The first white settlement in Robertson County was established by Thomas Kilgore, who came there in 1778 claiming land and building a station in 1779 near present-day Cross Plains. Prior to statehood this area was one of the counties in Mero District and called Tennessee County, located north of Nashville on the Kentucky border.
One of the first acts of the new state was to appropriate Tennessee County’s name for its own use and to divide that county into Robertson and Montgomery Counties. Robertson County took its name from General James Robertson, often called the “Father of Middle Tennessee.” Robertson County, established by the general assembly on April 9, 1796, covered 477 square miles and contained 304,640 acres.
The enabling act, which created the new county appointed commissioners and instructed them to establish the county government system and “to lay off, and appoint a place, the most centrical and convenient in the county of Robertson, for the purpose of erecting a courthouse prison and stocks.” By 1798 Thomas Johnson had surveyed and laid out the county seat of Springfield, and the lots sold for eight dollars each.
Residents began forming churches and schools almost as soon as they arrived in the area. Red River Baptist Church in Adams was constituted on July 25, 1791, and in 1798 Mt. Zion Methodist Church was organized. Both are active churches today. Tradition has it that Robert Black started the first school in the area on Sulphur Fork in 1789, and Thomas Mosby also taught a school in the area before 1796.
Over the first half of the nineteenth century, Robertson County grew from a sparsely settled frontier community of 4,228 to a society of over 16,000 people. Most of the early white settlers in the area were of English or Scots-Irish origin, although there were also contingents of people whose backgrounds lay in the German states and other western European countries. A few of the settlers brought slaves with them and a small contingent of free blacks lived in the county in the 1790s. The earliest reference to African Americans in the area was in 1789. However, the majority of the region’s inhabitants used no slave labor.
Tobacco had been raised for personal use and for sale almost as soon as people settled in Middle Tennessee. By 1820 tobacco, a crop dependent largely on slave labor, had became the most important commercial crop in the county and remains so to the present; by the 1920s Robertson County was known as the “Home of the World’s Finest Dark Fired Tobacco.” Another major economic force in the county was the manufacture of fine whiskey, an industry which reached its peak in the 1880s and died with prohibition in 1909. The Springfield Woolen Mills was founded in 1903 as the first major “factory” in the county.
Robertson County was occupied territory and no major battles were fought within its borders during the Civil War. However, both armies moved men and materials through, and Confederate cavalryman John Hunt Morgan and his raiders destroyed parts of the Edgefield and Kentucky Railroad which ran through the county.
By 1910 the county’s population was 25,466, including 6,492 black citizens. The lives of most residents still revolved around the rhythms of farm work. The lack of economic opportunity for many young citizens, black and white, and the burdens of segregation fueled an exodus of people from the county to the large industrial cities of the North from the 1940s until the early 1970s. From the 1950s through today several manufacturing companies have strengthened the industrial sector of the county’s economy, and the area has experienced unparalleled growth. Such companies include the Frigidaire Home Products, Unarco Material Handling, Datrek Professional Bags, and CEI Auto Electronic Parts. In 2000 Frigidaire is the county’s largest private employer, with 1,550 workers. Part of the growth came as Interstates 65 and 24 connected Robertson County to Nashville. Even with the rise of industry, agriculture and tobacco continue to be important elements in the economic, social, cultural, and political life of the county’s population of 54,433, which has increased by 31 percent since 1990.
The Robertson County Courthouse and Springfield Public Square are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with thirteen other locations within the county.