Follow TV Tropes


Useful Notes / Tennessee

Go To

Ah, the land of Dixie and the Volunteer State, Tennessee is settled right in the middle of the South. It borders Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Missouri. The only other state to border as many states as Tennessee is Missourinote . Tennessee is a great representation of Eagleland, showing up in fiction as both the kind and... less kind versions of the South. It's also the home of Country Music, with its capital at Nashville. Its biggest city is also Nashville, and its second biggest city is Memphis, a big name from Ancient Egypt. Other cities include big names shared with other more famous cities like Athens, Cleveland, Columbia, Savannah, Fayetteville, and Jackson.

You may know this state for Whiskey and Elvis Presleynote . Since 2016, it is one of only two statesnote  to have given its name to a chemical element, the synthetic halogen Tennessine (Element 118); Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Vanderbilt University were heavily involved in its first synthesis.


Tennessee is named after a Cherokee settlement and the nearby river. The name was given to a county in then-North Carolina before the State split down the Great Smoky Mountains, creating Tennessee. Before European expansion into the area, Tennessee was populated by the Muskogee and, later, the Cherokee (some were early Appalachian nomads, but most of the Cherokee population of Tennessee arrived after they were forcibly removed from Georgia by white settlers). Tennessee was first settled by the British in the 1750s, but it wasn't until the early 1780s that it separated from North Carolina (as the State of Franklin).

Relations with the Overhill Cherokee

The settlers at Fort Loudon kept isolated from the nearby Overhill Cherokee once they had fought off the French for the tribe, but when they did later mix, relations became hostile. The British requested the tribes to keep out the Northern tribal allies of the French settlers; unable or unwilling, the Cherokee kidnapped white settlers and dismembered them, hoping to fool the British into believing they were French and to give them a reward. The British instead imprisoned the Cherokee armed warriors for the rest of the expedition. When they were released, though most were amenable, some Cherokee chose to raid the British frontier at Virginia before returning to the Fort — the British settlers here killed random members of the return party who paraded their crime in front of them. This began a chain that ended with a series of Cherokee offensives.

In 1759, the Cherokee lead an attack on the Virginia frontier, giving the dead British to the French for artillery. They then stopped trading with white settlers and blocked passage to the West and into the Overhill, the British planned a march but a small group of Cherokee came to Charleston to ask the Governor to not do that; they were kept with the marching troop - but with the instruction to be kind as it was for their own protection. The march was brought forward, and the military party released several of the Cherokee to their tribe, but kept a bargaining pact that they would swap the others for those Cherokee who murdered British settlers. The Cherokee leaders refused, and in early 1760 murdered the commander at the garrison where the detained Cherokee were being kept; the soldiers then killed the detainees.

Fort Loudon was under constant sabotage from the Cherokee since the outbreak of the Anglo-Cherokee War. The tribes often orchestrated pranks to injure the settlers or to keep out supplies. In late 1759, the British prepared the Fort — their Westernmost frontier and so battle target — for a long hide-out, bringing in men and food. The siege of the Cherokee began in early 1760, once they knew of the garrison prisoners being killed. They, too, began a camp-out that lasted for months, also launching measures to prevent the relief force from Virginia from reaching the Fort or providing it with food. In mid-1760, satisfied that the British must be out of supplies (and they nearly were), the Cherokee council planned an attempt to lure them with corn. However, one leader who had consistently been friendly with the British snuck to the Fort and revealed the plan, which was subsequently postponed. At the end of the summer, the British leaders arranged a surrender to the Cherokee. They would leave the Fort and its equipment, abandoning the county to return to Charleston. As they were packing up, the Cherokee arrived at the settlement to taunt and harass the British, beating some. The settlers did not respond to the attack, instead choosing to abandon the Fort to camp out along the valley back to Virginia. Following them, the Cherokee ambushed the British early one morning as they slept — they gave a surrender and the Cherokee tortured the leaders before humiliating them in front of the rest of the settlers and then killing them. Everyone else was taken prisoner and sold back to the British over the course of the year.


