Friday, January 20, 2017

Land Records, Tennessee Frontiersmen and Troublesome Wives

By Carol Roberts

Our newly-processed collection of Early Tennessee Land Records [Record Group 50] provides amazing details about Tennessee's people. From these land entries, surveys and transfers, we can gather clues about life during Tennessee's frontier days.

Land records were originally filed by their name and number in tri-folded format.

These records are the original documents that were turned into the land office in each territorial district within the state. They can tell us many interesting tidbits about personal histories, including the ones described below.

Original North Carolina land grants and surveys were folded together with cotton thread linking them usually with a seal.

Colvit, Brocus and Bean Washington County Orders of Transfer

This is a brief transaction that documents the business activities of early settlers and their travels through the South.

This is a typical order of transfer from one land owner, William Colvit, to another, Russell Bean. What's unusual is that it is signed and witnessed in Natchez, Mississippi - not in Tennessee - in March 1798. Three former Washington County residents (or landowners) William Brocus, William Colvit and John Colvit, send similar land transfers by Bean back to Washington County between March 1797 and March 1798.

William Colvit's Transfer for land grant #37 (400 acres) that he received in 1778 and transferred to Russel Bean in March 1798.

We know that Revolutionary Soldiers were paid in land, because land had more value than cash money well into the mid-1800s. The Colvit and Brocus families left valuable land along the Holston River in Washington County when they migrated to Spanish Mississippi Territory. They transferred it to Bean to have it surveyed or sold later. The Colvit and Brocus families became residents of Mississippi as that territory expanded and was transferred from Spain to the United States.

Bean was a well-known character of the Tennessee frontier. He was thought to be the first child born in the Watauga Settlements in 1769. He became a deputy sheriff of Washington County, a soldier in War of 1812 and a blacksmith.

Bean was involved in many pursuits, including travel to Mississippi and New Orleans to transact business. One 1797 trip to Natchez was at request of Col. David Henley of Washington County militia. It involved transporting raw bar iron from the Washington County area ironworks. Bean also decided to transact personal business on the side, transferring land and selling metal parts for guns and knives prepared in his blacksmith’s shop. While in New Orleans, Bean lingered in the city to enjoy cockfighting, horse racing, drinking and gambling.

Based on the dates, these orders of transfer were created during this trip. When he returned to Washington County, Bean submitted request for surveys and the entry taker’s posting of the land description. The following pages are of the entry taker's survey book of Colvit’s land, which became Bean's.

Russell Bean's request for land survey (August 15, 1799) of #37 in the bound volumes of John Carter's East Tennessee Land Office.

Bean completed this 400-acre survey request in August of 1799. This particular survey was approved by John Carter. Some of the other Colvit and Brocus 1797 orders of transfer were more complicated. Some were marked invalid by Carter because portions of the land had already been surveyed and transferred to John Sevier, Jr.

Bean took several years to complete the Washington County transfers. After his first trip to Natchez, he returned home to Jonesborough to discover that his wife Rosamond had given birth to a child. Bean thought the child was too young to be his, given his absence during his travels. So, in a drunken state, Bean cut the child’s ears off “in order to not get it mixed up with his children.” To avoid prosecution for this assault, Bean hurried away to Natchez on business again.

He later returned to Jonesborough to settle some of his land business. When he resisted Andrew Jackson's efforts to bring him to court in 1803 over the incident with the child, Jackson famously responded: “By the Eternal, I’ll bring him in.”

The Colvits were not without controversy in Natchez, either. William Colvit also struggled with his relationship with his wife, Phoebe Crawford Colvit, also from Jonesborough. Between 1796 and 1803, Phoebe Colvit sued William Colvit in the Spanish-style court system of Natchez for divorce and support of her sons. She had more legal rights under Spanish law than she would have had in Tennessee, where land possession was always in the husband’s name. Phoebe Colvit received a Natchez town lot in the settlement as well as other personal property. Colvit family tradition and records seem to confirm that this divorce was the first in Mississippi Territory. 

Did the Colvits have to sell their Tennessee property to live in Mississippi to resolve divorce and other legal entanglements? Did Bean have to divest himself of the Colvit land in Washington County to help pay court fines or support his former wife, Rosamond, and his children? Who knows for sure, but they left clues behind in the land records of Tennessee. To learn more, you may search our finding aid to the collection: Early Tennessee Land Records, 1773-1922.

