was born 26 Mar 1749 in Bertie, North Carolina. He married Mary
GRAINGER on 12 February 1778 in North Carolina. He died 21 Mar 1800
and is buried beside his wife in Knoxvill, Knox, Tennessee.
Children of William
BLOUNT and Mary GRAINGER:
TENNESSEE HISTORY Classroom
FULL HISTORY STORIES
No one individual played so large a role in the formation of Tennessee
statehood as did William Blount. For many people, however, he was regarded
as an eccentric and little was known about his life and times. That he
originated from "Continental stock" and a good family was well
known and he did seem to command the respect of some of the nation’s
early leaders, including President George Washington. His life, however,
was a mystery to all, but a select few and would remain such for many
years after his death.
Following the ending of the American Revolution, a new economy and way
of life began sweeping over the nation. For a family like the Blounts,
who had faithfully served under British rule for generations, it meant
huge changes in their way of thinking and William Blount was a man who
could change with the times.
His story could eventually be called a tragedy in American history, but,
for those who knew him, William Blount was a man whose leadership would
inspire a generation and help give birth to the official state of Tennessee.
William Blount was born on March 26, 1749 in Bertie County, NC in the
Palmico Sound region near the coastal town of Wilmington. His family was
one of the oldest in America and could even trace their roots back to
William The Conqueror in England. His parents Jacob and Barbara Gray Blount
were wealthy for the time and young Blount received one of the best educations
available in the colonies.
Both William Blount and his father enlisted as soldiers in 1771 and fought
for the British under Gov. William Tryon at the Battle of Almance. As
Revolution began sweeping the colonies, the Blounts sensed an opportunity
in the new American government. When war broke out between the two nations;
both took jobs as paymasters in the Continental Army.
The family was always ambitious and established themselves as leaders
in business. William, his father Jacob, and both of his brothers enjoyed
success in shipping and mercantile enterprises. William was also a land
speculator who, at one time, owned more than one million acres in western
North Carolina’s Appalachian region, which included land in present-day
In 1778, William Blount married Mary Grainger, who was also from a well
established family in Wilmington. She had been brought up in the old school
and instructed in managing household affairs and the social graces. With
few exceptions, the couple were a perfect match and Mary’s background
helped her husband find his calling in life in politics.
In 1780, with war raging all around them, the Blount’s gave birth
to their first daughter, Nancy, and William Blount was elected to his
first seat in the North Carolina state house. Two years later, Mary gave
birth to their second daughter Mary Louisa, and the North Carolina statesman
served as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In his status as a representative
of the state, William Blount became one of the most influential men of
his time in helping a young America establish itself as a nation. In 1787,
he served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention where he played
a large role in its writing and influencing of other representatives.
His work soon caught the attention of President George Washington, who
immediately took a liking to him. William Blount tossed his hat into the
ring for the seat of U.S. Senator from North Carolina, but lost the seat
and returned to his comfortable home in the state and his four children
– a son, named William Grainger Blount, was born in 1784 and an
infant named Richard.
Although his political career was short-circuited, Blount saw an opportunity
in a new governor’s post rumored to be available in the Southwest
territory, where his vast land holdings were located. When Congress created
The Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio, Blount lobbied
hard and got the support of the North Carolina Congressional delegation
to support him as a candidate for the post of territorial governor. His
favorable impression on President George Washington is said to have carried
a lot of weight and the President appointed the 42-year-old statesman
to a three year term as governor beginning in June of 1790.
When he informed his wife they would be moving to the new territory becoming
known as Tennessee, it is said she cried for days. Mary Blount had become
accustomed to the continental lifestyle of North Carolina and did not
relish the idea of leaving her beloved home for a wilderness of frontiersmen
and Indians, especially with an infant on her hip. She feared for the
safety of herself and her family and was truly frightened by the prospect
Governor Blount, on the other hand, was ecstatic with the move.
"The salary is handsome," he said in a letter to a friend, "and
my western lands had become so great an object to me that it had become
absolutely necessary that I should go to the western country..."
Unlike John Sevier and Andrew Jackson, William Blount was no frontiersman
nor did he aspire to be one. He was a cultivated, educated gentleman from
North Carolina and knew his limitations. The frontier families in the
region were unsure about the government as they had five times previously
tried to form their own governments and, with America so young a nation,
they didn’t know if the new territorial government would hold for
any length of time. One job that was thrown on Blount was that of Superintendent
of Indian Affairs – a trumped up title that meant he tried to resolve
the numerous conflicts between the various tribes and keep America out
of a full-scale Indian war that would cripple the government and probably
hand it back over to the British. Blount’s regal composure and reputation
as a "government man" among the settlers gave him a unique perspective
that allowed him to open negotiations with the various tribal leaders
and successfully begin building a working relationship with them.
After a brief stay at Rocky Mount in upper East Tennessee, Gov. Blount
decided to go on a tour of the country and search for a place he and his
family could settle. He wanted to settle on the Clinch River, where he
owned property, but was impressed with the region surrounding James White’s
Fort and its location on a river, which was a major traffic artery in
The strain of his office started taking effect almost immediately, especially
in regards to the Cherokee Nation. The tribal government wanted to settle
a dispute over the increasing number of white settlers living on land
that legally belonged to the Cherokee Nation.
Gov. Blount decided to negotiate a settlement with the Cherokee Nation
near a place where the Holston enters the Tennessee River and to end the
growing dispute that would have definitely ended in war. This brought
him once again to the growing settlement around James White’s Fort.
The political nature of Blount shone through at what became known as the
"Treaty of the Holston". More than 1,200 Cherokee watched the
signing of the treaty by 42 tribal chiefs that redrew the boundary lines
separating the Cherokee and the settlers. It was hailed as a brilliant
treaty for its day and credited with leading to the decision of Gov. Blount
to move his family to the White’s Settlement, which he later named
Knoxville, after his immediate superior who was then-Secretary of War
and Chief Administrator of Indian Affairs Henry Knox. In the land lottery
held in 1791, Gov. Blount acquired lot number 18 and immediately began
working to build a proper city which would serve as the territory capitol.
Gov. Blount sent for his wife and children and the family lived in a log
cabin, while milled lumber and supplies were being brought down river
to begin working on a proper home for the Governor. The house, which was
the first frame home built west of Southern Appalachia, held the growing
community in awe and people traveled for miles to watch its construction.
Mary Blount ordered flowers, herbs, and plants from North Carolina, in
addition to furniture and needed draperies and linens. Blount himself
worked diligently on his home sending letters to John Sevier ordering
glass windows and asking the future governor of Tennessee help secure
the shipments to Knoxville from Virginia. As the home started taking shape,
it quickly became one of the most talked about buildings in the territory
and Native Americans throughout the region stood in awe of the two-story
building, which was something most had never seen before then. Numerous
outbuildings were also built to house the kitchen, servants quarters,
and his territorial office. Although Blount conducted business there,
it was his lavish home that became the centerpiece of Knoxville. Guests
from all walks of life visited the governor and often stayed overnight.
Mary Blount almost single-handedly took hold of the young city and began
developing a social life and establishing a sense of community among its
residents. Being a frontier town, Knoxville was wide-open and there were
few laws in a town where brothels and taverns were the mainstay of the
economy. Her gracious nature fostered an air of respectability about Knoxville
that carried its own political weight and put the young city in the international
Through the years, rugged frontier men such as John Sevier, future President
Andrew Jackson, and Cherokee Chiefs would share space with other notable
historical figures like French botanist Andre Michaux and future King
of France Louis Phillipe to name a few. The afternoon teas, lavish dinners,
and general parties always featured a who’s who list that was the
envy of many east coast governors.
William Blount’s work as governor continued and, while it often
put him at odds with the frontiersmen of the region, Gov. Blount always
received Native American leaders with the pomp and circumstance that would
be given a national leader and issued an order to the territory that local
militias could only be used defensively against the Native American tribes.
Following his reappointment in 1793, Blount sensed an opportunity to realize
one of his lifetime professional goals of serving as Senator of the United
In his first year of office, a governor’s census revealed the territory
had the 5,000 male population necessary to petition for statehood, but
Blount never organized a representative assembly and instead focused on
developing the region. Following the opening of a road to Nashville in
1794, however, he did organize the assembly and began working on statehood
for the territory. Blount took another census and found that more than
60,000 men lived in the territory. A vote was held and a measure wanting
statehood for Tennessee passed by a two to one margin. In January 1796,
Blount called the first Constitutional Convention in Knoxville. Blount
was chosen to preside over the committee and, when the state constitution
was drafted in Blount’s office, it was immediately taken to Philadelphia
– then serving as the nation’s capitol.
While national politics challenged the territory’s request for statehood
in the Jefferson-Adams presidential election of 1796, Tennessee was admitted
to the Union on June 1 of that year with then-President George Washington
signing the proclamation. Tennessee’s admission set the standard
for future states and, after seven different names and forms of government,
the territory had achieved the status it long sought.
John Sevier became the first Governor, Andrew Jackson was elected to represent
Tennessee in Congress, William Cocke and William Blount took the posts
of U.S. Senators. Although realizing his lifetime goal of being Senator,
Blount’s personal fortunes started taking a tumble. His business
interests began failing and Blount transferred title of his Knoxville
mansion to his half-brother to avoid losing it to creditors. To make matters
worse, his vast real estate holdings in the western part of the territory
were being threatened by colonial politics on the Mississippi River.
A rumor began spreading that Spain, which had claims to New Orleans and
Louisiana, was about to cede the holdings to France in order to pay for
its failing war efforts in Europe. Britain was at war with France and
Spain and America was officially neutral in the conflict. If France and
Spain cut a deal, it could mean Americans would be denied use of the Mississippi,
which would abruptly halt westward expansion.
Across the street in Knoxville, Blount’s neighbor, a tavern keeper
by the name of John Chisholm, had come up with a plan that might protect
Blount’s land holdings. Chisholm, who was a master of colonial intrigue,
told Blount he could help organize an expedition of frontiersmen and Indians
that could aid Britain in seizing the City of New Orleans and keep the
Mississippi River region open and secure for settlement – maintain
property values in the west.
Blount wrote a letter about the plan to a friend, but wind of the rumor
had spread and the letter suspiciously ended up in the hands of then-President
The President was still upset over the fact that Tennessee had given its
three national delegates to Thomas Jefferson in the presidential election
and had no sympathy for anyone west of the Appalachians. Adams was a supporter
of a strong-centralized government while Jefferson was in favor of less
government and that philosophy appealed to the independent minded Tennesseans,
who overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Virginian. That slap in the face
was enough to earn the political ire of Adams. Rather than deal quietly
with the Blount letter as most Presidents would have done to avoid a crisis,
on July 3, 1797– a day before Independence Day celebrations –
President Adams sent it to Congress where it was read aloud to the entire
body, including William Blount himself. The result was immediate and five
days later the Tennessean was expelled from the Senate for the "Blount
Conspiracy" by a vote of 25 to one for daring to conspire with Britain
in a war where America was "officially" neutral.
When Blount arrived on the outskirts of Knoxville disgraced, he did not
expect what he saw. A roar went up from a huge crowd led by James White,
who was waiting there for him. A troop of cavalry joined the cheering
crowd in escorting Blount back to his home in Knoxville. Tennesseans,
like everyone else in the region, were dependent on the Mississippi River
for their developing economy and supported the Chisholm plan for securing
the region. Many felt that President Adams and the majority of the Congress
were too "colony oriented" and cared little for America west
of the Appalachians. A Senate trial was convened in Philadelphia to officially
impeach Blount from office and a warrant for his arrest was issued. The
Sergeant-at-arms was dispatched to Knoxville to take Blount into custody.
When the sergeant-at-arms arrived, he was welcomed into the hospitality
of the Blount home and stayed for several days enjoying the comfort of
the mansion. The officer’s unexpected treatment confused him and
he was further disconcerted when he tried to arrange a posse to help him
transport his prisoner back to Philadelphia. Not one single person would
help the sergeant-at-arms with his task and he was informed there was
no way he would leave Knoxville with Blount. Although seen as over-educated,
stuffy, and eccentric by many in the city, he was one of their own and
they would have no part of taking him back to the nation’s capitol.
The sergeant-at-arms was forced to return without Blount to Philadelphia.
The impeachment trial never truly got underway and was dismissed on the
grounds that Blount was no longer a Senator and thus not subject to its
jurisdiction. While the trial was underway, Blount was already back in
politics serving in the Tennessee General Assembly – replacing James
White as Speaker of the Senate. He continued his political career and
was suddenly struck with a fever in early 1800. On March 21 of that year,
50-year-old William Blount passed away. Although never regarded in the
genre of the colorful frontiersmen of his day, William Blount had played
the most integral role in pushing America over the Southern Appalachian
mountains and beginning a westward expansion that would soon take the
nation to the Pacific Coast. He had fought in the Revolutionary War, served
in the government of North Carolina, twice been a delegate to the Continental
Congress, helped to write and sign the Constitution of the United States,
and been the driving force in the formation of the first American state
from federal property. His great wealth had dwindled and, at the time
of his death, he was virtually penniless. His wife, who had never wanted
to leave her family home in North Carolina, remained at their Knoxville
mansion until her death two years later. She was laid to rest in the cemetery
of the First Presbyterian Church in Knoxville.
Mary Grainger Blount was as beloved by the people of the region as was
her husband. Grainger County, Tennessee was named in her honor as was
the city of Maryville. The county of Blount was named in honor of William.
A small college started on a hill in the city was named Blount College
in his honor and evolved into what is known today as the University of
The Blount Mansion remained in the family for a good number of years In
1827, following the death of Blount’s oldest son, the home passed
out of the family. It still remained the center of Knoxville social life
as it served as the residence of two city mayors. During the Civil War
years, it served as a hotel and boarding house for such notables as Confederate
spy Belle Boyd.
In 1925, the Blount mansion was slated to be razed by the city for downtown
redevelopment. Citizens of Knoxville rallied around the home and worked
long hours raising money to purchase the house and lands and begin developing
it into a historic site commemorating the life of William Blount and the
birth of Tennessee. They formed the Blount Mansion Association and began
working to restore the house to its original condition.
