The Volunteer State

Where is it?

State Flag




Geographic coordinates:
35°N to 36°41'N
81°37'W to 90°28'W
total: 42,146 sq mi
land: 41,220 sq mi
water: 926 sq mi
coastline: N/A
shoreline: N/A
Bordering States:
Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Mississippi River 178 ft
highest point: Clingmans Dome 6,643 ft
The state of Tennessee is geographically and constitutionally divided into three Grand Divisions: East Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, and West Tennessee. Tennessee features six principal physiographic regions: the Blue Ridge, the Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region, the Cumberland Plateau, the Highland Rim, the Nashville Basin, and the Gulf Coastal Plain.

The Blue Ridge area lies on the eastern edge of Tennessee, on the border of North Carolina. This region of Tennessee is characterized by high mountains, including the Great Smoky Mountains, the Chilhowee Mountains, the Unicoi Range, and the Snowbird Mountains. The average elevation of the Blue Ridge area is 5,000 feet (1,500 m) above sea level. Clingman's Dome is located in this region.

Stretching west from the Blue Ridge for approximately 55 miles (88 km) is the Ridge and Valley region, in which numerous tributaries join to form the Tennessee River in the Tennessee Valley. This area of Tennessee is covered by fertile valleys separated by wooded ridges, such as Bays Mountain and Clinch Mountain. The western section of the Tennessee valley, where the depressions become broader and the ridges become lower, is called the Great Valley.

To the west of East Tennessee lies the Cumberland Plateau. This area is covered with flat-topped mountains separated by sharp valleys. The elevation of the Cumberland Plateau ranges from 1,500 to 1,800 feet (450 to 550 m) above sea level.

The northern section (in Kentucky) of the Highland Rim is sometimes called the Pennyroyal Plateau. To the west of the Cumberland Plateau is the Highland Rim, an elevated plain that surrounds the Nashville Basin. The Nashville Basin is characterized by rich, fertile farm country.This region is also known for its high tobacco production, and rich natural wildlife diversity.

Many biologists study the area's salamander species because the diversity is greater there than anywhere else in the U.S. This is thought to be because of the clean Appalachian foothill springs that abound in the area. Some of the last remaining large American Chestnut trees still grow in this region and are being used to help breed blight resistant trees. Middle Tennessee was a common destination of settlers crossing the Appalachians in the late 1700s and early 1800s. An important trading route called the Natchez Trace connected Middle Tennessee to the lower Mississippi River town of Natchez. Today the route of the Natchez Trace is a scenic highway called the Natchez Trace Parkway.

West of the Highland Rim and Nashville Basin is the Gulf Coastal Plain, which includes the Mississippi embayment. The Gulf Coastal Plain is, in terms of area, the predominant land region in Tennessee. It is part of the large geographic land area that begins at the Gulf of Mexico and extends north into southern Illinois. In Tennessee, the Gulf Coastal Plain is divided into three sections that extend from the Tennessee River in the east to the Mississippi River in the west. The easternmost section consists of hilly land that runs along the western bank of the Tennessee River. This section of the Gulf Coastal Plain is about 10 miles (16 km) wide. To the west of this narrow strip of land is a wide area of rolling hills and streams that stretches all the way to Memphis. This area is called the Tennessee Bottoms or bottom land. In Memphis, the Tennessee Bottoms end in steep bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. To the west of the Tennessee Bottoms is the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, less than 300 feet (90 m) above sea level. This area of lowlands, flood plains, and swamp land is sometimes referred to as The Delta region.

Most of West Tennessee remained Indian land until the Chickasaw Cession of 1818, when the Chickasaw ceded their land between the Tennessee River and the Mississippi River. The portion of the Chickasaw Cession that lies in Kentucky is known today as the Jackson Purchase.




6,549,352 (2014)
Largest City:
Memphis: 646,889 (2010)
Age structure:
0-5 years old: 6.5%
<18 years old: 23.6%
65 years and over: 12.5%
Male: 48.9% Female: 51.1%
Population growth rate:
4.8% (2000-2005)
Population density:
138 per sq mi
Race(2000 Census):
White non-Hispanic: 78.1%
Hispanic: 2.8%
Black: 16.8%
Asian: 1.2%
Native American: 0.3%
Multi-Race: 0.9%
Christian: 82%
Other: 3%
Non-Religious: 15%




The area now known as Tennessee was first settled by Paleo-Indians nearly 11,000 years ago. The names of the cultural groups that inhabited the area between first settlement and the time of European contact are unknown, but several distinct cultural phases have been named by archaeologists, including Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian whose chiefdoms were the cultural predecessors of the Muscogee people who inhabited the Tennessee River Valley prior to Cherokee migration into the river's headwaters.

