This & That

Story published: 12-04-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

More Tennessee history from Jack

By Jack Swift

Two weeks ago I delved into a little of the history of Johnson County and Mountain City. In this column I want to mention some of the highlights of Tennessee History — especially East Tennessee History.

As I wrote in my column two weeks ago, the area that is East Tennessee was used by early Native Americans for camping and hunting. The early tribes were ultimately overcome by the Cherokee and so the Cherokee became the principal inhabitants of the land that is now East Tennessee.

In the 16th Century, three Spanish explorers brought expeditions through what is now Tennessee: Hernando de Soto, Tristan de Luna and Juan Pardo. The de Soto expeditions came down what is now the Nolichucky River in 1540 and later proceeded southward. Luna’s expedition entered the Chattanooga area and Pardo entered the Tennessee Valley via the French Broad River but ultimately turned back. Apparently neither of these explorers made it to where Johnson County would be.

In 1772, the Watauga Association leased land belonging to the Cherokee Nation in the Elizabethton area. It was later sold by the Cherokee tribe as part of the Henderson Purchase. The government of Great Britain didn’t like that at all. Moreover, some of the Cherokee didn’t like it as well. A group of Native Americans led by Dragging Canoe fought a number of battles. Dragging Canoe was opposed to the encroachment of the white settlers into Cherokee land. In April 1775, the Association began calling itself “the Washington District.” The Association allied with the colonies that were declaring independence from Great Britain. Their petition to be annexed by Virginia failed. In 1776, a petition to be annexed by North Carolina was a success and the “Washington District” became a part of North Carolina. Washington, Sullivan and Greene Counties in East Tennessee and Davidson, Sumner and Tennessee counties in Middle Tennessee became counties of North Carolina.

Even though six counties of what would be Tennessee remained in North Carolina, they got little protection from the Cherokee and no solid government of their own from North Carolina. Due to North Carolina’s neglect and their lack of good government, the people of East Tennessee formed a government of their own and called it “The State of Franklin.”

The State of Franklin was short-lived, lasting only four years (1784 – 1788).

In 1789, North Carolina ceded its western land (Tennessee Country) back to the Federal Government. It was then called “Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio.” That designation was often shortened to the Southwest Territory. William Blount became governor of that area. He held forth from his headquarters at Rocky Mount off what is now the Johnson City-Bristol highway. It is an interesting and historic site to visit. It is kept as it was in that day. It was the first capital of the “Southwest Territory.” In 1791, Blount later moved his office to an area called White’s Ford, which later became Knoxville.

In 1795, a territorial census revealed enough population for statehood. A referendum showed a three-to-one majority in favor of joining the Union. Governor Blount called for a constitutional convention to meet in Knoxville where a state constitution was drawn up. John Sevier was chosen to be the first governor. Blount and William Cocke were selected as senators and Andrew Jackson was chosen to be Representative. After organizing the new government, it was presented to the Union for statehood. In a close vote on June 1, 1796, Congress approved Tennessee as the sixteenth state of the Union. Statehood came for Tennessee twenty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.