News & Events


            Many curious documents are found as we go through the loose courthouse records. Perhaps, the most curious of all, so far, was found recently among records recovered over the summer from other repositories. This is a small document printed in French and dated the 4th of January, 1793. It also bears the date “l’an 2. de la Republique”, that is “Year Two of the Republic”. This is an important clue. For this is the way the French counted years following the outbreak of revolution and the creation of the French Republic. It tells us we are looking at an actual document from the France of the French Revolution.

          At the time this document was distributed in Cherbourg, there was a great fear in France that England might attempt to overthrow the Republic and help reestablish the monarchy in France. In this event, Cherbourg, as one of the principal ports of France, would be on the front-line, lying as it did directly across the English Channel. Cherbourg’s citizens began constructing forts around the city to defend the harbor from potential English attack this same month.

            The document we found implores the citizenry of Cherbourg to provide great coats and shoes for those defending the city. It was the middle of a cold winter after all.  Other great events were happening that same January. In Paris, Louis XVI went on trial for his life and on January 21st, he lost his life to the guillotine. On the first of February, France declared war of Britain and Holland. Several months later a sea battle did take place within sight of the city between the British warship H.M.S. Crescent and the French vessel Reunion, with the French ship being captured. The wars started in 1793 between France and Britain would continue until Napoleon’s finale defeat at Waterloo in 1815!

          The great mystery about this document is how a document of the French Revolution ended up in the courthouse in Jonesborough over two hundred years ago. That remains a mystery for the moment.

            Below is a copy of the original document, as found in the archives, followed by a rough translation:

French Revolution doc (R)


You must have received, Brothers & Friends, a decree of the Republican Society of Cherbourg, inferred by the Patriots Gorsas & Carra, by which she invites all the Popular Societies, the Judicial Administrative Bodies to provide at least one coat & two pairs of shoes to our brave defenders; this invitation could have been warmly welcomed by François’.  The Society of our brothers and friends at Cherbourg, however, thought that my intervention would add to the prompt success of this honorable mark of fancy; and in spite of the intimate persuasion, or I flee, that it suffices for my fellow-citizens to participate in this good deed of calling me, I acquit myself of a duty that, in vain, modesty forbids me to retreat, and I add my vow to that of our worthy brothers and friends of the Republican Society of Cherbourg, of which I want to share the patriotic offering. Give me cordial greetings.



          The department’s microfilm collection was inaugurated on September 10th, 2019 when Lucy Gump of Johnson City donated a microfilm reader and 23 reels of microfilm. The microfilm includes important North Carolina land grants made in Tennessee in the 18th century, as well as film of the Wataugah Purchase book (deeds); indices to early deeds for Washington County (1783-1900) and Sullivan County (1781-1930); early Washington County deeds (1782-1836), Carter County deeds (1796-1843), and Sullivan County deeds (1775-1796); and early loose Washington County records for the period 1774-1881.

          Gump used the microfilmed records in her historical research, especially for her 1989 ETSU history thesis “Possessions and Patterns of Living in Washington County: the 20 Years Before Tennessee Statehood, 1777-1796.” By general consensus, this is one of the best pieces of historical scholarship produced at the university.

          The addition of microfilmed records expands the departments opportunities and resources for researchers. Go to the following link to find the collection guide: Microfilm Collection



            If something is missing, you try to recover it. That is what we have been doing in the archives for the past year. Beginning in July 2018, we began the effort to recover Washington County records that were no longer in the county’s custody. This has including seeking the return of county records that for whatever reason had gotten into private hands or various repositories. Under Tennessee law, public records always remain public records.

          The bulk of these county records were in three different repositories in two different states. There were records at Special Collections at the University of Tennessee and the Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection of the Knox County Public Library in Knoxville and at Special Collections in the Belk Library at Appalachian State University in Boone, N. C.

          In March 2019, the Washington County Public Records Commission authorized County Archivist Ned Irwin to recover any county records no longer in the county’s possession. With the full support of County Mayor Joe Grandy, the archives worked closely with Allyson Wilkinson, county staff attorney, in the recovery of the records. And we have been very successful. Records were voluntarily returned from the University of Tennessee (approximately 1,000 documents) in May; from Appalachian State University (24 documents) in June and August; and from McClung (10,732 documents) in August. All together from these and other sources, the archives has returned 11,786 documents to the county in 2019, a rather remarkable figure.

            These records are especially important for documenting the early history of Washington County and include records from the state of Franklin, slave documents, early Superior Court and Circuit Court cases, the Civil War, etc. Many topics are covered in these records regarding the social, cultural, civic, economic, and political history of the county, the region, and Tennessee. And, as Irwin points out, “we are finding many of these documents join many related documents already in the collection.”

          Having obtained the records from these public repositories, the archives is now focused on recovering any county records that remain in private hands. Anyone aware of such records is asked to contact Ned Irwin at (423)753-0393 or email him at Records can be returned anonymously. No questions will be asked. “We just want the records back home where they belong,” Irwin said.



Archived News Articles

August 14, 2019            18th Century Wills are now a Digital Collection 

July 17, 2019                 Early County Court Judicial Court Cases Now Available

July 1, 2019                   Significant Book Collection Donated to County Archives

April 9, 2019                 Annex Work Completed in 2019

February 22, 2019      “Passport to History” Brochure Published

February 21, 2019      Friends of the Archives Receive Donation

February 19, 2019      Genealogy Society Funds Purchase of Supreme Court Cases

January 22, 2019        Friends of the Archives Receive Kozsuch Donation

January 11, 2019        Watauga Association Records are now Digital

2018 News & Events Archive

2017 News & Events Archive