Friday, October 10, 2014

Tennessee Archives Month “Accidentally on Purpose”

By proclamation of Gov. Bill Haslam, October is Tennessee Archives Month. The proclamation honors the work of archivists and highlights the importance of archives across the state, noting that "through these archives, future generations of Tennesseans can more accurately study the past, learn from the accomplishments of their predecessors, trace their ancestors, understand their community's pride of place, confirm property rights, and maintain laws, while celebrating the history of our State."

Joining the Society of American Archivists and a number of state archivists’ associations, the Society of Tennessee Archivists also celebrates this event. In 2014, the society chose “Accidentally on Purpose: Acquisition, Care, & Promotion of Unusual or Specialized Collections” as the theme for this year’s observance of Tennessee Archives Month, focusing on the unique and unusual items held in collections found in archives.

At the Tennessee State Library and Archives, our holdings contain a number of unusual items. This photograph from the State Librarian and Archivist Papers chronicles two rather interesting discoveries. In the photograph, Tennessee’s first state archaeologist and “Keeper of the Archives and Museum,” P. E. Cox, gazes upon two skulls in an image used in this year’s Tennessee Archives Month poster promoting Tennessee Archives Month. Archivists at TSLA have surmised that Cox likely uncovered these two skulls while on an archaeological expedition at Mound Bottom, a prehistoric Native American complex in Cheatham County.

Of course, there are many other “unique” and “unusual” items and photographs in our collection, so we encourage you to take advantage of Tennessee Archives Month to come by TSLA to view these items yourself.

The State Library and Archives is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, just west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville, and is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., with the exception of state holidays. Parking is available in front, behind and beside the building.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, September 26, 2014

On this day in history: Acts of the Southwest Territory

220 years ago, on September 27, 1794, as part of the "Acts of the Southwest Territory," Territorial Governor William Blount and Secretary David Wilson signed this six-page, unnumbered handwritten document creating a lottery to pay for a wagon road from the Southwest Point to the settlements on the Cumberland River in the Mero District. Entitled, "An Act to Cut and Clear a Waggon Road to the Settlements on the Cumberland River in the Mero District," this document is one of many featured on the Tennessee State Library and Archives Tennessee Founding Documents page on the Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) website.

"An Act to Cut and Clear a Waggon Road to the Settlements on the Cumberland River in the Mero District."
Tennessee General Assembly. Acts, Public and Private, 1790-[ongoing]
Tennessee State Library and Archives, Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA).

On May 26, 1790, President George Washington signed into law an act of Congress passed earlier in the month that established the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio (Southwest Territory). Embracing the western lands ceded by the state of North Carolina on December 22, 1789, the new territory was to be governed under the terms of the Ordinance of 1787, which created its predecessor, the Northwest Territory.

President Washington appointed North Carolina businessman, William Blount as territorial governor. Blount, a land speculator, had already claimed title to approximately one million acres of the land inside its boundaries. Blount was also given a second responsibility as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the Southern Department, an office that placed him in contact with the neighboring Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and Creek Nations. Relations with the latter two were so difficult that Blount had to devote more time to Indian matters than to the office of governor.

Portrait of William Blount (1749-1800). Governor of the Territory South of the River Ohio, 1790-1796; U.S. Senator from Tennessee.
Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The extent of the new territory was well defined. Containing about 43,000 square miles of land, it was restricted to North Carolina’s western district bounded on the north by the boundary of North Carolina and Virginia; on the west by a line in the middle of the Mississippi River, on the south by the parallel 35 degrees north and on the east by a jagged line running from the northeast to southwest connecting some dominant mountain peaks. It was this territory that in 1796 would become the state of Tennessee.

The act ordering a wagon road to the settlements in the Mero District was one of the varied acts passed by the territorial assembly. Responding weakly to the governor’s request for assistance to pay for “the cutting and clearing” of the wagon road after the failure of a lottery for that purpose, the assembly diverted all monies that might be collected from the sale of public lands in Mero District to the use of the road commissioners. It is interesting to note that the land used for the road was coerced from the Cherokees thus causing a series of Creek and Cherokee incursions into the district.

For a more detailed account of the history behind this document and the Acts of the Southwest Territory, visit our "Introductory Material" page associated with this act. You may also view more pages of this historically significant document on the TeVA website. TeVA's Tennessee Founding Documents website features other important records, from King George’s Proclamation of 1763 to the earliest purchase of land from Native Americans to the first Constitutions of the State of Tennessee. Visit the TeVA website for access to these and other images from our vast collection.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

State Library and Archives' Next Workshop: "Creating Order in the Midst of Chaos: Union Provost Marshal Records"

The Civil War was a chaotic time in our nation's history when normal societal rules didn't always apply. Soldiers and civilians alike sometimes took advantage of the uncertainty around them by breaking laws and upsetting the social order. In the territories held by the Union army, provost marshals served as a check against such activities. The provost marshals, who functioned as military police during the Civil War, also kept records of their work that can be valuable resources for historians who want to know more about what life was like during that turbulent era.

"Applying for passes at the Office of the Provost Marshal at St. Louis - Sketched by Mr. Alexander Simplot"
Tennessee State Library and Archives Collection

On Oct. 25, the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) will host a free workshop to help people understand what types of records the provost marshals kept and how to access them. The records deal with prisoners, deserters, Confederate spies, disloyal civilians, soldiers accused of civilian crimes, and civilians violating military law. They include documents such as oaths of allegiance, orders, passes, and paroles. Many of these records can be found on a searchable database on TSLA's website - and TSLA also has a collection of microfilmed and original holdings.

Darla Brock, who was worked at TSLA for 14 years as a manuscripts archivist, will lead the workshop.

The workshop will be held from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. Oct. 25 in TSLA's auditorium. TSLA's building is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, just west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville. Free parking is available around the building.

Although the event is free and open to the public, reservations are required due to limited seating in the auditorium. To register, call (615) 741-2764 or e-mail

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, September 22, 2014

New TSLA Exhibit Explores the Civil War in Tennessee in 1864

1864 would prove to be the decisive year of the American Civil War. Despite Union victories at Gettysburg, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga the previous year, Northern citizens were growing war-weary. The mounting lists of dead and wounded made many wonder if the South should finally be allowed its independence.

Geographically situated between the Midwestern states and the Deep South, Tennessee was to be the major battleground in the Western Theater. The Mississippi, Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers, combined with numerous rail lines which crossed the state, made Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Knoxville of strategic importance to both Union and Confederate forces.

Brothers Cpl. Jesse Mercer Pirkle and 1st Sgt. Elijah Jefferson Pirkle served in Co. G, 3rd Tenn. Cav., USA. They walked from Cleveland, Tennessee to Nashville to muster in the Federal army. In September 1864, Elijah was shot near Florence, Alabama and spent the rest of the war in the hospital. Jesse was captured at Sulphur Trestle, Alabama, imprisoned at Andersonville, and survived the war.
Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee, Tennessee State Library and Archives

A new exhibit, with 16 panels full of images and information on this fascinating period in our history, opened last Monday at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. It explores the role Tennessee played as a transportation and supply hub, the experiences and contributions of African-Americans, and key battles at Johnsonville, Memphis, Fort Pillow, Spring Hill, Columbia, Franklin and Nashville.

The exhibit also highlights historical records that are valuable genealogy resources such as army muster rolls, Civil War Service records, the Southern Claims Commission Records, Colored Pension Applications, the Union Provost Marshal Records, cemetery records and TSLA's manuscript collections.

Louis Napoleon Nelson, the last black Confederate veteran in Lauderdale County, is pictured in uniform with two other members of the United Confederate Veterans. According to his Colored Man's Application for Pension, Nelson served in Company M, 7th Tennessee Cavalry. He accompanied his master, Colonel E.R. Oldham, as a cook and acted as a regimental servant. Slaves in Confederate service were not allowed to bear arms, and most were body servants and cooks. The Tennessee legislature passed an act on April 9, 1921, providing pensions of $10 per month for "those colored men who served as servants and cooks in the Confederate Army in the War Between the States." This act did not provide benefits for their widows. On Nelson's pension application, Oldham swore "the applicant's habits are good and free of dishonor."
Record Group 3, Board of Pension Examiners Records, and Looking Back at Tennessee Collection, Tennessee State Library and Archives

Visitors to the Tennessee State Library and Archives are invited to come explore the role Tennessee played in the Civil War in 1864. The exhibit will remain open until mid-December.

The State Library and Archives is located at 403 Seventh Avenue North, just west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville. The exhibit, free and open to all visitors, is located in the building's lobby directly behind the main entrance.

