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Stephen G. Mann and the Howell Edge Tool Works

The autobiography of Robert Mann notes that in his father, William Mann’s, estimation, Stephen Gillette Mann “excelled all his brothers in nobility of nature”, and numerous notes by the family state plainly that he was by far his father’s favorite. Born in 1806 while the family was still running a scythe and axe factory in Johnstown, New York, Stephen’s life is often overshadowed by his two older brothers, William and Harvey. Only around 12 years old when the company made the move to Watertown, he would have watched his brother William leave for the Bellefonte area at 17, and Harvey do the same when he was 18. There was likely a huge yearning to follow his older brothers, despite being less interested in axe making than either of his older siblings. Despite this lack of interest, at the age of 20 Stephen headed south to Bellefonte and joined his brothers in their efforts at John Hall’s blacksmith and tilting mill. Though Stephen was in Bellefonte area when the Mann brothers started their factory at Boiling Springs in 1828, he did not apply himself to ownership like his brothers, and merely chose to work for William and Harvey. After the partnership with Franklin B. Smith, known as “Manns and Smith”, failed, and William took his leave, Stephen continued to assist Harvey at the Harvey Mann Axe Works until 1836, at which time he parted ways with his brother. Some recollections note that an increase frailty of his physical condition left Stephen unable to do the heavy work needed in the factory, and that the frailty may have been the beginning symptoms of Tuberculosis. Whatever the cause, his travels took him south, to Tennessee, where he would happen upon a gentleman by the name of Patton Howell.

Patton Howell was a resident of what was called “Mossy Creek” at that time, but is now Jefferson City, Tennessee. He was born and raised just southeast of that area in New Market, and was apprenticed under a local blacksmith in his youth. When he came of age, Howell worked as a blacksmith himself for a short period, building his wealth. Around 1830 he purchased 320 acres of land along Mossy Creek, a local body of water that had substantial water-power due to a steep decline. Over the next few years, he developed the area, adding an axe handle factory, a sawmill, a foundry, and grist mill along the creek. The mill became locally known as a region of heavy industry, and as the area grew, so did Howell’s wealth. By 1836, when Stephen G. Mann traveled to the area, Howell had added a number of buildings and businesses, and had a workforce of over 20 slaves manning his businesses. At the suggestion of Mann, Howell added an edge tool works to his mill to accompany the handle works that were already in place. These works were overseen by Mann, as his experience and family name had been the convincing agent in coercing Powell to move forward with the works.

Patton Howell and Family, Circa 1860

Howell and Mann were reasonably close associates and friends, and Stephen became associated with Howell’s wife, Nancy through their friendship. Nancy’s youngest sister, Elanor Routh, was introduced to Mann, and on November 25th of 1841, the couple was married in Jefferson County, Tennessee, and settled in Dandridge, just southeast of Mossy Creek. Shortly after his marriage, Stephen returned to the Bellefonte area for a short time, where his brothers noted that his physical condition had worsened significantly. In an effort to provide his younger brother with some work while in the area, William paid Stephen to teach some newly employed workers the basic skills of axe manufacturing, but after a few months, the younger brother needed to get back to his own factory and his wife. Robert, Stephen’s youngest brother, accompanied his ailing brother to the boat by which he would leave, and noted that the condition of his brother’s health led him to be convinced that he would never see him again.

Shortly after returning to Mossy Creek, Stephen and Elanor would welcome a baby girl into their life. Their daughter was born September 19th of 1842 and was named Rachel Eizabeth Mann. Stephen continued to manage the edged tool works of Patton Howell, but his health, as well as the health of his wife, would significantly worsen in the coming years. On April 30th of 1846, Elanor would pass away. In late June of that same year, Stephen would follow her, leaving Rachel an orphan. The 4-year-old would be taken in by her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Mashman Routh. Rachel was raised by her grandmother and her uncle, Reverend Jacob Routh. In November of 1851, at the age of eight, Rachel, Jacob, and Elizabeth left the Mossy Creek area and traveled by wagon to the area of Dallas, Texas, where Rachel would lead a happy life and give birth to 7 children. Patton Howell continued production of tools, handles, and other products from his mill at Mossy Creek after Stephen G. Mann’s death. His facility grew into a formidable local industrial complex, and when the American Civil War began, he modified much of his equipment towards making needed materials for the Confederate Army. He notably provided wagons and wagon wheels for the rebel troops, and was listed as an important supplier of goods for the war effort. Due to this distinction, when Union Troops took the area on December 29th of 1863, at the Battle of Mossy Creek, they burned Powell’s Mill to the ground, releasing the majority of his slaves from their service and leaving Powell destitute. He would be listed as a refugee of the war, and his whereabouts became vague as he disappeared into history.

Brownlow's Knoxville Whig (Knoxville, Tennessee) · 4 Jul 1866, Wed · Page 2

Caldwell, Edward Harvey. 13 AUG 1851 - 14 MAR 1940 “Notes on Patton and Nancy Howell.”

“History of Tennessee from the earliest time to the present: together with an historical and a biographical sketch of from twenty-five to thirty counties of east Tennessee.” Goodspeed Publishing Company, Chicago and Nashville. 1887. Pg. 862.

Memphis Daily Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee) · 29 Jun 1863, Mon · Page 1

“Skiles”, Tricia. Personal Correspondence. Sept. 2023.

Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) · 19 Sep 1833, Thu · Page 2

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