To read more about Russell Bean see:

  • “Russell Bean, Tennessee’s First Native Son,” By Paul Fink. East Tennessee Historical Society. Publications. Knoxville, Tenn., The Society, 1965. 25 cm. v. 37, p. 31-48. Call Number: F442.1 .E14

  • William Bean, Pioneer of Tennessee, and His Descendants, by Jamie Ault Grady, Knoxville, Tenn: Grady, 1973. Call Number CS71: .B39 1973

To read more about the Colvit family:

  • The Natchez Court Records, 1767-1805 : abstracts of early records, by McBee, May Wilson. Greenwood, Miss. : M. W. McBee, c1953. Call Number: F341 .M28 Copy 1 [Google Books]

  • Joseph Calvitt and His Family in Mississippi. [Available online] See: “William Calvitt and Trouble with Wives Appendix 3.”

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Library and Archives Awards Technology Grants

The Tennessee State Library and Archives recently awarded more than $300,000 in technology grants to 114 public libraries across the state. The grants, which are distributed annually, are funded by Tennessee state government and a federal agency, the Institute of Museum and Library Services. In order to qualify, recipients must have dollar-for-dollar matching funds from their local governments.

The grants are used for the purchase of desktop and laptop computers, as well as other electronic equipment that library users and staff members may need.

The Library and Archives awarded $305,500 this year, with individual grants ranging from $350 to $15,000.

"In the age in which we live, libraries have become much more than places where people can check out books," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. "Libraries are often an essential stop for people who don't have access to computers at home or at work. Libraries are often where people go to search for jobs, apply for unemployment benefits or get online training that helps them enhance their professional skills. I am proud that the Library and Archives has a role in providing funding that helps people get computer access."

Click HERE to read a complete list of all the grant recipients.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Former National Football League star Kevin Dyson supports funding for new Library & Archives building

During his career with the Tennessee Titans, Kevin Dyson was part of one of the biggest plays in the football team's history. His game-winning touchdown against the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs on Jan. 8, 2000 propelled the Titans to the team's first Super Bowl appearance.

More recently, he generously appeared in a public service announcement supporting our efforts to get new Library & Archives building. You can see the social media version of that public service announcement here:

Please join us in endorsing plans for the new building! With your help, we can get this project across the goal line!

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Friday, January 13, 2017

Secretary of State's Offices to Close for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

The Tennessee Secretary of State's office and all of its divisions will be closed Monday, Jan. 16, in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking at Fisk University, April 20, 1960.
Courtesy: Harold Lowe Jr./The Tennessean

This includes the Division of Business Services, Division of Elections, Division of Charitable Solicitations, Fantasy Sports and Gaming, Division of Administrative Procedures and the Division of Publications. The Tennessee State Library and Archives is always closed on Mondays.

All divisions will reopen at 8 a.m. CST Tuesday, Jan. 17.

If you have business with any of the divisions, please plan accordingly.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Library and Archives Provides Copies of Vital Records to Gatlinburg Wildfire Victims

When Sarah Jo Myrick and her husband Robert evacuated their Gatlinburg home ahead of the fast-approaching wildfire in late November, they were rightly more concerned about their safety than their possessions.

"We didn't take anything with us," Sarah Jo Myrick said. "We just got out of the house."

When they returned to their home of almost 47 years, almost nothing was salvageable.

The couple had kept their important documents stored in a fireproof cabinet, but the cabinet was broken when it fell from an upper floor to a lower one as fire spread through the house. The Myricks are in the process of rebuilding and replacing what they lost in the fire, with some assistance from the Tennessee State Library and Archives and other agencies that keep copies of records.

The Myricks were one of several families victimized by the Gatlinburg fire who asked the Library and Archives to help them find copies of their marriage certificates.

"We're very thankful to the Library and Archives for providing copies of those records for us," Sarah Jo Myrick said.

While the Gatlinburg fire was an unusual and tragic situation, the Library and Archives provides replacements for vital records to citizens on an almost daily basis.

Researchers look at vital records in the Library and Archives Microfilm Reading Room.

"Most Tennesseans don't realize that the Library and Archives can provide them with copies of older birth certificates, marriage certificates and, in the case of deceased loved ones, death certificates," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. "These records are kept by other agencies until they are at least 50 years old, then the records are transferred to us. When fire or other tragedies strike, people often need copies of those types of records in order to get on with their lives. Providing those records is a service we offer that people don't know they need until they really need it."

The Library and Archives stores preservation copies of records for the local courthouses in Tennessee's 95 counties. If records in the county archives are damaged or destroyed, they can be replaced with those copies. The Library and Archives was able to provide invaluable help, for example, after the Van Buren County Archives burned two years ago this month, destroying the property deed records for the entire county.

"Sometimes people think of the Library and Archives primarily as a place to go if you're conducting historical research of some sort," State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill said. "And that is certainly an important role that the Library and Archives plays. However, we also provide these vital records that people need in their everyday lives. That's what we really want people to understand - that we're here to serve all Tennesseans, not just those with specialized interests."

