Remembering Abram Maury and Franklin’s Founding Family

In the middle of Founders Pointe, a circa-1990s neighborhood in west Franklin, sits an old cemetery of obelisks, boxlike crypts, and worn headstones. A rock wall with an iron gate encircles the cemetery as if shielding the graves from the brick and siding homes that have sprung up around them. A sign on the entrance reads, “Abram Maury Family, Private Cemetery.”

Abram Maury, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Aside from the graveyard and crumbling stone foundations behind a few homes, the subdivision’s street names are the only other hints at the land’s past. Monikers such as “Treelawn Place,” “Antebellum Court,” and “Fontaine Drive” are all breadcrumbs that lead us to the fascinating story of Franklin’s founder, Maj. Abram Poindexter Maury.

A HISTORY OF PERSECUTION 

Long before Founders Pointe was even a thought, this property was part of a land grant given to Captain Anthony Sharp on April 9, 1788, for his service in the Revolutionary War. He received 3,840 acres from the state of North Carolina, covering six square miles from Winstead Hill to Roper’s Knob. Soon after this, he sold 640 of those acres to a Virginian named Abram Maury for $1,500.

Marker located off Boyd Mill Avenue and Twin Oaks Dr., Franklin, Tenn.

Though the Maury name would eventually become synonymous with wealth and power, that wasn’t always the case. Abram was born in Lunenburg County in 1766 to Colonel Abraham Maury and Susannah Poindexter Maury. His paternal side of the family were Huguenots, a derogatory name for French Protestants who were severely persecuted by the Catholic majority during the 16th and 17th centuries. 

St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of Huguenots, by François Dubois

At that time–long before even Abram’s father was born–the Maurys lived in Castle Mauron in Gascony, France. They remained there until 1685 when the Edict of Nantes was revoked, which spelled more trouble for the Huguenots. This edict had ended the French Wars of Religion and granted Huguenots significant rights, but with its repeal, French Protestants were ordered to renounce their faith and join the Catholic Church. 

Like so many other Huguenots, the Maurys fled their home as refugees. They landed in Dublin, Ireland, and that’s where Abram’s grandfather, Matthew Maury, married Mary Ann Fontaine, also a Huguenot, in 1716. 

BRAVING THE NEW WORLD

During this period, loads of Huguenots were immigrating to the American colonies for a fresh start. In 1718, Matthew traveled to the New World with one of his brothers-in-law to seek out a home for his family. Finding the country to his liking, he prepared to build a small house near West Point, Virginia on the Pamunkey River. 

With that taken care of, Matthew returned to Ireland to fetch Mary, their infant son, James, and 13 servants. As an interesting sidenote, James (who was Abram’s uncle) grew up to become an Episcopalian minister and established the Maury School for Boys in Virginia. He taught three future presidents and five future signers of the Declaration of Independence, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. Jefferson even lived with Rev. Maury for two years after his parents died.

Historic marker for Rev. Maury’s school, courtesy of the University of Virginia

The Maurys reached Virginia in 1719 and named their new home “Hickory Hill.” The couple eventually had two more children, the youngest of whom was Abram’s father, Col. Abraham Maury. 

Abraham went on to graduate from William & Mary and was appointed Colonel of Halifax County (which had been formed from Lunenburg County, Virginia in 1752). During his time as colonel, he was very active in resisting attacks from Native Americans. 

College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia

In 1759, Col. Maury married Susannah Poindexter and eventually established himself as a prosperous merchant. They had at least seven children together, their fourth being our subject of interest, Abram Poindexter Maury.

ABRAM MAURY’S EARLY YEARS

Not much can be found about Abram’s childhood and early teenage years. However, the story picks up in 1783 when Abram was 17. Unfortunately, that year marked the beginning of a string of blows for the Maury family. That fall, Abram’s older brother, Matthew Fontaine Maury, died from wounds received two years earlier at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.

The Battle of Guilford Courthouse, by H. Charles McBarron, Jr.

A few months later, Abram’s father, Col. Maury, took a financial hit when floodwaters washed away some of his flouring mills. Shortly after that, on January 22, 1784, the colonel died from smallpox, just a few days past Abram’s 18th birthday.

With his father and older brother gone, Abram was the newly minted patriarch of his immediate family. One can only imagine the pressure he must have faced from being thrust into that position at such a young age. 

Little information is available about those fraught years, but we do know he went on to become a surveyor and planter. In 1793, he married Martha Worsham, and within a few years, they had two children, Elizabeth Branch and Matthew Fontaine Maury, named after his older brother.

