Thomas Sharp Spencer

Thomas S. Spencer is usually regarded as the first white settler in Middle Tennessee. On a long hunt to the area from 1776 to the spring of 1779, he staked out land, planted it, and built cabins on it, and during the last winter, he lived alone in the hollow of a giant sycamore tree at Bledsoe’s Lick. He returned to Middle Tennessee in the winter of 1779-80 to become one of “the immortal 70” original Cumberland settlers. Spencer fought in several Indian skirmishes and on one occasion a ball shattered his right arm. In 1783 he guarded the party that surveyed the North Carolina Military Reservation.

His physical strength was legendary. According to one story, Spencer threw a militiaman over a high rail fence to break up a fight at a local muster. When the embarrassed trooper recovered, he begged Spencer to set his horse over the fence also. Others characterized him as having the “strength of a lion,” as being stronger than “two common men,” and as being “the stoutest man I ever saw.” Spencer said he was afraid to strike another man in anger for fear of killing him.

On April 1, 1794, Spencer died from a gunshot fired from ambush. At the time, he was returning from Virginia across the Cumberland Mountains and had reached a hill in Van Buren County, which has since been given his name.

Suggested Reading

Walter T. Durham, “Thomas Sharp Spencer, Man or Legend,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 21 (1972): 240-55

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Thomas Sharp Spencer
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 21, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018