Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mapping Nathaniel Gist to Southwestern Virginia

Mapping Nathaniel Gist, b. 1736 to Gist’s Station, and Southwestern Virginia

The Dorsey’s said Nathaniel Gist (b. 1736), son of Nathaniel b. 1701), moved to Washington County, Virginia, shortly before the Revolutionary War. Washington County was formed by 1776. Refer to the map here to see how Virginia’s county map changes over the years.

By 1791 the major part of Wahsington County was formed into Russell County. In the 1850s, Wise County was formed out of parts of 3 counties, including Russell.  We are interested in the area around Coeburn, Fort Blackmore, and Castlewood. This is near the local where the three counties, Scott, Russell, and Wise meet. A map of this region is below.

The Dorsey’s said:

From here Nathaniel Gist and his family and others went to the new lands that were being made available in Washington County, Virginia. Soon after they arrived the Revolutionary War started, and he and his brothers Richard Gist and Thomas Gist enlisted in Col. William Campbell’s Regiment of Washington County, Virginia. It is thought that Nathaniel was killed. The name of Nathaniel Gist appears on the monument of those killed during the encounter with the British forces at the Battle of Kings Mountain (L. P. Summers, History of Southwestern Virginia, pp. 859, 164) (record of the monument on the battlefield).

Children of Nathaniel and Dinah Gist (thought to have been their children)

i.] Nathaniel Gist 5. On October 14th, 1791, Nathaniel Gist by warrant entered 800 acres of land lying on the waters of Holstein River and on the top of White Mountain to have the naked place or old field in the center and running according to law by quantity . . . (Washington Co., Va. Record Entry and Surveys, No. 1, p 99). No records have been found of the sale of this land.

ii.] John Gist 5, may have gone to Tennessee.

iii.] Aaron Gist 5, may have gone to Tennessee.

iv.] George Gist 5, On March 28th, 1796, George Gist bought 50 acres in the Raccoon Valley on a branch of the North Fork of Holston River, from James Walsh. On August 9th, 1797, when living in Russell County, Virginia, he sold this land to William Gilson [Vance’s note: Gibson?] (Washington County, Va Deeds 2, pp21, 88).

Probably others. [Vance’s note: according to the Smith’s, they also had a daughter named Mary.. Also Don and I disagree on this. He places Mary as a daughter of Nathaniel b. 1707, and I think she was a daughter of Daniel b. 1736; but it is impossible to prove either.

Gist’s Station

An early Virginia fort was named “Gist’s Station.

At the above link is a discussion of Virginia’s Seven  entitled “FRONTIER FORTS OF SOUTHWEST VIRGINIA”; By Emory L. Hamilton, which she says comes from “Historical Sketches of Southwest Virginia,” Number 4, 1968, pages 1 to 26. She  lists far more that seven forts. About  Fort Blackmore, and Guess’s Station, she writes;


. . .


This is the "small fortification" that Captain Russell wrote Preston was being built at Blackmore’s at the mouth of Stony Creek, but which in time grew to be the second most important fort on the frontier. Built on the lands of Captain John Blackmore, who along with his brother Joseph had come from Fauquier Co., VA, with their families to carve out homes in the wilderness in the year 1772.

Being more exposed it was attacked by Indians more often than Moore’s and many people were killed and captured in and around this fort. The fort stood on the north side of Clinch, just outside the village of Fort Blackmore. It was to Blackmore’s that all the people came when the forts in Powell Valley were evacuated in 1776, just prior to the outbreak of the Cherokee War, as did the people from Rye Cove Fort. It must have been of large proportions, but no one has left any known description of this fort. According to Samuel Alley who was born in sight of the fort in the year 1801, it was torn down and no vestige of it remained in 1887, when he paid a visit to his old home and found the ground where the old fort stood being tended in corn. However, nearby stood an apple tree planted by his father which to that day was known as the "John Alley Apple Tree." (11)

Across the road in a fringe of trees and brush, and slightly northeast of where the old fort stood is the old fort graveyard, with rows of small, uncut stones marking the final resting place of those who died from either the stroke of disease or tomahawk in the long ago.

Always known as Blackmore’s Fort, the village today, almost two centuries later still bears the name except in the reverse order of Fort Blackmore.


Of all the frontier stations along the Clinch this one presents the greatest enigma. The location is between Big and Little Tom’s Creek, on Guest River at the present site of Coeburn, Wise Co., VA. Outside of deed references which mention this station frequently no other direct reference has been found pertaining to it, and no militia correspondence or pensions applications make mention of it.

