The Famed Pre-Revolutionary War “Long Hunters”: Who They Were and Who We Descend From

Our family is so blessed to have learned the history of our family here in the hills of East Tennessee. This is where we reside now, amidst the whispers of our ancestors – the long hunters, the first pioneers, the Cherokee and the Melungeon people. These are all our people who called these mountains home. Their histories live on as many are famous in forging the first paths across these parts and opening the corridors that would later allow thousands to migrate west across the plains of America to the west.

And to that end, our ancestors co-mingled with both native tribes and are part of the Melungeons; a race that is rocking the genealogical world today. A mystery race, whose originals are unknown, Melungeons resided in these hills before the first explorers came. They have interesting markings/genetic attributes that are unique to their own kind, and the genealogical world is abuzz with this group of people that has completely fallen out of the history books that depict how our nation formed and who was here first. Our family is of these Melungeon people.

On top of that intrigue, our family descends from Princess Nicketti, daughter of Chief Powhatan. Our Davis line travelled with Daniel Boone and Boone in fact raised one of our Davis boys himself. His descendants are Davis kin. And we have many Cherokee Davis’ on the Cherokee Indian Rolls of Cherokee NC (69 to be exact.)

But, we have learned something very interesting in the last week and it ties to the “long hunters’ of the western frontier of Virginia. It ties to our Great Grandfather, Robert Housten Davis and his wife Mosella Etherton, our Great Grand Mother.

Robert Housten Davis
Robert Housten Davis
Mosella Etherton Davis (Right Front) Her Twin Sister Rosella Left Front and 2nd GG Phoebe Malone Etherton (1835-1919) In the Center Front

It appears our family, between Robert and Mosella are descendants of at least 23 of the famed “long hunters” of western frontiers of the Virginia Territory. And, we are direct descendants on the Etherton side of the Skaggs family, (Henry Skaggs) famed Long Hunter who was the first to travel through the Cumberland Gap.

So briefly, let me share who of the long hunters our family are related to then I will explain who the long hunters were and why it is so important in American history.

Our Davis/Etherton bloodlines mix with these long hunter bloodlines from the 1600s through to the 1800s:

  • Robert Crockett
  • Cunningham
  • Jacob Harman
  • Humphrey Lyon
  • William Allen
  • John & Joseph Baker
  • Jack Blevins
  • Daniel Boone
  • Joseph Bowen
  • Castleton Brooks
  • Joseph Brown
  • William Butler
  • Charles Cox
  • William Crabtree
  • William Miller
  • John Montgomery
  • Charles Skaggs
  • Henry Skaggs
  • Charles Sinclair
  • James and Henry Smith
  • Elisha Wallen

There are some very famous names up there once you understand who the long hunters were.

The long hunters were 18th century mountain men that opened up the rest of America, blazing a path for settlers to move west. 100 years before the ‘mountain men’ of the west emerged, there were the long hunters of the western Virginia territory, pre-Revolutionary War. Many of the names above you may never have heard of unless you live or research the Carolinas, Tennessee Virginia Territory, Kentucky and Tennessee. However, one such Long Hunter, Daniel Boone, creates the vivid picture of who these long hunters were.

Prior to the Revolutionary War much of the land east of the Mississippi was still unexplored. It was land with great natural resources with elk, buffalo, and pelts of all kind. The only people who dared brave the vast wilderness that was the hunting grounds of numerous Indian nations were the long hunters. They travelled in light small groups for very long period of time. The groups were small in nature to stay hidden from the Indians while hunting on the native hunting lands which would later become Kentucky and Tennessee.

Long hunters were groups of hunters who originally came out of the Virginia Colony prior to the American Revolution. The land where the longhunter roamed was the home of the Cherokee, Shawnee, Creek and Chickasaw peoples. These native nations looked upon the long hunters as trespassers and thieves. Men of the American frontier knew that Southwest Virginia and later Tennessee and Kentucky, were excellent places to hunt, a fact known to the Indians for centuries before the arrival of the white man. The so-called long hunts usually began in October and extended into March or April of the following year. This would be the time of year when the hides and pelts would be the thickest, and thus fetch the highest dollar at market. Bison was the primary game pursued by the long hunters. 

