Our History

Tennessee Starts Here

       Rocky Mount held a significant role in the starting of Tennessee. After a failed attempt at creating a state directly following the War for Independence, known as the State of Franklin, the territory needed protection and leadership. President George Washington appointed William Blount to be governor for the newly developed Southwest Territory, which spanned from the Allegheny mountains to the Mississippi River. Blount moved from North Carolina to William Cobb’s home, Rocky Mount, in 1790. William Blount’s stay at Rocky Mount made it the Capitol and Headquarters of the Southwest Territory until his move to Knoxville in 1792.

       Many censuses were written from Rocky Mount, as well as meetings that would lead to the creation of treaties with the local Natives. These treaties were created to gain land and safety for incoming settlers to help build up the population, so that the territory would qualify to become a state. Tennessee finally became a state on June 1, 1796, making it the 16th state of the Union.

Before Tennessee Was Tennessee,
it was the Southwest Territory.

Rocky Mount
The Cobb-Massengill Home
Built 1770 - 1772

First Capitol of the Territory of the United States West of the Allegheny Mountains and South of the River Ohio. (1790 - 1792)

William Cobb brought his family from North Carolina and built his two-story log home in the year 1770 and completed it in 1772. During the Revolutionary War, John Sevier called for volunteers in September 1780. Responding to the call to arms, William, William Jr., Pharaoh, Jerry, and Arthur Cobb answered to aid in the hunt to find the British officer Patrick Ferguson. William and Pharaoh supplied the Overmountain Men with gunpowder, horses, blankets, and food for their journey to the Battle of King’s Mountain – where the American Forces won a great victory.

There was a push by many settlers to split away from North Carolina in the year 1783.These individuals attempted to form their own state and named it Franklin, after Benjamin Franklin, and elected John Sevier as governor. The Lost State of Franklin was never recognized by the Federal government and was dissolved (reverting to North Carolina). Following the State of Franklin, the western lands of North Carolina were permanently ceded from the state in the year 1790. The land that William Cobb had settled was in this expanse of land which became known as the Territory South of the River Ohio, or the Southwest Territory.

William Cobb mostly kept himself above local politics, which seemed to make his home an ideal spot to house the Governor of the Southwest Territory, William Blount. Blount was appointed governor by President George Washington and lived with the Cobb family from 1790 until 1792, making Rocky Mount the first Territorial Capitol of the Southwest Territory, which later became the State of Tennessee in 1796.

William Cobb and his wife, Barsheba, moved west to Bean’s Station in 1795. They left Rocky Mount to their daughter, Penelope, who had married Hal Massengill. Rocky Mount stayed in the family, passed down through the generations until 1958. Over the years, the log house has been modernized several times. The logs were covered with clapboard siding, and the original shingles had tin roofing over them. The original structure remained mostly intact beneath these exterior changes.

Pauline DeFriece, cousin of the owner of Rocky Mount, John Massengill, believed that the building should be preserved by the state and be opened to the public as a showplace to the memory of the early settlers of the region. She set in motion the chain of events that lead to the purchase of Rocky Mount by the state of Tennessee. She also established the Rocky Mount Historical Association, the organization that maintains and operates the site to this day.

Rocky Mount opened to the public with few visitor services on April 1, 1962. A small Visitor Center was built with space for a receptionist, 5000 square feet of gallery space and a caretaker’s apartment was added in the mid-1960s. A separate home for a
caretaker was built in 1975 and the visitor center expanded to include a museum store in 1979. In 1990 a 175-seat auditorium with video output, library, and 4 classrooms were added.

The historic site was also expanded to include a kitchen, springhouse and slave cabin, barn, orchard and gardens to enhance the living history atmosphere of the Cobb farm.


• 1769-1772: William Cobb settled on the Watauga river and built a large log home called Rocky Mount
• 1790-1792: Rocky Mount hosts the capital of the Southwest Territory with Gov. William Blount as the Cobb’s guest
• 1795: William and Barsheba Cobb move west, transferring Rocky Mount to their daughter Penelope Massengill.
• 1795-1958 Rocky Mount is passed down through the Massengill family (descendants of William Cobb)
• 1958-1962 John Michael Massengill transfers Rocky Mount to the State of Tennessee. His cousin Pauline DeFriece arranges the transfer, oversees renovation, and forms the Rocky Mount Historical Association
• 1962 Rocky Mount State Historic Site, including historic Rocky Mount, reconstructed outbuildings and visitor center opens for public visitation.

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