Knox County is a county in the U.S. state of Tennessee. As of the 2010 census, the population is 432,226. Its county seat is Knoxville, as it has been since the creation of the county. The county is at the geographical center of the Great Valley of East Tennessee. Near the heart of the county is the origin of the Tennessee River at the union of the Holston and French Broad Rivers.
The county is included in the Knoxville Metropolitan Area.
Knox County was created on June 11, 1792 by Governor William Blount from parts of Greene and Hawkins counties, and has the distinction of being one of only eight counties created during territorial administration. It is one of nine United States counties named for American Revolutionary War general and first United States Secretary of War Henry Knox. Parts of Knox County later became Blount (1795), Anderson (1801), Roane (1801), and Union (1850) counties.
In 1786 James White built a fort five miles (8 km) below the junction of the French Broad and Holston Rivers on the southernmost edge of frontier settlement in present-day East Tennessee. William Blount, governor of the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio, selected the site of James White's Fort as the territorial capital in 1791. He gave it the name Knoxville in honor of his direct superior as territorial governor, Revolutionary War hero General Henry Knox (1750–1806), who served as the first U.S. Secretary of War from 1785 to 1794.
Governor Blount designated Knoxville as the capital of the Territory South of the River Ohio from 1791 to 1796. Knoxville also served as the capital of the State of Tennessee from 1796 to 1812, with the exception of one day in 1807, when the legislature met in Kingston to fulfill a treaty obligation with the Cherokee, and briefly again in 1817-18. Frontier leader General John Sevier, a resident of Knox County, served as governor of Tennessee from 1796 to 1801 and 1803 to 1809, most of Knoxville's years as the state capital. Since no state capitol building was constructed until 1845, when work began on the capitol building in Nashville, the general assembly met in taverns and public buildings. The William Blount Mansion (1792), the home of Territorial Governor Blount, is the most historically significant dwelling surviving in Knox County from the pre-statehood era. It is the only National Historic Landmark in the county.
The Civil War
Knox County's strategic location along important railroad lines made it an area coveted by both Union and Confederate forces throughout the Civil War. Since the mountainous terrain of East Tennessee was mostly unsuitable for plantation crops such as cotton, slavery was not as prevalent as it was in Middle and West Tennessee - an 1860 census of Knox County showed a population of 20,020 white citizens and just 2,370 enslaved African Americans. The lack of slavery combined with the vestiges of a once strong abolitionist movement in the region were two of the reasons that Knox County, along with much of East Tennessee, contained a great deal of pro-Union sentiment. However, there were family and other social ties which contributed to strong pro-Confederate sentiment as well. East Tennessee saw many of the "brother vs. brother" conflicts.
Prior to secession, Unionists from Knox County collaborated with other East Tennessee Unionists in an attempt to secede from Tennessee itself and remain part of the Union. O.P. Temple, a Knoxville lawyer, was named to a 3-man commission to appear before the General Assembly in Nashville and request East Tennessee and pro-Union Middle Tennessee counties be allowed to secede from the state. The attempt failed. Knox County joined the Confederacy along with the rest of Tennessee after the second referendum for secession passed in 1861.
Knox County remained under Confederate control until September 3, 1863, when General Ambrose Burnside and the Union army marched into Knoxville unopposed. Union Colonel William Harris, son of New York Senator Ira Harris, wrote his father: