African Ancestry in Tennessee
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    Enslaved blacks may have arrived in Tennessee as early as 1541 when De Soto camped near Memphis. The French 100 years later are reported to have sent an army of 1,200 white men and even more the number of men of African and Native American decent to stay in Fort Assumption. Colonel James Smith, who explored the Cumberland country in 1766, was accompanied by a group of Long Hunters and a mulatto male. By 1790 the new settlers, who came to Tennessee from North Carolina and Virginia, brought their African American slaves with them. The first census taken stated there were 3,417 slaves in the Territory. Later, when Tennessee become a state, there were 10,613 African Americans in a population of 77,282. For more information Click on TENNESSEE: A GUIDE TO THE STATE "NEGROES IN TENNESSEE"

    Slave traders imported slaves from other sections of the country to be resold in the Southwest. Isaac Franklin and John Armfield, in partnership with Rice Ballard, operated much of the slave trade in Tennessee. Nashville and Memphis found slave-trading a profitable business with Memphis becoming the center of slave trading for the Mid-south.

    The Tennessee Slave Code guaranteed the slaves shelter, food, clothing, medical attention, and protected them when they were considered no long useful. This code also provided slaves the right to contract for his freedom, and in 1835 granted them the right to trial by jury. By 1830 there were 4,555 free African Americans and 7,300 at the beginning of the Civil War. Slave owners feared the increased number of free slaves might lead to a revolt among the enslaved blacks. During 1831 free African American were not allowed to enter Tennessee, legislation was enacted providing that no slave should be emancipated unless he should leave the State immediately.

    In Memphis and Nashville free African-Americans were allowed to attend private schools, receive religious instruction, to sue and be sued, to make contracts and inherit property, and enjoy legal marriage. However, after 1834 they were denied the rights of citizenship, which include the right to vote.

    Slaves in Tennessee were officially freed February 25, 1865. In Hickman, Dyer, Weakley and Haywood counties, owners refused to free their slaves until the end of the summer, in order to harvest the crops. Tennessee was the only state to free slaves by popular vote.

    In May of 1866, Tennessee extended all the rights of citizenship to blacks except marrying whites, serving on juries and voting. In 1867, Blacks in Tennessee won the right to vote. There are several books and articles written on the subject, some are on-line, listed below are a few of both sources:

    • The South - Encyclopedia article from
    • Tennessee African Americans "Where I was born and raised" David L. Cohn, 1967
    • Fisk University, Social Science Institute., Unwritten History of Slavery, (Fisk University) autobiographical account of Negro ex-slaves.,1945
    • Ira Berlin, 1941-Slaves without masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South.,(1975,c1974)

    This site is still under construction. Coming Soon!

    Migration patterns, communities, race issues, institutes of higher learning, famous African Americans from Tennessee and the peculiar characteristcis of the setting in which they lived.


    Tennessee State Library and Archives

    Fisk University Library 1000 17th Avenue North Nashville, Tennessee 37208-3051

    The Nashville Public Library (Main Branch) Nashville Room

    Metropolitan Government Archives of Nashville and Davidson County

    Middle Tennessee State University, Andrew Todd Library, 1500 Greenland Drive Murfreesboro Tennessee 37132

    Tennessee State University, Brown-Daniel Library

    African American Genealogical and Historical Society, AAGHS TN PO 1711124, Nashville TN 37217


    Volunteers are needed for lookups and research. If you have resources and the time please contact me with your name, email address, and the resource(s) you would like to contribute. Thank you....Janice

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