Tuesday, June 30, 2015

TSLA Closed July 3 and July 4 for Independence Day

In observance of the Independence Day holiday, the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) will be closed on Friday, July 3 and Saturday, July 4. TSLA will reopen at 8 a.m. Tuesday, July 7. With the exception of holidays, TSLA's normal operating hours are from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Celebrating Independence Day is a time-honored tradition, but it's also usually a 'hot and thirsty' tradition. This photo from July 4, 1923 shows a refreshment booth at an event in Loudon.

Enjoy this photographic look back at previous 4th of July celebrations on our blog: http://tslablog.blogspot.com/2014/07/tsla-celebrates-our-independence.html and have a safe holiday!

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Census records on mobile devices thru TEL

At the Tennessee Electronic Library (TEL) conference in Knoxville this month, State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill took a close look at a new and improved genealogy resource called Heritage Quest. Heritage Quest is one of several online resources free and available to every Tennessean through TEL. Heritage Quest now includes all the U.S. Census records from 1790 through 1940, with indexes and images for each year. Heritage Quest has been optimized for use on mobile devices.

Using an iPhone, Sherrill found his grandparents' names listed in the 1930 census. He saw the original page of the census document in magnified form on his screen.

You can search for your ancestors using the mobile app available through TEL. Visit http://tntel.tnsos.org/ to see this and many other resources available online and free to Tennessee residents.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Students from Memphis, Lenoir City, Tellico Plains Win Top Honors at National History Day

Three Tennessee students - one each from Memphis, Lenoir City and Tellico Plains - received major national honors at the National History Day competition recently held in College Park, Maryland.

Tennessee medalists Donavan Powers, Ava Ploeckelman, Areej Malley, Autumn Ritsko, and Adebayo Fasipe at the National History Day Awards Ceremony. Not pictured: Madison Moats. Photo courtesy the Tennessee Historical Society.

Areej Malley of Pleasant View School in Memphis was recognized in three different ways. She won a bronze medal in the senior individual paper category and earned a four-year scholarship to the University of Maryland, the host of the annual event. Areej will also be Tennessee’s representative at the National World War II Museum "Campaigns of Courage: The Road to Tokyo" in December.

Areej has qualified for National History Day several times before. In 2013, she won a special prize for having the best entry on an international topic.

Madison Moats, who attends Lenoir City High School in Lenoir City, received the U.S. Constitution Award from the National Archives and Records Administration. “Anne Dallas Dudley,” her performance in the senior individual category, was recognized as the best entry to use federal government records to either illuminate the creation and ratification of the U.S. Constitution or to focus on constitutional issues throughout American history.

Autumn Ritsko’s website in the junior individual category, “Sakakawea: Her Life and Journey into History,” received the Corps of Discovery Prize, which is sponsored by the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. This prize is awarded to an outstanding entry that best utilizes original sources to focus on the Corps of Discovery. Autumn attends Rural Vale Elementary in Tellico Plains.

History Day is a competition in which students prepare history-themed research papers, websites, exhibits, documentaries and live performances. The senior categories are for high school students and junior categories are for middle school students.

In all, 63 students represented Tennessee in the national competition. They developed their entries based on this year's theme: "Leadership and Legacy in History." All of those students were medalists in April at the Tennessee History Day competition organized by the Tennessee Historical Society and supported by the Tennessee Secretary of State's office and Humanities Tennessee..

In addition to the national prize winners, two students were selected to showcase their exhibit at the National Museum of American History. Maya Harris and Logan Miller presented their senior group exhibit to museum visitors. Maya and Logan attend Dyersburg High School in Dyersburg. Their project, “Red Tails Fight Red Bands Abroad and Red Tape at Home,” depicted the efforts of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II to overcome discrimination. Tuskegee Airmen Lt. Col. George Hardy, Lt. Col. Charles McGee, and Tech Sgt. Norman Artis, joined the students for part of the day.

Maya Harris, Lt. Col. George Hardy, Logan Miller in the Exhibit Hall at National History Day. Photo courtesy the Tennessee Historical Society.

