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East Tennessee, 
Pre-1796

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East Tennessee, Pre-1796

Just what was East Tennessee before the 1796 statehood?
First, it was not named Tennessee back then. That name came with statehood. There was an earlier Tennessee County in what we now call Middle Tennessee, and of course there was the original - the Tennessee River.
For our purposes, we start with the white European claims. North Carolina owned her Western Lands beyond the Great Smoky Mountains. She ceded her rights to her Western Lands in 1790, and in the same year, the United States Congress created the Territory of the US South of the River Ohio, or as it was more commonly know, the Southwest Territory. In 1796, those lands became the State of Tennessee.
Here we focus on the northeast part of Tennessee, what we are calling East Tennessee, pre 1796.
The area of white habitation covered by our query page, was a much smaller area than that of today’s Grand Division of East Tennessee. At the time of entry of the first white men into what we now call East Tennessee, the area was Cherokee country. We can not be positive of the name of the first white explorer to see East Tennessee, but it most certainly was not Daniel Boone. There are the recorded names of white visitors to that country as early as 1673. James Needham, a South Carolina planter, and Gabriel Arthur, an assistant to Needham. Arthur, an indentured servant, was not a man of letters, yet his story fortunately was recorded by others. Their journey penetrated Cherokee country as far as Chota, on the Little Tennessee. Needham returned to his Virginia benefactor, General Wood. Arthur stayed in at Chota. Needham was killed on the return trip back to Chota. Arthur traveled with the Cherokee through the Cumberland Gap, north following the western branch of the Warrior’s path, into Ohio and back again.
While the first explorers were looking for the Pacific Ocean, they were soon followed by “Indian traders” and later, land speculators. In 1750, Dr. Thomas Walker, a land speculator, among other things, received directions through the Cumberland Gap from an Indian trader, one Capt. Samuel Stalnaker.
We can not over look the possibility that the first white pathfinder to explore East Tennessee was either a Frenchman or a Spaniard who had gone up the Tennessee River. There are also stories about the mythical Welshmen who were there before any other white men. But it is probable that if the first explorers spoke English or German, then they had come down the Holston River from southwest Virginia. That was the easy way. It was the way of the later settlers.
The influx of settlers started as a trickle. At the end of the Revolutionary War, the spigot opened and more settlers poured in, mostly from southwest Virginia. While North Carolina owned the land, it was the Virginians who first settled in any numbers. At first, they created farmsteads and later little settlements.
There were bloody conflicts with the Cherokee. However the white man’s push for Cherokee land was relentless. In 1836, the Cherokee relinquished the last of their Tennessee Lands.
In 1784, settlers in the Western Lands, created the small independent State of Franklin. This remarkable exercise in freedom was very unpopular with North Carolina and was extinguished in 1788.
By 1790, the population of East Tennessee was estimated to be 28,000 souls.
Our East Tennessee, Pre-1796, query section encompasses a number of areas. These areas include: Carter’s Valley, Fort Loudoun (1757-1760), Long Island of the Holston, Nolichucky, North Holston, South of the French Broad & Holston, Southwest Point (Kingston), Washington (NC), and Watauga.
The Archived Queries are rather a mixture of all of these, so it you are looking for someone special, please look through all of them.

Table of Contents

   “Tennessee” Time Line to 1796 (Overview)

   The Expedition of Batts and Fallam, 1671
       And the Discovery of the New River.

   The Journey of Needham and Arthur, 1673-1674
       Gabriell Arthur, the first known Englishman to pass through the Cumberland Gap.

   Dr. Thomas Walker’s Journal, 1750

“Tennessee” Government Before Statehood

   The Watauga Association 1769-1777

       Petition of the Inhabitants of Washington District 1776

   The Washington District 1777-1780

   The Cumberland Compact 1780-1784

   The State of Franklin 1784-1788
         Petition to Form a New State, 1787
         Request to Colonel John Tipton to Surrender, 1788

   The Government South of the Holston and French Broad Rivers, 1788-1790

   United States Territory South of the River Ohio, 1790-1796

   The State of Tennessee 1796-

Other Pre-Statehood TNGenWeb Project Sources

   Squabble State

   Tennesseans in the Revolutionary War
         The Battle of King’s Mountain


   Colonial Indian Land Cessions in Tennessee



Genealogy Hints

North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC.

Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, TN, also has many North Carolina records.

Revolutionary War records. Those people of early East Tennessee were serious patriots. And serve they did!

Virginia Counties. Just to the north of East Tennessee lies the southwest part of Virginia. Many families migrated from just across the state line. Check these early Virginia counties, especially Augusta, Botetourt, Washington, Russell, and Lee.

County line changes:
Be aware that there were many county line changes in southwest Virginia, western North Carolina, and the Southwest Territory - later Tennessee.

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This page last updated on Wednesday, February 22, 2012