Thomas Amis A Man of Substance

Capt. Thomas Amis, by any assessment, was an unswerving patriot who became a prominent player in North Carolina’s efforts to defeat the Redcoats and their civilian allies known as Tories and Loyalists. But after hiding the famed “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion more than once at his Mill on Drowning Creek, Amis’ bravery and willingness to help in the cause of freedom would establish him as a marked man. His family would be driven from their home by the enemy, prompting the following directive from Governor Richard Caswell…”Ordered that a Protection for Mr. Amis’s Waggons, while employed in removing his family, & c., out of the way of the Enemy, be enclosed.” By the end of the war North Carolina had little or no money in its treasury. Faced with accumulating debts to soldiers and military suppliers the state began to transfer its western lands to individuals to pay for war service and supplies in lieu of cash. Amis was granted a thousand acres in Sullivan Co. NC.( later Hawkins Co., Tn.) In 1780 he built a fort at Big Creek on the Great Indian Warpath Trail (later Old Stage Road). Not far from this fort in the same year, about one and one-half miles above present day Rogersville, on a high hill that overlooked the Holston River valley, Capt. Amis commissioned Thomas Harlan, architect and stone mason from the Pennsylvania Dutch country, to build him a home 46 feet long, and 16 feet wide, one and one-half stories high. The 18 inch walls of fieldstone formerly had rifle ports instead of windows in the upper half story. The workmanship of the house reflected that found in eastern Pennsylvania homes of the same period. Surrounded by a log palisade for protection from intruders Captain Amis’ gray stone house crowned the crest of the eminence; the upper part of the house was barely visible above the pointed spires. Hundreds of antiquarians, amateur and professional historians have been attracted to the Amis home. Its durability and architectural beauty, after more than 200 years, give additional clues to the character of the builder.

Amis, a very enterprising man, conducted a lucrative business with both whites and Indians. He opened a trading post, blacksmith shop and a distillery, while operating a saw and grist mill. A post office, school and church would be added later. The little community of “Amis” became the principal settlement of this part of Sullivan County for the next few years. Old account books show that Thomas offered just about every service a pioneer traveler might need. His slaves or free retainers could build or repair a wagon, shoe a horse, provision a wagon or stage for a long journey, and provide the traveler bed and board while he was waiting to be outfitted for a trip through country peopled largely by savages. He kept an Inn and a tavern that became a public stage stop for many notables of the day. Some of whom were Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson, Joseph McMinn, John Rhea, William Blount, John Sevier, who would later be Governor of Tennessee, and the eminent French Botanist Andre’ Michaux, who mentioned (in his diary) staying at the Amis home and told of the beauty of the building. Also Dr. Thomas Walker, land surveyor and the first non-Indian to cross the Blue Ridge into Kentucky, was an overnight guest. Bishop Francis Asbury, founder of the Methodist movement in America, stayed at the Amis Inn a number of times and it was quite evident he and Amis did not get along too well. The Bishop noted in his journal that he spent the night at Amis’ Inn, a place quite prepared for travelers. He was well entertained for his money, but rebuked Amis for bragging about how much money he made off of his brew. Evidently the two engaged in some heated debates, for Asbury commented that “it was out of necessity and not choice” he was there. April 11, 1790 Asbury wrote in his journal, “Rode thirty miles to Amis,’ where we were well entertained for our money. Coming along, I complained that the people would take no pay for their food or services…that complaint has ceased.” Asbury would, however, return to the Amis Inn many times despite their differences, for his host was a man of great hospitality and warmth. After all, Amis, in French, means “friend.”

According to the writings of Dr. George E. Mellon of the University of Tennessee, “In his day, Thomas Amis was a man both of substance and official distinction,” and one who went around building doors for opportunity to knock on. He served in the North Carolina Senate, 1788, 1789; representing Hawkins County (then North Carolina, now Tennessee). Amis had previously been a member of the Provincial Congress of 1776; a justice of the peace; served as superintendent of commissary, with the rank of captain in the 3rd Regiment of Continental troops and was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati. He died at his home at the age of 53 on Dec.4, 1797 and is buried in the Amis family cemetery near Rogersville, TN.

Thomas Amis House | 677 Burem Rd. | Rogersville, TN 37857