This article was transcribed from the
Tennessee Historical Commission and Tennessee Historical Society publication,
Tennessee Old and New Sesqui-centennial Edition 1796-1946. It originally
appeared in F. Debrett's third edition of A Topographical Description of the
Western Territory of North America, published in London, England, in 1797. Full
of the kind of detail important to genealogists, the article is notable because
of its publication shortly after Tennessee became the 16th State of the United
States of America.
The State of Tenasee, lately called(1)
the Territory of the United States south of the river Ohio, is that tract of
country which was ceded to the United States by the state of North Carolina,
in the year 1789. It is situated between the parallels of 35 degrees and 36
degrees 30 minutes, extending from the great Iron Mountain to the river
When we cast our eyes on the map of any
country, especially the map of a new country, in which little else is seen
than the situation of mountains, rivers, and plains, we are desirous to know
what is the state of its soil and climate; what are the advantages its
inhabitants may be expected to enjoy, or the difficulties under which they
must labour. A general answer to these questions, as they respect the Tenasee
government, is the object of this publication.
e discover, at first sight, that the state is
cut into eastern and western divisions, by Cumberland Mountain, a ridge near
30 miles broad; and it is probable that the commercial connexions of people
who live in the eastern division, may be different from those of the western
The great island on Holston river is not
above 340 miles from Richmond in Virginia, along a good waggon road; whence we
may conclude that the settlers on Holston will preserve a considerable
intercourse with the atlantic states; but people who live on the westward of
Cumberland mountain, will send their produce to market by means of the
Mississippi. This remarkable difference in their situation will probably
induce the inhabitants of those districts to employ themselves differently;
for the most property or profitable productions in one settlement, may not be
most profitable in the other.
The Holston settlement contains 52,338
inhabitants, though in the year 1775 it hardly contained 2000. The land in
this settlement is generally fertile; but the face of the country is much
broken. Placed, as it is, between two large mountains, we may readily suppose
that the farmer never suffers by the want of rain. The soil produces wheat,
barley, indian corn, hemp and flax, in great perfections. Physicians have not
heretofore found their way to that country, for the people have not been sick.
They enjoy a temporate climate, ease, and abundance.
Iron ore abounds in that country. A capital
furnace and forge have lately been erected on Holston, near the Virginia line.
There is a bloomery below the mouth of Wataga, and another 25 miles above the
mouth of Frenchbroad. There are also sundry lead-mines in the settlement, one
in particular on Frenchbroad river, that produces 75 per cent in pure lead.
The greatest part of the state of Tenasee
lies in the west side of Cumberland mountain; and though that country has
hardly been settled ten years by civilized men, it naturally claims the
greatest share of our attention, because it is extensive, and will probably
become the residence of a numerous and powerful colony. [How prescient of Mr.
Imlay to realize Nashville's future prominence at a time when East Tennessee
dominated politically, socially, and economically.]
The mean distance between Cumberland mountain
and the Mississippi is about 230 miles. This, at 103 miles broad, gives
fifteen millions of acres; and it is generally agreed, that 11 or 12 millions
of that land may be cultivated to advantage; such is the proportion of arable
land. The natives, who formerly inhabited that country, must have been very
numerous; we seldom go more than five or six miles along the banks of
Cumberland river, without finding a large burying-place, the evident remains
of a considerable town. As the Indians had their choice of land, and do not
appear to have been equally numerous in other places, we may suppose they
found this to be a soil on which they could live with the greatest ease.
Boundaries. It is bounded by the states of
Virginia and Kentucky on the north; by North-Carolina on the east; by
South-Carolina and Georgia on the south; and by the river Mississippi which
separates it from the Spanish province of Louisiana, on the west.
Divisions. It is divided into three
districts: Washington, Hamilton, and Mero; containing nine counties;
Washington, Sullivan, Green, Hawkins, Knox, Jefferson, Davidson, Sumner, and
Situation. It is situate between the latitude
35, and 36 30' north, which parallels form its northern and southern
boundaries; its breadth therefore is 104 miles, and its length, from the
North-Carolina line to the Mississippi, about 400 miles.
Rivers. There are few countries so well
intersected by creeks and rivers: the principal are the Mississippi, Tenasee,
Cumberland, Holston, Clinch, Wolf, Hatchee, Forked-deer, Obion, and Reelfoot.
The Tenasee, formerly called by the French
Cherokee, empties itself into the Ohio, nearly 60 miles above its junction
with the Mississippi.
