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John S. Masters - Son of Hillery Masters


by Robert Eldridge

     John Simon Masters was born in Virgnia on March 12, 1801.  He was
the youngest son of Hillery and Mary (Davies) Masters, and came to this
section of Tennessee, then Jackson County, (now Overton) as an infant,
soon after the turn of the century around the year 1803, when his parents
crossed over the Cumberland Mountains and settled on a track of land near
Roaring River, Northwest of the present community of Windel, on what was
later known as the Hardy place.  It is family tradition that Hillery
Masters had secured a land grant from the State of North Carolina for
640 acres of land for his services as a soldier in the Revolutionary War
but no public records of his titles to this land have been found by the
writer.  Perhaps these deeds were recorded in Jackson County and the
records destroyed when the Courthouse at Gainesboro burned.

     The era in the life of John S. Masters, 1801 - 1866, marks a very
important and colorful period in the history of our state and nation.
Overton County was established on September 11, 1806 by an Act of the
General Assembly of the State of Tennessee, five years after he was born.
This county was carved out of a section of the eastern part of Jackson
County and a section of the state known as the Wilderness, or the Indian
Reservation, until the Treaty of Tellico in 1805.

     John S. grew to manhood during an era when pioneer life and living
was a reality and the ways of life and making a living required much toil,
endurance and determination.   He had all the qualities necessary to
succeed in the new country.  He grew to manhood during a period of our
history when many changes were being made in our country and way of life.
Many men who had received grants of land for their services in the
Revolutionary War were coming in to claim titles to their land and
establish homes in this large new country.

     There was much work to be done around the homes in the wilderness -
homes were to be built, land cleared and fenced, the raising of a crop of
corn and the caring for horses and cattle which were permitted to graze
at large.  The work around the Masters home followed after the general
pattern in this section at that time.

     The amount of education he received and the schools he attended have
not been determined.  He no doubt attended the schools of his day which
were in his reach, which probably were the subscription schools.  He no
doubt attended schools at Mt. Gilead and the Old Field school located a
short distance west of Mt. Gilead.

     He no doubt attended the house raisings, the log rollings and other
activities which mixed work and social life, when it was calculated that
there would be plenty to eat and drink.  Hunting was another sport that
could not be overlooked.  Although the buffalo and most of the bears had
disappeared when he came along, there were deer, turkeys and many of the
fur-bearing animals which had marketable pelts, and too, there was some
good fishing in the creeks and rivers.

     Revival meetings were common in this section of the country when he
was a young man, but if he took any part in religious worship we have no
record or tradition of it.

     John S. Masters was married to Miss. Judith Barbara Riley on
September 22, 1827, after he had passed his 26th birthday, and she had
reached the age of 16 years.  She was the beautiful and attractive
daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Riley, who lived in the Flynns Lick
community, on the Cumberland River in Jackson County, Tennessee.  Henry
Riley was a maker of hats which were noted for their long wear.  A story
has been told that he made a man a hat and agreed to accept one dollar
down and one dollar a year as long as he wore the hat.  After twelve
years he brought the hat back to Riley, saying he was tired of wearing

     Judith Barbara (Riley) Masters was a woman noted for her industry
and skills.  Rearing a large family occupied all of her time and she was
never idle. --Rearing children, carding, spinning, weaving and making
clothes for a large family, cooking and keeping house.  She was very
dextrous when working with her hands and did some very fancy needlework
and quilting.  Joe Masters once said that he remembered hearing someone
say that some of her patchwork and needlework was so good that bees
would come and light on it, as it looked like flowers.  In latter years
she was forced to slow down on account of arthritis in her hands which
so twisted her fingers that she was forced to give up sewing and

     Ridley Masters says that he remembers his grandmother Barbara and
that when she became old and her hands crippled by arthritis, that she
passed much time reading the Bible and that she read the "Good Book"
through seven times.  He stated that she sometimes would read all day,
and that as a small boy he remembers standing by her rocking chair and
listen to her read the scriptures.

     Ridley Masters states that his grandmother was a rather large woman
and enjoyed good health on into old age and that after she was old that
she would walk and go to see her daughters, Mrs. Malinda Gore and Mrs.
Margaret Savage who lived in the Walnut Grove community about four miles

     John S. Masters did not believe in slavery, therefore he owned no
slaves as did many of his neighbors, but he did have sons who could do a
good job, so to this end he raised as much corn as he could for bread
for the family and for the hogs, horses and cows.

