Heirloom Apple Trees
David and Amanda Sells

David Leander Sells, Jr. and wife Sarah Amanda Stover Sells had an apple orchard on their property near the Independence and Free Communion communities many years ago. Even though the older generations have long since passed away, the same apple trees are still in the Sells family today.


Many families with the last name Sells, especially those around Independence and Taylors Crossroads, are connected to Solomon Sells and wife Margaret Ashbaugh Sells who migrated from Pennsylvania to Virginia sometime in the late 1700's. The son of Solomon Sells, Henry Sells, gathered his family and traveled across the Cumberlands to settle in Overton County in 1845. David Leander Sells, Sr., son of Henry Sells, married Mary Magdalene Whisenand. Among the household goods and possessions the Sells family brought along from Sullivan County was apple trees. After settling near the Independence and Free Communion communities, David Leander Sells planted a large orchard on the property he owned there. This same property, listed today as being located on Cherokee Lane in Monroe, is now owned by Tim Kennedy and wife Shaney Kennedy. The property eventually passed down to David Leander Sells, Jr. and wife Sarah Amanda Stover Sells. Even though the older generations have long since passed away, the same apple trees are still in the Sells family today.

A daughter of David Leander Sells, Jr. and wife Sarah Amanda Stover, Rebecca Sells Holman who was married to Andrew Holman, lived on the Holman family farm in Hunter Cove of Overton County. After Andrew’s untimely death in 1902, Rebecca and her five children whose names were Grant, Nova, Floyd, Estie, and Audra, moved back home to live with her parents. Soon thereafter, Rebecca Sells Holman bought a farm of her own near her parents’ home commonly referred to by family members as "The Ridge." Ironically, a great-grandson of Rebecca Sells Holman recently purchased that property, returning possession of it once more to the Sells/Holman family.

Later, the Holman family eventually purchased property near the Independence school where they also started a new apple orchard from those original trees planted by Rebecca’s grandfather, David Leander Sells. The original source for the apple trees is unknown, but may have come from the seed of a tree that some family member purchased, or it’s possible that a small seedling may be how the trees got their start. No one will know for sure, however the trees continue to thrive and do well in the Sells family. J.D. Holman, son of Floyd Holman, and wife Betty Marie who live in Cookeville have several trees, and Donnie Holman, Floyd’s grandson, and wife Paula also have a tree in the orchard on the homeplace where Donnie grew up in Rickman. Other Sells family members who have a start of the trees include Raymond Sells and wife Frances Sells and Donna Sells Jolley and husband Bob Jolley. Marie Sells Gunnels who lives on the original home place of Harrison Sells has one of the trees. Harrison Sells was the son of Pleasant Henry Sells, a Union soldier who was killed by guerrillas and buried in the same grave in the Iveyton community of Overton County with a fellow soldier by the name of Logan Robbins. Another of the apple trees can be found growing in the back yard of Kelly Sells in Livingston. Raymond Sells, Donna Jolley, Marie Gunnels, and Kelly Sells are all the great-grandchildren of Pleasant Henry Sells. These apple trees that got their start way back in the 1800's are considered treasured family heirlooms.


Grant Holman and Estie Caroline Holman
Grant Holman and Estie Caroline Holman, the children of Donnie and Paula Holman, both named for their ancestors, stand near the heirloom apple tree that grows near their father's homeplace in the Rickman community.

A story that isn’t really connected to how the apple trees got their start has been handed down in the family. It’s a great example of how some of the Sells clan have the ability to improvise regardless of the situation. It seems that one of David Leander Sells, Jr.’s sons, Sherman Sells, along with a cousin, Tom Stover, made a trip in the early 1900's to Johnson County, Texas. They paid their way to Texas by stopping in various towns to hold tent revivals. They took turns preaching and leading the singing. If one led the singing in one town, the other did the preaching, and at the next town, they reversed their rolls. While in Texas, Sherman met and married Edna Selman, but returned to Tennessee, bringing along his wife and young son, Willie, after receiving word that his father’s health was failing.

A different type of family heirloom but one that is just as treasured has been handed down through the generations in the Sells family. This one is a large walnut cupboard that now belongs to Donnie and Paula Holman. If only that cupboard could talk, what a story it would have to tell. The information about the cupboard is that as the Sells family traveled from Sullivan County to make their home in Overton County, it was necessary to cross the Cumberland River. Sometime during that move, the cupboard fell off the wagon and was damaged, making it necessary to cut two feet off the bottom of the cupboard. When the Sells family settled near the Independence community, the cupboard was placed in the home of David Leander Sells and wife Sarah Amanda Stover Sells. Although no one knows for sure, the cupboard may have originally been owned by Henry Sells, father of David Leander. As time went on, the cupboard was used by Sarah and Alice Sells, daughters of David Leander and Sarah Amanda Sells, and then later by David and Sarah Amanda’s son, Floyd Holman and his wife Lucy Hensley Holman. As the years went by, the old cupboard was eventually discarded and taken out in the yard of the original Sells home place. Nova Holman, daughter of Rebecca Sells Holman and husband Andrew Holman, took an interest in the cupboard and offered to buy it from her sister-in-law, Lucy Hensley Holman, who agreed to let her have it for $10.00. For a long time after being moved to the Holman house near the Independence school, it sat on the front porch until a time when there were enough strong bodies present to get it moved inside the kitchen of the Holman house where it was used to store linens.

After the last Holman sister, Estie Holman Newberry, passed away in November of 2003, Donnie Holman, a great-nephew of the Holman sisters, obtained the cupboard. He had minor restorations done to the cupboard and covered it with a good coat of linseed oil to bring out the natural beauty of the wood. As the restoration process continued, it was determined that what appeared to be a crosscut saw was used to cut off the part that was damaged when the cupboard fell off the wagon. A granddaughter of Andrew and Rebecca Sells Holman, Orpha Metzger, remembered hearing the story of how a crosscut saw had been used to shorten the cupboard. More than likely, that was the only type of tool available that could do the job. The doors of the cupboard were not built equal in size, with one much larger than the other. It is believed that the cupboard may have at one time had a handle to open one of the doors, but the handle was later replaced with a wooden sewing spool.

This historical piece of handmade furniture that has been around now for over 200 years stands proudly in Donnie and Paula’s home today. Hopefully, the interesting history of the old cupboard will continue to be passed down to future owners, and the priceless heirloom will always be treasured and loved by family members for many generations to come.

Estie Caroline Holman shows three handmade dresses for little girls that were found in the old walnut cupboard.  Even though the dresses were quite old when found, they remain in excellent condition.