There were a few recovery expeditions into the Overhill through the 1760s (like Timberlake's), as well as there being independent hunters beginning to settle. They operated like nomadic Inuit, spending half the year living in the wilderness to collect food for a whole year, coming from Virginia. They learnt of the landscape like tribal people, and many were employed when the British attempted further expansion to the former French colonies in the West. The settlers then moved South into Tennessee again, this time renting their land from the Cherokee (despite the fact that the Cherokee had never lived in the settled areas, as the British settlers would not venture into the Overhill). The Cherokee still attacked them, though, in an unprovoked offensive in 1776. This was because the specific Cherokee were actually the Chickamauga, who supported the British Crown in The American Revolution, ironically, and wanted to tell the Tennessean settlers this in a very violent way.

The Chickamauga were angry at the Cherokee for selling land to the North Carolinians, whose plans were to settle Washington District (now Tennessee) and Transylvania (the Missouri area). One Chickamuaga Cherokee, who opposed the violent nature of their tribal subset, would warn the settlers of any pending attacks so that they could relocate or fortify — they very rarely returned fire. It was these attacks that prompted the Watauga Tennessean settlers' interest in actually owning the land for themselves (already calling themselves a Republic) and, when North Carolina offered it to the Union as a repayment settlement after the Revolution, the Tennesseans seceded from NC State ties and created the State of Franklin in 1784 from four counties in Eastern Tennessee.

It was founded with the intention of becoming the 14th State, the white Watauga being staunch supporters of the Union, but were rejected. They did not achieve a two-thirds majority vote from the present States, largely because of objection from governors who did not want shared or moving borders and because frontiersmen in other states wished to form their own new states. There was also opposition from Congress, likely because they would not be able to support a new State so soon. This had also been a prompt for the Watauga claim of their own freedom: During the Revolution, the settlers had further expanded into Tennessee, establishing a stronghold in Nashborough (yes, now Nashville), and were concerned that the poor financial state of both North Carolina and the Union would prevent them from being able to communicate with hostile native tribes or to have their newly-earned land sold to France. This was not ideal, and so when NC sent legislature into the West in order to establish the land, the intervention from what the settlers perceived to be a restrictive and disorganized governance was the final straw for them and a selection congregated to announce their independence.

Though Franklin never joined the Union, it was governed out of Greenville as a Free Republic until being re-added to North Carolina in 1788. It signed its Constitution in 1785 and began adopting more Carolina counties and land draft in Tennessee. Owing to the tough economic situation, one common currency was deerskins — bucks, where the modern slang originates. The Republic aimed to be an ideal state, and it made peace treaties with the surrounding native tribes (except for Chickamauga Cherokee). It also peacefully bartered for land, which may have perked North Carolina's interest. It took only a few years before NC decided that they wanted Franklin back, and all the land they'd managed to claim and organize in the meantime, and ultimately a lot of the Franklin supporters renounced their interest, opting to support Carolinian re-adoption. However, the general population voted against admission to the Union under someone else's power; North Carolina stormed the state and set up shop before choosing to have a fight over whether they could do that. The big battle over who ruled didn't start until 1788, two years of reasonably peaceful coalition ruling behind them; this was a pretty good plan — being actively shown the different operations of both opposing powers let the people have an educated decision over who they wanted ruling them.

Also, ever since the NC occupation, some of the Franklin people decided that they needed to establish their dominance by getting more land — but with little time, they pretty much had to just step in and outright steal from the Cherokee. And, as history should have taught them, the Cherokee fought back. Well, they held back their ace until 1788, when North Carolina also played their hand. The sheriff of what NC claimed was its Washington county began taking repo from the Franklin governor as "back taxes" for the land and all its fortunes. Given it was all stored in the sheriff's own kitchen, the subsequent bloody battle with three whole troops and reinforcements literally took place in his back yard. The Battle of Franklin lasted ten minutes and took place in a suburban garden. A couple of days later, the Chickamauga and Chickasaw tribes started launching surprise attacks on random towns in Franklin. Franklin wanted a loan from Spain, but fears of the state being made a Spanish territory caused NC to arrest basically all of Franklin's legislature. Their supporters may have broken them out, but they'd lost a lot of favor and retreated to friendly Cherokee land that they had settled. During this time, Franklin handed itself over to North Carolina; the former Franklin legislature swore allegiance to NC in 1789, but their supporters weren't moving.

