Archive for the ‘Sarah Blair’ Category

Much of the confusion surrounding Sarah Blair’s connection to the Gammon family stems from her relationship to one of Nathan Gammon’s former slaves, Isaac.

Documentary evidence has not yet shown exactly when and where Nathan Gammon came to own Isaac, but newspaper reports verify that Isaac lived in the Gammon household in Jonesborough during the 1840s and 1850s. When Nathan relocated his family from Jonesborough to Knoxville in 1851, he brought Isaac with him to the new city.

In Knoxville, Isaac lived in common-law marriage with Nancy Jones, a free black woman whom he later married. In testimony delivered to the Southern Claims Commission in the decade following the Civil War, Nancy, who was born free, stated that she had known Isaac since they both lived in Jonesborough. When Nathan Gammon moved his family to Knoxville taking Isaac along, Nancy followed.

In Knoxville, Isaac Gammon was allowed to raise a small herd of hogs. Though it was unusual for slaves to own property (and illegal in some cases), Nancy later testified that Nathan Gammon was in many ways a “kind and benevolent master” who allowed Isaac this courtesy. When the war arrived in Knoxville, some of Isaac’s hogs were slaughtered by the Union Army, desperately short of food and supplies. Isaac filed a claimfor reimbursement, which Nancy continued to press following Isaac’s death. It was settled in her favor in 1876.

Isaac Gammon was a respected member of the Knoxville community, and became the first elected black alderman shortly after the Civil War. During this time period, Sarah Blair was sent to live with Isaac and Nancy, and she changed her last name to theirs. Sarah was living with the Gammons when she left for Montana Territory late in 1870.

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Among the first Justices of the Peace elected in Washington County was John Blair, who also served as a Lieutenant Colonel under John Sevier in 1791 against the Cherokee, Chickamauga, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. Early in September 1793, “troops from Washington District under Colonel John Blair reinforced General John Sevier’s troops in the battle of Etowah,” in what marked Sevier’s last act of military service.[22]

John Blair II accepted a large land grant in Washington County, where he continued to live until his death in 1819. He served on the Tennessee State Legislature and remained active in local politics. In 1812, he erected a massive brick mansion on the outskirts of Embreeville, near the Bumpass Cove mines. It was there, near Jonesborough, where his family was raised. His oldest son, John Blair III, was born there in 1790 and remained in Washington County throughout his life, dying there in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. John Blair III was the owner of a slave girl named Sarah, born on this property in the latter months of 1852.[23]


[22] History of Washington County, Tennessee, 1988, 24.

[23] Census records indicate that Sarah was born on the John Blair III plantation in Jonesborough. She was still living there in 1860, when she appears on the census as an eight year old.

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There has been some confusion as to the role of the Nathan Gammon family in Sarah’s life. Some sources have attempted to assign ownership of a young Sarah to the Gammons, based solely on the idea that it would have made sense given the fact that following the Civil War, Sarah did indeed change her last name from Blair to Gammon. Some researchers are eager to name Nathan Gammon’s second daughter, Jane Leticia (“Jennie”) as Sarah’s owner based on the fact that Sarah had some education when she arrived in the west, and Jennie was a devoted school teacher.

Jennie Gammon did in fact own a young slave girl at the time of the Civil War…her name was Lucy.

Another theory we encountered was that Sarah passed between the Blair and Gammon families through marriage. The connection between the Blair and Gammon families is not in question: Nathan Gammon’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth Hamilton Looney Gammon (b. 23 August 1825, d. 14 April 1898) married William Patterson Blair, son of John Blair III, on October 19, 1820, in Jonesboro, Tennessee, where both families were living at the time.

Following the marriage, William and Elizabeth Blair moved to Warm Springs (later renamed Hot Springs) near Ashville, North Carolina, where William operated a stage line. There is some evidence that the couple owned slaves while residing in North Carolina; however, none appear to be the correct age to be Sarah.

A brief history of what we know about Nathan Gammon and his immediate family will be helpful as we begin to unravel the complexities of Sarah’s late childhood and teenage years. Nathan Gammon was a close friend of the Blair family, and there are many connections between them that hold some bearing on our story.

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