The next stop on my Knoxville cemetery adventure turned out to be a big step back in time. The truth of it is, I looked on Google maps and noticed it was only six miles from Calvary Catholic Cemetery. It’s located on a tight bend on Asbury Road. If you blink, you’ll miss it.
I didn’t know when I picked out Lebanon in the Fork Cemetery that I would be going to one of Knoxville’s oldest burial grounds. It’s likely the oldest in Knox County. With only 77 recorded memorials on Find a Grave.com, Lebanon in the Fork is not a a very big cemetery. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in historical significance.
Lebanon in the Fork Cemetery is also known as Three Rivers Cemetery. That’s because it’s located on land overlooking the confluence of the Holston River with the French Broad River, where the “fork” and beginning of the Tennessee River is formed. The picture I took with my back to the cemetery (below) enables you to catch a glimpse of the water beneath the railroad bridge.
Tennessee Not Yet a State
As the first Presbyterian church in Knox County, Lebanon In The Fork Presbyterian Church was founded around 1791 by the Rev. Samuel Carrick. Tennessee wouldn’t officially become a state for another five years so things were still a bit untamed. William Blount, a Revolutionary War veteran from eastern North Carolina and signer of the U.S. Constitution, was appointed governor of the Southwestern Territory.
As President George Washington’s representative, Blount came to White’s Fort in 1791 to negotiate the Treaty of the Holston with a convention of about 41 Cherokee leaders to determine the future of U.S.-Cherokee relations, at least for the time being. Blount established his permanent capital at White’s Fort. Its location on top of a bluff provided a defensive advantage and kept it safe from flooding. He named it Knoxville, in honor of his immediate superior and a former general in the Revolution, Secretary of War Henry Knox. I visited Knox’ grave in Thomaston, Maine back in 2017.
This stone gives you a little bit of the cemetery’s history, thanks to the Bonny Kate chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Bonny Kate Sevier was the wife of Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier.
From what I’ve read, the land that the cemetery is situated on was already being used for burials before 1791. Not only for people but for hunters burying animals. So I have no doubt there’s far more people (and game) buried here than the 77 memorials on Find a Grave. Tennessee pioneer Francis Alexander Ramsey, father of historian Dr. J. G. M. Ramsey, donated the nine acres of land the church was on (now gone) and where the cemetery remains. I’ll get to those gentlemen in Part II.
The first Lebanon In The Fork Presbyterian Church at this site was constructed near the crest of the hill and made of rough logs. This structure was replaced by a larger building in 1903, which served the church until it burnt down due to a fire in 1981.
The bell and some columns from the 1903 church were recovered and are in the cemetery, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on November 29, 2010.
The Carricks Come to Knoxville
Let me back up and return to Rev. Carrick, who founded the church. He’s not buried in the cemetery but his first wife is. A native of Pennsylvania, Rev. Carrick married Elizabeth Moore in Virginia in 1779. The couple had their first child, Elizabeth, in 1783. They would move to Tennessee in 1791 when he helped establish the church.
Rev. Carrick was also president of Blount College, formed when Carrick opened a seminary in his home for Knoxville students seeking a classical education in 1792. The school would become East Tennessee College and eventually the University of Tennessee. So Rev. Carrick is known as the University’s first president. He would also serve as the first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Knoxville, located downtown. Rev. Carrick’s congregation included such notables as Knoxville’s founder James White, Tennessee’s founding father John Sevier, and William Blount (whom I mentioned earlier).
Sadly, Elizabeth Carrick did not live to see her children grow up. After suffering poor health for some time, she died on Sept. 24, 1793 at the age of 33. Her death and burial are written about in a book by Dr. J.G.M. Ramsey (I mentioned him earlier), and it reminds us how unsettled Tennessee still was at the time. Rev. Carrick and the men of the community were in the city trying to hold back an Indian attack so he was not with her when she passed away.
A Funeral Amid an Impending Attack
It occurred on the day of the contemplated attack upon the infant Knoxville by the Indians, Sept., 1793. All the inhabitants who would bear arms had gone to its defense, and relations and remains of Mrs. Carrick were brought down in a canoe, on the Holston River and deposited in the church yard, attended and buried by women only.
Rev. Carrick remarried four months later to Annis McClellan, who was 26. They would have several children together. His first daughter, Elizabeth, went on to marry Hugh Lawson White and he became a Tennessee congressman from 1825 to 1840. Rev. Carrick, Elizabeth, and some of his other children are buried at the First Presbyterian Church’s cemetery in downtown Knoxville. If second wife Annis is there, her grave is unmarked.
An interesting side note. There’s a marker right beside the footplate of Elizabeth Carrick’s grave for a man named Jacob Hagar. Little is known about him beyond the fact he lived from about 1800 and died on Aug. 15, 1843. He lived in Knox County in the 1830s and 1840s with his wife, Christina. In his will, he left to her “one cow, one bed, one bedsted (sic), & furniture, one big wheel, and cards, and the cotton on hand & one flax wheel.” He left each of his two sisters $1 each.
Did Rev. Kennedy Pastor the Church?
Two markers for the Rev. John Kennedy and his wife, Mary Smith Kennedy, raised a few questions for me. Born in Ireland in 1768, Rev. Kennedy emigrated to America with his mother and six siblings. His father is thought to have died during the crossing. They settled in Pennsylvania, where Rev. Kennedy married Mary Smith of East Noddingham, Chester County, Penn. They moved to Tennessee and would have 10 children over the course of their marriage.
Their appearance in the cemetery made me think he might have pastored the Lebanon in the Fork Presbyterian Church at one point but I was unable to confirm or discard that idea. The list of pastor for the church does not include his name but research by others indicates a gap in that list between 1813 to 1836. Regardless, the Kennedys amassed property about five miles from the church according to research done by others that I found. In 1819, Rev. Kennedy also bought 80- and 90-acre tracts on Swan Pond Creek, bringing his holdings up to 444 acres.
Rev. Kennedy died on Aug. 30, 1826 at the age of 57. I did find an obituary for him in the Knoxville Enquirer, which does not mention what (if any) churches he pastored.
The Widow Files Suit
Some family-written research I found cast some light on some unhappiness that transpired between Mary Kennedy and one of her sons. She filed a suit against third child, Samuel, in 1841. The Rev. Kennedy’s will required James (21 at the time) and Samuel (then 37) to support their mother, Mary. She claimed in the suit: “Now may it please your Honour, the aforesaid Samuel Kennedy has in his possession all the most valuable part of the said Plantation, and has never contributed anything for the support of your oratrix and utterly refuses so to do.”
I’m not sure how Mary’s suit was resolved. She did not remarry and died on Oct. 11, 1853. I think she must have patched up her differences with Samuel because she did include him and her still living children, along with two grandchildren, in the will she wrote not long before her death.
Next time, I’ll have stories about the Ramsey family and the roles they played in shaping Knoxville history.