History of Sullivan County

Established in 1779
Sullivan County, North Carolina was formally established in 1779 from part of Washington County, and was named after Continental Army officer John Sullivan. The area of present-day Kingsport had already been settled in the 1770s and was known as the King's Boatyard, or "The Boatyard". Sapling Grove (present-day Bristol) had also been established in the 1770s, and it later combined with nearby King's Meadows to become the town of Bristol in 1853.

First county court held in 1780
On February 7, 1780, the county court was organized at the home of Moses Looney near present-day Gunnings.

State of Franklin 1784-1788
In 1784, the counties of Washington, Sullivan and Greene organized the State of Franklin. From 1784 to 1788, Sullivan Countians were of divided loyalties and operated under two sets of governments: one under North Carolina and one under the State of Franklin. The State of Franklin collapsed in 1788.

Territory South of the River Ohio 1790
After the demise of the State of Franklin, North Carolina offered its western lands to the United States. In 1790, Congress passed an act for governing the "Southwest Territory" (formally known as Territory South of the River Ohio), with William Blount as first Territorial Governor. For a short period, Blount operated our territorial government at Rocky Mount.

County seat of Blountville established 1795

The county seat of Blountville had laid off as a town in 1795.

State of Tennessee 1796
Since Sullivan County was on the main overland routes west, the area grew rapidly. On June 1, 1796, Tennessee was formally admitted to the union as the 16th state.

Early 1800s
The present-day area of Bluff City was known as Shoate's Ford, and later became known as Zollicoffer and/or Union. The community of Paperville near the Virginia state line was established sometime before 1810, and was named for a paper mill built by Burkhart who had settled there in 1794.

Civil War
The Civil War caused many divided loyalties in Sullivan County, which was the scene of a battle in Blountville and one in the area of present-day Kingsport. The railroad which had been completed in 1859 was the target of many raids and much destruction.

History of the Sullivan County Courthouse
Before 1795, the county courts were held in various homes of families such as the Looneys, Yanceys and Coxes. With Blountville having been established as the county seat in 1795, the first courthouse was built of massive logs with a jail in the rear. It was replaced in 1825 by a brick courthouse and jail. The courthouse was rebuilt in 1853, and was burned in 1863 by Federal forces during the Civil War. The building was rebuilt within the walls in 1866, rebuilt in 1920, and additions made in 1958. A new jail was built in 1956. In 1988, the jail was moved to the site of the County's Justice Center, which was completed in 1989.

Sullivan County today
The second oldest county in the state, Sullivan County ranks 6th in population in the 95 counties in Tennessee, and covers a territory of 413 square miles. Today, Sullivan County, Tennessee is proudly one of the most prosperous counties in the South.

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Myths about Sullivan County history