The Elders were among Tennessee's earliest pioneers and were well acquainted with Davy Crockett. John S. Elder and his nephew, Robert S. Elder, made their way to Hamilton County at an early date.
The family traces back to Samuel Elder, who in April 1796 paid $200 for 150 acres in the "County of Greene Territory of the United States of America South of the River Ohio.'' This property at the head of Sinking Creek was sold four years later for $333 as the Elders moved from Greene County to Sevier County.
Davy Crockett wrote in his autobiography that he had known the Elders "when very young. They had lived in the same neighborhood with me, and I had thought very well of them.'' He said the family "had very pretty little girls.''
The daughters of Samuel Elder and his wife, Hannah, included Esther who married Michael Widner. Margaret is believed to be another daughter. Davy Crockett was preparing to marry Margaret Elder in the latter part of 1805, but she backed out on the contract. Margaret Elder in 1829 was dismissed by the Baptists for joining the Methodists.
The Elders attended Dumplin Baptist Church near Dandridge in Jefferson County. After some of the family moved to Meigs County, they helped organize Goodfield Baptist Church.
Samuel Elder died in 1811. He left Hannah "the plantation that I now live on and all the household furniture and three negroes and one bay mare and colt and all the cattle and hogs and all the farming utensils.'' Hannah married James Moore in 1814 and she lived until 1829. The Samuel Elder sons were Robert, William who married Rebecca Cate, Jacob, Samuel, John S. who married Nancy Sullins, and Andrew.
John S. Elder was commissioned a lieutenant in the 11th Regiment of the Tennessee Militia in 1808. He owned property in Sevier and Jefferson counties and he acquired "a negro girl named Sishe'' for $275 while in the latter county. John Elder was often a delegate for Dumplin Baptist Church to associate meetings, but he and his wife were granted letters of dismission by the church on Sept. 12, 1835, as they moved to Hamilton County near Ooltewah. John and Nancy Elder apparently died during the 1840s.
Their son, John C. Elder, married Amanda. They later moved to Texas, then Amanda was at Montgomery County, Ark., in 1880 with her son, John S. who married Zilpha Cordelia Whittington.
Other children of John and Amanda were Mary, Elizabeth and Joseph C. who married Rosanna
M. Williamson. Elizabeth married Luke Arnett.
Robert Elder, who was born in Virginia about 1782, made his way to Jefferson County and on to Rhea in the section that was taken off for Meigs County. He married Sarah Moore at Jefferson County in 1802. In 1811, Robert Elder was appointed captain of the Sixth Regiment of the
Tennessee Militia. He acquired 160 acres for $3.36 per acre in Rhea County in 1820. By 1825, he had added another 728 acres to his holdings. The Robert Elder home was one of two sites designated in 1826 by the Rhea County Court for the holding of elections on the south side of the Tennessee River. Robert Elder was a trustee for the Decatur Academy. He had 1,184 acres and 12 slaves by 1840. Two years earlier, he had been released from a double tax on his "pleasure carriage.'' Sarah Moore Elder died in 1840. Robert Elder took Mrs. Mary Witt as his second wife.
They were married in 1841 when he was 59 and she was 32. Robert Elder at one time had 18
slaves, but that number was decreased as he sold off some of his land. Many of the slaves attended Goodfield Baptist Church, and it was remarked that in the effort to convert the slaves "Brother Robert Elder inspired the most confidence in his black associates.'' Robert died in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War and Mary died in 1866.
The Robert Elder children included Ava who married Daniel Cate, James who married Sarah Womack and then Mrs. Mary White, John Moore who married Mary Ann Vernon, Nancy who married William Lillard, Robert S., Hannah who died when she was 22, Sarah J. who married the
Cherokee removal soldier George W. Housley Jr., William B. who married Mary Keenum, Mary who married James H. Newkirk, Louisa J., Mahala who married John Boyd Porter, Clarissa who married James W. Grisham, Amanda Jane who married Nicholas Gibbs Moore, Martha, Mary Crator who married John Daniel Morgan, and Margaret. The Housleys moved to the section near Ooltewah along with Robert S. Elder. He had married Minerva Wright in 1834, then Nancy Lucas in 1836. His third wife was Matilda Jane Oldham. Robert S., who was born in 1812, had acquired 160 acres in Meigs County by 1836, then he moved near the site where Wolftever and Long Savannah creeks merge. By the time of the Civil War, his holdings were worth $13,000 and he had six slaves. He donated 3.5 acres to the Long Savannah Academy, where he and George Housley were trustees. Savannah Methodist Church was built at the academy site. Robert S. Elder was buried at the Elder Cemetery at his farm upon his death Sept. 21, 1868. Matilda died in 1875. The Housleys went to Montgomery County, Ark., after the war.
The children of Robert S. Elder included Samuel Houston, Sarah Jane, Minerva Jane ,Robert and James B. Sarah married Thomas Monger, a Unionist who was on the County Court. Minerva married James Clifford Allen, who fought for the Union and was in the Legislature from Bradley County. Samuel H. was on the Confederate side, joining 2nd Co. K of the First CSA Cavalry on Sept. 23, 1862. He married Sarah J. White. Their daughter, Mary A., married Aaron E. Smith. Samuel H. and his brother, Robert, had a "store boat'' that made calls at the various river landings, and they also had a general store at Snow Hill. Samuel H. was postmaster at Long Savannah. He died in 1910 of a heart attack while walking from Avondale to Snow Hill. Robert married Mary Jane Bettis in 1869, and James B. married Margaret E. Hall. Robert and James also had turns at the Long Savannah post office. Robert also was a photographer and James was in the rubber stamp business. Robert died in 1918 and James in 1933.
Robert's children included Jennie Belle who married John Tinker, James William "Will'' who married Mabel Nye, Minnie Mary who died when she was 11, Ona Griffin who married Lydie Ellen Pindell, Frederick Burch who married Clara Mae Atkins and then her sister, Hattie Mae Atkins, and Grover Cleveland who married May Phillips. Ona Griffin Elder was a linotype operator for 57 years for the Chattanooga Times. Lydie Pindell Elder was long active at the First Baptist Church. Burch Elder was 99 years old when he died in 1981. He was a member of Avondale Baptist Church for 61 years. His daughter Hilda married Charles R. Posey. Another daughter was Jane.
Virginia Knight Nelson of Knoxville in 1986 completed a book on the Elders of East Tennessee. Ruth Edwards of Chattanooga also researched the family.