For nearly a century after the earliest white settlements, Tennessee was inhabited by three ethnoracial populations: whites of English and Scotch-Irish descent, Cherokee Indians, and black Americans. Settlers crossing the Appalachians met Indian resistance as early as the late 1700s. Eventually, however, nearly all the Cherokee were forced to leave; in 2000 there were an estimated 15,152 American Indians in Tennessee, up from 10,000, the number recorded by the 1990 census.
Blacks, originally brought into the state as slaves to work in the cotton fields of West Tennessee, made up about 10% of the population in 1790. White Tennesseans were divided on the issue of slavery. The small farmers of the eastern region were against it, and in the late 1820s and 1830s there were more antislavery societies in Tennessee than in any other southern state except North Carolina. The planters and merchants of southwest Tennessee, however, linked their sentiments and interests with those of the proslavery planters of the Mississippi Valley. The introduction of the cotton gin gave impetus to the acquisition of more slaves; by 1840, blacks accounted for 26% of the population, and Memphis had become a major market for the shipment of black slaves to large plantations farther south.
Immediately after the Civil War, many blacks, now free, migrated from Virginia and North Carolina to East Tennessee to become farmers, artisans, and owners of small businesses. After 1880, however, the black proportion of the population declined steadily. In 2000, the estimated black population was 932,809 (16% of the state total), up from 778,000 in 1990. In 2000, there were an estimated 56,662 Asians residing in the state; 12,835 Asian Indians constituted the largest group. Pacific Islanders numbered 2,205.
Descendants of European immigrants make up about half the population of Tennessee, the largest groups being of English and German descent. In 2000, 159,004 residents—2.8% of the population—were foreign-born, more than twice the 1990 total of 59,114 (1.2%). In 2000, there were 123,838 Hispanics and Latinos, representing 2.2% of the total population, up from 62,000 (1.1%) in 1990.