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RotherWood Mansion
Important People
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Important Figures in RotherWood's History:

Fredrick A. Ross, Rev. :--- Born: 1796

Died: 1883

Fredrick A. Ross was minister and was ordained in 1825. This occured a few months after his marriage. He heard from his friend, David Nelson, who had " felt the call to preach the gospel", and invited Ross to join him. After " prayerful consideration," Ross decided that " to preach Christ " was also his calling.

When the Presbytery of Abington met in Kingsport in April of 1824, Nelson and Ross were accepted to enroll in a 12 month course. Under the tutelage of the Reverend Robert Glenn, they were ordained and licensed a year later as evanglists and both were considered to be powerful and gifted " exhorters of the pulpit."

He was an influential member of the town of Rossville, which later became Kingsport. He layed out the town and another named Christianville several miles away. He built the first bridge over the North Fork of the Holston River. He was known for his unquenchable energy and charisma, as well as his kind demeanor and pleaseant personality.

He did have slaves and they were well treated and enjoyed working for him and his family, which included his one wife, Theodocia Ross, and their fifteen children, five of which died in early childhood, and eight sons, which survived, and his first and only daughter, Rowena, who would become the Belle of the South.

In 1818, Ross built the home that he would call Rotherwood, after a locale in Sir Walter Scott's epic romance, Ivanhoe. An avid reader, Ross greatly enjoyed Scott's writings and the influenced RotherWood's design and activities held at the manor home. Blessed with an abundance of male children, his only daughter, Rowena was the apple of his eye and he could deny her nothing.

Despite this, in the coming years, Ross would be struck by disaster after disaster, including the loss of his loved plantation, and the suicide of his beloved daughter. He eventually went into debt after one of his mills failed and he sold everything he owned to Joshua Phipps, a hotly contested contributor in the RotherWood legend, who became the most infamous owner of the sprawling plantation.

After losing his home and memories that he loved so dearly, Ross, in 1854, with his wife and children, left their Holston Valley Shangri La, and eventually settled in Huntsville, Alabama, where in a few short years, both Theodocia and young Rowena died. Ross continued as best he could, going forth with his ministerial career until he died in 1883, at the age of eighty-seven years.

Rowena Ross:

Born: 1824

Died: 1850

Rowena, the eldest and only daughter of Fredrick and Theodocia Ross, was born in 1824. She was the apple of her father's eye and was denied nothing, yet remained unspoiled and had a generous, kind spirit. When she turned fourteen, she was sent to Mrs. Willard's boarding school in Troy, New York for a year. Following that, she attended the " more select school of Miss Hawkes" in Philidelphia for three years.

" She was as beautiful as her mother, while her powers to entertain in conversation, music and song was wonderful, " wrote Rev. Bachman who also described Rowena as " gentle and persuasive, with intimate friends both amoung the black and white, rich and poor."

In 1842, when Rowena returned home from school, she had many suitors. Flaxen haired, her appearence was that of an earth angel. Her personality was outgoing, playful and mischievious. She often wrote to her friend Mag about one persistant suitor. She told of his " outrageous impertinent request" for her to secretly meet him " at the upper gate". She commented, " I never saw Father so perfectly outraged." She said also that if he and her father ever met, she was sure her father would have

" horse whipped" him. She spoke of eight interesting " young gents making delightful, desperate flirtations" on their visits. She asked her friend to tell their mutal friend,

" Dr.," that, " the field is clear," but he had " two rivals who are determined to tilt a lance with him at the same Christmas tournament which he doubtless remembers and if he is not forthcoming on the occasion it will be truely distressing!" Rowen and this

" Dr." had taken a fancy to each other it seemed.

Rowena eventually gave her vows to a man to whom we can only assume is this

" Dr.". However, her destiny lay full of tragedy in the years to come, with the loss of two husbands to untimely deaths consecutively, and near constant depression, she would not survive it, nor would she ever overcome her grief, and she would eventually take her own life at the age of 26.

Joshua Phipps:

Born: 1801

Died: 1861

Joshua Phipps, perhaps the most hotly contested member of the RotherWood legend, is still highly controversially known for his cruelty, violent manner and shrewd business tactics. He was at one time, known as the most evil man in Sullivan County.

Joshua Phipps was the son of William Phipps, who came to Hawkins County in 1786. The family settled on a plantation at Phipps Bend, near Stoney Point where William and his wife reared thirteen children.

Joshua first married Abenaida Leeper, who bore him four children before she died in 1836. In the following year, Joshua married his second wife, the widow, Louisa Bradley Morgan, daughter of a nieghbor, William Bradley. She had two young Morgan children and lived at Bradley Plantation that ajoined the western boundry of the southern-most portion of the RotherWood plantation. Louisa cared for the Phipps children from his previous marriage, ranging in ages from one to four years.

Joshua Phipps eventually gained employment and residence at RotherWood as Fredrick Ross's overseer and business executor, as Ross did not consider himself a good business man, saying about Phipps, "...as I never had a particle of knowledge or taste for farming, I left everything to my overseer, and he, worthy man, made all the money." A decision that Ross perhaps regreted later on. Whilst in Ross's employ, Phipp's cruel streak was held in check. But the time would come when it would be set free and it would with a vengence, begining in 1847, three years before Rowena's suicide.

In 1847, the failure of a cotton factory, which Phipp's oversaw, helped to financially ruin Fredrick Ross and came near to ruining his partners. By the time the disaster had taken its toll, Ross had lost his beloved daughter, his mansion and his home, while Phipps, however, gained everything that Ross ever held dear. It is not clear nor is it indicative that Phipps had anything to do with the failure of the cotton factory, but the speed with which he aquired the RotherWood property suggests that he may have intentionally allowed the factory to fail, however, proof is lacking and it is only a suspicion.

