Rock Castle (Hendersonville, Tennessee)

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Rock Castle
Rock Castle 026.jpg
Rock Castle (Hendersonville, Tennessee) is located in Tennessee
Rock Castle (Hendersonville, Tennessee)
Location in Tennessee
Rock Castle (Hendersonville, Tennessee) is located in the US
Rock Castle (Hendersonville, Tennessee)
Rock Castle (Hendersonville, Tennessee) (the US)
LocationSE of Hendersonville on Indian Lake Rd
139 Rock Castle Lane, Hendersonville, TN 37075-4522, USA
Nearest cityHendersonville, Tennessee
Coordinates36°16′45″N 86°35′47″W / 36.2793°N 86.5964°W / 36.2793; -86.5964Coordinates: 36°16′45″N 86°35′47″W / 36.2793°N 86.5964°W / 36.2793; -86.5964
NRHP reference #70000619
Added to NRHPJuly 8, 1970
Great angle view of mansion

Rock Castle State Historic Site, located in Hendersonville, Sumner County, Tennessee, is the former home of Daniel Smith. Construction began in 1784; its completion was delayed by Indian attacks until 1791. It is listed with the National Register of Historic Places and is open to the public. It is one of the Tennessee Historical Commission's State-Owned Historic Sites and is operated by the Friends of Rock Castle in partnership with the Tennessee Historical Commission.

Daniel Smith[edit]

Picture of Daniel Smith Donelson, Daniel Smith's grandson

Daniel Smith served as a captain in Lord Dunmore's War, colonel in the American Revolution, and Brigadier General of the militia in the Metro District. He was a member of the committee to frame the U.S. Bill of Rights, Territorial Secretary of State, and U.S. Senator. He also surveyed land boundaries in Middle Tennessee.

Daniel Smith was born in Stafford County, Virginia in 1748 as a twin.[1] He was baptized in Elbo Warren Baptist Church October 24, which was five days before his twin sister, Sarah, died.[2] Smith lived in Baltimore, Maryland before he moved into the home of Dr. Thomas Walker. At Walker's, Smith studied medicine and surveying. Dr. Walker was famous for being the supposed teacher of Thomas Jefferson. There have been questions as to whether Jefferson and Smith actually knew each other. The answer is yes. Jefferson wrote

For intelligence, well-cultivated talents, integrity, and usefulness, in soundness of judgment in the practice of virtue and in shunning violence unequaled by few men, and in the purity of excelled by none.[3]

Smith also studied at the College of William and Mary.[4] The College does not have his name listed as a student. However, his certificate of surveying for the State of Virginia was certified by the college, this apparently does not mean that he was a student there.[5]

Marker of the great man, Senator, General, Revolutionary War hero, Indian Negotiator

Smith served in the American Revolutionary War. He was a Captain and was appointed a Justice of the Peace by Patrick Henry. He was promoted to Major of the Washington County, Tennessee Militia. In 1778, Daniel Smith was appointed commissioner to locate roads. In 1779, along with Dr. Walker, he was appointed to extend the line between Virginia and North Carolina.[6] This later became the divisional lines of Kentucky and Tennessee. Afterward, in April 1778, now Major Smith was recommended to become the Sheriff of Washington County. He was appointed Commissioner of Tax in the same year. Later that same year, Smith was appointed Examiner of the Bills of Credit.[6] President George Washington appointed Smith as Secretary of the Territory South of the Ohio, Southwest Territory in 1790.[7]

Later Smith became Indian negotiator, where he negotiated most of the treaties with the Cherokee Indians in Tennessee. Smith, as mapmaker, created maps of Tennessee and Kentucky. He is the man that named the state "Tenasee" or [Tanasi] pronounced Ten-ah-see, with pronunciation of the center syllable. This was named after a Cherokee village of the same name in the eastern part of the state. Smith drafted the State Constitution of Tennessee and was one of the men who drafted a constitution for the Continental Congress in 1796.[7] While his was not chosen as the Federal Constitution, his was for the State of Tennessee. Smith became of the earliest Senators for Tennessee, and served two terms. Daniel Smith surveyed the area that would become Nashville, the Tennessee state capital.[citation needed]

In 1773, Smith married Sarah.[8] In 1783 Major Smith moved to the area that would become Tennessee with his wife and two young children to take up land that was given to him by the State of Virginia for his services in the Revolutionary War.[9] He moved into a small log cabin. The Smith family lived in this for only a short time before the local American Indians burned it down in one of many isolated raids.[9]

His best friend and neighbor was Andrew Jackson. Jackson's original log cabin was in Hunter's Hill, where the remains are still visible. This was a two-story structure down the river from where Smith's home was.[10] Smith filled the vacancy in the Senate that was left open by Jackson's resignation.[11] Smith was also an in-law of Jackson.