As it became necessary to move beyond the boundaries of present Virginia into eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, the expeditions became more extended, lasting nine to eighteen months and sometimes even two years. When this happened the men who went on these expeditions became known as the Long Hunters.

Some of the early hunters went through the Cumberland Gap and headed west to open grasslands called the Barrens, the center of which is now Barren County, Kentucky. In this area, the hunters found buffalo, elk, and white-tailed deer by the hundreds, and sometimes by the thousands. There were also flocks of wild turkey and wild pigeons. Wolves, panthers, and bear were also plentiful.

The hunters came from a wide area to hunt. The well-known Boones, Squire and Daniel, came from North Carolina; Elisha Wallen and many of his associates from Smith River in Pittsylvania County; Isaac Lindsey and his group from South Carolina; and the Drakes, Bledsoes, Scaggs, and others from the New River settlements. Many of them later moved to the Holston River in present Washington and Smyth counties, Virginia, and some into Kentucky and Tennessee. Joshua Horton, Uriah Stone, and William Baker came from Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Michael Stoner and James Harrod came from Pittsburgh.

The first documented long hunt of record began in late 1761, when eighteen men, led by Elisha Wallen, Henry Skaggs, the Blevins (John and William), and Charles Cox traveled into Hawkins County and Carter’s Valley in Tennessee. In 1763, another group hunted in upper East Tennessee and on the Cumberland River.

Although the men sometimes moved into the hunting areas in groups of fifteen to thirty, once the hunting ground was reached, they divided into twos and threes and set out from the station camp. The usual dress was hunting skirts, leggings, and moccasins. The equipment included two pack horses each, a large supply of powder and lead for their rifles, a small vise and bellows, a screwplate and files for repairing the rifles, traps, blankets, dogs, and other supplies.

In 1764, Henry Skaggs led his first expedition through the Cumberland Gap, a mountain pass at the junction of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. These early trips westward attracted the interest of famed explorer Daniel Boone. Boone used his existing relationship with North Carolina land speculator Richard Henderson to recruit Skaggs as an agent for Henderson’s land company, Richard Henderson and Company.

Richard Henderson set up the first land tract in Tennessee after it became a state. It was known as the Henderson Land Tract. Our Davis family were some of the first pioneers to purchase this land in Powell Valley upon Tennessee becoming a state in 1797. However, our family was already long hunting in this land thirty years earlier as the first long hunters to enter this land.

Henry Skaggs’ sister Rachel (the Henry who was the first to lead an expedition through the Cumberland Gap) married our Reverand Moses Etherton. Moses is our Mosella’s Great Great Grandfather. So we are direct kin of Henry Skaggs line. We are also directly intermarried with Daniel Boone as mentioned above, Elisha Wallen/Walling, and Blevins.

It is so interesting that on our Etherton side, Skaggs led the first expedition through the Cumberland Gap. And, on our Davis side, our family had the first established ‘settlement’ atop the Cumberland Gap, known as Davis Station, or Davis Tavern.

What is so amazing is that our Robert Housten Davis and Mosella Etherton Davis, were married 112 years LATER and they met and got married in Kansas. Neither of them were even born in Tennessee or Kentucky. We are talking FOUR GENERATIONS BEFORE, that the Davis clan and Etherton clan walked on the exact same ground as two completely distinct families that left indelible marks on the history of America in one common and very specific place, the Cumberland Gap. That is mind blowing.

So, now in 2020 as we travel through these mountains that we live in, we see these famed names marking history. These names show up through signage, as street names or monuments commemorating their brave and historic sojourn into the rugged wilderness of the western most outlaying lands beyond the Virginia frontier.

We will be having a Davis Family Reunion the week of fourth of July this year, 2020 so that our whole family can walk this ground and learn this history of our ancestors as we celebrate fourth of July. We will be tending to the grave as well of James Davis and his father Jonathan (Jonathan) who served in the Revolutionary War. Full circle is all we can really say about all of this and it is about time. It is time for families to come back together and learn, live and love our heritage. It’s time.

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