Samuel Love Tillery

Copyright * 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

The Tillery Family (1910): Samuel B. Tillery, Dr. Tillery, Mary Evelyn Crawford (in his lap), Stella T. Stepp; 

(Back row) Lucy T. Crawford, Rogers L. Tillery, H. Weller Tillery.  (Courtesy of Lucy Wadsworth Hathcock)

Samuel Love Tillery, M.D.


Tillery, Samuel Love (1851-1929)- Born near Ebenezer, Tennessee, he graduated from the University of Louisville Medical Department in 1877. He practiced at Halls Cross Roads and Smithwood for 51 years. He died July 12, 1929, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. (From Medical Men and Institutions of Knox County, Tennessee [1789-1957], S.L. Platt and M.L. Ogden, 1969.)

Of course, a life of service to one’s community and a medical career of over fifty years cannot be covered in those few words.

The 427-page Platt and Ogden book is among the three most helpful works on this amateur historian’s bookshelf, along with other local histories by Rothrock and Deaderick. However, the worthy attempt to summarize 168 years of medical history in Knox County in one volume necessarily leaves out many details.

Thanks to several generations of the Tillery family and, especially, thanks to his great-granddaughter, Lucy Ellen Wadsworth Hathcock, who has so lovingly preserved that history, we can supply more facts about a dedicated physician—Fountain City’s first—Dr. S.L. Tillery.

Like so many other East Tennesseans, Dr. Tillery’s roots were in Virginia. In the early 1600s, John Tillery settled there after arriving on American shores from Aberdeen, Scotland. He probably was the progenitor of the first Samuel Tillery who was born in 1702 at Tostusky Creek near Richmond, Virginia. Samuel died in St. George's Parish, Spotsylvania County, Virginia in 1728 at age 26, leaving two children, John and Mary.

The second John Tillery (1724-C1800) was born near Richmond, Virginia. He with his widowed mother, his sister Mary and his step-father David Kincade, moved westward to the Valley of Virginia and then still further west to the Greenbriar country (now West Virginia). The children were still small and frontier life was very difficult so the family moved back to Virginia. John died there at about 76 years of age, survived by his wife and seven children.

The oldest child, John Price Tillery, was born in 1754 in Virginia. During the Revolutionary War, he had extensive service in Virginia and North Carolina regiments and, as a result, received sizeable land grants in Ohio and Tennessee. John married Letitia Matthews (1759-1843) on February 18, 1782, in Rockbridge, Virginia. They first moved to Georgia where Letitia’s uncle, George Matthews, who had served as one of George Washington’s generals, was governor.

In about 1795 or 1796, John and Letitia moved to Knox County where they lived out the remainder of their lives on a sizeable land grant which included most of present-day Inskip. The oldest of their 10 children was Richard M. Tillery, Sr. who was born in 1788 in Georgia. He married Margaret Rebecca Cole (1796-1849) on November 2, 1813, in Knoxville. They were parents of nine children. Richard died on April 11, 1860 in Knoxville at age 72, leaving his estate of 404 acres to his children.

John L. Tillery, Richard and Margaret’s second child, was born in 1816. He became a harness maker and farmer in the Ebenezer Community, 11 miles west of downtown Knoxville. John married Mary Ann Elender Smith (1822-1856) on November 3, 1842. Mary Ann was the daughter of John Smith and Mariah Adair Christian Smith and the granddaughter of John Adair, who established Fort Adair in Grassy Valley in 1788. The area later became Fountain Head and, when a post office was established there in 1890, it became Fountain City.

The John Tillerys were parents of five children: Sarah Elmira (1843-1912), Rebecca H. (b. 1846), Mary S. (b. 1849), Samuel Love Tillery (b. 1851), the subject of this essay, and Isabella P. (1854-1855). Tragically, the matriarch died on June 20, 1856, at only 33 years of age.

John Tillery then married Sarah A.B. Russell (1825-1878) on January 13, 1857. They were parents of four children: Mary A.E. (b. 1857), Blanche A. (b. 1859), Andrew M. (b. 1861) and John Paxton Tillery (1864-1927). John Paxton Tillery also became a Knox County physician. According to Platt and Ogden, Dr. "Pack" Tillery was one of the founders of Fort Sanders Hospital. Sarah died on June 14, 1878 and is buried in Ebenezer Cemetery.

Priscilla E. Smith (1827-1916) became John’s third wife on November 21, 1878. John L. Tillery died on April 24, 1896 at age 79 and was also buried in Ebenezer Cemetery (on Westland Drive). Priscilla Tillery died in 1916 at age 89 and was buried near her stepson Samuel Love Tillery in Greenwood Cemetery.