Sarah Michie Smith[edit]

Marker of the wife of General/Senator Daniel Smith

Sarah was born in 1755, most likely in Maryland. Family oral tradition states that she was from the eastern shores of that state. Oral tradition also states that she was related to those that built the Michie Tavern near Charlottesville. This family migrated from the shores to Albermarle Country in the mid-1700s. There is the possibility that Sarah could have been married before to someone with the last name of Woods if she is the same Sarah Michie named in will of John Michie in the same location in 1772. She would have been a seventeen-year-old widow. In any case, one year later Daniel Smith's Sarah became his bride.[12] It is true that Daniel Smith (surveyor) surveyed much land for many men of the Michie family. So, it may or may not have been the same Sarah.[13] What ever relation to that of the tavern keepers, it is sure that Dr. Walker was the matchmaker of the pair![12]

Sarah married Daniel Smith and lived on the Virginia frontier. Here is where she gave birth to their two children, George and Mary Ann (nicknamed Polly). All four moved to the Cumberland County, Tennessee in 1783 or 1784.[14] They "arrived in October, and spent at least the first winter in a log cabin. Isolated… under very real danger from Indian attack." [8] Because of her husband's jobs, she found herself alone with her children most of the time. The family described her with "uncommon strength and courage with a strong sense of humor."[15] This was obviously true as there is a very well known letter from her to her husband that says

"I still find myself under the disagreeable necessity of conversing with you on paper or not at all."[16]

Because of location of her home and her station of being married to a Senator, she found her friends in high places also. Her best friend was Rachel Jackson, Andrew Jackson's wife. This was still an isolated location and given the scandalization of the Jackson marriage, Rachel did not have very many friends. However, she did have a close friend in Sarah, and found herself at the home of the Smith's often.[10]

Polly Smith Donelson[edit]

Polly was the daughter of Daniel and Sarah. She was scheduled to leave for boarding school in Philadelphia where she was expected to learn the crafts required of ladies. However, she did not want to leave because she had fallen in love with a local man. This man was the brother of Rachel Jackson. Samuel Donelson was also madly in love with Polly.[citation needed] Polly's father was not interested in this couple. So, an elopement was planned and carried off. The great thing for these two was that Samuel's brother-in-law was a romantic.[10] Jackson assisted Polly by helping her down a grapevine ladder from her bedroom window to the arms of her lover. Andrew Jackson, Samuel Donelson and Polly Smith traversed down the river to the Jackson's home where a minister was waiting and had the two married immediately.[17] Later, two children of this match grew up at The Hermitage (Nashville, Tennessee) under Rachel and Andrew Jackson's care.

Polly Smith Donelson

Sarah Berry[edit]

Sarah Crosby Berry was the daughter of Nannie Smith and Horatio Berry from Hazel Path, which is also on the National Register of Historic Places listings in Sumner County, Tennessee. At a very young age she entered Peabody College and received her Bachelor of Science in 1916 for scientific farming. She then became the manager of her great-great-great grandfather, Daniel Smith's farm, Rock Castle. She managed the farm by using the techniques that she learned in college and the most up-to-date machinery and technology available. The "Southern Agriculturist" named her the most "Outstanding Woman Farmer of Tennessee" in 1918.[18] She also was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and a founding member of "The Friends of Rock Castle".[6][19]

Slaves at Rock Castle[edit]

Few records survive to inform us of the history of the slaves at Rock Castle. However, two specific slaves frequently appear in surviving documents. An negro woman named Easter, who worked in the house as a maid or nanny, lived in a private and cozy cabin with her husband, Alfred, whom the Smith family referred to as "Uncle Alfred". An unnamed negro male who worked as a foreman on the farm was abducted by local native people, and taken east. When Smith was a Senator, the negro man contacted him, to plead for a bounty so that he could be set free from his captors. $900 was paid to the native people, and the grateful negro was returned t his home at Rock Castle once more. The negro man was quoted as saying that he was "anxious to return to his old master and home."[20] By 1860, Rock Castle had amassed a workforce of 98 people.[21] In 1833, there are two letters of bill of sale that name the following negros being sold from George Smith to Harry Smith:

