History of Meigs County

Meigs County Courthouse

Meigs County Courthouse

Meigs County Courthouse

The 1904 Meigs County Courthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Meigs County, Tennessee, located in the southeastern part of the state, was established in 1836 from lands ceded by the Cherokee Indians.

A Meeting took place at John and Letty Stewart’s house. Within two days plans were made to form the new county. The county was named in honor of Return Jonathan Meigs. He was a colonel in the American Revolution and later held the position of agent to the Cherokee Nation and military agent for the United States War Department in Tennessee.

Cherokee Removal Memorial

Cherokee Memorial

Cherokee Memorial

The “Trail of Tears” is said to have passed through the southern end of Meigs County in 1838. The Cherokee Removal and Memorial Park is a large memorial to those Cherokees who made the long, sad march westward. The Memorial is located on a bluff at the confluence of the Hiwassee River with the Tennessee River overlooking Blythe Ferry where 9,000 Indians camped several weeks waiting to take the ferry from their native land on a journey of about 1,000 miles.

The 29 acre park is operated by Meigs County and is part of the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Meigs County Economic Development

Hay Field

Economic Development

While some were involved with the Cherokee Removal, many others were involved with establishing farms and mills, building community schools and churches, and putting the town of Decatur into full operation, complete with its courthouse, jail, academy, tannery, groceries, taverns, hat shops, doctors’ and lawyers’ offices, and residences around the town square.

Economic development came crashing to a halt in the 1850’s with many serving in the Civil War, but the last part of the 1800’s and early 1900’s brought about the Steamboat Era. When the steamboats arrived at landings all along Meigs County, whole communities would turn out to buy and sell and trade, to get the latest news, and socialize.

Watts Bar Lake

Watts Bar Lake

Watts Bar Lake

Once again, war slowed economic progress until a few years after the Great Depression when Meigs County became involved in a major government project which changed life in the valley forever – Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Not only was the lifestyle of residents changed when they could, for the first time, pull a switch and have the lights come on, but the very face – the very geography of the area was changed. Along with the thrill of enjoying all the modernization that electricity brought with it came the anguish of many farmers who saw their farmland become the bottom of a huge lake.

Before the Watts Bar Lake area was transformed into a much-sought after haven for both recreation and leisure, peace and tranquility, it looked like a water wasteland where the tops of lonely silos spoke of the drowning of some farm family’s holdings.

Many Meigs Countians are traditionally slow to make adjustments to major changes, and strong ties to “the way things used to be” hold a long, long time. As the county was making the adjustment, another war was brewing – WW II

 Courthouse WW2 Memorial

Meigs County Courthouse WW II Memorial

Meigs County Courthouse WW II Memorial

Many veterans of World War II still live in Meigs County, well-respected by those of us who realize the extent to which they sacrificed for our country.

The monument on the Courthouse Square reverently lists those who died in that war and other wars. The memorial is often visited and decorated by townspeople who acknowledge those who made the ultimate contribution to freedom. Meigs County can be proud of many things, and especially it can stand tall among the best for its thousands of young men and women who have answered the call to military service every time that call has been made through the years.

Hiwassee Island (Jolly’s Island)

Early Hamilton, Mississippi, Dallas, Creek and Cherokee cultures have occupied the island for hundreds of years. The Desoto Expedition visited the island in 1540. TVA sponsored extensive archaeological investigation of the island in the 1940’s before filling Chickamauga Reservoir which reduced the size of the island by one-half.

As a young man Sam Houston lived on the island and was adopted by Chief John Jolly who named him The Raven. He became a Remarkable American. He served as a: teacher, lawyer, Congressman, Governor of Tennessee, the General that won Texas independence, President of the Republic of Texas, Governor of Texas and U.S. Senator. After he resigned as Tennessee Governor he went to Arkansas to live with Chief Jolly before going to Texas. Chief Jolly was a leader of the Old Settlers that emigrated to Arkansas after the Cherokees ceded land north of the Hiwassee River.

Hiwassee Garrison Site

After the treated that ceded Cherokee land north of the Hiwassee River the Hiwassee Garrison was established across the Tennessee River from Hiwassee Island to protect Cherokee land from white intrusion. Return Jonathan Meigs first established his Cherokee Agency there which he later moved up the Hiwassee River to Agency Creek then to Charleston. He was the Cherokee Agent leading up to the Removal and Meigs County bears his name. He is buried in the Hiwassee Garrison cemetery.

Civil War

During the Civil War a company of Union troops were stationed at the mouth of the Hiwassee River to guard grain supplies stored on Hiwassee Island. A skirmish occurred in the area on November 13, 1863 during an artillery duel.


Find out more at the Meigs County Museum.