Holston river, the principal north fork of
the Tenasee, receives in its bed, before its junction with the Tenasee,
several considerable rivers, Nolachucky, Wattauga, French-broad, and Little
Clinch runs into the Tenasee below the mouth
of Holston. Duck river empties into the Tenasee below the Muscle Shoals, and
Elk river above them.
Emery river is a branch of Clinch.
Obed river, the Caney-fork, Red river, Stone
River, and Harpeth, are considerable branchs of Cumberland river. This country
contains, besides, a large number of bold, navigable creeks.
Mountains. Yellow, Bald, Iron, and Uncka [Unaka]
mountains, which form the eastern boundary of this territory, and separate it
from North-Carolina, are a chain of mountains running nearly south-westwardly.
Clinch mountain divides the waters of Holston and Clinch rivers.
The large Cumberland mountain separates the
eastern inhabitants of this government from the western ones.
Towns. Knoxville, the capital and seat of
government, was established by William Blount, esq. the first governor of this
territory; is situate in a beautiful spot on the north bank of Holston river,
a few miles below the mouth of Frenchbroad. This town is remarkable for the
treaty held by governor Blount in 1791, with the chiefs and head warriors of
the Cherokee nation. It is the residence of the public officers of government.
A printing office is established here, and the inhabitants enjoy the advantage
of communicating to every part of the United States by post.
The Superior Court of law, the court of
equity for Hamilton district, and the court of pleas and quarter sessions for
Knox County, are held in this town, which is in a very flourishing situation.
Nashville, on the south bank of Cumberland
river, is the district town of Mero: the courts of the district are held here.
The Davidson academy, which is richly endowed, is in this town. Jonesborough,
the capital of Washington district, is the seat of the courts of the district.
There are several other small towns that bid
fair to increase in consequence.
Roads and Distances. From Knoxville, the
present seat of government, to Philadelphia, is 650 miles.
These two roads are very good waggon-roads;
and the price of transportation of any goods or articles from Richmond to
Knoxville does not exceed four dollars per cwt.
Knoxville to Long-island, on Holston is
|English's ferry, New
|Big lick Liberty town
|From Knoxville to
From Knoxville to Nashville the distance is
183 miles, viz:
The 80 miles between the two garrisons are
not yet opened for waggons; but families moving to the settlements on
Cumberland, send generally their baggage by water from Knoxville down the
Knoxville to south-west Point
|Big lick garrison, on
|From Knoxville to
It is a beautiful road through the barrens.
In the summer of 1795, a good waggon-road was
cut across Cumberland Mountain, and it was passed by 30 or 40 waggons in the
fall. The late friendly conduct of the Cherokee Indians, in consequence of a
long talk with governor Blount, and the amicable disposition of the Spanish
government, have greatly altered the condition of settlers on Cumberland
river, and made them perfectly happy. Several thousands crossed the Cumberland
mountain in September, October, and November last, in detached families,
without a guard, and without danger. The Indians treated them with kindness,
visited their camps at night, and supplied them plentifully with venison.
Nashville to Three forks of Red river
|Big Barren River
|Miles From Nashville to
Lexington, in Kentucky
From Nashville, on Cumberland river, to
Lexington, in Kentucky, is 190 miles.
From Nashville to New Orleans the distance by
land is about 450 miles -- the country in general level; and a good road might
be cut at a small expence.
Climate. The climate in this country is very
temperate; and the experience of ten years assures us that it is healthy. The
piercing northerly winds that prevail, during the winter, in the atlantic
states, seldom molest the inhabitants on Cumberland river, for they have no
great mountains to the north or the westward. The inhabitants of the atlantic
states are also subjected to sudden changes in the atmosphere, arising from
their vicinity to the ocean; the air that comes from the surface of the sea,
especially from the warm gulf-stream in winter must be very different in its
temperature from the air that comes across cold and high mountains; but the
great distance between the Cumberland settlers and the ocean, considering that
many great mountains are interposed, effectually secures them against the bad
effects of those sudden changes.
North-easterly storms never reach this
The legislature of the territory of the
United States south of the river Ohio, at their session in July 1795, made a
law for numbering the inhabitants, in order to determine whether they were not
entitled to all the privileges of a state, according to an ordinance of
congress, passed the 13th of July 1787, respecting states to be
formed in the ceded territory; which provides, that "Whenever any of the
said states shall have 60,000 inhabitants therein, such state shall be
admitted by its delegates in the congress of the United States, on an equal
footing with the original states, in all respects whatever." On taking
the census, it appeared, that there were in the territory 77,262 inhabitants,
of whom 66,640 were free persons: whereupon the Governor, in pursuance of the
law, called a convention, who lately met at Knoxville, formed a constitution,