Born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1787, Wilkins Tannehill came to Nashville in 1808; he was involved in politics, intellectual pursuits, Masonic activities, journalism, and publishing in the city for the rest of his life.
Tannehill’s political interests led him to serve as an alderman in 1813 and as mayor of Nashville 1825-26. He was a trustee of Cumberland College, later the University of Nashville, from 1814 to 1821 and from 1825 to 1832. As one of the most literate Nashvillians, Tannehill joined the Nashville Library Company around 1810 and served as the society secretary for the Tennessee Antiquarian Society. He launched his career as an author with the appearance of a volume for Masonic use in 1824. By 1827 he had published a more general work on the history of literature. This, and other activities, led to an honorary A.M. from the University of Nashville in 1828.
An especially well-known Mason, Tannehill held high positions more often than anyone else. In the late 1840s and early 1850s, he blended his interest in Masonry with his interest in education. Partially as a result of his influence, money from area Masons supported the Montgomery Masonic College in Clarksville, Jackson College in Columbia, and small colleges at Huntingdon and Macon in West Tennessee and at Bradley in East Tennessee.
Near the end of his career, Tannehill founded a newspaper and a monthly journal. The Daily Orthopolitan, begun on October 1, 1845, supported intellectual causes and scientific interests. The Port Folio; or Journal of Freemasonry and General Literature began in July 1847 and supported various intellectual causes. Tannehill’s last great venture before his death in 1858 was the Merchants Library and Reading Room, a subscription library formed in downtown Nashville in 1849.
Alfred L. Crabb, “Wilkins Tannehill: Business and Cultural Leader,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 7 (1947): 314-331