History of Rogersville, Tennessee
The Hawkins County Courthouse, circa 1836, is the oldest courthouse in Tennessee and is the seat of county government. It sits at the heart of the Historic District in downtown Rogersville.
In 1775, the grandparents of Davy Crockett, a sometime United States Congressman from Tennessee and hero of the Alamo, settled what is today downtown Rogersville near a spring that bears their name. After hostile native Americans massacred or captured most of the family from their homestead, the Crocketts sold the property to a new settler in the area, a French Huguenot man named Colonel Thomas Amis.
In 1780, Colonel Amis built a fort at Big Creek with the assistance of fellow settler and Scots-Irish John Carter, on the outskirts of the present-day town. Not far from this fort in the same year, about three and one-half miles above downtown Rogersville, Colonel Amis erected a fort-like stone house, around which he built a palisade for protection against Native American attacks. The next year Amis opened a store, and erected a blacksmith shop and a distillery. Very soon after he also put into operation a saw and grist-mill, and from the first he kept a house of entertainment.
Founding of the Town
n 1785, the State of Franklin organized Spencer County, including, besides other territory, the present Hawkins County, and declared the seat of county government to be located at what today is Rogersville. Thomas Henderson was chosen county court clerk and colonel of militia, and William Cocke and Thomas King representatives to the Franklin General Assembly. The remaining officers are unknown.
In November 1786, after the Franklin government had ceded authority back to North Carolina, that State's General Assembly passed an act creating Hawkins County. It included within its limits all the territory between Bays Mountain and the Holston and Tennessee Rivers on the east to the Cumberland Mountains on the west. The county court was organized at the house of Thomas Gibbons, but as the early records were destroyed during the American Civil War, and nothing is known of its transactions.
Like Franklin, North Carolina set the county seat about the property of a recent and enterprising settler, Irishman Joseph Rogers
Joseph & Mary: Rogersville's founding love story
Joseph Rogers, 1764-1833, founded Rogersville on land granted to him by his father-in-law after his marriage to his beloved Mary.
Rogers was born August 21, 1764 near Cook's Town, Ireland, the son of James Rogers and his wife Elizabeth Brown. He traveled to the area then known as the State of Franklin or western North Carolina, called "the Holston country," by 1785 and, during a stay at the tavern adjacent to Colonel Amis' home, had fallen in love with the Colonel's daughter, Mary Amis.
Rogers married Mary Amis on October 24, 1786, despite Colonel Amis' initial dislike for him. Eventually, the Colonel gave his blessing and ceded the lands near Crockett Spring to his son-in-law -- land that Colonel Amis had purchased from the heirs of David Crockett, Sr.
When North Carolina was considering where to establish the county seat for its new Hawkins County, Rogers successfully lobbied, through the influence of his father-in-law, to have the government located near his home; he even volunteered his tavern, set up around 1784-85, as the first county courthouse in 1787.
Rogers, with the help of other local settlers, laid out a plan for the town, and the town of Rogersville was chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1789. The plan included a public square, deeded to the town government, which would host the town's public well and the county courthouse.
Rogers was a successful businessman and tavern keeper. In November 1792, he was appointed the first postmaster at Rogersville, and the second post office of Rogersville, built by its founder circa 1815, still stands at the corner of East Main Street and South Hasson Street.
Rogers was the father of fourteen children with Mary. He died on November 6, 1833 at Rogersville, near the hour of midnight. He was buried in Rogers Cemetery, near the founding site of the Town. His wife Mary died a month later, the victim, according to legend, of a broken heart at the loss of her beloved Joseph.
Printing History: the Cradle of Tennessee Journalism
George Roulstone was Tennessee's first printer. He was brought, along with his printing press to Rogersville by the new governor of the Southwest Territory, William Blount, who was sensitive to the fact that government could not exist without printing. Roulston printed Rogersville's, and Tennessee's, first newspaper on November 5, 1791. Because Knoxville, the intended seat of the new territorial government, had not yet been established, Roulstone published the first year of his paper near Joseph Rogers' tavern. To hedge his bets, Roulstone called the newspaper The Knoxville Gazette, and in October 1792, he moved his press to Knoxville, where he continued to publish the Gazette as well as other papers until his death in 1804.
After the Gazette was moved, there was no newspaper in the area for more than twenty years. Then, in 1813, John B. Hood began publishing The East Tennessee Gazette at Rogersville. Other papers shortly followed, including The Western Pilot, circa 1815, and The Rogersville Gazette from the same era.
Specialty publications emerged during these early days, including The Rail-Road Advocate, The Calvinistic Magazine, and The Holston Watchman. Numerous other newspapers have been published in Rogersville over the years, most surviving only a short time and having modest circulation. Among them were The Independent, The Rogersville Spectator, The Weekly Reporter, The Rogersville Gazette, Rogersville Press and Times, Holston Journal, Hawkins County Republican, Hawkins County Telephone, and The Rogersville Herald.
Rogersville's longest-lasting newspaper is The Rogersville Review, which began publication as The Holston Review in 1885 by William T. Robertson. A year later, Robertson changed the name to the present banner, and the paper has published without fail to the present day. The Review's closet competitor was The Herald, which was published from 1886 to 1932. The Rogersville Herald competed with The Rogersville Review during that 46-year period and survived longer than any other local newspaper, except The Review.
The town's storied printing heritage is chronicled by the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum, located in its historic Southern Railway train depot, circa 1890.
Other Rogersville Firsts
Oldest inn. Tennessee's oldest continuously-operated inn was the Hale Springs Inn, built in 1824. When it was constructed, the Inn was located on a major stage coach route from Northeast Tennessee to Knoxville. Over the years the inn hosted U.S. Presidents Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and James K. Polk.
Tidal spring. Called Sinking Spring in a land grant given a Union officer for distinguished service, Ebbing and Flowing Spring is one of only two known springs in the world to exhibit tidal characteristics. During a period of 2 hours and 47 minutes, the flow ranges from an indiscernible trickle to 500 gallons per minute. Unlike thermal springs that produce warm water, the water in Ebbing and Flowing Spring maintains a constant temperature of 34 degrees Fahrenheit.
Masonic lodge. One of the first lodges of Free and Accepted Masons in Tennessee was organized in Rogersville on December 14, 1805. It is known as the Overton Lodge, named for Tennessee statesman and Mason John Overton, and remains today, as Overton Lodge, No. 5, F. & A.M., the oldest, continuously-active Masonic Lodge in Tennessee.
Post office. Joseph Rogers was the appointed the first postmaster of Rogersville in 1792, and his post office was Tennessee's first.
Trade journal. The Rogersville Rail-Road Advocate (see printing history, above) was one of the first trade journals in the world devoted to the propagation of railroads when it was published in 1831.
Famous Persons from Rogersville
United States Congressman William L. "Bill" Jenkins, a Republican from Tennessee's first district, was born to Rogersville parents and grew up in the town. He and his family lived in Rogersville while he was the U.S. Representative from 1997-2006.
Charlie Chase, is a radio and television host best known for his work in hosting the nationally-syndicated television show Crook & Chase on The Nashville Network (TNN) in the 1990s.
General A.P. Stewart, 1821-1908, was a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and served throughout the American Civil War as a commanding officer in the Confederate States' Army of Tennessee. After the Battle of Franklin, Tenn., General Stewart commanded that Army. After surrendering to United States Army General William T. Sherman in North Carolina, General Stewart was paroled and later taught at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee. He was president of the University of Mississippi at Oxford from 1874-1886, and he lobbied for and helped organize the creation of the Chattanooga-Chickamauga National Battlefield Park by Congress in Chattanooga, Tennessee.