Geography and Landforms:

Stretching 440 miles from east to west, Tennessee is characterized by 6 main land regions; The Blue Ridge, the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region, the Appalachian Plateau, the Highland Rim, the Nashville Basin, and the Gulf Coastal Plain.

Blue Ridge: The Blue Ridge area lies on the eastern edge of Tennessee, on the border of North Carolina. This region of Tennessee is characterized by high mountains, including the Great Smoky Mountains, the Chilhowee Mountains, and the Snowbird Mountains. The average elevation of the Blue Ridge area is 5,000 feet above sea level. Tennessee's highest point, Clingman's Dome, at 6,643 feet above sea level, is found in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region: Stretching west from the Blue Ridge for approximately 55 miles is the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region. This area of Tennessee is covered by fertile valleys separated by wooded ridges. The western section of the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region, where the valleys become broader and the ridges become lower, is called The Great Valley.

Appalachian Plateau: To the west of the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region lies the Appalachian Plateau. Also called the Cumberland Plateau, this area is covered with flat-topped mountains separated by sharp valleys. The elevation of the Appalachian Plateau rises to 1,500 to 1,800 feet above sea level. Lookout Mountain, southwest of Chattanooga and in the southern section or the Appalachian Plateau, provides views of seven states.

Highland Rim: To the west of the Appalachian Plateau lies the Highland Rim, an elevated plain that surrounds the Nashville Basin. The northern section of the Highland Rim is sometimes called the Pennyroyal Region.

Nashville Basin: Surrounded by the steep slopes of the Highland Rim is the Nashville Basin. The Nashville Basin is characterized by rich, fertile farm country.

Gulf Coastal Plain: West of the Highland Rim and Nashville Basin lies the Gulf Coastal Plain. The Gulf Coastal Plain is, in terms of area, the predominant land region in Tennessee. It is part of the large geographic land area that begins at the Gulf of Mexico and extends north into southern Illinois. In Tennessee, the Gulf Coastal Plain is divided into three sections that extend from the Tennessee River, in the east, to the Mississippi River in the west.

The easternmost section consists of hilly land that runs along the western bank of the Tennessee River. This section of the Gulf Coastal Plain is about 10 miles wide. To the west of this narrow strip of land is a wide area of rolling hills and streams that stretches all the way to Memphis in western Tennessee. This area is called the Tennessee bottoms or bottom land. In Memphis, the Tennessee Bottoms end in steep bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. To the west of the Tennessee Bottoms, is the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, less than 300 feet above sea level. This area of lowlands, flood plains, and swamp land is sometimes referred to as The Delta region.


British and French explorers both laid claim to the area now known as Tennessee in 1673. James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, English traders, crossed the Appalachian mountains from South Carolina hoping to establish trade with the Cherokee. From the west, Father Jacques Marquette and fur trader Louis Joliet came down the Mississippi River and claimed the entire river valley in the name of the King of France. Both the British and the French built forts and trading posts in attempts to solidify their claims to the land.

Independent fur traders also lived in the area. They served as an important link between native people, colonial governments and European markets. This profitable enterprise, in which traders hired native hunters to supply them with beaver skins and deer pelts, eventually wiped out much of Tennessee's native animal life. In 1748, merchants exported over 160,000 skins worth $250,000. This struggle for profit also increased the rivalry between the English and the French and drew native hunters into the conflict.

Eventually, the conflict became one of the causes for the French and Indian Wars. The defeat of the French in this war meant that their lands were ceded to the British. Although the British Proclamation of 1763 prohibited westward settlement beyond the Appalachians, the desire for land led restless Virginians and North Carolinians to move across the mountains into the valleys of East Tennessee. By the early 1770s, four different European communities were established and the possession of land took precedence over the establishment of trade in the new frontier.

The establishment of the United States independent from the British officially opened the land west of the Appalachians to further settlement, and in the winter and spring of 1779, a group of 300 pioneers, both black and white, established an outpost at French Lick, the eventual site of the town of Nashville.

Without an organized government however, settlers had little protection on the frontier, nor did they have any political voice. Six counties had originally been part of North Carolina between 1777 and 1788, but after the Revolution, North Carolina didn't want the trouble and expense of maintaining these distant settlements. In 1784, East Tennesseans established the State of Franklin and named John Sevier governor. The state was not recognized by the United States, and some leaders considered an alliance with Spain, which controlled the lower Mississippi River. Once North Carolina realized the danger of having a Spanish-sympathizing government so nearby, the state re-established its control over the area, and the State of Franklin dissolved in 1788. In 1789, North Carolina ratified the new Constitution of the United States and formally ceded its western counties to the Federal government. President George Washington appointed a territorial governor, but the central concern with land ownership and speculation continued to dominate. The early political leaders in Tennessee were also the state's biggest land speculators, and determining what land belonged to settlers and what land belonged to native tribes, and how land would be bought and sold was subject to great corruption.

