Reeves, Charlotte (1751 NC - 1843 TN)

Reeves, Charlotte

Charlotte Reeves


Father: George Reeves
Mother: Mary Jordan

Birth: January 2, 1751, Northhampton Co., North Carolina
Birth Source: Gravestone, James Randoloph Robertson Bible

Death: 11 June 1843, Nashville, Davidson Co., Tennessee
Death Source: Gravestone

Spouse1: James Randolph Robertson, b. 1742, Virginia


Children of James Randolph Robertson and Charlotte Rives:
  1. Jonathan Friar Robertson, b. 13 Jun 1769 in North Carolina
  2. James Randolph Robertson, b. 11 Dec 1771 in North Carolina
  3. Delilah Robertson, b. 30 Nov 1773 in North Carolina
  4. William Blount Robertson, b. 13 Jun 1775 in Davidson County, Tennessee
  5. Peyton Henderson Robertson, b. 22 Nov 1775 in North Carolina
  6. Charlotte Robertson, b. 11 Jul 1778 in North Carolina
  7. Felix Randolph Robertson, b. 11 Jan 1781 in Nashville, Davidson Co., Tennessee
  8. Charlotte Washington Robertson, b. 11 Mar 1783 in Davidson County, Tennessee
  9. Peyton Robertson, b. 08 Dec 1787 in Nashville, Davidson Co., TN
  10. Lavinia Robertson, b. 23 Feb 1790 in Davidson County, Tennessee
  11. John McNairy Robertson, b. 26 Apr 1792 in Davidson County, Tennessee

Pioneer woman extraordinaire and future heroine of Fort Nashborough, Charlotte Reeves was born in Northampton, North Carolina in 1751 and moved with her family to Johnston (now Wake) County North Carolina by about 1763. There, she married James Robertson in 1768. In 1771, Charlotte and James along with several other families left Wake County for the Watauga Settlements in what is now eastern Tennessee. It is believed that Charlotte's parents and siblings and some of James Robertson's siblings and his uncle Charles Robertson either accompanied them or followed them very quickly.

The Watauga villages where James and Charlotte Robertson settled rested on lands leased from the Cherokee. A truce with the Cherokee was short-lived and land agreements were revoked. Life was difficult and dangerous. By 1779, James Robertson was ready to move west. While James Robertson led some of the men to the Cumberland settlements, where Nashville is now located, John Donelson led the so-called Donelson flotilla to the same location via the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. The women and children (including Charlotte and four of her children) and some of the men were aboard the flatboats that made the nearly 1000 mile journey in winter. During the perilous voyage Charlotte Reeves distinguished herself by fighting off Indian attackers and working the oars with the men.

Once in the Cumberland settlements, Charlotte, James, and their children lived in Fort Nashborough, which was one of several forts housing settlers for protection from Indian attacks.

Charlotte Robertson is celebrated as the heroine of the Battle of the Bluffs which was fought at Fort Nashborough in 1781. When Indians attacked the fort, she realized that they were positioned between the fort's men, who were out in the woods, and the fort. She unleashed the hounds, creating great confusion among the Indian attackers. This diversion allowed time for the men to return safely to the fort. One of Charlotte's sons was killed by Indians during this battle. In all, two of her sons were killed by Indians while another was scalped but recovered.

The city of Charlotte, Tennessee, and Charlotte Pike in Nashville are named for Charlotte Robertson, who lived in Middle Tennessee until her death in 1843 at the age of ninety-two. She is buried in Nashville's City Cemetery.

For more information see TN Encyclopedia and other sources.