BLAZING A NEW TRAIL

Shortly after Matthew’s birth, Abram decided to move his family to Tennessee. Perhaps he’d seen an advertisement like the one below, which ran in the Virginia Gazette, a Williamsburg newspaper. These ads were meant to entice settlers into the newly acquired land west of the Appalachians, and they certainly would have appealed to the adventurous spirit that so many of the Maury men possessed. 

From Williamson County: A Pictorial History, by James A. Crutchfield

According to some sources, Abram left Virginia because of debt issues. However, if he was hard up for money, it’s unclear how he was able to later afford so much land in Tennessee. 

Whatever the reason, Abram relocated his family to Middle Tennessee around 1797. Along with his wife and two kids, he brought along his widowed mother, all of his siblings except one sister who opted to stay in Virginia, and two nephews, Thomas and Abram. These nephews were sons of Abram’s deceased brother, Matthew. Abram had taken them in after they sought refuge from their stepfather, whom they said mistreated them. This was just one of many examples of Abram’s compassion and hospitality towards friends and family. 

REACHING THE PROMISED LAND 

From Williamson County: A Pictorial History, by James A. Crutchfield

The map above shows how Tennessee looked when Abram and his family arrived in 1799. As you can see, it was a vast wilderness. Primeval forests and lush grasses grew in profusion, and large animals like bears, buffaloes, and panthers roamed the area. Native Americans called this land home, and not many white settlers had ventured into the territory yet.

In a 1948 article from The Nashville Tennessee Magazine, Louise Davis described how Abram came upon the land where he would settle: “He first followed an Indian-cut path through the canebrake and found [a spring] at the end. It was the place he had been looking for ever since he set out from Virginia in search of a new home. A civil engineer himself, he surveyed the gentle hills and pleasant valleys around, and he bought hundreds of acres that stretched one and half miles east to include part of the present site of Franklin.”

It was here, on top of a hill near the spring, that Abram cleared land for a dogtrot cabin. He christened the family homestead “Poplar Grove.” (It was later changed to “Tree Lawn.”) 

This dogtrot cabin is likely similar in design to the Maurys’ first home.

Eventually, the log house was converted into a kitchen and storeroom, and a two-story, frame house was built in front of it. 

The Maurys’ springhouse, courtesy of Rick Warwick

MEET ABRAM’S OTHER HALF, MARTHA MAURY

Let’s take a moment to pause and meet Abram’s wife, Martha. She’s often only a footnote in the story of her husband, but she deserves some time in the spotlight.

After the Maurys’ arrival in Tennessee, Martha fell ill and was bedridden for years. The Native Americans found her to be a novelty and called her “Pale Face Who Cannot Leave Her Bed.” They would gather in her room just to gawk. (Apparently, Native American women weren’t permitted to stay in bed when sick.) When she couldn’t stand being the subject of their curiosity any longer, Martha asked her slaves to warn her when the Native Americans were approaching. Before they arrived, she would get out of bed and hide in the smokehouse until the coast was clear.

Another interesting story about Martha comes from her descendants. According to them, she had second sight, which is the ability to perceive future events. One night, she dreamed about her father’s death, and the next day, she told Abram to buy her some black cloth for a mourning dress. Three weeks later, she was wearing her mourning clothes when she learned of her father’s death. As it turned out, he’d passed the very night of her dream.

THE TOWN OF FRANKLIN IN BORN

Marker located in Public Square, Franklin, Tenn.

Not long after the Maurys’ arrival in Tennessee, Abram started a project that would land him in the history books: He was going to create a town on about 109 acres of his property. After choosing a cozy corner in the bend of the Harpeth River, he put his surveying skills to use and mapped out sixteen blocks with a public square in the center. According to one of his great-granddaughters, Abram laid out the town between the points of east and west so that “the sun might be on every side of the house during the day.”

Abram wanted to name the village “Marthasville” in honor of his wife, but her modesty wouldn’t allow for it. Instead, he settled on “Franklin” after one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin, by Joseph Siffrein Duplessis

Franklin was officially established in 1799. It was also chosen as the county seat of Williamson County, which was created the same day as Franklin.

Abram filed his plat map with the Williamson County Court on April 5, 1800. The new town included 192 lots, which Abram sold for $10 each. By the end of that year, more than 65 lots had already been purchased. It was later reported he made a total of $2,000 from the endeavor.

Courtesy of Rick Warwick

NO REST FOR ABRAM 

As if establishing a town wasn’t enough, Abram went on to serve as a member of the Tennessee state legislature and a land commissioner. He also continued to speculate in real estate throughout the South and was quite successful at it.

