Tennessee in Early History

W Tennessee abounds with artifacts of the prehistoric Mound Builders, who were the earliest inhabitants of the area. Cherokee, Chickasaw, Shawnee, and Creek were in the region when it was first visited by a European expedition under De Soto in 1540. French explorers came down the Mississippi River, claiming both sides for France, and c.1682 La Salle built Fort Prudhomme, possibly on the site of present-day Memphis. The French established additional trading posts in the area, but they suffered continual harassment from the Chickasaw. Meanwhile, English fur traders and long hunters (frontiersmen who spent long periods hunting in this area) came over the mountains from the Carolinas and Virginia, prevailed over the Cherokee, and made ineffectual the French claims to the area, which in any event was lost (1763) by the French in the French and Indian Wars.

The first permanent settlement was made (1769) in the Watauga River valley of E Tennessee by Virginians; they were soon joined by North Carolinians, including perhaps a few refugees of the Regulator movement. In 1772 these hardy settlers living beyond the frontier formed the Watauga Association, the first attempt at government in Tennessee, and in 1777, at their request, North Carolina organized those settlements into Washington co.; Jonesboro, the county seat and oldest town in Tennessee, was founded two years later.

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