     The early settlers who came into this wilderness area from East
Tennessee and the Carolinas, brought with them not only their household
and other movable property, but also their still, skills and tastes.
After planting their crops and setting their orchards, they readied
their stills for the making of brandy and whiskey which came as
naturally with them as tanning hides, making soap, hewing logs, building
houses and rearing large families.

     The pioneers of this section had many uses for good whiskey.  It
was served as a medicine and tonic.  It loosened the tongues of
politicians and a few of the preachers, it added to the enjoyment of
weddings and tempered the sorrow at funerals.  It was also found at
log-rollings and house-raisings, and also used in lieu of cash in
trading in general.  Whiskey was to many people what tranquilizers,
anesthetics and rubbing alcohol are today.  It was good for colds,
chills, fever and fatigue.  It was used as a remedy for snakebites,
for arthritis and to make camphor.

     The quality of corn whiskey made by John S. Masters was such that
he could have a ready market for all that he could make in one still
house, so he erected a second.  A reference to one of his still houses
is found in the deed of Hiram M. and Hannah (Gore) Allen to John
Masters, 15 acres for $15.00, for the use of John S. Masters during the
lifetime of Hannah Allen.  During the age and in the area where John S.
Masters lived and was distilling whiskey, cash was scarce and hard to
come by, but John S.  Masters managed to accumulate a small fortune,
which in the end, it seems, failed to benefit him or his family.

     He made and sold much liquor and accumulated a sizable amount of
cash in gold and silver.  He loaned Joseph Goodbar, his brother-in-law,
who married his sister Nancy Masters, the sum of $3,000 in cash, which
Goodbar invested in the dry goods business just before the Civil War
started and he was unable to repay the loan.  Robert S. Masters stated
to the writer that he remembers seeing his father with a large bucket
full of gold and silver, which it was thought by members of the family
that he buried during the war.

     The period during and just after the War Between the States were
trying times for many.  Bands of guerillas and bushwhackers, both
Confederate and Federal, were operating back and forth across the
country pillaging, robbing, stealing and killing.  If a family had
some money, which few did, it was not safe to keep it around the home,
and there were no banks.  So the safest place, many thought, to keep it
was to bury it.  He had buried the bucket of money once, and his son,
John H.  had found it while digging for worms for fish bait near the
smoke house.  He buried this bucket again one night while it was
raining, and Robert S. the youngest son, stated that to his knowledge,
his mother or any other member of the family ever found this money.

     John S. Masters became ill, almost suddenly, with pneumonia, and
his condition became worse.  He tried hard to tell his wife and family
something, but in his condition they were not able to understand what
he wanted to tell them.  Many thought that he was trying to tell them
where he had hidden his money, but he died without being able to make
them understand and his wife, who lived about nineteen years longer,
never knew.

     He died on Christmas Day, 1866.  His body was laid to rest in the
Masters family cemetery, not far from the home.  In 1885 his wife was
buried by his side.  A period of one hundred and one years passed
before a monument was placed to mark their graves.  Money to purchase
this monument was raised through the efforts of a grandson, Riley
Masters, who secured donations from the descendants of this man who has
become the paternal ancestor of a large and wonderful family in Overton
County, Tennessee.

     When John S. Masters and Judith Barbara (Riley) Masters were
married on September 22, 1827, a period of twenty-one years had passed
since Overton County had been established by an Act of the General
Assembly of Tennessee.  Their marriage license were issued at Monroe,
which was the county seat of this county from 1810 to 1835, a period of
twenty-five years.  The county seat was then moved to Livingston.

     At the time of their marriage Joseph Harris was the county court
clerk who issued the marriage license.  Other county officials were:
John McDonald, Register; Henry H. Atkins, circuit court clerk; and
Valentine Matlock, Sheriff.  Alvin Cullom was our attorney-general and
Jacob C.  Isaacs was our congressman.

     The will of John S. Masters, (a copy of which has not been found
by the writer) provided that his wife, Judith Barbara (Riley) Masters,
was the principal legitee, and at her death his three farms were to go
to his three youngest sons, Thomas D., Isaac B. and Robert S.  Masters,
giving as his reason for willing these three farms to his youngest sons
was that he had failed to give them the educational advantages which he
provided his three oldest sons, James B., Madison M., and John H.

