Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Tennessee from The Macquarie Dictionary

a state in the south-eastern US.

109~417 km2 Nashville


Tennessean adjective noun


Summary Article: Tennessee
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

State in east-central USA, bordered to the east by North Carolina, to the south by Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, to the west by Arkansas and Missouri, across the Mississippi River, and to the north by Kentucky and Virginia; area 106,752 sq km/41,217 sq mi; population (2010) 6,346,105; capital Nashville. The Tennessee River flows through the state twice, giving rise to its nickname the Big Bend State; its more common nickname, the Volunteer State, refers to Tennessee's military traditions. The terrain drops from east to west, with wooded mountains, including part of the Great Smoky Mountains, giving way to a central area of hills, and then plains and swamps. Tennessee is one of the states that link the North and South of the USA; the lifestyle of west and central Tennessee resembles that of the Deep South, while eastern Tennessee is closer to the North. Service industries and manufacturing make the greatest contribution to the state economy; products include chemicals, processed foods, machinery, and metals. Mining is also important. Agricultural produce includes beef, milk, and cotton. Memphis is the largest city. Other major towns and cities are Knoxville, Chattanooga, Clarksville, Murfreesboro, Jackson, Johnson City, Franklin, Bartlett, and Hendersonville. Historically, Tennessee was a plantation state, associated with slavery, and cotton remains one of its leading crops. Culturally, it is one of the centres of country music in the USA. Tennessee was admitted to the Union in 1796 as the 16th US state.

Physical The state's eastern edge is marked by the Blue Ridge region of the Appalachian Mountains system, and its elevation averages 1,500 m/5,000 ft. It comprises a number of mountain ranges and includes Clingmans Dome, Tennessee's tallest peak, which rises to 2,025 m/6,644 ft at Newfoundland Gap. The region has abundant timber and mineral resources.

To the west, the parallel ridges and fertile agricultural valleys of the Appalachian Ridge and Valley region extend for about 88 km/55 mi, giving way to the Cumberland Plateau, where the land rises in rocky cliffs up to 600 m/1,800 ft high. The state's coal comes from the plateau, and some of its petroleum and natural gas. It is possible to see seven states from Lookout Mountain in the south.

Steep slopes drop from an elevated plain known as the Highland Rim to the Nashville Basin below, situated in the centre of the state. Underground streams and caves lie beneath the surface of the Nashville Basin. The land drains towards the northwest, creating rich crop-producing areas and cattle pastures. The region also has phosphate deposits. To the west is part of the Gulf Coastal Plain, an area of land starting at the Gulf of Mexico and extending to southern Illinois. In Tennessee it comprises a 16 km-/10 mi-wide hilly strip along the west bank of the Tennessee River, an area of rolling hills, wide stream valleys called bottoms, and steep bluffs that stretch to the Mississippi. The Mississippi Alluvial Plain lies to the north of Memphis in the far west of the state. It is the lowest part of the state and farmers grow soybeans and other vegetables on its fertile soils.

Tennessee is crossed by three large rivers. The Mississippi drains the state in the west, through tributaries that include the Forked Deer, Hatchie, Loosahatchie, and Wolf rivers. The Cumberland and the Tennessee rise in the Cumberland Plateau, draining the rest of the state. Branches of the Tennessee include the Buffalo, Duck, Elk, French Broad, and Sequatchie rivers, and tributaries of the Cumberland include the Coney Fork, Harpeth, and Stones rivers. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers have built numerous dams since 1933, creating lakes and reservoirs that include Boone, Cherokee, Chickamauga, Douglas, Fort Norris, Pickwick, Wa-tauga, and Watts Bar. Collectively they are known as the Great Lakes of the South; the largest is Kentucky Lake. Reelfoot Lake in the northwest corner of Tennessee was created by a series of earthquakes from December 1811 to March 1812, the land drop being filled by the Mississippi, which flowed north for two days.

Tennessee's climate is humid and subtropical, the lowlands generally being warmer than the mountains. Much of Tennessee is forested, the most important trees being hickory, shortleaf pine, red and white oaks, and yellow poplar. The mountain slopes are clad in shrubs, including mountain laurel and rhododendron.

