By Rick Warwick
One of the most famous ladies in Franklin during the 19th Century was Sarah Ewing Sims Carter Gaut. Her beauty was legendary and her clandestine activity during the “great unpleasantness,” only adds to her feminine mystic.
Sarah Ewing was the daughter of Alexander and Chloe Saunders Ewing, who lived where John M. Green lives today on Murfreesboro Road (Highway 96 East). The farm upon which John lives, was granted to his great, great, great grandfather Captain Alexander Ewing in 1787 for his Revolutionary service. Sarah was born in 1826 in Ewingville and died in 1912 at her home on Third Avenue North, today home to Shuff’s Music. She jokingly remarked to some young ladies in her old age that she had married three times: the first for love, the second for convenience and the third for money. At age fifteen she married Boyd McNairy Sims, a Franklin lawyer, with whom she had three children. Her second husband was Joseph W. Carter of Winchester, Tennessee, a member of the state legislature, by whom she had two children.
After the death of Mr. Carter, her cousin, Adelicia Acklen of Belmont, gave Sarah the house on Third Avenue North. Franklin folklore maintains that from this house, Sarah Carter raised the first Confederate flag in town, made by her own hands. Sarah earned her legendary status when, using her female charm, she assisted cousin Adelicia in negotiating the Acklen Louisiana plantations’ cotton crop through Confederate and Federal lines. With luck and skill, the Acklen cotton was taken down the river to New Orleans, sent to Liverpool and sold for seventy-five cents per pound, realizing nine hundred and sixty thousand dollars in gold. While in Louisiana helping Adelicia, Sarah bought fourteen bales of cotton from a small farmer who feared his cotton would be burned, and she realized fifteen hundred dollars from its’ sale in Liverpool.
Back in Franklin after eight months with Adelicia, Sarah played the grand dame with both Confederate and Federal officers, depending on who controlled Franklin at the time. She was credited by Confederate veteran Joe Smith, as being the link between Nashville and the secret papers found on Sam Davis who was hanged in Pulaski as a spy. Relying on her late husband’s friendship, Sarah convinced Military Governor Andrew Johnson to have her horse, which was taken by a Union soldier, returned to Franklin. She nursed officers of both armies after the Battle of Franklin. Sarah reported that she fed General Hood and General Cheatham, Bishop Charles Quintard, Colonel John L. House and her cousin Charles Ewing the morning after the battle.
After the war, Sarah took a leading role in the Ladies Aid Society, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Ladies’ Hermitage Association. In 1875, she married Judge John M. Gaut of Nashville, ironically a strong Unionist, but she enjoyed all the privileges and social standing that came with his rank. After his death in 1895, she returned to her home in Franklin where her daughter Marienne Sims, and son-in-law Judge R.N. Richardson resided. Today tourists are told of Sarah’s spy activities, cotton dealings and hospitality in glowing terms. Her oil portrait hangs in Belmont Mansion, near her cousin and Nashville legend Adelicia Hayes Acklen Franklin Cheatham. Yes, it seems both these cousins loved advantageous marriages.