From Reliques of the Rives:
Charlotte Rives, known to history as “Charlotte Reeves,” was born January 2, 1751, in Northampton county, North Carolina, the daughter of George and Mary (Jordan) Rives, and died June 11, 1843, at her home, “Traveler’s Rest,” formerly a landmark of interest outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Charlotte Rives married January 21, 1768, in Wake county, North Carolina, James Robertson (b. June 24, 1742, in Brunswick county, Virginia, d. Sept. 1, 1814, at the Chickasaw Indian Agency, son of John Randolph Robertson and his wife, Mary Gower, b. June 28, 1722). In July, 1904, a sketch of the life of Charlotte Reeves (Rives) was published by Mr. Landon Knight in the Delineator as one of a series of articles entitled, Great Women of Pioneer Times, from which the following has been taken:
According to the Robertson family Bible Charlotte Reeves was born in Northampton County, N. C., on Jan. 2, 1751, being the daughter of George and Mary Jordan Reeves. On Oct. 21, 1768, she was married to James Robertson (son of John Randolph and Mary Gower Robertson) a young farmer of Wake County N. C., nine years her senior.
Four years later, James Robertson and some of his neighbors, weary of battling with poor lands and harsh and unjust laws, migrated across the mountains of western North Carolina, and founded the little settlement of Watauga, on the Watauga River, in the northeastern part of what is now the State of Tennessee.
Here, by industry and frugality, Robertson and his wife amassed a modest fortune, and lived in comparative comfort. But because of the ending of a truce with the Indians and disputes over lands, James Robertson determined to push nearly 300 miles farther west to a point on the Cumberland River known as Salt Lick.
He, with most of the men driving their cattle before them, began the journey across the wilderness in November 1779. A few days later, Charlotte Robertson with four small children, her sister-in-law (Mrs. Anne Johnson Robertson, a widow, whose descendant, the Hon. Cave Johnson served in the cabinet of President Polk) and her brother (presumably Jordan Rives), with their servants, joined the families of the other colonists on the Holston River, where they embarked in flat-bottomed boats, and one of the most remarkable voyages of history was begun.
Captain John Donelson (father of Rachel Donelson who afterwards married President Andrew Jackson) who commanded the expedition, tells us in his diary how, from the moment the voyagers entered the Tennessee River until they reached the Ohio River they were almost constantly beset by the combined tribes of the western Indians, and through scenes of battle, shipwreck, defeats, victories, and escapes, Charlotte Robertson was a conspicuous figure.
At one time it is recorded, under a fierce fire from both sides of the river, she coolly placed her babies in the bottom of the boat and built a barricade of bedding around them, then amid the singing of bullets, she loaded rifles, altogether indifferent to danger. Again she took the place of a wounded boatman at the oars, and forging ahead was attacked by a war canoe filled with painted savages. With a stroke of the paddle she upset the craft, and as its occupants arose from the water, she rained blows upon their heads until they sank or were compelled to swim for shore. Then when the smoke of battle had cleared away, she tenderly cared for the wounded and comforted the dying. . . .
Matters were still further complicated by the desertion of their pilot, leaving but three men on board the “Adventure.” The rapid current of the great river was filled with masses of ice and heavy driftwood, which every moment threatened destruction. If by chance they should escape that peril, the narrow Cumberland, up which they must proceed for two hundred miles, was infested with hostile savages. However it was equally fatal to turn back, and lashing the boats together, the little fleet began its slow and laborious ascent. Mrs. Johnson, a sister of James Robertson, acted as pilot, and Mistress Charlotte and her maid Hagar, worked at the oars with the men. The weather grew bitterly cold, blinding storms of snow and sleet swept over them, and their provisions gave out. To attempt to procure game was but to fall into the hands of the savages, who were closely following them on both sides of the river. Therefore keeping well to the middle of the stream and living on scanty rations of parched corn they struggled on through miserable days and still more horrible nights always under the shadow of death, but stern, resolute, unconquered, and unconquerable. At last, more than four months from the day they had embarked, the prow of the “Adventure” was grounded on a spot near the foot of Church Street, Nashville.
Captain Robertson and his companions had reached the spot several weeks earlier and animated with the indomitable energy of the pioneer had completed a block house and several cabins and surrounded them with palisades. Very different from her comfortable home on the Watauga was the log cabin that Charlotte Robertson now occupied. The small cabin was without shutters for either windows or doors, but heavy paper soaked in lard afforded a translucent covering for the former, while at night a sheet closed the latter.
The feeble colony was beset with dangers and difficulties, and in every emergency, civil or military, Capt. Robertson was regarded as the general and father of the community. And with like confidence the women in their hour of trial turned to the wife for counsel and aid, sure that both would be given in greater measure than asked. In fact, the first year they were so constantly engaged with the affairs of the settlers that they were compelled to neglect their own. The Captain was even forced to hunt at night for the game that he largely relied upon to support his family.
While her husband was away upon some mission in the interest of the little settlement, Charlotte Robertson met with an adventure which again showed her courage. On this particular evening she had put her children to bed and had herself retired early. Lying half awake she heard a slight noise at the door, and looking around saw a pair of flaming eyes regarding her. In a moment the sheet was pushed aside, and a huge panther entered the room and springing upon her bed, gazed intently into her half-closed eyes. A movement, an outcry at that moment would have resulted fatally, but not a muscle quivered. Leaving her bed, the animal examined the sleeping children, then devoured a large gourd of lard, and quietly took his departure.
