|Note: This article first appeared in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Volume XXX, Number 2, Summer 1971. The article appears on this website through the generous permission of the Tennessee Historical Society. It may be downloaded and printed out for your personal use only; any other reproduction or distribution without the written permission of the Society is prohibited.
Keep in mind when you are reading it that the article originally appeared in print in 1971, based on research that had been done in the sixties. Many new facts have come to light in the intervening years, such as the identity of Kasper’s parents, that were unknown or shrouded in mystery when the original research was done. Nevertheless, it is an excellent historical study of Kasper Mansker and his contributions to the history of Tennessee.
About the year 1750 a male child was born to a young German couple while they were crossing the Atlantic Ocean on an immigrant ship bound for America. The infant was named Kasper Mansker. The perilous conditions attending his birth set a life style of danger and adventure that surrounded Kasper Mansker until his death from natural causes in 1820 at his home in Sumner County, Tennessee. Few of his contemporaries would lead a life more fraught with adventure and danger than he. And few of those who came to the Cumberland frontier in 1779 survived the hardships to see, as he did, the wilderness conquered and new routes opened westward into the rich lands of the Louisiana Purchase.
Little is known about Mansker's early years. General William Hall, 1 John Carr2, Major Thomas Hickman3, and others have written in general terms of Mansker's German parentage and his birth on board a vessel bound for this country from Europe. A. W. Putnam repeats the German ancestry report and emphasizes it by attempting to quote Mansker speaking English with a heavy German accent4. But in spite of all the published and manuscript recollections of Mansker, we are as yet unable to identify his parents or to locate their residence in this country with any certainty. General Hall wrote that Mansker lived with his parents "in Pennsylvania on the South Branch of the Potomac...until he was grown, and then...came out to West Virginia on the New River and joined the long hunters..."5 But General Hall was obviously confused. The South Branch of the Potomac River is located in the state of West Virginia in the counties of Hardy and Hampshire and while New River flows through the state of West Virginia, the New River base for the long hunters was upstream in southwest Virginia. Perhaps he should have located the Mansker family in West Virginia instead of Pennsylvania and would have been more plausible. At this period it is certain that many German immigrants entered this country through the port of Philadelphia. It is also certain that there were at this time significant numbers of German immigrants locating in the long valley of the South Branch of the Potomac. But regardless of the Mansker family's uncertain location on the South Branch of the Potomac, it was not long before young Kasper was attracted to the unexplored western wilderness, probably by way of New River, Virginia. At about the same time, Kasper also became attracted to Miss Elizabeth White of Berkeley County, [now] West Virginia, and they were married, the date and place unknown.
According to information given twenty years after Mansker's death by Jenny, a mulatto woman who had formerly been a slave property of the Manskers, Elizabeth White's parents so opposed her proposed marriage that she and Kasper eloped and settled at the head of the Holston River. Jenny said that it was from this place that Mansker began his long hunts into the western country. 6
Kasper Mansker had at least one brother, George, who joined him in the Cumberland settlements sometime prior to 1783. George received a grant of 640 acres from North Carolina dated April 17, 1786, and located it on Station Camp7 We do not know whether George was older or younger than Kasper but from a reading of Kasper's will, it appears that George died first. Kasper Mansker's will provided for his wife, Elizabeth, and, in addition, provided specifically for grants to his nephews, William and George, and for his nephew George's children, Mary Miller, Lewis Mansker, and John Mansker. The nephews were identified in the will as "sons of brother George."8
The first account of Mansker's participation in a long hunt is reported by Judge Haywood. In June, 1769, Kasper Mansker was one of "a company of twenty men or more" who assembled with their pack horses on Reedy Creek to cross over into what is now Middle Tennessee on an extensive hunting trip. Among Mansker's fellow hunters were Abraham Bledsoe, John Rains, John Baker, Joseph Drake, Uriah Stone, Obediah Terril, Ned Cowen, and Henry Smith. During the second week in June, the hunters set off for the head of the Holston River which they then followed down to what is now Abingdon, Virginia. From Abingdon they went to the north fork of the Holston and from there crossed to Moccasin Gap on the Clinch River. They then came to Powell's Valley and Cumberland Gap, through which they passed and soon reached the Cumberland River. Before attempting to cross the river they traveled some six miles or so to Flat Lick from which point they followed tributary streams back to the river and crossed in what now the state of Kentucky at "a remarkable fish dam, which had been made in very ancient times." Near the fish dam they passed the place known as the Brush, its name derived from the intense undergrowth of briers and vines that laced trees and tree limbs together in an almost impenetrable wall of living plants.9
From the Brush, the hunters went in a southerly direction and soon reached the south fork of the Cumberland River which they followed down into the barrens of Kentucky to a place called Price's Meadow. Here their first base camp was made and they hunted and explored the surrounding country for the next eight or nine months. Some of the hunters returned to he settlements in 1770 but Mansker, along with Stone, Baker, Humphrey Hogan, Cash Brooks, Thomas Gordon, and four others unnamed, built two trapping canoes and two boats and loaded the makeshift craft and a third boat, that had been left by others, with furs and bear meat and pushed off down the Cumberland headed for Natchez where they planned to sell their cargo.10
When the fur-laden craft reached the present site of Nashville, the hunters saw at the French Lick the largest number of buffalo and wild game that they had ever seen at any one place. They stopped and killed a few of the animals from which they obtained hides to cover their open boats. Then they resumed their downstream journey and presently reached the mouth of the Cumberland River. With their meat beginning to spoil, it was decided to convert it into oil for the market. While they were thus engaged, an Indian chief called John Brown and twenty-five braves robbed them of two guns, some ammunition, salt, and tobacco. Passing French traders however, were more friendly, trading in exchange for fresh meat, salt, flour, tobacco, and some liquor, the first spirits they had tasted for several months.11
