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Clay County History

By Larry W. Smith

Clay County's history is filled with notable figures and interesting facts.  The county was formed from sections of Jackson County and Overton County, TN in 1870.

Jackson County gave up lands west of the Kentucky line in Cumberland County, KY, south along a line just east of Celina to the present Jackson County line, west of Macon County, then north of the Kentucky line in Monroe County, KY. Overton County gave up lands from the Kentucky line in Cumberland County, KY in a southeasterly arc back to the portion given up by Jackson County.

Clay County has been part of 3 states: North Carolina, Tennessee, and the northern portion was south of Walkers Line, which put this portion in Kentucky. It has been part of six counties: Davidson, Sumner,

Smith, Jackson, and Overton Counties in Tennessee with the part that was south of

Walkers line being in Cumberland County, Kentucky.

Land grants south of Walkers Line were made by the State of Kentucky for land lying

in Tennessee. These grants began in 1826 and continued until 1926. Most of the

northern portion was south of Walkers line, and at some locations, this line extended

at least ten miles into present-day Clay County. This is the reason you will find people

living in Cumberland County, Kentucky in the 1810 census, and then in the 1820

census, they are listed as being in Jackson or Overton Counties in Tennessee. They

never really moved.

Editor’s Note (from Counties of Tennessee by Austin P. Foster; Dept. of Education, Division

and History, the State of Tennessee; 1923)

In that part of Clay County taken from Overton County, and in Overton County, John

Sevier located 57,000 acres of land of the visit to which he refers in his diary, a copy of which was secured by the Tennessee Historical Society… After his death, in 1815, his widow moved to the Dale, known later as the Clark Place, in Clay County. From there, she moved to Alabama where she died. Her remains were removed to Knoxville… and now repose beside those of her distinguished husband.*

Present-day Clay County is bounded on the east by Pickett County and Overton County. It is bounded on the south by Jackson County and on the west by Macon County. It is bounded on the north by Monroe County and Cumberland County, KY.

There are many communities in Clay County: Celina, the county seat and the largest in population and area, Bakerton, Leonard, Hermitage Springs (AKA Spivey), Moss (AKA Lodi), Union Hill (AKA Gregoryville), Miles Town (named for the Miles family), Brimstone, Price Town, Pine Hill, Denton Cross Roads, Boles TN/KY, Oak Grove (AKA Memorial), Clementsville, Midway, New Hope, Beech Bethany, Arcot, Bennett Ferry, Vernon, TN/KY, Martinsburg, TN/KY, Cave Springs, Freed Hills, Butlers Landing, Tinsley Bottom, Weaver Bottom, Baptist Ridge, Beech Springs, Turkey Town, Ashlock, Pea Ridge, Willow Grove (lies under present-day Dale Hallow Lake), Lilly Dale, Maple Grove, Fox Springs, and Neely Cross Roads (AKA Indian Graves). There are many communities named for the creek or stream on which they were located. Among these are Mill Creek, Turkey Creek, Dry Creek, Proctor Creek, Dry Mill Creek, Knob Creek, Little Trace Creek, Pine Branch/ Kettle Creek, Hamilton Branch, and Shanky Branch.

Early Inhabitants


Some of the earliest inhabitants are believed to be the Mississippian Indians, forerunners

of the Cherokee. Other Indian Tribes who once dwelt in the Clay County area were the

Shawnee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Iroquois. The earliest white man believed to be in

the area was a Frenchman, Martin Chartier, who is believed to have been here as early as

1691 in a hunting party with the Shawnee. It is believed he remained in the area for about

two years. One of the first permanent settlers in Clay County was Obediah Terrill, who

arrived about 1770. The Obey River is named for him. Some of the earliest families to

settle in this area were the following: Boone, Crowder, Harpe, Hestand, Lincoln, Longdon,

McColgan, McLerran, Miles, Monroe, Moore, Mulkey, Nevins, Newman, Osgathorpe,

Pennington, Plumblee, Poindexter, Reecer, Skipworth, Smith, Stone, Strong, Tinsley,

Waddell, Whitson, Williamson, York, and Young.

Early life in Clay County was based on farming and river transport via the Cumberland

River. For many years, before modern-day roads, the Cumberland River was the major

form of transport in the Upper Cumberlands, making the ports of Butlers Landing,

Bennett Ferry, and Celina major distribution hubs. The early crops grown in this region were wheat, corn, flax, hemp, cotton, and oats. Tobacco was not an early crop. Livestock consisted of cattle, hogs, chickens, sheep, and turkeys.

The timber industry has been a major business in the Clay County area since before 1800 and still is today.

Used with permission from the author.

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