Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Kingston Tennessee – Historic Sites

After visiting Fort Southwest Point at the south edge of Kingston, we continued with our exploration of portions of Roane County Tennessee. Our goal was to locate a number of sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 
The city of Kingston was our first stop...

Our first stop was an historic cemetery.  The Bethel Historic Cemetery was established in 1811.  Over the years it has been known by several different names to include:  Presbyterian Hill Cemetery; Kingston Cemetery; Old Burial Ground and Old Bethel Cemetery. 

The land for the cemetery was donated by “Indian Chief Riley”.  A sign posted in the cemetery names this chief as John Riley and the reason that he donated the land was “so his children could attend Rittenhouse Academy…which was located here”.  
From what I read, it’s probable that John Riley was the son of a white man, Samuel Riley and, Gulustiyu Doublehead, one of the daughters of Chief Doublehead, a fierce warrior from the Eastern Cherokee Nation.  Actually, Samuel married 2 of Chief Doublehead’s daughters.  Depending on the source document, Samuel Riley apparently had 16 or 18 children with his wives.  Samuel was a trader and ferry operator at Fort Southwest Point.  Samuel died in 1817 and John Riley died in Oklahoma in 1845. 

In any case, this cemetery is definitely full of historical burials!  No less than 17 “Steamboat Men” are buried here, with the earliest ‘steamboat related’ burial occurring in 1870 and the last in 1959.  It should be noted that despite the difficulty, in 1828 the Steamboat “Atlas” made it eventually up to Knoxville Tennessee, while regular traffic between Knoxville and Decatur Alabama was in place by around 1835.

This is the Byrd family burial plot at Bethel Cemetery.  Robert King Byrd, (1823 – 1885), was an American soldier and politician.  A slave owning Southern Unionist, he commanded the Union Army's First Tennessee Infantry during the Civil War.  He saw action at Cumberland Gap, Stones River, and in the Knoxville and Atlanta campaigns.  

Byrd represented his native Roane County at the pro-Union East Tennessee Convention on the eve of the war in 1861.  He also served one term (1879–1881) in the Tennessee Senate, and unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party's nomination for governor in 1880.  He was a persistent advocate for railroad construction and navigational improvements to the Tennessee River during the two decades following the war.

The town of Byrdstown Tennessee, the County Seat for Pickett County, was named in honor of Byrd in 1879.  In 1890, the East Tennessee Land Company purchased Byrd's 10,000-acre plantation for the establishment of the city of Harriman Tennessee.

This is the original hitching post from the Bethel Presbyterian Church which was located on the current cemetery grounds.

This cemetery has one other sad but notable distinction.  At least one veteran who served in every American war from the Revolution through Vietnam is buried on these grounds.  Colonel Gideon Morgan, who served in the Revolutionary War, is the first of the burials. (More about Colonel Morgan following the next photo) Other wars include the War of 1812, the Mexican War, Civil War (both Union and Confederate armies), the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Semi-Related Factoid:

·       The 2010 movie, “Get Low”, starring Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, and Sissy Spacek, was based on the true story of a Roane County man, Felix Breazeale. Breazeale was a local hermit who opted to throw himself a funeral while he was still alive.

This is the Colonel Gideon Morgan House in Kingston… This Federal style two-and-a-half story home was built between 1810 and 1813.  

After serving in the Revolutionary War in his home state of Massachusetts and living for a while in Virginia, Colonel Morgan moved to Kingston in 1809 and he established a trading post.  Although this structure served as his residence, part of it was also opened as a well-known ‘ordinary’ or tavern.  The town was platted at about the same time that Morgan’s home was being built…

Colonel Morgan was the founder of a long line of prominent military and civic leaders.  Among his notable descendants was his son, Colonel Gideon Morgan, Jr., who commanded the Cherokee Regiment in the Creek War;  John Tyler Morgan was a Brigadier General In the Confederacy and was for many years a United States Senator from Alabama.  Another grandson, Samuel D. Morgan, of Nashville served as president of the committee for erecting the current capitol of Tennessee.  Finally, the elder Morgan's great-grandson was the Confederate General John Hunt Morgan of Civil War fame.

This is the old Roane County Courthouse in Kingston Tennessee.  It sits directly across a busy street from the Colonel Gideon Morgan home.  The courthouse was completed in 1855 using local lumber and bricks made on site by slaves.  No nails were used in the original structure of this combination Greek Revivalist/Federalist style building.  This is 1 of only 6 antebellum courthouses remaining in the state of Tennessee. 

The building was used in the Civil War by both Confederates and Union forces as a hospital.  Graffiti can still be found on the walls written by soldiers who were hospitalized here.  The building was the active courthouse of Roane County until 1974 when the new courthouse was completed.  At that point the old courthouse was deeded to the Roane County Heritage Commission.  The Heritage Commission maintains extensive historical records and serves as a center for genealogical and historic research.  Website:

FYI...the law didn’t always control matters in Roane County… To read some interesting stories about murder, mayhem and mob lynchings, just go to

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a short historical tour!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. Such a great post, Dave! Rich in history, fascinating, and accompanied with beautiful photos.

  2. Interesting --especially since we drive through Harriman and Kingston A LOT on I-40 going back and forth to Knoxville. We have been in Harriman several times --but I'm not sure we have ever been in Kingston. OR--at least we haven't stopped. I want to see that old cemetery sometime... THANKS!!!


  3. That's quite a cemetery with all that history! And interesting that it has the distinction of buried soldiers from every American war. I don't remember the movie you mentioned but will check it out. The Morgan house is just a little different looking, but since it was a trading post and Morgan was a tavern keeper, it must've been one busy establishment. The courthouse building was built to last with pegs, lumber, mortar, etc, no nails. And graffiti to boot! Interesting post, Dave! Thanks!