By:  Jack Swift

County Historian

A portion of Tennessee called Johnson County is where I call home. In my 79 years on this planet I have never wished to live anywhere else. Sure I’ve enjoyed visiting near and far, but that’s all I wanted to do — visit. I enjoyed a trip to New York when I was working full time for the Tomahawk newspaper. I was impressed with the busyness of the place and the massive tall buildings. But give me the friendly people and the relative tranquility of good old Johnson County. I feel that I am blessed to be a citizen of Tennessee and Johnson County.
Johnson County and Tennessee both have a number of oddities when it comes to their history. The word “Tennessee” is said to come from the Cherokee town of “Tanasi”, on what is now the Little Tennessee River in present day Monroe County.
Prior to becoming a state in 1796, the citizens of what is now East Tennessee attempted to form a new state called Franklin but it was short lived — only about four years (1784 – 1788). That effort to form a new state was brought about in part due to North Carolina’s failure to provide protection for the settlers who had crossed the Appalachian Mountains looking for a better life. Although North Carolina claimed that area, it was unable or did not choose to provide government or protection for the settlers who were under the threat of Native American attacks and who needed a workable government in order to transact their business.
What would become Johnson County was a part of the East Tennessee area that became the State of Franklin. It is interesting to note that Tennessee is nicknamed the Volunteer State due its tremendous number of soldiers provided during certain wars involving the United States.
Tennessee became a state in 1
796 only twenty years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Tennessee was the last to secede from the Union during the American Civil War and was the first state to rejoin the Union. The war lasted from 1861 until 1865. Andrew Johnson, who later became president after President Lincoln was brutally murdered, was the only southern senator to keep his seat in congress during the Civil War.

Johnson County leaned heavily toward the Union. It was a part of several East Tennessee counties that wanted no part in opposing the country they had revered so passionately. Conventions were called to discuss their opposition to secession and to urge against any hasty decisions to wage war. It was evident that though Tennessee had in February voted against secession by a majority of 68,000, Tennessee Governor Isham Harris and the leaders in Nashville were determined from the outset to remove Tennessee from the Union. They had used any means possible to do so. The next referendum went to the folks who favored secession. Kentucky tried to remain neutral but several battles were waged in that state. West Virginia was formed from the northern portion of Virginia. Union leaders of East Tennessee tried to form a new state but were rebuffed in their effort by Governor Harris and his administration.
As many Johnson County folks know, their county came to be due to the difficulty off terrain and length of time they experienced getting to Elizabethton, then the county seat of Carter County. Petitions were delivered to Nashville, the state capital first desiring that the County Seat be moved nearer but later asking that a new county be formed. That request was finally granted and Johnson County in 1836 was formed from the northeast section of Carter County. The county seat of the new county became Taylorsville, named for James P. Taylor of Carter County. The name was changed to Mountain City in 1885. Johnson County was named for Thomas Johnson a leading citizen of the area.
There are a great deal more interesting facts about Johnson County and Tennessee. Perhaps I’ll have more in a later column.