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Tennessee State History

History | Symbols | Interesting Facts | Famous People


1682—Robert Cavelier claims the Tennessee Region for France

1763—France gives England all French land east of the Mississippi River

1784—The State of Franklin is established

1796—Tennessee becomes the 16th state

1861—Tennessee is the last state to secede from the Union

1866—Tennessee is the first state to be readmitted to the Union

1878—A yellow fever epidemic kills over 5,000 people in Memphis

1925—John Scopes is convicted of teaching evolution in a public school

1933—The Tennessee Valley Authority is created

1982—The world’s fair was held in Knoxville

Three groups of Native Americans lived in the Tennessee region when European settlers first visited the area.  Cherokee claimed Middle Tennessee for hunting, Chickasaw lived in West Tennessee, and Creek lived in the southeastern region.

By the end of the 1600s, both England and France claimed land in North America that included Tennessee.  This eventually led to the French and Indian War (1754-1763).  In 1763, the Treaty of Paris surrendered all French land east of the Mississippi to England.  The Tennessee region became part of the English colony North Carolina.

Permanent settlement began in Tennessee during the early 1770s.  In 1775, the Transylvania Company bought a large region of land from the Cherokee.  The famous Wilderness Road was soon created and became the main route from Virginia to the new settlements.  In 1779 settlers of Fort Nashborough (now Nashville) established government representation for the area by writing the Cumberland Compact.

During the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), a group from Tennessee led by John Sevier helped the American army win the Battle of Kings Mountain.  Several Indian battles were also fought at this same time in the Tennessee region.  When help did not come from North Carolina, some of the counties in East Tennessee revolted and formed their own government.  North Carolina eventually gained back control, but gave the land to the federal government in 1789.

On June 1, 1796, Tennessee had a large enough population to become the 16th state of the Union.  It was the first state to be created out of a government territory.  During the War of 1812, Andrew Jackson led Tennessee’s voluntary troops to defeat the British at the Battle of New Orleans.  He later became President of the U.S. in 1828 and the state became known as the volunteer state.

By 1840, most of the Native Americans had been forced to leave Tennessee.  Many traveled the “Trail of Tears” to what would become Oklahoma.  Tennessee grew quickly as settlers flocked to the state to grow cotton, tobacco and corn.  Railroads expanded throughout the area.

Slavery divided the nation during the late 1850s.  Several southern states seceded from the Union that led to the Civil War (1861-1865).  After the war began, Tennessee became the last of eleven states to secede from the Union.  More than 200 battles took place in Tennessee, the bloodiest being the Battle of Shiloh in 1862.  Over 10,000 Confederates and 13,000 Union soldiers died when Confederate troops tried to stop Union soldiers from going into Mississippi. 

The Confederacy surrendered on April 9, 1865, only days before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  Vice-president Andrew Johnson of Tennessee became President of the United States.  After some controversy, Tennessee was the first state to be readmitted to the Union in July 1866.

Reconstruction was a difficult period for Tennessee.  Much of the state was destroyed and thousands were left unemployed and homeless.  Plantation owners were forced to divide into smaller farms.  Political unrest led to secret societies like the Klu Klux Klan. 

By the early 1900s, Tennessee was growing again.  Manufacturing and mining industries increased greatly, providing jobs for some of the unemployed.  During the Great Depression (1929-1939) the economy dropped dramatically, closing factories and making thousands unemployed.  In 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was organized to conserve and develop natural resources.  Many found jobs building dams on Tennessee rivers.

In 1941, the federal government built the Oak Ridge National Laboratories.  This atomic energy plant helped to develop the atomic bomb that ended World War II (1939-1945).  After the war, the TVA continued to build dam and steam plants throughout the state.  This encouraged new industries into Tennessee from neighboring states.  Tennessee’s economy became one of the fastest growing economies in the South. 

In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation in public schools illegal.  Desegregation of Tennessee began in Clinton in 1956.  The National Guard was sent to enforce the new law. 

Since the 1960s, many large diverse industries have moved to Tennessee.  Manufacturing, banking and business, medical, tourism and entertainment, along with the agriculture industry have kept Tennessee’s economy steady.  Nashville has developed a multi-billion dollar country music industry, complete with the Country Music Hall of Fame.  Elvis’ home Graceland has become the most visited celebrity museum in the country.

Recently state leaders have strived to strengthen Tennessee.  Schools are undergoing reform.  A new Department of Children’s Services was developed, the state welfare system improved, and taxes lowered.