“For many of our students, as well as for myself, getting to meet the Tuskegee Airmen was the highlight of the trip,” said Tennessee History Day coordinator Jennifer C. Core. “Maya and Logan’s project demonstrates what History Day is all about - getting close to the primary sources, in this case living veterans, learning about a particular time period, and interpreting the material for an audience. I hope that all of our participants have such an electrifying encounter with history and research.”

Jeremiah Branson, Justin Cross, Noah Dunlap, and Noah Watson of L&N STEM Academy in Knoxville were invited to attend a Congressional breakfast showcasing projects devoted to local history. Their exhibit, “‘Damn the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!’ Admiral David Farragut Leads the Union Navy to Victory,” won second place at the state contest. This is their second trip to National History Day in that category of competition.

Three students were also recognized for having the best entries from Tennessee.

The prize for best affiliate (state) entry in the senior division went to Adebayo Fasipe, who attends McCallie School in Chattanooga. Adebayo was also invited to a writers’ workshop hosted by the Library of Congress. He toured the library with Dr. John Y. Cole, director of the Library of Congress Center for the Book, and met with Tonya Bolden, author of "Capital Days." Adebayo's research paper was titled, “Alex Haley, Roots, and the Re-Invention of Black History."

Ava Ploeckelman and Donavan Powers were ranked 12th in the nation for their documentary, “‘Solidarity Forever’: Pete Seeger’s Leadership and Legacy in American Culture and Folk Music.” They received medals as the best affiliate entry for the junior division. They attend Northeast Middle School in Clarksville.

Tennessee was also represented in the finals by Eli Neal and Lauren Graves of Powell. Their performance, “Nanye-hi: Beloved Woman of the Cherokee,” ranked 14th nationally in the junior group category. They attend First Baptist Academy.

The student-teacher team of Scott Moore and Whitney Joyner was selected to participate in the 2015 Albert H. Small Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Student and Teacher Institute. They are scheduled to visit Normandy, France as part of the program. Scott attends Northeast High School and Joyner teaches at Northeast Middle School in Clarksville.

Two teachers were recognized as Tennessee's Patricia Behring Teachers of the Year: Sharron Thompson of the Thompson Family Homeschool Program in Tellico Plains and Hillery Griffin of Cosby High School in Cosby. Each received a framed certificate and $500.

Teacher Noelle Smith of Greene County Schools in Greeneville was named a Behring Ambassador Teacher. Smith has been asked to find ways to expand the role of National History Day in Tennessee. She will attend a training session in August and develop curriculum for Tennessee History Day teachers.

During their National History day trip, the students had the opportunity to tour the U.S. Capitol, meet with Senator Lamar Alexander and Senator Bob Corker, and attend a private reception at the National Museum of American History.

“Once again, Tennessee was well represented at National History Day,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “It's gratifying to see students from all parts of our state participating in this competition and being successful. These students will be the future leaders of our state, so it's appropriate that they are becoming knowledgeable about the past as well.”

National History Day is an academic organization for middle and high school students that focuses on the teaching and learning of history. A recent study found that students who participate in History Day develop a range of college and career-ready skills and outperform their peers on state standardized tests in multiple subjects, including reading, science, math and social studies. About 7,000 students across the state of Tennessee participate in the program each year.

Read our press release for a complete list of awards and honors received by Tennessee students and teachers: http://sos.tn.gov/news/students-memphis-lenoir-city-tellico-plains-win-top-honors-national-history-day.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Genealogical Society Funding Helps Unlock Land Record Secrets

Land records dating back to the Revolutionary War era can tell researchers much about Tennessee's early history - as a part of North Carolina, later as a territory and finally as the country's 16th state. The trouble is that time hasn't treated those important documents particularly well, and many require extensive restoration work before they are ready to be made available to the public.

TSLA intern Kat Trammell works to restore fragile land records.
Thanks to funding from the Middle Tennessee Genealogical Society, the pace of that work has been accelerated this summer. The society has provided money to pay the salary of a summer intern at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) who is assisting the full-time staff there with efforts to restore those records.

"Some of the records are from the colonial and territorial period, and those are especially fragile," said State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill. "To make them accessible requires quite a bit of work in the conservation lab."

Carol Roberts, head conservationist at TSLA, said the work includes dusting documents with sponges, applying a magnesium bicarbonate solution to de-acidify the paper and ink and using Japanese tissue paper and wheat paste to mend and patch tears and holes.

