THE CHARACTER OF PLACE
It is likely that the first person to write about Williamson County was John Lipscomb, a veteran of the American Revolution who took advantage of land bonuses offered in 1783 by the General Assembly of North Carolina.
Lipscomb - a soldier from Halifax, North Carolina, who had served as an ensign in the company of Captain Williams, Sixth Regiment - set out from that site for the "Cumberland Country" on April 25, 1784. We know this because John Lipscomb kept a journal.
According to historian Samuel Cole Williams, Lipscomb was the first traveler to keep a journal of his trip to Nashville after its founding in 1780.
What is of interest to the modern-day researcher is where Lipscomb located his land grant: Williamson County. A receipt, preserved along with his journal in the Tennessee Historical Society, reveals the fact that Franklin resident (and future Secretary of War) John Eaton was his agent and attorney. Lipscomb actually made three trips to Williamson County before he finally settled for good in the new land. Williams noted that Lipscomb died in 1820 and is buried "in the family cemetery of his friend, Col. Hardee Murfree."
If indeed John Lipscomb was the first of the "Williamson County" writers, the tradition he began has been impressive, impressive enough for the Williamson County Arts Council to feel that those who have used quill pen, pencil, typewriter, and even word processor, should be honored.
John Lipscomb came to Williamson County 14 years before it became an official entity. In the nearly two centuries since 1799, the county has been home to an impressive array of historians, novelists and poets.
In compiling this booklet, members of the Literary Committee were given the formidable charge of defining just what is a "Williamson County writer".
After weeks of discussion, members decided upon a few simple criteria: the writer had to have lived in Williamson County (for no matter how short a time) and had to have been published. That eliminated people who had prepared manuscripts but had never published them, but it did include those who self-published them. It eliminated those people who had never lived in Williamson County but had written about it. It omitted someone as prominent as Robert Penn Warren, who at one time planned to live in Williamson County and even found a farm to rent, but who, in the early 1930's, headed both south and north after his contract to teach at Vanderbilt was not renewed.
But even without a Robert Penn Warren, Williamson County has provided fertile ground for the written word. From John Lipscomb to Thomas Hart Benton, the early historians of the region speak to us still. So do the early politicians such as John Reid and John Eaton and the scientists such as Matthew Fontaine Maury.
In our own time, this rich historical tradition has been continued by Virginia Bowman, James A. Crutchfield and Vance Little, as well as Lyn Sullivan Pewitt and Ridley Wills.
Writing is not only an act of research, of course, but an act of imagination as well. In the 1930's, Christine Noble Govan captured what it was like to be a child growing up in the South with a trilogy about the Plummer children that remains timeless in its innocence and humor. Mildred Haun, Bowen Ingram and Wilson Gage continued a peculiarly southern tradition of exploring character by way of place. In a sense, with all of their fiction, the place became a major character in their work. And that place was Williamson County or its imaginative equivalent.
The tradition of the novelist is one continued by Madison Jones and his namesake, Madison Smartt Bell, both of an area, and yet both of whom transcend it in their work.
In like manner, the poets have also written about Williamson County. What is probably the greatest of all southern poems, "Ode to the Confederate Dead," was written by Allen Tate, a classmate of Warren, with the Carnton Confederate Cemetery as inspiration. Genevieve Lewis Steele, Alison Touster Reed and other poets have demonstrated beyond question that place matters in all writing, that where we are from determines to a large extent who we are.
The booklet here presented is the second edition, with more than 20 additional authors. Members of the Williamson County Arts Council recognize that with further research, other authors will be discovered, authors whose work may be out of print and difficult to find, but work which is undoubtedly worthwhile. And with each passing year, it is our hope that more and more young people will want to continue the writing tradition of Williamson County.
Beginning last year, the committee decided to recognize one Williamson County author - living or dead - by induction into the Williamson County Authors' Hall of Fame. Our first inductee was Virginia McDaniel Bowman, County Historian, whose book, Historic Williamson County, has helped lead to a renewed awareness of our heritage.
All art is difficult, and the art of writing my be the most difficult, whether it be in writing the history of a county, or the history of a character, or the pain of trusting the imagination. And all art, whether it be through the paint brush, the sculptor's tools, the lens of a camera, or the keys of a typewriter, is a way to truth, and no county nor city nor region is complete without those who seek - through whatever medium - to tell the truth.
Bob Holladay, August 1993, 1994
Williamson County Celebrates the Written Word, a publication of the Williamson County Arts Council, 1994.