Cudjo’s Cave is a book, a significant part of the Underground Railroad, and a little-known piece of national and Blount County history.
“Cudjo’s Cave,” the book, was published in 1863 by John Townsend Trowbridge. There are several stories within the story. The main character is a Quaker teacher who is an abolitionist and is tortured by Confederate radicals who are rampaging around the community looking for anyone loyal to the Union. The Quaker man’s saviors are the proprietors of a cave that offers shelter, food, and medical help to several in the story.
After the publication of the book, several caves that had been used in the Underground Railroad in Tennessee were referred to as Cudjo’s Cave. The most famous is part of the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. It is not, however, the original Cudjo’s Cave. The original Cudjo’s Cave upon which Trowbridge based his story is in Blount County.
Cudjo’s Cave was the fictitious name Trowbridge gave to a cave in his book. The book’s Cudjo’s Cave does not exist but the cave that gave the author the idea for the book and the place and people upon whom several characters in the book are created was based on real people from Friendsville, Tennessee.
The Quakers settled in Friendsville, Tennessee in 1790. They were opposed to slavery and raised money to help escaped slaves and those sympathetic to the cause that were being sought by Confederate conscriptors. Quaker friend William J. Hackney and his wife used the hidden cave near their home and across from the Quaker church to aid in the Underground Railroad.
Hackney and his wife are said to have assisted more than 2,000 people escaping danger on their trek north. Hackney was offered a reward for his work by Union General Ambrose Burnsides. He turned the reward down but in the process his efforts were noted by author John Townsend Trowbridge who based Cudjo’s Cave on Hackney’s work. Currently, the Friendsville cave is on private property. The exact location of the cave is not made public. According to some there were caves in both the Friendsville and Unitia communities of Blount County that were reported to be used to assist in the Underground Railroad. One of the caves is said to be covered by the expanded waters of TVA’s Fort Loudon Dam.
While we cannot visit the local caves, we can read the book. It is available on Gutenburg.org and Amazon, as a free digital download. The book tells a story in the words of the time, of a divided nation and community, and the goodness of the people in our area.
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