Roberts said the goal isn't to return documents to their original condition, but to stabilize them and prevent further deterioration.

A single page of a document in very poor condition might require several hours of lab work.

"You do have to have pretty decent patience," Roberts said. "Some (documents) are puzzles that have to be pieced together. Each one is unique."

Kat Trammell, the intern hired to help with the restoration work, said the experience has been very rewarding.

"I've always been interested in conservation work," Trammell said. " I really enjoy the physical process, getting to handle something with so much history behind it."

As a recent college graduate with a major in studio art, Trammell said she's fascinated by the surveyors' diagrams found on the documents. Also, she enjoys it "when you recognize a famous name and say, 'hey, there's a county named after that guy.'"

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

June is National Audio Book Month!

June is National Audio Book Month! Here at the Tennessee Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped (TLBPH), a section of the Tennessee State Library & Archives, our focus is on providing audio books to people who have physical disabilities that prevent them from reading standard print - and these people are the only ones who can borrow books from us.

However, almost anyone can "read" an audio book. In fact, there are annual “Audie Awards” given each year since 1996 by the Audio Publishers Association for commercial audio books.

Reading an audio book can pull you into the story, and a good narrator can really “make or break” a book. For example, the “Harry Potter” audio books narrated by commercial narrator Jim Dale have won many audio book awards, including a couple of Grammys and a record 10 Audies. But, the audio narrator of the TLBPH’s books, Erik Sandvold, is equally popular among blind and physically handicapped patrons nationwide. In fact, he is so popular that he has recorded more than 700 titles for the federal government’s studios, plus many for commercial audio book publishers. Sandvold is a two-time winner of the prestigious “Alexander Scourby Narrator of the Year Award,” given by the American Foundation for the Blind.

Summer is a great time for reading, so why not try reading an audio book? Some new titles available to eligible registered TLBPH patrons that may also be available as commercial audio books from your public library include:

  • You Can, You Will: 8 Undeniable Qualities of a Winner, by Joel Osteen
  • The Double Fudge Brownie Murder, by Joanne Fluke
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story, by Rick Bragg
  • The Last Dickens, by Matthew Pearl

All of these are also available as commercial audio books, either on CD or from audible.com. Your public library may have or be able to obtain these audio titles for you.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Teachers Complete Summer Training on Reconstruction Era in Tennessee

Teachers and TSLA staff members pose for this photo during the Summer Teacher Institute at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Nearly two dozen Tennessee teachers participated in the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) summer teacher institute on “Reconstruction and the African-American Experience in Tennessee” last week. The two-day workshop included a history content presentation by Dr. Lea Williams, professor of history at Tennessee State University, close study of primary sources related to the Reconstruction period, tours of the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and more.

Dr. Wayne Moore, the assistant state archivist at TSLA, said: “TSLA is a wonderful treasure house of primary sources for Tennessee social studies teachers. This workshop is an example of our commitment to provide primary sources in a form that the schools can use.”

Teachers view projects made during the Summer Teacher Institute at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The summer teacher institute is an event sponsored by TSLA's education outreach department. The department frequently offers professional development workshops and in-service presentations to school districts around the state that are focused on using historic documents, maps, and images in the classroom. To learn more or to schedule an in-service training session, please contact us by phone at 615-253-3469, by email at education.tsla@tn.gov, or visit our website at http://tn.gov/tsla/educationoutreach/index.htm.

Participants in the latest workshop included:

  • Maggie Fields - Cheatham County Schools
  • Billie McBride - Montgomery County Schools
  • David Thomack - Montgomery County Schools
  • Scott Hicks - Maryville City Schools
  • Tim Smith - Cumberland County Schools
  • John Ramsay - Fayette County Schools
  • Marsha Rains - Hardin County Schools
  • Addie Mays - Jackson-Madison County Schools
  • Barbara Morton - Jackson-Madison County Schools
  • Joseph Smith - Kingsport City Schools
  • Laurel Brady - Maury County Schools
  • Eric Hagan - Robertson County Schools
  • Christy Owens - Robertson County Schools
  • Mareen Pfeiffer-Hoens - Rutherford County Schools
  • Chase Cato - Rutherford County Schools
  • Dustin Brannon - Rutherford County Schools
  • Erika Ashford - Shelby County Schools
  • Tracy Alexander - Smith County Schools
  • Justin Kearney - Williamson County Schools
  • Brian Howard - Wilson County Schools
  • Rae Ellyn Kelley - Rutherford County Schools

To learn more about TSLA’s primary sources related to the period of Reconstruction in Tennessee, visit our education outreach site at: http://www.tennessee.gov/tsla/educationoutreach/cwandr.htm.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, June 19, 2015

A Father’s Day Debate – Who is the “Father of Tennessee”?

