Monday, February 25, 2008
The Tennessee River
This river was everthing for all people in early America. As a Tennessee farm boy during the Great Depression years, it was a joy to see what God gave us. In 1540, Hernando DeSoto's Spanish expedition traveled the Tennessee River from the present location of Chattanooga to the present location of Guntersville. This was the first recorded exploration of the Tennessee by white men. For the next two hundred years Indian settlements remained virtually undisturbed in the Tennessee Valley. Indian life in the valley was tied strongly to the river.
These tribes, which included the Cherokee, Creek, and Chickasaw, sited most all of their towns along the river. Other large Indian settlements were found on tributaries of the Tennessee or on river islands. The river was the primary means of transportation among these villages. During the latter part of the 1600's the Tennessee River was a vital part of the French trade route between the Mississippi Valley and Charleston, South Carolina.
By the early 1700's the French had established several trading posts along the river. Following this was conflict between the French and English, each seeking to control trade with the Indians. This conflict resulted in the French and Indian War of 1760 which left the English in control of the area. Most early settlers of the Tennessee Valley came from the colonies in Virginia or North Carolina. Nearly all of these settlements were located along streams or rivers. In 1791 Knoxville became the capitol of the Territory South of the Ohio.
Chattanooga was originally called Rossâ Landing. Rossâ Landing was a Indian trading post for many years and was not incorporated as the City of Chattanooga until the removal of the Cherokee Indians in 1838.
One of the first settlements in North Alabama was found along the Tennessee River. Fort Deposit was located along the northern bank of the river approximately eight miles north of the present location of Guntersville.
General Jackson used this settlement as a supply base at the beginning of the Creek Indian War in 1813. Fort Deposit was situated in a saddle between two high bluffs. This allowed easy access to the river from a spot that could be easily defended.
Ditto Landing in Madison County, Alabama was a landing for flatboats and keelboats during the early 1800's. The settlement was named for John Ditto, who is thought to have been the first white settler in Madison County around 1804. Flower was brought here from other parts of the river in such quantity that the U.S. government made Ditto landing a Port of Entryâ. U.S. inspectors were sent to the landing where all flour for sale was inspected, graded, and stamped.
In 1820 President Monroe reserved a site for a town to be called Decatur in honor of Commodore Decatur of the U.S. Navy. The Decatur Land Company was formed the same year, however the site remained a part of the Cherokee Reservation until1826. Decatur, Alabama lies on the south bank of the Tennessee River, and was a strategic point for commercial navigation because of its proximity near the head of the Muscle Shoals. The Tuscumbia, Cortland & Decatur railway was completed in 1834. Goods were transferred too and from steamboats here and shipped by rail around Muscle Shoals.
Florence, Alabama was surveyed in 1818 by the Italian Engineer Ferdinand Sannona for the Cypress Land Company.For his work the young engineer was allowed to name the city, which he called Florence for his home in Italy. The Cypress Land Company purchased the land from the government because of its proximity near the foot of the Muscle Shoals. The company thought that at this location must œin the natural course of things, spring up one of the largest commercial towns in the interior of the southwestern section of the Union. Florence would become the head of navigation for the lower Tennessee, although it would never reach the size anticipated by its founders.
Tuscumbia, Alabama was first settled by whites in 1815 at the site of a Cherokee village destroyed by General James Robertson in 1787. The town was incorporated as Ococoposa in 1820. The name was changed to Big Spring in 1821. Finally the town was named Tuscumbia in 1822 in honor of Chief Taski Ambi who sold the land at the time of its settlement. In 1831 the first railroad west of the Allegheny Mountains was built in Tuscumbia, it ran two miles to the Tennessee River.
Sheffield, Alabama was settled as a trading post by the French in 1780. The city was founded in 1784. Andrew Jackson said that Sheffield would be a ideal location for a national capitol.
Paducah, Kentucky lies at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, twelve miles down stream of the mouth of the Cumberland River. This area was settled by the Indians and known as Pekin. The U.S. government gave General George Rogers Clark a track of land for his services which included this area. His youngest son, General William Clark, changed the name to Paducah in 1827 in Honor of the Indian Chief Paducah whose favorite camping ground was located here.
In 1807 the steamer Clermont demonstrated the practicability of steam navigation on inland waters when it traveled up the Hudson River. During 1811 and 1812 the Steamer New Orleans carried goods up and down the Mississippi River. These vessels deep draft made their navigation on the Tennessee unpractical and dangerous. The steamer Washington was built in 1816 and designed with a shallow draft, bringing steam travel on the Tennessee closer to reality. It is thought that the first steamboat to travel as far up the Tennessee as the Muscle Shoals reached Florence in 1821.
In February 1822 the Rocket arrived at Florence and began regular trips to Trinity, near the mouth of the Ohio. The first steamboat to pass over the Muscle Shoals and reach Knoxville was the Atlas in 1828. By 1835 steamboats traveled regularly from Knoxville, Tennessee to Decatur, Alabama when water was high. In 1836 a canal was built around the Muscle Shoals by the State of Alabama with Federal aid. The canal was not very successful and by the mid 1800's the railroads began to take traffic away from the rivers.