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The State of Tennessee lies between 35° and 36°30' N. lat. and 81°37' and 90°38' W. long. Its greatest length from east to west is 432 miles and its extreme width 109 miles; its total area is 43,022 square miles. It touches eight states on its borders, a greater number than is touched by the boundaries of any other state in the Union except Missouri. It is unequalled in the number and excellence of its navigable rivers. The Mississippi River washes its western boundaries and the placid Tennessee and beautiful Cumberland, with sources in other states, furnish cheap water transportation for the varied products of the soil and of the mines.

Physical characteristics

The state has eight great natural divisions: the Appalachian chains of the mountains, called Unakis, rises on it eastern border, the highest peaks of which attain the elevation of more than 6000 feet above sea level. Adjoining the mountains to the west and in between them and the Cumberland table-land, is the valley of east Tennessee, a succession of ridges and minor valleys running in almost unbroken lines from north-east to south-west. Next in order comes the Cumberland table-land, an elevated plateau which rises 2000 feet above the sea. The soil of this division is sandy, thin, and unproductive, and of but little agricultural importance. Beneath it, however, are buried vast treasures of coal and iron, and its area is 5100 square miles. Rising above the western edge of the Cumberland table-land and extending to the Tennessee River, with an average elevation of 1000 feet above the sea, are the highlands or terrace lands, diversified in places with rolling hills and wide valleys. The soil in this division is of varying fertility and of great agricultural importance and wealth. In the center of these highlands and surrounded by them is the great central basin. The soil of this basin is very productive of all crops suitable to the altitude, and it has been well-named "The Garden of Tennessee". Its area is 5450 square miles and it has an average depression of 300 hundred feet below the highlands. The next natural division is the western valley or Valley of the Tennessee. This is a comparatively narrow valley with spurs from the highlands running in towards it and sometimes down the margin of the Tennessee River. The soil is fertile, but marshy spots covered with cypress occur in places along the river. The average width of this valley is ten or twelve miles and its length the breadth of the state. It has an area of 1200 square miles, and an elevation of 350 feet above the sea. The plateau or slope of west Tennessee is the seventh natural division, and peculiar in having but few rocks, differing in this particular from all the divisions above mentioned. It is a great plain sloping gradually towards the Mississippi River and varying widely in the character of its soil and scenery. Furrowed with river valley, this division extends for a distance of 84 miles, when it abruptly terminates in the greater plain, the bottoms of the Mississippi. The soil of this division is light and very fertile. The bottoms of the Mississippi form the last natural division of the state, and constitute a low, fertile, alluvial plain, teeming with a luxurious vegetable life that is almost tropical.

These eight natural divisions have been reduced to three civil divisions: (1) east Tennessee comprises all the territory from the North Carolina line to about the center of the Cumberland table-land; (2) middle Tennessee extends from the middle of the dividing line of the Cumberland table-line to the Tennessee River; (3) west Tennessee extends from the Tennessee River to the Mississippi River. The climate is mild, resulting from latitude and elevation interwoven and modified by varieties of soil, positions, exposure, and chains of mountain ranges, so that the characteristic climate of every state in the Union may be found in it. In the spring and autumn the climate is unsurpassed. The summer and winter seasons are short. The mean annual temperature is about 57 in the valley of east Tennessee, 58 in middle Tennessee, and 59 in west Tennessee.


The first expedition of white men into the country included within the limits of the present State of Tennessee was that of Fernando De Soto in the year 1540. Accounts given of De Soto's marches by his followers have lead to the belief that he entered Tennessee near its eastern boundary and advanced almost its entire width, reaching the Mississippi at a point now occupied by the city of Memphis. At the time of this expedition Tennessee was unoccupied except by the Cherochee Indians, who inhabited that part bordering on the Tennessee River; the Choctaws, the upper Cumberland; the Shawnees, the lower Cumberland; and the Chickasaws used and claimed the territory between the Tennessee and the Mississippi rivers, now west of Tennessee. The rich section of middle Tennessee was then regarded by the Indians as common hunting-ground and was not used by them for any other purpose. In 1673 Father Marquette and Joliet descended the Mississippi River and made maps of the country, especially noting Chickasaw Bluffs, on which Memphis is now situated. In 1682 La Salle made his famous voyage down the Mississippi, claiming the territory for France, and named it Louisiana. He stopped at Chickasaw bluffs and constructed a cabin and a fort which he named "Prud 'homme", made a treaty with the Indians, and established trading posts. Other French trading posts were soon thereafter established among the Indians. Among these were the post of M. Charleville, the French trader who built the first store at Salt Lick on the Cumberland, where Nashville now stands. The English, in the meantime, were colonizing the country from the Atlantic seaboard westward, and in 1756 completed their first structure in Tennessee, when the first English settlements were made within its limits.

