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County Government History

The History Of Warren County Government
By Mr. James A. Dillon - County Historian

courthouseoldWarren County was created November 26, 1807. On December 4, 1807, 12 men were commissioned as Justices of the Peace by the General Assembly. These 12 men comprised our first County Court.

When organized, Warren County was divided into three districts. We do not know the boundaries of these districts or just how they were numbered, but examination of various early land deeds seems to indicate that the Collins River, Hickory Creek and Barren Fork River may have been the dividing lines. Remember that originally the county was double its present size containing upwards of 900 square miles. Each district was authorized one battalion of militia consisting of two companies. The six companies constituted the 29th Tennessee Militia. The constitution authorized two justices for each company of militia. Hence we had 12 justices.

Since many of the early court records were lost or destroyed, we do not know the names of the early Court Chairmen. Hopefully, as more early documents come to light, we can learn the names. Chairmen were elected by court members for one year beginning in January. This continued until 1856 when the legislature created the position of County Judge. However, this post was apparently abolished in 1858 when we returned to the chairman form.

courthouse2In 1915, the legislature again created the County Judge position, mandating he be elected for an eight year period at the August General Election by a vote of the people.

The eight year term would begin with the August 1918 election. The Honorable W.V. Whitson, Sr., a former attorney general, was appointed to fill the post until August 1916, when J.W. Eaton was elected until the 1918 date. Eaton was then re-elected to serve until 1926.

Another constitutional change in the 1980s created the post of County Executive to replace the County Judge. The term was shortened to four years. H.T. "Zeke" Pelham, was elected in 1982 as our first Executive. He had already served the previous eight years as County Judge.

During the times we operated with Judges or Executives, the court many times elected a chairman. This was an "honorary" position having little or no official power. Such a chairman would serve in the absence of the Judge. Over the years, the powers and responsibilities of the County Judge/Chairman/Executive have been expanded to meet the increasing needs of government.

courthouse3The 12 members of our first County Court were:

  • Godfrey Isbel
  • Patrick Hayes
  • Thomas Burgess
  • Richard Burks
  • Thomas Wilcher
  • James Youngergreen
  • William Calvert
  • William Barnett
  • Thomas Matthews
  • Benjamin Coyl
  • Samuel McGee
  • John Armstrong

Burks, Wilcher, McGee and Armstrong played major roles in our early history and remained here. Most of the others moved West.

The County Court did not organize until February 1808. Elections were held on the third Saturday in March with electees taking office on April 1st.

Prior to 1836, the only election of importance was that of Representative to the General Assembly since all Justices of the Peace, Court Officers and other officials were appointed. This was changed by the 1834 constitution. The 1870 constitution changed the election date to the first Thursday in August with electees installed on September 1st. This began in 1872.