Mansker and his associates continued their travels by entering the Ohio River, following it to the Mississippi, and floating down the great river to Fort Natchez. Finding no sale for their cargo at the fort, the tiny flotilla proceeded farther downstream to Spanish Natchez. Here they sold the furs and oil that they brought from the middle Cumberland. Before they had disposed of all the goods, one of the boats broke loose from its moorings and floated down the Mississippi. Mansker and Baker pursued it and finally overtook it at Fort Kaspel, from which place they were able to return it to Natchez and sell its cargo.12
After completing their business at Natchez, Mansker's party split up. Some returned homeward while others seem to have remained. Mansker was one of those who chose to stay behind, his decision apparently dictated by an illness which was upon him from May until November. After recovering his strength, Kasper and John Baker set out by boat upriver. At Ozinck, Mansker and Baker joined a party bound overland to Georgia with a herd of horses. From the north Georgia the long hunters turned northward and followed through the valleys of East Tennessee to New River, from whence they had departed a year and half earlier.13
In the fall of 1771, less than a year after his return from Natchez, Mansker set out again for the western wilderness, this time in company with Isaac Bledsoe, Joseph Drake, John Montgomery, Henry Suggs, James Knox and others. The group encamped on Russell's Creek in what is now Kentucky, built a house there in which to store the furs and pelts they took, and hunted in the surrounding country until February 1772. Discovering their supply of ammunition running low, Mansker and all of the party, except Isaac Bledsoe and four others who were left to protect the camp, returned to the settlements to replenish their supplies. While awaiting an improvement in the severe late winter weather to permit their return to camp, the long hunters found Isaac Bledsoe coming in to the settlements to bring David Linch, who had been stricken ill at camp. Bledsoe was then weather-bound with the others and two months passed before they plunged westward to their camp on Russell's Creek. Before reaching their destination, the hunters met one of the three men who had been left behind at the camp when Bledsoe and Linch came back to the settlements. He had escaped an Indian attack on the camp but reported that his two fellows had been captured by the Indians and taken away. On reaching Russell's Creek the long hunters found no trace of the two missing men. The camp had not been disturbed by the Indians and the stored "skins" were all intact.14
Mansker and the hunters did not resume camp here but pushed farther west, arriving finally in the middle Cumberland country, probably in late May, 1772. A station camp was established on a northern tributary of the Cumberland River at a point near Pilot Knob hill in Sumner County. The tributary stream has since been known as Station Camp Creek and along its fertile valleys ten years later were located some of the earliest North Carolina preemption land grants.15
The long hunters found an abundant supply of game within a convenient radius of their station camp. They had been in camp but a short time when Indians plundered it and destroyed, among other things, over 500 deerskins. But game was so plentiful that the hunters resumed camp and quickly restored most of their losses, breaking up only when their supply of ammunition was exhausted.16
The most important events of this hunting expedition, conducted in 1772, were the separate discoveries of three important salt licks. Approximately six miles northwest of the station camp, Kasper Mansker discovered two salt licks a short distance apart lying adjacent to a creek which, two miles to the south, emptied into the Cumberland River. The lick area and the creek were given Mansker's name and a spring on the west bank of the creek became the site of Mansker's fort, erected in 1780. John Carr recalled that Mansker said that "When he discovered the two licks which were only a few hundred yards apart, in passing from one to the other, he killed nineteen deer."17 The sites of the two salt licks are within the present boundaries of the city of Goodlettsville in Davidson County.
Nearer the camp, Joseph Drake discovered Drake's Lick and nearby, Drake's Pond, a favorite watering place for deer. Sixteen miles east of the camp, Isaac Bledsoe, following the buffalo trail, came upon the sulphur springs and creek that were given the name Bledsoe's Lick and Bledsoe's Creek.18
Mansker and his company began the long journey home in August but, meeting another company of hunters in Kentucky, Mansker and four or five others joined the fresh party and returned to middle Cumberland where they hunted until the end of the season. Mansker then returned to New River.19
While in Kentucky, Mansker had a chance meeting with Daniel Boone, whom he had first met on the southwest Virginia border a few years earlier. The encounter came near the Big Barren River where Mansker thought he was hunting alone when he heard a strange sound ahead. Advancing cautiously, he found "a man bare-headed, stretched flat upon his back on a deerskin, singing at the top of his voice." The relaxed singer was Daniel Boone.20
Soon after Mansker returned from the hunts on Station Camp Creek, Colonel Arthur Campbell, a prominent border military leader and land speculator in Virginia, visited the Cumberland country. While no details of Campbell's visit have been discovered, he seems to have been in the Mansker's Lick area because upon his return to Fincastle County, Virginia, he registered with Colonel William Preston, the surveyor of that county, his claim to "1,000 acres at a place called Gaspar's Lick, being on a creek that empties into Cumberland below the barrens..."21 Campbell's claim was invalid for a number of reasons and decade later Mansker entered a presumption claim to 640 acres that lay on both sides of Mansker's Creek upstream from the sulphur springs and was granted title by the state of North Carolina. The grant was dated April 17, 1786.22
According to North Carolina laws dealing with salt licks, the Mansker's Lick site of 640 acres was held for public use. When Davidson County became part of the Territory South of River Ohio, the tract on which the sulphur springs were located was given to the trustees of Davidson Academy. Some years later the tract and springs were sold to raise funds for the school.
About the time that Campbell was seeking to perfect his claim to one thousand acres at Mansker's Lick, Kasper Mansker removed from New River in Washington County, Virginia.23 This time Mansker's move was only modestly westward. The big move to the Cumberland country was still seven years away.
