Yancey Tavern
by W. Dale Carter, copyright 2004, revised 2012

The Yancey Tavern as described in The Historical Sites of Sullivan County by Muriel Spoden, “it was built on the northern-most portion of Eaton’s corn rights land”.  After a thorough analysis of land records, I have found that the Yancey Tavern sits on the James Hollis land grant for 200 acres and not on the Eaton “corn rights” claim. It is not the house recently sold at auction as being the Yancey Tavern. In the early part of the twentieth century, this structure was known locally as the Spahr house.

In the early 1770s, Amos Eaton built a cabin on his claim near a spring that flowed out of the base of chestnut ridge. During the trouble with the Indians in the mid-1770s, Eaton’s home became a place of refuge and was known as Eaton’s Station. The building was not enclosed by a stockade. Preceding the battle of the long island flats, a stockade was improvised by placing fence rails, logs and brush around Eaton’s home for protection, but the local militia made the decision to engage the Indians on their approach to Eaton’s home rather that wait for an attack on the improvised fort (1). Eaton lived on his claim for several years, but in the late 1770s, he moved to Sumner County, Tennessee. By 1779, Eaton had established a fort on the North side of the Cumberland River and on the west side of Whites Creek near Nashville, Tennessee.

James Hollis purchased the Eaton land claim in Sullivan County and entered his own claim for the land he purchased of Eaton with the county land office on 8 February 1780. Hollis also entered two other claims adjoining the Eaton claim, one on the north side and one on the south side of the Eaton claim, being a total of approximately 900 acres. The location of the claim Hollis purchased of Eaton is described on the entry document as being on the waters of fall creek and is to include Heaton’s (Eaton) plantation. Hollis had the entries surveyed 20 May 1780, and three land grants were issued by the state of North Carolina on 23 Octobert 1782 (2). Hollis lived on his grants for only a few years and he sold the three grants to John Yancey on 14 February 1784 (3). An interesting notation was included in the deed for the description of the survey of the Hollis 500 acre grant. It reads: “including ye houses, buildings and improvements where ye court of pleas and quarter sessions for said county have usually been held”.

Yancey Tavern

John Yancey was issued a permit by the Washington County Court to operate an ordinary in the town of Abingdon,Virginia in 1779. He ran his tavern until at least 1782 as court records show that he was appointed deputy sheriff for Washington County in 1782. He purchased the James Hollis grants in 1784, and it would be safe to assume that shortly after his purchase he moved to Sullivan County. James Hollis had built a substantial home on his property, as the Sullivan County court records show that the county Commissioners held their second meeting at the home of James Hollis. When Yancey moved from Abingdon to his newly acquired property, he no doubt moved into the existing Hollis home. Yancey kept the three grants in his possession for six years, but in 1790 he sold 69 acres to adjoining property owner Nicholas Wolf(4), a year later Yancey sold 150 acres to John Waddle(5) and in 1792 he sold 142 acres to Jacob Isley(6).  These three tracts were located on the western side of his grants. The tract of land located on the northwest corner of the Yancey purchase and the house recently sold as the Yancey Tavern (Spahr house) is located on the Waddle purchase. The 150-acre tract purchased by Waddle remained in his possession until he sold the tract to Robert Yancey on 28 August 1797. Robert Yancey maintained possession of the 150-acre tract for 4 years and sold the tract to John Weaver on 3 December 1801. Weaver kept the150-acre tract in his possession for 10 years and on 13 September 1811, he sold half of his tract to Francis Hawley. The house known today as the Yancey Tavern or Spahr house is located on the Francis Hawley purchase.

John Yancey kept a ledger of the daily operation of the tavern. A copy of the ledger is located in the Sullivan County Archives. The ledger shows entries that are dated after Yancey had sold the 150 acre tract to Waddle. Yancey continued to operate the tavern after he sold the land to Waddle; therefore, the tavern could not have been located on the Waddle purchase.

John Yancey Sr. made a deed to John Yancey Jr. for 360 acres that adjoins the land he sold off on the west side of his estate. Land Records indicate that John Yancey may have died before 1807. A deed recorded in Sullivan Deed Book 5, page 101 shows that Polly (Mary) Yancey, believed to be  John Yancey’s wife, purchased a tract of land from Henry Burgett 19 September 1807 that adjoins the old James Hollis grants on the east side. The survey of the Polly Yancey is exactly the same as the survey described in the land transaction where Thomas Trower and Mary sold to George Lydicay on 20 February 1815 recorded in Deed Book 6, page 504.

On 24 July 1828, the residue of the John Yancey estate was divided by his heirs and John Yancey Junior got 1/3 and Nathan Richardson got 2/3 of the remaining estate. The deeds  made  by Yancey and Richardson offers much information. No survey of the residue of the estate was made but a general description of how the land was divided is outlined in the deed.