When Spanish explorers first visited the area, led by Hernando de Soto in 1539–43, it was inhabited by tribes of Muscogee and Yuchi people. Possibly because of European diseases devastating the Native tribes, which would have left a population vacuum, and also from expanding European settlement in the north, the Cherokee moved south from the area now called Virginia. As European colonists spread into the area, the native populations were forcibly displaced to the south and west, including all Muscogee and Yuchi peoples, the Chickasaw, and Choctaw. From 1838 to 1839, nearly 17,000 Cherokees were forced to march from "emigration depots" in Eastern Tennessee, such as Fort Cass, to Indian Territory west of Arkansas. This came to be known as the Trail of Tears, as an estimated 4,000 Cherokees died along the way.

Tennessee was admitted to the Union in 1796 as the 16th state; it was created by taking the north and south borders of North Carolina and extending them to the Mississippi River, with one small deviation. The word Tennessee comes from the Cherokee town Tanasi, which along with its neighbor town Chota was one of the most important Cherokee towns and often referred to as the capital city of the Overhill Cherokee. The meaning of the word "tanasi" is lost (Mooney, 1900).

Many major battles of the American Civil War were fought in Tennessee—most of them Union victories. It was the last border state to secede from the Union when it joined the Confederate States of America on June 8, 1861. Ulysses S. Grant and the U.S. Navy captured control of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers in February 1862, and they held off the Confederate counterattack at Shiloh in April. Capture of Memphis and Nashville gave the Union control of the western and middle sections; this control was confirmed at the battle of Murfreesboro in early January 1863. But the Confederates held East Tennessee despite the strength of Unionist sentiment there, with the exception of extremely pro-Confederate Sullivan County. The Confederates besieged Chattanooga in early fall 1863, but were driven off by Grant in November. Many of the Confederate defeats can be attributed to the poor strategic vision of General Braxton Bragg, who led the Army of Tennessee from Shiloh to Confederate defeat at Chattanooga. The last major battles came when the Confederates invaded in November 1864 and were checked at Franklin, then totally destroyed by George Thomas at Nashville, in December. Meanwhile Andrew Johnson, a civilian appointed by President Abraham Lincoln, was the military governor, and slavery was abolished.

After the war, Tennessee adopted a new constitution that abolished slavery effective February 22, 1865 and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on July 18, 1866. Tennessee was the first state readmitted to the Union on July 24, 1866. Because it ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, Tennessee was the only state that seceded from the Union that did not have a military governor during Reconstruction.

The need to create work for the unemployed during the Great Depression, the desire for rural electrification, and the desire to control the annual spring floods and improve shipping on the Tennessee River drove the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933. It quickly became the nation's largest public utility.

During World War II, Oak Ridge was selected as a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, one of the principal sites for the Manhattan Project's production and isolation of weapons-grade fissile material.




June 1, 1796 (16th State)
State Tree:
Yellow Poplar
State Bird:
State Flower:
Tennessee's governor holds office for a four year term and may serve a maximum of two terms. The governor is the only official who is elected statewide, making him one of the more powerful chief executives in the nation. The state does not elect the lieutenant-governor directly, contrary to most other states; the Tennessee Senate elects its Speaker who serves as lieutenant governor.

The Tennessee General Assembly, the state legislature, consists of the 33-member Senate and the 99-member House of Representatives. Senators serve four year terms, and House members serve two year terms. Each chamber chooses its own speaker. The speaker of the state Senate also holds the title of lieutenant-governor. Most executive officials are elected by the legislature.

The highest court in Tennessee is the state Supreme Court. It has a chief justice and four associate justices. No more than two justices can be from the same Grand Division. The Court of Appeals has 12 judges. The Court of Criminal Appeals has nine judges.

Tennessee's current state constitution was adopted in 1870. The state had two earlier constitutions. The first was adopted in 1796, the year Tennessee joined the union, and the second was adopted in 1834. The Tennessee Constitution outlaws martial law within its jurisdiction. This may be a result of the experience of Tennessee residents and other Southerners during the period of military control by Union (Northern) forces of the U.S. government after the American Civil War.




According to U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in 2005 Tennessee's gross state product was $226,502 Billion making Tennessee the 18th largest economy in the nation. In 2003, the per capita personal income was $28,641, 36th in the nation, and 91% of the national per capita personal income of $31,472.

Major outputs for the state include textiles, cotton, cattle, and electrical power. There are 90,000 cattle farms in Tennessee all together. Middle Tennessee's importance in terms of cotton production was increased as richer lands became available. Large-scale cultivation of cotton did not begin until the 1820s with the opening of the land between the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers. The upper wedge of the Mississippi Delta extends into southwestern Tennessee, and it was in this fertile section that cotton took hold.