     After the death of his wife, Judith Barbara (Riley) Masters, on
November 30, 1885, the division of the three farms located on Flat Creek
and Jackson Branch was made.  Riley Masters related to the writer that he
remembered as a small boy, the division of the three farms to the
youngest sons.  He stated that the names of the three farms were placed
in a hat and that the surveyor, L. N.  Oakley, ask him to draw out the
names of the farms for the three sons, which he did.  The farm which was
drawn for Robert S.  contained an orchard which had been set by Thomas D.
and which he wanted, they agreed to exchange.

     Thomas D. Masters moved to the farm willed him by his father where
he lived the remainder of his life and reared a family of seven sons and
five daughters.  This farm was later sold to Jay and Lina (Allen) Masters,
who also reared a large family.  This land is now owned by Willie D.

     Robert S. and Bettie (Carmack) Masters moved to the small log house
at the mouth of Jackson Branch, on the farm provided him in his fathers
will, and later moved to a larger log house a short distance up Jackson
Branch, where he lived for about fifteen years, raising a family of five
sons and three daughters.  He sold this farm in 1902, to Joe Maxwell, his
son-in-law, for $200.00.  This farm is now owned by James Kuykendall, Jr.,
Livingston postmaster.

     Isaac B. Masters, who received the old home place, as provided for
him in his father's will, sold this land, which is deeded on March 17,
1867, registered in Deed Book A-H, page 160, to S. A. Roberts for one
horse.  J. M.  Roberts lived on this place until he was elected to the
office of Register of Overton County.  Isaac Nivens purchased the farm
and lived there for several years and reared a large family.  This farm
was later owned by a Mr. Kennedy and is now owned by the Long's.  The
Masters family cemetery is located on this farm, in which John S. and
Judith Barbara Masters are buried, along with many other members of
this Masters family.

     Amanda F. Masters the oldest daughter of John S. and Judith
Masters, who married John D. Knox, was not satisfied with the
provisions of her father's will.  She and her husband filed a petition
in the County Court of Overton County, asking that the will be set
aside, and that the will be transferred to the Circuit Court where
petitioners might contest the issues.  The case was tried in the
Circuit Court and the will of John S.  Masters was sustained.  The
court record of this case is found in the Circuit Court Minute Book,
1868, pp.  120-122.


             The petition of J. D. Knox and Amanda, citizens of Overton
        County, Tennessee against Judith B. Masters of the same residence.

             Your petitioners respectfully represent to your worships,
        that at the January term, 1867 of your worshipful court, writing
        purporting to be the last will and testament of John Masters,
        deceased, was admitted to probate, at the instance of the said
        Judith B. Masters, who being the widow and chief devisee under
        said will.  Your petitioner, Amanda Knox, is the daughter of the
        said John S. Masters, dec'd, and her co-petitioner, J. B. Knox,
        is her husband.  Petitioners charge that the said instrument is
        not the will of said John S. Masters, dec'd, because as peti-
        tioners believe he was on account of habitual drunkenness,
        weakened of mind, etc., incapable to make a will.  They also
        believe that the said Judith B. Masters exercised an undue and
        unlawful influence over the mind of the said John S. Masters
        in the making of the said will.  They state that no executor
        was mentioned in said will, nor has any administrator been as
        yet appointed.  Petitioners therefore pray that the said Judith
        B.  Masters be summoned to appear before your worships and
        answer the petition, that said probate be set aside, and that
        the will be transferred to the Circuit Court of Overton County,
        where petitioners may contest the validity in an issue of devise-
        ment - vel non.
                                      Gardenhire & Barnes.

             J. D. Knox this day makes oath that the above petition
        is true to the best of his knowledge, information and belief.

                                      J. D. Knox

        Sworn to and subscribed before me this 28th day of January
        1868.  R. N. Coffee, N. P.

     This is an exact transcription of a paper written and distributed
to family members by Robert Eldridge probably in the early 1970's.  The
title is: John S. Masters - Barbara Riley - Hulls.  I have deleted
references to the Hulls but the remainder is shown unedited.  Barbara
Riley was a second cousin, one time removed, to Cordell Hull who served
in the United States House of Representatives and as Secretary of State
under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  Robert Eldridge was a great
grandson of John S.  Masters and an avid historian with several books
of local interest published.

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