Middle Tennessee Pre-1796 Queries


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Middle Tennessee, Pre 1796

             Just what was Middle 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.
             Second, it was not called “Middle” either. It was called “West,” until the 1820s.
             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 northern middle part of Tennessee, what we are calling Middle 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 Middle Tennessee. At the time of entry of the first white men into what we now call Middle Tennessee, the area was primarily Cherokee country. There were some Shawnee there, but generally, they were forced north of the Ohio River by a Cherokee and Chickasaw alliance.
             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. People also migrated from South Carolina.
             Many people had come down the Holston River from southwest Virginia. They would enter East Tennessee, then go northwest through the Cumberland gap, follow the Wilderness Road northerly into central Kentucky. At Crow ’s Station, they would take the Kentucky Road westward.
             They followed the road turned southward and they would finally arrive in the Cumberland Settlements. The end of the road was French Lick, latter Fort Nashborough (1780), or as we call it today, Nashville.
There was, early on, a few intrepid souls who managed to get to French Lick the hard way. From East Tennessee, they would float down the Tennessee River, around the “Big Bend” in today ’s Alabama, over Muscle Shoals, continuing downstream to the Ohio River. Then turning up the Ohio River to its confluence with the Cumberland River, then with Cumberland upstream to French Lick. But this route was deadly. The Cherokee made it so. They were not safe at their arrival either. That is why Fort Nashborough was built. In time, the white man pushed the Cherokee from Middle Tennessee and in 1836, the Cherokee relinquished the last of their Tennessee Lands.
             In 1788, the Avery Trace was completed and it allowed travel across the Cumberland Plateau. The estimated populations of the Cumberland Settlements in 1790 is 7,000 souls.
             Our Middle Tennessee, pre 1796, query page encompasses a number of areas. These areas include: Davidson County (1783), Sumner (1786), Tennessee County (1788), Military Reservation or North Carolina Military Reservation, Cumberland Settlements, Washington County (1777), Mero District and the Mountain District.
       &nwbsp;     Tennessee County surrendered its name when the State of Tennessee was created in 1796. At that time, Tennessee County was divided into two new counties, Montgomery and Robertson.
             Cumberland Settlements. This refers to settlements along the Cumberland River.
             Military Reservation, or North Carolina Military Reservation. Just following the Revolutionary War, North Carolina created this “Reservation” to pay her veterans, or as she stated, was “for the relief of the officers and soldiers in the continental line.” The Cumberland Settlements would fit inside the Military Reservation, as would Davidson, Sumner, and Tennessee Counties.
             Mero District. The early name of the Judicial District that served the Cumberland Settlements.
             Washington County. Although this county originally covered all of Tennessee, this would not be an appropriate place to post an early Washington County query. Try our East Tennessee , pre 1796, query page.
             Mountain District. This refers to the Cumberland Mountain or Plateau. Historically, North Carolina called this area, her “Middle District.” This area was Cherokee country until 1806 and latter, queries for this area should be posted to an appropriate County Page.

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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.

Virginia Counties. Just to the north of East Tennessee lies the southwest part of Virginia. Many families migrated from just across the state line. Some traveled through East Tennessee to settle in Middle Tennessee. 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 - latter Tennessee.

County line change information source:
AniMap on CD Rom. Available from The Gold Bug.

Six Good Books

Seedtime on the Cumberland, by Harriette Simson Arnow, 1960 Check Frontier Press for a paperback reprints.

The Preemptors: Middle Tennessee ’s First Settlers, by Irene M. Griffey, 1989.

John Armstrong ’s Entry Book, by Irene M. Griffey, 1993.

North Carolina Land Grants In Tennessee, 1778-1791, by Goldene F. Burgner, 1981

1770-1790 Census of the Cumberland Settlements: Davidson, Sumner, and Tennessee Counties, by Richard C. Fulcher, 1987

Tennesseans Before 1800: Davidson County by Marjorie Fischer, 1997
Indexes 109,271 entries in Davidson County, 1783-1800.

Byron Sistler & Associates, stocks the last five books and much more.


This page was updated,
August 31, 2010