A good deal of the history of Tennessee—and the United States—has flowed through Judge John Overton’s Travellers Rest.
Built in 1799 (a little more than a decade after the Constitution was ratified) on land that was part of the recently established state of Tennessee, near Nashville, it would remain in the Overton family for nearly 150 years.
Prior to building the house, Overton was appointed Supervisor of Revenue for the Mero District of the Southwest Territory by President George Washington. Overton would later become a traveling circuit court judge, which was the impetus for his creation of the handwritten “Overton Reports,” which came to be published as the Tennessee Reports, and were an early important foundation of Tennessee law.
Overton also enjoyed a close relationship with Andrew Jackson. Along with other local leaders, they became the “Nashville Junto,” which helped launch Jackson’s campaign for president—and was Overton’s most visible national role. They also ended up advising the new president and influencing national politics and banking.
Upon the Judge’s death in 1833, his wife, Mary, inherited the property, as well as over fifty enslaved persons. She gave the property to her son, Colonel John Overton, when he reached adulthood. The Colonel opposed secession, but he remained loyal to his state when Tennessee joined the Confederacy. Colonel Overton traveled with the Army of Tennessee, providing financial and logistical support, and offered his home to be General John Bell Hood’s headquarters during the Battle of Nashville in December 1864.
Travellers Rest, Nashville’s oldest historic house open to the public, was originally a two-story, four-room building. As the Overton family grew, additions were made. Today the house and museum feature items that document almost 1,000 years of cultural development of the mid-Cumberland Basin. This interpretation includes a Mississippian Native American settlement, the life and work of John Overton and his descendants, the history of the plantation and the enslaved people who lived there, as well as the Civil War and the city’s emergence as a leading capitol of the New South when the site was an internationally known Arabian horse breeding farm.