32. Captain of the Spies
(14)(4) was born on Jul 15 1759
in Near Fredericksburg, Virginia. He died on Jun 16 1819 in Gordon's Ferry,
Tennessee. John Gordon, Captain of the Spies, was born in Virginia, near Fredericksburg,
but little is known of his ancestry. That given in this genealogy is somewhat
As with many others, he came west towards the end of the war and settled in Nashville when, as a contemporary observed, it contains "only two houses which, in true, merit that name; the rest are only huts that formerly served as a sort of fortification against Indian attacks."
John Gordon soon earned a reputation as an Indian fighter and was commissioned as a Captain of mounted Infantry by William Blount, territorial governor, in 1793. That commission is in my possession. By means unknown, he acquired property in Nashville, and operated as a merchant. I have a letter from a customer in Clarksville to him, ordering coffee and chocolate and asking for the latest news about an impending war between the Creek and Chickasaw Indians. The following year he would play an important role in the Nickajack Expedition against the Chickamauga Indians.
On July 11, 1795, Governor Blount made him a Justice of the Peace, a position of importance in those days, and the following year, when Tennessee became a state, he was appointed Postmaster of Nashville. It is possible that, in order to handle the mail, he acquired at this time the Gordon desk. It is a secretary desk, made of black walnut, that stands nearly eight and a half feet high. It has twenty-two pigeon holes, numerous drawers, and secret compartments. It has been in the family ever since, and I am the sixth generation to have the desk in my care. Judging from the style, it was made in Danville, Virginia, around 1760. Tradition has it that he acquired it from Timothy Demonbreun, a French-Canadian merchant who had migrated to Nashville at about the same time he did. It is a magnificent example of 18th-century Southern cabinetmaking.
As the Natchez Trace, a road that ran between Nashville and Natchez, Mississippi, became more important, John Gordon acquired the right to operate a ferry on the Duck River, which is crossed by the Trace, at the border of Hickman and Maury Counties, about fifty miles south of Nashville. In 1806 the state of Tennessee granted him 640 acres at this site and additional grants brought his land holdings in the area to 1514 acres. As early as 1802 Gordon was in business at what later became known as Gordon's Ferry, and in 1804 the future United States Senator Thomas Hart Benton, then still a boy, served as his clerk.
He maintained his interests in Nashville, however, including a 505-acre farm about two miles southwest of Nashville, near Stone Creek. That farm had a race track for testing the speed of horses. He apparently became overextended, however, and would lose this land to pay off debts. In 1812 he moved his family permanently to Gordon's Ferry and began building a house there in that year. The house survives and is now a National Historic Landmark and owned by the federal government.
When the War of 1812 broke out, the British and the Spanish began stirring up trouble along the frontier and the Creek War began in 1813 as a part of that conflict, Andrew Jackson, and old friend who knew Gordon's reputation as an Indian fighter at first hand, sent for him and Gordon agreed to serve provided he command a separate company of men to function as scouts, or spies, and that he report directly to Jackson. Jackson agreed to this and it was he who gave Gordon the title "Captain of the Spies." In this command, Gordon fought at Talladega and at the decisive battle of Horseshoe Bend.
In January, 1814, Jackson, heading for Fort Strother, was suddenly attacked and for awhile the outcome was in doubt. At the critical moment Gordon's company charged the enemy's left flank and turned it, causing the Indians to retreat in disorder. According to Jackson, "Capt Gordon who was in front at the head of the spies rushed to the fight, and entered into the pursuit, which was continued for two and a half miles with considerable slaughter." In fact, twenty-six Indians were left on the field.
Jackson during this operation was frequently plagued by short-term enlistments and the reluctance of the soldiers to continue fighting when not legally bound to. At one point, when many soldiers were preparing to depart his command, Jackson said, "If only two men will remain with me, I will never abandon this post."
Captain Gordon immediately stepped forward and said, "You have one, General, let us look if we can not find another." He then went around the camp and convinced 109 to remain with him and Jackson.
After the Battle of Horseshoe Bend smashed the power of the Creeks, Jackson sent Captain Gordon to Pensacola, then in Spanish hands and apparently heavily influenced by the British, with a warning to the Spanish governor to remain neutral. Gordon made his way alone through hundreds of miles of wilderness and possibly hostile Indians, interviewed the governor and reported back to Jackson that the British were indeed using Pensacola as a base. As a result, Jackson seized Pensacola in November of 1814, an action that later resulted in the battle of New Orleans.
Early in 1818, Jackson again asked Captain Gordon to undertake a diplomatic mission in Florida as part of the First Seminole War, which he did. But his long and arduous military service undermined his health and he died after returning to Gordon's Ferry, aged only 53.
During his many absences, Dolly Cross Gordon ran the establishment at Gordon's Ferry, as she would continue to do after his early death. A vital, remarkable woman, she matched her husband in abilities and reputation. There is no known portrait of John Gordon, but a miniature of Dolly Cross survives, in my possession. He was married to Dorothea (Dolly) Cross on Jul 15 1794 in Nashville, Tennessee.
33. Dorothea (Dolly) Cross
was born on Jul 15 1779 in Amelia County, Virginia. She died on Dec 5
1859 in Gordon's Ferry, Tennessee. Dolly Cross was a remarkable woman and every
bit her husband partner as well as wife.
She out lived her husband by forty years, raising not only her own children but a number of orphans and strays and running the farm and businesses left to her. By the end of her life she was the matriarch of middle Tennessee, a revered and respected figure.
A miniature portrait of her is in my possession. Children were:
i. John Gordon was born in 1795 in Nashville, Tennessee. He died about 1844 in Missouri.
ii. Fielding Lewis Gordon was born about 1797 in Nashville, Tennessee. He died in 1835 in St. Louis, Missouri.
iii. Captain William Gordon was born in 1798 in Nashville, Tennessee. He died after 1845.
iv. Major Bolling Gordon was born in 1800 in Nashville, Tennessee. He died on Dec 10 1880 in "Cottage Hill" Hickman County, Tennessee.
16 v. Major Powhatan Gordon.
vi. Mary Ann Gordon was born in 1807. She died about 1845.
vii. Anna "Nancy" Gordon was born about 1809 in Gordon's Ferry, Tennessee. She died Young.
viii. Dorothy "Dolly" Gordon was born on Nov 29 1811 in Gordon's Ferry, Tennessee. She died on Dec 4 1880 in Trenton, Tennessee.
ix. Andrew Gordon was born in 1813 in Gordon's Ferry, Tennessee. He died on Aug 2 1888.
x. Lieutenant Richard Cross Gordon was born on Jan 10 1817 in Gordon's Ferry, Tennessee. He died on Nov 20 1863.
xi. Louisa Pocahontas Gordon was born on Feb 19 1819 in Gordon's Ferry, Tennessee. She died on Jul 13 1857 in Nashville, Tennessee.
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