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tennessee Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped Features Books By and About People We Lost in 2016

January is traditionally a time of forming resolutions to improve life in the coming year and a time of reflection on events of the last year. In 2016, we lost many celebrities in the world of sports, politics, Hollywood, music, law, and literature. Here are a few of the celebrities we lost: Nancy Reagan, Patty Duke, Morley Safer, Muhammad Ali, John Glenn, Arnold Palmer, David Bowie, Antonin Scalia, Harper Lee, Pat Summitt, Leonard Cohen and Fidel Castro.

The Tennessee Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped (TLBPH) has audio books related to many of these figures:

  • My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan by Nancy Reagan with William Novak.

  • Call Me Anna: The Autobiography of Patty Duke by Patty Duke with Kenneth Turan.

  • TLBPH doesn’t have a biography of Morley Safer, but we do have Flashback: On Returning to Vietnam, by Safer which recalls his time in the war-torn country in the 1960s and a one-week visit he made to the renewed country in 1989.

  • The Greatest: My Own Story, by Muhammad Ali with Richard Durham is also available in braille. The audio format is also available in Spanish.

  • John Glenn: A Memoir, by John Glenn with Nick Taylor.

  • TLBPH has several memoirs/autobiographies by Arnold Palmer available, including: Go For Broke: My Philosophy of Winning Golf with William Barry Furlong, which is also available in braille; A Golfer’s Life with James Dodson; and A Life Well Played: My Stories. The last title is a commercial recording narrated by Rich Lerner, but the introduction is narrated by Palmer himself.

  • David Bowie: Out of the Cool and The Man Who Sold the World, were both written by Peter Goddard.

  • Scalia: A Court of One, by Bruce Allen Murphy.

  • Mockingbird: A Portrait of Life with Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields.

  • Sum It Up: 1,098 Victories, a Couple of Irrelevant Losses, and a Life in Perspective, by Pat Summitt with Sally Jenkins.

  • A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption and the Life of Leonard Cohen by Liel Leibovitz.

  • Fidel Castro: My Life, A Spoken Autobiography by Fidel Castro with Ignacio Ramonet.

TLBPH is a division of the Tennessee State Library & Archives and the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett. For more information on eligibility to borrow books from TLBPH, and what is available, see:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Monday, January 9, 2017

Author to Discuss "Murder and Mayhem in Nashville" During Free Lecture

People don't usually associate libraries with murder and mayhem. However, when Brian Allison was researching his book, Murder and Mayhem in Nashville, he frequently relied on material from the Tennessee State Library and Archives to help him flesh out the sometimes gory details about the city's history.

Allison plans to share some of the stories from his book, including his research process, during a lecture this month at the Library and Archives. Allison's book documents some well-known historical events, such as Andrew Jackson's bar fight with Senator Thomas Hart Benton, as well as some that are not as well-known, like the 1938 Marrowbone Creek cabin murders.

"We are pleased Mr. Allison was able to find some of the materials needed for his research at the Library and Archives," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. "The Library and Archives is a great resource for people working on many types of book projects along with historical and legal research."

The lecture will be in the Library and Archives auditorium from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. Jan. 28. While the lecture is free and open to the public, reservations are required due to seating limitations in the auditorium. To sign up for the lecture, please visit:

In some cases, Allison had to use creative research skills at the Library & Archives to turn one- or two-sentence police blotter items from old newspapers into detailed stories for the book.

Brian Allison has worked in the public history/museum field for around 20 years. His past experience includes curating, public speaking and creating documentaries. Brian holds a degree from Austin Peay State University in American history. He has also worked as a staff historian for several local museums and served as curator for Travellers Rest Plantation. Brian is also co-author of Tennessee State Penitentiary.

The Library and Archives building is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, directly west of the Tennessee State Capitol in downtown Nashville. Free parking is available around the building.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Latest issue of "Treasures from the Vault, the Library and Archives newsletter, is now available online

Happy New Year! The latest issue of "Treasures from the Vault," the Library and Archives newsletter, is available online.

Articles featured in the Winter 2016 edition include:

  • The Library & Archives’ education outreach program helps the state’s teachers and students effectively use historical records in the classroom.

  • Our staff will be creating a digital record of World War I documents, maps and artifacts as part of the “Over Here, Over There” program.

  • Staff archivist Lori Lockhart incorporates her knowledge of quilting into the work she does for Library & Archives patrons.

  • Finding a photo of a baby-faced legislator who changed American history wasn’t easy – until our staff started sleuthing.

You can read this latest edition and back issues, as well as subscribe to the newsletter for future updates at:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State