East Tennessee State University
Archives of Appalachia
Box 70295
Johnson City, Tennessee 37614

E-mail: archives@etsu.edu
Telephone: (423) 439-4338



Washington County Court Records

Collection Numbers:

Accession No. 18; L. C. No. MS 85-183

Physical Description:

296 linear feet
368 volumes
7 photographs
6 negatives


Washington County


Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University


Provenance: The Washington County Court Records were placed in the Sherrod Library in 1958 and transferred to the Archives of Appalachia on February 15, 1979. The records were opened for research in September 1983.

Access: The collection is open for research.


Washington County, Tennessee's first county, was created in 1777 by the North Carolina legislature as Washington County, N. C. Within its boundaries was most of present-day Tennessee.

The new county was organized with a Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (County Court). The court of pleas and quarter sessions exercised judicial, administrative, and legislative functions: electing county officials, appointing jurors, constructing and maintaining county buildings, overseeing the administration of estates, directing the building and maintenance of roads and bridges, providing support for the poor and orphans, binding apprentices, levying taxes, probating documents, and performing other functions designated by the general assembly.

While the county court held original and appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases, the court did not have jurisdiction in equity cases. A Superior Court of Law was reestablished in each of the six North Carolina districts to hear criminal cases. The superior court with jurisdiction over Washington County met at Salisbury, N. C. (1777-82), at Morganton, N. C. (1782-84), and at Jonesborough from 1784. No provision was made for equity jurisdiction until specifically given to the district superior courts in 1782.

From 1784 to 1788, Washington County fell into disputed jurisdiction between North Carolina and the de facto state government of Franklin. Under this latter government, the county's judicial system consisted of the Supreme Court of Law and Equity, County Court, and Superior Court. With the demise of the Franklin movement, Washington County returned fully to the control of North Carolina government.

The state legislature voted to cede the state's western lands, including Washington County, to the federal government in 1789. The following year, Congress established the "Territory of the United States, South of the River Ohio" (Southwest Territory), which included what subsequently became the state of Tennessee. Washington County, remained part of this territorial government until Tennessee statehood in 1796. Under the Southwest Territory, Washington County kept the inferior Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, and a Superior Court of Law and Equity was established.

At the time of statehood, Tennessee's judicial system was largely borrowed from North Carolina. Washington County's Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions and Superior Court of Law and Equity continued. Much local power of jurisdiction was left to Justices of the Peace. In addition to serving on the county court, justices could perform marriages, issue warrants and subpoenas, and conduct and levy fines in certain judicial proceedings related to criminal and quasi-criminal matters, including issues of public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.

Jurisdiction in the court system often was ill-defined. Superior Court had equity jurisdiction, original jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases, and appellate jurisdiction in cases begun in the courts of pleas and quarter sessions. The Court Pleas and Quarter Sessions had limited law and equity jurisdiction, together with administrative functions noted earlier, with the additional responsibility beginning in the 1820s of administering common (public) schools.

Superior Court was abolished in 1809 and replaced by Circuit Court. At this time, the state was also divided into five judicial circuits, with Washington County being included in the First Circuit. Each circuit had one judge who held court annually in each county of his circuit. All criminal cases were moved to Circuit Court. Circuit Court had the same jurisdiction as the Superior Court in equity cases; exclusive jurisdiction in criminal cases; and appellate jurisdiction in criminal cases. Subsequent modifications in 1811 gave the Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals (forerunner of the state Supreme Court) exclusive jurisdiction of all equity cases arising in Circuit Court, and in 1813 gave Circuit Court concurrent jurisdiction with the Supreme Court in equity cases.

Beginning in 1822, Chancery Court, as part of the circuit court system, began to be held once a year for two weeks in the place where Supreme Court was held. Rogersville was the site of the First District Chancery Court. In 1824, Chancery Court began meeting twice annually in each circuit. Three years later, the state was organized in two chancery divisions, with the Eastern division consisting of all counties with district chancery courts held in Rogersville, Greeneville, Kingston, Carthage and McMinnville. Washington County's chancery then met at Greeneville.

The 1834 state constitution created a civil district system of county administration, with justices of the peace elected to the county court from these geographic divisions within the county. The state itself was divided into three grand divisions: Eastern, Middle, and Western, with chancery court districts within these divisions. The Eastern First District was comprised of Carter, Sullivan, and Washington Counties, and court was held at Jonesborough the first Monday in February and September.

After 1834 changes to the state's judicial system were relatively minor. The 1853 constitution stipulated that justices of the peace be elected, not appointed by the legislature. The term of office was also changed from life tenure to six years. An 1877 judicial act gave chancery court concurrent jurisdiction with circuit court in all civil cases, except for injuries involving unliquidated damages. Chancery often was the favored court, since appeals could be made directly from it to the Supreme Court.

Records related to various neighboring counties may be found in the Washington County records for the period when these later counties were a part of Washington. Created from Washington County were the following: Sullivan (1779), Greene (1783), Carter (1796), and Unicoi (1875).