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., with the exception of state holidays. Parking is available in front, behind and beside the building.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Celebrating the history of the Tennessee State Fair

Advertisement for the 1916 Tennessee State Fair. Governor Tom C. Rye Papers, TSLA.

Since October of 1855, Tennesseans have enjoyed the artistry and amusements of a state fair. The first state fair opened on October 1, 1855 at the Walnut Race Course, near Nashville. In a resolution recorded on October 3, 1855 in the Tennessee House Journal of the 31st General Assembly, state representatives approved a motion to adjourn, "that the members might have an opportunity to attend the State Fair." The fair was so well-received that in the following year, the Tennessee General Assembly passed an act appointing a committee to purchase 35 acres for a Tennessee State Fair Grounds located near the present site of the Trevecca Nazarene University.

Horse racing was a popular activity in the early years of the state fair. In this undated photo, a rider poses on a harness racing rig in front of the grandstand at the Nashville Fairgrounds.
Calvert Glass plate #81, TSLA.

Farming has always been an important industry in Tennessee, and agriculture played an important role in the state fair's history. On September 11, 1860, Alexander Jackson wrote a letter to his wife detailing his time as a stock judge at the state fair. "You should have seen me stepping around surveying with critical eye the points of some 8 noble animals," Jackson wrote, "feeling their skins & ribs, measuring with tape line their length, girth & breadth of hips, & then casting my ballot." Jackson continued, reporting that the bull who took the $500 premium that year belonged to a Mr. Alexander of Kentucky, "the celebrated Scotch stockbreeder & importer of the finest stock of the Union."

Albert Noe Farms display of Hereford cattle at the Tennessee State Fair. September 20, 1946.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, TSLA.

A man drives an open automobile on the racetrack at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. A portion of the grandstands is visible in the image, as well as a large house that may have been the Women's Building. Circa 1907.
Library Photograph Collection, TSLA.

From the late-1870s to the early-1880s, the state fair’s popularity waned until 1906, when the fair established roots at its current location. The 1906 fair opened on October 8 with special celebrations each day. Fair organizers observed "Children's Day" on Monday and all kids under the age of 15 were given free admission. Tuesday was "Fraternal Day" and members of fraternal organizations were invited to attend. "Confederate Day" commenced on Wednesday when the "boys in gray" from the Confederate Soldiers’ Home were feted. Thursday was "Home Seekers' Day" and catered to out of state individuals who might consider moving to Tennessee. Officials designated Friday as "County Fair Day" when the officers and directors of various county fairs attended as honored guests. The fair concluded on Saturday when students from colleges and universities from throughout the state attended on the fair's designated "College Day." An article published in the November 1906 edition of Trotwood's Monthly brilliantly described the fair's closing ceremony:

"Saturday night came. The evening shades were followed by the brilliancy of the electric lights in the arena, and the buildings; Bellstedt and his band gave one of the best programs of the week; the Horse Show was a picture of activity and beauty; this over, the crowds flocked to “Laughing Lane,” visited the attractions and promenaded along the busy avenues, bidding farewell to the sights and scenes that had delighted visitors for six eventful days; the city bells sounded the hour of midnight, and the State Fair of 1906 was at an end."

Tennessee's Home Food Supply for Victory campaign: Home Food Supply Exhibit at the Tennessee State Fair from the Woodrow community of Maury County.
Department of Conservation Photograph Collection, TSLA.

While the Tennessee State Fair focused mainly on agriculture, other exciting exhibitions and give-a-ways played an important part in the celebration as well. The September 12, 1917, edition of the Nashville Tennessean published an advertisement to “Buy an Admission Key to the State Fair and Get a Chance on a Dodge Automobile.” Readers could purchase their admission key from the “Red Cross girls” because “They want you to go to the Fair -- to see and to learn how to save, how to eliminate waste, how to preserve and how to increase the country’s food supply, and help to win the war.” For the price of one half dollar, fairgoers could purchase a ticket granting admission into the fair and along with it the chance to win a car.

Ticket to the 1917 Tennessee State Fair with
a chance to win a new Dodge automobile.
Governor Tom C. Rye Papers, TSLA
Not everyone in the state approved of this marketing strategy -- as evidenced by letters written to Gov. Tom Rye in protest. One letter, written by Noah W. Cooper, cited the Tennessee State Constitution (“the Legislature shall have no power to authorize lotteries for any purpose and shall pass laws to prohibit the sale of lottery tickets in this State”) as well as an 1873 Supreme Court case, Frances vs. the State (“The sale of a ticket in any scheme to be drawn in this or any other State is unlawful”), as a rationale for discontinuing the promotion.

