Colonel John Anderson, Builder of the Blockhouse

by William Anderson


The Wilderness Road Blockhouse in Natural Tunnel State Park is a reproduction of the original blockhouse built by an early pioneer, John Anderson, in 1775. Anderson’s eventful life included not just his role as the Blockhouse proprietor, but also service as a regional militia leader and judge.

Born in 1750, Anderson was the son of one of the first settlers of the Shenandoah Valley, William Anderson, who farmed several thousand acres near Staunton, Virginia. The Andersons were part of a group of immigrants known as “Scots-Irish” because they were Scottish in ancestry but came to America from Northern Ireland. The Scots-Irish were hardy and stubborn people, qualities Anderson would need to survive first the French and Indian War in his youth and later the long conflicts in the Holston region.

Anderson first explored the Holston area in 1769, when it was still a wilderness, and moved to the area in 1773 with a wave of new settlers. Anderson did not build the Blockhouse, however, until two years later. In the meantime, he nearly lost his life. During Dunsmore’s War, a short-lived conflict with the Shawnee in late 1774, Anderson served as an ensign in the local militia attached to Blackmore’s Fort left behind to protect against attacks on the settlements. When a raiding party caught the fort defenders outside the fort, Anderson and another defender left the security of the fort under fire to try to rescue a downed comrade who was about to be scalped. The militia colonel in charge of the region reported that “the Indians like to had done Anderson’s job, having struck into the stockade a few inches from his head.” Daniel Boone led a rescue party to the fort the day after the attack and served as captain over the local fort defense for the rest of Dunsmore’s War. Boone and George Rogers Clarke were two of the heros of the era Anderson undoubtedly new and worked with in the defense of the western frontier.

When he was discharged from his militia duty, Anderson married his fiance, Rebecca Maxwell on January 12, 1775. Needing a place to raise his family, he selected a piece of land at the end of Carter’s Valley, the farthest settlement into the Holston wilderness. This location, wittingly or not, placed Anderson squarely in the path of any native raids coming across Big Mocassin Gap from the west. On this spot he build the famous Blockhouse in the spring of 1775. For the next twenty-five years, Anderson’s Blockhouse served as the starting point for parties crossing the Wilderness Trail to Kentucky.

Anderson is best known for his role as the Blockhouse owner, but he was also a successful farmer and one of the area’s leading citizens. Following his service at Blackmore’s Fort, Anderson likely fought in the Battle of Long Island Flats, one of the first battles of the Revolutionary War. In early 1777 Governor Patrick Henry of the new state of Virginia appointed Anderson as one of the first members of the county court of newly formed Washington County, and as captain of the County militia. After 1779, due to a boundary dispute, Anderson and the Blockhouse became part of North Carolina, where he served as Lieutenant Colonel in the Sullivan County militia. Anderson is believed to have participated in at least two campaigns into native territory during the Revolutionary War. He may also have fought in the key Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780 but the records are unclear. In Virginia, he is often referred to as “Captain John Anderson,” his rank in the Virginia militia, but several researchers refer to him as “Colonel John Anderson” based on his later rank.

When his state affiliation shifted to North Carolina, Anderson continued to serve as judge on the Sullivan County Court. In 1783, a group led by John Sevier tried to establish a new State of Franklin that would have encompassed the Blockhouse. Anderson found himself on the side of the supporters of the new state and even served for a short time as one of three state justices. Many residents of the area opposed the state, and the dispute reached violent proportions on occasions. At one point the opponents raided Anderson’s court, drove the justices out, and took all their records. Anderson’s brother-in-law, George Maxwell, led the military forces of the opponents.

In the 1780s the Blockhouse became important in the defense of Kentucky, the “dark and bloody land” where the Shawnee and Cherokee fought bitterly to stop the settlement of their hunting grounds. George Rogers Clark and other leaders used the Blockhouse to store ammunition destined for Kentucky, and Anderson provided hospitality to various officers and government agents traveling back and forth. In 1789 native raids increased in the region, in one instance resulting in one local individual losing his wife and all of his ten children to death or capture. Anderson’s status among the military leaders made him the logical choice to write to Col. Arthur Campbell seeking assistance. In this letter, the only known surviving example of Anderson’s handwriting, Anderson reports on a Mr. Johnson who “had his family, which consisted of his wife and eleven children, all killed and taken except two.” Anderson rather searingly questions why the region’s residents “guarded our frontiers in the time of the late war, when we were attacked on both sides, and now can get no help.”

In the 1800s, due to shifting state boundaries, Anderson found himself back in Virginia. In a mark of the high respect area residents held Anderson, the citizens of new Scott County elected him Sheriff, the first officer appointed, even though he was 65 years old at the time. He died two years later while trying to bring cool water from a distant spring to his ill wife. His son Isaac became a leader of the new county. Anderson and his wife raised eight children and had sixty-four grandchildren. One of those grandchildren, Joseph R. Anderson, founded Bristol, Tennessee. The Blockhouse burned in 1876.