Features Tennessee's rugged mountains, thick forests, and scenic lakes and rivers provide ample opportunities for sightseeing and outdoor sports and recreation. The Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area is shared between Tennessee and Kentucky. The Smoky Mountains National Park, a World Heritage Site shared with North Carolina, is the most visited national park in the USA. Dollywood in Pigeon Forge is named for the singer Dolly Parton and live music shows and other attractions depict the folklore and history of the Smoky Mountains. Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, is the site of an important Union Civil War victory, ‘the battle of the clouds’, in 1863. Tennessee has two national military parks, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, shared with Georgia, and Shiloh, near Savannah. Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is in the northeast where Tennessee meets Virginia and Kentucky. The Ocoee River in southeastern Tennessee is one of the USA's top white-water rafting rivers and was the venue for the white-water canoe competition in the 1996 Olympic Games.

Nashville is the capital of country music, and nearby Opryland is a musical theme park. Its Grand Ole Opry House features live country music performances that have been broadcast on Grand Ole Opry since 1925, making this the longest-running radio show in the USA. Nashville is also home to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum; RCA's Studio B; the Parthenon in Centennial Park, a copy of the Parthenon in Athens; and Belle Meade Mansion, a Greek Revival house and thoroughbred breeding estate, and former site of the Iroquois Steeplechase, the oldest amateur steeplechase in the USA. Also in Nashville is Fort Nashborough, a recreation of the original log fort built by pioneers in 1779. Nearby is the Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson's home, and the Andrew Jackson Center. Bicentennial Mall State Park, a monument celebrating Tennessee's history and natural beauty, opened next to the State Capitol building in 1996.

Davy Crockett was born near Greeneville, on the banks of Limestone Creek, where his log cabin has been rebuilt. Journalist Alex Haley's life is celebrated at his boyhood home in Henning, the first state-owned historic site devoted to an African American. Casey Jones, the railway engineer and folk hero, lived in Jackson, where his home has been restored to house a railway museum.

Memphis is the home of the blues, with the W C Handy Memphis Home and Museum; Sun Studio, said to be the birthplace of rock and roll; and Pyramid Arena (1991). Magevney House, built in the 1830s, is the oldest building in the city. The National Civil Rights Museum is located in the motel where the civil-rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr was assassinated in 1968. Graceland in Memphis was the estate of the rock-and-roll singer Elvis Presley and features his mansion and grave, along with a museum of memorabilia.

Other places of interest include Civil War battlefields at Chattanooga. Knoxville has the Governor William Blount Mansion; the Armstrong-Lockett House, an 1834 farm mansion; and the headquarters of the Tennessee Valley Authority, established in 1933, the largest electricity-generating station in the USA. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, founded in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project and instrumental in the development of the atomic bomb, is nicknamed the Energy Capital of the World for its continuing energy research.

Culture A strong folk culture shows the diversity of Tennessee's population; 16.7% of the state's population are African American (2010), of which about 60% live in the greater Memphis metropolitan area. Other large population groups include people of Irish, German, English, and Scottish descent. An annual motorcycle ride along the Trail of Tears commemorates the Cherokee and other American Indians who died on their forced march west during the removals of the mid-19th century. The East Tennessee Indian League promotes a public appreciation of American Indian culture and the contribution of these first Americans to Tennessee's history. The life of the Cherokee silversmith Sequoya, the creator of the first written American Indian language, is commemorated at the Sequoya Birthplace Museum in Vonore.

Tennessee is renowned for its musical associations, particularly bluegrass, country, and blues. The Jubilee Singers from Nashville's Fisk University put the city on the musical map when they introduced the spiritual, the basis for many African-American genres of music, to the world on a fundraising tour for the university in the 1870s. One of the largest annual events in the US calendar is the month-long Memphis International Festival in May, which celebrates the music of a different nation each year. Memphis's own cultural heritage is also celebrated at this time. Other musical gatherings include the CMA Music Festival in Nashville in June, the Old Time Fiddlers' Jamboree and Crafts Festival in Smithville in July, and the Elvis International Tribute Week in Memphis in August, which attracts crowds from all over the world.

Horses and equestrian events are important in Tennessee and the International Horse Walking Show in Murfreesboro features over 800 walking horses from middle Tennessee each August. The Walking Horse National Celebration is held in Shelbyville in August. Modern thoroughbreds still trace their bloodlines back to Iroquois, the winner of the English Derby in 1881. The Iroquois Steeplechase takes place in Nashville in May.

Tennessee's natural heritage is celebrated in such activities as the Eagle Watch Tours at Reelfoot Lake near Tiptonville from January to March, the Spring Wild Flower Pilgrimage in Gatlinburg in April, the East Tennessee Strawberry Festival in Dayton in May, and the Rhododendron Festival in Raon Mountain in June. Agricultural events include the Tennessee Valley Fair at Knoxville, and the Tennessee State Fair in Nashville, both in September.

