Links to Anthony Van Leer Information

* Vanleer, TN
* Slavery
* Civil War
* Historic Site
* Descendants


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Anthony Wayne Van Leer was born 4/6/1783.  He built a successful iron empire in Tennessee and was the only one of Samuel's sons to die wealthy. Anthony married Rebecca Brady 6/12/1816. There were 7 children, but only 2 daughters survived to adulthood. 

Cumberland Furnace and the Town of "Vanleer"

The town of Vanleer, TN remains as a permanent reminder of the Van Leer presence in Middle Tennessee.  The town was named for Anthony Van Leer who owned the land on which it was built.

The only descendant of the three Van Leer brothers known to be living in Dickson County in 1990 was a great-grandchild of Margaret Van Leer and Hardiman Stone--Mrs. Roberta Andrews.

Anthony Van Leer purchased Cumberland Furnace between 1820 and 1825, and it was this enterprise that formed the basis for most of his wealth.

Dickson County records regarding slaveholdings are a good indication of the growth of Anthony's wealth. In 1820, the largest slaveholder in the county was Montgomery Bell with 83; Anthony Van Leer is 4th with 43.  In 1840, Anthony ranks first with 114--more than double any other county resident except fellow ironmaster Elias W. Napier with 70.

Slavery and the Iron Industry

The use of slave labor made the Tennessee operations very different from the Pennsylvania iron plantations.  Since slaves couldn't be "laid off," the plants operated constantly, leading to overproduction.  The Tennessee companies were, consequently, in a position to undercut prices charged by the Pennsylvania companies.  Although most of the men involved in the Tennessee iron industry were originally from Pennsylvania, they were among the most ardent secessionists in order to keep this competitive advantage.

The Pennsylvania plantations experienced problems with runaway indentured servants.  Rewards were offered for the apprehension and return of runaway servants.  The runaway slave issue, however, was very different.  Slave patrols were routinely maintained.  The slave enjoyed no legal rights to regulate the harshness of punishment.  Still runaway slaves were commonplace.

Of the 114 slaves at Cumberland Furnace in 1840, most were males under the age of 35.  The absence of the slave family and the young age of the workers caused the whites to constantly fear an insurrection.  There were two rebellion scares--one in 1835 and another in 1856.  The first was of minor consequence, and did not get beyond the rumor stage.  While nothing came of the wild rumors, the following year the general assembly of Tennessee passed an act making it an offense to

"circulate printed matter, make addresses, or preach sermons which fostered discontent or insubordination among slaves."

The second of the proposed insurrections came in 1856.  The entire iron district on the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers was terror-stricken.  There were many areas where the Negro population in the vicinity of the furnaces outnumbered the whites.  A keg of powder was found under a Negro church at Louisa Furnace in Montgomery County. A concerted rebellion at many of the iron furnaces was planned.

A Negro at Cumberland Furnace gave the plotters away, leading to the immediate arrest of nearly 80 slaves.  A number of slaves were hung.  The panic resulted in serious financial loss for the furnace owners.  Over 25 furnaces were forced to cease operation temporarily and some never recovered.

Cumberland Furnace and the Civil War

During the Civil War, Union soldiers burned property, including homes, of Dickson County residents that would not sign an oath of allegiance.  Anthony was living in Nashville in 1862, and his home is reported to have been used as Union headquarters.  His son-in-law, Hugh Kirkman, was managing Cumberland Furnace and living in Dickson County in 1862.

No records have been found of Mr. Kirkman's taking the "oath of allegiance."  However, Cumberland Furnace was one of the few furnaces that was not destroyed during the Civil War.

Anthony's granddaughter, Mary Florence Kirkman, inherited it in 1863.  By marrying Union Captain James Drouillard in 1864, she was able to put the furnace back into profitable operation immediately after the war.

A second cousin, Robert B. Stone (son of Margaret Van Leer--the daughter of Anthony's brother Isaac) was employed as manager.  Stone had served with Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest's Cavalry unit (Confederate and later founder of the Ku Klux Klan).  Stone's connection with this legendary unit would certainly have deflected "carpetbagger" criticism and protected the iron works from the Ku Klux Klan.

