We all have what I like to call a “gateway ancestor”. You know the one ancestor that as you were researching you realized that you actually like genealogy. For me, that ancestor was John “Raccoon” Miller. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about how my mom got me started in genealogy, but it wasn’t until I started researching John Miller and reading his stories that I became truly hooked. Let me tell you a bit about this revolutionary man.
Who was John “Raccoon” Miller?
John Miller was born in 1747 with the exact location still up for discussion. Some say he was born in South Carolina. Others state that he was born in Holland. Nobody has any proof to back up those claims. I tend to lean to the third opinion. That he was born in Scotland. If you know the history of the Scottish coming to American, you know that North Carolina was a hotbed for Scots to settle. Also, I have found a document placing a John Miller being born in 1747 in Scotland. The only problem is, with such a common name, it is hard to say with 100% confidence that this is him.
Documents for John Miller are a bit scarce until he shows up in Haywood County, North Carolina in 1776. At this point, the American Revolution is in full force and he is serving with the North Carolina militia. However, he does find time in his busy schedule to marry Eve Weidner. Together they have seven children; John, Nancy, Isaac, Lewis, Rachel, Elizabeth, and Jacob. The family will eventually make their way across the mountains and settle in the State of Franklin (modern day East Tennessee).
It’s War Time
When the American Revolution made it’s way to the North Carolina back country, John Miller did not hesitate to join. Enlisting in the North Carolina militia, John was able to encourage others to join the cause due to his standing in the community. He fought bravely in many battles, the most notable being the Battle of Kings Mountain.
John not only served his county proudly, but he made some useful connections along the way. One of his new friends was future Tennessee governor, John Sevier. John soon found himself as one of Sevier’s trusted companions. So much so, that Sevier made John a Captain in the militia. The two would remain friends after the American Revolution. The would both be instrumental in what would be known as the State of Franklin.
It’s Peace Time
After the war, John would find himself with significant land holdings in both North Carolina and Tennessee, thanks to military land grants. John would hold onto most of the land, allowing it to pass down the generations. However, always being one up for a good story, there is a rumor regarding John and the land he owned in what is now Middlesboro, Kentucky. Supposedly, John was given an offer he just couldn’t refuse and “sold” the town for a bottle of moonshine. I have yet to find any documentation that this actually happened, but I feel like if moonshine is involved it may have been an “under the table” transaction.
John was also quite the entrepreneur, not just with land but with some unique items. He took it upon himself to buy some silkworms and set them up in his barn. John then proceeded to sell the silk to local merchants to make some extra money. Nobody in the area had ever grown silkworms or even knew what to do with them. But, in true John Miller fashion, he figured it out and turned that silk into gold.
The Legend of John “Raccoon” Miller
Nobody really knows how John Miller was given the name “Raccoon”. The most logical story that has been handed down is that since there was another John Miller in the area, he was given a nickname in order to distinguish between the two. Whatever the reason, the memory of “Raccoon” Miller still lives on in East Tennessee. If you ever find yourself in Maynardville, Tennessee, you will see Raccoon Valley Road which runs though that acreage that belong to John. You will also find a highway maker that shows the location of Miller’s blockhouse.
John Miller passed away on August 25, 1832 in Maynardville, Union County, Tennessee. He is buried along side his wife, Eve, in Ousley Cemetery in Maynardville.
I think it is safe to say why John Miller caught my attention. He was the first ancestor that I really got to know. Researching John is the reason I joined the Daughter’s of the American Revolution. I guess you could say that even in death, John “Raccoon” Miller is still making his presence known.
Make sure to read the stories of my other revolutionary ancestors.