In 1811, he helped establish Harpeth Academy, a boy’s school near Poplar Grove. The first headmaster was Gideon Blackburn, a noted pioneer preacher from Virginia. 

Gideon Blackburn, courtesy of Rick Warwick

You can see the historic marker where Harpeth Academy stood on Del Rio Pike. Also mentioned is James Otey, a noted Christian educator and first Episcopal bishop of Tennessee who organized the state’s first Episcopal Church, St. Paul’s, in downtown Franklin in 1827.

Over the years, Abram and Martha expanded their family to include eight children, many of whom married into other prominent families or established noteworthy careers themselves. The Maury homestead, which started as a humble log cabin, would grow to become a center of political activity.

Let’s meet some of the Maurys and their spouses and see how they left their mark on American history.

ELIZABETH BRANCH MAURY AND MAJOR JOHN REID

Elizabeth “Betsy” Branch Maury was Abram and Martha’s eldest child. Born in Virginia on November 25, 1793, she made the arduous journey with them to Tennessee as a young girl. 

Betsy was a great beauty and surely had no lack of suitors. At the tender age of 15, she married the dashing John Reid who was nine years her senior. As you will see, this union would prove to be quite beneficial for the Maurys by connecting them to none other than Andrew Jackson.

Major John Reid, courtesy of Rick Warwick

As a bachelor, John Reid had been a second lieutenant (said to be the handsomest man in the Army) living in nearby Rutherford County. However, several months before tying the knot, he resigned his position in the military. After the wedding, John moved to the Maury homestead, Poplar Grove, and began practicing law.

Col. Thomas H. Benton, courtesy of the U.S. Senate

It was only a matter of time before he crossed paths with Colonel Thomas Hart Benton, a prominent Franklin attorney who was serving on General Andrew Jackson’s staff. (Col. Benton would later become a United States senator.) Benton’s family came to Tennessee from North Carolina and had settled in what is now the Leiper’s Fork area.

Apparently, John Reid made a favorable impression because Col. Benton recommended the young man for the position of Gen. Jackson’s aide-de-camp, which is a military officer who serves as a confidential assistant to a senior officer).

Gen. Andrew Jackson, by Ralph E. W. Earl

John landed the job and quickly worked his way up the ranks to first major. He served alongside Gen. Jackson during much of the War of 1812, including the Creek War and New Orleans campaign. John enjoyed a close friendship with the general as evidenced by their written correspondence that survives to this day. According to a friend of the family, Old Hickory was often seen heading to Poplar Grove with a small staff “all in neat undress uniform and with bearskin holsters.”

Gen. Jackson trusted John so much that he asked the young major to write his biography. Sadly, John only completed four chapters before his untimely death from illness in 1816. 

Major John H. Eaton (read more about him and his connection to Franklin here) finished the book, which was titled The Life of Andrew Jackson

Major John H. Eaton, courtesy of Rick Warwick

The biography was first published in 1817 and went on to become a bestseller. As directed by Gen. Jackson, the proceeds went toward the education of John and Betsy Reid’s two sons, William and John.

“The Life of Andrew Jackson” by John Henry Eaton, 1824 printing at Worthington Galleries

Not only that, when Old Hickory became president, he invited the Reid brothers to the White House and offered them an appointment to West Point. He said he wished to see at least one of them follow in their father’s footsteps. Both young men had their hearts set on different paths–William wanted to be a doctor and John, a lawyer–but William accepted the appointment. President Jackson later wrote this to William’s grandfather, Abram Maury: “I assure you that my affection for [John Reid] has descended to the son, and as far as I can, with propriety, he will be protected in all his rights and will be encouraged to do right.”

At West Point, William roomed with none other than Edgar Allan Poe. Both boys hated military life, and despite encouragement from President Jackson to stick it out, William left the academy in 1831 to study medicine. (Edgar was expelled that same year.) 

Edgar Allen Poe, photographer unknown

After becoming a doctor, William eventually returned to Poplar Grove and practiced there. His son, Maury Thrope Reid, was the last of the family to live on the homestead. He sold the property in 1938.

ABRAM POINDEXTER MAURY

Perhaps the best-known child of Abram and Martha was Abram Poindexter Maury. (For clarity’s sake, we’ll refer to him as “A.P.” from here on out.) In fact, many people mistakenly assume Maury County was named for A.P. when it was actually named after his father.