In 1772 the Watauga settlement established a free and independent Government with the first Constitution adopted in America. The Government continued until the beginning of the revolution in 1775, preserving the independence of all other Governments, including that of North Carolina, its mother colony, until the beginning of the conflict with Great Britain, when the Watauga and Nollachucky settlements of Tennessee formed themselves into the Washington District. In 1776 these settlements were annexed to the State of North Carolina, and became Washington County. In 1779 a band of adventurous spirits from Watauga, led by James Robertson, known as "the Father of Tennessee", reached the present site of Nashville. The settlement was then called Nashboro. Captain Demonbreun, a Frenchman, had, however, established a post at the same place in 1775. In 1780 another band of colonists reached Nashville by way of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, and in the same year, a public meeting or convention was held in Nashville, which adopted articles of agreement for the common defense and welfare, the control of this Government being vested in a court of government of notables, consisting of ten. This settlement was engaged in almost constant warfare with the Indians. In 1780 an army of Tennessee colonists was organized for service against the British. These colonists, having been isolated from the colony of North Carolina by the mountains, were up to this year so constantly engaged in resisting the attacks of the Indians, it was impossible to render much, if any, assistance against the British. However, after the defeat of the Revolutionary army by General Clinton in North Carolina, an army of Tennessee colonists led by Colonel Isaac Shelby and Colonel John Sevier, advanced into North Carolina, and after several successful engagements with detachments of the British army met and annihilated on King's Mountain an army of British veterans under command of the distinguished British officer, Colonel Ferguson. The skill and gallantry of the officers and the valour of the men of Tennessee in this battle mark it as one of the glorious events in the state's history.

In 1785 the territory including the State of Tennessee was ceded by North Carolina to the United States. Some dissatisfaction having arisen between the colonists of Tennessee and the government of North Carolina, in August, 1784, a convention composed of delegates from several of the counties petitioned Congress to accept the cession of North Carolina and permit the inhabitants of the territory to form a Government to be admitted into the Union as a state. In September of the same year a convention was held at Jonesboro, but adjourned without taking any decisive action. Another convention was held in the same place in November, 1875, and a provisional Constitution was put into operation. The new state was called "Frankland, the Land of the Free". The name was soon after changed or recognized as "Franklin", when or by whom cannot be accurately determined. North Carolina continued to legislate and execute her laws within the jurisdiction of Franklin, and a compromise was ineffectually attempted. Pending these negotiations and the operation of contending Governments, control of the State of Franklin was generally recognized, peace was maintained among the colonists under the laws of Franklin, and a continuous Indian warfare carried on. The cession of North Carolina was attempted by Congress, 2 April, 1790, and the country was governed as a territory for six years, during which the Indian wars were constant and bloody. In 1813 the news reached Nashville of the outbreak of the Indians in Alabama and several massacres by them of the whites, particularly the settlement of Fort Mimms near Mobile. A public meeting was held, resulting in a request to General Andrew Jackson to take command of an army of volunteers called by the Legislature of the State of Tennessee and enrolled in service after a few days. Although Jackson was then convalescing from wounds he had received from a fray with the Bentons, within nine days he took command of the volunteer army and proceeded against the Indians. After several encounters they were signally defeated and their power utterly and permanently broken at Enotachopco and Tohopeka on 24 and 27 January, 1813. It was the creation of this army under Jackson that gave Tennessee the name of "The Volunteer State".

