Anderson Blockhouse – America

The Blockhouse on the Holston was one of the most widely known places on the Wilderness Road. It stood in Carter’s Valley on the outer edge of the Holston River settlements, about four miles southeast of Moccasin Gap, in Scott Co., VA. It seems to have been the only Blockhouse within the area, insofar as available data reveals, the other forts consisting of log cabins and stockades.

Wilderness Road


The Blockhouse was built by John Anderson sometime prior to 1782. It had two rooms, a lower and upper floor. The walls of the upper floor had the usual port holes, and the upper story extended out wider than the first floor.     The Wilderness Road, John Anderson, as proprietor of the Blockhouse was host to literally hundreds of people who stopped over on their way to Kentucky and elsewhere.   When danger of Indian attack had passed, John Anderson built nearby a larger two story house with log kitchen, into which the family moved, and the old Blockhouse was converted into a “loom-house.” It was continued in this use until 1876, when it, together with the newer house was consumed by fire.


Built about 1777 by Captain John Anderson, who died here in 1817, it stood until burned in 1876.


The Transylvania Company was organized as Louisa Company in 1774 to invest in vacant, nonpatented wild lands within the chartered limits of North Carolina and Virginia. In the fall of that year, Captain Nathaniel Hart visited the Overhill Cherokees at their Otari towns to negotiate for the lease or purchase of an immense tract of land between the Kentucky and Cumberland Rivers. Early in 1775 new articles of copartnership, renamed the Transylvania Company, were entered into to define the terms of the joint venture more clearly. The Transylvania partners took what was purported to be an absolute conveyance of the millions of acres in question from the Cherokee chiefs. Headquartered in Williamsboro, this unincorporated association was, at its largest, composed of nine influential North Carolinians: Richard Henderson, John Williams, Thomas Hart, Nathaniel Hart, David Hart, John Luttrell, Leonard H. Bullock, James Hogg, and William Johnson.

In March 1775 Daniel Boone, working for the Transylvania Company, and a party of about 30 woodsmen blazed a primitive trail from the Holston River in East Tennessee across the mountains at Cumberland Gap to open this area to settlement. Boone’s trail, the Wilderness Road, became the main route to the new settlements.

Transylvania Company’s so-called purchase from the Indians was publicly denounced by the governors of Virginia and North Carolina, however, and the scheme was invalidated. The Virginia legislature nullified the arrangement by creating Kentucky County in December 1776, and in 1778 that body granted 200,000 acres on the Green River to the Transylvania associates as compensation. The copartners turned to the Cumberland River and formulated plans to colonize French Lick in 1779-80 with another proprietary arrangement, the Cumberland Compact. In 1783 the General Assembly of North Carolina terminated Transylvania’s control but granted the copartners 200,000 acres in Powell’s Valley in East Tennessee.

The Anderson Blockhouse became the stepping off point for 250,000 to 300,000 people who walked that famous path, now known as the Wilderness Trail, through the Cumberland Gap and on into the heartland of America.


Colonel John Anderson, Builder of the Blockhouse

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. 

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.

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