About 1790 a sixteen-year-old boy travelled westward with his uncle’s family. He left behind him his own family and the order of a Moravian community. Ahead of him lay the unknown and the wilderness of the territory then called the Cumberland. In his new home he would rub elbows with the leaders of the fledgling state of Tennessee. He would become a prosperous farmer and the father of a large and active family. His name was Frederick Binkley.
Frederick was born on February 12, 1774, in the Moravian farming community of Bethania, North Carolina, the sixth of the twelve children of Johannes Binckele and Johanna Jacobina Leedy. Nothing is known of Frederick’s childhood. Both family oral tradition and written records indicate that he came to Tennessee with his uncle Adam Binkley. Not long after his arrival, he made the acquaintance of some of the area’s first and most prominent citizens. In 1791 the city of Nashville sold what the late Tennessee historian Park Marshall described as the city’s “first public utility.” The “utility” was a salt spring that had provided vital salt for the fledgling community but which had ceased producing. Judge John McNairy purchased the tract that contained the spring, believing that if he dug deeply enough he would find the subterranean source of the spring and would profit from the sale of salt. To this end he hired thirty-six-year-old Henry Guthrie, a signer of Nashville’s first governing document, the Cumberland Compact, and seventeen-year-old Frederick Binkley. Although the two dug over 160 feet, they found only sulphur water; and McNairy abandoned the project.
In 1799 John Overton, attorney, judge, land speculator, and friend of Andrew Jackson [with whom he founded the city of Memphis] hired Frederick and another carpenter, David Cummins, to build the home later known as Travellers Rest. [At the time of the house’s construction, the site was dubbed “Golgotha” because of the number of Native American skeletons that were found there.] The complicated agreement between Overton and the two men is described in More Landmarks of Tennessee History, edited by Robert M. McBride:
On August 5, 1801, Frederick recorded his deed for the highly desirable land. In his nineteenth-century History of Davidson County, Tennessee, W. W. Clayton wrote, “The Hermitage neighborhood was regarded as the best section of Davidson County, the soil being better adapted for cotton than any other part of the county, and was settled by wealthy men and cotton-planters." Among Frederick’s new neighbors were the future president Andrew Jackson and his wife’s relatives, the Donelsons. Although Frederick became prosperous, he was never really wealthy. He may indeed have been a cotton planter. By 1820 he owned two slaves; by 1850 he owned ten.
On Christmas Eve 1804 the thirty-year-old Frederick married fifteen-year-old Adeline Shackleford, daughter of Roger Shackleford and the late Nancy Carter. David Cummins served as bondsman. How Frederick met Adeline, who was born in Madison County, Kentucky, is not known. Perhaps they met through Frederick’s old acquaintance Henry Guthrie, who had married Adeline’s older sister Nancy Ann in Madison County on November 24, 1796.
It was probably around the time of his marriage that Frederick built a log house on his property. And like many new homeowners, he soon found himself with money problems. On October 16, 1809, Frederick signed a note to the firm of Deaderick & Somerville for $110.84, promising to repay them three days later. When he defaulted, Deaderick & Somerville sued, with the case being heard on January 15, 1810. Frederick’s lawyer Jessie Wharton sought and obtained what the court record describes as “Sundry continuances,” until finally the case was settled on October 20, 1810. The jury found in favor of Deaderick & Somerville and awarded them the original amount plus damages of $6.65 and costs. [Deaderick & Somerville had asked for damages of $60.] Frederick either could not or would not pay Deaderick & Somerville. The December 7, 1810, edition of The Democratic Clarion and Tennessee Gazette carried this notice:
The threat of their land’s sale must have struck terror to the hearts of Frederick and Adeline. By December 1810 the log house was home not just to them but also to four small boys: four-year-old Henry John, three-year-old John Henry, nineteen-month-old William Blackman, and the newborn Joseph Shackleford. The records do not tell us why Frederick incurred the debt, nor do they record his payment of it; but the prospect of losing his land had the desired effect. He evidently paid Deaderick & Somerville; the sale did not take place.
By 1820 Frederick was advancing toward a place in the middle socioeconomic tier of his neighborhood in the Fourth Civil District of Davidson County. And although he continued his association with prominent citizens, it was still as a contractor rather than as an equal. Among the papers of his neighbor Andrew Jackson is a receipt, dated May 1, 1817, for the construction of a carriage house. Frederick may have worked as a carpenter for others as well; we know of his work for Jackson only because of Jackson’s prominence.
Whatever the sources of Frederick’s income during this period, his family continued to grow. Eventually there would be eleven sons and three daughters. In an age when childhood death was frequent, the Frederick Binkley family seems to have been uncommonly healthy. In 1821 the seventh child, five-year-old Andrew, died and was buried in the family graveyard on a hill behind the log house. His grave was the first of the marked graves. Andrew was the only one of Frederick and Adeline’s children to die before adulthood.
While Frederick and Adeline’s family was growing, her father, Roger Shackleford, and her stepmother, Sally Laird, joined a sect that prohibited reproduction, the Shakers. On July 10, 1813, Roger, Sally, their sons Zachariah, Montgomery, Barney, and Hudson, and a fifth unnamed child, possibly a daughter, arrived at the Shaker community at South Union, Logan County, Kentucky. What Adeline and Frederick thought of their conversion is unknown; but one can imagine that they might have met it with perplexity, consternation, or disapproval. Roger and Sally continued as members of the South Union Shakers until their deaths in 1825.
