The History of James White’s Fort
James White, The Founder of Knoxville, came here in the early 1780’s from North Carolina. He had fought in the Revolutionary War and was given a land grant of 1,000 acres for his service. He built his 2-story log house on the present site of Knoxville in 1786. Two years later he enclosed the house and other buildings with a stockade fence for protection from the wild animals. James White was a friend of the Cherokee Indians. He negotiated several of their treaties with the settlers and they came to his home in peace and to trade with him. The courtyard of the Fort was used as a stable for the domesticated animals such as horses, cows, pigs and sheep. The area around the Fort would have been cleared of trees, and the vegetable gardens along with tobacco would be grown there. James White laid off part of his land in October 1791 to establish a town which would become known as Knoxville, named for Henry Knox, president Washington’s Secretary of War. Sixty-four lots were laid off in 16 blocks, each lot being one half acre in size. The cost was $8.00 per lot and a lottery drawing was held to assign the lots. James White continued to live in his Fort until early 1793 when he moved upriver to another home near the present site of the South Knoxville Bridge. In later life he was promoted to a General in the War of 1812 and continued to be a guiding force in the development of Knoxville. He gave land for the First Presbyterian Church and cemetery in Knoxville and also for the establishment of Blount College, which would later become the University of Tennessee. He died at his home in 1821 and is buried beside his wife Mary Lawson White at First Presbyterian.
The Fort was restored and opened to the public in 1970 through the efforts of the City Association of Women’s Clubs. Today more than 10,000 visitors tour the Fort each year and experience the frontier lifestyle through hands-on interpretation of Open Hearth Cooking, Blacksmithing and Spinning.
Special events are held throughout the year including: Cherokee Heritage Day, Junior Docent Day, HearthScares-The Ghost Tour of Downtown Knoxville, Annual HearthScares Ball and Christmas Open House at the Fort. Come visit the Fort and bring your friends and family when they visit Knoxville.