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Article Author: Marian Presswood, Polk County Historian
Did you know that except for some small quirk of fate, I could now be the official historian for Kennedy County and living in the county seat of Ocoee?

Did you know that except for some small quirk of fate, I could now be the official historian for Kennedy County and living in the county seat of Ocoee?  It’s true. An official petition signed by ninety-one citizens was presented to the Tennessee General Assembly in 1837, which was two years before the creation of Polk County. The area of the new county would have been approximately the same as it is today, 434 sq. mi., but perhaps extending into Bradley County a couple of more miles.

According to an article written in December 1982 by former county historian Roy Lillard, the petition stated that some citizens of Bradley, McMinn, and Monroe County were required to travel as much as 40 miles to do business in the county seat. This was the usual reason for the creation of a new county, and it was introduced to the Assembly November 20, 1837.  But for some unknown (to me) reason, the bill sort of died after it was examined and discovered that most of the signers appeared to be from Monroe County and few or none from the Bradley and McMinn area where the new county would be located.  Also, perhaps a local attorney named Kennedy just doesn’t have the political clout of a governor such as James K. Polk, for whom the county was later named.

Most petitions identified the person for whom the proposed county would be named, but this one did not. Although not stated, it is almost certain that it would have been named to honor lawyer John Kennedy, born in Pennsylvania about 1775, who at that time resided in Monroe County and later Polk. He had previously served two terms in the Tennessee House, 1803 - 1807, and two terms in he Senate, 1807 - 1809 and 1811 - 1813.

Kennedy was a member of the Ocoee District Commission, which was created after the Treaty of Removal in 1835 and included all of Bradley and parts of Hamilton and Monroe. According to Lillard, he is “the person who wrote the opinion for the Commission which denied the request of the David McNair family for additional compensation for the land lost by the Treaty of 1835. The McNairs had previously received $22,220.21 for their holdings in the Conasauga area.”

In an 1841 letter Governor James K. Polk wrote, “I will mention that the name of the Hon. John Kennedy formerly of Jonesborough, now of Polk County, has been presented to me. Judge Kennedy has age, experience and undoubted qualifications to recommend him, and personally it would give me sincere pleasure to confer the appointment upon him.”

Proposed commissioners are always named in the petition for a new county, and those for Kennedy County were to be John Morrison, John Wilson, Ransom Moore, John Thomas, Henry Ellis, Nicholas Peck and Michael Ghormley. Petitioners requested that land be set aside for the county seat to be named Ocoee and plans made to erect a court house there.

John Kennedy, age 75, a lawyer born in Pennsylvania is in household # 486 in the 1850 Kennedy County. . uh . . . Polk County census living with 41 year old John C. and Polly Kennedy and their children Kate, Mary, Rebecca, John, Jane and Eliza. This John, Sr. is probably the same John Kennedy who appears in the 1830 and ‘40 Greene County Tennessee Census.

A James Kennedy is buried here in Polk County in the Heard/Kennedy Cemetery located on the old Savannah Farm. The inscription reads:

 “Sacred to the memory of James Keneday (sic) who died the 7th day of October 1825, age 61 years, 5 months.  He was a native of Pennsylvania and for years before his death a citizen of Knoxville, Tennessee.  This stone is a last gift that an affectionate wife and children can bestow on their husband and father.”


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