With Father’s Day on the horizon, we thought the holiday warranted a look back at the “Father of Tennessee” and the debate over which historical figure properly holds that distinction.

Many chroniclers of early Tennessee history have proclaimed James Robertson as the “Father of Tennessee.” As a leader of both the Watauga and Cumberland settlements, Robertson is credited with establishing the first frontier settlements in what would later become the state of Tennessee. In 1779, he and John Donelson founded Fort Nashborough, which later became Nashville. Robertson defended his settlements from frequent attacks by the Chickamauga Cherokees, and he paid dearly for the defense of this land. According to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, “Robertson's brothers, John and Mark, were killed, as were his sons, Peyton and James Jr. Another son, Jonathan, was scalped. Robertson narrowly escaped death on two occasions.” George Washington, considered the father of our country, appointed Robertson brigadier general of the United States Army of the Territory South of the River Ohio. Under Robertson’s leadership, that territory prospered, thereby establishing the foundation for what would become the state of Tennessee.

Portrait of Gen. James Robertson (1742-1814), "Founder of Nashville."
Library Collection

Other writers, however, contend that John Sevier is our state’s founding father and deserves recognition as the “Father of Tennessee.” Sevier stood alone as a towering figure in early Tennessee politics. As a celebrated frontiersman, a revered military leader of the Revolutionary War and a respected and feared Indian fighter, Sevier earned the trust of his electorate and became Tennessee’s first governor in 1796. He served six two-year terms as governor. During his terms as governor, Sevier negotiated a series of treaties to clear Indian claims to territory in Tennessee and facilitated the establishment of trade routes throughout the newly formed state. His mark on the landscape can be clearly felt in East Tennessee, where schools, roadways, and historic landmarks still bear his name. Sevier, however, is a forgotten figure in Tennessee history, frequently overshadowed by the long branches of “Old Hickory,” Andrew Jackson, whose own reputation looms large across the state and the nation.

Portrait of John Sevier (1745-1815) in military uniform.
Library Collection

So who do you think appropriately deserves the moniker, “Father of Tennessee” – James Robertson or John Sevier? In celebration of Father’s Day, we invite your comments on this ongoing historical debate.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

TSLA celebrates the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth

June 19, 1865, now commonly referred to as Juneteenth, commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery in Texas. Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862 and it became effective on January 1, 1863, it did not impact Texas in the same way it did other southern states. Texas was isolated geographically, it was not a battleground, and there were few federal troops there to enforce the emancipation. Slaveholders often migrated there from eastern states to escape the war and brought their slaves with them.

News of the war’s end did not reach Texas until May 1865 - and the Army of the Trans-Mississippi did not surrender until June. On June 18 of that year, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston with federal troops to occupy Texas on the federal government’s behalf, and on June 19, by reading aloud General Order No. 3, he announced the total emancipation of slaves.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth. In recognition of this historic commemoration, we share this image of Nancy Bradford, pictured around 1930. Bradford was the last former slave in the Dandridge, Tennessee area. She was born January 4, 1851, and was a nurse to a local family after the conclusion of the Civil War.

Image credit: "Looking Back At Tennessee"
Tennessee State Library and Archives Photo Collection.
Image source: http://tnsos.org/tsla/imagesearch/citation.php?ImageID=9001

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

TSLA marks 62 years in our current building

On this day in history, the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) celebrates an important anniversary. Sixty-two years ago, on June 17, 1953, TSLA opened the doors to our current facility with a formal ceremony to mark the historic occasion.