The Franklin loyalists hiding out on Cherokee land remembered that though they had made deals with the tribes to settle below the river, the land was still Cherokee and the deal couldn't really be upheld with a country that didn't exist. They founded Lesser Franklin in 1789, reinforcing the Watauga convention, and lived in sort-of Cherokee territory peacefully for a couple of years. In 1791, the Southwest Territory was created (the same land as Franklin but with a shiny new name and ruled by NC) and met with the Cherokee to tell them to hand over their land. They did this, probably because the United States army was now a big scary thing, and the government dissolved Lesser Franklin. The old Franklin governor was made Representative of the Southwest Territory in Congress.

The Grand Divisions

The state is legally and popularly divided into three regions. We're not exaggerating the "legally" part–the regions are entrenched in the state's constitution; while the document allows the legislature to change their boundaries, this hasn't happened in more than 50 years. The state constitution contains provisions to ensure that each of the three regions enjoys representation on key state agencies and governing bodies. For example, the state's Supreme Court must have at least one justice (out of five) from each Grand Division, and can have no more than two from any one Grand Division.

The three stars in the state's flag represent these divisions.

East Tennessee

Consists of all 27 counties located within the Eastern Time Zone, plus Bledsoe, Cumberland, and Marion Counties on Central Time. The region is bounded mainly by the edge of the Cumberland Plateau, which was a key barrier to trade and travel for much of the state's early history. The region lies within Appalachia, with all the baggage (and tropes) that go with it. Most notably, East Tennessee was a hotbed of pro-Union sentiment in the Civil War. In fact, future President Andrew Johnson, who moved to the region as a teenager and lived there for the rest of his life (when not serving in Washington), was the only sitting U.S. Senator from a Confederate state who didn't resign his seat when his state seceded. To this day, the region's demographics largely match Appalachia; close to 90% of the population is non-Hispanic white (compared to roughly 75% statewide), and only about 6% is African American (about 17% statewide).

The largest city in the region is Knoxville, home to the main campus of the University of Tennessee. Knoxville was the previous capital of Tennessee, and also played an important role in the development of many American music genres, especially country. This created something of a rivalry with Nashville, which "stole" both the capital and the "Music City" title that Knoxvillians think should've been theirs. Other key cities are Chattanooga, Oak Ridge (noted for its role in the Manhattan Project), and the "Tri-Cites" of Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport. Also notable in post-Civil War American history for the Scopes Trial (aka "Monkey Trial"), held in Dayton and involving the early-20th-century clash between religion and science. The play Inherit the Wind is a highly fictionalized version of said trial. Fun trivia: The current mayor of Knox County, home to Knoxville, is Glenn Jacobs... whom you probably know better as legendary professional wrestler Kane.

Middle Tennessee

Consists of the counties between the Tennessee River and the edge of the Cumberland Plateau. Mostly a land of rolling hills and fertile valleys, with the main center by far being Nashville. Another important city in the region is Clarksville, near the Fort Campbell Army post.

West Tennessee

Consists of all counties west of the Tennessee River, plus Hardin County, which the river bisects. A largely flat region with some gentle hills for variety, it was historically (and remains) a largely agricultural area. Because of its flat land and subtropical climate, plantation agriculture was well established in the region, making it the state's main Confederate hotbed. The legacy of pre-Civil War days lives on to some degree; the region has a much larger African American population than the state at large (about 37%, comparable to that of Mississippi). The only major city within the region is Memphis.

People from Tennessee

Country Musicians: