The First Residents of Historic Travellers Rest

From approximately 1400-1475 A.D., the land that would later be known as Travellers Rest was a Native American village during the pre-historic Mississippian period, the last of the four major cultural periods before first contact with white settlers. In 1796, the remains of a palisade wall, home sites and burials from that settlement were present when Judge John Overton acquired the property.

Just nine years later, in 1805, the first of many archaeological investigations began on the site, and the story of the earliest residents of Travellers Rest first began to be documented. Investigations continued at Travellers Rest throughout the 19th century as the emerging profession of archaeology and its first practitioners visited the site. The exact boundaries of this Mississippian village are yet to be determined, but it is speculated to have been between 10-12 acres and was clearly home to a people with advanced social, agricultural and artistic skills.

In 1920 William Myer, while exploring the Middle Tennessee area for the Bureau of American Ethnology, contracted to have this map made of the Travellers Rest site. It supports the description recorded by Dr. Rush Nutt in 1805 upon visiting Travellers Rest.

The Mississippian-era people left behind beautiful pottery and ceremonial items that demonstrate the skills of the artists married with purpose and intent for the items. Stone box graves housed and preserved some of these cultural artifacts while others, like this ceremonial bowl, were found under former pre-historic house sites and other locations on the property. Image, Historic Travellers Rest collection.
This stoneware hearth was discovered at Historic Travellers Rest. It had once served as the center of a family home providing a source of light and heat while also serving as a hearth for cooking. Image courtesy of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology
This beautifully executed pottery bowl was discovered in a stone box burial of a child aged eleven or twelve. Pottery making as part of ceremonial or burial practices is frequently found from the Mississippian period (dated in the Southeast United States as c. 900-1600). The delicate facial features and thinness of the bowl all are indicative of a skilled artist. This rim rider bowl depicts the Wild Boy who was one of the Hero Twins who cleansed the world of monsters in a Native American folk story tradition kept by historic tribes. While the story is known to Native American communities throughout the Southeast, the double plait on this boy’s head is a cultural marker specific to Nashville area pottery. Images courtesy of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology.