Friendsville and the original ‘Cudjo Cave’

By Mike Steely

Whether you’re still cocooning at home or venturing out there are some very interesting places nearby that you can take the family to walk around without being in a crowd. Every town and community in East Tennessee is unique, fun and educational.

Friendsville in Blount County isn’t your typical little town. Its founding and history say much about the fortitude and spunk of its settlers and residents.

Settled in the 1790s by the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, the early residents opposed war and slavery. Today about 750 people reside there in a mix of rural and suburban settings. The community is about three miles square and located just off Highway 321, Lamar Alexander Highway, between Maryville and Lenoir City.

Most people don’t know that the novel by John Townsend Trowbridge called “Cudjo’s Cave” came from a conversation the author had with Friendsville’s William J. Hackney prior to 1863. Hackney and the Quakers had long used the cave, on Hackney’s property, to secretly house run-away slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. Friendsville and nearby Unity (now Unitia) were part of that secret system as escaped slaves fled to the northern states.

During the Civil War Hackney and his wife also sheltered up to 50 people in the cave including Tennessee Loyalists hiding from Confederate conscription. In 1863 he was invited to Knoxville by Union General Ambrose Burnsides who offered him a position on his staff. Despite sheltering more than 2,000 people Hackney turned down the honors.

Although Confederates took horses and supplies belonging to church members there, the local farmers treated both sides with kindness.

The cave was never discovered as its entrance was concealed by thick overgrowth. A nearby spring supplied water and Hackney and his wife provided bedding and food through the Underground Railroad and Civil War years. Since the publication of the book the Friendsville cave has been known as “Cudjo’s Cave.”

The name “Cudjo” comes from the Jamaican runaway and slave leader, Captain Cudjoe. The Friendsville cave had a large room where slaves and others were sheltered. It is now said to be filled with dirt.

You can stop at the Friends Church and walk through the historic graveyard or browse the main “downtown” at your leisure.

The town is one of those places that recall the small towns of our area and a friendly place to create some memories.

Returning to Knox County you may want to take the new bridge on Highway 321 into Lenoir City and drive back home along Highway 11 which becomes Kingston Pike.

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