A year later, in July, 1773, Mansker was at home in Virginia. The records of Fincastle County, newly created from a portion of Washington County, show that he served on a court jury in a civil case there and that in another case, this one styled Baker vs. Hogan, he appeared as a witness. On May 3, 1774, Mansker was the defendant in a civil action brought by Josiah Baker. On February 7, a suit was brought in court in Fincastle County by Mansker against Uriah Stone and Jacob Harmon, defendants, on a replevin bond. The defendants failed to appear and the court ruled in the plaintiff's favor, awarding Mansker the sum of eleven pounds, seventeen shillings, and four pence and assessing court costs to the defendants.24
Unable any longer to resist the call of the wilderness, Mansker in November, 1775, came again to Middle Tennessee, this time in company with Tom and Sam Bryan and others whose names are not recorded.25 The party made their base camp at Mansker's Lick.26 Most of the hunters soon became dissatisfied and returned to the settlements, but Mansker and three companions remained to hunt and explore for some time. It was not long before the four hunters were hunting and trapping in the Red River country, a few miles northwest of Mansker's Lick, where they discovered evidence of the presence of Indian hunters in the area. Mansker was selected by his companions to seek out the Indians' camp and to determine their number. He soon found an Indian encampment among a stand of sycamore trees on the banks of Red River. In fact, he was within seventy or eighty yards of the camp when it first came into view. Haywood takes up the account:
He instantly place himself behind a tree, with design, if possible, to ascertain the number of Indians who were at it. He could see only two of them; the rest he supposed to be hunting at a distance. At the moment when he was about to retire, one of the two took up a tomahawk, crossed the river, and went upon the other side; the other picked up his gun, put in on his shoulder, and came directly toward the place where Mansker stood. Mansker lay close, hoping the advancing Indian would pass some other way; but he continued to advance in a straight line toward the spot where Mansker was, and at length came to within fifteen steps of him. Then being no alternative but to shoot him, Mansker cocked and presented his gun. Aiming at the most vital part of the body, he pulled the trigger, and the gun fired. The Indian screamed, threw down his gun and made for the camp, but he passed it, and pitched headlong down the bluff, dead, into the river. The other ran to the camp, but Mansker outran him, and getting there first, picked up an old gun, but could not fire it, and the Indian escaped.27
The following day, Mansker and his party visited the site of the Indian camp where they found nearby the body of the slain Indian. The second Indian, who escaped Mansker, had apparently returned and removed all the camp supplies and equipment, including the Indians' horses and their collection of furs. It is said that Mansker and his associates pursued the escaped Indian all that day and all night, using in the darkness torches of dry cane to light their way. They were unsuccessful in their pursuit.28
A short while later, Mansker and company set out for the settlements but were detained enroute four weeks due to an unusually heavy snowfall, reported to have been "waist deep." After a thaw, the snow melted and the long hunters returned home without further incident.29
Both history and tradition are silent about Kasper Mansker in the years 1776, 1777 and 1778. There are no indications that he fought in the American Revolution. One is compelled to speculate that the relentless hunter spent at least some time during these years on long hunts in the Cumberland country that held such a fascination for him.
Mansker's elusive tracks are picked up again in the spring of 1779 when he, with others whom we do not know, came to Cumberland at French Lick, where Nashville now stands, and found Captain James Robertson's company making preparations to establish a settlement the following autumn. It is likely that Mansker knew of Robertson's plans for settling in middle Tennessee before he arrived at French Lick in 1779. It is not unlikely that the coincidental arrival of both parties was planned well in advance and that it was their purpose to make preliminary arrangements for their later return with settlers for the middle Cumberland.30
In the fall of 1779, Mansker in company with Amos Eaton, Daniel Frazier, and "a number of other immigrants" followed the Kentucky trail and arrived on the frozen middle Cumberland close on the heels of the party guided by Captain James Robertson, probably in January, 1780. Mansker, assisted by William Neely, Daniel Frazier, James Franklin, and others, built a fort on the west side of Mansker's Creek, located three or four hundred yards downstream from the later site of Walton's Campground.31 It was known as Mansker's Fortand was situated on or near land that he would soon claim under his presumption right as one of "the immortal seventy."32
In early 1780, Mansker signed the Cumberland Compact, an agreement providing for the first government in the new settlements. The compact set up the Cumberland Association, a local governing body comprised of representatives from the various forts. Mansker's Fort was one of those designated for representation.33
It was not long before the Indians discovered the Cumberland settlements and began sporadic raids upon the scattered forts and stations. One of the earliest attacks was made on Asher's Station, located three miles southeast of present Gallatin. One man was killed and another wounded and "the settlers became so frightened that they broke up and went to Mansker's Station." While Mansker's seemed secure enough for the moment, its stationers soon felt the wrath of Indian raiders. Frustrated in their efforts to make salt from the sulphur waters of Mansker's Lick, William Neely and some men from the fort set up camp at Neely's Lick and took Neely's sixteen year old daughter along to cook for the salt makers. On an occasion when the men left Neely and his daughter alone in camp, Indians attacked and killed the father and took the daughter into captivity. In the latter part of the summer, Indian raids were so "troublesome" to the inhabitants of Donelson's Fort at Clover Bottom on Stone's River that they abandoned the place and relocated at the French Lick and Mansker's. Colonel Donelson took his family to Mansker's. They were joined there by John Caffrey, John Hutchings, William Cartwright, and Hugh Rogan. But Mansker's was not immune to attack by the Indians. Five lost their lives there and Abel Gower, Sr., Abel Gower, Jr., William Cartwright, and John Robertson, son of Captain James Robertson, were killed when Indians attacked a party led by John Donelson, Jr., to harvest corn grown at Clover Bottom. Donelson, Hugh Rogan, and other members of the group escaped and made their way back to Mansker's Fort in safety. In the winter of 1780-81, the settlers at Mansker's determined to break up. Years later James McKain, one of the young guards at the fort, related that all who could get horses went to Kentucky and that the remaining settlers moved to either Eaton's or the Bluff. Among those who went to Kentucky were the Donelson family and the widow of William Neely and her surviving family who were escorted there by Hugh Rogan who promptly returned to the Bluff. Kasper Mansker and his wife moved first to the Bluff fort although they later spent some time at Eaton's. Soon after it was deserted, Mansker's Fort was burned by the Indians.34
In the short time before Mansker's Fort was abandoned, Kasper Mansker developed it sufficiently to provide food and lodging for guests, thus earning for himself the distinction of being the first innkeeper in the Cumberland settlements. In April, 1780, Daniel Smith and brothers Anthony and Isaac Bledsoe stayed a few days at Mansker's to settle accounts for the commissioners and guards of the Virginia-North Carolina survey party who had just completed an extension of the state line to the Tennessee River near the present location of Paris, Tennessee. Mansker charged General Smith thirty dollars for "diet" during the latter's brief stay at the fort, a fact of sufficient importance to the General that he entered it in his journal. A month earlier General Smith had recorded a two-day visit to Mansker's on March 12 and 13. He noted that they had been snow-bound on the thirteenth but made no mention of rates charged for board and lodging on this occasion.35
In the spring of 1781, Mansker was living at the Bluff fort when Indians attacked and dealt the pursuing defenders severe losses in an ambuscade. Seven men from the fort were killed and Mansker was one of those reported to have been wounded by Indian gunfire.36 This is the only known instance in Mansker's lifetime of his having been wounded by enemy fire.
