Presentation Walking Stick, 1899

Made from a Branch of a Tree at John Sevier's Grave in Alabama

“John Sevier died September 24th, 1815.”

That was the simple epitaph on a small white marble headstone at the grave of Tennessee’s first governor. At age 70, he had succumbed to a sudden illness in the wilderness of what is now Alabama, while part of the delegation that was establishing a boundary with the Creek Nation. His humble burial site near Fort Decatur would remain mostly unknown to Tennesseans for more than 70 years.

In 1887, an editorial in the St. Louis Daily Globe-Democrat scolded the people of the Volunteer State for not bringing Sevier home:

“If there is a man to whom a prouder shaft should be lifted than to any other in Tennessee, it is Sevier. Jackson and Johnson and Bell and others were great men…. But men like Sevier and Hawkins and Shelby laid the foundation upon which they built; and Sevier, with his chances and resources at hand, did more for Tennessee then any man of his day, or since.” 

Efforts to relocate his remains would come to pass on June 18, 1889, when Tennessee governor Robert Taylor and Alabama governor Thomas Seay along with other dignitaries met at the grave. The Knoxville Journal reported that as the disinterment began, "one of the laborers climbed into the enclosure and cut down the little sloe tree which stood sentinel, watching at the foot of the grave, and when the tree fell relic hunters took possession of it." The second burial would be completed in Knoxville the following day with 10,000 people gathering on the grounds of the Court House to ceremoniously witness the event.

Two months later a souvenir finished from one of the tree branches—a walking stick now in the East Tennessee Historical Society's Permanent Collection—was bestowed. Its inscriptions reads: “Presented to Governor R. L. Taylor of Tennessee, by Governor Thomas Seay and staff of Alabama, 1889" and "Cut from the grave of John Sevier, first governor of Tennessee.”


Roy and Judith Gilbert (above) hold the presentation walking stick at their home in Birmingham, Alabama. The walking stick descended through Roy's family, until he gifted it to the East Tennessee Historical Society's Permanent Collection.