Robert Carter cabin
by W. Dale Carter, copyright 18 July 2003

Carter family land

The land that the Robert Carter cabin sat on was first claimed by Peter Livingston on 15 August 1783. He assigned his claim to Lovin Bledsoe who in turn assigned his claim to James Spencer. Spencer had the land surveyed 6 February 1795 and was issued a land grant for the 100-acre tract on 3 October 1800 as recorded in the Land Office grant at Richmond, Virginia Book Number 47, page 256.

James Spencer sold his 100-acre grant to Jacob Hickam on 9 May 1808. The deed is recorded in Washington County, Deed Book 2, page 443. Hickam sold the grant to Frederick Saunders. Saunders built a cabin on the 100-acre tract and lived there for a few years, but he sold the tract to Samuel Rhea on 3 Sep 1822 as recorded in Scott County, Virginia Deed Book 2, page 365.

Samuel Rhea was somewhat of a land speculator who eventually ended up in Maury County, Tennessee, so he most likely never lived on his land in Little Valley. On 11 February 1842, Samuel Rhea of Sullivan County, Tennessee, sold the 100 acres to John Jett; Soloman Osborn; James Ramey; and Peter Livingston (joint owners). They sold the tract to James Bays on 24 December 1852 as recorded in Scott County, Virginia Deed Book 10, page 66.

James Bays was the father of William A. Bays who first married Nancy Carter.  Nancy Carter was the mother of Robert Carter who later lived on the 100-acre land grant of James Spencer.  James Bays retained ownership of the land until his death about 1878. Apparently James Bays’ son, Joel B. Bays, became the owner of the tract as he sold it to James W. Carter on 5 November 1887 as recorded in Scott County Deed Book 32, page 425. Carter held the tract until 19 June 1892 when he sold it to Nathaniel M. Bays, the father of Mollie Bays who married Robert Carter.

N. M. Bays and Lavicy, his wife, sold to Robert Carter 33 acres of the 100-acre grant on 31 May 1895 as recorded in Scott County Deed Book 42, page 398. This is the tract that the Robert Carter cabin was located on. Ermine Carter, the son of Robert, purchased the 33 acres from his father 15 January 1938 as recorded in Scott County Deed Book 102, page, 290.

Where does this leave us as to when the Robert Carter cabin was built? I inspected the logs of the cabin and found that most of the logs were cut from pine trees and the logs were assembled using half-dovetail notches. Most log homes of the area used white oak or poplar. Since the Robert Carter home is built of pine logs, most likely all the good timber in the valley had been cut down, and at the time the home was built, the only source of timber left was the pine trees on the Poor Valley knobs.  I noticed that the top log that the roof was attached to was anchored to the log it sat on with a large square nail. This is unusual, in that the top log of most log homes built between 1810 and 1860 were attached with wooden pegs. The fact that large square nails were used tells me the home was constructed when square nails were available, in my opinion sometime after 1850.

The chimney was constructed of native sandstone. There is no sandstone found in the Little Valley, so the stone must have been hauled in from Poor Valley. A single chimney sat between two buildings with a fireplace on either side of the chimney. I do not know what type of construction was used in the building on the west side of the chimney as it was destroyed by fire. The arrangement of having a chimney serving two separate buildings presents a problem in erecting the buildings. If the two buildings were erected at the same time, the chimney would have to be built before both of the buildings were erected. I suspect a log cabin was built with a chimney and at some later date the chimney was reworked to accommodate a second fireplace then a second house was built. 

The most logical scenario is that the cabin was built for William A. Bays and Nancy when they were married in 1856. William’s father James had purchased the land in 1852, and I believe there was no one living on the tract. The 1860 census tells us that William A. and Nancy were living in a home of their own, but they did not own any real estate. They only reported $25 personal property. They were living close to William A.’s father and most likely on his property.

William A. went off to serve in the Civil War and when he returned, he and Nancy separated and a divorce was granted. In the 1870 census, William A. is living, in the home he and Nancy had previously lived, with his new wife Sarah L. Hensley, the four children by his former wife Nancy and a newborn child by his second wife Sarah.

Nancy was living in the household of her father, Dulaney Carter, along with her daughter Mary and her sons Robert and Elisha.

William A. Bays and his family moved to Lee County, Virginia in the 1870s, and shortly thereafter James Bays, his father, also moved to Lee County where he died and is buried. The Robert Carter cabin remained vacant or was rented from the 1870s until the land was sold by Joel B. Bays to James W. Carter in 1887. Again, the cabin remained vacant or rented by James W. Carter until he sold the tract to N. M. Bays in 1892. Most likely at that time Robert Carter and his wife Mollie, the daughter of N. M. Bays, moved into the cabin. The cabin may have been in poor condition and Robert remodeled it. He could have built an addition to the cabin on the west end of the existing cabin or a kitchen on the south side of the cabin. This would explain the folklore that Robert Carter built the cabin.