Thursday, 13 January 2011

Mary McConnell White and the historic Travellers Rest

Travellers Rest, Nashville
Mary McConnell White (1782-1862) was the daughter of General James White (1747-1821), the founder of Knoxville, and he was the grandson of Moses White, who moved from Scotland to county Londonderry with his wife Mary Campbell in the latter part of the 17th century.

Moses and Mary White had seven children and one of them, Moses White II, left Ulster for America in 1741.  He settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and married Mary McConnell.  They moved from there to Iredell (Rowan) County in North Carolina and James White was the fourth of their six children.

James White married Mary Lawson (1742-1819) from North Carolina and they had threee sons and four daughters.  Mary McConnell White was one of those daughters and she was born on 11 November 1782.

James White's fort in Knoxville
James White was a captain in the North Carolina militia in the Revolutionary War and afterwards received a grant of land on the banks of the Holston River, now the Tennessee River, which flows through Knoxville.  The family moved to the Holston River basin in 1785 and White laid out the settlement known as Knoxville in October 1791.  This was named in honour of General Henry Knox, the American Secretary of War, whose family were from Ulster.

Mary McConnell White married Dr Francis May and they had five children but Dr May died and on 28 July 1820 she married Judge John Overton (1766-1833).  Overton had moved to Nashville in 1789 and during his first year lodged with another young lawyer, Andrew Jackson.  They remained close friends and Overton was Andrew Jackson's 'campaign manager'.  Historians largely attribute Jackson's rise to the presidency to Judge Overton.

In 1796 Overton purchase an estate of 320 acres from the heirs of David Maxwell.  The estate was six miles south of Nashville and work on a house started in 1799, just three years fater Tennessee had become a state.  Overton gave his home the biblical name Golgotha, 'the place of the skull', because of the large number of Native American skulls that were unearthed when the cellar was dug but by 1804 the name was changed to Travellers Rest.

Travellers Rest in Nashville
Three of the children from her first marriage came with Mary to her new home and she had three more children between 1821 and 1826.  Judge Overton died on 12 April 1833 but Mary survived him by almost thirty years.

At the start of the Civil War the house was occupied by Mary, her son John and his wife Harriet and their children.  At that time the farm covered 1,050 acres and was worked by eighty slaves.  When Union soldiers occupied Nashville in February 1862, John Overton fled his home to avoid arrest and imprisonment and went south, where he financed a Confederate regiment and became a militia officer.  Mary was then 80 years of age and she died on 12 December 1862.

General John Bell Hood of the Confederate States Army arrived from Franklin on 2 December 1864 and made Travellers Rest his headquarters.  From there he directed the building of a five-mile defensive wall south of Nashville and in the house he met with other prominent Confederate soldiers.

During the Battle of Nashville the women and children hid in the cellar awaiting the outcome and on 16 December 1864 Union General W L Elliott slept in the same bedroom previously occupied by General Hood.

The family retained ownership of the house until 1946.  It was acquired in 1954 by the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Tennessee and became the house museum of the state society.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and every year, in early September, the Civil War Encampment at Travellers Rest re-enacts the Confederate occupation preceding the 1864 Battle of Nashville.

Mary's brother Hugh Lawson White (1773-1840) was a United States senator, soldier, lawyer and judge, as well as a nominee for the American presidency in 1836.

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