Long Island of the Holston
Had this four mile long, half mile wide island been located in any other river in Tennessee it would not possess the significance that it has. This spit of land could be called the birthplace of Tennessee and even Kentucky for the treaties signed with the Cherokee that opened their lands to settlements by the white man. One possible origin for the name for the state of Tennessee, from the language of the Yuchi Indians, “Tana-see,” possibly meaning “the meeting place,” may be derived from this island. It is no wonder that the Federal government named Long Island a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
The island is located near the junction of the North and South forks of the Holston. The Holston flows southwest towards Knoxville where it meets the French Broad River creating the mighty Tennessee River. Nearby, the Great Indian Warpath, a major trail leading to the northeast from central Tennessee, brought many natives past this island. This island served as an important ceremonial site for the Cherokee Indians who occupied this area until the late 18th century. The island was a sacred ground for rituals but also for councils and treaties. So sacred was this island that, according to a number of sources, it was forbidden to kill or molest anyone on this sacred ground.
The first major intrusion of whites into the area occurred with Colonel William Byrd’s expedition in 1761 which constructed Fort Robinson near the river junction. When the outpost was abandoned a short while later, the Cherokee resumed control of the area. However, the building of the fort only emboldened white incursions into the area. Hunters, explorers and the occasional courageous settler were soon found in the lands surrounding the island. When Daniel Boone, that great trailblazer to the Kentucky territory, arrived in March of 1775 with an axe-wielding crew to cut a trail to the new territory, the real trouble began. Long Island became the starting point for Boone’s Wilderness Road, bringing hundreds of thousands of white settlers through the area.
With the outbreak of war, many of the Cherokee sided with the British due to the increasing pressure from frontiersmen and by the middle of 1776 they had worked to free the area from whites. Colonial soldiers set out from Eaton’s Fort near the junction of the Holston’s two forks and crushed the Cherokee in battle at the Long Island Flats on August 20. The next year, a treaty was negotiated on Long Island ceding much of the Cherokee lands in East Tennessee and everything east of the Blue Ridge to white settlers. However, the Cherokee still maintained possession of Long Island, though Joseph Martin and his Native American wife, Betsy, established a trading post there; the first white settler on the island.
While many Cherokee had cleared out of the newly claimed area, there were still attacks on white settlements. A peace was negotiated at Long Island in 1781 just before the end of the Revolution. The activity of settlers increased and a boat yard was established on the river, opposite the western tip of the island. The year 1805 saw a number of treaties ceding the remaining Cherokee land in the area to white settlers including Long Island. Legend says that among the natives to leave the island for the last time was a medicine man who laid a curse on the island that no white would be able to comfortably settle on the island. Around the island, the city of Kingsport was created with the merger of Christianville and Rossville in 1822. The island was later incorporated into the town.
Parts of the island were developed and residences sprang up, but, according to the legends, insanity and crime occurred on the island in higher rates than elsewhere in Kingsport. Perhaps the curse was beginning to take its toll? Over time, the legend has been oft-repeated receiving additions on occasions such as the addition from the era of World War II.
Folklorist Charles Edwin Price recounts this tale in his Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee; this tale is recounted in a few other sources, but apparently based upon Price’s version of the tale. The tale, according to Price, tells of Amos Ross, whose son was a Marine in the war. On leave, his son and his son’s girlfriend at the time, went out to Long Island one evening to spend some time together. Ross, a fine upstanding Christian, worried that his son was committing a mortal sin followed the couple out to the island. Finding the couple in flagrante delicto, Ross became enraged and attacked, killing them both. After the incident, legend says, he was never seen again, though couples necking on the island, which may have been a “Lovers Lane” were occasionally attacked by the enraged man or at least his spirit. While this is a marvelous tale, it does leave some questions. Unfortunately, without access to the Kingsport papers of the World War II, era, I cannot prove this is just a legend or if it is grounded in fact.
Besides this violent morality tale, there are other incidents occurring on the island. Again, these tales are told without specific reports of incidents. After dark, it is said that Native Americans have been seen on the island. Campfires are seen blazing with natives dancing about and performing rituals. In the early morning mist on the river, warriors have been seen gliding along silently in their canoes.
Sadly, much of the historic nature of the island is now gone. In 1996, the historical integrity of the island had been so depleted that the National Park Service, administrators of the list of National Historic Landmarks, suggested that the island be delisted. While the landmark designations has not been removed, much of the island is now heavily industrialized. Viewing the island via Googles Maps, it appears that most of the island is now paved over and covered with industrial development. The western portion of the island is now the location of a park and baseball fields are quite obvious, but little of the island’s original sylvan nature remains. The city of Kingsport, realizing the enormous value of having this marvelous landmark in town has done some work towards attracting visitors.
In 1976, a mere three acres of the island were given to the Eastern Band of Cherokee. These acres are a part of a park on the western end of the island, but the island still remains heavily industrial. It’s not hard to imagine that spirits returning to this haunted island, paddling around in the morning mist, don’t even recognize their spoiled sacred island.
- Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2009.
- Brown, John Norris. “The Long Island Curse.” Ghosts & Spirits of Tennessee. Accessed 14 July 2011.
- Lane, Matthew. “Tribes discuss role of Long Island in King’s Port on the Holston.” Kingsport Times-News. 17 May 2007.
- Long Island (Tennessee). Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 14 July 2011.
- McGuiness, Jim. “Tales of paranormal activity abounds in Tri-Cities region.” Kingsport Times-News. 28 October 2007.
- Mooney, James. History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992.
- Price, Charles Edwin. Haints, Witches, and Boogers: Tales from Upper East Tennessee. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1992.
- Rettig, Polly M. National Historic Landmark Nomination form for Long Island of the Holston. 4 June 1976.