The town of Nashville was founded by
John Donelson, and a party of
Overmountain Men in 1779, near the original Cumberland settlement of
Fort Nashborough. It was named for
Francis Nash, the
American Revolutionary War hero. Nashville quickly grew because of its strategic location, accessibility as a port on the
Cumberland River, a tributary of the
Ohio River; and its later status as a major railroad center. By 1800, the city had 345 residents, including 136 African American slaves and 14 free blacks.
 In 1806, Nashville was
incorporated as a city and became the
county seat of Davidson County, Tennessee. In 1843, the city was named the permanent capital of the state of Tennessee.
By 1860, when the first
rumblings of secession began to be heard across the
South, antebellum Nashville was a prosperous city. The city's significance as a shipping port made it a desirable prize as a means of controlling important river and railroad transportation routes. In February 1862, Nashville became the first state capital to fall to Union troops. The state was occupied by Union troops for the duration of the war. The
Battle of Nashville (December 15–16, 1864) was a significant Union victory and perhaps the most decisive tactical victory gained by either side in the war; it was also the war's final major military action, which afterward became almost entirely a
war of attrition consisting largely of
guerrilla raids and small skirmishes, with the Confederate forces in the
Deep South almost constantly in retreat.
Within a few years after the Civil War, the Nashville chapter of the
Ku Klux Klan was founded by Confederate veteran
John W. Morton.
Meanwhile, the city had reclaimed its important shipping and trading position and developed a solid manufacturing base. The post–Civil War years of the late 19th century brought new prosperity to Nashville and Davidson County. These healthy economic times left the city with a legacy of grand classical-style buildings, including the
Centennial Park, which can still be seen around the downtown area.
Circa 1950 the state legislature approved a new city charter that provided for the election of city council members from
single-member districts, rather than
at-large voting. This change was supported because at-large voting diluted the minority population's political power in the city. They could seldom gain a majority of the population to support a candidate of their choice. Apportionment under the single-member districts meant that some districts had black majorities. In 1951, after passage of the new charter, African-American attorneys
Z. Alexander Looby and
Robert E. Lillard were elected to the city council.
The years after World War II were a time of rapid
suburbanization as new housing was built outside the city limits. This resulted in a demand for many new schools and other support facilities, which the county found difficult to provide. At the same time, suburbanization led to a declining tax base in the city, although many suburban residents used unique city amenities and services supported only by city taxpayers. After years of discussion, a referendum was held in 1958 on the issue of consolidating city and county government. It failed to gain approval although it was supported by elected leaders of both jurisdictions: County Judge
Beverly Briley of Davidson and Mayor
Ben West of Nashville.
Following the referendum's failure, Nashville annexed some 42 square miles of suburban jurisdictions to expand its tax base. This increased uncertainty among residents, and created resentment among many suburban communities. Under the second charter for metropolitan government, which was approved in 1962, two levels of service provision were proposed: the General Services District and the Urban Services District, to provide for a differential in tax levels. Residents of the Urban Services District had a full range of city services. The areas that made up the General Services District, however, had a lower tax rate until full services were provided.
 This helped reconcile aspects of services and taxation among the differing jurisdictions within the large metro region.
On April 19, 1960, African-American council member Looby's house was bombed by segregationists.
 Protesters marched to the city hall the next day, and Mayor
Ben West said he supported the de-segregation of lunch counters.
In 1963, Nashville consolidated its government with Davidson County, forming a
metropolitan government. The membership on the Metro Council, the legislative body, was increased from 21 to 40 seats. Of these, five members are elected at-large and 35 are elected from single-member districts, each to serve a term of four years.
On April 8, 1967, a riot occurred on the college campuses of Fisk University and Tennessee State University after
Stokely Carmichael spoke at Vanderbilt University.
 Although it was viewed as a "race riot", it had classist characteristics.
In 1979, the
Ku Klux Klan burnt crosses outside two African-American locations in Nashville, including the Nashville headquarters of the
Since the 1970s, the city and county have experienced tremendous growth, particularly during the
economic boom of the 1990s under the leadership of then-Mayor and later-
Phil Bredesen. He made urban renewal a priority, and fostered the construction or renovation of several city landmarks, including the
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the downtown
Nashville Public Library, the
Bridgestone Arena, and
Nissan Stadium (formerly Adelphia Coliseum and LP Field) was built after the
Houston Oilers agreed to move to the city in 1995. The NFL team debuted in Nashville in 1998 at
Vanderbilt Stadium, and Nissan Stadium opened in the summer of 1999. The Oilers changed their name to the
Tennessee Titans and finished the season with the
Music City Miracle and a close
Super Bowl game in which the
St. Louis Rams' win was secured in
the last play.
In 1997, Nashville was awarded a
National Hockey League expansion team; this was named the
Nashville Predators. Since the 2003–04 season, the Predators have made the playoffs all but three seasons. In 2017, they made the
Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history, but ultimately fell to the
Pittsburgh Penguins, 4 games to 2, in the best-of-seven series.
The city bounced back with relative ease from the
Great Recession. In March 2012, a Gallup poll ranked Nashville in its top five regions for job growth.
In 2013, Nashville was described as "Nowville" and "It City" by
The New York Times.
Nashville elected its first female mayor,
Megan Barry, on September 25, 2015.
 As a council member, Barry had previously performed the first same-sex wedding in Nashville on June 26, 2015.
In 2017, Nashville's economy was deemed the third fastest growing in the nation,
 and also was named the "hottest housing market in the US" by Freddie Mac realtors.