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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Blount, William

by Stanley J. Folmsbee, 1979

26 Mar. 1749–21 Mar. 1800

Portrait of William Blount. Couresty of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.William Blount, governor and senator, was born in Bertie County, the first son of Jacob and Barbara Gray Blount, one of the colony's earliest families. He obtained a good education in the private schools of the colony and served as paymaster of Continental troops during the Revolution. His four terms in the state's lower house, beginning in 1781, were followed by two terms in the senate. He also represented his state in the Continental Congress and in the convention of 1787 that drafted the Constitution of the United States. After North Carolina at first refused to join the new government, Blount won election to the second convention, in which he helped bring about the state's ratification of the federal Constitution. He also supported the cession of the state's western lands to the United States, and when that area was organized as the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio, he was named governor and also superintendent of Indian affairs for the entire region south of the Ohio River. In the latter capacity, he negotiated the Treaty of the Holston of 1791 with the Cherokee Indians, by which they ceded to the United States a large amount of territory, much of which was already occupied by whites.

During the first stage of the territory's history, Blount had autocratic authority. He proclaimed laws, created new counties, and appointed civil officials. By 1794 the population was sufficient for the election of a territorial assembly, which in its first session chartered three colleges; one of these, the forerunner of the University of Tennessee, was named Blount College in honor of the governor. When a territorial census revealed a population adequate for statehood, Blount arranged for a constitutional convention, over which he presided as chairman, which drafted the state's first constitution. He was then elected as one of the state's first two members of the U.S. Senate.

His senatorial career was cut short by the so-called Blount Conspiracy, caused by a rumor that Spain was about to cede New Orleans and the Louisiana country to France, which action, it was expected, would deny the Americans the right to use the Mississippi River for the export of their surplus products. Blount therefore took over the leadership of a scheme, already being developed, to organize an expedition of frontiersmen and Indians to help the British, then at war with Spain and France, take New Orleans, Louisiana, and Florida away from Spain. Great Britain was bound by the treaty of peace of 1783 to permit free navigation of the Mississippi River by Canadians and Americans. Before the plan could be put in operation, a letter Blount had written about it fell into the hands of federal authorities, and as a result he was expelled from the Senate. He was also impeached by the House of Representatives but was acquitted in trial before the Senate, because of lack of jurisdiction. Blount remained popular in Tennessee, where he was elected to the state senate and its speakership. He did not run for reelection and was out of office at the time of his death.

On 12 Feb. 1778, Blount married Mary Molsey Grainger, the daughter of Caleb Grainger of the Cape Fear region of North Carolina. They had seven children: Cornelius, Ann, Mary Louisa, William Grainger, Richard Blackledge, Barbara, and Eliza. Blount was buried in the churchyard of the First Presbyterian Church, Knoxville, Tenn., where a marble slab marks his grave.


Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, vol. 3 (1905).

Biog. Dir. Am. Cong. (1928).

DAB vol. 2 (1929).

W. H. Masterson, William Blount (1954 [portrait]).

M. J. Wright, Some Account of the Life and Services of William Blount (1884).

Additional Resources:

"Blount, William, (1749 - 1800)." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Washington, D.C.: The Congress. (accessed April 16, 2013).

William Blount, North Carolina, U.S. Army Center of Military History:

William Blount, University of Groningen,

Tennessee History for the Classroom:

William Blount, short bio:

NC Highway Historical Marker, A-41:

William Blount Papers, Department of State Tennessee State Library and Archives:

William Blount, Library of Congress:

"Photograph, Accession #: H.19XX.318.126." 1890-1915. North Carolina Museum of History.

Spindel, Donna. Introductory guide to Indian-related records, to 1876, in the North Carolina State Archives. Division of Archives and History, Dept. of Cultural Resources. 2004. (accessed April 16, 2013).

Image Credits:

"Blount, William, (1749 - 1800)." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Washington, D.C.: The Congress. (Accessed April 16, 2013).

"William Blount, signer of the Constitution. The New York Public Library: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs Collection. (Accessed December 12, 2018).

Origin - location: