History of Tennessee/Introduction

The origin of the state of Tennessee can be directly linked to the Watauga Association. The Watauga Association was a colony made up of an independently governed group of settlers on the waters of the Watauga and Nolichucky. This group of settlers leased the land from the Overhill Cherokee tribe beginning in 1772. However, the Cherokee claim to the land was ultimately disregarded, resulting in conflict. Due to the conflict with the Cherokee, the settlers of the Watauga Association sent a petition to the Provincial Congress of North Carolina, asking to be taken under the protection of North Carolina. In 1776, the Watauga Association was annexed by North Carolina and by 1777 became Washington County and was placed under a county government within the state. Following 19 years as a Washington County, the name was changed to Tennessee, eventually entering the Union and assuming statehood in July of 1796, becoming the 16th state to do so. The original capital of Tennessee was Knoxville, but it has since been changed to Nashville, the most heavily populated city in Tennessee. Tennessee is nicknamed the "volunteer state" due to their contributions and the number of volunteers the state produced to fight in the War of 1812. Like many other American states, the name Tennessee originated from Native American roots. It came from the name of a Cherokee village that was present at the time of European exploration. The name of the village that the name Tennessee derived from was called "Tanasqui". The meaning of the state has been lost over the years, but many believe it could mean "meeting place","winding river", or "river of the great bend". The original spelling of Tennessee is accredited to James Glen, who was the Governor of South Carolina at the time, and referred to the state in his official correspondence in the 1750s.

Watagauga Association Marker

Exploration of Tennessee


Early Exploration


Early exploration of Tennessee would foreshadow future events to come, as the technologically superior Europeans with expansionist ideologies saw an overwhelming opportunity in North America and westward expansion.

Native Americans lived in what is now known as Tennessee for an estimated 12,000 years. Archaeologists have discovered an abundance of artistic and symbolic ornaments scattered throughout the area. Although there is not literature that depicts life before European contact, these archaeological findings point to a rich and prosperous period for the Native Americans which inhabited Tennessee before European contact. In the 1540s, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto led the first expedition into North America arriving in Tampa Bay and traversing into Tennessee. During this early expedition, the explorers came to a village called Tanasi, where the name Tennessee is derived. After these early encounters with the Spanish, the native Chickasaw population in the west and the Cherokee in the east remained largely uncontacted but not undisturbed. The Spanish brought diseases such as smallpox and influenza, killing thousands of native Americans long after the explorers left.

European Contact


The first European pioneers who made contact with Native Americans within Tennessee were traders from South Carolina and Virginia. These settlers and native tribes noticed an opportunity with the abundance of wild game in the area and soon thereafter, hunting parties began to track game within the borders of Tennessee. By 1760, hunters and traders had explored most of Tennessee and throughout the decade permanent settlements began to appear. In 1771 a land survey showed these settlements were trespassing on Cherokee lands and breaking British policy subsequently demanding their removal. The Watauga Association was a byproduct of these settlers who leased the land from the Cherokee and formed a self-governing community along the Watauga River. The association lasted more than four years and served as the first independent community free of British rule and served as a stepping stone for the birth of American Independence.

Becoming Tennessee


The name Tennessee is derived from the word, Tanasqui, the name of a Native American village. The state flag has three white stars which represent the three political divisions of the state at different periods in time. These stars are bound together by a blue circle that symbolizes the three making one. This design was made by Captain LeRoy Reeves, who was an officer in the Tennessee National Guard. The state song is “Tennessee” written by Rev. A. J. Holt. It was first sung on May 1, 1897, at the opening of the Tennessee centennial at Nashville. Although the song was not legally adopted by the legislature, public sentiment has made it the state song.