Charles B. Coale, in "Wilburn Waters" tells of the Indians going to this station in 1777, after their capture of Jane Whittaker and Polly Alley, and finding it well defended make no attack upon it. Coale gives no authority for this statement and search for it has proven fruitless. Who built the station and for what purpose is unknown. There are several opinions, but opinions unless backed by factual data should never become a part of written history. This writer does categorically deny that it has any relation with Christopher Gist as has been written, since Gist did not travel through the present bounds of Wise County.

Elder Morgan T. Lipps, who settled on Tom’s Creek in the spring of 1838, states in his diary:

That the old settlers showed him some of the logs of the old fort and chimney rocks still lying upon the ground when he arrived there in 1838. Even if Christopher Gist did visit this spot in 1750, he could never, with the help of a small Negro boy, have built a structure whose remains would have lasted 88 years after his departure.

That some sort of fortification existed at Coeburn is unquestioned, since from the earliest times the place was called Guesses Station, and retained that name until the coming of the railroads when the name was changed.

Nathaniel Gist and Cassels/Castle’s Woods

Page 192 - John Dickerson...286 ac...Commissioners Certificate...on the north side of Clynch River...Beginning on the bank of Clynch River below Gists Ford...corner to Henry Dickerson...on John Barsdales a path...March 15, 1783 - John Dickerson, heir of Humphrey Dickerson, assignee of Joseph Blackamore, assignee of Nathaniel Gist...310 ac on the north side of Clynch River in Cassels Woods, includes improvements...surveyed on May 28, 1774, actual settlement made in 1769...August 23, 1781.

So . . . Remember John and his brother Joseph came to Southwestern Virginia and they built Fort Blackmore. Joseph was assignee of Nathaniel, the same Nathaniel mentioned by the Dorsey’s, implying the Gist’s and Blackmore’s knew each other. This also tells us where Nathaniel’s original place was located – the North side of Clynch River near Cassel’s woods. It says the original settlement was made in 1769. SO although our Nathaniel was in Cumberland County, North Carolina, he also had a place near the border of 3 present day counties – Wise, Russell, and Scott. Also notice the copy of that old map as well as a modern map to find the locations Coeburn, which was originally named Gist’s Station, Wise County, Va.;  Cassel’s/Castle’s Wood, on the south side of Clinch River (Nathaniel was on the North side of the river), and Fort Blackmore, in Northern Scott County.

Lewis Jarvis

There is an article that can be found all over the internet with respect to the Melungeons. Just type his name in any search engine and you can recover his entire statement. I have recovered only those parts that mention Fort Blackmore.

The white emigrants with the friendly Indians erected a fort on the bank of the river and called it Fort Blackmore and here yet many of these friendly “Indians” live in the mountains of Stony Creek, but they have married among the whites until the race has almost become extinct.  A few of the half-bloods may be found - none darker - but they still retain the name of Collins and Gibson, &c. From here they came to Newman’s ridge and Blackwater and many of them are here yet; but the amalgamations of the whites and Indians has about washed the red tawny from their appearance, the white faces predominating, so now you scarcely find one of the original Indians; a few half-bloods and quarter-bloods-balance white or past the third generation.

The old pure blood were finer featured, straight and erect in form, more so than the whites and when mixed with whites made beautiful women and the men very fair looking men. These Indians came to Newman’s Ridge and Blackwater.

Jarvis also wrote ;

These people, not any of them, were here at the time the first white hunting party came from Virginia and North Carolina in the year 1761...Vardy Collins, Shepherd Gibson, Benjamin Collins, Solomon Collins, Paul Bunch and the Goodmans, chiefs and the rest of them settled here about the year 1804, possibly about the year 1795, but all these men above named, who are called Melungeons, obtained land grants and muniments of title to the land they settled on and they were the  very first and came here simultaneous with the white people not earlier than 1795. They had lost their language and spoke the English very well. They originally were the friendly Indians who came with the whites as they moved west.

Remember it says they had lost their own language – some Catawba had lost their language, but the Cherokee hadn’t. AT this time in history very few of the Cherokee could even speak English.

