Sacred to Their Memory: The McNairs
Article Author: By Marian Bailey Presswood Polk County Historian
This year marks the 175th Anniversary of the infamous Trail of Tears
Sacred to Their Memory: The McNairs
By Marian Bailey Presswood
Polk County Historian
This year marks the 175th Anniversary of the infamous Trail of Tears, for it was on May 23, 1838 that the round up of the Cherokees began. This was one of America’s darkest period when Jackson’s Indian Removal Act forced relocation of the Cherokee Nation to Indian Territory, which is now the state of Oklahoma.
There has been a lot of local activity to mark the trail through Tennessee. I was recently told that the old grave marker of Jinsey Cooper Boyd was found lying on the ground in a field in Monroe County while researchers were walking the trial.
A few years back the Banner asked me to write an article about where the Trail of Tears began in Polk County, and I wrote that it began at the dinner table of many Cherokee families. For I had read the Buttrick Diary that recounted some of the saddest experiences I could ever imagine. Cabin doors of Cherokee families were kicked open and the members were ordered out with little or no preparation for such an arduous trip. It didn’t matter how old, feeble or ill they were, all had to forsake their homes for the unknown circumstances that awaited them many hundreds of miles away. And some records say more than 4,000 of them didn’t make it to the new homes - they perished on the trip and were just buried along the side of the road.
A Georgia soldier who participated in the removal stated, “I fought through the War Between the States and have seen many men shot, but the Cherokee Removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.”
One of the more prominent Cherokee families living in what would become Polk County were the McNairs. In the edge of a field in the West Polk community of Conasauga stands a rock walled cemetery plot. The inscription on the marble slab reads:
“Sacred to the memory of David and Delilah McNair who departed this life, the former on the 15th of August 1836, and the latter on the 30th of November, 1838. Their children, being members of the Cherokee Nation and having to go with their parents to the West, do leave this monument, not only to show their respect for their parents, but to guard their ashes against the unhallowed intrusion of the white man.”
Pictured at the McNair house and tomb are l-r: John B. Ross, Judge C. W. Lusk, Mr. and Mrs. Carroll Jones and unknown.
A nearby historic marker reveals that the McNairs operated a boatyard there on the Conasauga River, which was an important terminus for shipping goods through the Gulf waterway. Looking at the overgrown banks and the mere trickle of water in some narrow places along that river today, it seems impossible to imagine a boatyard operating on this site. However, with the boatyard, the brickyard, and a store, David McNair was reported to have amassed quite a fortune, due in part to his very influential father-in-law, James Vann. Also, Cherokees managed to retain the rights to maintain and control part of the newly opened Federal Road (1804) so McNair’s Stand became a noted stopping place for weary travelers and herders of livestock on their way to Southern markets.
A visitor from Connecticut, Benjamin Gold, stopped there once and described the McNair residence: “We came to a Mr. McNair’s, a white man who had married a Cherokee Indian woman, sister of Mr. Joseph Vann, another Cherokee. He had a beautiful white house and about six or seven hundred acres of the best land you ever saw, and Negroes enough to tend it and clear as much more as he pleased. He raised this year about five thousand bushels of corn, and it would make you feel small to see his situation.”
The house was replaced with an even more impressive brick structure. It was built by Robert Howell, who is also reported to have helped construct the brick Vann House in Spring Place, Georgia. In 1932 a tornado destroyed the roof and upper floor of this house and it was eventually torn down. A beautiful mantel with Indian carvings from the house was preserved for many years by the W. I. Davis family who owned the McNair farm. I haven’t been to see it yet, but I think Mrs. Davis told me she donated it to the Vann House. (to be continued)
Polk County News | P.O.
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