Compiled by Jack Neely for the Knoxville History Project.
This weekend, just in time for Knoxville’s 225th birthday, is the opening of an unusual new exhibit at the University of Tennessee’s McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture, on Circle Park. It’s called “Knoxville Unearthed: Archaeology in the Heart of the Valley.” Featured will be artifacts rendered from scholarly archaeological digs in Knoxville, ranging from remnants of the earliest settlers to the early 20th century.
It will include some interesting oddities, like Knoxville founder James White’s Masonic watch fob, discovered at the site of his country home in what’s now East Knoxville, as well as a surprising amount of imported Chinese porcelain of a quality usually found only in urban sites on the East coast—and Native American decorative items, like brass “tinklers,” indicating White’s enjoyment of trade with the Cherokee. Also included are items from slave quarters, like those of the Joseph Mabry, Sr., family who lived along Kingston Pike in the 1820s. For unknown reasons, the Mabry slaves had quantities of expensive decorative ceramics.
The exhibit brings Knoxville subterranean history all the way into the early 20th century, with artifacts indicating advances in sanitation (like clay sewer pipes from the 1880s), architectural remnants, and bottles, showing the progressive advances in sealing containers for foods, medicines and carbonated drinks. The exhibit will present the artifacts within a larger context of Knoxville history and archaeological science, with large maps and photographs.
Accompanying the exhibit will be a series of talks about related subjects. On Tuesday, Sept. 20, at 7:00, the museum’s curator of archaeology, Tim Baumann, and Charles Faulkner, author and semi-retired professor of anthropology, will speak in detail about their exhibit, “Knoxville Unearthed: Archaeology in the Heart of the Valley.” The talk is free to the public.
Can You Dig It? Archaeology and Fossil Day is Sunday, Oct. 16, from 1:30 to 5:00. Visitors are invited to bring artifacts for identification by experts. Archaeologists will be on hand, as well as paleontologists and geologists, as well as games and activities for children.
On Sunday, Oct. 30, at 2:00 p.m., Jack Neely, executive director of the Knoxville History Project, will speak on the subject “Subterranean Knoxville: The buried narrative of a distracted city.”
On Sunday, Nov. 6, Kim Trent, executive director of Knox Heritage, will speak at the museum on the subject of Historic Preservation in Knoxville.
The exhibit runs through Jan. 8. For more information, see mcclungmuseum.utk.edu.
Some artifacts in the exhibit are from Marble Springs, which is hosting, on Sept. 17th and 18th, its annual family-oriented John Sevier Days Living History Weekend. Located just off John Sevier Highway on the south side of town, the John Sevier homestead, reconstructed on its original site with some historic cabins, is where Gov. John Sevier lived in his later years, just over two centuries ago.
John Sevier (1745-1815) for whom Sevierville and Sevier County are named, was born in Northern Virginia, the son of a immigrant from England who had previously lived in Baltimore, who was himself son of a French-born refugee whose last name was Xavier, anglicized to Sevier.
Tennessee’s John Sevier was prominent in regional history for more than 40 years, from the pre-Revolutionary Watauga Association, an early experiment in self-government, to his heroic role fighting the British at the decisive Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780. In the days when Knoxville was the state’s capital, John Sevier served as Tennessee’s first governor.
Gov. Sevier once planned to live in downtown Knoxville, but moved his family to this rural site, where he lived for the rest of his life. The restless Sevier never retired. In his final years, he represented his district in U.S. Congress.
Sevier died at 70, on an expedition surveying the southern wilderness recently secured in the War of 1812, but not yet known as Alabama. His grave, once believed lost, was discovered decades after his death, and his remains were moved to Knoxville’s courthouse lawn.
Sevier’s 271st birthday is Sept. 23. The Sevier Living History weekend celebrates the life and times of the Sevier family. The weekend will include open-hearth cooking, spinning and weaving, blacksmithing, and demonstrations of period weapons, both those of the settlers and of the Cherokee. For more information, see marblesprings.net.
Featured Photo: This 1790s China teapot, believed to be of English origin, features an architecturally whimsical Chinese scene. It was found in the excavation of a plot on Gay Street near Church Avenue, the site of the capacious office of federal agent Col. David Henley, who hosted the three-week Constitutional Convention of 1796. The broken pot was buried beneath downtown Knoxville for about 200 years. Did it witness the birth of the state of Tennessee? Image courtesy of McClung Museum of Natural History and Culture University of Tennessee.
The Knoxville History Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to the promotion of and education about the history of Knoxville, presents this column each week to raise awareness of the themes, personalities, and stories of our unique city.
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