William Blount, United States senator and Governor of the Southwest Territory, was born on March 26, 1749 in Bertie County, son of Jacob and Barbara Blount and brother of John Gray Blount. As a member of one of the wealthiest, most respected families in North Carolina, Blount received an education at private academies in both North Carolina and Virginia. The family resided at Blount Hall.
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During the American Revolution, Blount served briefly as the paymaster of the 3rd North Carolina Continental regiment before resigning in 1778. He served six terms as a state representative and senator, before accepting a position with the Continental Congress, and later served both state conventions concerning adoption of the United States Constitution. Blount also supported the cession of the state’s western lands to the United States government, and became Governor of the “territory of the United States south of the Ohio River.”
From 1790 to 1796, Blount served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs and was instrumental in forging the 1791 Treaty of Holston with the Cherokee. The agreement provided the United States legal right to a large amount of land, some of which whites already had occupied. Blount helped found the state of Tennessee and chaired the convention that drafted the state’s first constitution in 1796. Blount College, the forerunner of the University of Tennessee, was named in his honor.
Upon admission of Tennessee into the Union, Blount was elected to the United States Senate. In 1797 he was found guilty of “a high misdemeanor, entirely inconsistent with his public trust and duty as Senator,” and was expelled from the Senate for having been involved in a scheme to incite the Creek and Cherokees to aid the British in conquering Spanish-held West Florida. An impeachment trial began in the House of Representatives, but Blount was acquitted before the Senate. Blount was elected a state senator in Tennessee and chosen as president at its first session in December 1797. The charges were subsequently dismissed.
Blount died in Knoxville, Tennessee on March 21, 1800, and is buried in the First Presbyterian Church Cemetery. He left a widow, Mary Moseley Grainger, and seven children.
William H. Masterson, William Blount (1954)
Buckner Melton, The First Impeachment: The Constitution's Framers and the Case of Senator William Blount (1998)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 182-183—sketch by Stanley J. Folmsbee
Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina (1905)
Biographical Dictionary of the American Congress (1928)
M. J. Wright, Some Account of the Life and Services of William Blount (1884)
William Blount Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville
William Blount (portrait by Washington B. Cooper, Tennessee Historical Society)