Nannie Lee Hicks

Copyright (2002) * All rights reserved
J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
3604 Kesterwood Drive, East
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918-2557
(865) 687-1948

Fountain Citians Who Made A Difference

(Courtesy of Mary Josephine Kernan)

Nannie Lee Hicks


Nannie Lee Hicks taught American History at Knoxville Central High School for forty-one years. Several thousand students learned from her not only about America’s past but also about love of country. Her legacy lives on in the influence she had on those students and she stands among the foremost of Fountain Citians who made a difference.

Miss Hicks was a patriot.  Both her paternal and maternal ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War. Her paternal ancestor, James Hicks, from Westmoreland County, England arrived in Baltimore aboard the ship Alexander on July 4, 1723. Members of his family migrated west into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, settling in Rockingham County. Three of his children, Shadrach "Shade" (1735-1800), Meshach "Mesh" (1740-1826) and Abednego "Bed" (1742-1810), lived in Rockingham County at the time of the American Revolution. Shadrach and Abednigo ultimately moved down the valley to Tennessee as the country was opened to settlement. 

Shadrach’s son, John Hicks (c1755-c1830), who had served in the Revolutionary War in the 4th Battalion, 3rd Regiment of the Maryland Continental Line, married Comfort Malone. About 1790 he moved his family to the Boyd’s Creek area of Sevier County (1).

Among John’s children was Miss Hicks’ great-grandfather, Charles Hicks (1783-1836) who married Sarah Houk (1782-1869). They established their home along Chestua Creek in Monroe County, near Madisonville. Charles was a deeply religious man who gave a portion of his land for the first Chestua Methodist Church, originally a log building built about 1820. One of Charles’ four children was Miss Hicks’ grandfather, George Milton Hicks (1817-1871).

George Milton Hicks married Zilphia Lee McClure (1836-1917) on June 7, 1856. The oldest of their seven children was Jones Moore Hicks (1856-1924), Nannie Lee Hicks’ father, who was only fourteen years old when his father died. The story of his widowed mother’s forbearance and fortitude in raising her family is the theme of Miss Hicks’ essay, Two for Tupper (2).

After Jones Moore Hicks’ father died his mother, the 34-year-old widow, sold the family farm and moved to Madisonville. There she bought the former Taylor House, a fairly large house with nine rooms. As a source of income, she converted part of the home into a boarding house while her young family occupied the rest. She renamed her "hotel" the McCallie House. With the assistance of her cook, Margaret "Aunt Mag" Gillespie who prepared the sumptuous meals, Zilphia made the McCallie House famous throughout East Tennessee. 

The Fourth Judicial Circuit Court met in Madisonville periodically with Judge James Scruggs Brown presiding. The hotel became the judge’s place of lodging during court days and some of the lawyers from out-of-town also stayed there. Two for Tupper described a typical evening fare at the McCallie House boasting of fried chicken, country ham with "red eye" gravy, green beans with shellies, cole slaw, homemade yeast bread, beet pickles and, for dessert, apple cobbler.

A large plantation bell hung in front of the hotel. Zilphia used this bell to call her children for meals and when she needed their assistance. Miss Hicks’ story received its name Two for Tupper from the number of rings of the bell she used to call her boys. Her youngest boy, Charles McClure, was expected to respond to one ring of the bell; the next youngest, Tupper Milton, to two; Daniel to three and the oldest, Jones Moore, to four rings. Two rings were heard most often for socially-inclined Tupper M. seemed to disappear frequently. In adulthood his outgoing personality and commanding voice proved to be useful. The Rev. Tupper M. Hicks held many effective Methodist revivals throughout the area.

Miss Hicks’ maternal ancestry was just as interesting as her paternal. Her maternal great-great-grandfather was Samuel McSpadden (1756-1844), who first resided in Rockbridge County, Virginia. He served in the Revolutionary War in Capt. Campbell’s Company of Col. Dickerson’s Virginia Regiment and later in Capt. McDowell’s Company of Col. Donley’s Regiment. After the war he migrated to Jefferson County, where the ancestral home still stands on the banks of the French Broad River (now Douglas Lake). The home is recognized by the Tennessee Historical Commission and identified by a historical marker containing this inscription:

Samuel McSpadden, powdermaker and Revolutionary War veteran, built this house in 1804, and died here on August 3, 1844. From a crude powder mill located 1/4 mile north he sent flatboats loaded with gunpowder to New Orleans, where General Andrew Jackson used it in the Battle of New Orleans, the last major battle of the War of 1812 (3).