A.P. was born on December 6, 1801 at Poplar Grove and showed great promise from a young age. He received an excellent preparatory education and studied for a time under Dr. Gideon Blackburn at Harpeth Academy. Apparently, he was a talented orator as well–when only a teenager, A.P. was invited by the citizens of Franklin to deliver a Fourth of July speech.

Seeing A.P.’s potential, Col. Thomas Hart Benton (the same man who recommended John Reid as aide-de-camp to General Jackson) insisted the 16-year-old boy become editor of a newspaper he owned in St. Louis, Missouri. A.P. accepted the position, and Col. Benton personally escorted him to the city. 

In 1820, A.P. resigned his newspaper job and entered West Point. However, a year of military life was enough for him, and he left the academy to study law back home in Tennessee. 

The next several years held major milestones for A.P. In 1824, he and Carey Allen Harris–who later became his brother-in-law–bought a Nashville newspaper called The Clarion. They renamed it the Nashville Republican

Courtesy of Newspaper.com

The next year, A.P.’s father, Abram Maury, died suddenly, and A.P. bought out the interests of his siblings to become the next owner of Poplar Grove. (Some researchers believe this is when the homestead was renamed “Tree Lawn.”) 

Several months after his father’s passing, A.P. was elected public printer to the state, along with Heiskell & Brown of Knoxville. 

From the Knoxville Register, 1825

In 1826, A.P. wed the beautiful Mary Eliza Tennessee Claiborne, a niece of the first non-colonial governor of Louisiana, William C.C. Claiborne. A.P. and Mary eventually had nine children together. 

Mary’s father, W.C.C. Claiborne, courtesy of the Louisiana State Museum

Also in 1826, A.P. and Carey sold their newspaper to state printers, and A.P. focused on practicing law. He also began to participate in politics, serving in both branches of the state legislature and two terms in Congress (1835 to 1839). Interestingly, he was elected as an Anti-Jacksonian for his first Congressional term.

A.P. died in Franklin on July 16, 1848. His headstone is the largest in the Maury family cemetery.

Martha and Nicholas Perkins, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Just a few months after A.P.’s death, one of his daughters, Martha Thomas Maury, married Nicholas Edwin Perkins, a wealthy planter. They lived at Meeting of the Waters, a plantation home that was considered one of the finest houses built in Williamson County before 1830. It still stands off Del Rio Pike.

Martha and her daughters at Meeting of the Waters circa 1895, courtesy of Rick Warwick

JAMES PHILIP MAURY

James Philip Maury was born on April 20, 1804 at Poplar Grove. Not much information is available about him, but James merits a mention here because he served as Franklin’s postmaster in 1844. 

James Philip Maury, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Other than postmaster, James held no professions and never married. He died on Feb. 24, 1875 after a long and painful illness. According to his obituary, he devoted his time to “the welfare of relations who had been left fatherless in early youth.” The obit ended with this: “He was content to walk in the humbler spheres of life and fulfill the obligations that lay in his pathway and was one of those unobtrusive, noiseless heroes who act upon well-regulated convictions.”

MARTHA FONTAINE MAURY AND CAREY ALLEN HARRIS

Martha Fontaine Maury was born to Abram and Martha on February 22, 1807 at Poplar Grove.

Martha Fontaine Maury, courtesy of Rick Warwick

In 1829, she married Carey Allen Harris who was also a native Williamson Countian. They went on to have four children together. Carey would play an important role in American history, but not without a fair share of scandal.

Carey Allen Harris, courtesy of Rick Warwick

You’ll remember Carey as the co-owner of the Nashville Republican with Martha’s older brother, A.P. However, this wasn’t Carey’s first foray into journalism–at the age of fifteen, he started a weekly newspaper in Franklin called The Independent Gazette. In 1824, Carey was hired to print a book of hymns on his newspaper press. This hymnal, titled “The Western Harmony,” marked the beginning of music publishing in Nashville.

Historic marker at Third Avenue North and James Robertson Parkway in Nashville  

In 1830, Carey purchased two lots on Fair Street and built a modest house for his family. The home remains there today as the rear portion of the Harris-McEwen House

Just a few months after Carey and Martha’s marriage in 1829, General Jackson was sworn in as president of the United States. It wouldn’t be long before Carey would benefit from his in-laws’ close bond with Old Hickory.

During Jackson’s first year as president, he gave Carey a lucrative contract as public printer for Washington, D.C. Carey moved his family to the big city and was soon appointed chief clerk in the War Department. And the prestige kept coming–on several occasions in 1836, President Jackson authorized him to serve as acting secretary of war, and that same year, he was named commissioner of Indian Affairs.

