On a single roll of microfilm are reproduced two volumes of final record books of the U.S. District Court for West Tennessee, 1803-1839, and for the Middle District of Tennessee, 1839-1850, both of which met at Nashville. In addition, a Land Claims Record for West Tennessee, 1807-1820, has been filmed. These records are part of Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group (RG) 21, and are housed in the Archives Branch of the Federal Archives and Records Center, Atlanta, Georgia.
Congress accepted Tennessee as a State on June 1, 1796 (1 Stat. 491), and provided the new State with one district court having both district and circuit court jurisdiction on January 31, 1797 (1 Stat. 496). Congress provided for four court terms per year, two in Nashville and two in Knoxville, This arrangement continued until 1801, when the State was divided into two judicial districts–East Tennessee and West Tennessee–with seats at Knoxville and Nashville, respectively.
In 1839, the third judicial district was created for Tennessee. The Western District now met at Jackson, the new Middle District met at Nashville, and the Eastern District met at Knoxville.
Throughout the period 1797-1850, only one Federal judgeship for the Tennessee Federal courts was authorized by Congress. John McNairy, the first judge, served from 1797 to 1833 and Morgan Brown from 1834 to 1853. Before 1807, cases appealed from district court decisions went directly to the U.S. Supreme Court; after that date the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court for the seventh circuit reviewed appeals at circuit court sessions in Tennessee.
Jurisdiction of the Courts
The jurisdiction of the Federal district and circuit courts was first defined by the Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 73). The district courts were primarily criminal, admiralty, and bankruptcy courts, with authority to hear certain actions brought by the United States. Most civil litigation was heard in the circuit courts, which also were given appellate jurisdiction from ‘the district courts, except that in Tennessee (as already noted) any appeals necessarily had to go directly to the Supreme Court until 1807.
The final record books, volumes 1 and 2, contain a record of actions filed from the opening to the closing of each case. Cases are entered in the books chronologically by date on which a case was closed. The documents copied here may include libels, complaints, indictments, pleas and answers, declarations, monitions, affidavits, demurrers, orders, bonds, subpoenas, writs, judgments, decrees, verdicts, executions, and other papers. All types of litigation that might be tried in a Federal district court are contained in these books, including law, equity, and criminal cases.
The majority of the cases in these two volumes are law and equity cases that involved suits for the collection of debts. Volume 2 includes some bankruptcy cases filed under the Bankruptcy Act of 1842. Volume 1 contains most of the chancery, or equity, cases because it covers the period when the Tennessee court was functioning as both a circuit and district court. Both volumes contain indexes arranged alphabetically by the initial letter of the plaintiff’s surname accompanied by the page number in the final record book at which the relevant case information begins.
The index can be found in both books. Images 11-12 for vol. 1, 1803-06, and images 569-572 for volume 2, 1806-1850. For convenience we have placed image copies of the index below in the gallery.
- Final record books of the U.S. District Court for West Tennessee, 1803-1839, images 10-302.
- Final record books of the U.S. District Court for Middle District of Tennessee, 1839-1850, images 303-572.
Index to Both Volumes
Related records in the Atlanta Archives Branch that have been microfilmed are the minute books for the district court seated at Nashville, M1213; the final record books for the circuit court seated at Nashville, M1212; and the minute books for the circuit court seated at Nashville, M1214. These publications cover the period from the establishment of the court to the Civil War. Most of the records generated by the circuit and district court sessions at Knoxville and Jackson for the period 1797-1865 have apparently been lost. A few survive, dating from 1852, but have not been microfilmed. Land records after 1820 are also missing. Volumes for the period from 1865 onward are reasonably intact for both circuit and district courts for all three districts. All National Archives holdings of the Tennessee Federal court records are housed in the Archives Branch in Atlanta.
Mary Ann Hawkins prepared these records for filming and wrote the introduction.
Final record books v. 1-2 1803-1850 (NARA Microfilm Publication M1215, 1 roll). Final Record Books of the U.S. District Court for West Tennessee, 1803-1839, and of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, 1839-1850. Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group (RG) 21. National Archives Branch, Atlanta, GA.
FamilySearch improperly assigns the Microfilm code for this film as M1233, it is actually M1215.