Dorcas Jane McSpadden (1792-1869), Miss Hicks’ great-grandmother, was the seventh of nine children of Samuel McSpadden by his first wife, Sarah Keys (c1756-1798). Dorcas Jane married John Henderson Jr. (1790-1871) who lived in Monroe County. Nancy Keziah "Kizzie" Henderson (1828-1899) was the sixth of their eight children (4).

Kizzie and Robert Thompson "Thomps" Ghormley (1827-1901) married in 1851. Miss Hicks’ second essay, From McLeansboro (Hog Prairie) to Tellico Plains (Sink Hole), provides a vivid description of their family life in the 1850-1870 era. In 1858 land was less expensive "out west" so Robert decided to leave Monroe County and move there. Miss Hicks’ mother, Dorcas Josephine "Josie" Ghormley (1860-1951), the fifth of Robert and Kizzie’s eight children, was born two years later. The family eventually settled near McLeansboro, Illinois, at Hog Prairie (5).

Eleven years later, the Civil War having intervened, Robert decided it was time to move the family back home to Tennessee. The Illinois farm sold for $400. He invested $50 for a new wagon and a canvas cover for it, $10 for new harness and paid $5 freight to ship several huge packing boxes with bedding and other household valuables that could not be carried with them. The remainder of the cash was placed between the pages of the family Bible for expenses and safekeeping during the trip.

The children looked forward to crossing the Ohio - the first "big" river they had ever crossed - and to seeing their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. The dangerous journey of almost 500 miles was an adventure for them. One chapter describes an encounter with two men they suspected were highwaymen and how Thomps dissuaded the two rough looking characters with an impassioned blessing before their "guests" joined them for dinner around the campfire. 

Another chapter describes their visit to the Maxwell House in Nashville where they ate a wonderful meal before going to the Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s home near Nashville. Their father wanted the children to see where the General lived who defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans with black powder provided by the children’s ancestor, Samuel McSpadden.

When they reached Monroe County, they were greeted with their grandfather’s announcement that they could live on one of his three farms. The grandparent’s home was on the turnpike, the Old Federal Road. There was a second, "the Lower Farm," and a third farm a mile away near Tellico Plains called "Sink Hole" where Sink Creek disappeared into the side of a mountain. The farm sat on a knoll overlooking a picturesque river with the highest mountain in the chain beginning almost at the water’s edge on the opposite bank. This would be their home - an early pioneer-type, rambling, unpainted, weather-boarded structure with a front porch extending the entire length of the house.

Several chapters of From McLeansboro (Hog Prairie) to Tellico Plains (Sink Hole) depict the children’s play activities and their school. In the closing chapter that takes place in December of 1876, "Dorcas Josie Makes a Decision," sixteen-year-old Josie met Jones Moore Hicks at a "soiree" or square dance at his friend’s house. Jones Moore was twenty years old, 5’ 11", with swarthy complexion, black hair and shining black eyes. He was wearing the bluish-grey uniform of the state university where he was attending. Before the evening was over Josie decided she had met her mate for life.

As previously mentioned, Jones Moore was the oldest of George Milton and Zilphia Hicks’ seven children. After Zilphia was widowed, her brother-in-law, Wesley Jones Hicks (1826-1876) took quite an interest in his nieces and nephews. He had become the attorney for the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad and moved to Knoxville, but often was back in Madisonville. Uncle Wesley helped buy school clothes for the children and encouraged them to pursue a good education. 

After Jones graduated from the Bolivar Academy in Madisonville, he studied at the University of Tennessee Preparatory Department, graduating in 1874. Then he enrolled at Hiwassee College, Madisonville, for the 1874-76 academic years. Uncle Wesley paid the tuition. While he was in private law practice in Madisonville, Wesley Jones Hicks earned statewide fame for his book, The Tennessee Manual of Chancery Practice, which was said to have been in the library of almost every lawyer in Tennessee at the time (6).

Several members of the Hicks family had been lawyers. Although he "read" law for a while with his uncle, Wesley J. Hicks, and cousin, Charles Wesley Hicks (1842-1923), Jones Moore’s interest in the field of education took precedence. He taught at Tellico Plains from 1884 to 1888 except for one year when he was the Superintendent of Schools in Monroe County (1885). 

