The present site of Memphis may be the point where the Spanish explorer,
Hernando de Soto, reached the Mississippi river, but this cannot be determined
with certainity. Father Marquette in his voyage down the Mississippi
camped upon the western border, and La Salle built Fort Prud'homme upon the
Chickasaw Bluffs, probably on the site of Memphis, in 1682, but it was abandoned,
then rebuilt, and again abandoned.
The territory was included in the English grant to Sir Walter Raleigh
in 1584 and in the later Stuart grants, including that of Carolina, in 1663.
No permanent settlement, however, was made until 1769, though wandering
explorers and fur traders visited the eastern portion much earlier.
A party of Virginians led by Dr. Thomas Walker (1715-1794), in 1750 reached
and named the Cumberland river and mountains in honour of the royal duke.
In 1756 or 1757, Fort Loudon, named in honour of John Campbell, earl
of Loudon, was built on the Little Tennessee river, about 30 m. N. of the
present site of Knoxville, as an outpost against the French, who were now
active in the whole Mississippi Valley, and was garrisoned by royal troops.
The fort was captured, however, by the Cherokee Indians in 1760, and
both the garrison and the neighbouring settlers were massacred.
Eastern Tennessee was recognized as a common hunting ground by the Cherokees,
Creeks, Miamis and other Indian tribes, and the Iroquois of New York also
claimed a considerable portion by right of conquest.
In 1768 the Iroquois ceded whatever claim they had to the English, and
in 1769 several cabins were built along the Watauga and Holston rivers upon
what was thought to be Virginian soil. A settlement near the present
Rogersville was made in 1771 and in the next year another sprang up on the
Nollichucky. After the failure of the Regulator insurrection in North Carolina
in 1771, hundreds of the Regulators made their way into the wilderness.
When the settlements were found to be within the limits of North Carolina,
that colony made no effort to assert jurisdiction or to protect the settlers
from Indian depredations. Therefore in 1772 the residents of the first
two settlements met in general convention to establish a form of government
since known as the Watauga Association.
A general committee of thirteen was elected to exercise legislative powers.
This committee elected from its members a committee of five in whom
executive and judicial powers were lodged. The smaller committee elected
a chairman, who was also chairman of the committee of thirteen. A sheriff,
an attorney and a clerk was elected, and regulations for recording deeds
and wills were made. Courts were held, but any conflict of jurisdiction
with Virginia or North Carolina was avoided.
In 1775 the settlement on the Nollichucky was forced to join the association,
and in the same year the land was bought from the Indians in the hope of
With the approach of the War of Independence, the dream of becoming a
separate colony with a royal governor was abandoned, and on petition of the
inhabitants the territory was annexed to North Carolina in 1776 as the Washington
District, which in 1777 became Washington county, with the Mississippi river
as the western boundary. The population increased rapidly and soon
several new counties were created.
During the War of Independence the hardy mountaineers under John Sevier
and Evan Shelby did valiant service against both the royal troops and the
Loyalists in South Carolina, chiefly as partisan rangers under Charles McDowell
(1763-1815). Major Patrick Ferguson with several hundred Loyalists
and a small body of regulars, made a demonstration against the western
settlements, but at King's Mountain in South Carolina he was completely defeated
by the Americans, among whom Colonel Sevier and the troops led by him were
After the War of Independence the legislature of North Carolina in 1784
offered to cede her western territory to the general government, provided
the cession should be accepted within two years. The Watauga settlers,
indignant at this transfer without their consent, and fearing to be left
without any form of government whatever, called a convention which met at
Jonesborough on the 23rd of August 1784, and by which delegates to another
convention to form a new state were appointed. Meanwhile North Carolina
repealed the act of cession and created the western counties into a new judicial
district. A second convention, in November, broke up in confusion without
accomplishing anything; but a third adopted a constitutiion, which was submitted
to the people, and ordered the election of a legislature.
This body met early in 1785, elected Sevier governor of the new state
of Franklin (at first Frankland), filled a number of offices, and passed
several other acts looking to separate existence. Four new counties
were created, and taxes were levied.
