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All About Tennessee: Smoky Mountains, Caves & Graceland

by | Feb 27, 2023 | All About States

Tennessee is nicknamed the Volunteer State because of the actions taken by thousands of men back in the 1800s. Roughly 20,000 men volunteered to fight against the British in the War of 1812 and another 30,000 enlisted for the Mexican-American War in 1846.

Can you find Tennessee on a US map? It’s in the southeastern region of the United States and borders eight states: Kentucky and Virginia to the north; North Carolina to the east; Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi to the south; and Arkansas and Missouri to the west. The Mississippi River also forms its wiggly border to the west.

Only one other US state borders eight states. Can you guess which one it is? The answer is at the bottom of this blog.

Tennessee is divided into five regions:

  • Unaka Mountains: The most rugged mountain region in the state, it rises along the eastern border. Great Smoky Mountains National Parkis also located here.
  • Valley and Ridge: This region lies west of the mountains and has low, fertile valleys and long tree-covered ridges.
  • Cumberland Plateau: Farther west, this region stretches north to south and was created by streams. Deep valleys and gorges lie below flat-topped mountains. Lookout Mountain has views of seven states!
  • Central Basin: This region is in the center of the state, surrounded by another region called the Highland Rim. The basin resembles a doughnut hole and features fertile farmland with some hills and ridges.
  • Gulf Coastal Plain: This region covers the westernmost part of the state. In 1812, it was the site of a major earthquake that was so severe that: land dropped several feet, the Mississippi River flowed backward, and a new lake called Reelfoot was created.

What really happened

  • According to archeologists (people who study humans and artifacts from ancient times), humans lived in the area we now call Tennessee more than 12,000 years ago.
  • The state was first inhabited by Native Americans before the arrival of the Spanish in the mid-16th century. Cherokee, Shawnee, Chickasaw, and other tribes lived here.
  • The first Europeans to visit the land we now call Tennessee were searching for gold and led by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1541. Although more Spanish explorers came in 1559 and 1566, the land remained largely untouched by Europeans until the late 18th (Just in case you’re curious, no gold was found.)
  • The French and English started fighting for control of the land in 1754 during the French and Indian War (many Native Americans fought with the French against the British). The British won all land east of the Mississippi River in 1763, including what’s now Tennessee. At that time, it was part of North Carolina.
  • It was admitted to the Union in 1796 as the sixteenth state.
  • In 1830, President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act forced Native Americans who lived east of the Mississippi River to leave their homeland.
  • Tennessee supported slavery and seceded (withdrew) from the Union to form the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861.
  • In 1865, the thirteenth amendment was passed. It abolished slavery, freeing all people in Tennessee and other southern states who were enslaved.
  • In 1866, Tennessee was readmitted to the Union.
  • In 1870, the new government in the state (and also other southern states) passed a set of laws known as Jim Crow laws that denied Black individuals their civil rights.
  • In the early 20th century, many Black Americans left Tennessee (and other southern states) to move north, searching for better jobs and fairer treatment.

Stuff you should know

  • Almost half the state is farmland due to the state’s fertile soil.
  • The city of Nashville is known as the country music capital of the world.
  • By 1860, almost one in four people (nearly 25 percent) who lived in the state were slaves.
  • The country’s largest underground lake – The Lost Sea – is inside a mountain near Sweetwater in the eastern part of the state. It’s part of a cave system called Craighead Caverns.
  • Hattie Ophelia Wyatt Caraway was the first woman elected to the US Senate, the first woman to preside over the Senate, the first to chair a Senate committee, and the first to preside over a Senate hearing. Although she was a Tennessee native, she represented the state of Arkansas where her family settled.
  • Davy Crockett, who was born in Tennessee in 1786, was a frontiersman, soldier, politician, congressman and storyteller. Nicknamed the “King of the Wild Frontier”, he became a national folk hero.
  • The famous haze or fog that surrounds the Smoky Mountains is created by vegetation in the area. While plants take in carbon dioxide, they also release oxygen and chemicals (volatile organic compounds) that have high vapor pressure or moisture that cause the smoky

Funny, strange or just plain crazy

  • Guess who invented cotton candy (which is really bad for your teeth because it’s sticky and sweet)? A dentist in Nashville named William Morrison, with the help of confectioner (candy-maker) John C. Wharton.
  • The world’s tallest tree house is in Crossville, Tennessee. It was built by Minister Horace Burgess from recycled material and with an estimated 250,000 nails. The treehouse is about 100 feet tall and 10,000 square feet.
  • The posted speed limit in Trenton, Tennessee is 31 mph (miles per hour).

Tell me more

  • The second most visited house in the country is Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee. That was Elvis Presley’s home. Do you know what house gets the most tourists? The White House, where the US President lives.
  • Kingston, Tennessee was the state capital for just one day. The Cherokee Indians had been promised that if they ceded (gave up) their land in Roane County, the state capital would be moved there. While it was moved, the capital was moved back to Knoxville the next day.
  • Tennessee has more than 10,000 caves, which is more than any other state in the country.
  • People from Tennessee are called Tennesseans.
  • Tennessee gets its name from the Cherokee Native American word “Tana-see.” This means “the meeting place.”

Did you find the state that shares a boundary with eight other  states? It’s Missouri! Missouri borders Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Nebraska and Illinois.

Have you ever volunteered? Maybe you’ve helped collect toys for other children or food for families in your community? If you have, please tell us about it. Email your volunteer story (or any information you’d like to share about Tennessee’s land or history) along with your first name, age, and state where you live to, and we’ll post it on Mo’s social media pages!

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