History comes to life in this 18th century town. Its well-preserved Main Street will take you on a beautiful journey through the past. As you walk through the town, you’ll step where Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson, David Crockett, John Sevier and so many others before you have stood. Experience Jonesborough and leave your footprint on the history that’s still being written.

December 8, 1886, Main Street, Jonesborough

Jonesborough's Firsts

1st Town in Tennessee

1779

Capital of the State of Franklin

1784

Publication solely supporting the abolition of slavery

1820

“When the people of the area were imposed or looked down upon, they could and probably would display active resentment, otherwise, they were the soul of kindness and hospitality. I went a stranger and they took me in. I believe the great bulk of the inhabitants to be among the most useful and orderly citizens belonging to the American states.”

Written by a young Englishman traveling through the Jonesborough area in 1775.
Pre-1750

The Land Before Time

Indians — Tennessee’s earliest residents were the prehistoric Mound Builders. The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek and Shawnee inhabited the region when DeSoto first explored it in 1540.

1769

Gaining Popularity

William Bean, the first permanent white settler, builds a cabin on the Watauga River in Northeast Tennessee. New settlers begin to come into the area from Virginia and North Carolina.

1772

The First Constitution

A group of settlers form their own government called the Watauga Association. They create one of the first written constitutions in North America. The Watauga Association at Sycamore Shoals, near Elizabethton, was the first group of European settlers to draft a constitution on American soil. The association’s formation marked the first attempt by Americans at complete self-government.

1775

The Trail They Blazed

The Transylvania Company buys a large piece of land from the Cherokees. Daniel Boone, who worked for the company, blazes a trail from Virginia across the mountain at Cumberland Gap to open the land to settlement. His trail is called the Wilderness Road and becomes the main route to the new settlements. The settlers on both the Watauga and Nolichucky Rivers purchased great acreages of land from the Cherokee Indians, comprising almost all the six upper counties of the present Tennessee (then within North Carolina). Desiring their own government, these settlers petitioned the Provincial Council of North Carolina to be annexed as an official entity.

1777

The First Over Mountain County

Washington County was created by Act of North Carolina as one of six counties on the western frontier in what later became the State of Tennessee. It was the first county west of the mountains.

1779

Jonesborough is Established

Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee, established seventeen years before Tennessee was granted statehood. The General Assembly of North Carolina established it as the county seat of Washington County. It was named after North Carolina legislator Willie Jones, who supported North Carolina's westward expansion over the Appalachian Mountains. The first meeting to decide the location of the new courthouse was at the home of Charles Robertson, and it was decided that John Carter, Andrew Greer, William Cobb, Jacob Womack, George Russell, John Sevier and James Stuart would lay out the plans and location of the new courthouse. One hundred acres was purchased from David Hughes and laid out into lots for the Town of Jonesborough. The lots were offered in lottery.

1780

The Land They Fought For

The ``Over-Mountain men`` gathered at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River on September 25th to march over the Great Smoky Mountains. Led by John Sevier, they helped to defeat the British at the Battle of King's Mountain on October 7th.

1784

The Lost State of Franklin

Prior to Tennessee statehood, the east Tennessee region almost became the State of Franklin. After Jonesborough was founded, a group of citizens from this and the surrounding area (then a part of the Western District of North Carolina) felt they were not represented fairly nor protected by their state leaders. On December 14, 1784, delegates from these areas convened in Jonesborough to approve the formation of a new state, the State of Franklin, named after one of the great leaders of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin. Jonesborough served as the capital of Franklin until a new capital was established in nearby Greeneville. John Sevier, one of the most influential leaders in the development of Franklin, was elected its first governor in March, 1785. Franklin functioned as the nation’s fourteenth state until 1788, but was never recognized by Congress. After many negotiations and skirmishes which climaxed in the Battle of the State of Franklin, North Carolina once again reclaimed the lands. Today, the State of Franklin is often remembered as the “Lost State of Franklin”.