By 1850 nine of the surviving thirteen children were married. However, not all the marriages had been made in Heaven. With a little imagination we can picture the bedtime conversations that Frederick and Adeline, living in an age when divorce was rare, must have had about their daughter Sarah and her husband Alfred Bass. Married on August 12, 1847, Alfred and Sarah had a son John Frederick in 1848. However, in 1849 Alfred had gone to Yazoo County, Mississippi, where he had become the overseer on a physician’s plantation. Sarah and little John remained in Tennessee, living with her parents. Did Alfred abandon Sarah, as she would later charge in court, or did she refuse to move to Mississippi with him? There is no way that we can know. However, in 1851 she filed for divorce, charging “Wilful and Malicious desertion;” and on June 13, 1854, the Davidson County Chancery Court granted Sarah the divorce. A little more than three years later, in October 1857, Alfred had returned to Tennessee; and the couple were remarried.
The children were moving away, too. By 1850 four sons and a daughter were living in surrounding counties. Eventually children would move into other states—Kentucky, Illinois, and Texas. One son, Franklin Carter was in Arkansas for a time, probably between 1850 and 1860. He borrowed money from both his father and his older brother William during this adventure; in his 1857 will Frederick wrote:
On September 17, 1857, eighty-three-year old Frederick died and was buried in the family graveyard. His land was rented out, and Adeline moved in with her son William and his family. Frederick’s death was the first of many changes that were to come. Most notable, of course, was the Civil War, which ended the way of life that Southerners had known. At least seven of Frederick and Adeline’s grandsons served in the Confederate Army, and three of them died during their service. William, son of John Henry Binkley and Mary Margaret Walker, attained the rank of captain and was killed at the Battle of Chickamauga. James and John Martin, sons of William Binkley and Caroline Wilson, died of illness shortly after their enlistment in 1861. The 1860 and 1870 censuses clearly show the financial effects of the war, particularly in the reported value of personal property, which included slaves. Son Henry Binkley reported a personal estate of over $7,000 in 1860 and of $700 in 1870. Son Frederick Marshall reported a personal estate of $17,650 in 1860 and of $2000 in 1870.
Adeline died on September 15, 1868, and was buried next to Frederick in the graveyard on the hill. Her death permitted Frederick’s estate to be settled; and in November of that year, the remaining personal property of the estate was sold: candle stands, candle molds, a bureau, two beds, a strainer, two blankets, two quilts, a table, a dish, and a box of miscellaneous items, the last artifacts of a large and busy household. On December 15, Frederick’s son Frederick Marshall bought the land for $3,110 although he never lived there. Eventually the land would pass out of the family entirely.
In his will, Frederick had directed that “my Executor shall after the death of my wife Adaline Binkley have my family graveyard inclosed [sic] with a substantial Stone wall and to pay for the same out of any moneys in his hands belonging to my estate and that at the sale of my lands the said Graveyard shall be reserved and held sacred to the use of my family descendants for a burial place forever." It was not to be. In the 1960’s final preparations were made for the construction of the J. Percy Priest Dam on the Stones River. In 1966 the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers moved 2,243 graves, relocating most of them to Mt. Juliet Memorial Gardens in Wilson County, at a total cost of $123,735. Among those were fifty-five graves, many of them unmarked, from Frederick’s graveyard, known by 1966 as the Gleaves Cemetery. It is not known what happened to Frederick and Adeline’s log house, still standing when the Corps purchased the land; and to date no picture of it has been found.
In 1956 T. K. Jones, editor of Shackelford Clan Magazine, wrote:
Baptismal Register of Bethania Moravian Church, Archives at Home Moravian Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, translated by Dr. Adelaide Fries, Archivist, and by her dictated to Ruth Carver Gardner, June 24, 1934.
FREDERICK BINKLEY'S WILL
PHOTOGRAPHS - DESCENDANTS OF FREDERICK BINKLEY AND ADELINE SHACKLEFORD
TRAVELLERS REST PLANTATION AND MUSEUM (history of the plantation that Frederick Binkley helped build; information about the museum, its educational programs, membership and volunteer opportunities, rental for special occasions)
THE HERMITAGE, HOME OF PRESIDENT ANDREW JACKSON (history, special events, membership, museum store, facility rentals)
THE SHAKER MUSEUM AT SOUTH UNION KENTUCKY (information about the Shakers and the Shaker community where Adeline Shackleford Binkley's father and stepmother spent their last years, including links to other Shaker Web sites; online store, transcriptions from Shaker records)
PERCY PRIEST CEMETERY RELOCATION PROJECT (a listing of the graves moved for the construction of Percy Priest Dam and Reservoir, showing the name of each deceased person, the date of death, and original place of burial)
BINKLEY-STEELE CEMETERY (includes the grave of Joseph Shackleford Binkley, son of Frederick Binkley and Adeline Shackleford, plus graves of other members of his family)
NOSTALGIAVILLE - HERMITAGE (Nostalgiaville's site includes Hermitage information and pictures, including one of the historic New Hope Baptist Church. Peter Fuqua, one of the congregation's founders, officiated at several Binkley marriages.)