Rogersville's Amis Mill will play a big role in semiquincentennial observances

Jeff Bobo • Dec 2, 2019 at 8:52 AM

ROGERSVILLE — Tennessee State Historian Dr. Carroll Van West believes the Amis Mill Historic Site can play a big role in the state’s observances of the national semiquincentennial in 2026, but first a lot of study and planning must take place.

The United States semiquincentennial will be the 250th anniversary of the 1776 establishment of the nation via the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

As with the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War in 2015, there will be events scheduled for the national semiquincentennial at significant historic locations across Tennessee.

That’s why Van West was in Rogersville last week, to begin a study on the Amis property and to begin formulating a plan for how it will be used during the celebration.

Van West told the Times News during his Nov. 25 visit that what makes Amis Mill significant to the state’s semiquincentennial plans is its connection to the American Revolution through its founder, Capt. Thomas Amis.

In fact, the Amis property is among the most historically significant in the state with regards to the American Revolution, Van West said.

What is the Amis Mill Historic Site?

During the Revolutionary War, Capt. Thomas Amis served as a superintendent of the commissary with a rank of captain for the 3rd Regiment of North Carolina Continental Troops representing the district of Wilmington.

Following his military service, he moved to Tennessee in 1780 and built Amis House about two miles south of what would later become Rogersville. The house was built more like a fort and featured 18-inch-thick stone walls and rifle ports in place of windows on an upper half story.

Amis brought with him his wife, 11 children and about 30 slaves, and the first things they built were the dam, the mill and the house — all of which were made of stone, and all of which can still be see today, although the mill is a ruin. 

The dam is the oldest stone dam still standing in Tennessee, and property owners Jake and Wendy Jacobs reside in the original house. Wendy Jacobs is a direct descendant of Thomas Amis.

At one time the Amis farm was at the end of the Old Stage Road, and it was the last chance to buy supplies for pioneers blazing a trail west.

Before his death in 1797, Amis hosted many famous explorers, scientists, clergymen, and politicians of the day including John Sevier, James Robertson, Andrew Jackson, Daniel Boone, Bishop Francis Asbury, and Andre Michaux, all of whom stayed at Amis House.

“Looking toward the next big anniversary”

Van West, who is also a professor history at Middle Tennessee State University, took a break during his Nov. 25 visit to answer some questions for the Times News. 

“Hawkins County is one of the oldest counties in the state, so I want to make sure this area is well represented in whatever planning we do for the 250th of the Declaration of Independence,” Van West said. “Amis Farm is on the National Register (of Historic Places), and of course, that and the mill are well-known landmarks. But I want to do a thorough study of its condition, a big story of its history, and really have that laid out, because as state historian we’re looking toward the next big anniversary.”

Van West added, “That would be the anniversary of the American Revolution. The 250th comes up in 2026, and one thing we learned from the Civil War anniversary — it doesn’t hurt to plan ahead of time on knowing the condition of buildings and where we can do things, and what places need to be emphasized.”

Why is the Amis property important to the semiquincentennial?

“The Amis property is really important because it’s a sort of gateway to the rest of the West. When Thomas Amis created the farm, and his store and his home, they were on the edge of the frontier. He was a Revolutionary War hero. He’s in the Encyclopedia of North Carolina for his exploits during the Revolutionary War, but towards the end of the war he comes here and establishes this place. By the mid-1780s, within two to three years of the end of the Revolutionary War, he is trading from here in Hawkins County at Natchez, Mississippi. That's how big of an operation he has going.”

Is Amis Mill an important Revolutionary War historical site?

“Definitely. The Amis farm is founded by this North Carolina Revolutionary War hero. It was founded and built before the end of the Revolution — because I always use the Treaty of Paris in 1783 — that’s the end of the Revolutionary War. And he’s already over here setting up a trading post, trading with Indians, and looking to trade to the west. And within three years, he’s moving flatboats from here all the way through the river system of Tennessee to Natchez, Mississippi. To me he encapsulates that Revolutionary generation that would have such an impact on the state.”

Who is another example from that Revolutionary generation?

Andrew Jackson is very famous for that. He starts off his law career in Jonesborough and ends up in Nashville, and then in the White House. Thomas Amis is not as famous, but he’s typical of those Revolutionary veterans who came to Tennessee and helped to build the state. I always think this (Amis Mill Historic Site) is one of the ground zeros for telling Tennessee’s story during the Revolutionary era.”

What do you foresee occurring here during the semiquincentennial?

“The General Assembly created a commission in the last legislative session for those of us on it to start the planning process. Much like we did for the Civil War sesquicentennial (150th anniversary), and I was the co-chair of that commission, and I’ll be the co-chair of this commission. We want to know what places do we have in Tennessee to really tell our story well, and then what places maybe need help, and need some assistance. That’s what I’m starting, with a lot of visits in the next six months to a year, to get that information down so we can work it into a state plan.”