History of Greeneville Tennessee
When white settlers arrived in the late 1800s, Cherokee had already been hunting the land in and around Greeneville for hundreds of years. The Great Indian Warpath passed just northwest of modern Greenville.
A North Carolina merchant by the name of Jacob Brown leased a large stretch of land from the Cherokee around 1772. The settlement was located between the upper Lick Creek watershed and the Nolichucky River. It was originally aligned with the Watauga Association as part of Washington County, North Carolina, however an early Nolichucky settler named Daniel Kennedy led a movement to form a separate county. This was granted in 1783.
The county was named after Nathanael Greene and Greeneville was officially recognized as a town in 1786.
North Carolina attempted to solve its debt problem by giving the U.S. Congress its lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, which included Greene County. In response to this, delegates from Greene and neighboring counties convened at Jonesorough and resolved to break away from North Carolina. To do this they decided to establish an independent state.
A petition for statehood was drawn up at the delegates session in May 1785. The state was to be known as the State of Franklin in honor of Benjamin Franklin. The first state legislature of Franklin met in a log courthouse in Greeneville in December of 1785. The Franklin movement began to collapse soon after and North Carolina regained its control of the area the following spring.
A strong abolitionist movement spread through Greene County in the early 19th century and was likely influenced by the large number of Quakers who migrated to the area from Pennsylvania. The Quakers considered slavery to be in violation of Biblical Scripture and were very active in the region’s abolitionist movement all through the antebellum period. Elihu Embree published the nation’s first abolitionist newspaper, The Emancipator, at the nearby town of Jonesborough.
Many other Greeneville citizens were active in the movement, even freeing slaves from the local courthouses and farms. In June 1861, 20 counties of the pro-Union East Tennessee Convention met in Greenville to discuss strategy after state voters had decided to join the Confederate States of America. The convention was held with the idea in mind to create a separate state in East Tennessee that would remain with the United States. The state government in Nashville rejected the request and East Tennessee was occupied by Confederate forces immediately after.
The 17th President of the United States spent much of his life in Greeneville. In 1826, Johnson came to Greeneville after leaving an apprenticeship in Raleigh, North Carolina. He decided to remain in Greeneville after purchasing the tailor shop. He married a local girl, Eliza McCardle, in 1827.
In the late 1820s, Blackstone McDannel began frequenting Johnson’s shop to debate public issues, especially the Indian Removal, which Johnson opposed strongly. The two decided to debate the issues publicly, and later started a local debate society. Johnson joined the Greeneville City Council in 1829 and was elected mayor of Greeneville 1834.