History and Topography
From Goodspeed's History of
Tennessee (1887) and the Encyclopedia of Tennessee History
Once part of North Carolina, and the State of
Tennessee officially became a state June 1, 1796.
Cocke County was established on October 9, 1797 from a part of
Jefferson County, Tennessee. Jefferson County was established
in 1792 from a part of Greene County, Tennessee. Greene
County was established in 1783 from a part of Washington County, first
of North Carolina, then Tennessee.
Cocke County took its name from William Cocke, one of the first two US
senators from the State of Tennessee, and a friend and nominated
representative of John Sevier who became Governor. William
Cocke was also a Revolutionary War soldier who helped write the first
From Ramsey's Annals
of Tennessee, the first settlement of Cocke County
was in the spring of 1783 when James Gilliland cleared cane from a
tract of ground in the Fork of the French Broad and Big Pigeon Rivers
at the mouth of the latter, and cultivated it in corn, but no cabin was
built at that time.
This was followed by the location and clearing of land adjoining
William Coleman, where the first cabin was built on the bank of (the
Agiqua) French Broad River. This became the basis of the settlement of
the Big Pigeon and French Broad Rivers. These first men were Primitive
This area had four forts: William Whitner's; Abraham McKay's; Wood's
& John Huff's.
In the Jefferson County census taken in 1795, which included current
Cocke and Sevier Counties at that time, were a total of 7,840 persons,
including 1,706 free white males 16 years and up, 2,225 free white
males age less than 16 years, 3,021 white females, 776 slaves and 112
other free persons.
The first County Court was held in the Daniel Adams
home. The county seat was later located on fifty acres of
donated land given by John Gilliland Jr. This town was then
named New Port. This land was especially for the purpose of
erecting a court house, a prison with stocks, and laying out a town to
consist of one half acre lots with proper streets and alleys. This
generous donation ended a long debate of where the county seat would be
located. The log courthouse was finished soon afterward.
The second courthouse was a brick building built in 1828.
After the Cincinnati, Cumberland Gap, and Charleston Railroad came to
Cocke County in 1867 another debate arose about where the county seat
should be located. After much discussion, another move, and a vote,
Clifton (now Newport) was decided upon. The old New Port became known
as Oldtown. Major Thomas Gorman had offered the new site. The
first courthouse in Clifton burned on December 31, 1876. It is said
that some courthouse workers stayed late at their tasks. Before they
left, they cleaned the stove and laid a fire for the next morning. They
put the wood ashes in a wooden box and went home. These ashes may have
started the fire.
Agriculture was and still is the county's largest business. The lush
fertile ground provides a prime place for growing tobacco, corn and
other vegetables. The views of the Great Smoky Mountains, the rivers
and streams, and these fertile fields of crops make Cocke County one of
the most picturesque areas of East Tennessee.
Dairy farms and beef cattle are another prime source of income for
farmers in Cocke County. The county also produces more apples than any
other county in Tennessee. In the 1800's, John Stokely
founded a family-owned produce company. This later became Stokely-Van
Camp Company and is now Quaker Oats.
During the Civil War, Cocke County, like other counties in East
Tennessee, saw brothers against brothers and neighbors against
neighbors. Each stood in the beliefs in which they were raised.
Religion has always been a big part of the lives of the people of Cocke
County. The first church in the county was organized December 6, 1787,
at the home of James English. This church was the Big Pigeon
(Primitive) Baptist Church. Other churches of other
denominations also established themselves early in Cocke County. The
Methodists and the Lutherans came soon after the Baptists.
Parrottsville is the second largest town in the county and one of the
oldest communities in the state. It was started by a group of
German immigrants in the 1780's
Cocke County has beautiful scenic views and abundance of water and
hiking areas which make it a must for nature lovers. A visitor to the
county can feel the presence of its first settlers, who worked hard to
clear the forest and build homes for their families. This is a county
rich in history.
Cocke County Land Topography and Routes of Migration
Cocke County consists of 434 square miles of
rolling wooded hills and fertile valleys. It is triangular in
shape and enclosed by Hamblen County and the Nolichucky River to the
north, Sevier County to the west, Greene County to the Northeast and
North Carolina to the southeast. Being on Tennessee's eastern border,
it lies at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains and is part of the
Great Smoky Mountain National Park system. The county boasts three
rivers, the Big Pigeon, the French Broad and the Nolichucky.
Its earliest inhabitants were probably the Cherokee Indians.
Then came the Scots-Irish. They made up most of the early settlers that
came to Cocke County. There were Dutch and Germans who came, but in
fewer numbers than the Scots-Irish. These settlers came mostly by one
of two migration routes:
Everyone who came to this area was searching for a new life and
evidence shows they found what they were looking for.
- Some came over the mountains from the Carolinas;
- others came through Virginia from Pennsylvania and other