On 8 Jan., 1815, Jackson with an army consisting largely of Tennesseans fought the battle of New Orleans. The main attack of the British, who were commanded by Sir Edward Packingham, one of the ablest of Wellington's lieutenants, and composed of veterans seasoned by Napoleonic wars, was defeated by the Tennessee riflemen under Generals Carroll and Coffee. With the adoption of the Constitution of 1834 Tennessee entered a new epoch in her history and then became an important factor in national politics. Jackson was elected president in 1828 and re-elected in 1832. James K. Plok was elected President in 1844. Tennessee figured prominently in the Mexican War of 1847, 30,000 volunteers rendering their services upon the call of Governor Brown. On 9 Nov., 1861, an election was held upon the question of holding a convention to determine whether or not Tennessee should cede from the Union of States. The State refused to cede by a vote of 24,794 favouring the secession to 88,803 in favour of the Union. After the proclamation of President Lincoln on 15 April calling for 75,000 troops, a series of proclamations were issued declaring the ports of the seceded states in a state of blockage and all vessels acting under the seceded states guilty of piracy. The announcement of the purpose of the Federal Government to resort to coercion produced a revolution of sentiment in Tennessee. The Legislature, convened in extra session on 25 April, passed an ordinance of secession and submitted it to popular vote in an election to be held on 8 June, 1861. The ordinance was ratified by a vote of 104,913 in its favour to 47,238 against it.

Meanwhile an intense Union settlement developed extensively in east Tennessee. The leading statesman of that section, Andrew Johnson, afterwards president of the United States, Wm. G. Brownlow, Thomas A. R. Nelson, and Horace Maynard, espoused the cause of the Union. A convention was held on 17 June, 1861, at Greenville, to consider the formation of a new state composed of east Tennessee and such adjoining counties of middle Tennessee as might vote to be included. The new state was never formed, but many east Tennesseans joined the Federal army. Many of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War were fought within the borders of Tennessee: Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Murfreesboro or Stone River, Nashville, Franklin; the battle of Chickamauga was fought largely on the Georgia border and for the possession of Tennessee. On 15 Feb., 1862, in consequence of the fall of Ft. Donelson, the Legislature adjourned to Memphis. On 22 Feb., 1862, Gen. Grant issued an order suspending civil government in Tennessee and declaring martial law. President Lincoln appointed Andrew Johnson, Brigadier General and Military Governor of Tennessee. In 1865 the Constitution of the state was amended so as to abolish slavery, and also to prohibit the General Assembly from making laws recognizing the right of property in man. On 4 March, 1865, Governor Johnson was inaugurated President of the united States, and on 5 April following, Wm. G. Brownling was inaugurated governor.

Following the return of the Confederate soldiers, the legislature passed a number of enactments which were strongly opposed by the conservative wing of the Union, which led to sentiments of animosity more bitter than the feelings engendered by war. One of these laws practically disenfranchised all persons except those who had always been Union men. Tennessee was re-admitted to the Union, 23 July, 1866, Andrew Johnson, then President of the United States, signing the bill. Tennessee was the only one of the seceding states to abolish slavery by its own act. From the beginning of the slavery agitation there was a strong abolition party in Tennessee. In 1820, "The Emancipator", the first abolition journal in the United States was published by Elihu Embry in Jonesboro. The Ku Klux Klan was organized in Pulaski, middle Tennessee, in the summer of 1866, and was originally intended for the amusement of a band of young men who had returned from the Confederate army. It afterwards spread throughout the South, becoming a strongly partisan organization for the protection of Confederate sympathizers against the evils and dangers of the period. In 1869 the Confederate element regained control of the state, and on 10 June, 1870, another constitutional convention was held. The Constitution there adopted was ratified by the people, 26 March, 1871, and is still in force.


The population of the state under the federal census of 1900 was 2,020,616: 1,021,224 males and 999,392 females; of whom 2,002,870 were native born; 1,010,793 males and 992,077 females. The coloured population, including mulattoes, Chinese, and others not of the white race, was 480,430; 238,522 males and 241,908 females. In 1910 the population was 2,187,789, an increase of 8.1 percent.


