By Meghan E. Gattignolo
The first non-indigenous residents of the Clarksville area were Revolutionary War veterans looking for new adventures and financial opportunities. John Montgomery – the namesake of Montgomery County – had established the town of Clarksville by 1784. Montgomery fought with Brigadier General George Rogers Clark during the Revolution and named the new city after his general. Former colonists, now pioneers and settlers, followed Montgomery into this area by the Cumberland River. Valentine Sevier and his family were among these pioneers.
Moving west of the Appalachian Mountains in the 18th century involved some very real dangers. The Louisiana Purchase and the exploration by Lewis and Clark was a couple decades away yet when Valentine Sevier moved his family to Montgomery County. Tennessee was the western frontier and certainly a wild place to live. Long hunters had already begun finding their way over the mountains before the war. John Montgomery was a long hunter prior to the war, first coming upon the area that would become Clarksville in 1771. Pioneers and settlers were constantly in conflict with indigenous tribes. The Cherokee, along with other nations, fought with the British during the Revolutionary War, hoping to keep settlers off their land. The British had made land deals and treaties with the Native American tribes – treaties the new Americans would not honor.
Valentine was born in Virginia in 1747, the second son of the senior Valentine Sevier, a recent immigrant to the colonies. The Sevier family played important roles in American history, but especially Tennessee history. Members of the family were involved in the Watauga Compact, an early instance of colonists creating an opposing government against the British. Valentine, as well as his brothers, fought in the Revolutionary War. After the war, Valentine along with his brother John Sevier became involved in the State of Franklin, a short-lived attempt at a government independent of the new American union and included a collection of East Tennessee counties.
Portrait of John Sevier by James Willson Peale
Valentine Sevier Station Marker photographed By Shane Oliver, 2021
Upon moving to the area, Valentine Sevier built a home – Sevier Station – up high on a hill overlooking the Cumberland River and Red Rivers. Unfortunately for him and his family, the land Valentine purchased was on the ancient hunting grounds of several local native tribes. For their disregard for the native tribes’ claims to the lands they settled on, the Sevier family – as well as many other families along the Cumberland – paid dearly. Several of Valentine’s children and grandchildren were killed during attacks by bands of Native Americans, particularly one on November 11, 1794. His 12-year-old daughter Rebecca was also scalped, though she survived.
Valentine Sevier died in 1800 from chronic rheumatoid arthritis, just a few years after Tennessee became a state and he saw his older brother become the first governor. He abandoned Sevier Station not long after the attacks that killed most of his family, unable to defend it against the Cherokee and other tribes. Valentine was buried on land he donated to Clarksville, which became City Cemetery. Today the plot is known as Riverview Cemetery, Clarksville’s oldest public cemetery. You can learn more about Valentine Sevier and his family at Ft. Defiance Interpretive Center, near the site of Sevier Station.
New this year, the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center is hosting tours through Riverview Cemetery. See Valentine Sevier’s grave and learn about other notable residents of Riverview Cemetery during the Historic Riverview Cemetery Walking Tour, with guide Kim Raines. Tours are being offered every other Saturday through October, at 10am. To join, register online. You can also purchase tickets through Seasons: The Museum Store by calling the Museum or walking in.
Meghan E. Gattignolo is a freelance writer and longtime Clarksville, TN resident. She loves to obsess about historical subjects and annoy her family daily with unsolicited random facts. Meghan holds a History B.A. from Austin Peay State University and lives in town with her husband and two daughters.