Davidson County - Ceded to Tennessee

A History of Davidson County - Ceded to Tennessee

In 1783, a small group petitioned the legislature of North Carolina (of which they were a part) to provide a county governmental organization for them. Their request was formally granted on May 17th of that year. Their new civil municipality would be named Davidson County in honor of Brigadier General (Pro Tempore) William Lee Davidson, a North Carolina Revolutionary War hero from Mecklenberg County, who was killed in action in 1781. The date was May 17, 1783 when a four-year effort to create a county government came to fruition in what is now central Tennessee.

Click Here to view the 1783 Legislative Act that created Davidson County in central Tennessee.

Created in the last year of the American Revolution, Davidson County was required to establish a full regiment of Patriot Militia for the war effort. Click Here to learn about all of the known officers and men who served in the Davidson County Regiment of Militia during the American Revolution. All names in "blue/underscore" can be clicked on for additional information.

Included in the municipal acts was the creation of an "inferior court of pleas and quarter sessions for Davidson County, NC." Under that section, the governor of North Carolina was vested with the power of appointing four citizens to form the new court. Isaac Bledsoe, Samuel Barton, Francis Price, and Isaac Lindsay were selected to the commission, which chose justices without respect to any divisions in the area. Later, military districts were formed with two justices being selected from each district.

This was Davidson County's first court and it was vested with broad powers, covering a wide range of subjects. The court had jurisdiction over all legal, judicial, legislative, executive, military, and prudential affairs of the county. The court evolved into the county court, which now functions as probate court. The County Seat was named Nashville, in honor of Brigadier General Francis Nash, who was mortally wounded at the battle of Germantown, PA on October 4, 1777. Nashville was a renaming of Fort Nashborough, which had been settled before Davidson County was officially created.

It should be noted that Tennessee did not become a state of its own until 1796 when it was adopted by a constitutional committee acting upon a proposal by Andrew Jackson. The name as taken from that given to one of the state's early counties. The name "Tennessee" is of Cherokee Indian origin and was originally spelled and pronounced "Tannassie." Extensive research has not established that the name has any meaning other than a proper noun.

Six years before Tennessee became a state, Davidson County was ceded to the Territory South of the Ohio River, also known as the Southwest Territory. It then came under the territorial government of the Mero District (created in 1788) and remained as such until Tennessee came into existence in 1796.

Since Tennessee had not been created when the territory's first counties were developed, they were originally made parts of the adjoining judicial districts of North Carolina, the state that created them. But in 1784, the counties of Washington, Sullivan, Greene, and Davidson were grouped to constitute a separate judicial district, known at the time as the District of Washington.

The new district covered the whole of the territory now Tennessee. Davidson County comprised most of what is now Middle Tennessee and covered an area of nearly twelve thousand square miles. Therefore, in 1785, Davidson County was given a separate court. Given a separate court in 1785, the first division of Davidson County came just one year later when Sumner County was created. Then came Tennessee County, which remained intact until 1796, when it was split into Robertson and Montgomery counties.

In establishing courts for its annexed territory, North Carolina vested them with general jurisdiction in law and equity, just as it was across the mountains. But in 1787, the twofold court of law and equity was divided and it was enacted that the Chancery branch of the court should be styled the "court of equity." A clerk and master was appointed for each division, but both courts continued to be held by the same judge.

It must have been a beautiful trip through the Great Smoky Mountains as a hardy band of pioneers from North Carolina girded their way west during the fall of 1779 in search of a settlement. The glorious foliage of unmolested forests most assuredly was breathtaking, even more so than today in climates drastically modified by modern advancement.

One can imagine the spine-tingling sensation that the pioneers surely felt as they stood along the foothills, staring in amazement at the awesome vastness of autumn radiance coating the mountains that surrounded them. The panoramic beauty, while putting God's creations in their proper perspective, also served to soften the hardships of the ant-like creatures as they inched along the countryside in quest of the ultimate place to call home.

As days turned into weeks, the brilliant hues of the landscaping would transform to drab, brown sameness and tumble listlessly to the earth to become a blanket of noisy carpeting, alerting wild game that hungry intruders were approaching. But the art of hunting was the code of survival to the pioneers and the virgin wilderness would help hone their expertise and provide an ample reserve of fodder for the cold days ahead.

With Colonel James Robertson at the helm, the pioneers slowly distanced themselves from their starting point of Watauga, NC until finally ending their voyage on Christmas Eve at a location that would eventually become Nashville. At that particular point in time, their new-found homeland had no name and was still considered a part of North Carolina.

But what a Christmas gift the pioneers had received. To them, the paradise that surrounded them must have represented the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. They discovered a spring on the banks of the Cumberland River and near there built a small fort that would serve both as living quarters and protection against Indians. Today, a replica of the original Fort Nashborough reminds us of that early settlement.

Through primitive communication methods, word of the pioneers' discovery reverberated throughout the hills and by springtime the first settlers were joined by more than two hundred others equally as intent on making a new home.

It was a man by the name of John Donelson who successfully commanded a flotilla of thirty boats that brought the newcomers to this mid-southern haven. And when they arrived on April 24, 1779, they hit the ground running. For within a month's time the settlers created a crude governmental organization under the style of the "Cumberland Compact."

During the next four years, the group survived the hardships of the wilderness and the hostilities of the Indians.

Click Here to see how Davidson County evolved from 1783 to 1790, when it was ceded to the Territory South of the Ohio River, aka the Southwest Territory.

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