Fisk University, Vanderbilt University, and Belmont University are all in Nashville; the University of Tennessee is sited at Knoxville; and the University of the South at Sewanee.

GovernmentTennessee's state constitution Tennessee's current constitution was adopted in 1870; earlier constitutions were adopted in 1796, the year it entered the Union, and in 1834.

Structure of state government The legislature, or General Assembly, consists of a 33-member Senate and a 99-member House of Representatives. Senators and representatives are elected from legislative districts to serve four-year and two-year terms respectively.

Two senators and nine representatives go to the US Congress, and the state has 11 electoral votes in presidential elections. The state is politically conservative, but with more moderate attitudes on economic and race issues than other Deep South states. It has favoured Republican candidates in recent US presidential elections, but Democrats have had strong support in the cities of Memphis and Nashville.

Tennessee's governor holds office for a four-year term and may serve any number of terms, but not more than two consecutively. Republican Bill Haslam took the governorship in January 2011. The lieutenant governor is elected by the General Assembly and is the speaker of the state Senate. The legislature also chooses the secretary of state, who serves a four-year term, and the state treasurer and the state comptroller of the treasury, both of whom serve for two years. The Supreme Court of the state chooses the attorney general for an eight-year term.

County commissions govern most of Tennessee's 95 counties. Each commission is headed by an elected county executive, except those that have consolidated city-county government status. There are 342 incorporated cities and towns; these may adopt home rule by popular vote, although only 14 cities have done so since a constitutional amendment made it possible in 1953.

The Tennessee state court system comprises the Supreme Court, with five justices who serve for renewable eight-year terms, two (civil and criminal) intermediate appellate courts, the trial courts (chancery, circuit, and criminal), and two probate courts.

Economy Important service sector industries include wholesale and retail trade, and community, business, and personal services. Manufacturing is another leading source of income and employment; the state's main manufactures include chemicals, transport equipment, food products, machinery, rubber and plastic products, and fabricated metals. Tennessee's fertile soil and abundant mineral deposits also make it a leading agricultural and mining state. Farm produce includes beef cattle, milk, cotton, tobacco, soybeans, pigs, and hay. Central Tennessee contains rich stores of phosphate rock and zinc. The Cumberland Plateau has major deposits of coal, and small amounts of petroleum, natural gas, ball clay, and lignite are found in west Tennessee. The state also has baryte copper, sand, and gravel.

HistoryIndigenous peoples American Indians are thought to have lived in the Tennessee area at least 8,000 years ago, but the earliest known groups of Indians were the Moundbuilders who settled in the area about 1,000 years ago. The first white explorers reported Cherokee and Chickasaw peoples still building mounds. The Cherokee claimed middle Tennessee as their hunting ground. A branch of Cherokee, the Chickamauga, lived near present-day Chattanooga, and the Chickasaw lived in what is now west Tennessee.

Exploration The Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto raided some American Indian villages in the Tennessee River valley in 1540, but the region was then neglected by explorers until 1673, when James Needham and Gabriel Arthur explored the Tennessee River valley for England. That same year, the French-born Canadian Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette from France sailed down the Mississippi. In 1682, René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle, claimed the Mississippi valley for France. The French settled the region, naming it New France, and a French trading post was established at Fort Lick near modern Nashville in 1714.

France, Spain, and Britain competed for trade with the American Indians in the Tennessee area, leading to the French and Indian War which broke out between French and British settlers in 1754, but was not officially declared until 1756. It was only in 1763, after years of fierce fighting that the French gave up their claim to the territory east of the Mississippi to the British.

Settlement By 1769 there were permanent settlers in the Tennessee region and new settlers began to arrive from Virginia and the Carolinas. In 1772, a group of settlers formed their own government, the Watauga Association in Elizabethton, drawing up one of the first written constitutions in North America. It was based on the constitution of the Iroquois League, a federal system developed 200 years earlier by five American Indian nations.

In 1775 Daniel Boone was working for the Transylvania Company, which had bought a large part of Tennessee and Kentucky from the Cherokee. He opened what is now known as the Wilderness Road, a route from Tennessee to Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap in the Cumberland Mountains in the north east. The Wilderness Trail became the main passage west for settlers.