The Tennessee State Flag

The Western and Eastern frontiers, which stretched from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, had grown in population and economic interest from the 1770s and onward. The dangers associated with boarding native territories and disobeying the crown resulted in the lease of the land from the Cherokees. Six counties were established within the land leased and were all under the jurisdiction of North Carolina from 1777 to 1788. Settlers grew weary of North Carolina's inability to protect them from native attacks. Furthermore, North Carolina was disinterested with the upkeep and expenses of maintaining these settlements and contrastingly the settlers wanted a government to prioritize their primary concerns of safety. The Cumberland pack established a second Eastern frontier and elected a governing body to oversee it. East Tennessee declared for independence, forming a new state called Franklin, under the direction of John Sevier. North Carolina slowly reinserted their present back within Franklin, coupled with territorial disputes with other counties, the state dissolved in 1788. Although the state failed, it showed that settlers of Tennessee were willing to pursue independence demonstrating the validity of their concerns. In 1789, North Carolina ceded the land of Tennessee to the federal government, which named it the Southwest Territory, establishing East, Middle and West Tennessee. These new divisions of Tennessee focused primarily on securing settlers' property and protecting them from native raids. These attacks continued until 1794 when John Seiver, who would become the first governor, led a coalition forcing the natives out of Tennessee. In 1796 with a sufficient population, Tennessee was converted from a territory to a state without a congressional vote.

Tennessee Culture




Tennessee is considered to be one of the best homes for music, as the state is well known for country, rock, and blues styles of music. Nashville, the capital of Tennessee, has become known as the capital of country music around the world. Much of the tourist industry within Tennessee has been built around country music, including the Country Hall of Fame, Belcourt Theatre, and Ryman Auditorium. The Country Music Awards is held annually in June and attracts thousands of country music fans to the city of Nashville.


Coon Hunt (Raccoon Hunting) in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 1947

Tennesseans have enjoyed partaking in sports since the pioneers. Sports and recreation included shooting matches, hunting, and horse racing. Different parts of Tennessee would partake or excel in certain sports more than others. For example, in the southeastern part of the state, The Great Smokey Mountains offered a preferable place for hiking, horseback riding, and camping. In addition, this region was well suited for hunting, particularly for wild boar, ducks, raccoons, and fishing. For those who preferred hunting smaller animals, they had the option of hunting or capturing muskrats, weasels, squirrels, rabbits, and more. These types of animals were good for providing fur. Northeast of Knoxville, the State Buffalo Springs Game Farm offered a prime spot for hunting birds such as quail and wild turkey. When migrations of waterfowls occurred, they flew over the Mississippi River, giving hunters the perfect opportunity for ducks and geese. For fishing, there were two hatcheries; one in Erwin and one in Flintville. In the mountains' streams, one could find rainbow trout, brook trout, bass, salmon, and catfish in the slower streams located in Cumberland.



According to the 2010 National Census, Tennessee’s population was 6,346,105 as of April 1st, 2010, with an estimated population of 6,770,010 as of July 1st, 2018. In addition, Tennessee had a population density of 153.9 people per square mile according to the 2010 Census.

Regarding ethnical diversity, 78.5% (approximately 5.2 million people) of Tennessee's population are Caucasian, 17% African American, and 5% Hispanic or Latino. Just 2% are of Asian descent, 0.5% being Native American, and 2% from other countries of origin.



Tennessee is located in the southeastern region of the United States, bordering on eight other American states. These states include Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi to the south, Kentucky in the north, Virginia in the northeast, North Carolina in the east, Arkansas to the west, and Missouri to the northwest. It is the 36th largest state, with an area of 42,022 square miles. The highest point in the state is Clingmans Dome (6,643 feet), which is the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, the longest hiking-only trail in the world. The state's lowest point can be found along the Mississippi river which has an elevation of 178 feet. Tennessee also exhibits many beautiful valleys and coves. These areas hold rich amounts of soil that are essential for fertility in growing crops and other plants. Many of the farms are located in the valleys alongside streams which possess rich soils. Tennessee lacks areas that have leveled land. Most of the Appalachian Mountain Region is too steep for farming and is covered in forests, some not easily able to be reached. Many of these forests have dealt with damage from forest fires.

Map of the USA Highlighting Tennessee

Compared to the other states in the eastern United States, Tennessee has the most diverse landscape. The majority of the state of Tennessee is covered in mountains and hills. The largest of these mountain ranges being the Cumberland mountains which essentially divide the state into two separate regions, East Tennessee and West Tennessee.



As a whole, the state of Tennessee is extremely cultivatable. Due to the natural division between the two main sides of the state, the east and west each have unique soil compositions. In the eastern part of the state, the soil has uncommon proportions of dissolved lime with nitrate of lime mixed in, making East Tennessee extremely fertile. West Tennessee is equally as fertile, however, the soil has extremely specific strata. The first layer is generally made up of loamy soil, or a mixture of clay and sand. This layer is followed by yellow clay, then a mixture of red clay and red sand. Finally, at the lowest layer, there is white sand.