In late 1782 and early 1783, Mansker built a second fort and located it on the east bank of Mansker's Creek, about a mile north of the first one.37 Here, with the aid of his brother, George, Kasper also erected a mill. The Mansker brothers, James McKain, Isaac Bledsoe, and others moved into the east bank fort. Kasper lived there until the end of the Indian wars, spent the remainder of his life on the same tract, and at his death was buried there.
In 1783 the dormant government of the Cumberland Association was activated. One of its first acts was to call for the election of a constable at each fort. Young James McKain was elected at Mansker's. Officers at each fort were elected by the Court of Triers on March 15. At Mansker's, Isaac Bledsoe was made captain, Kasper Mansker, lieutenant, and James Linn, ensign. The importance of Mansker's fort was acknowledged by the Court of Triers as they ordered that "a road be opened from Nashborough to Mansker's station..." and that another road "be layed off from Eaton's station to Mansker's." Overseers were named for the projects and to "call together as many of the inhabitants of their respective stations as they can to assist in opening the aforesaid roads." The road to Mansker's from Nashborough drew further attention on the second day of the first meeting of the County Court of the new county of Davidson, October 7, 1783. It was "ordered that the road leading from Nashborough to Mansker's station, as laid off heretofore by an order of Committee, be cleared out." The Davidson County Court at the same session renominated James McKain as constable at Mansker's.38
In the spring of 1783, Kasper Mansker joined Commissioners Anthony Bledsoe and Isaac Shelby and their support party of one hundred guards as they surveyed the Commissioners' Line and layed off the military reservation land from which North Carolina had determined to redeem the worthless script that she had originally paid to her troops for service in the American Revolution. Although it is certain that Mansker had known Bledsoe since their days in southwest Virginia, and although it is probable that he had long known Isaac Shelby, the prospect of pleasant and friendly associations on the survey were likely outweighed in the mind of the pragmatic "Dutchman" by the attraction of earning "guard rights" or pay in land for his services during the outing.39 As "one of the guards to the Commissioners" he received a grant of 320 acres located on the headwaters of the Red River.40
While it is not known the exact number of families that crowded into Mansker's new fort by mid-1783, there are indications that at least one man may have thought it was becoming overcrowded. Thomas Hamilton, who later built the ridge station or Hamilton's Fort at the headwaters of Drake's Creek, brought suit in the Court of Triers, July 1, 1783, in behalf of his daughter Elonar, in a plea of slander and defamation vs. Isaac Bledsoe and wife, James McKain and wife, and James Linn and wife. The court records note the suit was "dismissed by ye plaintiff."41
While Mansker seemed always ready for the exciting and dangerous events that burst upon the frontier in rapid succession, he also had time for such prosaic undertakings as defending his title to two horses, which had been delivered to him to keep on half stock for a term of five years. His defense was successful and the Court of Triers vested title in him, rendering against the plaintiff, John Thomas. On another day, Kasper was in court as a witness for Humphrey Hogan, his friend from long hunting days. On Mansker's testimony, Hogan was awarded a kettle which he had lent to an old man named Mayfield, shortly before Mayfield's death, and which was about to be disposed of as a part of his estate.42
On January 6, 1874, the Davidson County Court swore in its military officers. Fourth-ranking officer was 1st Captain, Kasper Mansker, outranked only by the Bledsoe Brothers, Anthony and Isaac, and by Samuel Barton. The responsible rank to which he was elected was an important indication of the high regard in which he was held by his neighbors on the frontier.
Mansker's station was visited in the summer of 1784 by a party of men from Halifax County, North Carolina, all Revolutionary War veterans seeking to locate their military land grants. The names of three of the men are preserved in the journal of one of them -- John Lipscomb. The other two were William Walton and James Cryer. While Lipscomb noted that they arrived at Mansker's on July 6, 1784, from Kentucky on the way to Nashville and they were again at Mansker's on August 6, 1784, enroute to Cumberland Gap, he made no comment nor observations about the place. Mansker's must have caught the fancy of William Walton, however, because he entered 640 acres adjoining Mansker's preemption grant and arrived with his family the following year. Lipscomb and Cryer located their claims elsewhere.43
In 1784, two older brothers of John Carr brought their families to Mansker's from southwest Virginia. The Carrs remained there and in 1785, brought John, their mother and her five other children from Kentucky to join them. John recalled that Parson Craighead came out to Mansker's and preached there at least once before the Carrs, in 1786; then moved out of the fort and located with some other families in Drake's Creek above Shackle Island.44
In 1784, Isaac Bledsoe went out from Mansker's and built a fort at Bledsoe's Lick to which place he removed his family the same year. Others went from Mansker's with Bledsoe, although it is not certain who they were.