Later in the year another convention, to which the proposed constitution
had been referred, adopted instead the constitution of North Carolina with
a few trifling changes, and William Cocke was chosen to present to Congress
a memorial requesting recognition as a state. Congress, however, ignored
the request, and the diplomacy of the North Carolina authorities caused a
reaction. For a time two sets of officials claimed recognition, but
when the North Carolina legislature a second time passed an act of oblivion
and remitted the taxes unpaid since 1784, the tide was turned. No successor
to Sevier was elected, and he was arrested on a charge of treason, but was
allowed to escape, and soon afterwards was again appointed brigadier-general
Meanwhile, settlers had pushed on further into the wilderness. On
the 17th of March 1775 Colonel Richard Henderson and his associates extinguished
the Indian title to an immense tract of land in the valleys of the Cumberland,
the Kentucky and the Ohio rivers. In 1778, James Robertson (1742-1814),
a native of Virginia, who had bee prominent in the Watauga settlement, set
out with a small party to prepare the way for permanent occupation. He
arrived at French Lick (so called from a French trading post established
there) early in 1779, and in the same year a number of settlers from Virginia
and South Carolina arrived. Another party led by John Donelson arrived
in 1780, and after the close of the War of Independence, the immigrants came
in a steady stream. A form of governement similar to the Watauga
Association was devised, and block-houses were built for defence against
Robertson was sent as a delegate to the North Carolina legislature in
1783 and through his instrumentality the settlements became Davidson county.
Nashville, which had been founded as Nashborough in 1780, became the
county seat. Finally, in 1843, it became the state capital.
Robertson, the dominant figure in the early years, struggled to counteract
the efforts of Spanish intriguers among the Indians, and when diplomacy failed
led the settlers against the Indian towns.
On the 25th of February 1790 North Carolina again ceded the territory
to the general government, stipulating that all the general provisions of
the Ordinance of 1787 should apply except that forbidding slavery.
Congress accepted the cession and, on the 26th of May 1790, passed
an act for the government of the "Territory south of the River Ohio." William
Blount was appointed the first governor, and in 1792 Knoxville became the
seat of government. The chief events of Blount's administration were
the contests with the Indians, the purchase of their lands, and the struggle
against the Spanish influence.
A census ordered by the Territorial legislature in 1795 showed more than
60,000 free inhabitants (the number prescribed before the Territory could
become a state), and accordingly a convention to draft a state constitution
met in Knoxville on the 11th of January 1796. The instrument, which
closely followed the constitution of North Carolina, was proclaimed without
submission to popular vote. John Sevier was elected governor, and William
Blount and William Cocke United States senators. In spite of the opposition
of the Federalist party, whose leaders foresaw that Tennessee would be
Republican, it was admitted to the Union as the sixteenth state on the 1st
of June 1796.
With the rapid increase of population, the dread of Indian and Spaniard
declined. Churches and schools were built, and soon many of the comforts
and some of the luxuries of life made their appearance. The public
school system was inaugurated in 1830, but not until 1845 was the principle
of taxation for support fully recognized.
As in all new states, the question of a circulating medium was acute during
the first half of the 19th century, and state banks were organized, which
suspended specie payments in times of financial stringency. The Bank
of Tennessee, organized in 1838, had behind it the credit of the state, and
it was hoped that money for education and for internal improvements might
be secured from its profits. The management became a question of party
politics, and during the Civil War its funds were used to advance the Confederate
The development of the western section along the Mississippi was rapid
after the beginning of the century, Memphis, founded in 1819, was thought
as late as 1832 to be in Mississippi, and not until 1837 was the southern
boundary, which according to the North Carolina cession was 35 degrees, finally
established. In common with other river towns, the disorderly element
in Memphis was large, and the gamblers, robbers and horse thieves were only
suppressed by local vigilance committees. The peculiar topographical
conditions made the three sections of the state almost separate commonwealths,
and demand for better means of communication was insistent.
The policy of state aid to internal improvements found advocates very
early in spite of the Republican affiliations of the state, but a definite
programme was not laid out until 1829, when commissioners for internal
improvements were appointed and an expenditure of $150,000 was authorized.
In 1835 the state agreed to subscribe one-third to the capital stock of
companies organized to lay out turnpikes, railways, etc, and four years later
the proportion became one-half. Though these agreements were soon repealed,
the general policy was continued, and in 1861 more than $17,000,000 of the
state debt was due to these subscriptioins, from which there was little
Though President Andrew Jackson was for many years practically a dictator
in Tennessee politics, his arbitrary methods and his intolerance of any sort
of independence on the part of his followers led to a revolt in 1836, when
the electoral vote of the state was given to Hugh Lawson White, then United
States senator from Tennessee, who had been one of Jackson's most devoted
White's followers called themselves Anti-Van Buren Democrats, but the
proscription which they suffered drove most of them into the Whig party,
which carried the state in presidential elections until 1856, when the vote
was cast for James Buchanan, the Democratic candidate.
The Whig party was so strong that James K. Polk (Democrat), a resident
of the state, lost its electoral vote in 1844. With the disintegration
of the Whig party, the state again became nominally Democratic, though Union
sentiment was strong, particularly in East Tennessee.