But panthers were by no means the gravest dangers she was compelled to meet. The powerful tribes of Middle and East Tennessee had resolved to exterminate the whites, and they waged a continuous and relentless warfare that spared neither sex nor age. In one year Charlotte Robertson was forced to look upon the mangled remains of her sons Peyton and Randolph, two splendid little fellows who were murdered while gathering sugar sap within a stone's throw of the fort. But in those dark days that tried the souls of men with iron resolution, the courage of Charlotte Robertson never faltered. In word and deed she was an inspiration to all, and when others gave way to despair, her great soul encouraged them to persevere and win for their children the splendid heritage promised them by the future.
Gradually the men felt it safe, as indeed it was necessary, to leave the defense of the fort to the women while they tilled the fields. The wily savages discovered the defenseless condition of the fort and planned to carry it by storm. The attack was sudden, but the women under Mistress Charlotte flew to arms and repulsed the onslaught. A party of twenty-five braves, however, found lodgment under the walls of the fort and were making desperate efforts to fire it. The defenders could not reach them with their rifles, and matters looked desperate when Captain Robertson's sister was seized with an inspiration. It was wash day at the fort, so seizing a bucket of boiling water and bidding the women supply more, she mounted the parapet amid a shower of bullets, and directed a scalding stream upon the enemy. Thrice she was severely wounded but held her position until the Indians were forced to seek shelter in the woods. When the men reached the fort the battle was over, and although several of the women were injured, victory remained with them along with fifteen dead and many more wounded Indians.
However, conditions began to improve, more settlers came, and encouraged by the peaceful present and the assurances of the women, the men planted their crops this year in a bend of the river near the present State penitentiary. One fine April day, not a man was left at the fort save Jonathan Robertson (1769-1814), and at daylight he had gone to hunt turkeys on the hill where now stands the Capitol. Mistress Charlotte, with her infant Felix (born in 1781), the first white child born in Davidson County, was overseeing the spinning and weaving, and yet despite the peaceful scene of that beautiful morning, she was impressed by the premonition of impending disaster. Nor was it diminished when the pack of bloodhounds, trained to hunt Indians, now slumbering in the sunlight, aroused themselves, sniffed the air, and began to growl. Instantly she was on the lookout, scanning the forest in every direction, but at first nothing unusual was apparent. A moment later and the color left her cheeks. Through the blue haze that crowned the hills to the northward, she saw a band of Indians dancing around a prostrate object.
In a flash the truth dawned; they had murdered her son. In the same moment came the conviction that something must be done or the entire colony would be wiped out. Bidding her servant bring two horses and a gun, she instructed the women in the defense of the fort until aid should come. Then holding her little Felix in her arms and followed by Caesar with her rifle, she passed out of the gate and heard it barricaded behind her. Cautiously they skirt the forest until a friendly hillock screens them from view, then they give a free rein, galloping madly over the six or seven miles to the farms. Captain Robertson, hearing the furious galloping, and divining the cause, gives the danger signal. In a moment all along the bottom horses are cut loose from ploughs and nineteen farmers, with unslung rifles, are following their leader and his heroic wife in the mad race for the fort. They reach the fort none too soon, for a party of Indians is advancing through the canebrakes. Dismounting, the pioneers drive them rapidly back—too far, for at this moment a half-moon line of battle deploys between them and the fort. They have fallen into a trap, and it is nineteen against a thousand. But Captain Robertson's face was never calmer as he bids his men seek cover and waste no powder. In a few moments rifles are ringing and clouds of white smoke are floating over the cedars. Fiercer the conflict rages, the half-moon line is closing and forcing them back into the river. At this moment Mistress Charlotte is standing, rifle in hand, on the lookout watching the battle. Her trained eye now tells her that the crisis has arrived. At a word from her, Caesar unlooses the hounds, and with loud baying they rush upon the rear of the warriors’ reforming line. The manoeuvre is understood, the charge is sounded, the pioneers close in upon their antagonists who, now assailed in front and rear, waver and break and flee, and the battle is over.‘ A rescue party was formed and with it went the distracted mother. At a spot now marked by the south entrance to the Capitol grounds, they found Jonathan still alive, but unconscious. He was borne to the fort, and in time was nursed back to health and strength to become a prominent figure in the new State, by the heroic mother, whose courage had saved its most important settlement from destruction.
That attack was the culminating point of the dark days of Middle Tennessee, and while the hardships and trials of Charlotte Robertson were not yet over, it is pleasant to look back to that far off time and see her emerging from the scenes of adversity and sorrow into the paths of tranquility and peace so congenial to a woman of her gentle nature. Her husband was now one of the great men of the West, and honors were freely bestowed upon him. He was elected to the Senate and was made a general, but, best of all, in the hearts of his people he was cherished as the Father of Tennessee. Nor was wealth lacking. His lands rapidly appreciated in value, and in 1788 he felt himself able to gratify Miss Charlotte's desire for a handsome home. The fine brick mansion, the first in Nashville, was reared in a magnificent grove of forest trees on the highway which is still known as Charlotte Pike. The brick marked by the hieroglyphics of the Indian workmen, the polished walnut floors, the massive oaken doors, the exquisitely carved balustrades were all wrought by hand. Mrs. Robertson is said to have planned the house, which seems probable from the perfect taste and harmony which pervaded it, from its bright, airy bedrooms to its dining-room and kitchen.