The state also has the greatest variety of mineral resources of any other state, the most significant is bauxite barite, clay, copper, coal, marble, iron, zinc, and phosphate.



An important geographical aspect of Tennessee is the extensive networks of waterways all over the state. The most significant of these is the Tennessee River which spreads throughout the state and has been a hub for the transportation of goods within Tennessee from as early as 1700. The Tennessee River also allowed for the transportation of goods and people out of the state and into other states such as Alabama. Over time the river has also allowed for much easier transport to the Gulf of Mexico. Another major river that exists within the state is the Cumberland River, which has also been a major outlet for commerce in Tennessee.

Troop Transport Fleet on the Tennessee River



Tennessee is home to over 9000 caves which have seen many different uses over the years. The caves were first used for mining, mainly the mining of saltpetre. The next industrial use for the caves was for the purpose of creating moonshine whiskey during the prohibition. The caves are now used as a tourist attraction, in which tours will walk and explore through.



Tennessee’s geographic location plays a significant role because it is centrally located. This has helped to create a strong agricultural and manufacturing economy in the past and present. During modern times, the state's centralized location makes it a strong economic centre for agriculture, manufacturing, and logistics due to easy access to various methods of shipping products, including road, rail, and water. In fact, the multinational courier company FedEx Corporation is headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee.

The earliest communities in east Tennessee settled near streams, creeks, and rivers in both the Cherokee period and the 18th century European settlement period. Many Tennessean pioneers were farmers who produced many of their own goods. The early settlers made cloth and yarn using a spinning wheel, and fabricated farming tools and furniture. Additionally, they used processed hides to make clothing. Most of the early industrial activity took place in towns; Knoxville produced cotton, leather goods, and flour. The South’s first cotton mill was established in the early 1790s near Nashville, and Memphis became the nation's largest cottonseed processor.



The state has an ideal climate for crop growth. The eastern region consists of hills and mountains. The west contains raw crops, and fertile rolling land is found in the middle. Corn and soybeans are Tennessee's primary crops. In addition, their tobacco production ranks third in the United States. 80 percent of the land is used for agriculture, including forestry, with the average farm size being 138 acres.

A Farmer Plowing his Fields in the Tennessee Valley, 1930s



Tennessee is also the home to a large area of over 14 million acres of forest that accounts for just over half of the state. Between the early 1950s and 2000, there was a 400% increase in forestland that is classified as hardwoods. Although the timber industry continues to increase the value of forest products in the economy from 18.2 billion to 21.7 billion, the share of the state's economic contribution dropped from 9.8% to 6.6%. Factors such as urbanization and population growth are having a significant impact on the industry. Private landowners owned just 37% of forest land in 2002, which is less than half of what it was fifty years earlier. Tennessee’s Forests have an abundant number of trees with over 150 different species followed by possessing many kinds of soil. When settlers first discovered Tennessee it was originally covered in 26-27 million acres of forests. The only things that weren’t inhabited by forests were mountain tops, mountain sides, swamps, and the little amount of land that had been cleared by the early settlers and Indians. The trees inside these forests grew to be very large. Short leaf pine can grow up to 100 feet high and 12 feet in circumference. Yellow poplar can grow up to 150 feet and 30 feet around. This made everyone in Tennessee at the time “forest people” as majority of all settlements were in forests. This caused for a very lonely time of living as many people lived alone in the woods. Typically, women would go into the woods and search for nuts and berries for food, also different coloured mosses for dyes. Herbs, roots and different tree barks were found for the intent to make medicines.

A Skidder Owned by the Little River Lumber Company in Little River, Tennessee

Automobile and Parts Manufacturing


The centralized location of the Tennessee Valley made it an ideal location for manufacturing. In the 1990s, the automobile industry took off in the state with the opening of Nissan and Saturn plants near Nashville and a Corvette plant just north over the state border in Kentucky. In 1998, car and truck assembly contributed to nearly 20% of all manufacturing in the state. Tennessee was the third largest auto producer in the nation despite it only being a part of the state's economy for fifteen years. The automobile industry continues to thrive in the state supplying 160,000 jobs per year and providing $6.5 billion in salaries.

