In 1785, when James Winchester first set foot in what would become Sumner County, Tennessee, there was no Cragfont and perhaps there wasn’t even a dream of it...yet.
James and his brother George came to the Western frontier from Maryland, like many other white men of their time, in search of their fortunes. Grizzled and war weary from seven years of service in the American Revolution, the two brothers sought a different kind of adventure. One they surely hoped would reap financial rewards. They began by building a fort on the land now occupied by Cragfont. They called it Fort Tuckahoe, but his fellow frontiersmen and women often referred to it as Winchester’s Fort. Here a few families lived together for protection against raids by Native Americans. James and his brother built a mill, sawmill, distillery, and a cabin.
The choice of name for the Winchester’s small settlement was a curious one. At that time “Tuckahoe” was a slang term used on the frontier. The word was used to describe settlers who came from a background of wealth, slave owning, land owning, and hailed from the Virginia Piedmont. By contrast, people known as “Cohee” were poorer, not landed gentry, and were typically of Scots-Irish descent. The majority of early white settlers to Sumner County identified as Cohees. We will likely never know if James Winchester used the term Tuckahoe as a sort of tongue-in-cheek joke or if it was a name his neighbors gave to the Fort and he begrudgingly accepted it. Either way, the two terms, which had fallen out of favor by the 19th century, defined the cultural makeup of white settlers in early Tennessee.
Violence between Native Americans and white settlers was a regular occurrence on the Tennessee frontier as both groups fought to protect their own interests. White settlers believed they had authority to take possession of lands in the west. In the process, indigenous sovereignty was subversively, and often blatantly, disregarded by illegal white settlement. James and George actively participated in the illegal settlement of native lands and both were militia officers that engaged in warfare with native people. Tensions were further exacerbated by ever-increasing racism and anti-Indian sentiment. These conflicts were numerous and there were many casualties, both white and Native. Many of these skirmishes took place right here, at Cragfont when Fort Tuckahoe and Croft Mill were attacked multiple times over the years. George Winchester was one of the last casualties of this long war.
On July 9th, 1794, George Winchester made his way from Bledsoe’s Lick to the Sumner County Quarterly Court. In route, he was ambushed, killed, and scalped by Native Americans. George was one of the last white casualties in the conflict between white settlers and the Indigenous people of Tennessee. Early the next morning, James Winchester, Lt. Colonel of the Sumner County Militia, as well as George’s brother, ordered the pursuit of the responsible party. After two weeks, the militia came up empty-handed. Shortly after their return, James Winchester, usually cautious in dealing with conflict between Native Americans and white settlers, wrote, “On this unhappy occasion, I rather attended to my own feelings as a man, a brother, than to my duty as a soldier and an officer.”