Isaac, Martin, Charles, Cheshire, Larkin, Ina, Toby, Wilson, David, Henry, Sarah, Rachel, Judy or Juda, Baty, Patricia and her two children, Henrietta, Silva or Silvia, Mitchel, Daniel and Jeffrey.[22]

Mansion and grounds[edit]

In 1788, Daniel Smith (surveyor) acquired 4,722 acres (1,911 ha) of land in Sumner County, Tennessee along the Cumberland River and Drake's Creek.[23] This was added to his land grant from North Carolina for his services to the Revolutionary War.[24] This made a total of 3,140 acres (1,270 ha) for Senator Dan Smith.[25] Polly, Daniel and Sarah's daughter, received 151 acres (61 ha) at the death of her father. Sarah received the land below this, in the amount of 1,510 acres (610 ha). The rest of the land, including the mansion went to the son, George Smith.[26] Over time, land was sold off for newer housing. Now, 18 acres (7.3 ha) adjoin the mansion.

The mansion was originally located near a stream that is no longer there. There were many slave cabins, a springhouse, and a smoke house. When Old Hickory Lake was created in 1954, submerged most of the area behind the house. The Smoke house was raised to accommodate the dirt being brought in to keep the waters at bay. The new blocks are easily visible against the old blocks.[citation needed] Other buildings included the carriage house and barns.

Front of Mansion
From the Smokehouse looking toward the back of the mansion. You can see all three editions in this shot.
Flemish Style Masonry of Rock Castle

The mansion was built in three sections over ten to twelve years. The mansion was completed in 1784 by quarrying the rocks on site. The initial home was three stories, of which the kitchen maintained the bottom floor, the second floor was the bedroom, and the top floor was an attic. All family members stayed in this one bedroom. The stone created a fireproof "castle" that protected the family from cooking and Indian raid fires. The second edition was also three stories. The bottom is a basement, the second story is the dining room, and the third is a room that originally held four dormers, but currently has none. There is no evidence of what the room was originally used as. The wood over and around the fireplace is black-maple that was taken from the grounds. The third edition was the front of the house, and the most formal. This is where the master bedroom is, downstairs, of which may have been a retiring room initially. It also contains Daniel's office, of which are the original walls, where they used faux painting. The upstairs contains George's bedroom and another room, of which the original use is unknown. The mansion house was finally created in what would be called the earliest known version of Federal Style housing in Tennessee. However, the son, George, or George's son Harry, added the front porch, which changed the style to Greek revival, perhaps because of the style of his time.There are a total of eight rooms that were lived in within the mansion.[citation needed][27]

Items that could not be made on the grounds were sent for from the East. These included glass for the windows, hinges, and nails. The cement used between the blocks was of lime mortar and sand. The stones were placed in a "length-wise and width-wise alternately… Flemish bond pattern."[28] The roof was originally smooth-pine shingles, and a white fence surrounded the house, with a concrete horse-mounting block at the entrance.The fence is original to the house, with the exception of timely maintenance.

Smith Hansborough, who appears to have been Daniel's nephew, did the work on the building. He may also have been the overseer, because in one of his letters to Daniel, not only did he inform the owner of how progress on the house was going, but he also asked where the wheat for the year was to be sewn.[29] This perhaps could indicate that Daniel was the one in charge of the building of house even though he was away.

The Smoke House - original plus top layer of bricks from when the lake was added
Herb Garden on the side of the mansion, showing Old Hickory Lake

There was also an herb garden and peach orchard on the grounds. The Smith's were locally famous for their peach brandy, which was sold at five shillings per gallon. Other herbs in the garden were grown for enjoyment and medicinal purposes. Since Daniel Smith had training in the medical field, his gardens would surely have been productive.[30] Herbs that were grown may have included rosemary and mint, which helps in digestion and depression.[31] Another may have been the damask rose, which was considered the queen of flowers.[32] It was used for perfumes, used to burn, and for flavoring.[33] The main farm grew wheat and cotton.[30]

Family cemetery[edit]

There are over fifty family members buried within the small family cemetery on site. The two largest markers are for the founding members, Daniel and Sarah Michie Smith and their son Colonel George Smith. They both have a table-like marker that apparently covers the entire grave. Senator Smith's is breaking down more, but can still be read. There are other small markers, as well as obelisk style markers and pediment style markers within. A stone fence with an iron gate surrounds the cemetery. The stones were quarried using the same stone as the mansion.[citation needed]

Family Cemetery at Rock Castle
Taken at the entrance looking in.
Daniel and Sarah's Markers
Another close-up of the top of the marker.



