While visiting in Tennessee, we also visited a couple Civil War sites. I was uneasy about the battlefields, but one place we visited did fascinate me: Travellers Rest Plantation, on the south edge of Nashville, close to Franklin.
In 1864 Travellers Rest was the site of a Confederate command post, and a very bloody battle occurred in nearby Franklin. But the site of Travellers Rest fascinates me for reasons beyond that. When the original structure was built in 1799 by John Overton, he called it Golgotha, because of all the skulls he found there. Later archeological research shows that the house is built on top of a Native American mound from the Mississippian era (800-1500 CE; I could not find record of the more exact dating they may have done). The fertile valleys and hills of the area supported people for hundreds of years before De Soto came from the south, and later European and American settlers from the east.
The house was enlarged several times over the years (1812, 1828, and 1887), which becomes obvious when you really look at it. The plantation was renamed Travellers Rest by John Overton in the early 1800s, because he was a circuit judge and it felt so good to come home after those long rides. He married Mary McConnell White May (a widow with five children), and it is her “touch” in the house and grounds that I enjoy. Her real talent was in working with herbs, and while she may have learned some of their uses from her first husband (Dr. James May), am thinking there must have been other influences from the women who raised her. Her skill with herbs probably accounted for her being able to raise all of her eight children to adulthood (a rarity in that era). While it is certain she had an herb garden at the house, it is likely the current one is a re-creation. However, there are two HUGE ginko biloba trees next to the house near the herb garden, and since those trees were not native to North America (unless you go back a couple million years), and they live a very long time, Mary must have had them planted there. They have an incredible energy. The fruit from these trees, which looks like a small, white olive, was on the ground around the trees, and had a strong, unpleasant smell when squished. Ginko biloba is used for improving blood flow, for menstrual problems, and to increase energy. (That is an observation, not medical advice.)
There is also a weaving building behind the main house. I enjoyed that, because I have read family letters talking about the large farm that belonged to my great-grandparents in Missouri, and how they had a weaving building. Am pretty sure they mostly wove cotton at Travellers Rest, though if there were sheep in the vicinity they may have also woven wool. Ready-made cloth had to be imported some distance from mills along the East Coast and farther south, so would only have been used for finer clothing.
The house has a wonderful back porch and balcony, the sort I have always wished I could have. We were only able to peek into the interior of the house through the windows, but I understand it is furnished as it might have been when Judge John Overton lived there. (He died in 1833; Mary died in 1862.) Tours are supposed to be available of the house, but we were there the day before Thanksgiving, and the elderly gentleman in the gift shop seemed more into doing something else other than offering that information.
As I have written before, it is the everyday lives of people in history that fascinate me. I suspect Mary Overton must have been an intelligent woman, to have learned and used that knowledge about herbs. A practical woman, too. Her face in the painting looks pleasant; I wonder if she laughed easily? It would have been interesting to meet and talk with her, even if we disagreed on things. I would like to have met her. 🙂