Creation of Knox County
In 1786 the first habitation was
erected on the present site of Knoxville. At the time affairs in the
West were in a state of deep ferment and grave uncertainty, Indeed
such was the condition all over the country. The germ of Knoxville
lay in White's Fort which was founded by Col James White upon the
extreme border land of the Indian country. He had entered the region
thereabout as payment for his services in the Revolutionary war. To
reward the valor and heroism of her officers and soldiers in that
war, North Carolina gave of her immense domain westward large grants
of land for their services, reserving only as hunting grounds for
the Cherokee Indians, the region included within the Tennessee,
French Broad, and Big Pigeon Rivers, east to the North Carolina line
and south to that of Georgia.
Immediately after the passage of this act by the North Carolina legislature in 1783, James White, in company with Robert Love, FA Ramsey, who was a practical surveyor, and others, began an exploration to select the most advantageous regions open for the location of land warrants. This party, beginning its work on the French Broad river not far from where Newport now stands, followed its valleys southwestward to the mouth of Dumplin creek where they crossed over into the lands lying between the French Broad and Holston rivers. Crossing the Holston several miles above the present site of Knoxville, and entering Grassy valley, they examined the lands adjacent to the Holston as far as its confluence with the then Tennessee river opposite the present Lenoir City, thus passing through the territory which was to include the future Knoxville. It is maintained that this exploration was continued as far down the river as Southwest Point now Kingston.
With the passage of the act of the
North Carolina legislature in May, 1783, for the sale and
disposition of western lands and with the entry of much of these by
May, 1784 in the land office at Hillsboro, the strong tide of
emigration from North Carolina poured into what is now Tennessee,
thus counterbalancing that influx of population which had hitherto
flowed from Virginia. Returning to his North Carolina home Col White
made preparation to move. In 1784 he went to Fort Chiswell,
Virginia, where he made a crop. By 1785 he had settled in the new
territory and was sitting in the councils.
The years intervening between the
establishment of White's Fort and the formation of the Territory of
the United States South of the River Ohio, (1786 to 1790) were full
of keen interest to the settlers. Despite Indian depredations and
murders the conflicts of state and national authorities internal
dissensions and factional differences, the settlement of James White
continued to grow until by the time Governor William Blount had
fixed upon it as the seat of territorial government, it had become a
somewhat densely populated community. The year 1786 was particularly
favorable for growth bringing comparative freedom from Indian
incursions and outrages, in view of the concessions made by the
Hopewell treaty. The immigrant profited by it and swelled the
increasing tide of population, or pushed on beyond.
In view of its urgent necessity Col
White erected on the creek just east of the fort a small tub mill,
the infant industry of Knoxville. The same year that saw the
building of White's Fort, John Adair's station was
established five miles northeast as a supply store for the
Cumberland guards who were entrusted with the safe conveyance of
settlers through the wilderness to the Cumberland settlements.
Stations were founded further westward in rapid succession so that
by 1787 the cutting and opening of a wagon road, by way of
Campbell's station and the lower end of Clinch mountain to the
Cumberland country became a matter of legislation on the part of the
North Carolina legislature.
A step of far reaching consequence to the young settlement was now taken. In 1789, North Carolina, as payment of all obligations incurred in the Revolutionary war which were to be assumed by the general government, ceded to the United States all right and title to the Tennessee country. In the spring of 1790, the transfer was completed. While James White is justly regarded the father and founder of Knoxville by his side as the next most conspicuous figure in her early history stands. William Blount, commissioned governor of the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio by Washington on June 8, 1790, Blount from the largeness of his ideas and the wisdom of his policy may be termed appropriately the Pericles of Tennessee. His appointment was an auspicious event for Knoxville as subsequent events proved.
The court took immediate steps to make Knoxville accessible to all portions of the county by opening roads and highways, a wise measure which the present generation has sought to improve upon by the construction of thoroughfares that are models. Alexander Cunningham was granted permission to keep a public ferry at his landing opposite Knoxville and south across the Holston roads were laid out leading to Col Alexander Kelly's mill, and to David Craig's on Nine Mile creek, north to the ford of the Clinch river, west to Campbell's station, and east to the mouth of French Broad river.
Likewise to meet the ends of justice at the same time January 26, 1793, the court authorizes the same commissioners to let contract for building a courthouse. Two months before this, the governor and territorial judges Campbell and Anderson, had passed an act authorizing the courts of the several counties to levy taxes for the repairing or building of court houses, prisons, and stocks, and for other expenses incurred.
The move toward statehood:
In accordance with the act of enumeration a census was ordered by the governor and taken by the sheriffs in their respective counties. By November 28th all returns were made and the governor announced to the President the result. The population 77,262 was found to exceed greatly the required number. There were nine thousand voters and sixty-five hundred of these expressed preference for the organization of the state. Wherefore Governor Blount issued a proclamation calling upon each county to choose in December five delegates to a constitutional convention called to meet in Knoxville on January 11, 1796. Elections were held Knox county sent a delegation composed of William Blount, James White, Charles McClung, John Adair, and John Crawford, the delegates met and drafted a constitution characterized by Thomas Jefferson as the least imperfect and most republican of any of the constitutions adopted up to that time. After some delay in congress, caused by political jealousy, on June 1, 1796, Tennessee was admitted into the Union with its capital at Knoxville.