Tennessee History Timeline

By | May 12, 2022

The Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto first visited the Tennessee area in 1540, and quickly claimed the land for Spain. This uninvited invasion of the Native American ancestral homeland would ultimately prove disastrous for the Cherokee Indians and other native tribes.

In their ongoing search for gold and silver in the Americas, the Spanish expeditions returned again and again, but they searched in vain for the treasure. By the middle of the 17th century, after French and English exploration, both countries claimed the land as their own.

As European settlers from the original thirteen colonies gradually spread, western, small communities were established in the northeast along the frontier. North Carolina . As several hundred hardy pioneers reached the area now called Nashville, the Indians were briefly shrinking from 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), Britain defeated France and their Indian allies, thus taking control of a vast area of ‚Äč‚ÄčNorth America, including present day Tennessee. As the American Revolutionary War ended across the eastern colonies, west of the Appalachians, that war was fought by the colonists against the Native Americans, the British, and their loyalist supporters.

In 1780, at the Battle of King’s Mountain in North Carolina, Tennessee militiamen crushed a loyalist militia led by British Major Patrick Ferguson and helped turn the tide of the Revolution’s war in the South. At the end of the war, hundreds of Revolutionary War veterans and their families streamed supported in Tennessee.

In the late 1780s, several counties in western North Carolina broke off and formed the State of Franklin. This broken region tried to join the Union, but failed. Eventually North Carolina, upon 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 present-day Tennessee.

In 1795 there were enough people in the Southwest Territory to petition for statehood. Then Governor Blunt (appointed by George Washington) convened a constituent assembly and his delegates drafted the state constitution. The Southwest Territory was the first federal territory to petition to join the Union; after some conflicting opinions in the US Congress, Tennessee was finally admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796 as the 16th state.

In 1838, while the Tennessee population continued to grow and demand for land increased, US President Martin Van Buren ordered almost 17,000 Cherokee uprooted from their ancestral homes in Tennessee. They were subsequently forced by US forces to move to the Indian Territories west of Arkansas . During that brutal migration march, approximately 4,000 Cherokee died along the way.

Slavery and the Rights of the States have long harbored a desire for independence across the south. By February 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 a lot of pro-Union feeling in the state.

“There is a terrible war coming and these young people who have never seen the war can’t wait for it to happen but I tell you I wish I owned every slave in the South as I will 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 by military leadership, and by the brave, unwavering deeds of its own sons.

Tennessee timeline

1500s – 1600s

  • (1541) Spanish explorer, Hernando De Soto, first white to visit the area; required area for Spain
  • (1566) Spaniards built a fort under present-day Chattanooga
  • (1673) James Needham, Gabriel Arthur of England explored the Tennessee River Valley
  • (1682) Shawnee Indians displaced Cherokee; La Salle claimed Mississippi Valley territory to France; built Fort Prud’Homme near Memphis


  • (1714) Charles Charleville established a French trading post at French Lick
  • (1730) Emissary of King George II appointed chief Moyton Cherokee “emperor”; Cherokee sovereignty of England recognized
  • (1750) Thomas Walker led a group of Virgininians in Tennessee; reached the River Cumberland and mountains named for the Duke of Cumberland
  • (1754) French and Indian Wars broke out between British and French settlers
  • (1757) South Carolina residents built Fort Loudon on the Little Tennessee River
  • (1760) Cherokee Indians captured Fort Loudon, killed garrison and neighboring settlers
  • (1763) French and Indian wars ended; the British won; the French surrendered all claims to lands east of the Mississippi in the Treaty of Paris
  • (1768) Iroquois Indians ceded Tennessee land claims to English
  • (1772) A group of settlers formed a government, the Watauga Association
  • (1775) Daniel Boone blazed a trail from Virginia over a mountain in the Cumberland Gap to open land for settlement
  • (1779) Jonesboro became first chartered town, oldest permanent settlement in the state
  • (1780) Samuel Doak, Presbyterian minister, started first school in Tennessee; John Sevier led a group of men in the Battle of King’s Mountain to defeat the British; Fort Nashborough (Nashville) founded
  • (1796) Tennesse became the 16th US state