By 1795, there was enough population for statehood, and a referendum indicated that the settlers wanted to join the Union. A constitutional convention met in Knoxville and on June 1, 1796, Congress approved the admission of Tennessee as the sixteenth sate of the Union.

The availability of cheap, fertile land meant settlement in Tennessee exploded. Along with increased settlement came the increase in the number of black slaves who had been brought along to farm the land. By 1810, blacks constituted over 20 percent of the population. Along with slaves, however, Tennessee was also home to a large number of free blacks because the state Constitution made it easy for owners to free slaves, and provided for relative social equality for free blacks. Unfortunately, the requirement for large numbers of slaves to work the land for a profit meant these early gains quickly disappeared.

By 1840, most of the Native Americans had been forced to leave Tennessee. Many traveled the "Trail of Tears" to what would later become Oklahoma. Tennessee grew quickly as settlers flocked to the state to grow cotton, tobacco and corn. Railroads expanded throughout the area.

Slavery divided the nation during the late 1850s. Several southern states seceded from the Union that led to the Civil War (1861-1865). After the war began, Tennessee became the last of eleven states to secede from the Union. More than 200 battles took place in Tennessee. The bloodiest of these was the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. Over 10,000 Confederates and 13,000 Union soldiers died when Confederate troops tried to stop Union soldiers from going into Mississippi.

The Confederacy surrendered on April 9, 1865, only days before the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Vice-president Andrew Johnson of Tennessee became President of the United States upon Lincoln's death. After some controversy, Tennessee was the first state to be readmitted to the Union in July 1866.

Reconstruction was a difficult period for Tennessee. Much of the state was destroyed and thousands were left unemployed and homeless. Plantation owners were forced to divide into smaller farms. Political unrest led to secret societies like the Ku Klux Klan.

In the twentieth century, Tennessee was back in the national spotlight with the celebrated trial of John T. Scopes, the so-called "Monkey Trial." In 1925, the legislature, as part of a general education bill, passed a law that forbade the teaching of evolution in the public schools. In Dayton, local residents asked Scopes, a high school biology teacher, to violate the law and stand trial as a way of drawing publicity and visitors to the town. Their plan worked all too well, and the county courthouse was turned into a circus of national and even international media coverage. Thousands flocked to Dayton to witness the high-powered legal counsel (William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense, among others) argue their case.


The Civil War and Reconstruction left Tennessee struggling economically. However, by the early 1900s, Tennessee was growing again. Manufacturing and mining industries increased greatly, providing jobs for some of the unemployed. During the Great Depression (1929-1939) the economy dropped dramatically, closing factories and making thousands unemployed. In 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was organized to conserve and develop natural resources. Many found jobs building dams on Tennessee rivers.

In 1941, the federal government built the Oak Ridge National Laboratories. This atomic energy plant helped to develop the atomic bomb that ended World War II (1939-1945). After the war, the TVA continued to build dam and steam plants throughout the state. This encouraged new industries into Tennessee from neighboring states. Tennessee's economy became one of the fastest growing economies in the South.

Although Tennessee is now primarily industrial, with most of its people residing in urban areas, many Tennesseans still derive their livelihood from the land. The state's leading crops are cotton, soybeans, and tobacco; cattle, dairy products, and hogs are also principal farm commodities. Tennessee's leading mineral is stone and zinc ranks second (Tennessee leads the nation in its production). The state's leading manufactures are chemicals and related products, foods, electrical machinery, primary metals, automobiles, textiles and apparel, and stone, clay, and glass items. Aluminum production has been important since World War I.

Tennessee is a major tourist destination because of its beautiful scenery. Many lakes were built by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Army Corps of Engineers. The TVA also developed the Land Between the Lakes, an enormous Kentucky-Tennessee recreation area. Visitors are also drawn by Tennessee's music capitals, Nashville for country-music lovers and Memphis for jazz. Elvis' home Graceland has become the most visited celebrity museum in the country.

