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 Kasperís 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,
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
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.
Kasper Mansker had at least one brother,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Fort and 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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