Former Slave Relates Early Life in East Tennessee

Johnson City has been blessed over time with a cornucopia of historians, some celebrated and others obscure, but all equally important by preserving valuable facts from the past. A case in point is a Johnson City Press-Chronicle column written by the popular late Tom Hodge containing family information presented to him by Sarah Jackson.

This lady possessed some documented utterances of a former slave known as Uncle Dick Crawford. The notes appear to have been penned in the late 1800s by family members. Sarah’s reason for bringing the papers to Tom was her trepidation that they might be discarded after she was deceased. Ms. Jackson vaguely recalled when Uncle Dick ate a meal in the kitchen of their Main Street residence (no specific address given).

The kids adored and were fascinated by the elderly gentleman and sat around the table listening to him talk as he ate. His hair was described as being as white-as-snow. The written statements were a mixed bag of facts regarding life around the East Tennessee area.

For example: “I went to Johnson City for the doctor for Perry Hunter’s folks when there were only four families living in the town – Tip (Tipton) Jobe, Henry Johnson, John Bowman and Dr. Seehorn.”

The notes mention other residents of the city: “Miss Lizzie Russell was born April 4, 1836, cared for by Uncle Dick Crawford. I was at Brush Creek Campground when lightning killed Miss Mary Taylor and Mr. Miller while William Milhorn was preaching. The old East Tennessee Virginia and Georgia Railroad (eventually known as the Southern Railway) was finished in 1850 with President Cunningham driving the last silver spike. Richard (Uncle Dick) Crawford cooked the last meal for the engineers of this road at Henderson’s Mill, within six miles of Greeneville.”

Three marriages were shown to have occurred in 1878: Mr. J.D. Cox to Miss V.T. Bachman, Miss Suda Cox (no husband listed) and Mr. Harrison Haws to Miss Rosanna People.

The record further stated that the 3C’s engineer corps left Johnson City March 1, 1878 for Big Moccasin Gap. Col. Matson was chief with Johnson, Hagey and Phillips, surveyors.

The notes also said: “I was present at each of the following weddings, having cooked the dinner for each: Robert Thomas, M.L. Peoples, Will DeVault, John Cochran, (?) Burkhart, John Hunter, Will Hunter, James Martin, Robert Martin, Robert Hunter, Rev. W.M. Vines, George Swadley, John Galloway, John D. Cox, H.H. Haws and Jacob Bacon.

“The old courthouse of Jonesborough was burned in the year 1858. The first family grocery story was put up in Jonesborough by John Dunlap, an Irishman. Miss Stuart Slemons was married in Jonesborough. The printing office in Jonesborough stands where it stood 58 years ago.

“The first excursion was run by Henry Salts on the Southern Railroad. I cooked W.E. Maden’s wedding dinner in the year 1885 and was at Thomas Garst’s wedding and cooked the dinner.

“Jacob Naff and John Naff worked in a tailor shop in the cellar of the Mrs. Fain building in 1885. I was present at the marriage of William R. Miller to Miss Nannie Perry and waited on them.” 

Sarah was indeed judicious to share the papers with Tom and preserve important information from that era. Thanks to the combined efforts of Uncle Dick Crawford, Sarah Jackson and Tom Hodge, we have been afforded with another succinct yet invaluable source of local history.