Her first thought was to share the comforts of her new home with her aged parents. The General’s time being wholly occupied with public duties, she, with Felix and faithful Caesar, made the journey on horseback across the wilderness to North Carolina and brought her parents back with her. This done, her next ambition was to give her children a thorough education. For the younger ones an excellent tutor was found in David Hood, one of those shrewd, adventurous Scotch schoolmasters who followed in the wake of the pioneer, laying the foundations of education. The elder ones, Felix and Lavinia, she insisted upon sending to Philadelphia, the former to study medicine, the latter to complete her education in a fashionable boarding school. The two riding habits—one black, the other gray—worn by Lavinia on this journey of months, were preserved by her descendants until lost during the Civil War. At Mount Vernon, their father’s warm friend and admirer, President Washington, detained the young travellers for a week, and on their return they were entertained by other distinguished personages in the straggling village which had been recently founded as the national Capitol.
A residence of several years in Philadelphia, one may well believe, produced marked impressions upon the bright, clever young girl from the wilderness, and upon her return they began to bear fruit. No doubt, the fine mansion, with its bare floors and somewhat meagre furnishings, seemed eminently satisfactory to the simple old General and reasonably so even to Mistress Charlotte, but Miss Lavinia had other ideas and was not long in securing their adoption. A large order was consequently sent to Philadelphia, and in time several wagons arrived laden with carpets, pier glasses, divans and, in fact, a general assortment of the handsomest furniture that the market afforded. This innovation was a notable event in the history of Nashborough, as the village was then called, and the pioneers from miles around flocked to see the wonderful treasures. The carpets especially were objects of wonder and admiration. They were the first ever seen in Middle Tennessee, and most of the pioneers failed to understand them. A great grand-daughter of Mistress Charlotte relates that on the evening of inspection stalwart pioneers might have been seen timidly jumping from one design to another under the impression that their purpose was to guide one in walking, while fresh-cheeked maidens in homespun frocks lingered long and lovingly before the great mirrors.
This was the happiest period in Mistress Charlotte's life, and one may imagine the old people under their own vine and fig tree caring for their servants, befriending their neighbors and spending their long evenings in reading, which was never left off so long as James Robertson lived. They were not, as the historian Putnam says, ignorant, but were remarkably well educated, belonging by birth and breeding to that class from which was evolved the aristocracy of the South.‘ But they were the soul of kindness and hospitality, and the old General loved to call his place "Traveler's Rest," a name which clung to it until its destruction by fire two years ago.
No man ever had so much influence with the Indians as General Robertson, and as the only means of preserving peace and inducing them to turn to the ways of civilized life, the President requested him to take care of the Agency in Choctaw nation. He was now old and acquiescence meant great sacrifice, but he and his wife finally decided that their first duty was to their country.
All of General Robertson's large business affairs now devolved upon his wife, and with the same insight, resolution and executive ability that she had shown in her younger days, she assumed the responsibilities, successfully managing in conjunction with Mr. Hood several large plantations and a small army of servants. All of the time that could be spared from these duties was spent with her husband at the Agency, and when at last his health began to fail she left everything and remained constantly by his side, tenderly nursing him until, in 1814,the end came. No wife had ever been more devoted, and as she saw him laid to rest there in the wilderness, her grief was so great that all the other sorrows of her eventful life seemed small in comparison. But other duties claimed her, and with a son for a companion she journeyed back across the forests to take up her duties to the living.
She survived her husband almost thirty years, living a busy, useful life to the end. In her old age we see her still beautiful, arrayed in her charming caps of black and white and wearing the silk aprons of which she was so fond, busy with the household affairs at “Traveler’s Rest,” or sitting before the wide hearth where great logs blazed on the quaint old brass andirons, living over, with admiring grandchildren on her knee, the voyage of the "Adventure" and the stirring days when Nashville was but a fort on the bluff. She lived to see a great city, with broad streets and handsome homes, arise on the spot where she had once beheld herds of buffalo and deer, to see the remains of her honored husband borne along those streets by the citizens, accompanied by United States soldiers sent thither by the Government to honor the memory of “the Father of Tennessee." She died in 1843, at the age of ninety-three, and was laid to rest beside her husband in the old City Cemetery of Nashville. No monument marks the spot, but covered as it is, with weeds and briars, it is sacred ground to the Tennesseean, who, in the reverence of his heart, has erected a memorial more enduring than the hands of man could fashion from marble or brass.


Birth:        James Randolph Robertson Family Bible (Cited by Childs)
Death:      Gravestone, Nashville City Cemetery, Davidson County, Tennessee
History:    Childs, James Rives. Reliques of the Rives, p327
                   Great Women of Pioneer Times (Cited by Childs)