Friday, September 26, 2014

On this day in history: Acts of the Southwest Territory

220 years ago, on September 27, 1794, as part of the "Acts of the Southwest Territory," Territorial Governor William Blount and Secretary David Wilson signed this six-page, unnumbered handwritten document creating a lottery to pay for a wagon road from the Southwest Point to the settlements on the Cumberland River in the Mero District. Entitled, "An Act to Cut and Clear a Waggon Road to the Settlements on the Cumberland River in the Mero District," this document is one of many featured on the Tennessee State Library and Archives Tennessee Founding Documents page on the Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) website.

"An Act to Cut and Clear a Waggon Road to the Settlements on the Cumberland River in the Mero District."
Tennessee General Assembly. Acts, Public and Private, 1790-[ongoing]
Tennessee State Library and Archives, Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA).

On May 26, 1790, President George Washington signed into law an act of Congress passed earlier in the month that established the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio (Southwest Territory). Embracing the western lands ceded by the state of North Carolina on December 22, 1789, the new territory was to be governed under the terms of the Ordinance of 1787, which created its predecessor, the Northwest Territory.

President Washington appointed North Carolina businessman, William Blount as territorial governor. Blount, a land speculator, had already claimed title to approximately one million acres of the land inside its boundaries. Blount was also given a second responsibility as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Southern Department, an office that placed him in contact with the neighboring Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Creek Nations. Relations with the latter two were so difficult that Blount had to devote more time to Indian matters than to the office of governor.

Portrait of William Blount (1749-1800). Governor of the Territory South of the River Ohio, 1790-1796; U.S. Senator from Tennessee.
Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The extent of the new territory was well defined. Containing about 43,000 square miles of land, it was restricted to North Carolina’s western district bounded on the north by the boundary of North Carolina and Virginia; on the west by a line in the middle of the Mississippi River, on the south by the parallel 35 degrees north and on the east by a jagged line running from the northeast to southwest connecting some dominant mountain peaks. It was this territory that in 1796 would become the state of Tennessee.

The act ordering a wagon road to the settlements in the Mero District was one of the varied acts passed by the territorial assembly. Responding weakly to the governor’s request for assistance to pay for “the cutting and clearing” of the wagon road after the failure of a lottery for that purpose, the assembly diverted all monies that might be collected from the sale of public lands in Mero District to the use of the road commissioners. It is interesting to note that the land used for the road was coerced from the Cherokees thus causing a series of Creek and Cherokee incursions into the district.

For a more detailed account of the history behind this document and the Acts of the Southwest Territory, visit our "Introductory Material" page associated with this act. You may also view more pages of this historically significant document on the TeVA website. TeVA's Tennessee Founding Documents website features other important records, from King George’s Proclamation of 1763 to the earliest purchase of land from Native Americans to the first Constitutions of the State of Tennessee. Visit the TeVA website for access to these and other images from our vast collection.

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

State Library and Archives' Next Workshop: "Creating Order in the Midst of Chaos: Union Provost Marshal Records"

The Civil War was a chaotic time in our nation's history when normal societal rules didn't always apply. Soldiers and civilians alike sometimes took advantage of the uncertainty around them by breaking laws and upsetting the social order. In the territories held by the Union army, provost marshals served as a check against such activities. The provost marshals, who functioned as military police during the Civil War, also kept records of their work that can be valuable resources for historians who want to know more about what life was like during that turbulent era.

"Applying for passes at the Office of the Provost Marshal at St. Louis - Sketched by Mr. Alexander Simplot"
Tennessee State Library and Archives Collection

On Oct. 25, the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) will host a free workshop to help people understand what types of records the provost marshals kept and how to access them. The records deal with prisoners, deserters, Confederate spies, disloyal civilians, soldiers accused of civilian crimes, and civilians violating military law. They include documents such as oaths of allegiance, orders, passes, and paroles. Many of these records can be found on a searchable database on TSLA's website - and TSLA also has a collection of microfilmed and original holdings.

Darla Brock, who was worked at TSLA for 14 years as a manuscripts archivist, will lead the workshop.

The workshop will be held from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. Oct. 25 in TSLA's auditorium. TSLA's building is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, just west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville. Free parking is available around the building.

Although the event is free and open to the public, reservations are required due to limited seating in the auditorium. To register, call (615) 741-2764 or e-mail

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

New TSLA Exhibit Explores the Civil War in Tennessee in 1864

1864 would prove to be the decisive year of the American Civil War. Despite Union victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga the previous year, Northern citizens were growing war-weary. The mounting lists of dead and wounded made many wonder if the South should finally be allowed its independence.

Geographically situated between the Midwestern states and the Deep South, Tennessee was to be the major battleground in the Western Theater. The Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers, combined with numerous rail lines which crossed the state, made Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville of strategic importance to both Union and Confederate forces.

Brothers Cpl. Jesse Mercer Pirkle and 1st Sgt. Elijah Jefferson Pirkle served in Co. G, 3rd Tenn. Cav., USA. They walked from Cleveland, Tennessee to Nashville to muster in the Federal army. In September 1864, Elijah was shot near Florence, Alabama and spent the rest of the war in the hospital. Jesse was captured at Sulphur Trestle, Alabama, imprisoned at Andersonville, and survived the war.
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee, Tennessee State Library and Archives

A new exhibit, with 16 panels full of images and information on this fascinating period in our history, opened last Monday at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. It explores the role Tennessee played as a transportation and supply hub, the experiences and contributions of African-Americans, and key battles at Johnsonville, Memphis, Fort Pillow, Spring Hill, Columbia, Franklin and Nashville.

The exhibit also highlights historical records that are valuable genealogy resources such as army muster rolls, Civil War Service records, the Southern Claims Commission Records, Colored Pension Applications, the Union Provost Marshal Records, cemetery records and TSLA's manuscript collections.

Louis Napoleon Nelson, the last black Confederate veteran in Lauderdale County, is pictured in uniform with two other members of the United Confederate Veterans. According to his Colored Man's Application for Pension, Nelson served in Company M, 7th Tennessee Cavalry. He accompanied his master, Colonel E.R. Oldham, as a cook and acted as a regimental servant. Slaves in Confederate service were not allowed to bear arms, and most were body servants and cooks. The Tennessee legislature passed an act on April 9, 1921, providing pensions of $10 per month for "those colored men who served as servants and cooks in the Confederate Army in the War Between the States." This act did not provide benefits for their widows. On Nelson's pension application, Oldham swore "the applicant's habits are good and free of dishonor."
Record Group 3, Board of Pension Examiners Records, and Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives

Visitors to the Tennessee State Library and Archives are invited to come explore the role Tennessee played in the Civil War in 1864. The exhibit will remain open until mid-December.

The State Library and Archives is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, just west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville. The exhibit, free and open to all visitors, is located in the building's lobby directly behind the main entrance.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., with the exception of state holidays. Parking is available in front, behind and beside the building.

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