But despite the departure of some of their neighbors, there was a growing number of families depending on Mansker's Fort for protection. The growth continued with yet another addition in year 1785 when a group of emigrants, including Captain William Bowen and his family, arrived from southwest Virginia. They, like many of those already sinking roots in the middle Cumberland, were veterans of years of partisan border warfare. Bowen built a long house on the banks of Mansker's Creek but, like the others, he hastened his family to Mansker's Fort when an Indian alarm was sounded.45
Soon after Bowen's arrival on Mansker's Creek, an alarm was given and the neighbors all gathered in Mansker's Fort. Bowen and some others who had come with him from Virginia drove their cattle and horses up to the fort to secure them from the Indian raiders. When the animals were about to be driven into the stockade, Mansker "hailed them and forbade it." There was a moment of awkward hesitation before Captain Bowen threw open the gate and drove the cattle inside. Mrs. Mansker is quoted as commenting strongly on Bowen's impudence.46 [One quotation I am aware of is that she called Bowen "the impudentest man I ever seen". -- DM] Kasper probably turned his attention elsewhere, annoyed at the flouting of his authority but proud of having an experienced Indian fighter like Captain Bowen in the neighborhood.47
In April, 1785, Mansker with his brother George, Edward Hogan, Isaac Bledsoe, Ephraim Peyton, and Captain Blackmore, were authorized by the Davidson County Quarterly Court to "clear out" a road from Dry Creek at Edenwold to Bledsoe's Lick. The project was the ambitious road building yet undertaken in Davidson County. The work probably consisted of widening and improving the existing buffalo trail that connected the sulphur licks at Mansker's and Bledsoe's through the present site of Gallatin.48
General Daniel Smith and his wife were frequent boarders at Mansker's during the decade 1783-1793. By the end of those ten years, construction of Smith's handsome home "Rock Castle" was completed. At Mansker's, Smith and Captain Bowen compared notes on house building and worked together to procure skilled masons from Lexington, Kentucky, to erect the stone walls of Rock Castle and the brick walls of Bowen's house. It is said that Smith and Bowen purchased window glass for their houses in Lexington and brought it overland on pack-horses.49
When the North Carolina General Assembly in 1786 created the new county of Sumner by partitioning Davidson, Mansker's Creek became part of the boundary separating the two and Mansker's Fort, on the east bank of the creek, was thus located in Sumner.50 The government and militia of the new county were organized in 1787 and Mansker was elected Second Major, third in rank, this time outranked only by the Bledsoe brothers. His brother, George Mansker, was elected one of the three lieutenants. Kasper served the same year as a member of the first grand jury impaneled in Sumner County.51
In 1786 the court records of Sumner County show that a man named Basil Fry was summoned by the grand jury "for living in an unlawful manner with Jane Mansker." Jane is thought to have been a sister of Kasper and George Mansker, although records are inconclusive on this point. A year later, Jane was acquitted of a charge of adultery but at the same time she was fined twenty-five shillings for having a "base born child."52 On March 8, 1791, Jane Mansker and Basil Fry were married,53 thus formalizing whatever their prior relationship might have been. Fry had come to the Cumberland settlements in 1787 as a soldier in Major Thomas Evans' battalion. For his services as one of Evans' border guards he received a land grant of 640 acres which he assigned to David Shelby, county court clerk of Sumner County, on March 26, 1795.54
During the year 1788, Kasper Mansker and Major Kirkpatrick recruited some one hundred guardsmen in Davidson and Sumner Counties and went to Southwest Point, near what is now Kingston, Tennessee, where they met and escorted at least twenty-two families, numbering approximately 140 persons, across the wilderness to Sumner County.55 Mansker's guards may have been the party who brought Andrew Jackson to the Cumberland country. Jackson made the crossing in 1788 with an escort party whose plans had been advertised in the State Gazette of North Carolina, November 28, 1788, with a promise to repeat the service a year later.56
While this specific reference to Mansker's role in the practice of sending armed escorts to guard the immigrants in their cross to the Cumberland settlements is the only record of his service in this capacity, it is reasonable to believe that he made more than a single trip of this kind. The practice of sending guards to protect the Cumberland-bound settlers was continued until the end of the Indian wars eight years later. The Knoxville Gazette published in 1794 paid notices announcing the "annual escort through the wilderness" setting the rendezvous at Southwest Point in the month of October and pointing out that experienced armed guards would form the escorts.57
While Mansker was away from the county on guard escort duty in October, 1788, the Sumner Quarterly Court authorized several road clearing projects including a road from Mansker's Creek; another from George Mansker's house on Station Camp Creek to Drake's Creek; and another from George's house to the east fork of Station Camp Creek. When Kasper returned he found that the court had also set the rates that could be charged by him and other operators of taverns and ordinaries. Lodging was pegged at six pence, dinner at three shillings, breakfast and supper at two shillings, and "whiskey such as will sink tallow" two shillings per half pint.58
The first indication that Kasper Mansker owned slaves is found in a bill of sale made in September, 1789, by which Hugh McGary, a famous Kentucky frontier soldier and Indian fighter, of Mercer County, Kentucky, sold a slave boy named Manuel to Mansker for 100 pounds Virginia currency. The instrument was witnessed by Kasper's neighbor, Andrew Jackson, and by Charles Hamman.59
In 1790, Mansker's Fort took in two new boarding guests: John Overton and Andrew Jackson, who moved from their private quarters on the widow Donelson's place. Both Overton and Jackson had become involved, although in different ways, in the family anxiety that had attended the estrangement and divorce of Rachel Donelson from her husband Lewis Robards. Jackson remained at Mansker's until his marriage to Rachel at Natchez in 1791.
Sumner County became a part of the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio in 1790 when North Carolina ceded her western lands to the federal government. All local government officials and militia officers were commissioned by the Governor of the Territory, William Blount, who appointed Kasper Mansker Lieutenant Colonel and second in command of the Sumner militia.60
Prospects for peace on the Cumberland appeared bright early in 1791. In eastern Sumner County, however, Indian raids had claimed six lives in five separate attacks by mid-year. Colonel Mansker was in the area by early summer consulting with Colonel James Winchester, scouting and examining Indian trails leading eastward. On one outing he met five Indians coming toward the settlements from the Caney Fork River where they were believed to have been encamped. The Indians were surprised by Mansker and fled, "dropping their bundles in which he found six halters and a bridle."61
In August, 1791, Mansker was one of thirty civil and military officers of the Mero District who directed a petition to President George Washington imploring his aid against the "depredation...and murders..." committed by the Indians. The essence of the message was contained in a single sentence: "We implore your interposition, fully hoping to meet with a more ample protection than we have heretofore received from the state of North Carolina, the expectation of which was a powerful incentive inducing us to use our utmost influence to obtain the Act of Cession."62 Mansker signed the petition in company with such Cumberland stalwarts as James Robertson, Daniel Smith, Judge McNairy, James Winchester, Edward Douglass, James McKain, and the twenty-three others.