Recall Ms. Hamilton writing about Virginia’s Southwester Fort’s, she mentioned Charles B. Coale, in "Wilburn Waters" with regards to Gist’s Fort/Station, found in chapter 29. This entire book can be found here

I have found the references I question. Here is what Coale wrote:

[p. 173] The Indians, finding that they had been discovered, and that they were. not strong enough to attack or besige the fort, started in the direction of Castle's Woods. The persons at Bluegrass knowing that the settlement at Castle's Woods was not aware that the Indians were in the vicinity, determined to warn them, but the difficulty was how this was to be done, and who would be bold enough to undertake it, as the Indians were between the two forts. When a volunteer for the perilous expedition was called for, Matthew Gray, who but an hour before had made such a narrow escape, boldly offered his services, and, getting the fastest horse and two rifles, started out through almost unbroken forest. Moving cautiously along the trail, he came near Ivy spring, about two miles from the fort, when he saw signs which satisfied him that the Indians had halted at the spring. There was no way to flank them, and he must make a perilous dash or fail in his mission of mercy. Being an old Indian fighter, he knew that they seldom put out pickets. The trail making a short curve near the spring, he at once formed the plan of riding quietly up to the curve, and then, with a shot and yell, to dash through them. This he did, and before they had sufficiently recovered from their surprise to give him a parting volley, he was out of reach. He arrived at the settlement in safety, and thus in all probability saved the lives of all the settlers. The Indians, however, captured two women on the way--Polly Alley at Osborn's Ford, as they went up the river, and Jane Whitaker near Castle's Woods.

Finding the fort at Castle's Woods fully prepared for their reception, the band had to abandon their murderous purpose and pass on with their captives, without permitting themselves to be seen. Reaching Guess' Station, they remained part of the night, but finding it well prepared for defense, they continued their journey to the "Breaks," where the Russell and Pound forks of Big Sandy pass through the Cumberland mountain. Here, tradition says the tarried half a day, and loaded themselves with silver ore. This tradition has led some to suppose that this was the place where Sol Mullins, the noted maker of spurious coin, obtained his metal, as he long inhabited that region.

Coale also says the following about Waters, at the end of chapter 1;

Wilburn is one-fourth Indian--what is called a quarteroon. For some reason he has never given, except his fondness for solitude and hunting, he sought and settled the obscure spot in which he has resided so many years, and still thinks he would be crowded to suffocation were a family to settle within sight or hearing of him. The writer of this, soon after hearing of the hermit-hunter, now more than twenty-five years ago, found his way into the mountains and sought him out. When he found him, he was eating his morning meal upon a log,--which consisted a corn cake, bear-meat and wild honey, and water from the spring--his two savage bear-dogs meanwhile standing sentinel, awaiting his word for action. We broke bread together, and from that day to this, if the writer has a friend upon whom he could rely in any emergency, that friend is Wilburn Waters, the great hermit-hunter of White Top Mountain.

Coale starts chapter 2 by saying;

Chapter II


Wilburn Waters was born on what is called Ready's River, a branch of the Yadkin, in Wilkes county, North Carolina, on the 20th day of November, 1812. From the best information that can now be had, his father, John P. Waters, was a French Huguenot, who emigrated to America in early life, about the beginning of the present century, and settled in South Carolina. He was a man of some education and liberal acquirements, of strong prejudices and passions, restless, reckless and fond of adventure. Being remarkably stout, fearless and passionate, he was considered dangerous when excited or laboring under a sense of injury, and was supposed by those with whom he communicated most freely, to have been a refugee from South Carolina, if not from France, from some cause he never revealed to others. He settled down, without any apparent calling, among the simple and obscure people on Ready's River, where, after a time, he married his wife the mother of Wilburn, who was a half-breed of the Catawba Indian.

So our Gist’s were in Wise County long before there was a Wise County. We have discovered some of the builders of Fort Blackmore were Indian (no tribe is mentioned, except the Catawba), and that Wilburn Waters, the only man who tells of Gist’s Station from a firsthand account, himself was part Catawba Indian. There are other records (I haven’t mentioned yet) that speak of the Melungeons as having mixed-Catawba.

At this point we have no connection at all with the Cherokee. But our Gist’s might connect with the Catawba, as some of their neighbors did.

Please note on the map Gist’s Mountain near Coeburn, Wise County, andGist River running through the town. Please note the location of Castlewood, about 7 miles away, as the crow flies, in western Russell County. Also see Fort Blackmore to the south of Coeburn, and to the west of Castlewood. Our Nathaniel b. 1736 would have known these places well before his life was cut short at Kings Mountain, in 1780. There is a Nathaniel Gist shown living there in 1801 and 1802 (probably a son), and then he too disappears.
The maps below help us understand the locations of the various names mentioned in this report.



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