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Posted by: Honorable Dale Workman on Nov 16, 2010

Journal Issue Date: Dec 2010

Journal Name: December 2010 - Vol. 46, No. 12

Prior to the creation of separate territory or statehood, the laws of North Carolina controlled the area we now call Tennessee. The General Assembly of North Carolina, in the acts of 1777 Chapter 2, divided North Carolina into six Judicial Districts Wilmington, Newberry, Edenton, Halifax, Hillsborough and Salisbury.[1]

In Chapter 47 of the acts of 1785 North Carolina created a Superior Court of Law and Equity for a new District for Davidson County (the name precedes the creation of Tennessee as a state) named the Mero District. In 1788 the North Carolina General Assembly in Chapters 31 and 32 added Sumner and Tennessee counties to the Mero District.[2]

On December 22, 1789, North Carolina's second Cession Act offered the territory we now call Tennessee to the federal government and it became a separate federal territory.[3]

The Territorial Assembly at Knoxville with William Blount as Governor met on August 25, 1794 and divided, what would soon become the State of Tennessee into three Judicial Districts Washington, Hamilton and Mero.[4] A Superior Court of Law was in each district with three judges appointed by the Congress of the United States on July 13, 1787. The act continued the Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, presided over by a Justice of the Peace that had existed while a part of North Carolina.

The Congress of the United States admitted Tennessee into the Union on June 1, 1796.[5]

In 1806 Chapter 19 of the acts create a new District designated Robertson to be held in Clarksville with Robertson, Dickson, Montgomery and Stuart counties from the Mero district. The same chapter created the Winchester District in Carthage with Jackson, Smith and Wilson counties from the Mero district. The counties of Davidson, Sumner, Williamson and Rutherford constituted the remaining Mero District.

The General Assembly of the State of Tennessee in Chapter 48 the Acts of 1809 the established the Circuit Courts and a Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals.[6] There were five circuit courts for the state, with one judge in each circuit. The Act required that court be held twice annually in each county. The First Judicial Circuit contained Greene, Washington, Carter, Sullivan, Hawkins, Grainger, Claiborne and Campbell counties. The Second Judicial Circuit contained Cocke, Jefferson, Sevier, Blount, Knox, Anderson, Roane, Rhea and Bledsoe counties. The Third Judicial Circuit contained Smith, Warren, Franklin, Sumner, Overton, White and Jackson counties. The Fourth Judicial Circuit contained Davidson, Wilson, Rutherford, Williamson, Maury, Giles, Lincoln and Bedford counties. The Fifth Judicial Circuit contained Montgomery, Dickson, Hickman, Humphreys, Stewart and Robertson counties. Section 22 of the act abolished the Superior Court of Law and Equity.[7] (Shelby County was not created until 1819.[8]) 2010 is the 200th anniversary of the creation of Tennessee's Circuit Courts.

Section 23 of the act created a Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals of two judges, elected by both houses of the General Assembly, and one Circuit judge. The Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals heard writs of error from the Circuit Courts and met one time a year in Jonesborough, Knoxville, Carthage, Nashville and Clarksville. Section 25 of the act required that a circuit judge from designated districts would set on cases from other circuits.

The Acts of 1811 Chapter 72 Section 4 gave exclusive jurisdiction for equity cases to the Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals and divested equity jurisdiction from the Circuit Courts.[9] Section 16 of the act removed a circuit judge as a member of the court and created a third judge for the court. The Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals first divided its equity docket as a result of Chapters XII and XIV of the Acts of 1822.[10]
The separate Chancery Courts were created in 1836 with three Chancellors elected from the three Chancery Divisions.[11] The Eastern Division counties were divided into nine Chancery Districts: (1) Carter, Sullivan and Washington; (2) Greene; (3) Hawkins; (4) Grainger; Claiborne and Campbell; (5) Jefferson, Cocke and Sevier; (6) Anderson, Knox and Blount; (7) Morgan and Roane; (8) Bledsoe, Hamilton, Marion and Rhea; (9) McMinn and Monroe. (Loudon County was initially created as Christiana County iThe Middle Division counties were divided into 15 Chancery Districts: (1) Fentress, Overton and Jackson; (2) White and Warren; (3) Smith; (4) Wilson; (5) Rutherford; (6) Bedford; (7) Franklin; (8) Lincoln; (9) Giles and Lawrence; (10) Wayne and Hardin; (11) Maury; (12) Dickson, Humphreys and Hickman; (13) Stewart and Montgomery; (14) Robertson and Sumner; (15) Davidson and Williamson. The Western Division counties were divided into nine Chancery Divisions; (1) Weakley and Obion; (2) Dyer and Gibson; (3) Carroll and Benton; (4) Perry and Henderson; (5) Madison; (6) Haywood, Tipton and Lauderdale; (7) Fayette and Shelby; (8) Henry; (9) Hardeman and McNairy.

The first constitution of Tennessee adopted in February 1796, became effective upon admission to the Union.[12] A second constitution became effective on March 27, 1835.[13] The third Constitution of 1870 is published in Tenn. Code Ann..

The Code Commission Notes indicated that the provisions of Article VI of the Constitution were the same in all three constitutions.[14] The only change to the provisions in the notes was the 1978 repeal of Section 15 that provided for elections of Justices of the Peace and Constables. This notation is not correct. The Circuit and Chancery courts were only added to Article VI Sections 1 and 4 with the Constitution of 1870. The Supreme Court was only included in Section 1 in the 1835 Constitution.[15]


  1. Laws of Tennessee Scotts Edition Vol I 1715-1809 page 1565
  2. Id. page 402
  3. Tennessee Legal Research Handbook by Lewis Laska, 1977
  4. Laws of Tennessee Scotts Edition Vol I 1715-1809 page 457
  5. Laws of Tennessee Scotts Edition Vol I 1715-1809 Page 527
  6. Id. page 1148
  7. Id. page 1154
  8. Acts of 1819 II Chapter 218 page 606
  9. Laws of Tennessee Scotts Edition 1811-1820 page 10
  10. Acts of 1822 page 15 and 17
  11. Acts of 1835-1836 Chapter IV page 32
  12. Id. page 527
  13. Constitution of 1835 Acts of 1835-1836 page 10
  14. Code Commission Notes to the Preamble page 2 Vol. 1A Tenn. Code Ann.
  15. Acts of 1835-1836 page 10

JUDGE DALE WORKMAN serves the Circuit Court Judge Division 1 6th Judicial District (Knox County).