On Monday, April 24, 1780, two pioneers, James Robertson and John Donelson, shook hands upon the completion of a reunion at the site on which you now stand.Each man, one by land, the other by water, played out in a two-fold plan for a new settlement that grew into present-day Nashville. Robertson, at the head of his mounted band of 226 frontiersmen, traversed the long, circuitous overland route through Kentucky and Tennessee down to the Great Salt Lick. His group arrived on Christmas Day, 1779, about the time that Donelson's flotilla left Fort Patrick Henry, and at once set about preparing a place for the boatmen, women, and children who were to join them later. Robertson, as one of the earliest and most resourceful frontiersmen of early Tennessee history, had long realized that the rolling country and rich bottom-land of middle Tennessee would be an ideal location for a settlement. Although much warfare and violence were inevitable, it was his ability to deal with the Indians and their mutual respect and admiration for him that made this venture possible. He said, "we are the advance guard; our way is westward across the continent." But civilization could only begin with the river-borne families that were to come in the spring. In four months these families floated the entire extent of the Tennessee River, then turned north to the Ohio and came up the Cumberland to the Great Salt Lick - a 1000-mile trip unequalled in the annals of American history. This flotilla was headed by the courageous Colonel John Donelson on his flagship Adventure. He triumphed over freezing weather, the treacheries of a river at the highest in its history, pestilence, and savage Indians to reach his April rendezvous. This achievement has immortalized his name, for he managed it so well that no man could have done it better. His responsibilities were great because he had in his charge a large percentage of non-combatants.
In this memorial group each man stands as a representative of the hardy souls he led to fulfill a magnificent destiny. In this historic handshake each brave pioneer finds his place in history. No city should be indifferent to its founding, no people to its history, especially when so full of heroic action and noble deeds as is the history of Nashville. If space were available the name of every signer of the Cumberland Compact should be here; these two men stand witness to their toil and devotion.
This statue, commissioned by Mayor Ben West in 1962, was erected here in the fort where they met the flowering spring day of long ago. This statue is intended to keep their memory green and our love for them tender and profound. These men are the trees; we are their fruit.