And Pilot Knob? What of It?

As far as I can tell, all Sumner County school children are taught that Pilot Knob is so called because riverboat pilots used it as a guide on the Cumberland.

Pilot Knob isn’t on the Cumberland. It used to be taller, before it was quarried, so possibly, it used to be visible, but, even if that’s the case, there’s a bigger problem with this explanation.

Pilot Knob was called Pilot Knob long before there were riverboats on the Cumberland.

Thanks to Google Books, we now have a plausible explanation.

From The Historic Blue Grass Line:

From this camp Station Camp Creek got its name [Mansker, Bledsoe, Drake, Gillespie, Cage, and Franklin had a semi-permanent hunting camp here], and Pilot Knob, on the north, was so called because it guided the hunters through the wilderness to and from their main headquarters, or station camp. (Note.–Pilot Knob is mentioned in a road-making order on the minutes of the Davidson County Court, 1786, p. 109.)

Now, this seems right to me. You want to be able to find the same dry place year after year, you find one near a great big hill standing alone visible from the old animal trace you’re using to get into the area. You want to easily be able to get back to your base camp after a long day of hunting? Again, put your camp near the big lone hill.

But, like I told C., I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there was a sailor among the long hunters, hence the reason we’re seeing these ship terms.

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Why is Shackle Island Called Shackle Island?

The folk etymology suggests that there used to be an island in Drake’s Creek where slaves were kept shackled or where there was a shack where people used to drink even when it was illegal.

The problem with both of these theories is that Shackle Island was called that almost as soon as white people got to Sumner County, back before there was any real slave trading or before it was illegal to drink.

I have another theory.

A shackle in old-timey boat parlance was a length of cable fifteen fathoms long–about thirty yards.

Shackle Island is visible on the LOC map. You can see it up Drake’s Creek where Long Hollow Pike crosses it. It is conveniently labeled. Though the island no longer exists, I did my best to roughly sketch in the eastern boundary of the island.

The distance from the eastern side of the island to the western side of the island would have been almost 900 feet.

Thirty yards.

One shackle.

Edited to add: Holy shit! Is there anything my bad math won’t ruin. Thirty yards is 90 feet, not 900.