There are four original items within the mansion that belonged to the first Smiths. They are the Sugar chest, the blanket chest, Senator Smith's desk and the original land grant from the State of North Carolina. One hundred of Daniel Smith's books are in the museum archives. George's sideboard and a later generation's grandfather clock is also within the mansion.[citation needed]

Because the Smiths were famous for their peach brandy, a recent attempt has been made to recreate the peach orchard. Peach trees and apple trees have been recently purchased from Monticello. They are heirloom seedlings. The seedlings were started sometime in 2012. Previously, the Daughters of the American Revolution had tried to plant peach trees in the center island. However, due to drought, those did not survive. Visitors can visit the seedling orchard at no cost. However, a donation for tree replacement is appreciated.[citation needed]

The State of Tennessee owns the property and the buildings at Rock Castle. The Tennessee Historical Commission provides a partial annual operating grant to the site and is responsible for major maintenance at the property. The Friends of Rock Castle, Inc. owns all of the artifacts. Prisoners mow the front yard with an agreement with the City of Hendersonville Police Department, and the historic site. The same police department has dog training and trials on the grounds weekly. This is done to foster relationships with the police department and people of Hendersonville because it gives people a sense of ownership and pride in historic properties. It also knows the grounds in case of an emergency.[citation needed]

The Friends of Rock Castle was formed in 1969 at time when the mansion and grounds were sold to the state from a Smith descendant. Board members take pride in the fact that Smith relatives have only owned the house. Sarah Crosby Berry was one of the founding members of the board. Each board member, save one, serves a three-year term. There are fifteen board members, including a "board member for life" who is Melinda Gaines, who has been on the board over twenty years. Most board members are very active with the site.[citation needed]

The Visitor Center at Rock Castle

At the time of museum creation, the State of Tennessee removed years of updates to the mansion. One update was the removal of a concrete floor in a bathroom, which turned out to be the kitchen. Sarah Berry assisted with the selection of the stones for the flooring based on her memory from when she was a child. Dormers were removed from the central portion of the house with the assumption that they were added later. However, they were actually original to that edition of the mansion, but are too expensive to restore at this point.[citation needed]

