Fentress County

Fentress County was formed on November 28, 1823, from portions of Morgan, Overton and White counties. The resulting county was named for James Fentress (1763–1843), who served as speaker of the state house, chairman of Montgomery County Court, and commissioner to select seats for Haywood, Carroll, Gibson and Weakley counties in West Tennessee.

Fentress County was the site of several saltpeter mines. Saltpeter is the main ingredient of gunpowder and was obtained by leaching the earth from local caves. The largest mine was in York Cave, near the Wolf River Post Office. At one time, twenty-five large leaching vats were in operation in this cave. According to Barr (1961) this cave was mined during the Civil War. Buffalo Cave near Jamestown was also a major mine with twelve leaching vats. Manson Saltpeter Cave in Big Indian Creek Valley was a smaller operation with four leaching vats. These caves may also have been mined during the War of 1812, as saltpeter mining was widespread in Kentucky and Tennessee during that era.

In the runup to the American Civil War, when Tennessee Governor Harris asked the State Legislature for a vote of secession, the two representatives from Fentress County (Reese T. Hildreth and R. H. Bledsoe) voted for secession. Nevertheless, in Tennessee’s Ordinance of Secession referendum on June 8, 1861, Fentress County voted by a margin of 651 to 128 to remain in the Union. However, earlier on February 9, 1861, Fentress County voters had voted to hold a secession convention by a very narrow margin of 334 to 325, becoming the only county that voted for the convention in February but to remain in the Union in June. Fentress was the only Middle Tennessee county represented at the pro-Union East Tennessee Convention.

Alvin York (1887–1964), a hero at the Meuse-Argonne Offensive during World War I, was born and lived in Fentress County. He established the Alvin C. York Agricultural Institute in Jamestown in 1924. York’s house and farm are part of Sgt. Alvin C. York State Historic Park in Pall Mall.


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