Colonel Mansker was called to duty by General James Robertson in August, 1792, when the militia was raised to guard against an expected Indian attack from the south. Mansker, Colonel Elijah Robertson, Colonel James Winchester, and Captain John Rains were in command of five hundred men encamped two miles from Nashville. Spies sent as far south as Murfreesboro failed to discover the expected attackers and returned to report that there were no Indians in the area. The militia was dismissed and the members returned to their homes shortly before the Indian attack materialized on Sunday, September 30.63 Mansker's Fort was not attacked and Mansker had no chance to assist in repulsing the attacks at Buchanan's Station and Fort Nashborough.
Around the lives of frontiersmen like Kasper Mansker, traditional stories of adventure have accumulated in great number. Once such tradition was repeated by the historian A. W. Putnam:
Old Mr. Mansker was once "gobbled up" by an Indian. Before he was in shooting distance, he was certain is was an Indian's simulation. He thought two could play at that game, but that his was the more dangerous part, being the "moving object." He had "eyes which could see and ears which could hear," he could see almost entirely around himself with his particularly keen eyes. He approached so cautiously that he designated the tree behind which was his adversary. The human gobbler was there, certain. Art was now to make him "uncover." So, keeping his left eye upon that tree, and the muzzle of "Nancy" in the same direction, he moved along... The distance was greater than an Indian would be likely to fire, but just right for "Nancy." And "she wished to speak to him." He was sure the Indian had seen him, therefore, he feigned to pass to the right. His device was successful. The Indian began to "slip slyly along" to another tree somewhat in advance of Mansker. Though moving slow and low, that left eye was on him through the bushes and wild grass. "Nancy" spoke to him, "bang!" The fellow fell upon his face with a "yah!" "I took his old gun, and there she is," pointing to the rack for guns...64
In 1794, General Robertson, after careful consultations with the leadership of the Cumberland settlements, decided to attack the southern Indian towns at Nickajack on the Tennessee River near present Chattanooga. It was the belief of the Cumberlanders, shared by their friends the Chickasaws, that most of the Indian harassment came from a group of renegade Cherokees and Creeks who lived at Nickajack.
When the volunteers for the Nickajack expedition gathered at Nashville, Kasper Mansker was one of their number. However, when officers were elected by the troops, militia Colonel Mansker was not elected. The awkwardness of the moment was readily relieved by the veteran frontiersman when he observed to those standing nearby, "Well, I reckon if Colonel Mansker can't go, Kasper can. He can kill as many Indians as the Colonel can."65
And to Nickajack he went. There he came forward to build the boats on which ammunition and arms were floated across the Tennessee River before the attack on Nickajack. These he made by constructing a framework of saplings and light-weight poles and covering the whole with animal hides. The hide boats successfully ferried their cargoes of arms, powder, and flints to the other side of the river without water damage.66
The task of boat building was not enough to occupy Kasper but, happily for him, there was action enough for everybody. In recalling the fighting at Nickajack, William Pillow, years later, wrote: "Colonel Mansker took some men that night up the river opposite the town until some of the Indians that escaped from the town landed, and killed them in landing. I saw but one make his escape, he by diving was out of gunshot from our side and when Mansker's men fired on the daring Indian he turned down the river and went ashore between the mouth of a creek which Mansker's men could not cross without getting their guns wet."67
One of the biggest factors in the survival of the Cumberland settlements during the period of the Indian wars after 1781 was the friendship of the Chickasaw Indians and their Chieftain Piomingo. Kasper Mansker, ever practical, understood this. He gave proof of his understanding and gratitude in 1795 when he volunteered to go to the aid of the Chickasaws against their hostile Creek neighbors. On this expedition, Mansker was apparently recognized as the commanding officer, although the arrangements were both unofficial and informal. He went with most of the volunteers by water while Captain David Smith went with fifteen or twenty overland to their destination: Logtown on the banks of the Mississippi River. On his arrival at Logtown Mansker assumed command of the volunteer Cumberland band of two companies and directed a strengthening of the defenses of the Chickasaws. Remembering the terror with which the Indian attackers of Buchanan's Station were seized when the small swivel cannon was fired, he had brought this same piece of ordnance to Logtown. It was set up to the great satisfaction of the Chickasaws and, finally, to the consternation of the Creeks. The Creek assault on Logtown came a few days after the Cumberland detachment arrived but it was beaten off. When the tiny cannon was fired, the Creeks went home to stay. Mansker and his volunteers returned to Nashville a short while later.68
Although the expedition to aid the Chickasaws was without official status, Congressmen Andrew Jackson wrote from Philadelphia in 1797 of his efforts to get pay for "Col. Mansker's expedition" to Logtown. Jackson's efforts -- and the efforts of those who succeeded him in Congress -- finally were successful in obtaining a payment of $2,000 for Captain David Smith, the supply contractor. The volunteer soldiers, including Mansker, were never paid.69
The end of the Indian wars on the Cumberland marked the end of an era for Mansker and for those who, like him, had come to stay in the new west. The Cumberland folk were for the first time free to direct their energies toward building a civilization in the wilderness.