Program for the formal opening of the Tennessee State Library and Archives building, June 17, 1953.
Tennessee State Library and Archives Collection

Of course, the State Library and Archives is much older than that, created in 1854 in response to an Act of the Tennessee General Assembly. Prior to the move to our current location, for nearly a century the State Library and Archives occupied a room in the State Capitol, now known as the legislative lounge. By 1947, however, Governor Jim McCord and members of the General Assembly recognized the need for more space and better facilities to care for our historic collections. They created the Library Building Commission to begin work on plans for a new building located adjacent to the Tennessee Supreme Court Building and across the street from the State Capitol. The commission's work culminated in the construction of the building currently in use today.

A photograph of the Tennessee State Library and Archives building taken on July 17, 1956, a few short years after it opened in 1953.
State Library and Archives Agency Photographs

On May 3, 1952, Governor Gordon Browning delivered opening remarks during the cornerstone and dedication ceremonies at the construction site. He boldly described the building as a place "where the valuable and pricelesss archives materials of our State can be organized and preserved," marking a "milestone on our road to high destiny in spiritual and cultural achievement."

Though technologies have changed, photographs taken immediately following the opening reveal a space not much different than today.

A view of the "Tennessee Room" of the Tennessee State Library and Archives building, in the South Wing, Sept. 1, 1953.
State Library and Archives Agency Photographs

Researchers make use of early microfilm readers in the "Tennessee Room" of the Tennessee State Library and Archives, circa 1960.
State Library and Archives Agency Photographs

Sixty-two years later, while our current building exists as a historical milestone, the need for more space and adequate facilities to meet customer demands of the 21st Century has prompted an effort to locate suitable space for a new Library and Archives facility. Secretary of State Tre Hargett put the need for a new building into perspective recently with remarks published in April of this year:


As we mark more than six decades in our current building, we hope you'll take this opportunity to share this post with others as a reminder of the importance of our collective heritage.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A celebration of Flag Day...

Today is Flag Day, a national observance of the date in 1777 when the Continental Congress approved the first United States flag. After Tennessee became a state in 1796, there was no formal action at the federal level to add another star to the flag. However, many people took it upon themselves to update their flags with more stars as more states joined the Union during that era. The updated U.S. flag approved in 1818 did recognize Tennessee with its own star.

Although Flag Day has been celebrated in some parts of the country dating back at least to the late 1800s, it didn't become an official holiday until President Harry Truman signed it into law in 1949. This week is also National Flag Week, a time when citizens are urged to fly their flags for the duration of the week.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives would like to take this opportunity to celebrate with the nation by sharing this image from our "Looking Back at Tennessee" collection. This photo shows several children posed in front of an American flag on June 3, 1923:

"Looking Back At Tennessee," Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Tennessee Group Recognized for Commemorating "Forgotten Conflict"

Historians sometimes refer to the War of 1812 as 'the Forgotten Conflict.' Yet it was a war in which Tennessee earned its "Volunteer State" nickname, made possible the acquisition of territory west of the Tennessee River, launched the careers of Sam Houston, David Crockett and Andrew Jackson, and saw thousands of Tennesseans fight in key battles like the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the Battle of New Orleans.

Now a Tennessee organization dedicating to preserving and promoting history related to the War of 1812 has received a national award for its efforts. The Tennessee War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission will receive a Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History at a ceremony in Louisville this September.

The commission is being recognized for the work it has done since its creation by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2012. Among its other activities, the commission organized 200th anniversary memorial ceremonies, hosted annual symposiums, supported living history programs and workshops throughout the state, produced material for brochures and special editions of Tennessee Historical Quarterly and helped acquire property that is historically significant to the War of 1812.

The commission is currently planning another symposium on the war's legacy that is scheduled to be held in Collierville Sept. 25 and Sept. 26.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) is one of many organizations that have been involved with the commission's work. TSLA hosted an exhibit on the War of 1812 in its lobby and provided materials for a traveling exhibit that has been featured at various locations around the state. TSLA has also conducted workshops for Tennessee teachers who teach about the subject.

Myers Brown and Tom Kanon, archivists at TSLA, both serve on the commission. Brown is the commission's chairman. Kanon is the author of "Tennesseans at War, 1812-1815: Andrew Jackson, the Creek War, and the Battle of New Orleans."

