Joseph Walker was born 26 June 1791, a few months before
the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Although they
lived at the same time, his parents inhabited a very
different world than did Mozart. His parents lived in
what was then the American frontier in what was called
the Territory South of the Ohio, at a place now known
as Sullivan County, Tennessee.
Joseph was the oldest child of Edward
B. Walker and Jane Horn, who had married the year
before at a church on Horse Creek. His parents moved
several times, and their exact location when Joseph
was born is unknown. However, he was probably born in
the vicinity of Jared's Branch on the South Fork of
the Holston River or on Reedy Creek on the other side
of the Holston.
Joseph might have had a middle name; his father did
as well as some of his siblings, but no hint of that
middle name has been found.
Key Walker landmarks in Sullivan and Hawkins
County, Tennessee. Click a push pin for details. You can also view view
this map in Google Maps for more options.
Tennessee was still very much the frontier, there were
no schools and few if any tutors in the area. Joseph,
like some of his older siblings, apparently was not well-educated,
because he was not able to sign his name; some of his
younger siblings were literate, though, so the Walkers
probably took advantage of the schools when they became
Not much is known about the Walkers during this early
period; many records have been lost in court house fires
through the years, and not much paperwork was kept in
that era in any event. His parents seemed to have moved
around occassionally but were generally in the same
When Joseph was drafted in 1814 to fight in the War
of 1812, he was drafted into a Sullivan County unit
while his brother Edward, Jr., was drafted into a Hawkins
County one. Edward Jr. lived near the Hawkins/Sullivan
line; where exactly Joseph lived at that time is unknown.
A separate article documents Joseph's
service in the War of 1812.
Mary's Birth and Early Years
Mary J. Tussey was the daughter of Jacob Tussey and
Jane Shuff and the sister of Mahala Tussey who married
Jr. Her middle name was probably "Jane",
but no contemporary record has been found to prove anything
but the initial. However, her daughter Anna named twins
Joseph and Mary Jane Lewis, suggesting that Mary Tussey's
"J." stood for "Jane" as well.
Mary's exact date of birth is unknown; her tombstone
states that she was born in 1790, which is reasonably
consistent with most other evidence and is probably
at least close to the truth. However, as was particularly
common at the time, as she got much older, her age became
exaggerated in Census records. Family legend, for instance,
holds that she was nearly 10 years older than she actually
was when she died; in reality, she was probably about
89, an advanced age now and especially then.
She was born in Virginia, probably on the James River
in perhaps Botetourt County. She moved with her parents
to Jared's Branch in what became Sullivan County, Tennessee,
in 1794, where she grew up, and she probably knew Joseph
Walker from a young age.
Family legend holds that Mary spoke with a thick accent,
called sometimes French but more often Swedish. Although
not entirely proven, her Tussey ancestry was probably
Swedish, but her mother might well have been German;
moreover, her father's side of the family seems possibly
to have lived in a German-speaking area of Pennsylvania
for two generations, so the whole family may have spoken
German; the question remains unresolved.
Marriage, Moving, and Life on Little Sycamore Creek
When Mary applied for a pension related to Joseph's
service in the War of 1812, she gave two different dates
for their marriage, neither very specific: 1818 and
February 1817. Of the two, February 1817 seems more
likely since their first child was born in early 1818.
Given that date, both Joseph, about 26, and Mary, about
27, were a bit older than average when they married.
No evidence of any kind has surfaced to date suggesting
that either was married prior to marrying each other;
certainly the possibility exists, though, since marriage
records for Sullivan County for that era no longer exist.
Key Walker landmarks in the Mulberry Gap/Little
Sycamore area. Click a push pin for more information; you can view
this map with Google Maps for more options.
said that they were married in Sullivan County but moved
immediately to Claiborne County. The actual deed book
entry for the first lot the couple purchased in Claiborne
County is apparently lost, but they bought a second
lot in 1818 which references that previous lot, so they
were there certainly by 1818.
The couple settled just a bit south of the New Salem
Church on what is now called Little Sycamore Road although
it was considered part of the Mulberry Road at the time
and was one part of one of the routes to Cumberland
Gap. The area is close to Hoop
Creek and Mulberry Creek.
Other people they knew, including Mary's sister Ruth,
had lived or were still living in the general area starting
no later than 1802. Other Walkers and Tusseys settled
the area at the same time as or at least close to the
same time as Joseph and Mary, in an area ranging roughly
from where Joseph lived to where Edward Jr. lived on
Mulberry Gap Road and also around Hoop Creek and what
is now known as Rebel Hollow Road.