First Inhabitants:

Humans first inhabited the land now known as Tennessee when the last of the Ice Age glaciers retreated, some 12,000-15,000 years ago. The people were probably hunters, and we know that they camped in caves and rock shelters because they left behind arrowheads and spear points. They may have hunted mastodon and caribou. About 12,000 years ago, the climate continued to warm and the land was covered with forests similar to those that are still there today. These forests provided acorns, hickory nuts, chestnuts and beechnuts and attracted large numbers of deer and elk. Sometime between 3,000 and 900 BC, natives began to cultivate plants such as squash and gourds, and could therefore depend upon a regular food supply. This caused the native population to increase, and groups of nomadic hunters began to settle into larger villages.

During the next stage, known as the Woodland period, natives began to make pottery, develop agriculture, construct burial mounds, and live in large, permanent towns. Between 900 and 1600 AD, natives learned to cultivate corn and beans, and the population increased again. It was at this time that groups of natives began to battle each other for territory and develop tribal identity. Archaeologists have found elaborate pottery, and personal items like combs, pipes and jewelry which demonstrate the complexity of these native societies.

The first Europeans to explore the area were led by Hernando de Soto in 1541 as part of de Soto's futile search for gold and silver. Two later expeditions led by Juan Pardo introduced firearms and deadly European diseases to the native populations. Both of these prompted a sharp decline in the native tribes. Guns changed the way the natives hunted and battled with neighboring tribes, and made the native people dependent upon the colonial fur trade. Natives supplied deer and beaver hides to European traders in return for guns, rum and manufactured articles. No longer were the native tribes self-sufficient, and they began more and more influenced by European settlers and politics.

In the 150 years after de Soto first came to Tennessee, new native tribes moved into the area, defeating the less developed tribes. The Cherokee, the Chickasaw and the Shawnee tribes began to increase their influence in the area, but by 1715, the stronger Cherokee and Chickasaw had driven out the Shawnee.

Books Related To Tennessee

Abby Takes a Stand - Patricia McKissack
(978-0142406878) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-8, Lexile: 580, ESL level: 3
A grandmother enjoys sharing her 60's experiences with her grandchildrn, tell of restaurant sit-ins and other types of civil rights protests.

Bone by Bone by Bone - Tony Johnston
(978-1596431133) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-12, Lexile: 680, ESL level: 3
David's best friend is Malcolm, an African American; David's white and extremely prejudiced father will not allow him to spend time with a child from another race.

Circle of Fire - Evelyn Coleman
(978-1607541929) , Fiction
Interest level: 3-6, Lexile: 690, ESL level: 3
The Ku Klux Klan's plans to bomb a Tennessee school are thwarted when Mendy is concerned about Eleanor Roosevelt's visit there.

A Heart Divided - Cherie Bennett
(978-0440228400) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 690, ESL level: 3 - 4
After moving from New Jersey to Tennessee, Kate tries to have the school's symbol, a Confederate flag changed.

John Phillip Duck - Patricia Polacco
(978-0399242625) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-12, Lexile: 750, ESL level: 3 - 4
An African American boy helps his pet duck achieve fame after the duck's tricks land him a job at the Peabody Hotel.

Somebody Everybody Listens To - Suzanne Supplee
(525-422420) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, Lexile: 830, ESL level: 3
Country singer Retta perseveres in trying to achieve her dream of becoming a singing star after she goes to Nashville post-high school.

Something Rotten - Alan Gratz
(978-0142412978) , Fiction
Interest level: 7-12, Lexile: 790, ESL level: 3 - 4
In this reworked and updated version of Shakespeare's Hamlet, Horatio tries to uncover the details surrounding a friend's father.

V is for Volunteer: A Tennessee Alphabet - Michael Shoulders
(978-1585360338) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about the state of Tennessee.

Famous Citizens:

Davy Crockett
Davy Crockett was perhaps best known in Tennessee as a noted hunter and for his unique style of backwoods oratory. Crockett was born August 17, 1786 in what is now northeastern Tennessee. He didn't learn to read and write before he was eighteen, and about that time, he married and started a family of several children.

He first became involved in politics as magistrate of his local community. By 1821, he was elected to the State Legislature, and was reelected to that position in 1823. From 1827 through 1833, Crockett served in the Congress of the United States. However, in his run for a fourth term in Congress, he was defeated by a narrow margin.

Disgusted by that time with politics, Crockett bid farewell to Tennessee and headed for Texas in the fall of 1835. There he was well received and seemed to enjoy his new environment. Less than one month later, however, Crockett and a few of his fellow Tennesseans were among the 189 defenders that sacrificed their lives at The Battle of the Alamo in the interest on Texas independence.