Anderson never held political office and never followed the adventurists like Boone into new territory in Kentucky and elsewhere. Instead, he settled into his life at the Blockhouse, the only home he and Rebecca ever knew, and provided a life of dedicated service to his local community. The many descendants of the travelers over the Kentucky road can thank him in part for the lives their ancestors were able to create.



***For similar articles check out our guest essays and essays by DBWTA Historian, Lawrence J Fleenor Jr.

Old Christmas at the Blockhouse – January 9

Page1The Old Christmas Event is scheduled for Saturday, January 9 from 5-7 pm. We’ll have stack cake, cookies, and lots of other yummy treats. Come by and see how Christmas was celebrated in the late 18th Century!

Click here to view the flyer.








Lighting of the Tunnel at Natural Tunnel State Park

16566789476_523e564aa7_oThe Lighting of the Tunnel programs at Natural Tunnel State Park are set to begin the Friday after Thanksgiving and continue every Friday and Saturday evening until January 1st and 2nd, with the exception of Christmas day and the day after.

While you’re at the park remember to stop by the Carter Cabin. The cabin is the oldest standing structure in Scott County, VA. It has been relocated from it’s original location but is still in wonderful condition. The DBWTA will have interpreters in the Carter Cabin during each Lighting of the Tunnel program discussing local history and the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail.

For more information about the program here is a link to the flyer.

New Essays

#2 - Ingles' HouseNew essays by Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Historian, Lawrence J. Fleenor Jr. have been uploaded. Just follow this link!

Apple Brown Betty in a Pumpkin – recipe

4 cups large day old bread crumbs(French or Italian Bread Best)
1/2 cup melted butter
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of Salt
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 cups chopped cooking apple slice thin or seasonal fruits
1 cup of raisins
1/4 lb. Butter and Brown Sugar
Optional: ½ cup of apple cider (this would just give it a little more moisture and taste. I do this.)
1 cup of finely chopped pecans or walnuts
Cut whole in top of pumpkin large enough to stick hand in to clean out seeds and strings. Clean out the seeds and some of the pumpkin(not too deep). The pumpkin which is taken out can be chopped up and put back into the mix. Clean out seeds and save to roast later if you like.
*(Seeds saved to be roasted must be washed and cleaned then dried of water. Mix 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/8 lb. butter, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper to season and mix with the pumpkin seeds. Spread seasoned seeds onto a cast iron or metal sheet to either bake in the brick oven or fry in a pan until roasted.)
Combine bread crumbs with butter, cinnamon, salt, brown sugar, and toss lightly.
Put layers of bread crumbs, apples, pumpkin, raisins, nuts, butter(cut into patties) and sugar, alternating until pumpkin is filled. Top with Butter and Brown Sugar.
Make a bed of very warm ash to place the pumpkin upon which is close enough to the fire to cook the contents of the pumpkin but not to burn it. Which is sometimes impossible.
Rotate pumpkin 1/4 of a turn every 15 to 20 minutes until apples are tender inside. It will take 2 hours or more for this to cook if you want the apples soft. Be sure to cook the apples in very thin slices if you need for it to cook faster. Make sure you try to keep a very ask under the pumpkin this will help it to cook without burning the flesh of the pumpkin.
These can also be baked in a conventional oven. Place pumpkin on a baking pan after it is stuffed. Bake at 400* for 60-90 minutes. The stuffing will be bubbly when done.
**This recipe is for One Pumpkin only.

Thank you!!

Thank you to everyone who came out and supported the Harvest Festival at the Blockhouse this past weekend. We are also very thankful to all of our reenactors and volunteers as well as to everyone who worked behind the scenes to plan the event.

And don’t forget, our Old Christmas event will be on January 9th from 5-7pm.


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Remember to like us on facebook

Our facebook page includes updates and information not always found on our website. In order to make sure you get all the information about the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association and our events. Please follow the link below and follow us on facebook!

DBWTA – facebook page


Frontier Harvest Festival – Spinning and Natural Dyeing

12106820_1081091391910188_2139741982185296304_nSpinning presentations will be ongoing throughout the Harvest Festival. Natural Dyeing processes and materials will also be discussed.

Remember to stop by the Blockhouse between 1 & 5 on Saturday, October 24.


Frontier Harvest Festival – Charlie Brown

Charlie2Our friend Charlie Brown will have his longhunter camp set up at the Harvest Festival and will be ready to demonstrate essential frontier survival skills such as hide tanning and leather work.


Make sure you come by the Wilderness Road Blockhouse on Saturday, October 24 from 1-5 to see Charlie as well as several other demonstrators and reenactors. Stay tuned for more information.

Frontier Cooking Workshop Today – FREE Program

10360951_10204918833676478_335118211000169699_nJean Hood will be conducting a Frontier Cooking Workshop at the Wilderness Road Blockhouse from 12-4 today. The program is free of charge and open to the public. Jean will be preparing three sisters stew and fry bread. Come on out and learn about what kinds of food would have been eaten on the frontier in the late 18th century and how they were prepared.