Living history

Roy Crawford, Sr., linked by ancestors to the land

Roy Crawford show a copy of the State Grant signed by Tennessee Gov. John Sevier.

Roy Crawford show a copy of the State Grant signed by Tennessee Gov. John Sevier.

This is the 202-year-old document signed by Tennessee Gov. John Sevier to John Duncan was for 539 acres of land in Blount County. Duncan paid 10 cents an acre for the land where Crawfords live today.

This is the 202-year-old document signed by Tennessee Gov. John Sevier to John Duncan was for 539 acres of land in Blount County. Duncan paid 10 cents an acre for the land where Crawfords live today.

Roy Crawford, Sr., 89, former Maryville City Attorney, well-known barrister, World War II and Korean War veteran, has another connection to history and to the very land in the county he loves.

If you grew up in Blount County, or have lived here for some time, you probably have encountered the family names of Crawford and Duncan.

The Crawfords and Duncans are practically synonymous with the founding of the county, and Roy Crawford belongs to both sides. Crawfords and Duncans were in Blount County at the dawn of its beginnings and continue to reside in the county today.

Roy Crawford’s family and his Duncan relatives have fashioned a family history that not only yields the story of the emigration of ancestors, but also places the Crawfords and Duncans at the very apex of America’s independence.

It is believed and referred to in family history that Sam Crawford helped James White, founder of Knoxville, to build the first cabin in what would become Knoxville in Knox County. That cabin stood where First Presbyterian Church now anchors the corner at State and Church Streets in Knoxville.

Roy’s great-great-grandfather John Duncan secured what became known as the 800-acres of “Duncan Land” in 1789 as compensation for his services during the new nation’s Revolutionary War. Before that he lived at Fort Craig in what is now Maryville, and while there, married Margaret Alexander in 1788.

Today Roy Crawford lives on land settled by John Duncan. In fact, a little more than 100 of 500 acres, outlined in a Tennessee Grant signed by Tennessee’s first Gov. John Sevier, still reside in the Crawford family.

History lesson

The Crawfords and Duncans more than likely originated in Ireland’s Ulster Plantation, begun under the administration of King James VI of Scotland, who was also King James I of England. He was the son of Mary Queen of Scots and, with the help of wealthy English landowners, confiscated property and sent in Scots and English colonists. These new residents were transferred there to help alleviate Irish rebellion.

The first counties in Ireland to be colonized by King James I were Tyrconnell, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan, Coleraine and Armagh.

These Irish counties contained many Crawfords and Duncans.

In the 19th century, the Duncans and Crawfords were instrumental in the support of Maryville College.

Calvin A. Duncan, the son of Alexander Rankin Duncan, was the youngest of the “Original 13” who re-established Maryville College in 1866 under the guidance of Professor Thomas Jefferson Lamar, who had been a Maryville College professor before the outbreak of the Civil War, which devastated the college’s buildings.

In 1887, Calvin Duncan graduated from Lane Theological Seminary after graduating from Maryville College.

Roy Crawford’s grandfather was Gideon Stebbins White Crawford, a name connected with Maryville College during its entire post-bellum period of history. He was in its first class of 1866 and graduated in 1871. He studied theology at Union and Lane Theological Seminaries and graduated at Lane in 1874.

He became a professor of Mathematics at Maryville College in 1875 and served as the college’s registrar and held a chair on its board of trustees. He died Feb. 3, 1891, and is buried in the college cemetery.

Roy Crawford and other family members have traced their origins back to their great-great grandfather Andrew Crawford, probably from Ulster Province of Northern Ireland. He left Ulster before 1750, some 125 years after the death of King James.

John Duncan is on the other side of the Crawford family, and he was probably born in Ulster in 1752 and died in 1836. It is thought he landed in Virginia or Maryland from Ulster shortly before 1775.

John Duncan enlisted in Morgan’s Riflemen and fought at Saratoga and Cowpens during the Revolutionary War. Samuel Crawford was likewise a member of Morgan’s Riflemen.

Both Duncan and Crawford were Continental Line soldiers and fought under the command of Gen. George Washington.

Andrew Crawford probably came from County Antrim in Northern Ireland and landed in Philadelphia. The Crawfords pushed into North Carolina, with Andrew crossing the mountains and following the Holston River to Surgoinsville in Hawkins County. All this area was in North Carolina at the time. The Holston River was one of the great river roads of so many of East Tennessee’s earliest pioneers.

Samuel Crawford, Roy’s great-great-grandfather, was born June 2, 1758, in Pennsylvania and died at his home in Grassy Valley in Knox County May 14, 1822. He is buried in the Washington Presbyterian Church cemetery. Samuel Crawford, son of Andrew and Eleanor Crawford, married Nancy Forgey at Surgoinsville. Her parents were also Scotch Irish Presbyterians and she was born in Ireland in 1768 and died in 1837.

Today’s family

Roy Crawford, of course, is not an unfamiliar name in Blount County. Although he retired in 1998 he practiced law in Blount County for right at 50 years.

Five of the six Crawford brothers served in World War II. Roy returned home from World War II and finished up a law degree at the University of Tennessee in 1948. He immediately entered into practice in Maryville with his father John Crawford Sr., and brother, John Crawford Jr.

His brother John C. Crawford Jr., was U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower, and his father, John C. Crawford Sr., began the family law firm in 1931 the teeth of the Great Depression in Maryville.

John Crawford served for eight years as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District and was crucially involved in the famous John Kasper trials involving the 1956 desegregation of Anderson County High Schools. Kasper was jailed on charges of inciting to riot, criminal contempt and other charges. In 1959, Clinton High School was destroyed by a devastating blast of dynamite.

When the White House changed from Republican (Eisenhower) to Democratic (John F. Kennedy), John Crawford Jr., a Harvard law grad, decided to leave the post.

“He told me he decided to resign at his discretion rather than get kicked out of office,” Roy Crawford said.

Remarkably, there has been a Crawford practicing law in Maryville since that first office opened.

The law firm had a healthy probate practice and with John Jr., the firm also had a decent trial law clientele with John Jr. at the helm of the court work.

Roy Crawford became Maryville City Attorney in 1966 and held that post until he retired in 1999.

“I enjoyed that very much,” He said. “We had a solid city council. They were responsible and business people who were willing to serve and I thoroughly enjoyed that.”

He was also part of the transformation from a mayor-council form of government to a city manager as head of the city government.

Roy says that the land grant signed by John Sevier was under his care for more than three decades. Now it resides with his nephew, Duncan Crawford, also an attorney in Maryville.

The document is over 220 years old and quite brittle. A few years ago, the family put it between to Plexiglas sheets and locked it away in the law firm’s vault.

With the difficulty required to legally acquire land for war compensation, the document is a testament to history and to the families of Crawford and Duncan that at least some of the original land granted to them by Tennessee continues to reside in that same family.

Fred Brown is a freelance writer, retired News Sentinel senior writer and may be reached at

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