Andrew Jackson during his presidency, courtesy of the White House Historical Collection

This is where Carey’s success story takes a dramatic turn. In 1837, an incriminating letter written by Carey came to light. In it, he revealed his intention to profit personally from the administration of Native American reservations. 

Despite this misconduct, he retained his post until 1838 when his wife, Martha, accidentally mailed another damaging letter. This one exposed Carey as illegally using his position to engage in land speculation. 

Rather than face punishment, he resigned under a cloud of shame and eventually returned with his family to Franklin. The War Department supposedly destroyed all records of his actions, and he was never prosecuted, likely due to his close ties to President Jackson.

GENERAL ZEBULON MONTGOMERY PIKE MAURY

General Zebulon Montgomery Pike Maury was the youngest of the Maury children. He was born on October 24, 1814 at Poplar Grove. As an adult, Gen. Maury settled on a farm in Warren County with his wife, Virginia Ashlen Maury, and their eight children. 

During the Civil War, he served as a brigadier general of the Tennessee militia and was captured by Union forces at Fort Donelson. They imprisoned him at Johnson’s Island where he died of pneumonia. According to his great-nephew, Gen. Maury suffered “a most horrible death from torture, neglect and starvation in the Yankee prison.”

Johnson’s Island, courtesy of the Sandusky Library, Charles E. Frohman Collection

Gen. Maury was buried in June 1862 in the family cemetery at Tree Lawn.

MATTHEW FONTAINE MAURY

Our final person of interest is Matthew Fontaine Maury, the son of Abram’s first cousin, Richard Maury. Matthew became quite famous for his research and writings on oceanic navigation. Nicknamed the “Pathfinder of the Seas,” he is considered the father of modern oceanography. 

Matthew Fontaine Maury, courtesy of The Library of Congress

Matthew was born in 1806 near Fredericksburg, Virginia. When he was four or five, he moved with his family to a farm near Poplar Grove. He grew up playing with Abram’s children on the Maury homestead and studied at Harpeth Academy across the road. The image below is from the book The History of Homes and Gardens of Tennesse and depicts a drawing by Clyde Seale of Matthew’s home.

When he’d completed his studies, he received an appointment to the Navy from family friend, General Sam Houston. During his time in the Navy, he charted the seas and studied the effects of wind and currents on navigation. He compiled this data into valuable books that helped sailors reduce travel time and risk on the open waters.

Matthew is known as the first person to provide a complete description of the Gulf Stream and to map out specific routes across the Atlantic. One of his most famous books, The Physical Geography of the Sea, is considered the first complete work on oceanography. In fact, the book made it possible to lay out the Atlantic cable, which was used for telegraph communication. 

Matthew Fontaine Maury gravestone photo by Duke on Find-A-Grave

Matthew eventually became a professor at the Virginia Military Institute. He was also involved in the founding of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He died in 1873 after a short illness and is buried between former Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia. In 1918, the Navy commissioned the destroyer U.S.S. Maury in his honor.

HONORING THE MAURYS’ LEGACY

As with so many historic properties, Tree Lawn eventually landed in the hands of a developer. In the 1990s, crews of workers and heavy machinery descended upon the Maurys’ former homestead to build Founders Pointe. The developer tried to preserve the tree-lined driveway that connected the property to Del Rio Pike, but, for whatever reason, it was ultimately done away with. Instead, the entrance of the neighborhood was built off New Highway 96 West.

Eventually, the traffic changed from construction equipment to cars and bicycles as a new generation moved onto this history-rich soil. And yet, the cemetery remained through it all, bearing the names of pioneers, politicians, service members, and journalists that time has passed by. It’s a silent testament to Franklin’s earliest days and the stalwart people who laid its foundation. 

The Maurys’ home and farm may be no more, but the family’s memory lives on through the citizens who continue to make Franklin the wonderful place it is today.

We would like to thank Russell W. Hooper III for sharing his expertise. As a historian and the owner of the Pathfinder Papers, the largest collection of Fontaine-Maury family papers, he was an invaluable resource in our research. We also want to extend our gratitude to Kimberly Pentecost Clutsam for her assistance with this article. She’s a resident of Founders Pointe who has invested untold hours in researching and preserving the stories of the Maury family. Many thanks to Trenton Lee Photography. And as always, we appreciate Williamson County Historian Rick Warwick who is a font of knowledge and always willing to answer questions.

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One Comment

  1. Katie, this story is amazing! All the time you had to have spent
    on research really tells the story of the family.
    Thank you for sharing this information and giving us the opportunity to learn more about our beautiful town Franklin.
    LindaMooreMora

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