“John Yancey & Nathan Richardson hath proceeded to divide the lands to wit the old Yancey tract at the forks of Island Road & Blountville road and a tract of 117 acres on the north side of Eatons Ridge and divide it as follows:

1) All that part south and west of the Blountville road it being the same which is set off for the Widows dower and the 117A tract north side of Eatons ridge for one part;

2) That part lying in the fork between the Blountville & Island road & 25 acres off of the eastern end of that part north of the Island road to be laid off by striking a straight line from the road to the northern line of said tract so that 25 acres is as wide at one end to the other and the remaining part of said tract lying north of the Island road after taking 25 acres for the other part and the said John Yancey being entitled to 1/3 part of said tracts or parcels of land as one of the heirs and legal representatives of John Yancey deceased and the said Nathan Richardson being entitled to 2/3 part.

John Yancey having chosen that part north of the Island road & Blountville road except the 25 acres before mentioned now confirm and convey unto Nathan Richardson all right title claim and demand which he the said John Yancey hath in and to the other 2/3 of said lands to wit that part between said roads, the 25 acres before mentioned which includes the old house where the Widow Yancey, now Mrs. Trower, formerly lived, the 117 acres on the north side of Eatons Ridge and the Widows dower lying west and south of the Blountville and Island roads(7).”

In summary, the land records show that John Yancey purchased approximately 900 acres of land in Sullivan County in 1784 from James Hollis and he moved from Abingdon Virginia after 1782 and lived on his land until his death about 1807. He lived in the home built by Hollis on the Hollis 500-acre land grant.  By 1792, he had sold approximately 360 acres of land lying on the western side of his grants to William Waddle, Nicholas Wolf, and Jacob Isley, and in 1802, he sold 360 acres of his estate to his son John Yancey Jr. thus leaving a residue of approximately 200 acres. After the death of John Yancey Senior his heirs divided the residue of the estate, John Yancey Jr getting 1/3 and Nathan Richardson 2/3. John Yancey senior’s widow married Thomas Trower, a Methodist minister, sometime before 1815. On 18 November 1830, Thomas Trower and Mary sold her dower right to Sanford Bridwell.

The surveys as described in the Yancey deeds were plotted and placed on a modern USGS map and the composite plot shows that the house (Spahr house) recently sold at auction as being the “Yancey Tavern” is located on a tract of land John Yancey senior sold to William Waddle in 1791 and on the James Hollis land grant for 200 acres which adjoins the Hollis 500 acre land grant on the north side. Yancey would not have sold the land his home was located on. The ledger Yancey kept of the operation of his tavern clearly shows he was operating the tavern several years after he sold Waddle the tract the Spahr House is located on. Land records clearly documents the location of the Yancey home as being on the Hollis 500 acre land grant and the Spahr house being located on the Hollis 200 acre land grant.  John Yancey did not build the “Yancey Tavern”(Spahr house). It was built by someone after 1791 and an addition to the original house could have been built by Frances Hawley. It has been my experience in plotting thousands of deeds when a widow’s dower is mentioned in the settlement of the estate the home of late husband lies within the bounds of the widow’s dower. Therefore, I conclude that the Yancey Tavern was located on the Widow’s dower tract.


  1. Conquest of the Old Southwest, Archibald Henderson
  2. North Carolina State Archives land Records Files numbers 39,59,95
  3. Sullivan County, Tennessee. Deed Book 1, page190
  4. Sullivan County, Tennessee. Deed Book 2, page 488
  5. Sullivan County, Tennessee. Deed Book 2, page 489
  6. Sullivan County, Tennessee. Deed Book 2, page 559
  7. Sullivan County, Tennessee. Deed Book 11, page 68
  8. Record of deeds of Sullivan County show that James Hollis was issued three land grants by the state of North Carolina.
    1. John Hollis entered 200 acres with the North Carolina Land Office 28 February 1780 and the entry was surveyed 20 May 1780. A land grant was issued to Hollis 3 October 1784 and is recorded in Sullivan County Deed Book 1,page 53 as being grant number 70. This grant adjoined the old Amos Eaton claim on the north side.
    2. John Hollis entered 500 acres with the North Carolina Land Office 8 February 1780. The entry states that it includes the Heaton(Eaton) plantation. The entry was surveyed 20 May 1780. A grant was issued 23 October 1782 and is recorded in Sullivan County Deed Book 1, page 51 as grant number 106.
    3. John Hollis entered 200 acres with the North Carolina Land Office 25 May 1780. The entry adjoins the old Amos Eaton claim on the south side and a grant was issued 3 October 1782. The grant is recorded in Sullivan County Deed Book 1,page 55 as being grant number 50.
  9. Goodspeed “History of Sullivan Co 1787” At the foot of Eden Ridge (originally Heaton Ridge) on the east side was built a fort known as Heaton's Fort. It was erected by the settlers of Reedy Creek and Cook's Valley, and was one of the first structures of the kind in the county. The Yancey Tavern, a famous house of entertainment, was built near this fort.