Tariffs as a Potential Danger


The US administration has proposed tariffs on imported automobile parts which would have a significant impact on the state's primary automobile company Nissan, which is based out of Japan so many parts for their vehicles are imported. With the state producing 6.7% of all vehicles in the US, automobile companies have expressed dislike for the proposed tariffs as it will lower their profits. In addition, rewarding employees with bonuses and raises will become much more difficult. Lastly, not being able to employ as many people would have negative implications for the state's economic well being.

Music in Tennessee


Political Implications


Music in Tennessee played a significant role in modelling the relationship between white and black Americans, ultimately transforming the state’s political landscape. Author Mark Johnson stated that when settlers first contacted Africans, they remarked that Africans possessed a natural musical ability and made better music than all other races. In later years, Thomas Jefferson expanded on this idea by saying that when it comes to music, blacks are more generally gifted than whites, having more accurate ears for tune and time. Consequently, white politicians saw an opportunity in employing African American musicians. In an effort to attract key votes, white southern politicians hired black musicians to perform and campaign on their behalf. Through this, African American musicians provided better access to black audiences, therefore promoting greater opportunity for white political figures and organizations.

William Christopher Handy, African American Musician

Social Implications


While this music played a significant role in shaping Tennessee’s political landscape, its social implications were even greater. It allowed black musicians to manipulate the white southerner’s stereotypes of African Americans, thus more effectively resisting racial oppression in Tennessee. African American musician William Christopher Handy was among the most noteworthy individuals to promote music as a gateway for social justice and racial equality. While he used his music to assist white politicians in gaining political influence, he mainly used it as an opportunity to obtain power for himself and his entire race. By listening to this music, many white Tennesseans began characterizing the African American people as being joyful, fun-loving individuals, therefore lessening the destructive stigmas white Americans attributed towards African American Tennesseans.

Economical Implications


Through this evolving predisposition, white Tennesseans started to recognize the monetary value in African American musicians. White slave masters coveted the entertainment value of black musicians, hiring them out to other white masters. It became commonplace for black musicians to perform at white parties in early 20th century Tennessee. To demonstrate this idea, in 1925, the Ku Klux Klan attempted to host a black band at one of their rallies. However, for the sake of embracing music as a form of resistance to racial oppression, the African American band refused to perform.

Music as an Outlet


Many white Tennesseans capitalized on African American music to satisfy corporate greed and reinforce political agendas. Still, black Tennesseans were able to benefit from it as well. African Americans used music as an opportunity for self-expression. In addition, African slaves used music to make their work more endurable while also reinvigorating their African culture in the new world. Furthermore, they used music as a form of safe communication. Slaves would express various ideas and emotions in the form of song, ultimately disguising messages that could have had dangerous implications if realized by their white masters. Using music and song as a second language, black Tennesseans were able to more efficiently facility group solidarity in a time of oppression and intense racial disparity.

Later in 20th century Tennessean history, black musical culture and community became increasingly important in the city of Memphis, Tennessee. With a centralized focus on the black musical community, African American disc jockey Nathaniel D. Williams played a significant role in communicating the civil rights of black Memphians. Furthermore, Williams expressed that historically speaking, singing had been the only effective means of communication at the disposal of black Tennesseans. As seen throughout history, African American music played a significant role in transforming the political and social landscape of Tennessee.

Conflict with the Native Americans


Soon after Tennessee became a state, a conflict started with the Native Americans tribes that they were sharing the land with. The main groups that were living on the land at the time were the Creek, the Chickasaw, and the Cherokee. Much of the conflict that was occurring was over the property of the land, as many of the citizens were becoming property hungry. Eventually, the Natives were forced off the land and had to travel to a designated "Indian Territory". To enforce this, the Indian Removal Act was established by President Andrew Jackson, the former first senator of Tennessee. This act forced all natives living east of the Mississippi River to move west of it. This resulted in around 100,000 Native Americans walking west on what is now called "The Trail of Tears". The trail is 5043 miles long and runs over nine states.

The War of 1812

Felix Grundy, Tennessee Congressman and Former Attorney General of the United States

War of 1812 showed how capable the relatively new state of Tennessee was, politically and militarily. The War of 1812 was a conflict between the United States and Great Britain. The United States and Great Britain had experienced mounting tensions since the American revolutionary war. British ships would stop American ships at sea, search them and sometimes kidnap sailors and force them into their navy. Additionally, many Americans felt the British were encouraging uprisings by Native Americans. There was a particular concern in the upper Mississippi Valley, where a Shawnee leader named Tecumseh was trying to organize the tribes in a joint resistance against all white settlers. Many Americans, including Tennesseans, saw this as the result of British provocation. In June of 1812, President James Madison asked Congress for a declaration of war. All of Tennessee’s representatives voted for the motion. Tennessean Congressman Felix Grundy is seen as one of the main influences in Congress’ decision to declare war on Britain.

