Cocke County, Tennessee
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 Franklin, 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 state constitution.

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 Baptists .

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 mountains, 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:
  1. Some came over the mountains from the Carolinas;
  2. others came through Virginia from Pennsylvania and other northern states.
Everyone who came to this area was searching for a new life and evidence shows they found what they were looking for.
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