THE STATE NAME "TENNESSEE"
The Tennessee Border at Yesteryear's Tallassee


Possible Source of the
State Name "Tennessee"

by Donald E. Sheppard

Hernando de Soto entered Tennessee from North Carolina while leading his army down the Little Tennessee River in 1540. His Chroniclers reported passing through a native village precisely at today's Tennessee Border (on 1756-1765 map below - note that north is left, not up).

Tallassee - Tennessee
That village was called Tallassee on a relatively unknown 1762 map (shown at left and below). This map had been carefully prepared for the King of England and published in the Memoirs 1756-1765 of Lt. Henry Timberlake.


The Book Memoirs of Lt. Henry Timberlake, 1756 - 1765 As a Virginian on "Official Business" for the Crown, and on good terms with the Cherokee, Lt. Timberlake had visited their tribe for several months and sketched a map of their "Over the Hill" villages during the war between France and England (the "French and Indian War").

Timberlake immediately visited England's King George III with three Cherokee Chiefs* from that neighborhood. His map was drawn for presentation to the King by London's best cartographers. The name "Tennessee" appeared as a river and a native village on it (see below) and may have been the first such map with that name to be seen by English royalty, given that France had held all of that land until just before Timberlake's arrival in London in 1762.

Map of the Little Tennessee River by Lt. Henry Timberlake, 1756 - 1765

That river led into today's Tennessee, a hunter's paradise, from the Carolinas. "Through its valleys and over its hills roamed countless herds of buffalo, deer and elk. Within its forests and canebrakes there were bears, wolves, panthers, bobcats, foxes, and other wild animals in great number," according to Tennessee historian Edward Albright.

Desoto's army got there along an Indian trail from today's Columbia, just above Charleston (for DeSoto's Tennessee Chronicles, see: Rangel, Elvas, Inca and Biedma). In 1690 Charleston was colonized by Englishmen and French Huguenots who traded furs with England for their support. Most of their furs came from the "Over the Hill" Tribes, given the abundance of both on the Tennessee land claimed by France.

In 1663 England's King Charles II had granted all of that land "...which lies between 36 degrees and 30 Minutes, Northern latitude, and so West in a direct line as far as the South Seas (The Pacific Ocean); and South and Westward as far as the degrees of 29 northern latitude; and so West in a direct line as far as the South Seas," including today's Tennessee, to his Carolina colonists. Plus, Charleston's location was the closest English port to the Tennessee Tribes.

Charleston's French speaking fur traders used the trail DeSoto had used into Tennessee: first up the Appalachian Mountains then down the Little Tennessee River (labeled "Tennessee River" on Timberlake's Map). Carolina even built Fort Loudon on that river (see the map above) to keep the French out of the Carolinas while protecting their Tennessee access trail.

Bartram's observation from the "highest ridge of the Cherokee Mountains"In 1775 another traveler, William Bartram (pp. 276, Dover Press), commented about that river from "...the highest ridge of the Cherokee Mountains, which separate the waters of the Savannah river from those of the Tanase ...running rapidly a North-West course through the mountains, is joined from the North-East by the Holstein (Tuckasegee River); thence taking a West course yet amongst the mountains, receiving into it from either hand many large rivers, leaves the mountains immediately being joined by a large river from the East (today's Tennessee River), becomes a mighty river... thence meanders many hundred miles through a vast country (today's Tennessee) consisting of forests, meadows, groves, expansive savannas, fields and swelling hills, most fertile and delightful, flows into the beautiful Ohio, and in conjunction... (into) the sovereign Mississippi."

That trail, down today's Tennessee River from the Great Smoky Mountains, was used for decades by Carolinians trading with interior tribesmen. There were no other trails thru those mountains because of tight passes and very steep inclines... and there were no other places near Carolina to get such fine trade pelts during the 1700's. That river's name, "Tennessee or Tanase" was used by pioneer Carolinians, and later by the entire English speaking world, for that bountiful place.

*King George III, by the way, rewarded Timberlake's Cherokee visitors with the Proclamation of 1763 which ended the French and Indian War: "...the tribes of Indians with whom we are connected, and who live under our protection, should not be molested (on) any lands beyond the sources of any of the rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean..." That law lasted until the American Revolution in 1776: the year after William Bartram's visit.

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