By JOHN KIENER
A horse carrying Deed Book A left Jonesborough 124 years ago on a journey for inclusion as an exhibit in the celebration of Tennessee’s 100th Anniversary. On June 1, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Secretary of State Tre Hargett will return in a horse and buggy to deliver a volume that contains a record of the first land purchase in the state on March 19, 1775.
Governor Lee is using the occasion to kick-off Tennessee’s year-long celebration of 225 years of statehood. “We’re excited,” said Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy in talking about the event expected to start Tuesday, June1, at 6:30 p.m.
The mayor is urging those wanting to attend the formal ceremonies in front of the Washington County Main Street Courthouse to arrive early. There will be food trucks and other vendors on site beginning at 5 p.m. It is suggested that people wishing to witness the day’s activities bring their own chairs. Mayor Grandy said plans are to block off Main Street in Jonesborough on June 1 so the audience can be seated in front of the county’s historic courthouse.
In addition to the governor’s state-wide address, the Oak Ridge Boys will make a musical appearance in Jonesborough. (See story on Page 1B)
“As we reflect on 225 years of statehood, I’m honored to welcome the legendary Oak Ridge Boys to Jonesborough,” Lee said. “These remarkable musicians have contributed greatly to our state’s heritage, and we look forward to celebrating with our fellow Tennesseans.”
The group’s performance is scheduled to begin after the governor’s address.
Deed Book A contains Washington County land documents beginning in the 1770s, 20 years before Tennessee became a state. Sometime following the Tennessee Centennial in 1897, Deed Book A was moved to the Tennessee State Library and Archives where it remained until county and state lawmakers successfully argued for its return earlier this year.
The Herald & Tribune has received several media releases about the event. One release provided: “Tennesseans are invited to arrive early to enjoy dinner at local Jonesborough restaurants on the square and bring chairs or picnic baskets. Attendees are encouraged to RSVP at www.facebook.com/GovBillLee. Lee will visit all three of Tennessee’s grand divisions in the first week in June, including stops in Knoxville, Nashville and Memphis. Additional events will be announced as they are scheduled.
A press release from Secretary of State Hargett announced his planned delivery of Deed Book A on June 1 and contained an extensive summary of events that have resulted in the documents return. The release stated: Known as “Deed Book A,” the document recorded the first land purchase—dated March 19, 1775—made in territory that ultimately became the state of Tennessee, marking Jonesborough as the oldest city in the state. The ledger was part of the state land records collection at the State Library & Archives, where it has been preserved for many years.
At the request of local legislators, Senator Rusty Crowe, Senator Jon Lundberg, State Representatives Rebecca Alexander and Tim Hicks, the Secretary of State’s office and Tennessee State Library and Archives reviewed documents explaining the chain of custody of Deed Book A — justifying its final return to Jonesborough.
“I am so pleased that we were able to find a way to bring our state’s first Deed book, ‘The Watauga purchase’ which was a land purchase between the settlers and the Cherokee back to Jonesborough where it belongs,” Crowe said. “I am especially proud to have been a part of this as my great, great grandfather was ½ Native American. I want to thank Secretary of State Tre Hargett for his work in helping to make this happen. The Deed book left us for Nashville in 1897 as part of our county’s exhibit for the state centennial celebration on horseback and we plan on bringing it home in a horse drawn carriage, as well.”
“One of the most exciting minutes during my first session as a State Representative was being called to the office of the Secretary of State,” Alexander said. “When Tre Hargett told us that Deed Book A would make its journey back home to Washington County, I could hardly hold back my emotions. My hometown of Jonesborough, our oldest town in Tennessee, will finally have a piece of its history back. There are so many who have worked and researched to make this happen. I am especially grateful to Tre Hargett and his staff for everything.”
“The deed book is so very important to Tennessee’s history,” said Rep. Hicks. “Sometimes we take history for granted in today’s world; we are excited to see this book come back to Washington County. A special thank you to Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Senator Rusty Crowe and Representative Rebecca Alexander for their hard work on getting this deed book back home. How fitting to have this deed book brought back to Jonesborough, the oldest town in Tennessee, on a horse and buggy.”
“We’re all glad to have the deed book home where it belongs!” Lundberg said.
“It is an honor to work with Senators Crowe and Lundberg as well as Representatives Alexander and Hicks. This effort truly revealed how deeply dedicated these General Assembly Members are to preserving Tennessee’s rich history. The Tennessee State Library and Archives is grateful for their support,” Hargett said.
At the local level, credit for the return includes County Mayor Grandy, the Public Records Commission, the County Commission, County Attorney Allyson Wilkinson, and Archive Associate Donna Cox Briggs and County Archivist Ned Irwin
“This is a great day for the citizens of Washington County, past, present, and future,” said Irwin upon receiving the news of the book’s return. He continued “It took a team of people to recover Deed Book A.”
The first entry in the Deed Book A is the indenture (or deed) made by the settlers with the Cherokee chiefs for the land they were living on. The book’s 178 pages are alive with the names of those who appear in the state’s history books — John Sevier, Charles Robertson, James Robertson, Jacob Brown, Christopher Taylor, William Bean, plus the Cherokee chiefs Oconastota and Attakullakulla.
As important as the names of prominent pioneers within its pages, the return is vital for the preservation of the integrity of Washington County’s records. Not having the first deed book for the county broke the chain of custody of land titles back to the original dates of ownership in the 1770s-1780s. Besides its’ legal importance, the deed book is an invaluable historical record documenting the actions of the county’s earliest settlers. For genealogists, it provides evidence of their ancestor’s residence in the county.
While the first part of Deed Book A (pages 1-178) was sent to Nashville in 1897 and will now be returned on June 1, the second part of the volume (pages 179-320) never went to the State Capital. This document remains bound in Deed Book 1 in the Register of Deeds office at the courthouse in Jonesborough where the Book A will receive its ceremonial return. After delivery, plans are to temporarily place Book A in a display case in the Reading Room of the Washington County Archives.