The first predecessor of the University of Tennessee, Blount College, was chartered by the Assembly of the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio on September 10, 1794, two years before Tennessee was admitted to statehood. The institution was the 24th to be chartered in the new nation and the first nonsectarian college to be chartered under the jurisdiction of the United States. (Eleven collegiate charters with nonsectarian provisions were granted prior to 1794 by states; UT’s charter was granted by the Assembly of the Federal Territory.)
The Blount College charter bill was introduced by William Cocke, native of Virginia, former resident of North Carolina, soldier at King’s Mountain, and future United States Senator, who was attending the assembly as a representative from Hawkins County. The name of the institution to honor the territorial governor, at whose call the assembly met, was Blount College, and Governor William Blount was one of the trustees appointed.
In 1806 Congress authorized the state of Tennessee to sell 100,000 acres of land with the profits from the sale being applied to two colleges in the state—one in the west and one in the east, to be established by the legislature of Tennessee. The trustees of Blount College unanimously voted on September 29, 1807, that if the general assembly should establish the institution within two miles of Knoxville the funds for Blount College could be incorporated with the funds of the college to be established and the act incorporating Blount College could be repealed. The general assembly chartered East Tennessee College in 1807 to be located within the two-miles-from-Knoxville requirement, appointed 30 trustees of the new college, and repealed the charter of Blount College, incorporating the assets of Blount College into the newly established East Tennessee College.
The 1807 charter did not contain the nonsectarian requirement, but the 1869 act that designated the university as Tennessee’s land-grant university had a nonsectarian requirement.