Our subject, the fourth child of John and Priscilla, Samuel Love Tillery, was born April 22, 1851, and grew up on the family farm in Ebenezer, attending the local schools. We have no further record of his childhood and youth but can only surmise that a boy of ten living at the time of the Civil War (1861-1865) must have seen uniformed men, cavalry horses and quartermaster wagons, probably in camps on or near the family farm. He was 12 years old during the Siege of Knoxville (November and December, 1863). When Gen. James Longstreet’s Confederate army pursued Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s Union troops through Campbell’s Station and into the defenses of Knoxville on the 15th and 16th of November, they may have skirmished near the family farm.

Samuel must have been a very good student since few were able to attend college during the turbulent times following the war. Only a very select few were enrolled in the South’s prestigious medical school—the University of Louisville. Its location on the Mississippi River had made Louisville a burgeoning transportation center by the 1830s. Largely due to steamboat travel, the city had grown to become one of the largest in the South. In the 1860s only New Orleans (Population 169,000) and St. Louis (161,000) were larger than Louisville (68,000). By comparison Charleston (41,000), Memphis (23,000) and Savannah (22,000) trailed far behind.

Cultural institutions developed early there and so did higher education. The Louisville Medical Institute admitted 80 students in its first class in 1837. At that early date, seven faculty members taught classes in the impressive Greek Revival building and clinical sessions were held in the Louisville City Hospital, the city’s finest. Several of the most distinguished professors from Lexington’s Transylvania College had joined the faculty. The school’s library was one of the finest in the country with numerous volumes purchased in Europe, then the center of medical knowledge.

By 1846, the Institute had grown and had become the medical department of the newly formed University of Louisville. When Samuel--now in his mid-20s--entered the school, it had long since earned a stellar reputation. Samuel Love Tillery, M.D. received his diploma in 1877. Soon thereafter he began practice in Halls Cross Roads but later moved the practice to Smithwood.

We have been unable to establish just when the Tillery home on Sanders Lane was built. Inez Smith Burke lived in the house in the 1940s when her father E.M. Smith, Sr. owned it. She remembers evidence that the medical office was in the residence as was often the case at the time. Robert F. Smith, E.M.’s son, recalls that the large house had five rooms downstairs and five upstairs and feels it could easily have accommodated both Dr. Tillery’s home and office. Originally, Dr. Tillery owned 20 acres that included most of the north side of Sanders Lane from Smithwood to Broadway and at first his was the only house on that block.

The Tillery Family Home in Smithwood at 3019 Sanders Lane.  (Courtesy of Lucy Wadsworth Hathcock)

Dr. Tillery married Narcissa Eglentine Badgett (1861-1901) on October 3, 1877, in Knoxville. They were the parents of eight children: Lafayette Rogers (1879-1940), Harry Weller (later called "Uncle Pete") (1881-1968), Anna A. (1883-1902), Lucy Elmira (Crawford) (1886-1977), Mary C. (1889-1908), Stella Love (Stepp) (1894-1969), Nannie (1896-1900) and Samuel Badgett (some sources incorrectly indicate that his name was Samuel Love Jr.) (1900-1972).

It must have been particularly difficult for their parents to lose three of their children to contagious diseases at such early ages--Nannie at age four to diphtheria, Anna at 18 and Mary at 19 to tuberculosis. Some two generations later advances in medicine would make an inoculation available to prevent diphtheria and would also provide effective medication to arrest tuberculosis.

Some may wonder why their first and second sons were named something other than traditional family names and why Samuel Badgett was the last of the three boys. Lucy Wadsworth Hathcock, Samuel Tillery’s great-granddaughter, recalled her mother’s report of the reason. While he was in medical school, the future Dr. Tillery had two best friends, Lafayette Rogers and Harry Weller. The trio agreed that they would name their first two sons after each other and Dr. Tillery complied.

Interestingly, later in life, Harry Weller Tillery became "Uncle Pete." He was superintendent and later president of Rich Mountain Coal Company in Habersham and became a member of the Board of Directors of Tennessee Mill and Mine Supply Company. As a coal mine official, Weller was invited to ride in the mine’s first electric coal car. The car broke loose, flew down the mountain, then threw him out and the wheels ran over his leg. They rushed him back to town on the train.

The severe injury made it necessary to amputate his leg and he was fitted with a wooden prosthetic leg. It was the "state-of-the-art" at the time and went unrecognized under his trousers except for a very slight limp. Later in life, his amputation and a difficult heart condition made him a semi-invalid but that did not subdue Uncle Pete’s outgoing nature. For his nieces and nephews the nickname was a perfect fit with his kind manner. His friends called him Weller.

