History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

Did you ever wonder where "Tennessee" got its name? The term, "Tennessee," is of Native American origin. This great expanse stretches from the mighty Appalachians to the banks of the mighty Mississippi. The Spanish explorer, Captain Juan Pardo, was the first to record the word form during his expedition in the summer of 1567. It was at this time he and his assemblage of soldiers left their home base on the coast of present-day South Carolina and journeyed inland. The detachment passed through many Native American villages while traveling, observing the names as they passed through. Sometime during this long expedition the Spaniards passed through a village called "Tanasqui."

Certainty as to the village's site was skeptical. However, accounts left by a few of Pardo's men record the distances traveled along the courses of the river, and they also mention traveling along the mountains. These accounts of the village would become apparent that it was located in Cherokee country.

The word form, Tanasqui-Tennessee was also the name of two Cherokee towns, which survived to later times. One of these villages was located on the Hiwassee River in what is now Polk County Tn., and the other on the little Tennessee River in present-day Monroe County, Tn.; this mighty State was seemingly named from the latter.

Some contact was activated with the Cherokee and Pardo's Spaniards, who were based on the seacoast, over the next century and a half. However, because of the chance of journeying through the territory of the enemies, and the distance between them, the Creek and Catawbas limited their contact with the invaders.

History states that James Glen, the Governor of South Carolina, authored the modern day spelling, T-e-n-n-e-s-s-e-e. He used this spelling in his official correspondence during the 1750s. According to present-day belief, it was Andrew Jackson who proposed the name for our State, when it joined the Union in 1796. However, public records state that Daniel Smith, secretary of the old Southwest Territory, proposed the first draft of the constitution for the formation of the new state, namely, "the name of the State of Tennessee."

Origin of word "Tennessee" is notably lost to the ages. The correct meaning will possibly never be known with inclusive accuracy. However, there is one credible version, the word Tennessee is assumed to be of the Cherokee modification of a Creek word, which was obviously tainted by the first whites.

The Cherokee first began settling in the Little Tennessee River Valley where they occupied sites previously belonging to the Creek Nation. There are a number of location names in the Cherokee country that are of the Creek language, which are reminders of their earlier presence there. Tallassee and Tomotley were two Cherokee villages on the Little Tennessee River which were of Creek origin. More than likely the Cherokee village of Tannassy was constructed on the site of an earlier Creek settlement, with the Cherokee using the same name and did the Creek Nation.

One suggestion reveals that "Tennessee" is a Yuchi word, meaning "meeting place." Ancient Cherokee custom states that there was a small community of Yuchi who inhabited the locale in the region of the mouth of the Hiwassee River located close to the Overhill Indian tribes. Also located within this area was a village where the Tanasqui-Tennessee name was located.

The Yuchi spoke their own tongue, yet most of them were said to have spoken Creek and Cherokee. Furthermore, if Tennessee were a Yuchi word, it would be correct to say that it is a Creek word, because the Yuchi were one of the many tribes that made up the Creek Confederacy.

Samuel Cole Williams, a great writer and historian of Tennessee, wrote that the word "Tennessee" translated into the word "the bends," which undeniably means the "bends" of a river. Some conflict would register as to the Yuchi paraphrase of "meeting place." If one were to think of a river bending until it more or less comes back to meet itself, the translations have a comparable significance.

Maps, documents and letters found in historical accounts state that the lands of the Overhill Indians increasingly view it as the land of the Tannassy, with a number of different spellings. Some of the spellings are:

Tennassee, Tunasse, Tanase, Tunesee, Tonice, Tinnace, Tannassy, Tanasee, Tannassie, Tannessee, Tannasie, Tenessee, Tenesay, Tenasi, Tansai, Tunissee, Tanase, Tanasqui, Tenesee, Tanisee, Tanesi, Tunese, Tinassee, Tunnissee, Tennisee, Tennesy, Tennecy, Tunassee, Tanasee.

(Material for this article was taken from The Tellico Times - Author, William Baker.

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