Originally published in the "Bicentennial Bites" article series by Billie R. McNamara in The Standard-Banner in celebration of Tennessee's 200th statehood anniversary (1996).
If you are sitting comfortably in your home in Jefferson County, do you realize the very spot where you are has been called many things throughout history? It was once even claimed by several different nations -- sometimes simultaneously! Before the State of Tennessee was admitted to the United States in 1796, the 41,750 square miles that now comprise our state were considered to be part of many "states."
Native Americans who travelled through and lived here called this area by more than a half-dozen names. The first white explorers known to have visited East Tennessee, members of Spaniard Hernando de Soto's party, arrived about 1540. Some researchers believe the party came as far north as present-day Jefferson City, while others think it stopped north of present-day Chattanooga. James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, Englishmen who came in 1673, were the first white men whose visit to our area is documented. When the French, English, and Spanish governments were arguing over ownership of this region, it was called Florida, New France, Louisiana, Virginia (until 1663), and Carolina. Carolina was divided (1693), and our land went with the Northern portion. For a time, much of present-day East Tennessee belonged to one Englishman, the Earl of Granville.
As settlers migrated across the mountains from North and South Carolina to make their claims in present-day upper East Tennessee, they lived in small communities along major rivers. North Carolina eventually established the whole area we call Tennessee as the Washington District, later Washington County (1777). When North Carolina first gave her lands west of the Appalachian Mountains to the United States (1784), rebelling residents formed their own state, Franklin. After Franklin disbanded (1788), the region was returned temporarily to North Carolina. Soon afterward (1790), North Carolina again gave her western lands to the U. S., and Congress created the Territory South of the River Ohio (also called "Southwest Territory") from present-day Tennessee. Finally, the Southwest Territory was admitted as the 16th state -- Tennessee.