Most rooms are currently being interpreted from the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century Regency era. The room off the dining room is being interpreted as the master bedroom because it is known that later in life, the Smiths did sleep in this room. However, there is no proof that it was built and utilized as such originally. The room immediately above is being used as an exhibit room because there is no proof of use. The room where the dormers had been is extremely dark. It is being interpreted as a slave quarter at this time. In total, visitors are able to view all eight rooms in the house today.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 105th Congress, Second Session, Vol. 144 (October 15, 1998.)
  2. ^ Bill Glidden, in Funeral of Daniel Smith: Historic Rock Castle, Hendersonville, TN. (Hendersonvill: Historic Productions, 2011)
  3. ^ Thomas Jefferson, quoted in Bill Frist, U.S. Senator, Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 105th Congress, Second Session, Vol. 144 (October 15, 1998.)
  4. ^ Congressional Record.
  5. ^ Walter T. Durham. Daniel Smith: Frontier Statesman. (Gallatin: Sumner Country Library Board, 1976), 6.
  6. ^ a b c Sarah Crosby Berry. "Application for the Membership to the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution: Washington D.C." (1911) Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  7. ^ a b "Smith, Daniel, (1748-1818)", "Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: 1774-Present." United States Congress. (accessed April 25, 2013).
  8. ^ a b Melinda Gaines, "Sarah Michie Smith, 1755-1831" in A Modest History of Rock Castle. (Hendersonville: Friends of Rock Castle, 1994), 3.
  9. ^ a b Joseph Delaney, "A Historical Study of Rock Castle." (Master's Thesis, Vanderbilt University, 1972-3), 2.
  10. ^ a b c Dave McArdle, Andrew Jackson impersonator and Scholar. Personal Communication with author, 2013.[unreliable source?]
  11. ^ "Smith, Daniel, (1748-1818)"
  12. ^ a b Durham, 11.
  13. ^ Durham, 12.
  14. ^ Ruth Witman, "Tamsen Donner: A Woman's Journey". Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  15. ^ Whitman
  16. ^ Sarah Michie Smith, letter to her husband, Daniel Smith. N.d. Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  17. ^ Durham, 202.
  18. ^ Janet Horner, "Sarah Crosby Berry, 1886-1978" in A Modest History of Rock Castle.
  19. ^ Arlene Young "Formation of the Friends of Rock Castle" in A Modest History of Rock Castle.
  20. ^ Sumner County News (1910) in Durham, 172
  21. ^ Kathleen Gallagher Kemper, "Life at Rock Castle During the Civil War" in A Modest History of Rock Castle.
  22. ^ George Smith. Bills of Sale to Henry Smith. (May, 1833), (October 1833), Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  23. ^ Delaney, 5.
  24. ^ State of North Carolina. "No. 56. (1784). Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  25. ^ "Map of the Lands of Daniel Smith's Grant. No. 56" on "Map of the Lands of Horatio Berry and Wife Nannie Berry." (Nashville: Nashville Title Company, 1835), 472. Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  26. ^ Daniel Smith, "Last Will and Testament" (1818), 1-2. Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  27. ^ Melinda Gaines, Friends of Rock Castle Board President and scholar. Personal Interview with author. 2013.[unreliable source?]
  28. ^ Delaney, 16, 18.
  29. ^ Delaney, 17.
  30. ^ a b Delaney, 21.
  31. ^ "Medicinal Uses of Rosemary" Gardens Ablaze. N.d.
  32. ^ H. Bourne, A.B. The Florist's Manual: Designed as an Introduction to Vegetable Physiology and Systematic Botany, for Cultivators of Flowers with More than Eighty Beautifully-Coloured Engravings of Poetic Flowers. (Boston: Self Published, 1833).
  33. ^ Eleanour Sinclair Rohde, Rose Recipes from Olden Times. (New York: Dover Publications, 1939), 37, 51, 55-56.



  • A Modest History of Rock Castle. Hendersonville: Friends of Rock Castle, 1994.
  • Berry, Sarah Crosby . "Application for the Membership to the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution: Washington D.C." 1911. Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  • Bourne, H. A.B. The Florist's Manual: Designed as an Introduction to Vegetable Physiology and Systematic Botany, for Cultivators of Flowers with More than Eighty Beautifully-Coloured Engravings of Poetic lowers. Boston: Self Published, 1833
  • Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 105th Congress, Second Session, Vol. 144/ October 15, 1998.
  • Delaney, Joseph. "A Historical Study of Rock Castle." Master's Thesis, Vanderbilt University, 1972-3.
  • Durham, Walter T. Daniel Smith: Frontier Statesman. Gallatin: Sumner Country Library Board, 1976.
  • Glidden, Bill. in Funeral of Daniel Smith: Historic Rock Castle, Hendersonville, TN. Hendersonvill: Historic Productions, 2011.
  • Kemper, Kathleen Gallagher. "Life at Rock Castle During the Civil War" in A Modest History of Rock Castle.
  • "Map of the Lands of Daniel Smith's Grant. No. 56" on "Map of the Lands of Horatio Berry and Wife Nannie Berry." Nashville: Nashville Title Company, 1835. Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  • Rohde, Eleanour Sinclair. Rose Recipes from Olden Times. New York: Dover Publications, 1939.
  • Smith, Daniel. "Last Will and Testament" 1818.. Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  • "Smith, Daniel, (1748-1818)", "Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: 1774-Present." United States Congress. N.d. (accessed April 25, 2013).
  • Smith, George. Bill of Sale to Henry Smith. May, 1833, October 1833, Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  • Smith, Sarah Michie. letter to her husband, Daniel Smith. N.d. Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  • State of North Carolina. "No. 56. 1784. Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.
  • Witman, Ruth. "Tamsen Donner: A Woman's Journey". N.d. Historic Rock Castle Collection, Hendersonville, Tennessee.