Date of Award

Summer 8-1-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Professional Writing (MAPW)



Committee Chair/First Advisor

Dr. Anne Richards


Dr. Margaret Walters


Curriculum Vitae x-xi

Introduction: The Basis for the Study

After I chose to write about my distant relative Charlotte Reeves Robertson, my initial research identified a wealth of information on the subject herself as well as on fascinating early Tennessee history. As my research intensified, the time period in which Charlotte lived and migrated into Tennessee proved to be quite dynamic, with many different influences on her life, including those of the British colonialists, the indigenous Americans and the primitive environment itself. The settlers in Middle Tennessee faced struggles on many fronts and showed great resolve and dedication to their purpose. I was hooked.

Born in North Carolina on January 2, 1751, Charlotte Reeves became a well-educated young woman, taught primarily by her father Reverend George Reeves. She married James Robertson in 1768 and within three years, they left North Carolina for the Watauga settlements, a new cluster of rustic forts and farms deep into what is now Eastern Tennessee. Her husband played a direct role in the formation and colonization of these communities with the intent of escaping the English colonialist influence and to gain more religious freedom. Charlotte repeatedly proved herself as a courageous and dedicated wife and mother. In 1904, Landon Knight wrote about her in his article “Great Women of Pioneer Times” in The Delineator magazine. In discussing the journey taken by the Robertsons and their four young children to what is now considered Nashville, he shows deep reverence by stating:

From the moment the voyagers entered the Tennessee until they reached the Ohio River, they were almost constantly beset by the combined tribes of the Western Indians, and through the scenes of the most marvellous battles, shipwrecks, defeats, victories and escapes, we see Charlotte Robertson as a conspicuous figure. The timidity of the delicately nurtured woman was transformed by danger into heroism as great as ever exhibited by her husband on the field of battle. At one time it is records, under a fierce fire from both sides of the river, she coolly placed her babies in the bottom of the boat and built a barricade of bedding and boxes around them...Again she took the place of a wounded boatman at the oars, and, forging ahead, was attacked by a war canoe filled with painted warriors. With a stroke of the paddle...she rained blows upon their heads...Then when the smoke of battle has cleared, we see her again, no longer the Amazon, but the angel of mercy binding up the wounds of the injured and whispering words of comfort and hope to the dying.

The Robertsons and their fellow settlers were undoubtedly faced with the constant threat of not only the environment, but also the indigenous Americans who had lived and thrived in the region for many years. Chief Dragging Canoe swiftly organized his warrior Chickamauga tribe and, in the great effort to protect the lands of his fellow indigenous Americans, became a formidable and deadly force against all newcomers in Middle Tennessee. The settlers, including Charlotte and her camp, repeatedly sparred with the Cherokee and Dragging Canoe’s Chickamauga tribes. James Robertson did accomplish many treaty signings with the local aboriginal populations, yet these agreements, which he and his leaders organized in good faith, were not honored by other settlers and companies that sought great wealth and land swaths in the region.

Ultimately, I wish to provide, among other things, as unbiased an account as I am able to make of the political and cultural behavior of the indigenous Americans. It is a challenge to provide an account free from all prejudice, because European Americans, not indigenous Americans, have recorded most of the relevant literature. The tendency of indigenous Americans to use storytelling instead of written records in order to memorialize historical events has led to a deficiency in these sources for modern researchers.

I also chose to research the subjects of scalping and Charlotte’s role as a healer. She lost two sons in battles against indigenous Americans and almost lost her third as well. After being attacked, scalped, and left for dead, her son was found and brought back to her healing hands. The Vance method was used to heal the wounds, and the young man survived. James Robertson even published an article on this method to treat scalping. On this subject I would like to elaborate.

There have been misunderstandings about scalping that recent advances in bone analysis have helped clarify. In fact, scalping was done worldwide in one fashion or another from as early as 200 BC. Scalping is a well-studied phenomenon and, as bone analysis has developed scientifically, scalping has become much easier to identify and date. The study of scalping incorporates medical, cultural, historical, archaeological and anthropological perspectives. The review provided here explores the myths, facts, and fears surrounding this tradition. In respect to Charlotte and the settlers, the act of scalping was seen as savage and terrifying.

The approach for this biography is segmental, with each chapter requiring an independent and comprehensive literature review. The goal is to identify and relate the environmental and historical influences of that era, with Charlotte as the pivotal focus of the piece. Refer to the following schematic for the layout of this biography.

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