Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thomas Sharp "Bigfoot" Spencer

I am rereading Tennessee -- A Short History by Robert E. Corlew. It was the textbook for my Tennessee history class when I was in college, and since I've recently read biographies of Jackson, Polk and Houston, I thought it would be a good idea to read the textbook as an overview of the history of our state.

One of the first Europeans to begin the settlement of Tennessee was a long hunter named Thomas Sharp Spencer, who was nicknamed "Bigfoot." My paternal grandmother was a Spencer, and my parents gave me her maiden name as my middle name. Sherry and I gave it to Sarah as her middle name. I have passed the historical marker pictured above in Crab Orchard many times, and have wondered about Bigfoot Spencer, to whom I strongly suspect I am related.

In a footnote Corlew states,

Contemporaries told of his tremendous physical strength. One remarked, "He was the stoutest man I ever saw. Indeed, he was a Hercules -- stronger than two common men." Still another told how he lifted an antagonist by the seat of his trousers and threw him over an eight-foot tall fence. The man, somewhat humbled but nonplussed, simply arose from the dust and, while Big Foot glared, exclaimed, "Mr. Spencer, if you will be kind enough to pitch my horse over, I will be riding."

I found more about Bigfoot Spencer here, here and here. Spencer, Tennessee, the seat of Van Buren County, is named for him. According to Grandmother, my fourth great-grandfather was William Spencer, who lived from 1798 to 1878. Bigfoot came to Tennessee in 1776, so I'm within a generation of putting this genealogical puzzle together.

MORE: Judge Samuel Spencer of North Carolina