The fair was not always filled with fun and frivolity, and has seen its fair share of tragedy. On September 20, 1965, around 10:30 pm, a fire broke out at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds during the opening night festivities. Flames consumed the 4-H Building, Women's Building, Merchant’s Building, Administration Building, several restaurants, and the grandstand at the racetrack. While no one was killed, 18 people were injured and officials estimated the property damage to be over $10 million. Since the Women’s and Merchant’s Buildings housed exhibits, various pieces of art, antiques, crafts, and merchandise were lost as well. An investigation revealed that faulty wiring in the Women’s Building caused the catastrophic blaze. In spite of the misfortune of the fire, the Tennessee State Fair continued on and lives on to this day.

“It is the bounty of Nature that we live; but of Philosophy that we live well.” Thus sayeth the cover of Things Good and Wholesome, a recipe book, “respectfully dedicated to the women of Tennessee,” published for the 1906 Tennessee State Fair. This year’s fair will returns to the Tennessee State Fairgrounds on September 5-14 embracing the theme, "Let the Good Times Grow." The theme celebrates the growth the fair has experienced in recent years and the hope of an even brighter future.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Long-Lost Civil War Diary Returns to Tennessee

In case you missed the news, here's our recent press release about an important addition to the Tennessee State Library and Archives...

The long-lost diary of a prominent Nashvillian has been returned to Tennessee by a California woman. Andrea Shearn, a retired science teacher, found the diary while helping her parents move into an assisted living facility.

Shearn found the diary in a wooden box on a closet shelf in Cincinnati, where her grandmother had evidently put it in 1963. Neither Shearn nor her parents realized it was there.

Examining the diary, Shearn learned that it had belonged to R.M. McGavock, a Confederate officer with beautiful handwriting. Under McGavock’s name was written: “Captured at Ft. Henry Stewart Co. Middle Tennessee Feb 6th 1862 by Capt. M Wemple Co H 4th Ill Vol Cav Presented to Ms. Lue Wemple.”

Andrea Shearn and State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill hold the long-lost Civil War diary of R.M. McGavock.

Delving into her own genealogy, Shearn discovered that Capt. Myndert Wemple of Illinois was her ancestor. He evidently found the diary after McGavock and his troops evacuated Fort Henry in a battle that was a disaster for the Confederates. Wemple’s descendants preserved the diary and handed it down through the family for the next 100 years, until it disappeared into that closet in Cincinnati.

Shearn transcribed the diary, becoming ever more interested in the writer and his experiences. She was surprised to learn that Randal McGavock was a Harvard-educated lawyer who was elected mayor of Nashville at the age of 32. He was a lieutenant colonel of the 10th Tennessee Regiment of the Confederate Army.

Shearn got in touch with State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill.

“This nice lady from California called and said, ‘I wonder if anyone in Tennessee would be interested in this diary,’" Sherrill recalls. "When she told me it was Randal McGavock’s diary, my first thought was to fly to California and get it before it disappeared again.”

Sherrill and others at the State Library and Archives had long been aware of Randal McGavock and his diaries, as eight volumes of his diary have been housed at there since 1960.

“We had this great set of diaries, but the volume from the beginning of the Civil War was missing,” he said.

Shearn eventually flew to Nashville to visit Two Rivers Mansion, Carnton and other sites associated with Randal McGavock and his family. She and her husband brought the diary with them and generously donated it to the archives.

Secretary of State Tre Hargett said: “We are extremely grateful to Andrea Shearn for returning this diary to Tennessee. I know that scholars and McGavock descendants will enjoy the opportunity to read it and fill in the blanks in this soldier’s history.”

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Monday, August 11, 2014

TSLA's Tennessee Board of Pension Examiners Records

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is excited to share information about the Tennessee Board of Pension Examiners Records, also known as Record Group 3. This valuable resource from the board responsible for issuing and administering Tennessee’s Confederate pensions contains clippings, obituaries, death dates, payment records, and family connections you might not have known about, plus much more. For the whole story, we invite you to join Archivist Darla Brock as she introduces you to Record Group 3.

Learn more at

TSLA - Tennessee Board of Pension Examiners Records from Tennessee Department of State on Vimeo.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.