In 1779 John Donelson set off on an adventure that would forever change the course of Tennessee history. Leading a party of over 100 settlers on a torturous journey that began at Fort Patrick Henry, he traveled 1000 miles down the Holston and Tennessee Rivers up the Ohio and Cumberland to the high bluffs of the French Salt Springs later known as Nashville. His flat boat boat, the Adventure, accommodated several families, household goods, and supplies necessary to sustain a settlement in the new land. At the mouth of the Clinch River, another group of emigrants joined Donelson's party. He led this flotilla of thirty or so canoes, flat boats, and dugouts on an expedition in which the hardy pioneers suffered Indian attacks, a smallpox outbreak, hunger, exhaustion, extreme cold, swift currents, and treacherous shoals etching forever their names in the annals of history. *
Now almost two and a half centuries later, internationally recognized photographer and author, John Guider, intends to retrace Donelson’s journey in his own handmade row/sail boat not dissimilar in shape and size to some of the smaller vessels in the original Donelson flotilla. Without a motor, his travel speed will be similar to that of Donelson’s and his vulnerability to the vagaries of the weather and river currents will provide John with a sense of the physicality the original settlers had to endure. Life at two miles per hour will provide ample time to reflect and make photographs of the lush landscapes that the rivers nourish, some of the scenes being possibly unchanged since Donelson’s first sighting. In contrast, John will pass thru major metropolitan areas as well and will try to imagine Donelson’s response if he were to round a bend and catch a sight of the over 100,000 seat UT football stadium or the tall towers of Nashville’s iconic “Batman” building. How could he ever imagine the road he was paving?
The rivers have always been important to Tennessee’s well being. John’s journey will be a re-enactment of sorts, camping along the way, being as close to nature as possible. The story is a meaningful narrative of the present with a contrasting eye on the past in hopes to create a dialog about what the future may bring.
John Guider was born in 1949. He graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in mechanical engineering. For over 30 years he was one of the Southeast’s most successful commercial photographers garnishing numerous national and international awards. In 2003, he decided to concentrate on his own projects, mostly water based. His 2500-mile solo paddle in a canoe down the Mississippi River resulted in a book and a traveling museum exhibition, The River Inside. Cosponsored by the TN State Museum and the Mississippi River Museum and funded through the generosity of Ingram Marine, the exhibition traveled continuously to venues for eight years before becoming part of the Tennessee State Museum’s permanent collection. To date John has traveled and explored over 9000 miles of America’s waterways and his work has been the subject of numerous television features and magazine articles. Presently he is looking for partners to fund his upcoming river odyssey of Donelson’s Journey of Destiny. Contact John for more information >
John Donelson’s Journey of Adventure
September 4 (Labor Day): Depart Kingsport, TN at a ramp close to the original grounds of Ft Patrick Henry.
Spend the next 3 days navigating through the high hills of East TN on the Holston River and trying to figure out how to get around the two fixed TVA dams blocking my way.
September 7-9: The Holston joins the French Broad to form the Tennessee. Arriving at and Exploring Knoxville, TN. Will stop at a marina close to downtown.
September 11-12: Fort Loudin Dam and Lock. Lenoir City, TN
September 13: Clinch River. Donelson met the remainder of his party
September 14: Harbor Point Marina
September 15-16: Watts Bar Lock and Dam. Sequoyah Trail Wildlife management area
September 17: Meet up with the Hiawassee River. State Wildlife Refuge
September 18: Sale Creek Marina. Harrison Bay State Park
September 19: Chicamauga Lock and Dam. Cliffs. Donelson party Indian attacks
September 20-21: Chattanooga. Stop at Marinas. Explore city
September 22-23: Prentice Cooper State Forest and Wildlife Management Area. Signal Mountain. Raccoon Mountain
September 24: Cross I-24 and reach Nickajack Lock and Dam
September 25: Cross into Alabama
September 27: North Saulty Wildlife Refuge
September 29: Guntersville Marina
September 30: Guntersville Lock and Dam
October 1: Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge
October 2: Cross 1-65
October 3: Decatur, Al
October 5: Wheeler Lock and Dam
October 7: Wilson Lock and Dam. Muscle Shoals; mentioned prominently in the
October 8: Seven Mile Island Wildlife Area
October 9: Cross into Mississippi
October 10: Cross Back into Tennessee
October 11: Pickwick Landing State Park
October 12: Pickwick Landing Lock and Dam
October 13-14: Shiloh National Military Park
October 15: Tennessee National Migratory Wildlife Refuge. Perry County
October 16: Cross I-40 and Duck River Confluence
October 17: Nathan Bedford Forest State Park
October 19: Paris Landing State Park. marina
October 20- 22: Land Between the Lakes: Marinas and State resorts along the way
October 23: Kentucky Lake State Park. Lock and Dam
Cross under 1-24.
October 24: Paducah, KY
October 25-26: Ohio River
October 27: Cumberland River. Lake Barkley Lock and Dam
October 28-30: Lake Barkley. Marinas and state resorts along the way
October 31: Fort Donelson Civil War Fort and Battlefield.
November 1: Dover, TN
November 3: Fort Campbell and Clarksville
November 5: Ashland City and the Cheatham Lake Lock and Dam.
Corp of Engineers campsite
November 7: Nashville. Site of Fort Nashboro
* The itinerary does not account for delays due to severe weather or inordinate waits passing through the locks. It will be harvest season and the barge traffic will be heavy. Commercial traffic has right of way and I’ve had to wait over 24hrs to get through a lock before.