The Knoxville Register was an American newspaper published primarily in Knoxville, Tennessee, during the 19th century. Founded in 1816, the paper was East Tennessee’s dominant newspaper until 1863, when its pro-secession editor, Jacob Austin Sperry (1823–1896), was forced to flee advancing Union forces at the height of the Civil War. Sperry continued to sporadically publish the Register in Atlanta, and later Bristol, until he was finally captured by Union forces in December 1864.
Frederick S. Heiskell (1786–1882), who had worked briefly for Knoxville’s first newspaper, the Knoxville Gazette, cofounded the Register along with his brother-in-law, Hugh Brown. The Register initially supported the policies of Andrew Jackson, but became a primarily Whig sheet in 1836, when it snubbed Jackson’s handpicked presidential successor, Martin Van Buren, in favor of local favorite Hugh Lawson White. In 1849, polemical editor William G. Brownlow moved his paper, the Whig, to Knoxville, and a rivalry developed between the two papers that lasted until the Civil War.
The Register was a broadsheet published weekly for its first four decades. In April 1861, largely in response to the growing interest in the secession crisis, a daily edition of the Register was established. Typical of 19th century broadsheets, the Register reported local news and published political editorials.
The Register is known to have been published under the following titles:
- Knoxville Register (1816–1839)
- Knoxville Register and Weekly Times (1839–1841)
- Knoxville Register (1841–1862)
- Knoxville Daily Register (1861–1862) — published daily
- The Daily Register (1862–1863)
- Knoxville and Atlanta Daily Register (1864)
- Knoxville Register (1864)
Frederick Heiskell moved to Knoxville from Virginia in late 1814, and worked as a journeyman printer at the Gazette, Knoxville’s oldest paper, for just over a year, before leaving to form his own newspaper. On August 3, 1816, he and Hugh L. Brown, whose sister Heiskell had married a few weeks earlier, published the first issue of the Register. When the Gazette closed and its owner moved to Nashville in 1818, the Register became Knoxville’s only newspaper.
For a newspaper published in an obscure frontier town, the Register was relatively progressive in its early days. Heiskell and Brown supported the abolition of slavery and advocated religious tolerance. Between 1818 and 1820, they simultaneously published one of the nation’s earliest abolitionist newsletters, the Western Monitor and Religious Observer. In 1820, the Register mourned the death of noted Jonesborough abolitionist, Elihu Embree. Heiskell and Brown also published numerous pamphlets and state documents. In 1823, they published John Haywood’s Civil and Political History of Tennessee, one of the first comprehensive histories of the state.
By the late 1820s, the Register had positioned itself as one of the state’s most influential newspapers, mostly through its support of President Andrew Jackson. The paper consistently called for internal improvements, especially regarding roads, railroads, and postal service. In 1826, the paper rallied support for East Tennessee College’s move to Barbara Hill, just west of Knoxville, and the following year helped revive interest in the Knoxville Female Academy. Although Brown left in 1829, future Confederate general Felix Zollicoffer joined the paper as a journeyman printer in 1831, and future Knoxville mayor W.B.A. Ramsey joined as an editor in 1835.