Then at the urging of his brother-in-law, a Presbyterian minister in Jefferson County, he moved there to become Principal of the Mt. Horeb Academy from 1888 to 1894 and Principal of Maury Academy from 1894 to 1899 - both near Dandridge. In 1901 he moved to Knoxville to become Principal of Bearden Elementary School and in 1909 became affiliated with the Southern School and Supply Company also in Knoxville. He soon assumed the office of treasurer for the company (7).

Nannie Lee Hicks, the first of four children, was born on January 16, 1889, while her father was Principal at Mt. Horeb near Dandridge in Jefferson County (8). Her niece recalls that Nannie Lee started school at Mt. Horeb when she was just four years old. Always a good student, she graduated from Bearden High School in 1905 and received her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Tennessee on May 31, 1910 (9).

Nannie Lee Hicks, 1910

Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection, Donated by Mary Josephine Kernan

After a few years teaching in other Knox County Schools, Miss Hicks moved to Knoxville Central High School where she taught for 41 years. Early in her career she was asked to prepare a talk on the history of Fountain City for the Fountain City Book Review Club. She researched old church records, studied materials in the libraries and interviewed members of the community. By the time she delivered the talk, she was well versed in local history.

For more than 25 years she asked her students to write term papers on their communities or on local historic places. Several students also submitted photographs, models or maps and more than one project resulted in a historic skit acted by students in the class. Her teaching method formed the germ of an idea that would precede by many years the Foxfire magazine, the ten Foxfire books and a nomination for a National Teacher of the Year Award in 1988 for the North Georgia teacher involved in the Foxfire experience. Probably he never realized he was developing anew Miss Hicks’ pioneering teaching method (10).

Her student’s papers and her many years of research led to the publication of two books: Historic Treasure Spots of Knox County, Tennessee and The John Adair Section of Knox County - the latter now entering its fourth printing (11).  

Miss Hicks taught history with patriotic fervor which was most appropriate for the 1930s and 1940s or for any other time. By arranging an annual visit to the U.S. District Court for the Naturalization Day Ceremony, she allowed her students to see the pride new citizens of the U.S. showed and instilled similar pride in them.

From the mid-1920s Miss Hicks and her mother lived in the family home on Colonial Circle in Fountain City. Sometime after her mother’s death in 1951, her sister, Mrs. Eva Hagler, joined her there. Their great pleasure in cultivating trees, shrubs and flowers resulted in an outstanding display of the beauties of nature each spring. Dogwoods, azaleas, jonquils, lilies of the valley and many other plants grew there in abundance.

Hicks Home on Colonial Circle

McClung Historical Collection, Donated by Mary Josephine Kernan

Following a brief illness, Miss Nannie Lee Hicks passed away on June 10, 1979. She is buried in the family burial plot in Woodlawn Cemetery beside her father and mother.

A 50-year member of Fountain City Methodist Church, Miss Hicks also belonged to the East Tennessee Historical Society, the Fort Loudon Association, the Jefferson County Chapter of the Tennessee Society for the Preservation of Antiquities, the Blount Association, the John Sevier Association, the James White Fort Association, the Ossoli Circle, the Fontinalis Club, the Nocturne Garden Club and many teachers’ organizations. She was Regent of the Daughters of the American Revolution from 1956 to 1959 and president of its Knox County Regents Council from 1958-1959. She was listed in Who’s Who of American Women and received the United Daughters of the Confederacy History Award.

Her thousands of students, as well as the readers of her books and essays on Knox County history and its treasure spots, will continue to count Miss Hicks among those Fountain Citians who made a difference.

(Adapted from the "Biography of Nannie Lee Hicks" by the author of that essay which appears in the Fourth Edition of The History of Fountain City [with Sections on Smithwood and Inskip], published by the Fountain City Town Hall and adapted with their permission) (12).


w-hcksww.doc (8/24/02)

1. Monroe County Heritage (1819-1997) (Waynesville, 1997), #5, 823, 835, 1557; Charles Wesley Hicks, "My Day and Locality," Madisonville Democrat, 1916-1917; (also Tennessee Society, Sons of the Revolution and McClung Historical Collection, Hicks Papers); Mrs. Alma Hicks York (Miss Hicks’ Sister-in-Law) "22-foot Six Generation Genealogical Scroll, the Hicks Family, " prepared by Walter A. Walker (Date Unknown); Dan Hicks, Jr. (Miss Hicks’ Cousin) "Hicks Genealogical Chart" (Date Unknown).