For some years yet, Mansker's Fort would continue to be a prominent way station and inn for travelers. The French botanist Andre Michaux visited Mansker's in passing through the country in 1795. A year later Michaux's travels again brought him to the middle Cumberland and on February 25 he stopped at Mansker's to spend the night, enroute to North Carolina by way of the Kentucky trail. Michaux recorded his reception by Colonel Mansker which was something less than hospitable. "The 25th started to return to Carolina and slept 10 miles away at the house of Colonel Mansker, a declared enemy of the French because, he said, they have killed their king. Although I had not dined I would not accept his supper believing a Republican should not be under obligations to a fanatical partisan of Royalty. I was greatly mortified that the night and the rain should compel me to remain in his house. But I slept on my deerskin and paid for the maize he supplied me with to cross the wilderness."70
In October, 1797, the state legislature passed a second act trying to obtain the location of a county seat for Sumner County and named Kasper Mansker one of the eleven commissioners to select the site. They were instructed to pick a location between Mansker's Fort and Bledsoe's Lick at some point along a line running approximately parallel to the Cumberland River. The commissioners were unable to agree on a site and two years later, in 1799, were replaced by an act of the legislature. The third set of commissioners, five in number, also were unable to agree on a location. The fourth effort by the legislature in 1801 was successful.71
When the war of 1812 began, the name of Kasper Mansker, then sixty years of age, did not immediately appear on any of the many muster rolls compiled from long lists of West Tennessee Volunteers. On October 4, 1813, Kasper's nephew William Mansker and his great nephew John Mansker enlisted in the infantry company of Captain William McCall in Colonel John Wynn's regiment, Roberts' Brigade. Scarcely a year later with a showdown ahead on the Gulf Coast, Kasper Mansker and his great nephew Lewis Mansker enlisted in Captain William Martin's company of Colonel Thomas Williamson's Second Regiment of Tennessee Volunteer Mounted Gunmen. Martin's volunteers marched from Franklin to Fayetteville, Tennessee, where they were mustered into military service on September 28, 1814. From Fayetteville, the mounted gunmen traveled overland to join General John Coffee's Brigade near New Orleans. With General Coffee, they fought in the Battle of New Orleans and remained in the city until sometime after March 1, 1815. Kasper and Lewis were discharged April 25, 1815. Both had enlisted as privates and Lewis had been advanced to the rank of corporal sometime before discharge. Did General Andrew Jackson know at the time that his old friend and former landlord was among the Tennessee Mounted Gunmen under Coffee at New Orleans? We don't know. If he knew, it must have been reassuring knowledge.
Kasper Mansker's temptation to go to the aid of his neighbor Andrew Jackson was made all the more irresistible by the presence of his old friend James Gwin as Chaplain for Coffee's Brigade and the presence of two other friends from Sumner County on Coffee's staff: Lieutenant James Lauderdale and Lieutenant Colonel George Elliott. Lauderdale was killed in action at New Orleans on December 23, 1814.
After returning from the Battle of New Orleans, Mansker lived quietly at his home in Sumner County. Nothing is known of his activities during this period. The U.S. Census of 1820 recorded the presence at home of Kasper and Elizabeth Mansker. On July 31 of the same year Mansker signed his last will and testament and by January, 1821, Kasper Mansker was dead. His body was buried in a private plot near his residence. His will was proved in the County Court at Gallatin in the following month.72
Mansker's will provided that his personal property, including certain slaves, be left to his wife Elizabeth. To her he also left lifetime rights to their home and a part of the tract on which it was located. To his nephews George and William, sons of his brother George, he left his land on the south side of Mansker's Creek and 110 acres on Loony's Fork. To Mary Miller, Lewis Mansker, and John Mansker, all children of his nephew George, he bequeathed the remainder of his estate. Executors of his estate were two friends of many years: Isaac Walton and George Smith.73
Four years after the death of her husband, the widow Elizabeth Mansker was married to Isaac Walton who lived on the adjoining farm and was himself a widower. Their marriage vows were exchanged on July 26, 1825. Elizabeth would live another sixteen years.
In September, 1825, Elizabeth Walton, formerly Elizabeth Mansker, executed her last will and testament. The document directed that all of her slaves should be emancipated. It was her desire that her neighbor, Charles L. Byrn, should take charge of the blacks and move them to Illinois, Indiana, or Ohio and set them free. She directed that all of personal and real property should be sold and the proceeds divided among the slaves. By codicil, she provided for certain slaves to take their regular riding horses with them to freedom. No family members were mentioned in her will. In fact, the only two white persons mentioned were Charles L. Byrn, who was to emancipate the slaves, and her husband, Isaac Walton, both of whom were made executors of the estate. A fee was provided for Byrn's services, but no provision was made for Isaac Walton.74
Albright's Early History of Middle Tennessee, published in 1909, contained a photograph of the Kasper Mansker residence, then the home of Mrs. Hattie Utley near Goodlettsville. There was also a photograph of the tiny burial plot containing the unmarked grave of Kasper Mansker.75
In 1956 the Men's Club of Goodlettsville, assisted by local funeral directors J. C. Garrett and his son, Johnny Garrett, disinterred Mansker's remains and removed them to Peay Memorial Park in Goodlettsville. A properly marked grave was proved and covered with a stack of flat limestone rocks, fitted neatly together, and located beneath the protecting limbs of a large hackberry tree.
What about Kasper Mansker? What else can be said about this man whose life is almost a legend? Theodore Roosevelt regarded militia Colonel Mansker as typical of the officers of this period when they were actually leaders of their men. "Old Kasper Mansker, one of the most successful, may be taken as a type of the rest. He was ultimately made a Colonel and shared in many expeditions; but he always acted as his own scout, and never would let any of his men ride ahead or abreast of him, preferring to trust to his own eyes and ears and knowledge of forest warfare."76
John Carr said that, "though without education," Mansker was "a man of fine sense." Carr continued, "He was a great woodsman and a mighty hunter -- one of the best marksmen I ever saw shoulder a rifle. He was an excellent soldier; and no man among us understood better than he did how to fight the Indians; so that he rendered great service in driving the savages from the country... He was present, though advanced in years, at the taking of Nickajack. He never had any children. He possessed a handsome property, was fond of raising stock, and loved his gun as long as he was able to hunt. In his old age, he would attend shooting matches, and frequently took prizes when they shot for beef."77
Far from flamboyant, Kasper Mansker was a pioneer in developing American tradition. He came to the Cumberland country with his family and settled among other families. Here, like most of them, he staked out claims from which he would never be driven. As an explorer and Indian fighter he was always ready to face the dangers of nature or to confront a hostile enemy. As when he went to the aid of the Chickasaws, without the blessing of his government, he seemed always willing to accept the consequences of his own actions. And, at Nickajack and New Orleans he was willing to serve his country in the ranks as a private soldier when, because of his advanced years, he was not elected to be an officer.