In 1779 James Robertson and John Donelson led two groups of pioneers into the wilderness and settled at the Big Salt Lick on the Cumberland River. They built Fort Nashborough, later to become Nashville, and the pioneers drew up the Cumberland Compact, in which they established a government for all settlers and created a system of laws. On 6 February 1796 Tennessee adopted a constitution in preparation for statehood, becoming the 16th state in the Union on 1 June. It was the first state to be created out of government territory.

The Civil War Before the Civil War black slaves worked on the farms of west and central Tennessee, but most eastern farmers were not slave-owners. Free blacks could vote in Tennessee until a new constitution, adopted in 1834, took away that right. The people of Tennessee were deeply divided in the Civil War and Confederate forces moved into the Unionist east, holding it captive for most of the war. Union forces under General Ulysses S Grant quickly captured Fort Henry and Fort Donelson along the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Grant proceeded along the Tennessee River to Pittsburg Landing where the bloody Battle of Shiloh was fought, an important victory for the Union despite massive losses. Other battles were fought at Murfreesboro, Chattanooga, and Nashville. Federal control of central and west Tennessee was established in 1862. With Andrew Johnson in the White House, it was the only former Confederate state not to have a military government imposed during Reconstruction.

Tennessee was ruined by the Civil War, and many people were made homeless. A new constitution in 1870 extended the right to vote to all male citizens aged 21 or older. Plantations in middle and west Tennessee were divided into small farms. Meanwhile the state's mining industries grew, helping its recovery. Coal and iron deposits attracted investment from the North, and by the early 1880s, flour, wool, and paper mills were established in all urban areas.

20th-century history An expansion of highways and railroads in the early 1900s encouraged people to move into the cities. Both Prohibitionism and religious fundamentalism were strong; in 1925 the Scopes monkey trial was held in Dayton, and the law against the teaching of the theory of evolution in public schools was not repealed until 1967.

In 1933, the federal government established the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to exploit and conserve the resources of the Tennessee River valley. It also built an atomic energy plant in Oak Ridge in 1941. After World War II Tennessee continued to expand its industrial base. The TVA built dams and steam plants to control floods and provide cheap electric power. Meanwhile a multimillion-dollar music business grew up in Nashville.

The biggest social change in 20th-century Tennessee was desegregation. In 1954 the US Supreme Court ruled that the segregation, under which black and white children attended separate schools, and which was enshrined in Tennessee's constitution, was illegal. Desegregation, supervised by state officials, began in 1956 in Clinton, northeast Tennessee. Leading civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks, received training in nonviolent protest at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. And in 1960, Nashville college students organized sit-ins and marches against segregation. In 1968, Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated while in Memphis.

In 1985 the Tennessee river was connected to the Gulf of Mexico by the $2 billion Tennessee–Tombigbee Waterway project.

Famous peoplesport Grantland Rice (1880–1954), sports journalist; Oscar Robertson (1938– ), basketball player; Wilma Rudolph (1940–1994), track athlete

the arts John Crowe Ransom (1888–1974), poet and critic; Bessie Smith (1894–1937), jazz singer; James Agee (1909–1955), journalist and writer; Alex Haley (1921–1992), journalist; Chet Atkins (1924–2001), guitarist; Elvis Presley (1935–1977), singer; Morgan Freeman (1937– ), actor; Tina Turner (1940– ), singer; Aretha Franklin (1942– ), soul singer; Dolly Parton (1946– ), country singer; Cybill Shepherd (1950– ), actor

science Edward Barnard (1857–1923), astronomer

society and educationSequoya (c. 1770–1843), Cherokee scholar and educator; Davy Crockett (1786–1836), folk hero and frontiersman; John Templeton (1912–2008), philanthropist; Benjamin L Hooks (1925–2010), civil-rights reformer

economics James Buchanan (1919–2013), Nobel Prize-winning economist

politics and law David Farragut (1801–1870), first US admiral; Cordell Hull (1871–1955), secretary of state; Alvin York (1887–1964), war hero; Estes Kefauver (1903–1963), politician; Abe Fortas (1910–1982), jurist; Al Gore (1948– ), vice president.


Tennessee – flag

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Tennessee
Philip's Encyclopedia

State in SE central USA between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River. The capital is Nashville . Other cities include Memphis...

Full text Article Tennessee
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A state in the S central USA. It can be divided into East, Middle, and West Tennessee. In the E there is an upland region of thickly wooded...

Full text Article Tennessee
Rawson's Dictionary of American Quotations

See also Cities ( Memphis , Nashville ). The Bostonian looks down upon the Virginian—the Virginian on the Tennessean. —...

See more from Credo