IN THE BEGINNING….
The area that is now Rhea County was originally occupied by the Cherokee and ceded by treaty. Large areas of land were also acquired by North Carolina land grants. As early as 1760, Elisha Weldon (Walding, Wallen, Wallins, Walling, Walden) visited the area. In 1768 Thomas Hutchins made a survey of the Tennessee River. Early Rhea County deed books indicate that a group of men made a trip to the Muscle Shoals area in 1783 and may have filed for warrants on the land when they returned to North Carolina.
The Tellico Treaty of 1805 with the Cherokee extended the boundaries to a line due west from the mouth of the Hiwassee River. From 1805 to 1807, the area that is now Rhea County was in Roane County. Before that, it was part of Knox, Hawkins and Sullivan Counties. Most of the North Carolina land grants were in the area previously known as Hawkins County.
In 1803 and 1806, the Hiwassee and Sail Creek Indian schools were established by the Reverend Gideon Blackburn, followed closely by the building of the Hiwassee Garrison and Indian Agency which was managed by the Indian Agent, Return J. Meigs. An 1809 List of Officers and Regulars in Captain Thomas J. VanDyke’s Company has survived the ravages of time and gives us the names of early immigrants to the area. In 1816 the garrison was moved to a new site due to a conflict over the ownership of the land. Charles McClung filed a suit against Meigs claiming that he had purchased the land in 1807 from John Donelson (who had been granted the land by North Carolina in 1788).
As in other counties, much of the land acquired by early settlers was a result of laws passed by the Tennessee State Legislature 1806-1809 which allowed a settler to claim the land he was living on as well as other unclaimed lands. To learn the names of some of these early settlers, look at the 1808 Tax list.
After the county was formed in 1807, many small boundary changes continued to be made. These changes returned a small portion of Rhea to Roane in 1815. Other changes were made between Rhea and Bledsoe (1821), Hamilton (1821 and 1833), and McMinn (1833). In some cases, Legislative acts changed boundary lines to accommodate citizens with land in two counties. In 1836 Meigs County was created from Rhea.