Kasper Mansker was a remarkable "Dutchman" -- and a remarkable contributor to the building of the new American west.
1 General William Hall, of Sumner County, and Governor of Tennessee, in a letter to Lyman C. Draper. Draper Manuscripts, 6XX5.
2 John Carr, pioneer settler and Indian fighter, in his Early Times in Middle Tennessee (Nashville: 1958), 29.
3 Major Thomas Hickman, a contemporary of Mansker's on the Cumberland frontier, in a letter to Lyman C. Draper, Draper Manuscripts, 6XX9.
4 A. W. Putnam, History of Middle Tennessee... (Nashville, 1859), 143
5 Draper Manuscripts, 6XX5
6 Ibid., 3XX41
7 Sumner County Records, North Carolina Grants, Book No. 1, p. 21.
8 Sumner County Records, Will Book No. 1, p. 323.
9 John Haywood, The Civil and Political History of the State of Tennessee... (Knoxville, 1823), 88-89.
10 Ibid., 90.
13 Ibid., 91
14 Ibid., 91, 92.
15 J. Guy Cisco, Historic Sumner County, Tennessee (Nashville, 1909), 33.
< 16 Haywood, Civil and Political History, 92.
17 Carr, Early Times, 29
18 Draper Manuscripts, 6XX8, 114.
19 Haywood, Civil and Political History, 92.
20 Harriette Simpson Arnow, Seedtime on the Cumberland, (New York, 1960), 169.
21 Archibald Henderson, "Richard Henderson: The Authorship of the Cumberland Compact and the Founding of Nashville," in Tennessee Historical Magazine, II (1916), 163.
22 Sumner County Records, North Carolina Grants, Book No. 1, p. 20.
23 L. P. Summers, Annals of Southwest Virginia, 1769-1800 (Abingdon, 1929), 1234.
24 Ibid., 610-11, 626, 639
25 Henderson, "Richard Henderson," 163.
26 Haywood, Civil and Political History, 92.
27 Ibid., 92-93.
28 Ibid., 93.
29 Ibid., 94.
30 Ibid., 96.
31 Carr, Early Times, 7.
32 William L. Sanders (ed.), The Colonial and State Records of North Carolina (26 vols.; Goldsboro, 1886-1907), XXIV, 629-30.
33 Tennessee Historical Commission, Three Pioneer Tennessee Documents, (Nashville, 1964), 18.
34 Carr, Early Times, 10, 12, 13.
35 St. George L. Sioussat, "The Journal of General Daniel Smith," in Tennessee Historical Magazine, I (1915), 61, 62.
36 Carr, Early Times, 14
37 Ibid., 19.
38 Three Pioneer Tennessee Documents, 29, 31.
39 W. Jerome Smith, A History of Hickman County, Tennessee (Nashville, 1900), 22.
40 Sumner County Records, North Carolina Grants, Book No. 1, p. 21.
< 41 Three Pioneer Tennessee Documents, 38.
42 Ibid., 24, 31, 32, 36
43 Samuel Cole Williams, Early Times in the Tennessee Country, 1540-1800 (Johnson City, 1928), 278
44 Carr, Early Times, 44.
45 Margaret C. Pilcher, Historical Sketches of the Campbell, Pilcher, and Kindred Families (Nashville, 1911), 268.
46 Ibid., 271
< 47 Draper Manuscripts, 6C17. Bowen, a veteran border fighter, had fought in Lord Dunsmore's War and in the American Revolution.
48 Davidson County Minute Book, Vol. A, Part 1, 1783-1790, p. 51.
49 Pilcher, Historical Sketches, 271-72.
50 Saunders, North Carolina, XXIV, 826
51 Sumner County Court Records, Court Minutes, Vol. I, p. 1.
52 Ibid., 4, 5, 15.
53 Sumner County Records, Marriage Record, 1778-1838, p. 3.
54 Caroline C. Crockett Papers, Manuscript Unit, Tennessee State Library and Archives.
55 Haywood, Civil and Political History, 235. Major Kirkpatrick is not further identified by Haywood.
56 James Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson (3 vols.; New York, 1860), I, 121.
57 Knoxville Gazette, May 22, August 25, 1794.
58 Sumner County Records, Court Minutes, Vol. I, pp. 9, 12.
59 Sumner County Records, Will Book, No. 1, p. 9.
60 William Blount, The Blount Journal, 1790-1796... (Nashville, 1955), 44.
61 Draper Manuscripts, 7ZZ32
< 62 Clarence E. Carter (ed.), The Territorial Papers of the United States, Volume IV, The Territory South of the River Ohio, 1790-1796 (Washington, 1936), 72, 73.
63 Governor Blount's report to the Secretary of War, in James G. M. Ramsey, The Annals of Tennessee... (Charleston, 1853), 599.
64 Putnam, Middle Tennessee, 274.
65 Draper Manuscripts, 29S57.
66 Ibid., 6XX72.
67 Ibid., 6XX15. Pillow's reference to Colonel Mansker refers, of course, to his militia rank, not his rank on this occasion.
68 Putnam, Middle Tennessee, 519, 520.
69 John Spencer Bassett, Correspondence of Andrew Jackson (6 vols.; Washington, 1926-1935), I, 24.
70 Andre Michaux, Journal, 1793-1796, in Reuben G. Thwaites (ed.) Early Western Travels, 1748-1856 (32 vols.; Cleveland, 1904-1907), III, 94.
71 Walter T. Durham, The Great Leap Westward... (Nashville, 1969), 78.
72 Sumner County Records, Will Book No. 1, p. 323.
74 Sumner County Records, Will Book No. 2, p. 277.
75 Edward Albright, Early History of Middle Tennessee (Nashville, 1909), 52.
76 Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West (6 vols.; New York, 1900), III, 263, 264.
77 Carr, Early Times, 29.
© 1971, Tennessee Historical Society, Nashville, Tennessee