Joseph McMinn

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Joseph McMinn
Portrait of McMinn by Rembrandt Peale
4th Governor of Tennessee
In office
September 27, 1815 – October 1, 1821
Preceded byWillie Blount
Succeeded byWilliam Carroll
Speaker of the Tennessee Senate
In office
Preceded byJames White
Succeeded byThomas Henderson
Personal details
Born(1758-06-22)June 22, 1758
West Marlborough Township, Pennsylvania[2]
DiedOctober 17, 1824(1824-10-17) (aged 66)
Calhoun, Tennessee
Resting placeShiloh Presbyterian Cemetery, Calhoun
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)Hannah Cooper (1785–1811; her death)
Rebecca Kincade (1812–1815; her death)
Nancy Williams (1816–1821; separation)[3][4]

Joseph McMinn (June 22, 1758 – October 17, 1824) was an American politician who served as Governor of Tennessee from 1815-21. A veteran of the American Revolution, he had previously served in the legislature of the Southwest Territory (1794-96), and as Speaker of the Tennessee Senate (1805-11).

Following his term as governor, he served as an agent to the Cherokee for the United States government.[5]

Early life[edit]

McMinn was born in West Marlborough Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, and was one of ten children.[4] He obtained only a limited rural education, and even in his later years would be described as a "rustic frontiersman."[4] Though raised as a Quaker, he joined the Continental Army during the American Revolution.[5]

In 1786, McMinn moved to Hawkins County, Tennessee, where he had purchased a farm. In 1792, Southwest Territory governor William Blount appointed McMinn justice of the peace for Hawkins County,[6] and McMinn represented Hawkins County in the territorial legislature from 1794 to 1796.[5] He also served as an officer in the territorial militia, eventually rising to the rank of brigade commander.[6]


McMinn was a delegate to the 1796 constitutional convention and helped write the state constitution that came into effect when Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796.[5] He was chosen to deliver a copy of the completed document to the federal government in Philadelphia.[4] He served in the Tennessee Senate from 1797 to 1801, and from 1803 to 1811, and was Speaker of the Senate from 1805 to 1811.[1][6]

In 1815, McMinn ran for governor against four other prominent state politicians: Senator Jesse Wharton, Congressman Robert Weakley, former speaker of the state house Robert Foster, and fellow state constitutional convention delegate Thomas Henderson. Though his opponents assailed him in the press, McMinn won the election with a plurality of over 15,000 of the 37,000 votes cast. He was reelected in 1817, again defeating Foster, and elected to a third term in 1819, defeating Enoch Parsons.[4]

While governor, McMinn concentrated on peaceful relationships with Native Americans in order to ease the way for more white settlement, particularly to the west. The Chickasaw Purchase Treaty, or Western Purchase, in which most of what is now West Tennessee was acquired, was accomplished during his tenure as governor. Fourteen new counties were created.[5] The Calhoun Treaty (or Hiwassee Purchase), in which the United States acquired a portion of southeastern Tennessee, was also negotiated during his tenure.[7]

Following the Panic of 1819, McMinn called a joint session of the state legislature in June 1820, which voted to establish a state bank that would provide low-interest loans. This agitated many of McMinn's fellow East Tennesseans, who had for years been complaining about lack of state appropriations for internal improvements, namely navigational improvements on the upper Tennessee River. The legislature used state-owned lands from the Hiwassee Purchase to provide financial backing for the new bank.[7]

Upon his retirement as governor due to the term limits in the 1796 constitution that he had helped to draft, he returned to his farm in Hawkins County. In 1823, he moved to a farm along the Hiwassee River near Calhoun, Tennessee, and served as an agent for the federal government at the nearby Cherokee Agency until the time of his death.[5][5]

Family life and legacy[edit]

McMinn married his first wife, Anna Cooper, in 1785, and they had one daughter, Jane. Following the death of his first wife, McMinn married Rebecca Kincade. She died in January 1815, and his only child, Jane, died two weeks later.

In 1816, he married Nancy Glasgow Williams, the daughter of disgraced North Carolina Secretary of State James Glasgow, formerly married to Willoughby Williams, a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives.[8] This marriage ended in a controversial separation and a failed attempt at divorce in 1821.[3][4]

In 1942, a portrait of McMinn that had been painted by noted artist Rembrandt Peale in 1796 was discovered in Philadelphia. McMinn apparently posed for the portrait during his visit to the city to deliver the newly written Tennessee state constitution to the federal government. The Tennessee Historical Society purchased the painting for the state.[2]

McMinn County, Tennessee, and the town of McMinnville, Tennessee, in Warren County, are named in Joseph McMinn's honor.[5] William T. Newby, the founder of McMinnville, Oregon, named the city after his hometown of McMinnville, Tennessee.

McMinn joined the Presbyterian Church late in life, and was buried in an unmarked grave at the Shiloh Presbyterian Cemetery in Calhoun. In 1880, his namesake McMinn County attempted to have his grave reinterred in its county seat of Athens, but an eccentric preacher named R.J.M. Only, who was the only person who knew the grave's location, refused to reveal the location. After the county agreed not to move the grave, Only revealed the location, and a large marker was placed upon it.[9]


  1. ^ a b Historical Constitutional Officers of Tennessee, 1796 – Present, Territory South of the River Ohio, 1790 – 1796, Tennessee State Library and Archives website; retrieved September 18, 2012.
  2. ^ a b Elbert Watson, David Sowell, Index to the Governor Joseph McMinn Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives website, 1964, 1988; retrieved September 18, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Jeannette Tillotson Acklen, Tennessee Records, Bible Records and Marriage Bonds (Nashville: 1933). Transcribed at Retrieved: September 19, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Phillip Langsdon, Tennessee: A Political History (Franklin, Tenn.: Hillsboro Press, 2000), pp. 49–59.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h John Thweatt, "Joseph McMinn", Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2010; retrieved September 18, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c Daily Post Athenian: Bicentennial Edition, 1976 1B, transcribed by Bill Bigham at Retrieved: September 19, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Stanley Folmsbee, Sectionalism and Internal Improvements in Tennessee, 1796–1845 (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1939), pp. 27–33.
  8. ^ Zella Armstrong, Some Tennessee Heroes of the Revolution: Compiled from Pension Statements, Genealogical Publishing Com, 2009, p. 117 [1]
  9. ^ C. Stephen Byrum, McMinn County (Memphis, Tenn: Memphis State University Press, 1984), pp. 14–15.

Further reading[edit]

  • Beard, William (1942). "Joseph McMinn: Tennessee's Fourth Governor." Tennessee Historical Quarterly, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 54–66.
  • Murphey, Edwin (1915). "Joseph McMinn, Governor of Tennessee, 1815-1821: The Man and His Times." Tennessee Historical Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 3–16.

External links[edit]

  • Joseph McMinn at Find a Grave
  • National Governors Association
  • McMinn, Joseph. "Communication in the [Tennessee] Senate, 1815 Nov. 11 / Jos[eph] McMinn". Southeastern Native American Documents, 1730-1842. Tennessee State Library and Archives. Retrieved February 21, 2018.
  • Governor Joseph McMinn Papers, 1815 - 1821, Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Political offices
Preceded by
Willie Blount
Governor of Tennessee
1815 - 1821
Succeeded by
William Carroll