Since the majority of the battles in the War of 1812 were fought along the Canadian-American border, Tennessee's involvement in most of these battles was extremely limited. However, by 1813, President James Madison called upon Andrew Jackson and the state of Tennessee to protect the lower Mississippi region. Large quantities of Tennessean men willingly volunteered, earning Tennessee the nickname, “The Volunteer State”.

Andrew Jackson, first Senator of Tennessee and former US President

The American Civil War


On June 8, 1861, the state of Tennessee ratified a resolution of independence with a vote of over 105,000 to 47,000, allowing Tennessee to become the last state to secede from the Union and join the New Confederacy. On May 7, 1861, Tennessee entered into a military league with the Confederate government, showing the state’s full commitment to aiding the Confederacy in the American Civil War.

Tensions grew as the grand divisions within Tennessee were politically divided as West and Middle Tennessee supported the Confederates and East Tennessee supported the Union. Tennessee provided an estimated 150,000 soldiers to the Confederacy, second only to Virginia, and 31,000 Union soldiers, more than all of the confederate states combined. Furthermore, this is not including Andrew Jackson's 20,000 unionist militia or men that enlisted out of state. Tennessee’s sheer number of men able to fight compared to other seceding states. The Mississippi river's neutral location and the agricultural resources mainly in Middle Tennessee, made the state of utmost importance for the Confederacy to maintain power and for the Union to take it away.

Tennessee was extremely important strategically for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. The state's abundance of natural resources was one of the primary reasons why it was so important. Lower Middle Tennessee, in particular, possessed an abundance of extremely fertile farmland, essential for feeding armies all over the country.

Along the Cumberland River, the Confederacy situated its most important gunpowder mills, an invaluable resource in times of war. The city of Memphis was also the Confederacy’s most important centre for war production, making Tennessee one of the Union’s principal targets.

The second most battles in the Civil War would occur in Tennessee. Starting with the Battle of Mill Springs in 1862 and ending with the battle of Nashville in 1864, thereafter shifting the main focus of the fighting to Georgia. Fighting large battles within Tennessee had ended and left Middle Tennessee ruin.

Although confederate sentiment was still alive in these regions, open support was dangerous. East and Middle Tennessee were occupied in 1863 by Federals and the damage was devastating not only from battles, but from thousands of soldiers residing in the state, as lawlessness was present during the war. This massive number of soldiers supplied and having the second most battles within its borders meant many men did not return home and the few that did went home to an unrecognizable state. This makes it clear why Tennessee was in ruins after the war and why it would take years for the state to overcome the burdens of the Civil War.

World War Two


Nearly a century after the American Civil War concluded the state of Tennessee played a massive role, if not the deciding role in World War 2. Oak Ridge, Tennessee is known as the “secret city” because many of the citizens living there, and elsewhere in the country, did not actually know what was occurring there at the time of the war. The reason for the secrecy is because it was the location where the Manhattan Project was being developed by American, British and Canadian scientists. The Manhattan Project was the development of the first atomic bomb that the world had ever seen. The first of the two bombs developed dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, and the second was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on August 9, 1945. The war finally came to an end with Japan surrendering on August 15, 1945. These bombs remain to be the only two nuclear bombs ever used in war.

Tennessee Disasters


Tennessee has gone through many disasters including natural, technological, and societal disasters. Some of the natural disasters include Droughts and severe heat waves, earthquakes, wild wind fires, slow rising flash floods, tornadoes and straight-line winds, and winter storms. One example of a natural disaster would be the drought of 1930 to 1931 Some of the technological disasters the Tennessee faced are explosions, structure fires, mining quarry disasters, structural failures, airplane crashes, highway accidents, railroad accidents, river boat accidents. An example of a technological disaster would be Jellico railroad yard explosion. Some of the societal disasters that Tennessee had were, labour wars, strikes, and economical disasters, race riots and radical violence, and bloody family feuds and political conflicts. An example of a societal disaster would be the Memphis sanitation worker strike.