The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto first visited the Tennessee area in 1540, and quickly claimed the land for Spain. This uninvited intrusion into the ancestral homeland of Native Americans would eventually prove disastrous for the Cherokee Indians and other indigenous tribes.
In their continuing search for gold and silver in the Americas, Spanish expeditions returned again and again, but they searched in vain for treasure. By the middle of the 17th century, after French and English explorations, both nations claimed this land as their own.
As European settlers from the original thirteen colonies gradually spread west, small communities were established in the northeast, along the North Carolina border. As a few hundred hardy pioneers reached the area now called Nashville, Indians were being summarily squeezed out of what was rightfully theirs, and they would eventually be forced to move further south and west just to survive.
During the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), Great Britain defeated France and their Native American allies, thus taking control of a vast area of North America, including present day Tennessee. As the American Revolutionary War played out across the eastern colonies, west of the Appalachian Mountains, colonists against Native Americans, the British, and their loyalist supporters fought that war.
In 1780, at the Battle of King's Mountain in North Carolina, Tennessee militiamen overwhelmed the loyalist militia led by British Major Patrick Ferguson, and helped turn the tide of the Revolution War in the South. At war's end, hundreds of Revolutionary War veterans and their families streamed backed into Tennessee.
In the late 1780's, a few counties in western North Carolina broke off and formed the State of Franklin. This fractured area tried to join the Union, but failed. Eventually North Carolina, after joining the Union, ceded that land to the federal government in 1790, after which it was officially organized into the Southwest Territory, land collectively corresponding to modern-day Tennessee.
In 1795, there were enough people in the Southwest Territory to petition for statehood. Then Governor Blount (appointed by George Washington) convened a constitutional convention and its delegates drafted a state constitution. The Southwest Territory was the first federal territory to petition to join the Union; after some conflicting opinions in the U.S. Congress, Tennessee was finally admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796 as the 16th state.
In 1838, as the population of Tennessee continued to grow and demand for land increased, U.S. President Martin Van Buren ordered nearly 17,000 Cherokees uprooted from their ancestral homes in Tennessee. They were subsequently forced by the U.S. military to move to Indian Territories west of Arkansas. During that brutal relocation march, an estimated 4,000 Cherokees died along the way.
Slavery and States' Rights long fueled the desire for independence across the south. By February of 1861, six southern states had already seceded from the Union, and Tennessee joined them on June 8, 1861. Although Tennessee joined the Confederacy there was much pro-Union sentiment in the state.
"There is a terrible war coming, and these young men who have never seen war cannot wait for it to happen, but I tell you, I wish that I owned every slave in the South, for I would free them all to avoid this war." Robert E. Lee.
Tennessee is aptly called "The Volunteer State," as in the Civil War, it distinguished itself with military leadership, and by the brave, unwavering exploits of its native sons.
Major battles were fought in Tennessee - many of them Union victories: they included Shiloh; the naval battle at Memphis on the Mississippi River; Battles of Chattanooga and Murfreesboro, and finally ending in the Battle of Nashville, where the Confederates were all but destroyed.
At war's end, the Tennessee legislature approved an amendment to the state constitution prohibiting slavery; they also ratified the Thirteen Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (abolishing slavery), and the Fourteenth Amendment that gave equal protection for all persons under the law.
Andrew Johnson (from Tennessee) was elected Vice President in 1864 and served along side President Abraham Lincoln. He became President after Lincoln's tragic assassination in 1865, and during his term, Tennessee was the first of the seceding states to have its elected members readmitted to the U.S. Congress.
When reconstruction ended, political powers across many of the southern states continually found ways to restrict the civil rights of African Americans, and Tennessee was no exception. Racial tensions and social divisions festered for many years, all legally ended by America's Civil Rights Act of 1964.
As it turned out, the Great Depression of the 1930's was the economic turning point for Tennessee. Jobs were desperately needed, and President Franklin Roosevelt and the federal government answered that call by creating the TVA, or Tennessee Valley Authority. Its goals were to produce electricity for the rural areas and to make the Tennessee River a viable shipping corridor.
At the start of World War II, aluminum to build bombs and airplanes was in short supply, as aluminum plants required massive amounts of electricity. To provide that power, the TVA engaged in one of the largest hydropower construction programs ever undertaken. Early in 1942, when the effort reached its peak, 12 hydroelectric projects and a steam plant were under construction at the same time.
By the time the war ended, the TVA had completed a 650-mile-long navigation channel the full length of the Tennessee River. As a result, the TVA transformed Tennessee into an economic powerhouse, and the state became the largest public utility supplier in the country.
In the middle of the 20th century, the Tennessee River Valley exploded with economic growth; unemployment was almost nonexistent; family farms and commercial forests were in better shape than they had been in generations, and electric rates were among the nation's lowest. Improving on the situation, the TVA began to build nuclear plants as a new source of power for the future.
Renowned as the "Birthplace of the Blues;" the home of Elvis Presley, and of course, for Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry, Tennessee is rightfully known as the Country Music Capital of the World. Tennessee is one of America's most popular tourist destinations, as it perfectly represents the natural beauty and history of America, as well as the music legends that made this state famous.
The unforgettable beauty and charm of Tennessee begins along the historic Mississippi River, then moves east across miles of farmland, to blend into the bluegrass valleys and powerful rivers at its heart. It ends (all to soon), in the misty hollows and forests of the Great Smoky Mountains.