Precious Washington County ‘Deed Book A’ to return home after 125 years


WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL)- A treasure trove of historical records is returning to Washington County after 125 years.

On Tuesday afternoon, an irreplaceable handwritten copy of the first property deed book is scheduled to come home for Tennessee’s 225th anniversary of statehood celebration.

“Because Washington County is the first county in Tennessee, it’s also the first record of land holdings in the state of Tennesee,” said Washington County Archivist Ned Irwin.

The half of ‘Deed Book A’ that has remained at the Washington County Courthouse in Jonesborough

Irwin has been working for two years to bring back ‘Deed Book A’ from Nashville. It chronicles several hundred land grants and deeds recorded between 1775-1782.

At the Courthouse in Jonesborough, surrounded by hundreds of subsequent deed books, the first half of Deed Book A has been missing. It contains the first entry from 1775, which details a land transaction between the Watauga and Nolichucky settlements and Cherokee leadership.

Deed Books line the walls at the Washington County Register of Deeds office

“It was here until 1897. And in that year, Tennessee celebrated Centennial,” said Irwin.

The book was loaned to Nashville as an exhibit for the 100th birthday celebration. It wasn’t returned. 

“I imagine it was forgotten about. And over time people forgot it was down there,” said Irwin.

The book has been held in the Tennessee State Library and Archives. In recent years, debate has ensued over whether the book is a state record or county record.

But now at last, the first half of Deed Book A will come to Jonesborough to rejoin its second half, which chronicles records from 1782-1788 in Washington County.

Handwriting in the second half of ‘Deed Book A’ that has remained in Washington County

The original property deed book has been lost in time. The book that will be delivered Tuesday is an official handwritten copy from the 1830s.

“It’s going to be here. We’re excited,” said Chelsie Summey, bookkeeper for the Washington County Register of Deeds. 

A digital copy will soon be available for citizens to look through.

“So anybody doing genealogy work, anybody that’s just interested can come in, and they can pull it up on the computer, print copies of it,” said Summey.

The deed book parts are highly fragile and must be handled with extreme care. Washington County officials say it will soon be kept in the Archives Building, and the county is determining the best way to display it for the public to see.

The second half of ‘Deed Book A’ at the Washington County Courthouse

Irwin said tracking down the exact location of your ancestor’s land from the records may not be easy.

“Because, if you read it carefully, they’re measuring distances from a wide oak tree, or a cherry tree, or a stone. Well, none of that’s here 200 years later,” he said.

The precious records themselves still are intact. From John Sevier to Davey Crockett’s grandfather, to Abraham Lincoln’s great uncle, traces of the figures and families that shaped a state and nation are printed in its pages. 

“People in Washington County have always valued their history. Maybe because it is the original. And so no, I’m not surprised that there’s enthusiasm to get our earliest land record book back,” said Irwin.

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