  • (1812) Eathquake occurred; tidal waves created on the Mississippi River, the river flowed backwards, formed the Reelfort Lake area
  • (1815) Tennessee troops led by Andrew Jackson defeated the British at the Battle of New Orleans
  • (1818) Tennessee’s western boundary extended to the Mississippi River under the Chickasaw Treaty
  • (1826) Nashoba, colony for free blacks, founded; failed after four years; The Capitol moved to Nashville
  • (1834) State constitution amended, free blacks no longer had voting rights
  • (1836) Davey Crockett killed in action at the Alamo
  • (1838) Army evicted Cherokee, sent them into Indian territory on “Trail of Tears”; Tennessee first claims to pass temperance law
  • (1861) Tennessee declares for the last time to secede from the Union; civil war has begun
  • (1862) Allied forces led by Ulysses S. Grant forced the unconditional surrender of Fort Donelson; a two-day battle was fought at Shiloh; General Forrest defeated the Union Army at Murfreesboro
  • (1864) Unite army crushed Fort Pillow
  • (1865) The Civil War is over; The Ku Klux Klan formed; Andrew Johnson elected US President
  • (1866) Tennessee first claims readmission to Union; third state to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment to the constitution
  • (1869) President Andrew Johnson impeached; moved to Greeneville
  • (1878) 5,200 Memphis died due to a yellow fever epidemic
  • (1894) Shiloh National Military Park established
  • (1897) Tennessee Centennial Exposition held in Nashville to celebrate the state’s 100th birthday


  • (1900) Locomotive engineer, Casey Jones, died in railroad accident
  • (1916) Chattanooga mechanic, Ernest Holmes, invented the tow truck
  • (1918) Nashville railroad accident killed 101, injured 171
  • (1920) Women gained the right to vote
  • (1925) Trial of development teacher, John T. Scopes, “Monkey Trial”, took place in Dayton
  • (1928) Fort Donelson National Battlefield set
  • (1933) Fed established Tennessee Basin Authority (TVA); built first hydroelectric dam in Tennessee
  • (1939) “The Great Ole Opry” began radio broadcasts
  • (1940) Great Smoky Mountains National Park is dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt
  • (1942) Development of the first atomic bomb (Manhattan Project) started at Oak Ridge
  • (1955) “The Great Ole Opry” started television
  • (1960) Students held sit-in demonstrations at Nashville buffet counters
  • (1968) James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis; Roy Orbison’s sons die in house fire in Hendersonville
  • (1976) Alex Haley won Pulitzer Price for “Roots”
  • (1977) Elvis Presley died in Memphis
  • (1982) World’s Fair held in Knoxville; Elvis Presley’s Graceland Mansion Opens To The Public
  • (1985) General Motors opened a new Saturn assembly plant in Spring Hill
  • (1991) National Civil Rights Museum opened
  • (1992) Al Gore elected Vice President of the United States
  • (1996) Al Gore ran for a second term
  • (1997) Tennessee Titans (former Houston Oilers) started playing
  • (1998) University of Tennessee football team became national champions


  • (2001) Passenger attacked bus driver causing accident, six killed
  • (2002) Former Nashville mayor, Phil Bredesen, elected governor; National Museum of Rights in Memphis Opens New $11 Million Expansion
  • (2003) 14 people killed by tornadoes in the northwestern part of the state
  • (2010) Jury convicted former Univ of Tennessee student of Sarah Palin’s email hack; flooding caused 18 deaths, major damage, thousands evacuated
  • (2011) Memphis flooding caused 1,300 homes to be evacuated
  • (2011) Borrow protesters arrested for criminal trespassing in Nashville

Tennessee History