Once Ross had left RotherWood, Phipps was in complete control, and his dark side was finally unleashed.

The slaves had prospered under Ross, but those days had ended in a bloody rain as Phipps took over the manor and plantation, running it with an iron fist, making profits and turning RotherWood into the most successful plantation for miles, but the cost was human life, and Phipps did not care.

Phipps would often have fits of temper, terrible rages, in which he would unmercifully beat slaves, almost to death, sometimes to it, and took pride in it.

Nieghbors would often hear the whiplashes and the cries of pain, and it is said that at times, on warm summer days, the screams of slaves being beaten would roll across the hills like mountain thunder.

Phipps also constructed an addition to RotherWood, which housed what he called a

" whipping post " which he used for that purpose, taking his slaves there to administer his demented form of justice. He frequently had mistrisses amoung the blacks, and favored one more than his own wife, though it is doubtless his wife knew about his infidelities, but allowed them to continue. Despite the fact that she was black, Phipps mistress was allowed to govern the slaves as well, and was known for her own evil nature, which was said to be worse than Phipps.

In 1861, the unholy monster known as Joshua Phipps fell ill, at the age of 60, with an unknown disease, which left him semi-conscious, in a delerious fever.

To stop the spread of the illness, he was moved to the carriage house and quarintined there, with slaves tending him.

Finally, on one hot muggy day, Phipps met his end. And his death, documented fact, is one of the most gruesome and strange ever recorded, as well as one of the most terrifying.

He was being tended by a slave boy, fanned to help keep his fever low enough to be tolerable. Suddenly, Phipps began to act strangely, as if in a dazed fear.

To both Phipps and the boy's horror, a cloud of flies had materialized in the room, and dive bombed the helpless man, driving themselves onto his face, forcing their way into his nostrils, ears, mouth, and throat, licking at his eyes.

Phipps tried to fight the insects to no avail, and even as he clawed at their bodies, they only grew in number, stuffing themselves down his windpipe, essentially suffocating him. Within minutes, Phipps was dead.

Terrified, the boy ran to the house and soon, everyone knew, that one of the most evil men to ever live, was no more.

His funeral struck even more terror into the hearts of those present, and went down in Tennessee history as the most horrible and dark spectacle to ever be witnessed by living man.

His mistress and wife survived him, however his mistress was not long in following her cruel lover.

The slaves revolted against her, and beat her to a bloody pulp, snuffing out her life, and buried her body on the grounds in an unmarked grave.

The slaves also intentionally destroyed the Phipps headstone, and to this day, no one is sure where the man is now buried.

Phipps' Mistress:

Born: ?

Died: 1862 (circa)

Not much is known about this woman, other than she was a mulatto, and was considered to be Phipps mistress, as he frequently laid with her in more than a sleeping sense. She was known to be cruel, uncaring and violent. She was as demented as her lover and her death was matched by her own evil, being beaten to death by her own slaves that she had come from. Her burial spot is unknown.

RotherWood Mansion, I and II: The Houses:

Fredrick A. Ross built RotherWood I as his residence, hiring Tennessee's first architect, Thomas Hope, to design the magnificiant home which was begun in 1818 and completed in 1820. Thomas Hope died before the great house was finished, and it is also belived that Hope assisted Ross in building the earlist portion of RotherWood II, which was also completed by 1820. Nails in the original shingles date to 1815 to 1830.

RotherWood I was a pure white hand fired brick structure, and burned to the ground in 1865, leaving the second mansion, a red hand fired brick house, standing as the only remainder of the two. When the name RotherWood is mentioned it is in reference to RotherWood II, unless otherwise noted. The homes were identical except in color, and were set facing each other.

RotherWood II was intended to be a wedding gift for Ross's only daughter, Rowena, when she came of age and took the hand of some suitable gentlman. It is a truely a wonder to behold.

It is located on the south side of the Netherland Inn Road, formerly known as the Great Stage Road, then Highway 11 W, on a high hill overlooking the forks of the North and South Holston Rivers. It is in the Boatyard Historic District ( on the National Register of Historic Places).

The three story brick mansion with a large cellar is the present home of Dr. Linita Thaibault, and is a private residence. It has been called RotherWood II since the great white stuccoed brick RotherWood I burned over a century ago.

RotherWood II is the result of periodic improvements and expansions made over a period of many years, which caused the building to pass through several styles of architecture. The earlist portion of the hand-fired brick building, facing the north, is of the Federal Period. The dates of the various changes are difficult to determine but at one time, RotherWood II consisted of two seperately roofed paralell, two story brick buildings, running east and west, with the first building being RotherWood I. The earliest additions are Georgian in style. A central hallway was created between the two paralell structures and hand fired brick joined them to make it one large mansion. In the early twentieth century, another wave of alterations occured. The most noticable is the front and side porch with thirty foot Doric columns, giving the house the appearence of Greek Rivial. The monumental stairway added to the central hall is amoung a number of handsome alterations.

The rooms are spacious and elegant, with numerous outstanding features, including the beautiful hand-carved mantels. Beneath more than half the house is a full cellar with large rooms. One strange area in the cellar is a section of seven foot wide by thirty foot, which some say was a slave gallery where slaves of visitors and travelers were quartered. Strangely, this small section contains the only handhewn wooden beams in the entire cellar and runs in the opposite direction to the other cellar beams.

Another strange addition to the home, with much darker implications was by Joshua Phipps to the third floor.

A whipping post for punishing his slaves. Why he choose to build such a thing inside his home we may never know. It no longer exists, needless to say.

In 2006, the manor, RotherWood II, a portion of the once much larger grounds and circular drive, and two smaller buildings still stand, as opulent and beautiful as the day they were built, over one hundred and eighty years ago.

It is now a private residence and is not open to the public.