Cumberland Furnace's former slaves continued to live in the area at the end of the war.  Capt. Drouillard hired them as "free" laborers.  Two new forms of labor control had been introduced: the KKK and the "company store."

Members of the Van Leer family were connected with Cumberland Furnace more than 100 years--1825-1941.

Capt. Drouillard sold the furnace in 1889 to the Southern Iron Company, which operated the furnace until 1896.  Robert B. Stone was a principal stockholder in the company.  The furnace was held outside the family from 1896 to 1936.  Robert Stone's son, Epps Hardiman Stone, purchased it in 1938 and operated it through 1941.  But high transportation costs made it impossible to operate the furnace profitably.  The furnace was dismantled in 1941 and the scrap metal was contributed to the war effort.

Cumberland Furnace, TN - Historic Site

During the 1990's local residents have formed the Cumberland Furnace Historic Village, Inc.  to preserve the history of this area.  [Click here for more travel and tourist information about Dickson County, TN.] 

 [Click here to view buildings built in the 19th Century that are still standing in Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee.]

Anthony Van Leer's Descendants

Anthony Wayne Van Leer died July 9, 1863, in Nashville.  He and his wife, Rebecca Brady Van Leer, are buried in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.

 [Click here for photos of Van Leer Monument and history of Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.]

Descendants of Anthony Van Leer, listed below-- starting with Van Leer Generation 10-- were taken from the "Vanleer Papers" at Chester County Historical Society and the "Drouillard Papers," Tennessee Historical Society. 


 Information regarding Antoinette Van Leer Polk's marriage to the grandson of the Duc de Berry and Amy Brown came from the "Vanleer Papers," Chester County Historical Society. The historical information on the Duc de Berry was taken from The French Exiles 1789-1815 by Margaret Weiner, published by William Morrow & Company, New York, 1961.

10. Chambers Bruce Van Leer. (1) Born 6/21/1817. Died 6/30/1845.

10. Eliza Helen Van Leer. (2) Born 9/25/1819. Died 8/24/1820.

10. Caroline Van Leer. (3) Born 12/22/1820. Died 12/27/1820.

10. Eleanora Chambers Van Leer. (4) Born 12/21/1821. Died 6/1/1849. Married Hugh Kirkman son of Thomas and Ellen Jackson Kirkamn. The Kirkman home was located at 2122 West End Avenue in Nashville. It was converted to the Nashville Conservatory of Music in the 1940's but has since been torn down. A few homes of this period are still located in this neighborhood.

Although Eleanora died in childbirth in 1849, her husband continued a business relationship with the Vanleers. He managed Cumberland Furnace until the Civil War disrupted work in 1861.

11. John Farrell Kirkman. (1) Born 4/24/1840, Nashville. Died 6/22/1850.

11. Sarah Kirkman. (2) Born 4/24/1842. Died 6/2/1842.

11. Mary Florence Kirkman. (3) Born 8/23/1843, Nashville. Married James Pierre Drouillard, son of Joseph and Sarah Bowen Drouillard of Gallipolis, Ohio. Mr. Drouillard was a captain in the Union army during the Civil War. Married at Episcopal church in Nashville on 9/21/1864. Mr. Drouillard re-opened Cumberland Furnace at the end of the Civil War and actively supervised the business until his retirement in 1889.

12. Hugh Kirkman Drouillard. (1) Born Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee 7/20/1865. Died 11/3/1900 in San Diego.

12. Van Leer Kirkman Drouillard. (2) Born 7/4//1867, Nashville.

12. Eleanor Chambers Drouillard. (3) Born 2/2/1872, Nashville. Died 1/6/1875.

12. James Pierre Drouillard, II. (4) Born 5/13/1874, Nashville. Army officer. 1st Lt., 4th Tennessee Infantry 6/18/1898. Transferred to 9th Infantry 4/23/1900.

12. Florence Kirkman Drouillard. (5) Born 3/18/1876, Cumberland Furnace. Married 4/28/1896 Bernard Alexandre Georges Edmond, Count de Pourtales.