1788

President Andrew Jackson Frequents Town

President Andrew Jackson was no stranger to Jonesborough. A self-taught lawyer and young man of 20 years, Jackson had been working in Salisbury, North Carolina, when the opportunity arose for him to travel to the western lands and help open court on the Cumberland (now Nashville). Jackson came to Jonesborough in 1788 to await a caravan to travel westward since traveling alone through Native American territory was dangerous. Jackson stayed in Jonesborough for nearly five months waiting for enough travelers to fill a caravan before traveling to the Cumberland to work as a public prosecutor. While in Jonesborough, he took the oath of office to practice law in the western district of North Carolina and served as an attorney in Jonesborough. He lodged at a two-story log home owned by Christopher Taylor. Though small by today’s standards, Taylor thought his two-room home had enough space to accommodate boarders, his wife, and their 10 children. The 1788 Christopher Taylor Home, one of Jonesborough’s oldest buildings, has since been restored and moved to Main Street’s Historic District.

1796

Tennessee is the 16th State

Tennessee adopts a constitution on February 6th in preparation for statehood - Andrew Jackson helps to draw it up. Tennessee becomes a state on June 1st, the 16th state. John Sevier is elected the first governor. The total population of Tennessee is 77,000. Tennessee’s first constitution provided for universal male suffrage, including free blacks, prompting Thomas Jefferson to call it “the least imperfect and most republican” of any state. The first local post office was established in 1796 with John Waddell as postmaster.

1797

The Inn Where the Presidents Stayed

The Chester Inn is the oldest building original to Jonesborough’s commercial district. William Chester, a medical doctor, constructed the building in 1797 to capitalize on those traveling through Jonesborough on the Great Stage Road. Now fully restored, the wooden frame building is owned by the State of Tennessee. Many famous guests stayed at the Chester Inn during its successful days of operation as an inn including Presidents Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and James K. Polk. It is reported that during Andrew Jackson’s stay, he helped fight a nearby fire while wearing only his nightshirt.

1800

Word Traveled Slowly

Around 1800 a post route was started and mail was carried by horseback twice a week. Increasing demands of passenger travel and mail delivery resulted in more stage lines which increased from once a week in 1825 to three times a week in 1834.

1820

The Start of an End to Slavery

The Emancipator, published and funded by Quaker Elihu Embree, began circulation on April 30, 1820 from the town of Jonesborough and was printed in Jacob Howard’s print shop. The Emancipator was the first periodical dedicated exclusively to the issue of the abolition of slavery. While Tennessee would later join the Confederacy, many East Tennesseans had Union leanings, which is perhaps not surprising given the fact that East Tennessee was not suited to large-scale agricultural production, such as cotton, and very few people in the region other than the very wealthy owned slaves. Jacob Howard’s print shop, now destroyed, stood on the corner of Main Street and First Avenue in Jonesborough’s Historic District.

1834

A Little Town's Occupations

According to the 1834 Tennessee Gazetteer, in 1833 Jonesborough ``contained a population of about 500 inhabitants; eleven lawyers, four physicians, two clergymen, two churches, two academies, four schools, one printing office, four carpenters, three cabinet makers, two bricklayers, one blacksmith, four taverns, two hatters, four tailors, four shoemakers, one silversmith, two wagon makers and one mill.`` The town experienced a boom during the early 1840s when many of the existing Federal style brick structures were built.

1849

The Doctor's House

Dr. Samuel Cunningham, another resident of Jonesborough, was an internationally known physician and surgeon of the 18th century. He was self-taught, practicing medicine long before being licensed. Dr. Cunningham built his house on Main Street where it still stands today. Though a well-published writer and skilled surgeon, he was interested in bringing the new and efficient railroad transportation system to Jonesborough. Dr. Cunningham put his medical practice on hold for 10 years to bring the railroad to Jonesborough, serving as president of the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad from 1849 to 1859. Cunningham and 29 other men, called “The Immortal Thirty”, put their own personal properties up for collateral in order to bring the railroad to town. After retiring from the railroad, Dr. Cunningham returned to practicing medicine.

Jonesborough has gone through many changes since 1779, but thanks to the restoration and preservation movement of the 1970’s, many of the older buildings are still standing today and are just as beautiful as ever. Jonesborough was the first town in Tennessee to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.