'Bachelor' Rolen peculiar member of his family's clan

Mar. 17, 2013 @ 10:40 PM

Several hundred small cemeteries dot the landscape throughout Sevier County. Some are picturesque and enhance the surrounding natural beauty while others have been neglected, becoming nothing more than an overgrown eyesore.

While most little country cemeteries are identified with only family surnames, others have unique names that lead one to wonder about their origin. One such place is Bachelor Rolen Cemetery located in Jones Cove. The small graveyard is named for Archibald Rolen, the first person buried there.

Archibald Rolen was called Bachelor Rolen most of his life because he never married. The story of Bachelor Rolen and his family is as interesting as the name of the graveyard in which he was laid to rest.

Born July 4, 1832, in Jones Cove, he was a son of Joab Rolen and Anna McMahan Rolen. His father’s parents were James Rolen and Sallie Smith Rolen, who lived in North Carolina.

Joab Rolen was a young boy when his mother decided to leave her husband and take their son with her to live with her parents, who had relocated in Alabama.

When James Rolen found out where his wife had taken his son, he rode a black horse with a blaze face all the way to Alabama to retrieve the boy. On the way back, they spent the night with Archibald McMahan in Sevier County.

During the night a rainstorm caused the area streams to overflow. When James tried to cross a creek southeast of the McMahan farmstead, he drowned. Archibald McMahan and his wife, Elizabeth Bird McMahan took little Joab and raised him as if he was their own.

Even though Joab grew up in the McMahan household, he married Anna, one of Archibald and Elizabeth’s daughters. Joab became a successful farmer and acquired a substantial farm. By 1853 he owned over 700 acres, one of the largest land holdings in the first civil district of Sevier County.

In 1845, when New Salem Baptist Church was organized, Joab donated property in which to build a meetinghouse. Among the 51 charter members of New Salem Baptist Church were three slaves owned by the Rolen family.

Anna McMahan Rolen inherited one slave named Hannah from her father and later received two others, Jack and Charity, from the estate of one of her brothers. When the Civil War ended, the slaves were elderly and chose to remain with the Rolen family the rest of their lives.

When Joab Rolen passed away in 1895, his landholdings were divided among his surviving sons: Archibald, George, James and Wilson.

In addition to Archibald (Bachelor) who was named after his maternal grandfather, Joab and Anna Rolen were parents of nine other children. One son, James, was killed in action during the Civil War and buried on a battlefield near Nashville.

Another son, Samuel who also never married was appointed postmaster of Jones Cove in 1875.Samuel served as Director of Schools for 9 years, served as constable for six years and was elected to serve three consecutive terms as Sheriff of Sevier County. He later served as a Tennessee State Representative in the 45th General Assembly.

Samuel was also part owner and publisher of the Republican-Star newspaper.

But it was Archibald who was known as the peculiar member of the Rolen clan. His neighbors sometimes referred to him as “quare,” a term often used in mountain dialect meaning a person was unusual or strange and having no homosexual connotation whatsoever.

Known most of his adult life as Bachelor, he lived in a camp dug out of the hillside and did his cooking there but slept in a crude log house. In his younger days Bachelor had been a school teacher and horse trader, driving horses and mules to South Carolina.

Bachelor was rumored to keep large sums of money hidden around his place and he was once robbed and beaten by bandits. When he passed away, money was discovered hidden in holes in the walls, a churn, straw and feather beds and other unusual places throughout his property.

Before his death, Bachelor Rolen requested that he be buried lying north and south. This was an unusual request since traditional burial was east and west. Most people living in the mountains at that time held steadfast to the belief that a Christian should be buried facing east therefore facing Christ when he returns on judgment day.

Although his relatives, including parents and siblings, were buried in established cemeteries such as Proffit and Huff, his request was granted. After Bachelor Rolen died on August 6, 1914, he was laid to rest in a north-south position on a hilltop near his home.

According to oral tradition Bachelor Rolen was buried with at least some of his money. But sometime after his interment, relatives discovered his grave had been disturbed and an empty iron kettle was found where someone had obviously been digging. The mystery as to who stole the money has never been solved.

Today there are only 34 marked graves in Bachelor Rolen Cemetery. It was over 20 years after he died before another interment took place there. All graves except the grave of Bachelor Rolen are positioned east-west. The majority of interments have been in recent decades.

The little country graveyard is the only reminder of one of the most talked-about individuals in Jones Cove both during his lifetime and for years after his passing.

— Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or email to cmcmahan@scoc.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161 or email to ron@ronraderproperties.com.