12. Joseph Chambers Drouillard. (6) Born 4/3/1878 near Nashville. Died 8/18/1890.

12. Anthony Wayne Drouillard. (7) Born 7/22/1883, Vaulx place near Nashville. Died 10/27/1885.

12. Bernard Wayne Drouillard. (8) Born 6/17/1889, Nashville.

11. Hugh Van Leer Kirkman. (4) Born 2/25/1845. Died 8/29/1846.

11. Van Leer Kirkman. (5) Born 2/23/1849. Married, first, Samuella Berry (1851-1880), the daughter of William T. Berry.or Berry; 2 children. Married, second, Katherine Thompson of Oxford, Mississippi (1863-1926); 3 children. Miss Thompson was the daughter of Jacob Thompson of Memphis, Tenn., Secretary of Interior in President Buchanan's Cabinet.  

Van Leer Kirkman joined the Confederate Army when he was only 14 years old and served in the Escort of General N. B. Forrest.

The Kirkmans lived on Oak Hill on a portion of the battlefield of Nashville.  The First Presbyterian Church occupies the site today.  Van Leer Kirkman and both his wives are buried on the lot.

12. Ella Kirkman. (1) Married Bruce Douglas.

13. Bruce Douglas. (1)

13. Evelyn Douglas. (2)

12. Clark Kirkman. (2) Born 1876.

12. Van Leer Kirkman, II. (3) Born 10/5/1887, Nashville. Graduate of U.S. Naval Academy, 1911. Served on Destroyer Shaw during World War I. Married 8/9/1925 Dorothy Winkle of Salinas, California.

13. Katherine Wayne Kirkman. (1) Born 6/26/1927,

12. Macon Kirkman. (4) Married Miss Short. Lived in Helena, Arkansas.

12. Wayne Kirkman. (5) Died young.

10. Anthony Wayne Van Leer. (5) Born 8/1823. Died 1825.

10. Robert Bruce Van Leer. (6) Born 1/23/1825. Died 11/21/1833.

10. Rebecca Van Leer. (7) Born 9/26/1826. Died 5/28/1904 in Cannes, France. Married Col. Andrew Jackson Polk 1/14/1846 in Nashville. A Confederate veteran, he was born 8/10/1824 and died 3/10/1867 in Vevey, Switzerland. His brother, Leonidas Polk, was a general in the Confederacy.

11. Van Leer Polk. (1) U.S. Consul in Calcutta, India during first Cleveland Administration, 1895. Died unmarried.

11. Rebecca Polk. (2) Died young.

11. Antoinette Van Leer Polk. (3) Born 10/27/1847. Died 2/3/1919 in Brittany, France. She was said to have served the Confederate cause by getting information about the Yankees, making several famous rides, dashing about the country on her horse. The "Vanleer Papers" quote an eye-witness as saying:

"Prettiest sight I ever saw was Antoninette Polk, running from the Yanks, down a turnpike road. When old General Rosencrans came into Nashville, she jumped on her horse and broke for home 7 miles away."

After the Civil War, she moved with her parents and family to Rome, Italy where they became close friends with King Humbert I.

She married General Baron Athanese de Charette de la Courtrie, the grandson of Charles X, the last Bourbon king of France. After Louis XVI and Marie Antoninette were beheaded during the French Revolution (1793), the king's brother and nephew--the Duc de Berry--went into exile in England. During this period, the Duc de Berry (who is reported by historians to have been temperamental, moody, selfish and extraordinarily ugly) lived a number of years with an English woman named Amy Brown, and they had two daughters. (There are some who claim that there was an official marriage that was annulled by the Pope when the Bourbons returned to power. However, no documentation has been produced to support this claim.)

According to historians, the Duc de Berry would have liked to marry, but no one suitable would accept until the Bourbons were restored in France in 1815. Upon restoration, a royal-blooded wife was secured, and three royal children were born.

The Duc de Berry was assassinated in 1820; a deathbed act was to legitimize his two daughters by Amy Brown. Both daughters later received titles from the Duc the Berry's father--King Louis X. It is the son of one of these daughters that married Antoinette Van Leer Polk.

12. Antoine Polk Van Leer de Charette. (1) Born 7/3/1880 in Paris. Married Susannah Henning of Louisville, Ky. 11/11/1909. Susannah was the daughter of John Henning and Susan Thorton.