Mary (Tussey) Walker, courtesy Fay (Walker) Barnard.
Click for larger version.
Today, the land is easy to find, as the couple are
buried on it, but there are no structures still standing
that they might have used. Family legend holds that
Joseph homesteaded his land, but, in fact, he purchased
most of it and obtained a small amount through the survey
process that was commonly used in the era to obtain
The couple settled about 10 miles from the town of
Tazewell, amidst many relatives and friends. In earlier
times, the road where they lived was a section of one
of several major roads that eventually reached Cumberland
Gap, though the Gap was already becoming less important
when the Walkers settled there.
The whole area stretching from Mulberry Gap down to
Walkers Ford on the Clinch River and beyond is one long,
narrow valley, where farmers owned generally small parcels,
cultivating rocky hillsides. Joseph's brother, Edward
Jr., seems to have specialized in pigs, as livestock
living in those hills was probably among the better
uses for the land; at the moment, any specialty that
Joseph may have had as a farmer is unknown.
At one point in the early 1840s, Joseph donated land
for a church to be built. He was probably raised Methodist,
and a separate article documents religion
of the earliest known Walkers of our family. His
brother Jonathan was a Methodist preacher and part of
the committee building the church. The deed was recorded,
but whether the church was actually built was unknown;
the Holston Conference has no obvious record for it,
but many churches came and went in the era with no extant
Joseph and Mary had seven known children, each of whom
has his or her own article on this site. The 1830 Census
suggests that they may also have had another daughter
born in the late 1820s, but, if that person listed was
their daughter, she did not live long enough to marry
or inherit Joseph's property when he died in 1851. All
of the children were presumably born at the farm on
Little Sycamore Creek.
Joseph died at the age of 59 on 7 January 1851 in an
accident involving a tree he was cutting down. The exact
details have been lost. He was buried in the cemetery
on the farm where his son Jonathan and Jonathan's wife
had been buried. Although buried underground, a rock
vault covers the grave, a style that only seems to have
been used in the area in the 1840s and early 1850s.
The inscription has been recarved, but the original
is legible enough to confirm the accuracy.
When Joseph died, he apparently had been the administrator
of the estates of both of his parents, as Mary (Tussey)
Walker inherited that responsibility. Her role is mentioned
in the attempt of Jane (Horn) Walker to obtain a pension,
although the paperwork was misfiled. Two of their children
were still unmarried, Anna and Elihu, but both were
grown. However, Mary was also left to raise her two
grandchildren, Sterling and Mary Jane, children of her
oldest son Jonathan.
the couple's third son, purchased the property rights
from the other siblings, and Mary, under her dower right,
continued to live on the property until her own death
many years later.
The Civil War
Joseph and his brother, Edward
Walker, Jr., were the only two known slaveholders
among their siblings. In 1850, Joseph owned a man, a
woman, and a young girl; in 1860, Mary owned a man named
Henry of about the same age as the man in the 1850 Census.
What became of them is not known.
Although many of the Walkers fought for the Union,
Joseph's son Isaac
sided with the Confederacy, and two grandchildren, sons
of Sarah (Walker)
and Eldridge Campbell did as well. Isaac's unit was
apparently intended to be a short-term home guard of
sorts that eventually was called up for the duration.
Both the Campbell boys died, apparently of disease,
during the war.
The sympathies of the rest of Mary's family and Mary
herself are unknown. As with everyone else in the area,
her sympathies probably did not matter all that much,
since troops and raiders from both sides were frequently
in the area. The family hid food and valuables in the
vaults where Joseph and son Jonathan
were buried, but even the family Bible was stolen at
After the Civil War, Mary continued to live on the
land and can be found there in 1870 with her grandson
Sterling's family; she likely lived with them until
she died. According to the Mortality Schedule of the
1880 Census, she died sometime in the month of September
in 1879. She was buried next to her husband, and a grave
marker was added much later. What it might have replaced
As with most farms in the area, the land was split
up through inheritance. A substantial amount of it,
though, near the cemetery, apparently was passed down
through their daughter, Anna,
and her husband John Lewis, to their oldest son Joseph
Lewis, to his only son Robert White Lewis, to his middle
son James Henry Lewis, and then to their son, John Joseph
Lewis, known as Joe, and his wife Jewel (White).
That plot of land remained in the hands of descendants
of Joseph and Mary (Tussey) Walker from about 1818 until
sometime in the 2000s. Joe died in 2002, and sometime
between then and when Jewel died recently in 2009, she
sold the farm.