New historic marker honors James Brigham, a Revolutionary soldier and early Tennessee pioneer

J. H. Osborne • Apr 14, 2018 at 9:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — Have you ever heard of Revolutionary War patriot James Brigham and do you know the role he played in Sullivan County’s history? Well, read on.

What: A Tennessee Historic Commission marker honoring Brigham (1744-1814) was unveiled Friday in front of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

Why: Brigham donated 30 acres for what became the county seat — and set aside the specific location for the first courthouse and jail at the heart of what is now the Blountville Historic District.

Who: The unveiling ceremony, hosted by the Sullivan County Department of Archives and Tourism, drew representatives of 13 chapters of Revolutionary War lineage organizations from across the South as well as several direct descendants of Brigham. Local and state officials also were on hand, with Sullivan County Mayor Richard Venable and state Rep. Timothy Hill offering welcomes and comments.


About Brigham: Brigham’s great-great-great-great grandson, Albert Brigham Futrell, of Spartanburg, S.C., provided a brief biography, including:

• Brigham was born in Philadelphia, possibly the son of Scottish emigrant John Brigham.

• In the mid 1770s, he moved to Virginia, near Roanoke, became acquainted with the Looney family and married Louisa Looney. Her uncle Capt. David Looney was Brigham’s commander in the militia, and in the 1760s both men were active Virginia Militia members in Augusta County, Va., and fought against the Cherokee. 

• Sometime around 1769-70, James and Louisa Brigham moved to the area of what is now Blountville (the area was then still a part of Virginia). Joined by David Looney and his brother Moses, the couple were among the earliest settlers of what would become Tennessee.

• By 1776, Brigham was a private on the payroll of Capt. David Looney’s militia company garrisoned at the Moses Looney Fort at Gunnings (in what was then Fincastle County, Va., but is modern-day Sullivan County) and served as a spy for the militia. Sources also place Pvt. Brigham as a member of Capt. John Shelby’s company and Col. Even Shelby’s 10th Regiment of the Virginia Militia organized in January 1777. The Library of Virginia Archives lists Brigham as taking part in Lord Dunmore’s War. A December 26, 1777 document states Pvt. Brigham and Capt. Looney were stationed at Fort Chiswell, Wythe County, Va., and may have helped guard the strategically important shot factory and ammunition source there.

• After the Revolutionary War, land was opened up for private ownership, and on April 23, 1781, Brigham entered a claim for 600 acres on Muddy Creek. The grant was issued from the state of North Carolina on Oct. 23, 1782. In 1787, Brigham obtained an additional 470 acres.

• On Dec. 11, 1792, Brigham deeded 30 acres to John Anderson, George Maxwell and Richard Gammon — the commissioners of Sullivan County — for the construction of the county courthouse and jail. By 1796, Brigham had sold all his land holdings in Sullivan County and moved to Montgomery County, Tenn., where he purchased 1,200 acres from John Shelby, a son of Evan Shelby. James and Louisa Brigham lived there until their deaths.