The earliest known inhabitants of Tennessee were prehistoric cave dwellers. They were followed by people known as Mound Builders about 3,000 years ago. In 1540–41, when the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto passed through Tennessee, the area was occupied mainly by the Cherokees and the Chickasaws.

Important dates in Tennessee
1540 Hernando de Soto of Spain led the first European expedition into the Tennessee region.
1673 James Needham and Gabriel Arthur of England, and Louis Jolliet of Canada and Father Jacques Marquette of France explored the region.
1682 Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, claimed the Mississippi River Valley for France.
1714 Charles Charleville set up a French trading post near the present site of Nashville.
1763 France surrendered to Britain all claim to lands east of the Mississippi River.
1772 The Watauga Association drew up one of the first written constitutions in North America.
1784 Three counties established the State of Franklin.
1796 Tennessee became the 16th state on June 1.
1818 The Chickasaw Indians sold all their land east of the Mississippi River to the U.S. government.
1838 The Cherokee were forced out of Tennessee.
1861 Tennessee became the last state to secede from the Union, on June 8.
1866 Tennessee became the first state to be readmitted to the Union, on July 24.
1870 A new constitution gave all male citizens 21 or older the right to vote.
1878 One of the worst yellow fever epidemics in U.S. history killed about 5,200 of the 19,600 people in Memphis.
1925 John Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school.
1933 Congress created the Tennessee Valley Authority.
1942 The federal government began building the atomic energy center at Oak Ridge.
1962 The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a Tennessee case, that federal courts could challenge legislative apportionment.
1970 Winfield Dunn became the first Republican in 50 years to be elected governor of Tennessee.
1982 A world's fair was held in Knoxville.
1996 Tennessee celebrated the bicentennial of its statehood.