The resources of Tennessee are abundant, rich, and varied. In the eastern and large part of the middle divisions minerals abound in practically inexhaustible beds, principally coal, iron, copper, led, and zinc. Oil and natural gas is found in some sections. There are over 200 varieties of marble found in Tennessee. In middle Tennessee grass and grain are abundant and the stock-breeding interests in this section are famous. Here phosphate rock in great volume and richness is found. In west Tennessee fruits and grain are extensively produced. The principal products of this section are cotton and corn. The timber interests of the state are large and extensive, numerous forests in various sections of the state (popular, oak. gum, hickory, and other varieties of timber) being untouched. The chief agricultural products are cotton, wheat, hay, corn, forage, and tobacco. The value of these products, according to the census of 1900, was $70,745,242. Animal products such as dairy, poultry, eggs, honey, and wax amount to $35,421,198. The chief manufactories are flour and grist mills, producing annually, according to the census of 1900, products valued at $21,798,929; lumber and timber, $18,127,784; tobacco, snuff, cigars, etc., $3,010,602. These with other manufactories make an annual production valued at $108,144,565. The productions of the mines were: coal $5,399,721; phosphate rock, $1,308,872; iron, $1,123,527; marble, $518,256; limestone and dolomites, $482,033; all others, $761,373, aggregating $9,533,782.


With a scholastic population of 771,734, of which 587,088 are white and 184,646 are coloured, there are enrolled in the public schools of Tennessee, 411,910 white and 100,248 coloured people. There are over 200 universities, colleges, and private training schools in the state. Its universities are among those leading in the South, notably: Vanderbilt University, University of Nashville, and Peabody Normal College at Nashville; University of the South at Sewanee; University of Tennessee at Knoxville; Cumberland University at Lebanon; Fisk, Roger Williams, and Walden Universities and Meharry Medical College at Nashville, the last four being devoted to the higher education of negroes. For Catholic education, diocese and population, see DIOCESE OF NASHVILLE.

Religion and religious regulations

The present Constitution of the State of Tennessee declares that "all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their conscience; that no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship or support any minister against his consent; that no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall be given by law to any religious establishment; that no political or religious test, other than an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and of this state, shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust in this state." Christmas and Good Friday are legal holidays. Doing or exercising on Sunday any of the common avocations of life, acts of real necessity or of charity excepted, is forbidden. The mere violation of this law is not indictable, but a succession of such acts, if done so openly as to attract public observation, is indictable as a nuisance. It is forbidden by law to swear profanely or curse in the hearing of any justice of the peace or to use profane or blasphemous language in public places; any person executing any public duty, convicted of profanely swearing or cursing, must forfeit and pay one dollar for each oath or curse. There is no provision in law for the use of prayer in the Legislature, but the rules of each branch usually provide for the appointment of a chaplain by the respective speakers. There is no statute in this state modifying the rule at common law requiring a clergyman to disclose communications made in confession. The question has not been decided by its courts, but it is probable that when the question is presented, the courts of the state will follow the rule generally adopted by other states on this subject, which is, that all communications in the nature of confessions or applications for spiritual guidance, made to a priest or a clergyman as such, in confidence, and in the course of the discipline required by the church of which the clergyman is a member, are privileged.

According to the census bulletin of 1906, the church membership of all denominations was 697,570: total Protestant bodies, 677,947; Baptist, Southern and National conventions, 253,141; Free Baptists, 1,840; Free Will Baptists, 3,093; Duck River, etc. (Baptist Church of Christ), 4,099; Primitive Baptists, 10,204; coloured Primitive Baptists, 3,268; Congregationalists, 2,426; Disciples of Christ, 14,904; Churches of Christ, 41,411; Lutheran, United Synods in the South, 1,678; Methodist Episcopal, 46,180; Methodist Protestant, 2,716; Methodist Episcopal Church South, 140,308; African Methodist, 50,662; Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A., 6,786; Cumberland Presbyterians, 42,464; Presbyterian Church in U. S., 21.390; Coloured Cumberland Presbyterians, 6,640; Presbyterians, Associated Reformed Synod of the South, 1504; Protestant Episcopal Church, 7874; United Brethren in Christ, 2875; other Protestant bodies, 12,484; Roman Catholic Church, 17,252; Jewish congregations (heads of families), 919; all other bodies, 1452.

