Important Events in Nashville’s History
Nashville is one of the country’s most historic places. The city’s prehistoric past dates back thousands of years. Some important events and characters associated with Nashville’s recorded history are below.
Fort Nashborough -1779
In 1779 James Robertson led a small group of men from North Carolina to explore the Cumberland Bluff. Once these men arrived, they established Fort Nashborough, named for Francis Nash, a brigadier general in the American Revolution. In April 1780, John Donelson, along with about sixty families, followed Robertson to settle the community. After getting situated into their new home, they drew up the Cumberland Compact under which James Robertson became the chief civil and military officer of the community. The Compact was signed on May 13, 1790.
Davidson Academy - 1785
Colonel James Robertson obtained the passage of an act establishing the Davidson Academy. This “ Act for the promotion of learning in the country of Davidson” bears the date December 29, 1785. The board of trustees consisted of 9 people, one of whom was James Robertson. During a legislative assembly Colonel Robertson met Rev. Thomas Craighead who became a trustee for the school and later the president. Rev. Craighead stated, “Tall oaks from little acorns grow.” From the Davidson Academy grew the University of Nashville which John Overton’s step-son, James May, attended.
Andrew Jackson -1788
Andrew Jackson came to Nashville in 1788. The next year he boarded with John Overton Sr. at the widow Donelson’s house. He served as the Solicitor of the Western District. In 1796, he became Tennessee’s first representative to congress. From 1798 to 1804 he served as the State Superior Court Judge. After leading troops in the War of 1812, Jackson decided to make his way to the White House, running in 1824. Sadly, the people did not elect him for this term, but with the help of his unofficial campaign manager, John Overton, he won the election of 1828 in a very bitter fight with John Quincy Adams.
Belle Meade - John Harding-1807
In 1807, John Harding bought a log cabin and 250 acres in Nashville. His family grew and prospered in the early years by boarding horses for several of their neighbors. The Civil War brought hard times to the family, as it did all families in the area. When the armies skirmished on their front lawn during the 1864 Battle of Nashville, bullets hit the mansion. One of Mr. Harding’s daughters, Rachel Harding, became the first wife to John Overton Jr. and bore him a son, John Overton III.
Nashville Female Academy -1816
The Nashville Female Academy opened in 1816 with Dr. C.D. Elliot as its conductor. Dr.Daniel Berry principled the school for several years, during which time Margaret Jane May, Ann, and Elizabeth Overton attended the academy. When Dr. Berry resigned, Rev. William Hume presided until his death in 1833 after which Rev. Robert Lapsley oversaw about 200 students with a little over 70 in the boarding house. The school saw hard times during the civil war and closed soon afterwards.
Sam Houston -1818
Sam Houston moved to Nashville in 1818 to study law with Judge James Trimble. Houston practiced in Lebanon, Tennessee before serving as District Attorney until 1821, when he decided to open a law office. Only two years later he held the position of U.S. congressman until 1827 when he became Governor of Tennessee. Houston visited Travellers Rest on his honeymoon with Eliza Allen. After only three months of marriage, Sam and Eliza divorced and Sam decided to move to Texas where he became the President of the Republic of Texas from 1836 to 1838.
Trail of Tears -1838
In 1838, the Cherokee passed through Nashville on the Trail of Tears which developed from the Indian Removal Policy in 1825. Over fifteen thousand Cherokee resisted and protested the policy, taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. Despite winning the case, the removal policy went ahead as planned. Thousands of Cherokee held out until 1838, when the army was ordered to evict them from their land. The path they took earned the grim nickname from the many that died along the way. They were relocated to present day Oklahoma.
Nashville as the Capital-1843
A boom in the population of Middle Tennessee resulted in Nashville holding the first title of state capital in 1812. However, the capital moved to Knoxville where it stayed from 1815 to 1817. Murfreesboro then held the title until 1826 when Nashville took it back. In 1843 a legislative decision made Nashville the permanent capital. By the time, both Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk, along with many other prominent figures in Tennessee history resided in Nashville.
James K. Polk- 1844
After practicing law in Columbia and Nashville, James K. Polk made his way up the ranks and captured the governor’s seat in 1840. Only four short years later the virtually unknown Tennessee politician grabbed the Presidency, surprising even himself. Many often refer to Polk as the first Dark Horse candidate in United States history. While in office, he fulfilled all his campaign promises, including annexing Texas as a state, revising the nation’s tariffs, and establishing an independent treasury. After his one term in the White House was over, he retired to his home in Nashville where he died two months later in 1849.
With the cornerstone laid on August 23, 1860, the Maxwell House Hotel began its rich journey in Nashville history. Years before, as the story goes, John Overton Jr., stumbled upon an auction and bid $15 for a cow; however, when he told the auctioneer to deliver it to his house, Overton got a startling surprise and learned that he had not bid on the cow, but on the lot. The Union Army took over the hotel just after the start of the Civil War and used it for a confederate prison becoming known as “Zollicoffer’s Barracks”. On September 29, 1863, a set of stairs collapsed, killing an estimate of thirty seven confederate prisoners.
Nashville was occupied by the Union Army in late February of 1862. During the fall and winter of 1862, the Union army built a series of fortifications to defend Nashville against possible confederate attack. At the behest of Military Governor Andrew Johnson, General James Negley, the post commander, ordered the impressments of 2700 black laborers to construct these fortifications for the city. The largest was known as Fort Negley.
After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, on April 14, 1865, Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency. Controversy marked his term, mostly in relation to the Reconstruction of the South following the Civil War. In 1867, after opposing several laws passed by Congress, he gained the dubious distinction of the first U.S. president to be impeached. He narrowly remained in office by only one vote. John is the third and last native Tennessean to serve as President.
Nashville Centennial Exposition-1880
Nashville citizens, so determined to show visitors the true spirit of enthusiastic enterprise, built an enormous two-story structure in the span of four months. On April 24, 1880 the Centennial Exposition opened, and guests could not notice that just the night before, 1200 gas lights aided hundreds of people still working on the $24,893 building. On opening day the Tennessee Historical Society displayed a large number of historical artifacts devoted to heroes of the city’s antebellum past.
The Temperance Crusade-1880s
The Four-Mile law prohibited saloons from being within four miles of a school and became the focal point of the temperance forces after passing the state legislature. Temperance conventions came to the area in 1884 and 1885 and helped create the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union which held annual meetings in Nashville and eventually became a force to reckon with. A major referendum to prohibit alcohol from establishments came to the people on September 29, 1887. With a great deal of lobbying on both sides, the amendment failed much to the dismay of the Temperance Union.
In February 1888 Nashville’s McGavock and Mount Vernon Company introduced the first electric powered service. The Railway ran lines into south Nashville and Mount Olivet Cemetery, eventually accumulating fifty miles of track. This movement to expand the electric trolley system also helped promote suburban real estate. The transit system kept the fares low and either reduced or eliminated transfer fees in order to keep passenger numbers high. Soon after, Thomas Wrenne headed the company and capitalized $1 million in stock.
Nashville General Hospital-1890
The Nashville city hospital opened on April 23, 1890 containing only sixty beds. Dr. Charles Brower of the University of Nashville Medical Department was appointed the superintendent of Nash General Hospital. A year later, the school of nursing opened in Nashville with Charlotte Perkins as the superintendent. The nursing school was located in the vital position because it held the only training school for nurses between the Ohio River and New Orleans, Lousiana.