Grainger County's Most famous citizen, Albert Miller Lea

May 28, 2021

Thomas Jarnagin served as a captain in Col. John Sevier’s army and fought in the Revolutionary War. Jarnagin was awarded 3,960 acres of land located on Richland Creek in Grainger County from 1794 through 1802. The land started at the Hickle House at Joppa School and extended to Lea Springs. He was also awarded land 12 miles east of White Pine at a place called Long Creek. Jarnagin, just like William Bean and Daniel Boone before him, traveled with Col. John Sevier through Long Creek during the Cherokee Indian War, Jarnagin himself never lived in Grainger County but rode in on horseback and divided his land with his seven children. The first track of land, Hickle House, was given to his son Noah Jarnagin. Noah built the Hickle House in 1794, two years before Grainger County was formed. Noah’s wife, Mary Russell Jarnagin, was the niece of Lydia Russell Bean, the wife of William Bean, first settler in Tennessee. Noah lived here until his death in 1849.

The first dead registered in Grainger County in Book A, Page 1, was from Thomas Jarnagin to Major and Lavinia Jarnagin Lea August 6, 1796 for 375 acres. Lea served as a member of the first court held in Grainger County, became a Baptist minister, was elected as a state senator for Grainger and Claiborne counties, became a charter member of Madison Academy in 1806, and was a charter member of East Tennessee College, which later became The University of Tennessee. Lea had 11 children, His oldest child, Pryor, was born in 1794, served two terms as a U.S. Congressman, served under Andrew Jackson in the Creek War, and built Lea Springs Hotel.

Another child, born in 1808, was named Albert Miller Lea, he was a man who worked for and walked with presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler and Millard Fillmore. He knew and corresponded with confederate leaders Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. He was a personal confidant and relative by marriage of general Sam Houston, and named the state of Iowa. Albert married Ellen Shoemaker from Baltimore, MD. They had one son named Edward. Albert attended East Tennessee College, but dropped out when his father died in order to help his mother run the farm. It was Albert’s good fortune to receive an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy in 1927. Robert E. Lee finished first in the class and Albert finished fifth. In 1853 the War Department ordered Albert to make a military survey of the recent Blackhawk purchase, the area west of the Mississippi , that included the present state of Iowa and parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Albert’s scout for the expedition was Captain Nathan Boone, a son of the famous Kentucky pioneer, Daniel Boone. In his official report of his tour, he used the name “Iowa District”, an Indian word sometimes translated as “beautiful land”. His choice of the word Iowa stayed when the state of Iowa was admitted in 1846. Albert Lea, MN, population 25,000, and Albert Lea Lake in Minnesota were named after him for his service to the state of Minnesota.

The city of Knoxville took advantage of Albert’s engineering ability. He served as a city engineer from 1849 until 1854. He graded the downtown streets, lowering the level of Main Street in front of the present courthouse about 10 feet and removed a 10-foot rise on Gay Street in front of the present Bijou Theater. From Main Street he graded what is now Market Street so as to make the steamboat landing more accessible.

Albert Miller Lea Grainger Counties most famous citizen. Lea worked for four presidents, was friends of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, kin to Sam Houston, fought in the Civil War, Gave the state of Iowa its name, also has a town and lake in Minnesota named after him.

Reference Links

Albert Miller Lea’s Wikipedia