William Blount, Gov. of the Southwest Territory and US Constitution signer

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William Blount

Birthplace: Rosefield, Windsor, Bertie County, Province of North Carolina
Death: March 21, 1800 (50)
Knoxville, Knox County, Tennessee, United States
Place of Burial: Knoxville, Knox County, Tennessee, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Col. Jacob Blount and Barbara Blount
Husband of Mary Blount (Grainger)
Father of Cornelius Blount; Ann Blount; Mary Louisa Miller; Rep. William Grainger Blount (DemRep-TN); Richard Blackledge Blount and 4 others
Brother of Ann Blount; John Gray Blount; Louisa Faught; Maj. Reading Blount; Rep. Thomas Blount (R-NC) and 3 others
Half brother of Willie Blount, Governor; Sharpe Blount and Harvey Blount

Occupation: Only Governor of Southwest Territory, precursor to Tennessee, Constitutional Convention representative
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About William Blount, Gov. of the Southwest Territory and US Constitution signer

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A Patriot of the American Revolution for NORTH CAROLINA with the rank of STAFF OFFICER. DAR Ancestor #: A011522


William Blount, (March 26, 1749 (O.S.)/April 6, 1749 (N.S.) – March 21, 1800) was a United States statesman. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention for North Carolina, the first and only governor of the Southwest Territory, and Democratic-Republican Senator from Tennessee (1796–1797). He played a major role in establishing the state of Tennessee. He was the first U.S. Senator to be expelled from the Senate for treason and the only Senator expelled outside of the Civil War.

Early life and Revolutionary War

Blount was born near Windsor, North Carolina, in Bertie County into a family of distinguished merchants and planters who owned extensive properties along the banks of the Pamlico River.

During the Revolutionary War, Blount accepted appointment as the regimental paymaster for the 3rd North Carolina Regiment. Although a regimental paymaster was not a commissioned officer with command responsibility on the battlefield, Blount served under a warrant on the regimental staff and drew the same pay and allowances as a captain. He also participated in the regiment's march north in the late spring of 1777 when it joined Washington's main army in defense of Philadelphia against Sir William Howe's Royal forces. Blount and his comrades had participated in one of the key battles of the war. By demonstrating Washington's willingness to fight and the Continental Army's recuperative powers, the battle convinced France that the Americans were in the war to the end and directly influenced France's decision to support the Revolution openly.

After the battle, Blount returned home to become chief paymaster of state forces and later deputy paymaster general for North Carolina. For the next three years he remained intimately involved in the demanding task of recruiting and reequipping forces to be used in support both of Washington's main army in the north and of separate military operations in defense of the southern tier of states.

The fall of Charleston, South Carolina, to British forces under Sir Henry Clinton in May 1780 exposed North Carolina to invasion. The state again faced the difficult task of raising new units, this time to counter a force of British, Hessian, and Loyalist troops under General Charles Cornwallis. Blount not only helped organize these citizen-soldiers but also took to the field with them. His North Carolina unit served under General Horatio Gates, who hastily engaged Cornwallis in a bloody battle at Camden, South Carolina. On August 16, Gates deployed his units – his continentals to the right, the North Carolina and Virginia militia on his left flank – and ordered an advance. The American soldiers were exhausted from weeks of marching and insufficient rations. Furthermore, the militia elements had only recently joined with the regulars, and disciplined teamwork between the two components had not yet been achieved. Such teamwork was especially necessary before hastily assembled militia units could be expected to perform the intricate infantry maneuvers of 18th century linear warfare. While the Continentals easily advanced against the enemy, the militia quickly lost their cohesion in the smoke and confusion, and their lines crumbled before the counterattacking British. Cornwallis then shifted all his forces against the continentals. In less than an hour Gates' army had been lost. This second defeat in the South, the result of inadequate preparations, provided the young Blount a lesson that would stand him in good stead in later years.[citation needed] It also marked the end of Blount's active military career.

Governor of Southwest Territory

Blount was appointed Governor of the Territory South of the Ohio River (the Southwest Territory) by President George Washington in 1790.[1] Blount governed from the home of William Cobb, Rocky Mount, located in current Piney Flats, Tennessee. After concluding the Treaty of Holston, he announced that the territorial capital would move to newly founded Knoxville. Blount named Knoxville after the first Secretary of War, Henry Knox. After moving to Knoxville, construction began on his mansion, known as Blount Mansion, in 1792. The mansion still stands in downtown Knoxville and is a popular museum.[2]

Blount's political offices

Member of North Carolina state house of commons 1780–1784, and briefly, its Speaker

Member of the Continental Congress in 1782–1783 and 1786–1787

Delegate to the Philadelphia Convention that framed the U.S. Constitution in 1787 (and signer of the document)

North Carolina state senator 1788–1790

Governor of the Southwest Territory, appointed by President George Washington in 1790, where he brought George Roulstone to Rogersville to print Tennessee's first newspaper, The Knoxville Gazette

Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Department 1790–1796

Chairman of the convention which framed the first State constitution of Tennessee 1796

U.S. Senator from Tennessee 1796–1797

Tennessee state senator 1798–1800

U.S. Senate

While serving as U.S. Senator, Blount's affairs took a sharp turn for the worse. In 1797 his land speculations in western lands led him into serious financial difficulties. That same year, he apparently concocted a plan to incite the Creek and Cherokee Indians to aid the British in conquering the Spanish territory of West Florida. A letter he wrote alluding to the plan fell into the hands of President John Adams, who turned it over to the Senate on July 3, 1797. Four days later, on July 7, the United States House of Representatives voted to impeach Blount and on July 8 the Senate voted 25 to 1 to expel him from the Senate.[3] The Senate began an impeachment trial on December 17, 1798, but dropped charges two months later on the grounds that no further action could be taken beyond his expulsion.[3] That set an important precedent for the future with regard to the limitations on actions which could be taken by Congress against its members and former members.

The episode did not seem to hamper Blount's career in Tennessee. In 1798 he was elected to the Tennessee State Senate and rose to the speakership. He died two years later at Knoxville, where he is buried in the cemetery of the First Presbyterian Church.


In 1792, while governor of the Southwest Territory, Blount built the William Blount Mansion in Knoxville. The mansion is a National Historic Landmark.

Blount County, Tennessee, is named after Blount, as is the town of Blountville, Tennessee. Grainger County, Tennessee, and Maryville, Tennessee, are both named after his wife, Mary Grainger Blount. William Blount High School, William Blount Middle School, and Mary Blount Elementary School are named after Blount and his wife. (Blount County, Alabama, is named after his younger half-brother Willie Blount, later governor of Tennessee). Raleigh, North Carolina, has a street named after Blount going though the center of its downtown.

Blount was the father of William Grainger Blount (1784–1827), Tennessee state representative and U.S. Representative from Tennessee, 1815-1819. He was half-brother of Willie Blount (1767–1835), Governor of Tennessee, 1809-1815. He was brother to Thomas Blount (1759–1812), Revolutionary War veteran and U.S. Representative from North Carolina, 1793–1799, 1805–1809 and 1811-1812.


Willie Blount (April 18, 1768 – September 10, 1835) served as Governor of Tennessee from 1809 to 1815. He was the younger half-brother of William Blount, representative of North Carolina to the Continental Congress and governor of the Southwest Territory.


A native of North Carolina, Willie Blount studied at Princeton and Columbia. He later was admitted to the North Carolina bar. In 1790, he moved to the Southwest Territory and served as his half-brother's private secretary. When Tennessee was admitted as a state in 1796, he was one of its first judges, and in 1807 was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, 7th General Assembly, 1807-09; representing Montgomery and Stewart counties. He was elected governor in 1809, and served three terms, until 1815. During his governorship, he supported the War of 1812. He also sent Tennessee militia to Mississippi Territory when the latter was essentially defenseless before attacks by American Indians.

Blount attempted a political comeback in 1827, running for governor again, but was defeated by Sam Houston. He was a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1834, which drafted a new document to replace the one in effect since the state had been admitted in 1796, and which has many similarities to the 1870 constitution which is still in effect. One of the chief differences between the 1834 constitution and its predecessor was considerably greater powers being granted to the executive branch generally and the governor in particular than in the earlier document.

Blount County, Alabama is named in his honor for his willingness to send the Tennessee militia into a neighboring territory.

William Blount (March 26, 1749 – March 21, 1800) was an American statesman and land speculator, and a signer of the United States Constitution. He was a member of the North Carolina delegation at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and led efforts in North Carolina to ratify the Constitution in 1789. He subsequently served as the only governor of the Southwest Territory, and played a leading role in helping the territory gain admission to the Union as the State of Tennessee. He was selected as one of Tennessee's initial U.S. senators in 1796.[2]

Born to a prominent North Carolina family, Blount served as a paymaster during the American Revolutionary War. He was elected to the North Carolina legislature in 1781, where he remained in one role or another for most of the decade, the exception being two terms in the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1786. Blount pushed efforts in the legislature to open the lands west of the Appalachians to settlement. As Governor of the Southwest Territory, he negotiated the Treaty of Holston in 1791, bringing thousands of acres of Indian lands under U.S. control.[2]

An aggressive land speculator, Blount gradually acquired millions of acres in Tennessee and the trans-Appalachian west. His risky land investments left him in debt, and in the 1790s, he conspired with England to seize the Spanish-controlled Louisiana Territory in hopes of boosting western land prices. When the conspiracy was uncovered in 1797, he was expelled from the Senate, and became the first U.S. public official to face impeachment.[3] Blount nevertheless remained popular in Tennessee, and served in the state senate during the last years of his life



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William Blount, Gov. of the Southwest Territory and US Constitution signer's Timeline

March 26, 1749
Rosefield, Windsor, Bertie County, Province of North Carolina
New Bern, Craven County, North Carolina, United States
North Carolina, United States
TN, United States