1796: The Digital Journal of the Tennessee Historical Society


What makes Tennessee “Tennessee”?


Welcome to the new website of the Tennessee Historical Society. This journal takes its name from the year we became a state – 1796. And our motto, “telling the stories of all Tennesseans,” means that it’s our goal to preserve the history and heritage of the people who have made Tennessee the Volunteer State, both the famous and the every-day, since the 1700s.


We’ll be telling you stories about what makes our state distinctive. What does make Tennessee “Tennessee”?


Where you live, the decades you’ve experienced, the stories you’ve heard, all likely shape your own idea of Tennessee. Like a kaleidoscope, when examined Tennessee fractures into a thousand different patterns depending on the viewer.


Do the Great Smoky Mountains and their 6,000+ foot peaks symbolize Tennessee? Or does the mighty Missippi River at Memphis, 4,000 feet wide and 337’ above sea level? Do the dissected hills of the Highland Rim bring to mind our state – after all, “Rocky Top” lies there — or do the immense cotton and soybean fields of West Tennessee?


Perhaps you hear Tennessee in the slow drawl of “y’all” when you’re in Covington – or in the twang of “you un’s” in Caryville. Maybe you know it’s “Appa-latch-shun,” not “Appa-lay-shun.” And the sound of Tennessee echoes in music as well, with the blues and rockabilly born in Tennessee.


For more than 150 years, most Tennesseans felt the state in agricultural rhythms, as the farming seasons passed. This Tennessee follows the year through winter logging, the bloom of harbingers of spring, blackberry winter, Decoration Day, laying by the corn, revival and camp meeting season, tobacco harvest, cotton picking time – when West Tennessee schools let out so children could work in the fields — and autumn feasts at hog-killing time.


But since 1950, the majority of Tennesseans move to urban rhythms, marked more by holidays and festivals, and perhaps most importantly, sports seasons. 4th of July fireworks delight the crowds in big cities and small. The start of football season brings joy to many. And from Halloween to New Year’s Day, twinkling lights, parades, and parties fill the weeks.


The variety of Tennesseans marvels us too. The First Nations predated de Soto, and the Cherokee greeted the first European and African American settlers. People with Scots Irish and English, French and German roots came to seek prosperity and increasing freedoms, a goal too of the enslaved people brought into our state. The Civil War and emancipation produced a new order, and an influx of people from the North and new European immigrants introduced innovative ideas and industries. And in the twentieth century and beyond, Tennessee has become the home of people from around the world — Mexicans, Cubans, Vietnamese, Kurds, Coptic Egyptians, and others, adding to the kaleidoscope that makes Tennessee “Tennessee.”


Welcome to the Tennessee Historical Society. Check in with us here at “1796,” and we’ll tell you about the marvelous people, places, and events that make Tennessee “Tennessee.”


By Ann Toplovich, Executive Director
Published on July 31, 2017