Weller married Elise (1880-1965), the daughter of Alfred Buffat, Knox County Squire and Trustee, who owned the Buffat Mill near Spring Place, once said to be the largest water-powered mill in the South. After Alfred’s death, Weller and Elise lived on the large Buffat family farm for more than 50 years. Quite the outdoorsman prior to his injury, Uncle Pete was so accurate with a rifle that, like Daniel Boone, he could "bark" a squirrel. He also became expert at throwing his pocketknife into a target. He sometimes teased his young grandniece by throwing the knife at his wooden leg at about ankle height and howling with laughter when he saw the shock on her face as it stuck there.

Another of his major hobbies was penning his interesting observations on the habits and antics of the birds that he and Elise saw at their feeder and on the farm. He sent them to Lucy Templeton of the Knoxville Sentinel and J.B. Owen of the Knoxville Journal and several were published. His essay on the adventures of his pet dog and long-time constant companion, Runt, was a favorite and over a thousand copies of it were distributed over the years. Schoolchildren loved the story about Runt’s playfulness and adventures on the farm.

Uncle Pete’s sense of humor may have been a genetic trait for his father could also be humorous. He clipped one of his favorite stories from a newspaper column and passed it on to his grandniece as a part of his priceless collection of documents. Brack Suffridge, another Smithwood "institution" and the father of U.T. All-American Bob Suffridge, reported the story:

Back when he was a young man an old fellow named Crippen, of Raccoon Valley, bought a sausage mill. It was a new kind of sausage mill. No one about here had ever seen one like it.

Dr. Tillery, of Smithwood, wanted to borrow the sausage mill. Crippen told him no. That he wouldn’t loan his sausage mill to any one.

"But," Crippen said, " you can bring your meat over to my house if you want to, and grind all the sausage you want."

A year or so later Dr. Tillery bought a new kind of posthole digger. Crippen had some fencing to do so he met Dr. Tillery and asked to borrow his posthole digger.

Dr. Tillery remembered the sausage mill. He said no. Said he wouldn’t loan his posthole digger to any one.

"But, Tillery told him, "if you’ll bring your holes over to my place you can dig all you want to."

We also have Uncle Pete to thank for many other details of the family history, dating all the way back to his great-grandfather John Adair. For instance, he recalled that his father’s family and close friends called him by his middle name "Love" and not by his first name "Samuel." While that may sound unusual in our day and time, "Love" was an appropriate name for the kindly family physician who delivered so many children to Smithwood families and attended so many very ill patients during the various medical crises that occurred in the community, including the 1918 flu pandemic. Dr. Tillery might well have been the model for one of Norman Rockwell’s more famous paintings--The Family Physician.

Dr. Tillery’s wife of 34 years and mother of his eight children, Narcissa Badgett Tillery (b. February 26, 1861), died on November 18, 1901, at only 40 years of age and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. Samuel next married Nancy J. Anderson (1854-1936) on March 31, 1903. Nancy survived her husband by some seven years and was also buried in the Tillery plat in Greenwood Cemetery.

After an illness of five weeks, Samuel Love Tillery, M.D. passed away at 8:45 p.m. on Friday, July 12, 1929, at his home on Sanders Lane in Smithwood at 78 years of age. He had practiced medicine in Halls and Fountain City for 51 years and had been Fountain City’s first physician. Dr. Tillery was a member of Shannondale Presbyterian Church for many years and was a Mason, a charter member of Bright Hope Lodge, F. & A.M.

He was survived by his second wife; two daughters, Mrs. J.S. (Lucy Elmira) Crawford of Smithwood and Mrs. J.T. (Stella) Stepp, of Nashville; and three sons, Lafayette R. and H. Weller, of Knoxville, and Samuel B. Tillery of Los Angeles. His two sisters, Mrs. Mary Montgomery of Farragut and Mrs. Will Toole of Rockford; and one brother Andrew Tillery of Concord also survived him. His half brother and fellow Knoxville physician, John Paxton (Pack) Tillery, M.D. (1864-1927), had preceded him in death.

Living in 2005, we can only imagine the difficulty of practicing medicine for over 50 years with the diagnostic techniques, treatment regimens and pharmaceuticals available at that time. Truly, the modern physician stands on the shoulders of the giants who were pioneers in their profession like Fountain City’s Samuel Love Tillery, M.D. He served his community well.

(Author’s Note: The author wishes to thank Dr. Tillery’s great-granddaughter, Lucy Wadsworth Hathcock of Winston-Salem, N.C., for making the Harry Weller Tillery and Lucy Tillery Crawford Collections available and for providing the two rare historic photographs. Thanks also to Idonna Tillery Bryson. Her correspondence and her Tillery Website supplied much useful information.)