State laws


Oaths are to be administered on the New Testament in the usual form, kissing the book as a seal of the confirmation of the same. Those conscientiously scrupulous about taking an oath may make solemn affirmation in the words required. Persons may also be sworn according to the forms of their own country or particular religious creed.


Marriage cannot be contracted with a lineal ancestor or descendent, nor a lineal ancestor or dependent of either parent, nor the child of a grandparent, nor the lineal descendent of the husband or wife as the case may be, nor the husband or wife of the lineal descendant. The intermarriage of white persons with negroes, mulattoes, or persons of mixed blood descended from a negro to the third generation inclusive, or their living together as man and wife in this state is prohibited and punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary. A second marriage cannot be contracted before a dissolution of the first, but the first shall be regarded as dissolved for this purpose if either party has been absent five years and is not known to the other party to be living. All regular ministers of the Gospel of every denomination, and Jewish rabbis, having the care of souls, all justices of the peace, judges, chancellors, the governor, speaker of the Senate, and speaker of the House of Representatives may solemnize the rite of matrimony. No formula need be observed for such solemnization, except that the parties shall respectively declare, in the presence of the minister or officer, that they accept each other as husband or wife.


The following are causes of divorce from the bonds of matrimony: impotency or incapacity; second marriages in violation of previous marriage still subsisting; adultery; willful and malicious desertion; absence of either party without reasonable excuse for two years; conviction of a crime, which, by the laws of the state, renders the party infamous; conviction of any crime which, by the laws of the state, is declared a felony, and sentenced to confinement in the penitentiary; if either party has attempted the life of the other by poison or other means showing malice; refusal on the part of the wife to remove with her husband to this state, without reasonable excuse, and willfully absenting herself from home for two years; that woman was pregnant at the time of marriage without the knowledge of her husband; habitual drunkenness acquired after marriage. The following are cause of divorce from bed and board and from the bonds of matrimony at the discretion of the court: if the husband is guilty of such cruel and inhuman treatment and conduct toward his wife as renders it unsafe and improper for her to cohabit with him and to be under his domination and control; that he has offered such indignities to her person as to render her condition intolerable and thereby force her to withdraw; that he has abandoned her or turned her out of doors and refuses or neglects to provide for her. The petitioner must reside in the state for two years next following the filing of the petition. If upon false rumour, apparently well-founded, of the death of one of the parties who has been absent two whole years, the other party marries again, the party remaining single may upon returning obtain a restoration of conjugal rights or a dissolution of the marriage. This dissolution of the marriage shall not in any wise affect the legitimacy of the children of same.


Wills may be verbal or written but a verbal will is valid only so far as relates to personal property. A nuncupative or verbal will is a verbal declaration made by one in his last sickness as to the disposition of his property after death, made with the intention and purpose to dispose of such property, and where the estate exceeds $250 it must be made in the hearing and presence of at least two disinterested persons. Lands can be devised only by a written will contested by two witnesses, the subscription of the witnesses being made in the testator's presence; or by holographic will, a paper written entirely by the testator, the handwriting to be proved by at least three credible witnesses, every part of such writing to be in the testator's hand. Personalty may be disposed of by a paper containing a disposition of property to take effect after death, although neither written or signed by the testator, if such paper can be shown to be the will of the testator, and is complete in itself as to its provisions. No particular form is required.


All managers or trustees of any cemetery have full power to adopt and use all rules necessary for the good government, order, and discipline of the cemetery under their charge and keeping, not in conflict with any law of the state. They may appoint as many day and night watchmen on their grounds as they deem expedient. Such watchmen, and also of their superintendents, gardeners, agents, and gate-keepers on said grounds may take the oath required by the law of constables, exercise all the laws and powers of police officers within said cemetery, and within one hundred yards of such cemetery grounds.