Aretha Franklin
The daughter of the Rev. C.L. Franklin, Aretha Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Both her parents were musical and sang gospel. As a teenager, she too sang gospel with her two sisters Carolyn and Erma. She made her first recordings as a gospel artist at the age of 14. In the late '60s, Franklin became one of the biggest international recording stars in all of pop. Many also saw Franklin as a symbol of Black America itself, reflecting the increased confidence and pride of African-Americans in the decade of the civil rights movements and other triumphs for he Black community. The chart statistics are impressive in and of themselves: ten Top Ten hits in a roughly 18-month span between early 1967 and late 1968, for instance, and a steady stream of solid mid-to-large-size hits for the next five years after that. Her success has earned her the nickname "Lady Soul" or "the Queen of Soul."

Albert Gore
Al Gore, Jr. was the son of former US Senator Albert Gore, Sr. and Pauline Gore. Raised in Carthage, Tennessee, and Washington, DC, he received a degree in government with honors from Harvard University in 1969. After graduation, he volunteered for enlistment in the US Army and served in Vietnam. Returning to civilian life, Gore became an investigative reporter with The Tennessean in Nashville. He attended Vanderbilt University Divinity School and Vanderbilt Law School and operated a small homebuilding business. Gore's Congressional career began when he was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1976 where he served eight years representing the then 4th District of Tennessee. He was elected to the US Senate in 1984 and was re-elected in 1990. A candidate for the Democratic nomination for President in 1988, Gore won more than three million votes and Democratic contests in seven states. After the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, Al Gore was inaugurated as the 45th Vice President of the United States.

Dolly Parton
Dolly Parton grew up as the fourth of 12 children on a rundown farm in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, near the Smoky Mountains National Forest. While the young Parton was much-ridiculed for her poverty, she turned to music for comfort. After learning to play a guitar that was a gift from her uncle, she began making public music appearances. By the age of 12, she made her debut on a Knoxville television station, and by the age of 14, she had already landed a recording contract with Mercury, and was making appearances on the Grand Old Opry. Today she continues her music career, has starred in movies and on television, and has her own theme park Dolly Wood.

Capital: Nashville
Entered Union: June 1, 1796
Population: 6,549,352
Area 42,143
Bird Mockingbird
Flower Iris
Nickname: The Volunteer State, Big Bend State
Governor Bill Haslam

Places to Visit in Tennessee: (Click the links to learn more.)

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site - Greeneville
The Andrew Johnson National Historic Site honors the life and work of the nation's 17th President and preserves his two homes, tailor shop, and grave site. Johnson worked his way from tailor to President, and was the first US President to be neither a military hero or a lawyer. Indeed, Johnson never attended a formal school at all, and at the time he was married, could barely read and write. Johnson's Presidency saw the country struggle with the reunification and Reconstruction of the United States following the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

The American Museum of Science and Energy - Oak Ridge
The museum opened in 1949 in an old wartime cafeteria. It was originally named the American Museum of Atomic Energy. Its guided tours took visitors through the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The present facility, opened in 1975, continues to provide the general public with energy information. The name of the museum was changed to the American Museum of Science and Energy in 1978.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Gatlinburg
The national park, in the states of North Carolina and Tennessee, encompasses 800 square miles of which 95 percent are forested. One of the main entrances to the park is in Gatlinburg. World renowned for the diversity of its plant and animal resources, the beauty of its ancient mountains, the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, and the depth and integrity of the wilderness sanctuary within its boundaries, it is one of the largest protected areas in the east.

The Hermitage - Hermitage
The home of Andrew Jackson, this expansive cotton plantation centered by the imposing mansion was the place Jackson always loved best, a place where he was surrounded by family and welcomed friends and colleagues. In addition to original colors and exactly reproduced textiles, almost all of the furnishings, including furniture, silver, porcelains and portraits, belonged to Jackson. Many of his personal possessions are also here including a sword, hundreds of books, eyeglasses and Bible.

Rock City Gardens - Lookout Mountain
Take an unforgettable journey high atop Lookout Mountain with quiet woodland paths and gardens, where it is possible to see 7 states from one vantage point. Established as a tourist destination in the 1930s, generations of highway travelers from as far north as Michigan and far west as Texas became familiar with barns painted simply with the words "See Rock City." Once there, you can see ancient rock formations and 400 species of plants, flowers and shrubs. Visitors can make a wish upon the 140-foot high falls, and wind their way through massive rock boulders and caverns that bring them to Fairyland Caverns and Mother Goose Village.