One of Greene County’s most famous citizens, President Andrew Johnson, moved from North Carolina to Greeneville in 1826, and set up a tailor’s shop. In 1829 he was chosen as alderman and in 1834 he became Greeneville’s mayor. During the next 30 years he served in both the Tennessee and United States legislatures.
Greeneville / Greene County History Museum
Introduction to Greeneville, Tennessee
Settlement first began in 1772 when Jacob Brown and others relocated from North Carolina and established a camp on the banks of the Nolichucky River. Three years later a large tract of land was leased from the Cherokees by Mr. Brown, and titled as part of the North Carolina’s Washington District. In 1777 a Swiss immigrant, Henry Earnest, established Elmwood Farm alongside the Nolichucky River, establishing it as one of the oldest documented Tennessee Century Farms. The desire for a separate government grew with the increasing number of settlers to the area Through the efforts of Daniel Kennedy and Waightstill Avery, Greene County was formed in 1783 through a division from Washington County. The County is named in honor of Nathanael Greene, Revolutionary War Commander.
In 1784 Greene County, Washington County, Sullivan County and the Western territories of North Carolina all participated in the creation of the State of Franklin. Greeneville was designated as the capital. During this period the people had divided loyalties and operated with two sets of government officials, North Carolina’s and the State of Franklin’s. During the 1785 constitutional convention held in Greeneville, split participation was evident and contributed to the collapse of the State of Franklin in 1788. In 1789 North Carolina ceded its western lands including Greene, Sullivan and Washington counties to the Federal Government. Congress designated this area as part of the Territory of the United States and on June 1, 17% of Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the 16th state.
Religion played an important role in Greene County’s early educational history. Presbyterian minister, Dr. Samuel Doak, received a charter for a private academy, which became Washington College in 1795. The Greeneville College, established in 1794 by Hezekiah Balch, was the first college west of the Alleghenies. In 1818 Dr. Samuel Doak resigned as president of Washington College and along with his son established another school, Tusculum College. Tusculum and Greenville Colleges merged to become what is known today as Tusculum College. Greene County also marked the emergence for other religions in Tennessee. The Ebenezer Church, established in 1792 by the Earnest family, was associated with founding Methodism in Tennessee. Also, in 1795, New Hope Quaker Meeting occurred near Ripley Creek.
During the Civil War Greene County was largely Unionist. In 1861, during the weeks immediately preceding the Civil War, the State’s largest and most important pro-union meeting occurred at the Greeneville Convention. Greeneville became the winter quarters for General James Longstreet following the Confederate disaster at the Battle of Knoxville in 1863. Confederate Calvary Commander John Hunt Morgan died in September, 1864 in Greeneville, when a Union force commanded by Alvan C. Gillem surprised him and his officers.
On the lawn of the Greene County Courthouse are two monuments that commemorate the Civil War. One is dedicated to local troops who served in the Grand Army of the Republic (Union), and another memorializes General Morgan, known as the ‘Thunderbolt of the Confederacy.” Greeneville is thought to be the only town in the United States that pays tribute to both the Union and the Confederacy in its courthouse square.
One of Greene County’s most famous citizens, Andrew Johnson, moved from North Carolina to Greeneville in 1826, and set up a tailor’s shop. In 1829 he was chosen as alderman and in 1834 he became Greeneville’s mayor. During the next 30 years he served in both the Tennessee and United States legislatures.
After Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Vice President Andrew Johnson then became the 17th President of the United States. His home and tailor shop, as well as a visitor center, and a national cemetery where he is buried, are open to the public and maintained as a National Historic Site by the U.S. Park Service. During the Civil War, Greeneville changed hands numerous times. Although the state as a whole had voted to secede, East Tennessee was an island of predominately Unionist sentiment in the South.
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