There were few large plantations and fewer slaves in that mountainous
region, while the middle and western sections wre more in harmony with the
sentiment in Mississippi and Alabama. In 1850 representatives of nine
Southern states met in a convention at Nashville to consider the questions
at issue between the North and the South. The vote of the state was
given for Bell and Everett in 1860, and the people as a whole were opposed
The proposition to call a convention to vote on the question of secession
was voted down on the 9th of February 1861, but after President Lincoln's
call for troops the legislature submitted the question of secession directly
to the people, and meanwhile, on the 7th of May 1861, entered into a "Military
League" with the Confederacy. An overwhelming vote was cast on the
8th of June in favour of secession, and on the 24th Governor I.G. Harris
(1818-1897) issued a proclamation declaring Tennessee out of the Union.
Andrew Johnson, then a United States senator from Tennessee, refused
to resign his seat, and was supported by a large element in East Tennessee.
A Union convention, including representatives from all the eastern and a
few of the middle counties, met on the 17th of June 1861 and petitioned Congress
to be admitted as a separate state. The request was ignored, but the
section was strongly Unionist in sentiment during the war, and has since
been strongly Republican. (NOTE: Greene county included)
The state was, next to Virginia, the chief battleground during the Civil
War, and one historian has counted 454 battles and skirmishes which took
place within its borders. In February 1862, General U.S. Grant and Commodore
A.H. Foote captured Fort Henry on the Tennessee river, and Fort Donelson
on the Cumberland. The Confederate line of defence was broken and General
D.C. Buell occupied Nashville.
Grant next ascended the Tennessee river to Pittsburg Landing with the
intention of capturing the Memphis & Charleston railway, and on the 6th-7th
of April defeated the Confederates in the battle of Shiloh. The capture
of Island No. 10 in the Mississippi on the 7th of April opened the river
as far south as Memphis, which was captured in June.
On the 31st of December and the 2nd of January General William S. Rosecrans
(Federal) fought with General Braxton Bragg (Confederate) the bloody but
indecisive battle of Stone River (Murfreesboro).
In June 1863 Rosecrans forced Bragg to evacuate Chattanooga. Bragg, however,
turned upon his pursuer, and on the 19th and 20th of September one of the
bloodiest battles of the war was fought at Chickamauga. General Grant
now assumed command, and on the 24th and 25th of November defeated Bragg
at Chattanooga, thus opening the way into East Tennessee. There General
A.E. Burnside at first met with success, but was shut up in Knoxville by
General James Longstreet, who was not able, however, to capture the city,
and on the approach of General W.T. Sherman retired into Virginia.
Almost the whole state was now held by Federal troops, and no considerable
military movement occurred until after the fall of Atlanta in September 1864.
Then General J.B. Hood moved into Tennessee, expecting Sherman to follow
him. Sherman, however, sent reinforcements to Thomas and continued
his march to the sea. Hood fought with General John M. Schofield at
Franklin, and on the 15th - 16th of December was utterly defeated by Thomas
at Nashville, the Federals thus securing virtually undisputed control of
After the occupation of the state by the Federal armies in 1862 Andrew
Johnson was appointed military governor by the president (confirmed March
3, 1862), and held the office until inaugurated vice president on the 4th
of March 1865. Republican electors attempted to cast the vote of the
state in 1864, but were not recognized by Congress. Tennessee was the first
of the Confederate state to be readmitted to the Union (July 24, 1866), after
ratifying the Constitution of the United States with amendments, declaring
the ordinance of secession void, voting to abolish slavery, and declaring
the war debt void.
The state escaped "carpet bag" government, but the native whites in control
under the leadership of William G. Brownlow (1805-1877) confined the franchise
to those who had always been uncompromisingly Union in sentiment and conferred
suffrage upon the negroes (February 25, 1867). The Ku Klux Klan,
originating in 1865 as a youthful prank at Pulaski, Tennessee, spread over
the state and the entire South, and in 1869 nine counties in the middle and
western sections were placed under martial law.
At the elctions in 1869 the Republican part split into two factions. The
conservatitive candidate was elected by the aid of the Democrats, who also
secured a majority of the legislature, which has never been lost since that
time. The constitution was revised in 1870. For a considerable
time after the war the state seemed to make little material progress, but
since 1880 it has made rapid strides.
The principal occurrences have been the final compounding of the old state
debt at fifty cents on the dollar in 1882, the rapid growth of cities, and
the increased importance of mining and manufacturing.
Reference: "The Encyclopedia Britannica Handy Volume Issue" Eleventh
Edition, Published 1910-1911, Vol. 26, Pg 623 & 624
County Administrator, Carolyn
Last update 15 April 2002