History of Tennessee
The first inhabitants of Tennessee were Paleo-Indians. The names of those tribes are not known but several cultures have been identified in the region – Archaic, Woodland and Mississippian. They were the precursors of the Muscogees, who lived in Tennessee before the Cherokee moved to the Tennessee River Valley.
The first Europeans in Tennessee were Spanish explorers in the mid-16th century, most notably Juan Pardo, Tristan de Luna and Hernando de Soto. It was Juan Pardo who first recorded the name of the region – Tanasqui, from which the current name had evolved.
The first settlement, although only temporary, was the British Fort Loudoun. Soon after the settlement was completed, the British started fighting with the Cherokee who lived in the area. After a siege by the Cherokee, the fort surrendered and most of the garrison was either killed or taken prisoner.
The first permanent settlers started arriving in the late 1760s. Most of them were English and Scotch-Irish. They leased the land from the Cherokee and formed the Watauga Association.
In 1776, during the Revolutionary War, Fort Watauga, near Elizabethton, was attacked by a group of Cherokee who worked with the British loyalists. The fort, located on the Watauga River, later served as training grounds for the Overmountain Men before they passed the Appalachian and defeated the British in the Battle of Kings Mountain.
The Washington District was a remote area west of the Appalachian Mountains that included some parts of present-day Tennessee. It belonged to North Carolina, but in 1784, three of its counties separated and founded the State of Franklin. The new state could not be admitted to the Union and it went back to North Carolina only to be ceded to the federal government in 1790. Afterwards, it became the Southwest Territory.
Tennessee was the 17th state to be admitted to the Union in June 1796. It was the first federal territory to become a US state.
During the Van Buren administration, some 17,000 Cherokees and their black slaves (approximately 2,000 of them) were forced to leave their homes in eastern Tennessee and march westward to the Indian Territory. During the relocation process, 4,000 Cherokees died. The phrase “Trail of Tears” was coined then (Cherokees called the whole ordeal “The Trail Where We Cried”) and it was often used to describe similar sufferings of the Native American people.
The Civil War was very intensive in Tennessee. In fact, only Virginia saw more battles during the war. Tennessee was the last in the South to declare secession from the Union and it was a strong Confederate state, although there were several pro-Union areas in the eastern portion of the state.
Tennessee was the site of many important battles of the American Civil War, including the devastating Battle of Shiloh and the Stones River, Chattanooga, Franklin and Nashville battles.
Since most of Tennessee was held by the Union by 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation did not include it and the slaves were not automatically freed. They fled towards the Union lines and basically camped with the troops, and eventually many of them ended up fighting for the Union.
The period after the war and after the Reconstruction saw a lot of political turbulence, especially between freedmen (emancipated slaves) and their allies on one side and white Democrats on the other. White Democrats prevailed and began to impose restrictive laws against African Americans. African Americans and poor whites were essentially disenfranchised, especially in rural parts of the state. Segregation came in the late 19th century.
In 1920, Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment that allowed women to vote. However, due to restrictive registration requirements, most of the African Americans and poor whites (regardless of sex) were still unable to vote.
The Great Depression in Tennessee was not only a period of high unemployment rates and generally poor economic opportunities, but also a time when it became obvious the state required better electrification, especially in rural areas, better flood control, and better shipping infrastructure on the Tennessee River. As a response to these needs, the Tennessee Valley Authority was formed and it soon became the largest utility company in America. Because of the good power supply in the state, the Manhattan Project (the program that produced the first atomic bomb) constructed one of its main production sites in East Tennessee during the World War II.
Even though the poll tax was abolished in 1953, most of the disenfranchised voters still had difficulties voting up until the national civil rights legislation was passed.
Tennessee is bordered by Kentucky and Virginia to the north, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama to the south, Missouri and Arkansas to the west and North Carolina to the east.
The highest point in the state, which is also the highest point of the Appalachian Trail, is Clingmans Dome. The lowest point is on the Mississippi River at the border with the state of Mississippi.
There are three major geographical divisions in Tennessee: East, Middle and West Tennessee. These are also the legal divisions of the state. The strictly geographic regions are the Blue Ridge, the Appalachian Ridge and Valley, the Cumberland Plateau, the Highland Rim, the Nashville Basin and the Gulf Coastal Plain.
Tennessee has 54 state parks, as well as several national and historical parks and trails, most notably the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the most visited national park in the United States), Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, Appalachian National Scenic Trail, Shiloh National Cemetery, Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Foothills Parkway and Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Cherokee National Forest and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park are also in Tennessee.
The majority of Tennessee has a humid subtropical climate. Higher parts of the state, especially in the Appalachians, have a humid continental or mountain temperate climate. The summers in Tennessee are hot and winters are generally mild. The state generally gets a lot of precipitation during all seasons.
Tennessee is not located in the strict hurricane zone, but it is prone to occasional tropical cyclones with heavy rainfall, such as the tropical storm Chris of 1982.
Population of Tennessee
According to the 2011 US Census, Tennessee has 6,403,353 inhabitants, with an increase of 0.9% since the previous year. The increase in population between 2000 and 2006 was approximately 6%. In the last few years, there was an increase of immigrants from other US states, especially northern ones, along with people from California and Florida. One possible explanation for this tendency is the fact that Tennessee has a relatively low cost of living and some of its industries (especially health care and automobiles) are booming. This is especially noted in Nashville.
As for the racial structure of the state, the results of the 2010 US Census showed that 77.6% of the population were White, 16.7% were African American, 4.6% were Hispanic or Latino, 0.3% were Native American or Alaska Native, 1.4% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander and 1.7% were biracial.
