Journal of Genealogy & History

Volume IX, Number 2 Fall 1995

Roaring River Cemetery, Overton County, Tennessee

Resting Place of Two Revolutionary War Soldiers

By Sue Eldridge

As Tennessee begins to prepare to celebrate the state’s 200th birthday, thoughts of pioneer people and early settlements in the state come to mind. As a lifelong resident of Overton County, Tennessee, and a direct descendant of one of Tennessee’ first families, I have been studying about where my ancestors came from and where they settled in the Upper Cumberland area.

One of the oldest cemeteries that has "caught my attention" is the Roaring River Cemetery in Overton County. The cemetery is located between Livingston and Rickman on the old Highway 42. It contains graves of some of the first settlers in this area and was the home of one of the first churches built in this county.


In the late 1700’s, Col. Stephen Copeland, a Revolutionary War soldier, came to this area from Jefferson County, Tennessee, along with one of his sons, Joseph (Big Joe) Copeland. They found the land fertile and planted crops; then they went back to Jefferson County to bring their family here to settle in this wilderness. Copeland settled near the north fork of the Roaring River about 4 miles from Livingston. It was in this area that he helped build and establish the Roaring River Baptist Church on part of the property that he receive as a grant from the state of Tennessee.

The Roaring River Baptist Church is probably one of the oldest in the Upper Cumberland area. Although the exact date of the organization of this church is not known, records of the Green River Association reflect that is was there in 1801. In the Associational Table of the Roaring River Baptist Church in the year 1801, there were 27 members and Thos. M’Bride and Joseph Stewart were the messengers.

In 1806 a meeting of the Stockton Valley Association of the United Baptists was held at the Roaring River Church. The meeting was held by moderator John Mulkey, with William Wood as clerk, with messengers John Raney and Stephen Copeland, representing the Roaring River Church. Other names associated with the church were Stewart, Mayfield, Bilbrey, Harsaw, Wells, Cooper, Langford and West.

The church was a charter member of the Stockton Valley Association, and was in the Stockton Valley Association until approximately 1844-1845 when the minutes read "Roaring River Church dropped."

The church building, situated on 3 acres and 40 poles, was said to have been designed by Col. Copeland. The structure, history tells us, was built of large poplar logs and was in the shape of a cross with a large square for each of the twelve Apostles. The property was sold to the Roaring River Baptist Society by Copeland on April 19, 1823, for the sum of sixteen dollars and twenty five cents. The deed states "to the use and benefit thereof forever" with only one exception made by Copeland that "so as not to injure the convenience of the people in no way."

The old twelve corner church was eventually replaced with a smaller building. Now, in 1995, all that is left is a section that appears to be part of the rock foundation. So far the writer has been unable to locate any photos of the churches, and very little history is available about when the second church was built.

The Cemetery

There are approximately 35 marked graves and approximately 30 unmarked graves in this once forgotten cemetery. Col. Stephen Copeland’s grave has no marker. But county residents recall their grandparents and great grandparents saying that Copeland was buried in the cemetery near the church he helped build.

Another source of information about Copeland’s burial site is an article submitted by Frances (Matthews) Fleming in the Overton County History book. She is a granddaughter of William J. "Bill" Matthews, who was a State Representatives from the Windle Community of Overton County. She states that Matthews’ notes say "Col. Stephen Copeland died and was buried at Old Roaring River Church. His grave was shown to me by J.C. Bilbrey and has no marker or tombstone to show where his remains rest."

History also tells us that another Revolutionary soldier, Andrew Swallows, is buried there.

In the 1930’s, the Bilbrey families met at the Roaring River Church and cemetery for family reunions. Many Bilbreys are buried there. Other families with members buried there are Stewart, West, France, Swallows, Dickerson, Cannon and Langford. Many of the burial sites have become sunken with time and are unmarked. Many of those which do have stones contain no inscriptions. Several of the graves are covered with sandstone slabs. One section of graves is enclosed with what was once a sturdy, metal fence.

In the spring of 1994, the writer and three other people undertook the responsibility of cleaning up the overgrown cemetery with hopes of restoring this historical site. Those helping with the project are Joyce South (also a Copland descendant), Janet Gann (member of the local historical society), and Pat Officer (an attorney) of Livingston.

Before we began this project, you could drive past the cemetery which is next to the road without realizing that a cemetery was there. The graveyard was covered with bushes and trees with a lot of underbrush.

Much work remains to complete the project. But as of this spring you can walk around in the cemetery and look at the markers and see where many of the unmarked graves are located. We hope to erect a sign on the main highway to direct family history seekers to the cemetery.

We also hope to have a dedication ceremony at the cemetery during the Bicentennial. Its purpose will be to show our appreciation to all the early pioneers who left their home and came to settle in this area that we now call "home."

Name Date of Birth Date of Death

Samuel Stewart May 25, 1872 March 27, 1929

Eudora Stewart June 6, 1874 November 23, 1947

Coleman Stewart January ?, 1895 January ?, 1895

Sarah Stewart ? April 19, 1881

W. J. Stewart May 27, 1813 April 2, 1889

Mary Stewart September 9, 1840 June 12, 1929

W. J. Stewart January 27, 1834 August 1, 1919

Oliv Stewart January 12, 1878 September 16, 1913

A. L. Stewart May 20, 1870 May 26, 1909

Lenora Pendleton West May 20, 1852 June 17, 1855

Mary Swallows West January 19, 1788 August 12, 1863

Isaac West ?, 1790 ?, 1836

Mary L. Bilbrey April 4, 1820 February 6, 1891

Lee France ? February 8, 1904

Sidnie France October 16, 1817 August 25, 1892

Mary J. France September 14, 1863 August 5, 1892

J. H. Bilbrey April 30, 1820 October ?, 1822

B. B. ____ ? ?

J. N. Bilbrey October 5, 18?6 October 11, 1841

Susanah Bilbrey January 19, 1822 April 7, 1869

W. D. Bilbrey June 30, 1847 June ?, 1870

Nancy M. Bilbrey February 25, 1834 June 19, 1887

John Bilbrey August 19, 1818 September 25, 1888

Winnie Bilbrey January 19, 1820 August 25, 1896

M. H. Bilbrey November 1, 1801 April 18, 1879

William Bilbrey September 27, 1794 August 8, 1876

Nancy Dickerson ?, 1828 September 17, 1869

W. Swallows March 9, 1859 March ?, 1859

E. L. Swallows July 2, 1856 September 12, 1859

Katherine O. Cannon April 11, 1821 February 5, 1887

W. M. Cannon December 7, 1818 April 18, 1909

Mathew Langford April 25, 1831 ?
Samantha J. Langford January 26, 1830 December 13, 1894

E. T. H. ? ?

P. P. Cannon ? ?

Among the unmarked graves are two Revolutionary War Soldiers:

Colonel Stephen Copeland ca 1756 1833/1839

Andrew Swallows April 17, 1760 September 30, 1843

Others believed to be buried here:

Josiah Copeland (Born ca 1776)

Mary (Bilbrey Copeland)

Other members of Colonel Stephen Copeland’s family are possibly buried here because graves of several of his children have not been located.