Civil War Index


Editor's Note: It appears that this speech was probably given in the 1930's
by Mrs. IRVIN was a daughter of Dr. John WESTER.

The following interesting reminiscences of Civil War days in Kingston, contained in a paper recently read before the A.P. Stewart Chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy, in Chattanooga, by Mrs. T.C. ERVIN, will be of much interest in Roane County, particularly to its older residents. Mrs. ERVIN'S paper, in full, is as follows:

"In passing through the old historic town of Kingston, reminiscences of the past came to me."

"As early as 1800 Kingston was an important place with its military post at South West Point and the stage coach route from Nashville to Washington, D.C., passing through it. It was the stopping place of many historic characters--but progress which marks the march of time, was slow for Kingston. After it was robbed of its stage coach route and all river traffic by the building of railroads through other parts of Tennessee, it was almost deprived of its very life. At one time it was thought that Kingston was to get a railroad, the road bed of which was completed to almost its corporate limits, but suddenly all work ceased and the road was never built.

"Although at the time this was considered a great disaster for Kingston, it was really a blessing in disguise. The beautiful little hamlet has never been marred by a bowling, smoking steam engine and now that our mode of travel has again changed to highways and autos, she does not want or need a railroad. In the olden days of her of her importance she was the stopping place on the great stage coach line. Kingston has always been for the county seat of Roane County and at one time in her early glory, became for a short time the Capitol of our State. She was the most important point between Chattanooga and Knoxville during the heyday of river traffic on the Tennessee, when beautiful steamers touched at her wharfs daily.

"Her fine old court house, built over a half century ago, attests to her early importance. She cannot be robbed of her age. The pendulum is swinging back and this little town with its picturesque hills covered with peach orchards is again coming into her own. Highways have been built which are today more important than railroads--other highways are under construction; large appropriations from the government are being made to improve its rivers; bridges are being built and historic Kingston will regain her importance. Will she ever again entertain such guests as John SEVIER, Sam HOUSTON, Andrew JACKSON, Nathan Bedford FOREST, judges, senators, congressmen and other distinguished persons?

"In those days it was the stage coach stop on the Nashville and Washington highway.

"John SEVIER, our first territorial governor and first governor of Tennessee, established a fort, South West Point, between the years 1786 and 1790, as a protection against the Indians and here soldiers of the war of 1812 were recruited. Here meridian and base, north and south line was begun and run to the North Carolina line for sectioning the Hiwassee purchase, the lands purchased from the Cherokee Indians.

"There is now a highway being built through Kingston that runs under the brow of the garrison at South West Point to a beautiful bridge spanning the Tennessee river just above the historic point connecting with the WESTER plantation. This highway will be called "The John Sevier Highway." It passes within sight of the burial place of the Indian Chief Riley from whom the Hiwassee purchase was made. The old inn which was built over a hundred years ago by an ancestor of Dr. John WESTER and which was improved and owned by him the stopping place for Kingston's distinguished guests. It was recently burned. It was recently burned. During the winter of 1863 (or 64) General FORREST'S troops wintered at Kingston. The General and his wife were guests of Dr. and Mrs. WESTER for three months. A great friendship between the general and his genial host was the result. Dr. WESTER said no greater man than FORREST ever lived. He made a picture seated on his beautiful horse "Highlander" which was a gift to him from Tennessee friends, a picture fit to be reproduced in marble, as it was later and stands on the battlefield of Shilo.

"One sunny afternoon the general came to his hostess and said, "Mrs. WESTER, would you be afraid to let your daughter, Miss Josephine, take a ride on 'Highlander," he is perfectly safe."

Josephine was the idolized eldest daughter of the family. Her mother replied, "Not if you accompany her, General." The riders started, Miss Josephine on "Highlander," the general in his captain's horse at her side, and his orderly mounted following. Imagine their surprise to discover a younger sister who had decided to chaperon the party without permission following on an old horse. The general smiled and the party moved on, returning later without incident or accident.

"Mrs. FORREST was a charming little woman with the gentle characteristics of the southern women of that day. A little negro maid attended her every wish.

"Mrs. WESTER'S fine old negro cook, Aunt Harriet, feeling that the general's maid should be shown some difference, came to her mistress and requested that she might place a little table just inside of the great dining hall by the kitchen door where the negro maid, after the white folks left the hall might eat her meals instead of in the kitchen with the other darkies. She was told she might do this but the children of the family, never having seen a negro eating in the white folks dining room, stared in astonishment, as did the little pickaninnies.

"At the end of the general's sojourn in Kingston he told his host that he might just as well let his negro boys go with his army, for the Yankees when they came would put guns in their hands and take them to fight against their masters. The doctor consented and they all started with the general's army the next morning.

"When Mrs. WESTER saw what happened she mounted her horse and followed. Finding the general getting his army across the ferry, she said to him, "General FORREST, is this the returns you give for our hospitality?" General FORREST, exclaimed that the Yankee army when it came would take her slaves but she protested and the general gave them back to her, and she marched them home. She had interceded for them when their master decided to sell them some time before the above incident occurred, and they had come to her crying and begging her not to let "Mas' Johnnie" sell them. So she thought perhaps if the Yankees did come they would remain. However, they all joined the Yankees, either forced or persuaded, both perhaps.

"The morning after the Northern army passed through, instead of the negro boys making the fires, Aunt Harriet, the cook, was there. Her mistress said to her, "Harriet what does this mean, why are you building the fires, where are the boys?" "Law Miss Catherine, all dem niggers jined the Yankees last night." Finally, all were set free, but many with saddened faces bid their masters good bye and stepped into a future existence for which they were ill prepared.

After the death of Mrs. WESTER, the doctor moved his family to his plantation at South West Point, to the old home in which he had been married and in which ancestors of his wife had lived since the beginning of 1800.