The five most common ethnic groups (as self-reported) were American, African American, Irish, English and German. Among those who identify themselves as American, most of them are of English or Scotch-Irish ancestry.
Six Indian tribes were officially recognized in 2010, however, the recognition was later repealed. Those tribes were the Cherokee Wolf Clan (in the western portion of Tennessee), the Chikamaka Band (mostly in South Cumberland), Central Band of Cherokee, United Eastern Lenape Nation, the Tanasi Council and Yuchi Nation.
The majority of Tennesseans (82%) are Christian. The largest denomination is Baptist, followed by Methodist, Church of Christ, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Church of God, Lutheran and Pentecostal. One percent of the population is Muslim, 9% identifies as non-religious and 2% belong to other religions.
Throughout its history, and especially in the 20th century, Tennessee has been the site of some of the worst racial tensions and strife in the entire USA. The Ku Klux Klan was formed in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1886 and Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.
Tennessee has a number of professional sports teams, most notably the Memphis Grizzlies (NBA), Tennessee Titans (NFL) and Nashville Predators (NHL).
Tennessee has the 18th largest economy in the United States. In 2005, its gross state product was $226,502 billion, and in 2003 the pro capita personal income was $28,641, which ranks 36th in the USA. The unemployment rate in Tennessee was 8.4% in the last trimester of 2011.
The state relies greatly on cotton and textile, cattle and electrical power. There are more than 80,000 farms in Tennessee and most of them raise cattle.
Cotton was traditionally the main crop in Tennessee but the industrial production of cotton fiber started only in 1820s, when the fertile lands between Tennessee and Mississippi rivers opened for cultivation.
Several major national and international corporations have their headquarters in Tennessee, most notably FedEx, AutoZone Inc. and International Paper (in Memphis), Pilot Corporation (in Knoxville), Caterpillar Financial (Nashville) and Nissan’s North American headquarters (Franklin). The income tax in Tennessee does not apply to salaries, however it does apply to most income from bonds and stocks. The sales tax is 7%, except for food (most of food items are taxed at 5.5%).
Tennessee Government and Legislation
In Tennessee, a governor holds office for four years and can be elected two times in a row. The governor is elected in statewide elections. There is no lieutenant governor in Tennessee and the state Senate elects a Speaker instead.
The Tennessee General Assembly is composed of the Senate (with 33 members who serve four-year terms) and the House of the Representatives (99 of them, two-year terms).
The highest court in the state is the Supreme Court of Tennessee, which appoints the Attorney General (unlike in other US states, where the Attorney General is appointed by the Governor).
The current state constitution of Tennessee was adopted in 1870. This is the state’s third constitution, the firs one being adopted in 1796, when Tennessee joined the Union, and the second one in 1834.
As for the politics, Tennessee is dominated by two major political options – the Democrats and the Republicans, much like any other US state. Until the 1950, the state was predominately Democratic, but then it voted twice for Eisenhower and has voted Republican at almost every presidential election since. Still, Tennessee tends to be a bit more moderate than its other Southern neighbors. Al Gore, who ran for vice president in 2000 as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee, did not win in his home state, which is not usual in US politics.
Tennessee has nine members of the US House of Representatives – seven Republicans and two Democrats.
The four law enforcement agencies in Tennessee are Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The local law enforcement consists of County Sheriff’s Offices and Municipal Police Departments.
Education in Tennessee
Public education in Tennessee on the primary and secondary level is operated by county or city (in some cases, by a special school district), under the Tennessee Department of Education. Private schools are present throughout the state as well.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission controls two public university systems: the University of Tennessee and the Tennessee Board of Regents.
The University of Tennessee system has three primary campuses – in Knoxville, Martin and Chattanooga. The University of Tennessee Health Science Center campus is located in Memphis and the University of Tennessee Space Institute is in Tullahoma. The entire system has approximately 49,000 students and more than 320,000 living alumni.
The other system of higher education, the Tennessee Board of Regents or TBR, currently has six universities: Middle Tennessee State University, University of Memphis, Tennessee Technological University, Tennessee State University, Austin Peay State University and East Tennessee State University.
Tennessee also has many private universities and colleges located throughout the state, such as Vanderbilt University, Belmont University, Maryville College, Rhodes College, Union University and Fisk University.
Transportation in Tennessee
Tennessee has a number of interstate highways. Interstate 40 goes from west to east throughout the entire state, and its branch highways include I-440 (Nashville), I-240 (Memphis), I-140 and I-640 (both in Knoxville). I-26 runs from the state border with North Carolina to Kingsport, while I-24 connects Chattanooga and Clarksville. The north-south interstate highways in Tennessee include I-55, I-65, I-85 and I-81. There are also several interstate highways that only run through smaller portions of the state.
The largest and the busiest airports in Tennessee are Nashville International Airport (BNA) and Memphis International Airport (MEM). The latter, being the major FedEx hub, is the world’s second busiest airport by cargo traffic.
Other large airports in Tennessee include Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, McGhee Tyson Airport in Knoxville, McKellar-Sipers Regional Airport in Jackson and Tri-Cities Regional Airport (serving the Tri-Cities area in Northeast Tennessee and southwest Virginia).
As for the railroads, Memphis and Newbern are located on the Amtrak City of New Orleans line from Chicago to New Orleans.
Some of the most notable bridges in Tennessee include Hernando de Soto bridge in Memphis, Elizabethton covered bridge, Henley Street Bridge in Nashville and Walnut Street bridge in Chattanooga.