As for me, I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was more than a long string of bad luck—that something was causing the evil in the house. I began at one not only to review the evidence, but to do my best to collect more. I travelled immediately to the Tennessee State Library and Archives, hoping to discover a history of the land further back than the history of the county reached. Perhaps there were local Cherokee or Creek legends.
But the history seemed much as I already knew. The land was ours since it was deeded to my namesake as part of a Revolutionary War grant. I studied maps showing known Native American archaeological sites, but there was nothing to indicate that we had made a mistake worthy of a family in a Stephen King novel by building our home on an old Indian mound.
But it was while digging through the Native American history of the area that I came upon something that struck my curiosity—a letter from Timothy Demonbreun, a French fur trader who lived in the area before Nashville was settled. Demonbreun had addressed the letter to the French authorities at Fort de Chartres, but it had obviously never reached its destination. Instead it wound its way through history only to have been tossed into a box of thing marked “Sumner County Lore” though there was nothing in the letter to immediately suggest that it belonged among those items.
I was intrigued by the coincidence of a French letter among Sumner County items. And I grew more excited as I read the letter and realized it relayed a story similar in fact to those I had become so familiar with.
Jean Deraque et la plupart de son groupe de chasseurs (deux fils, ainsi que quatre Indiens) sont morts de la maladie familiale des Deraque. Seul le benjamin, Joseph Deraque, vit toujours, mais il est très affaibli et languissant. Je l’ai ramené en ville pour voir s’il peut être sauvé. Nous avons enterré les corps sur une falaise inhabitée un peu en amont, et les Indiens comprennent bien l’importance primordiale de ne pas perturber le site.
My French was perfunctory at best but an online translation rendered the following: “Jean Deraque and most of his hunting party (two son, and four Indians) died of the disease of family Deraque. Only the youngest, Joseph Deraque, still lives, but it is very weak and languid. I brought him into town to see if he can be saved. We buried the bodies on a deserted cliff a short distance upstream, and the Indians understand the importance of not disturbing the site.”
That was all the letter said on the matter. But that phrase—“de la maladie familiale des Deraque”—remained with me. Demonbreun wrote of it so casually, as if the authorities would have no question of what the malady of the Deraque family was. And was I reading too much into things to see an implication that the authorities would be familiar with the necessary burial customs one must take when dealing with someone who suffered from this malady?
I found many people in Nashville who could tell me at least some tales of Joseph Deraque, sometimes called DuRat, but the name “Jean Deraque” opened no doors in Tennessee. His life in our fine state escaped the notice of local historians. The only tantalizing clue the State Library and Archives could give me was a crudely drawn map, attributed by some historians to Joseph Deraque and by others to Timothy Demonbreun purporting to show the approximate locations of French hunting camps in Middle Tennessee. There certainly was one marked Deraque located near the water on our side of the river up by the present location of Gallatin, but whether it was where Allendale stood or whether I could even trust the map, I cannot say.
In the end, I had to travel to Fort de Chartres to find some record of the Deraque malady, and what I learned there sent me home to immediately examine the basement of Allenwood with a new and excited minuteness.