"The War of 1812 had major implications for the state of Tennessee," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. "I am thankful that the War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission is being recognized for its hard work in keeping this important part of our history from being obscured or forgotten."

The American Association for State and Local History is a Nashville-based not-for-profit organization that provides leadership and support for members who preserve and interpret history. Tennessee's War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission is scheduled to receive its award during the association's annual meeting Sept. 18.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Harlem Hellfighter earns Medal of Honor

On June 2, 2015, Sergeant Henry Lincoln Johnson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Sergeant Johnson and Private Needham Roberts were members of the 369th Infantry Regiment (nicknamed the "Harlem Hellfighters"). On the night of May 14-15, 1918, the pair were on sentry duty when they were attacked by a unit of German soldiers. Roberts was wounded early in the engagement and lay in their trench, handing grenades to Johnson to throw at the Germans. When their grenades ran out, Johnson began firing his rifle. When his rifle jammed, Johnson used it as a club until its stock shattered, at which point he then began using his bolo knife. The Germans finally retreated when they heard French and American troops approaching.

Image from "Our Colored Heroes," 1918. Thomas Perkins Henderson Papers. "The Volunteer State Goes to War: A Salute to Tennessee Veterans," online exhibit, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Johnson was wounded 21 times during the fierce hand-to-hand fighting, but he had killed four Germans and wounded another 10-20. As a result of their heroic actions, Johnson and Roberts were the first American soldiers to be awarded France’s prestigious Croix de Guerre medal during World War I. Johnson died in 1929, most likely due to complications from his wounds, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Roughly 350,000 African Americans served on the Western Front during World War I. Because the U.S. military was still segregated at the time, many of the African Americans who served were relegated to labor and stevedore units instead of combat units. One notable exception was the 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed the "Harlem Hellfighters." The regiment arrived in France in January 1918 but was given only labor service duties until April, when it was assigned to the French Army. The regiment spent 191 days in combat, more than any other American unit, participating in the Champagne-Marne and Meuse-Argonne campaigns. It was also the first Allied unit to reach the Rhine River in November 1918. All told, 171 of the regiment's officers and men received awards for bravery. The regimental band, led by James Reese Europe, is credited with introducing jazz music to Europe. Other notable members of the 369th were Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, the tap dancer and actor, and Vertner Woodson Tandy, one of the founders (or "Seven Jewels") of Alpha Phi Alpha, the first African American fraternity.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Tennessee Gets Its Start With "Least Imperfect" Founding Document

Tennessee’s first constitution went into effect on this date in 1796, following a process that was full of political intrigue. A group of leaders who lived in the region met in Knoxville for a constitutional convention beginning in January of that year. They came up with a founding document that was eventually ratified by the United States Congress, officially making Tennessee the nation’s 16th state.

Tennessee's first constitution, adopted in 1796. Handwritten in ink on paper.
Tennessee Founding and Landmark Documents
Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA)

That first constitution was remarkable for several reasons.

Although it was approved by Congress, the document was never put to a popular vote of the people who were living within the territory that would become the state of Tennessee.

The new constitution granted voting rights to anyone 21 or older who met certain property ownership and residency requirements. This included free black men, although their rights to vote were later rescinded when the state adopted a new constitution in 1835.

The original constitution was criticized by some as giving too much power to the legislative branch of government and not enough to the executive branch.

Congressional support hadn’t come easily, though. At the time, there was a political battle between Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Since Tennessee was viewed as likely to support Anti-Federalists, like Jefferson, the Federalists in Congress were reluctant to grant statehood.

However, that didn’t stop Tennesseans from forming its own legislature, which met May 28, 1796 and chose William Blount and William Cocke as its first U.S. senators.

In Washington, a dispute over the census used to determine Tennessee’s representation in Congress was resolved and the federal government voted in favor of statehood, effective June 1, 1796.

On that date, Blount and Cocke’s appointments as senators became official and Andrew Jackson was selected as the state’s lone member in the U.S. House of Representatives. The new state constitution provided for two-year terms for governors with the right to serve "not...more than six years in any term of eight." John Sevier was elected to serve as Tennessee's first governor.

The 1796 constitution became obsolete when Tennesseans approved a new constitution in a public referendum nearly four decades later.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.