As far as historians can tell, James Vann was born to Scottish fur trader Joseph Vann and his half-blood Cherokee wife, Wahli, around 1768. James gained wealth by placing various businesses along the newly established Federal Road at the turn of the nineteenth century. He took multiple wives, but Peggy Scott Vann (b. 1783) claimed the title of principal wife, even though she was not the mother of James’s main heir, Joseph (Joe) Vann. The Cherokees did not own the land, but rather could use it for specific purposes.
On his many travels, James became acquainted with Moravian missionaries, and desired for them to establish a school for children of Cherokee chiefs on his land. The missionary diaries describe his land near the Connesauga River as rich but Vann himself as “very dissipated and drunken.” Indeed, Vann had acquired a reputation for cruelty to his slaves and even his family members. But he became the consummate host to the Moravians, who established Springplace mission in 1801.
Across from the mission, Vann completed construction of his new, Federal-style brick home in 1805. The brick mason came from Virginia, and carpenters from Tennessee. Vann slaves formed the bricks by hand on the plantation, while nails and hinges were made in Vann’s blacksmith shops. The floating stairway offers the oldest example of cantilevered construction in the state. James’s son Joe is believed to have added the elaborate woodwork in the colors of earth and sky as seen in the home’s interior today. The cookhouse was adjacent to the dining room, originally a hewn log structure.
In 1835, the Joe Vann family became victims of the Trail of Tears, removing to Webber’s Falls, Oklahoma. The property valuation included 800 acres under cultivation, 110 slaves, the house, cabins, barns, smokehouses, corn cribs, grist mill, sawmill, blacksmith shops, taverns, peach kiln, whiskey stills, and peach and apple orchards.
Get a glimpse of life as it was, both harrowing and beautiful, at Diamond Hill and Springplace c. 1805, in my upcoming novel, The Witness Tree, this September with Smitten Historical Romance.
Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s the managing editor for Smitten Historical Romance of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of The Georgia Gold Series, The Restoration Trilogy, and a number of novellas, including Across Three Autumns of Barbour’s Colonial Backcountry Brides Collection. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses! Connect with Denise here:
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