Through the years, the Blount Mansion has become regarded as one of the
best historical sites in East Tennessee and was eventually recognized
as a National Historic Landmark. It hosts numerous annual educational
programs showcasing the life and times of 18th century Knoxville. Over
the past few years, University of Tennessee archaeologists have been holding
a summer program where children can help participate in the excavations.
"The Blount Mansion," said Tennessee historian Sylvia Lynch,
" is one of the most underrated historical sites in the South. Inside
its compound lays the true story of Tennessee that many people have forgotten
over the years. From the days of James White’s Fort to today, it
has remained a vibrant part of the community and is an almost-perfect
looking glass into Tennessee’s and Knoxville’s past."
The Blount Mansion is open daily for tours. A small admission is charged
with reduced rates for students.
For more information, you can contact the Blount Mansion office at (865)
WILLIAM BLOUNT was born near Windsor, Bertie County, North Carolina, March
26, 1749; son of Jacob Blount Sr. and his wife, Barbara Gray.† William
is described as having “received a good education for that day.”
Married February 12, 1778, to Mary Grainger, daughter of Caleb Grainger
of Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina; children-Anne, Mary
Louisa, William Grainger, Richard Blackledge, Barbara, and Eliza Blount.
In 1776 he entered the service of revolutionary North Carolina; served
as Paymaster of the North Carolina Militia and 3rd Regimental Continental
Troops during the Revolutionary War, and thereafter, for the remainder
of his life, was almost continually in public office.
In addition, the Blounts were successful and influential merchants. William
Blount and his brothers, John Gray, Reading, Thomas, Jacob Jr., and his
half brothers Willie and Sharpe Blount controlled vast tracts of land
in North Carolina and Tennessee and became one of the wealthiest landholding
families in nineteenth century America. William is credited with obtaining
free use of the Mississippi River, then controlled by Spain.
William Blount held the following: North Carolina House of Commons, 1780-1784;
delegate from North Carolina to U.S. Continental Congress, 1782-83, 1786-87;
delegate from North Carolina to U.S. Constitutional Convention, 1787;
member Senate of North Carolina General Assembly, 1788-1790; member North
Carolina Convention of 1789, called to ratify U.S. Constitution.
In 1790, President Washington appointed him governor of the newly formed
Territory South of the River Ohio (a.k.a. Southwest Territory), formerly
part of North Carolina, a position he held until 1796. While governor,
Blount was also superintendent of Indian Affairs and negotiated, among
others, the Treaty of the Holston with the Cherokees. His new government
faced formidable problems, intensified by conflicts created by White/Indian
In 1795, Blount called a constitutional convention to organize the state,
served as president of the Tennessee Constitutional Convention of 1796;
Tennessee entered the Union that year as the 16th state.
Blount was elected by Tennessee legislature to U.S. Senate and served
from August 2, 1796, to July 8, 1797, when he was expelled from that body
on a conspiracy charge, a “high misdemeanor.”
He served in the Tennessee Senate, 2nd Session of 2nd General Assembly,
December 3, 1798-September 15, 1799, representing Knox County. He was
elected to fill vacancy created by resignation of James White; the latter
had been speaker of the Senate and Blount was elected to hold that post.
His election to State Senate so soon after expulsion from U.S. Senate
intended as token of confidence by people of Tennessee. Blount had large
holdings of land in western country and has been called one of the major
land speculators of his time; president company organized in 1783 for
promotion of the “Muscle Shoals Scheme” to develop lands lying
in the Great Bend of the Tennessee River (in present day Alabama, but
then Georgia’s western lands).
William Bount died at Knoxville March 21, 1800; buried in churchyard
of First Presbyterian Church. Mary Grainger Blount, William’s wife
died in 1802 and is buried beside her husband.
William Bount was the father of William Grainger Blount, and half-brother
of Willie Blount. William Grainger Blount and Willie Blount both served
as sometime members Tennessee General Assembly. Willie Blount served as
Governor of Tennessee, 1809-1815.
Sources: Dictionary of American Biography; Biographical Directory of American
Congress; Rothrock, The French Broad - Holston Country, 381-82; Abernethy,
From Frontier to Plantation in Tennessee, 21, 51ff, 76, 168; Driver, John
Sevier, 61, 70, 75; Armstrong, Notable Southern Families, 1, 35-36; Senate
and House Journals, 2nd General Assembly, 1797-98, p. 269; Knoxville Daily
Chronicle, July 8, 1871.
†† Note: Children of Jacob Blount Sr. and his first wife,
Barbara Gray: William, John Gray, Louisa, Reading, Thomas, Barbara, and
Jacob Blount Jr.
Children of Jacob Blount Sr. and his second wife, Hannah Salter: Willie,
Sharpe, and Harvey Blount