Sevier, John, 1778-85 Allison, David, 1788-91
Sevier, James, 1785-88 Russell, Andrew, 1791-92
Tipton, John, 1787 Roane, Archibald, 1792-93
Gourley, Thomas, 1787-90 Carter, Landon, 1793-94
Sevier, James 1790-1822 Carter, John, 1796-1806
Stephenson, 1822-24 Anderson, James V., 1806-10
Sevier, James, 1824-36
Greer, Samuel, 1836-44


Smith, William H., 1844-56
Hoss, Henry, 1856-60 Anderson, James V., 1810-36
Conley, J. A., 1860-66 Ryland, John, 1836-48
Grisham, 1866-78 Embree, Worley, 1848-52
Shipley, E. A., 1878-86 Crawford, John H., 1852-61
Leab, Jacob, 1886- Armstrong, E., 1864-66
Deakens, James E., 1866-70


Wheeler, C., 1870-74
Luttrell, S. S., 1874-78
Lucky, Seth J. W., 1836-42 Mathes, W. E., 1878-86
Deaderick, J. F., 1842-65 Cooper, Lewis, 1886-
Hoss, Henry, 1865-70
Swingle, B. G., 1870-82
Bowman, A. B., 1882-?
Young, W. F.,



The Washington County Court Records contains administrative records of the county government; court dockets, minutes and registers; and legal documents, correspondence and exhibits pertaining to cases in superior, circuit, chancery and county courts as well as under individual justices of the peace. Although this collection does not contain a complete set of dockets for the various courts, additional volumes are available at the Washington County courthouse in Jonesborough. Records of the supreme court of errors and appeals were removed and accessioned as a separate group.

The court records span from 1780 to 1960 but the largest volumes of documents are in two periods: 1800-1860 and 1870-1930. The group contains some records of the State of Franklin and the Civil War period; however, there records are in smaller numbers and are likely incomplete. Few records are included after the 1930s.

The records reflect the operation and activities of the courts, county government, local individuals and area businesses. Chancery court records provide useful information on the settlement of estates and the study of family history. The county court records give some insight into how the county government operated in caring for the poor, supervising the schools and county offices, and maintaining public properties.




Subgroup A, Superior Court of Law and Equity Records, 1785-1811, Boxes 1-5.
  Series A-I, Volumes, Volumes 1-4, Box 1.
  Series A-II, Judicial Records, Boxes 2-5.

Subgroup B, Circuit Court Records, 1801-1950, Boxes 1-142.
  Series B-I, Bound Volumes, Volumes 5-206 (including boxes 1-9).
  Subseries B-I-A, Civil, Volumes 5-58.
  Subseries B-I-B, Civil and Criminal, Volume 59-119.
  Subseries B-I-C, Criminal, Volumes 120-206.
  Series B-II, Civil/Criminal Records, Boxes 10-114.
  Subseries B-II-A, Numerical Files, Boxes 10-68.
  Subseries B-II-B, Alphabetical Files, Boxes 69-72.
  Subseries B-II-C, Chronological Files, Boxes 73-114.
  Series B-III, Civil Case Records, Boxes 115-126.
  Series B-IV, Criminal Case Records, Boxes 127-142.

Subgroup C, Chancery Court Records, 1830-1934, Boxes 1-100.
  Series C-I, Bound Volumes, Volumes 207-229 (including box 1).
  Subseries C-I-A, Administrative, Volumes 207-211.
  Subseries C-I-A, Case, Volumes 212, 218-223, 224, 227-230 (Box 1).
  Series C-II, Administrative Records, Box 2.
  Series C-III, Case Records, 1831-1934, Boxes 3-100.
  Subseries C-III-A, Alphabetical Records, Boxes 3-80.
  Subseries C-III-B, Numerical Records, Boxes 81-100.

Subgroup D, County Court Records, 1779-1950, Boxes 1-54.
  Series D-I, Bound Volumes, Volumes 230-236, (including Box 1).
  Series D-II, Judicial Records, Boxes 2-23.
  Series D-III, Administrative Records, Boxes 24-43.
  Series D-IV, Education Records, Boxes 44-47.
  Series D-V, Election Records, Boxes 48-54.

Subgroup E, Justice of the Peace Records, 1790-1965, Volumes 237-281, Boxes 1-25.
  Series E-I, Bound Volumes, Volumes 237-281, (including Box 1).
  Subseries E-I-A, Civil Cases, Volumes 237-256.
  Subseries E-I-B, Civil and Criminal Cases, Volumes 257-266.
  Subseries E-I-C, Criminal Cases, Volumes 267-281.
  Series E-II, Civil Case Records, Boxes 2-3.
  Series E-III, Civil/Criminal Case Records, Boxes 4-21.
  Series E-IV, Criminal Case Records, Boxes 22-25.

Subgroup F, Miscellaneous Records, 1794-1944, Volumes 282-368, Boxes 300-303.
  Series F-I, Juvenile Court, 1916-1918, Volume 282.
  Series F-II, Jury Commission, 1927-1944, Volumes 283-284.
  Series F-III, Exhibits, 1800-1938, Volumes 285-368.
  Series F-IV, Miscellaneous Files, 1794-1938, Boxes 300-301.
  Series F-V, Damaged Documents, various dates, Boxes 302-303.

Subgroup G, MISCELLANEOUS JUDICAL DOCUMENTS, 1777-1928, Boxes 1-8.

Constable Bonds


Important subjects covered in the collection include:

County government--Tennessee--Washington County--Records and correspondence
Court records--Tennessee--Washington County
Courts--Tennessee--Washington County
Crawford, John H.
Crime--Tennessee--Washington County
Decedents' estates--Tennessee--Washington County
Divorce--Tennessee--Washington County
Justices of the peace--Tennessee--Washington County
School boards--Tennessee--Washington County
Tennessee. Chancery Court (Washington County)
Tennessee. Circuit Court (Washington County)
Tennessee. County Court (Washington County)
Tennessee. Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions (Washington County)
Tennessee, East--History
Tennessee. Superior Court of Law and Equity (Washington District)
Washington County (Tenn.)--History

Top of Page