Within months of the official chartering of Hamilton County by the Tennessee General Assembly, then-President James Monroe visited its most prominent site, the Brainerd Mission, during a tour of the Southwestern states and territories.
While the majority of citizens are familiar with three of the members of the "Virginia Dynasty," the four Virginians who served as president during the early years of the nation, few can offer any information regarding the fourth member, James Monroe, other than a mention of the Monroe Doctrine. And that lack of recognition is somewhat understandable when one considers the historical significance of the first three Virginians.
George Washington reluctantly had agreed to become the new nation's first president following his role as commander in chief of the Continental forces during the Revolutionary War, establishing many of the founding principles associated with our government. After John Adams' one term as president, the Virginians returned with the election of philosopher-scholar Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, who served from 1801 until 1809, was succeeded by his secretary of state, James Madison. Madison, considered the "Father of the Constitution" who provided scholars with his copious notes documenting the Constitutional Convention, would himself serve two terms.
James Monroe, who would later spend the night at the Brainerd Mission, dropped out of the College of William and Mary before his 18th birthday to fight in the American Revolution. By 1776, he became an officer in the Continental Army, later being severely wounded during the Battle of Trenton. He served as U. S. senator from Virginia, minister to France, three terms as Virginia's governor, the chief negotiator of the Louisiana Purchase and, during the War of 1812, as both secretary of state and secretary of war, the only person in our history to have simultaneously held two Cabinet positions.
He would be sworn in as president on March 4, 1817, in the first inaugural ceremony outside the U. S. Capitol, with a crowd of more than 8,000 people in attendance.
Less than two years later, President Monroe left Washington, D.C., for a Southern tour. By early spring of 1819, he and his small entourage were crisscrossing Georgia, with a final stop at the Spring Place Mission in Chatsworth. He visited the most prosperous plantation in the Cherokee Nation, owned by influential Cherokee leader James Vann.
A notation regarding his visit was included in the daily logs kept by the Moravian missionaries living at the mission. According to Brother John Gambold's note, "On May 25, I had the pleasure of seeing the President of the United States for a minute. He had arrived the evening before in the company of General Gaines and his wife and two young gentlemen, during heavy rain I invited him to come to us for breakfast. He said he regretted not being able to accept this invitation, because he would be glad to see our school and assured me he would always take pleasure in furthering the well-being of the Cherokees in every way possible, and wished us God's blessings "
Two days later, the president would appear at the Brainerd Mission, established two years earlier as an educational institution for the Eastern Cherokees. According to the journal kept by the missionaries, Monroe " was pleased to express his approbation of the plan of instruction." The missionaries had "just put up and were finishing a log cabin for the use of the girls. He [the president] said that such buildings were not good enough and advised that we make it a good two-story house, with brick and stone chimneys, glass windows and that it be done at public expense. He also observed that after this was done, it might perhaps be thought best to build another of the same description for the boys." He then donated $1,000 to the work of the mission before departing for Huntsville, Alabama, and the continuation of a tour back to Murfreesboro and Nashville that, as covered by a Washington newspaper, considered the president as having passed "from the abode of civilized man, through the depths of our Southern forests to the borders of Tennessee."
As Tennessee approaches its 225th birthday, President Monroe's visit to Chattanooga, with an entourage of less than five people, remains a historical high point.
Linda Moss Mines, the Chattanooga and Hamilton County historian, is a member of the Tennessee Historical Commission and is regent, Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR.
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