Collusion, speculative real estate deals and an almost-impeachment. Oh, and statehood for Tennessee.
Blount Mansion*, constructed in 1792 in what is now Knoxville was home to William Blount, signer of the Declaration of Independence (for North Carolina) and appointed (by President Washington) Governor of the Southwest Territory.
Unlike touring James White’s Fort, Blount Mansion tours are guided, so we masked up and were led around by a docent who knew where the fine line between an interesting tour and a history lecture lie.
The simple hall and parlor of this “Carolina House” style was the public space where the Blounts socialized. Indeed, among the more famous guests of the Blount’s was a young Andrew Jackson. Several Chickasaw elders (Native Americans in what is now West Tennessee) and many other prominent men of the Southwest Territory also visited.
On the sideboard, the precious sugar cone.
The kitchen room contained the trendy gadgets of the time, including a smoker and these adorable butter molds.
The craftsmanship of the beds caught my eye, too.
Blount had several irons in the fire, with many of his dealings happening in this office connected to the house.
There’s always a sugar cone.
As a land speculator in the late 1780’s Blount had purchased more than two million acres of western lands (that is, between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River). Being named Governor helped him preserve those lands. But only for so long.
Meanwhile, pressed by the War Department to work peacefully in obtaining more territory, Blount negotiated the Treaty of Holston with the Cherokee and other Tribal Nations in 1791 for westward expansion of the Southwest Territory. I will spare you the discussions of the battles and skirmishes that occurred as both sights fought toward a truce, but the fighting caused land speculators to lose money and file for bankruptcy, Blount among the financial losers.
Fast forward to 1795. Following the election of territorial legislators for the newly acquired western lands, Governor Blount then called for a census. The census placed the territorial count at far more than the 60,000 needed for a statehood petition. Blount ordered a state constitutional convention for January 1796; and the new not-yet-a-member-of-the Union, the State of Tennessee convened in March 1796.
The desk at which Tennessee’s statehood was drafted.
Back to the land speculation. With the French having defeated the Spanish in the War of the Pyrenees, land speculators such as Blount became concerned that the French might gain control of Spanish-controlled Louisiana and shut off American access to the Mississippi River (including, conveniently, land that Blount owned).
So how did by-this-time-Senator Blount react? By trying to collude with the British(!) to attack Florida and Louisiana, and in return allow American merchants to transit freely through the ports of Pensacola and New Orleans . A Knoxville merchant he recruited to help in this scheme spilled the beans in a letter Blount had written to a government agent, who turned it over to the Secretary of State and then promptly to President Adams.
In July 1797, a year after Tennessee was granted statehood and joined the Union, the House of Representatives voted to hold impeachment hearings. In the end the Senate voted 14-11 to dismiss the impeachment hearings and to instead “sequester” Blount’s seat.
Despite being hated at the national level he retained loyalty at home in Tennessee. He passed at home in 1800 during an epidemic that swept Knoxville.
*Enslaved Persons at Blount Mansion. At the back of these gardens likely stood the cabin where several of the 26 enslaved persons held by William Blount lived. Blount Mansion historians have limited information about these persons that was shared during the tour, and can be read on their site.