For many decades, it has gone unquestioned that “Pellissippi” means “winding waters” in Cherokee, and that the word refers to the Clinch River that wends through East Tennessee and terminates near Pellissippi State Community College’s Hardin Valley Campus.
But in 2014, Pellissippi State discovered that this is not true.
Thus began a three-year journey, culminating in conversations with the Smithsonian Institution, to set the record straight.
“It is of extreme importance to us at Pellissippi State that we honor the diverse heritage of East Tennessee,” said Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. “It might be easy to say that a name is just a name, but to us at Pellissippi State, it’s crucial that we honor the truth about ‘Pellissippi’ and its importance in American history.”
At Pellissippi State, writer Heather Beck took up the search for just where “Pellissippi” came from and what the word might mean.
“Through this project, I learned that tracing the etymology of a Native American word isn’t simple, and it’s not always precise,” Beck said. “When Europeans traveled through North America, they encountered native languages that they transcribed — often inaccurately — based upon how the word sounded and how it might be spelled in their own native languages.”
In historical research, Beck discovered that the Pellissippi River features prominently in a 1784 proposal from President Thomas Jefferson for new state names west of the Appalachians. Among the President’s proposed names was “Pelisipia,” in what today would be parts of Eastern Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. But Jefferson’s proposed name wasn’t a reference to what is today the Clinch River.
It was a reference to the Ohio River.
In early maps, the name of the Pellissippi River was expressed in various ways — from “Polesipi” to “Peleson,” “Pele Sipi,” “Pere Sipi,” “Pelisipi” and finally “Pellissippi” — and it also frequently changed locations. For about a decade in the mid-1700s, the name “Pellissippi” was used as a reference to two rivers, back and forth: the Ohio and the Clinch.
This phenomenon of names changing, and even moving, was common in early mapmaking. Maps often were copied by hand and commonly transcribed from one language to another in that process.
It appears that the Ohio River held the name “Pellissippi” first.
“Historically it was ‘Mosopeleacipi,’ ‘river of the Mosopelea,’ the Illinois name that was learned by La Salle for the Ohio,” said linguist emeritus Ives Goddard of the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Anthropology.
The river took its name from a nearby tribe, the Mosopelea. When the Mosopolea migrated out of the Ohio River valley, Shawnee moved in. They seemed to have shortened the name of the river to “Peleewa-θiipi,” or perhaps “peleewa θiipiiki,” in which the symbol θ makes a -th sound.
Goddard suggests that, as the original name of the Ohio River evolved from “Mosopeleacipi” to a version of “Pellissippi,” it also was inadvertently moved or misattributed as the name of the smaller Clinch River to the south. For a while, the rivers swapped names back and forth.
The Ohio seems to have firmly settled on its modern name around the 1780s. The Clinch took its modern name in the mid-1800s.
“Pellissippi has a long history in America, sharing a connection with a U.S. president, early explorers and Native American tribes and, not least, the Ohio River,” Wise said. “Although its meaning will remain metaphorical, not literal, we must remember — it’s not every day that a word comes to us through history as a blank slate. It’s not often that we have the opportunity to craft what a word means.
“For those of us who work at the college, ‘Pellissippi’ means access, opportunity, hope and success. Knowing where our name comes from may not change the mission of the College or the day-to-day aspects of students’ education or our place in our community. But we are pleased that we have done our best to restore and memorialize a history that might have been forgotten.”
For more information, visit www.pstcc.edu/pellissippi or call 865-694-6400. Tell us what Pellissippi means to you on social media, using #pellissippimeans.
Pellissippi State Community College finished first in the state — and second in the region — in this year’s regional Student Mathematics League competition.
Pellissippi State had 105 students take part in the 2016-2017 contest. In the first round of competition in October, the top five Pellissippi State students were Lily Turaski, Nicholas West, Son Quang, Ben Koester and Michaela Shoffner. In February’s round two competition, the top five places were earned by Lily Turaski, Son Quang, Robert Weber, Ian Cannon and Bohdan Makarchuk.
Those top five individual scores constitute the college’s overall score. In the final standings, Pellissippi State placed first among Tennessee colleges and second among 19 schools in the southeast region.
Also in the southeast region, Pellissippi State student Lily Turaski took first place among all participating students. Nicholas West and Son Quang tied for ninth place in the southeast region, while Ethan Vals took 19th.
“All of our students performed very well this year,” said Bobby Jackson, a mathematics professor at Pellissippi State. “The team’s second place regional finish tied the highest ranking we’ve ever had.”
Pellissippi State has taken part in the Student Mathematics League contest for the past 16 years. The contest is sponsored by the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges. Nationally, 165 schools in 35 states participated this year.
Each year the contest consists of two rounds, one during the fall semester and one during the spring semester. In the Student Mathematics League contest, students are tested in many areas of mathematics, including geometry, trigonometry, algebra, probability and logic. Each round includes an exam of 20 multiple-choice questions. Students can use a calculator, but no notebook or textbook. Pellissippi State — thanks to a grant from Oak Ridge Associated Universities — awards its top finishers in each subject with additional cash prizes.
For more information about Pellissippi State, visit www.pstcc.edu or call 865-694-6400.
Pellissippi State Community College honored dozens of outstanding students at its annual Academic Awards ceremony April 25. The awards recognized not only excellent academic achievement, but excellence in altruism, community service and leadership.
The college named Leah Hazel Davis and Haley Victoria Ferguson to the All-USA Community College Academic Team.
Gulsah Onar and Dustie Phillips were recipients of the Service Leadership Excellence Award, in recognition of their devotion to civic and community engagement. Susan Spoon was named winner of the Shelley Grace Clayton Award, which honors an altruistic and caring attitude; and several students won Campus Leadership Awards: Heather Butler, Sandra Davis, Sarah Kear, Robert McGinley and Amanda Wollard.
Nathan Armistead was recognized as an outstanding student in the fine arts, and his painting “Presley” was purchased for Pellissippi State’s permanent student art collection.
Additionally, several students were named as Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges: Demi Camia, Sandra de Jesus, Caleb Edmonds, Haley Ferguson, Elicia Ferrer, Kathleen Ford, Jonathan Harter, Apryl Herrell, Yulia Kanevskaya, Jeremy Law, Nikolas Likourentzos, Gulsah Onar, Laura Overton, Walter Rutherford, Valentyna Samonik, Jennifer Sandberg, Mary Templeman, Joy Walker and Darryl Woodridge.
Pellissippi State also named its Faculty Member of the Year — as voted on by students — as Jonathan Lamb, associate professor of mathematics.
For more information, visit www.pstcc.edu or call 865-694-6400.