The state has a pension system under which pensions are allowed to disabled soldiers, Federal and Confederate, that enlisted from the State of Tennessee in Tennessee regiments, or who were citizens of the state at the time of the enlistment in the regiments of other states. They must be residents of Tennessee, or former residents of other states who enlisted in some regiment and who have been citizens of this state for one year. The character of the applicants as soldiers must have been free from dishonour, and it must appear that they are not already entitled to pension under the laws of the federal Government or of any other state, and that they are not already in possession of a competency, the object of the law being to provide for the indigent and disabled. A pension is withheld from any pensioner who may habitually waste the state's bounty in dissipation or other dishonourable manner. Pensions were also granted to widows whose husbands were killed or died while in active service in the Civil War, and to the widows of decreased soldiers who were married to such soldiers prior to the year 1870, if such widows are of good moral character and in indigent circumstances. The number on the pension rolls for 1910 was 7899, of which 5367 were veterans, and 2530 widows. The annual appropriation for this purpose is $475,000.


By Acts of 1909 the sale of any intoxicating liquor, including wine, ale, and beer, within four miles of any public or private schoolhouse where school is kept, whether the school be then in session or not, is prohibited. At the same session an Act was passed prohibiting the manufacture of such liquors in the state. These measures virtually prohibit the sale or manufacture of liquor anywhere in the state.


The state penitentiary is at Nashville. A branch prison is located at Brushy Mountain, east Tennessee, where the State owns extensive coal mines, in which a large number of prisoners are worked. The operation of these mines has been very profitable to the State. At the main prison are a number of manufactories operated by lessees of convict labour. There is also a large farm connected with the penitentiary on which convict labour is employed. The affairs of the penitentiary are administered by a commission of three, appointed by the governor.



Any association of individuals for the support of public worship, to build churches, and for the maintenance of all missionary undertakings may be incorporated. All property belonging to any religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational institution is exempt from taxation, except such part thereof as is used in secular business which competes with a like business, which pays taxes to the State. Where rents or profits are used exclusively for religious or charitable purposes, including church parsonages not exceeding $5000 in value, and in cases where buildings are used partially for the purposes named and other portions rented out or otherwise used, assessor shall, in making assessment, apportion the same, and assess that portion for taxation which is under this section taxable. All property belonging to any of the above-named institutions and not used for any purpose is not exempt. All clergymen are exempt from jury service.


The general rule is that a trust for a charitable purpose must be of such a tangible nature that a court of equity can deal with it. It must be to some person, body, or association of persons having a legal existence and with capacity to take and administer the trust for some definite and lawful purpose. A devise or bequest made directly to a voluntary or unincorporated association must fail for want in the capacity of the devisee to take it as a gift for itself; but if the gift is sufficiently definite and made to competent trustees for the benefit of the unincorporated institution or association it will be good, that is, if the will defines how such bequest is to be applied. The distinction taken in England between superstitious and charitable uses, being inconsistent with the principles of religious freedom that obtain in this state, is not recognized. Gifts for the good of the soul, or for prayers for the soul of the testator, or for the dead, whether in or out of the chapel or church, or for the maintenance of Catholic priests are valid. A charitable use, where neither law or public policy forbids, may be applied to almost anything that tends to promote the well-being and well-doing of social man and in favour of all religions of whatever form and creed.


There are three hospitals for the insane, one in each of the civil divisions of the state: at Bolivar, Nashville, and Knoxville. A confederate soldier's home and a home for blind girls is maintained at Nashville; also a school for blind boys and girls and an industrial school for boys and girls, both white and coloured, at the same place. A school for the deaf and dumb is maintained at Nashville.


HAYWOOD, Civil and Political History of Tennessee (Knoxville, 1823); RAMSEY, Annals of Tennessee (Philadelphia, 1860); PHELAN, History of Tennessee (Boston and New York, 1880); GARNETT and GOODPASTURE, History of Tennessee (Nashville, 1903); KILLEBREW, Resources of Tennessee (Nashville, 1974); Paine, Hand Book of Tennessee (Nashville, 1903).

About this page

APA citation. Tyne, T. (1912). Tennessee. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Tyne, Thomas. "Tennessee." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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