carolina governor in 1777, sat as a delegate to the Continental Congress for N.C. ,helped frame the first free constitution of the state of North Carolina, was entry taker by the court of the Washington District and chairman of the Committee of Safety in the Revolution. He continued his defensive activities against Indian attacks throughout the Revolutionary period and was the commander of Fort Watauga during the Revolution years. In 1778 and 1781 Carter served as senator to the North Carolina General Assembly from Washington District. He died of smallpox in 1781. How does anyone pack in this much in one lifetime??? In talking about John Carter at one time or another, I heard someone say (Chad,I think) that before he died, Carter was on his way to Charleston with a box full of deeds. It was well known that Carter tried to evict the Tories in the area which didn’t make them too happy ;O) . En route, he is supposed to have done something with that box and then died before he told anyone where it was. Can you imagine what would happen if this box of deeds reemerged and how property lines would have to be redrawn in this area? I tried in vain to find a source for this information but was unable to so if any of you out there can provide me with one, I’d love it.
Read some of John Carter’s letters to the governor of North Carolina. It’s pretty neat- he tells the governor in one letter basically to take the job (colonelcy) and shove it if he is being trifled with. http://docsouth.unc.edu/csr/index.html/document/csr11-0517
Carter Geneology: http://joepayne.org/carter.htm
Timeline of the area: http://discoverkingsport.com/h-easttn-timeline.shtml
Chronology of the Frontier (wonderful resource for F and I era ) : http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://lucahistory.org/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/LandonCarter17101778.jpg&imgrefurl=http://lucahistory.org/id6.html&usg=__AUcOK71m5_1_s93UtIrVYGTI0Ss=&h=237&w=199&sz=9&hl=en&start=3&sig2=HtH-jvCDDqNANnSg5AdxmA&um=1&itbs=1&tbnid=jOTPzC2O-MSXYM:&tbnh=109&tbnw=92&prev=/images%3Fq%3Djohn%2Bcarter%2BLandon%2BCarter%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG%26rlz%3D1T4DMUS_enUS286US286%26tbs%3Disch:1&ei=xOBSTJ3LLMK78gb66NWAAQ