Important Figures in RotherWood's History:
Fredrick A. Ross, Rev. :--- Born: 1796
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, 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, 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
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.
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
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
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
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
It is now a private residence and is not open to the public.