2. Nannie Lee Hicks, "Two for Tupper" (Serialized in the Madisonville Democrat, February-August, 1970.) (Miss Hicks’ niece has supplied identification of the people and places appearing in the poignant story.)

3. Estle P. Muncy, People and Places of Jefferson County, (1994), 253-6; Anna B. McSpadden, Way Back When... (Maryville, 1980 and 1988); Tennessee Historical Commission, Tennessse Historic Markers (1996), 137 (1C47).

4. Monroe County Heritage (1819-1997), #716, 813; Nannie Lee Hicks, Application for Membership to the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution (December 1, 1946, accepted February 1, 1947) (Samuel McSpadden, Patriot).

5. Nannie Lee Hicks "From McLeansboro (Hog Prairie) to Tellico Plains (Sink Hole)" (Undated), Hicks Papers, McClung Historical Collection.

6. Wesley J. Hicks, The Tennessee Manual of Chancery Practice (Knoxville, 1870); Bess Stickley Hines, "Leaves of the Old Scrapbook," Madisonville Democrat, May 11, 1949, (Microfilm at McClung Historical Collection).

7. Personal Correspondence, Mrs. Mary Josephine Kernan (Miss Hicks’ niece), July 11, 1999; Knoxville City Directories (1903-1914).

8. Kernan. Nannie Lee Hicks’ siblings were: George Robert Coile Ford (1891-1959), a teacher in Columbus, Georgia; Eva J. Hagler (1898-1998), music teacher in Knoxville; and Bruce I. Hicks (1901-1991), a banker with the Park National Bank, Knoxville.

9. Miss Hicks' leather-bound Commencement Program and her photograph in cap and gown are with the Hicks Papers, McClung Historical Collection.

10. Josephine Stone Breeding, "Miss Nannie Lee Hicks, the Teacher Everyone Loves," Knox County News, February 4, 1971; Renee Kent, "Nannie Lee Hicks Has Performed Many Deeds," Halls-Fountain City Shopper, April 20, 1977. (Fourteen bound volumes of her students’ term papers are shelved in the Central High School Heritage Room and at the McClung Historical Collection.)

11. Nannie Lee Hicks, Historic Treasure Spots of Knox County, Tennessee (Simon Harris Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1964); The John Adair Section of Knox County, Tennessee (Nocturne Garden Club, 1968, 1976); A History of Fountain City (with sections on Smithwood and Inskip) (Renamed Third Edition), Fountain City Town Hall, (Knoxville,  1986).

12. ibid. (Nannie Lee Hicks,  2000).

Publications of Nannie Lee Hicks:

1.  Discovering Knox County (A Unit of Work Compiled by Members of the American History Classes of Central High School) (1938).

2.  A History of Knox County Communities (Written by the Students of Miss Nannie Lee Hicks’ American History Classes, Central High School, Knoxville, Tennessee): Vol. I (1941-1942), Vol. II (1947), Vol. III (1950), Vol. IV (1950-51), Vol. V (No date), Vol. VI (1958). 

3.  History of Some Knox County Churches (1959), Compiled by Members of the American History Classes of Central High School.

4.  More About Knox County (1959), Compiled by Members of the American History Classes of Central High School.

5. The French Broad-Holston Country (A History of Knox County, Tennessee), Mary U. Rothrock, Editor (1946, reprinted 1972), Chapter 25: Some Early Communities of The French Broad-Holston Country (Bearden, Campbell’s Station, Loveville, Ball Camp, Powell’s Station, Hardin Valley, Fountain City, Asbury, Corryton, Mascot and Skaggston), chapter author Nannie Lee Hicks.

6.  Historic Treasure Spots of Knox County, Tennessee (1964), (Simon Harris Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution) (86-page booklet containing details of the Massacre of George Mann, Isaac Anderson’s Log School House, Thomas Hope’s architecture at Swan Pond and many other historic homes and places in the county).

7. The John Adair Section of Knox County Tennessee (1968), (Nocturne Garden Club).

8.  The John Adair Section of Knox County Tennessee (1976) (Bicentennial Edition).

9.  A History of Fountain City (with sections on Smithwood and Inskip) (Renamed Third Edition: Knoxville Homecoming Edition) (1986).

10. A History of Fountain City (with sections on Smithwood and Inskip) (Millenium Edition) (Heritage Committee, Fountain City Town Hall)  (2000).

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