Why do they call it that? The different spellings of Loudoun and Loudon

East Tennessee has several locations with names that include some variation of the words "Loudoun" or "Loudon."  Several viewers want to know why these locations are spelled differently.  Are they named after the same person or place?  What is the difference between Loudoun and Loudon?

Historic Fort Loudoun

The first appearance of the name in East Tennessee was at the British military outpost Fort Loudoun in Monroe County in 1756.  The governor of South Carolina named the fort after John Campbell, the 4th Earl of Loudoun. 

"Fort Loudoun was built during the time of the French and Indian War.  It is a little episode of history that's often overlooked, but set the stage for the American Revolution," said Jeff Wells, park manager at the Fort Loudoun State Historic Area.

Wells and other staff members provide tours of the rebuilt fort beside Tellico Lake while dressed in full British military clothing of the era.  Tens of thousands of visitors often have questions about the fort that was seized by the Cherokee in 1760, but one question keeps coming up.

"People want to know which way is the correct way of spelling 'Loudoun.'  Of course we all know that is with the 'u' in the second syllable," said Wells with a smile.

As for nearby Loudon County and the City of Loudon, Wells said, "I'm sure they feel that their spelling of the name is correct, but in fact it is not."

Since Loudon County and the City of Loudon were named after the fort, Wells points to the man the fort was named in honor of as a sure-fire spell checker.

"The fort was named for John Campbell, the Earl of Loudoun.  He was a very important man in 1756. He was the commander in chief of all British troops operating in North
America. He turned out to not be the best man for the job and was replaced the following year in 1757. He had several things named after him, including this fort in Monroe County," said Wells.

Documents with Campbell's signature clearly show that he spelled the name "Loudoun."  Yet, almost as quickly as the Earl of Loudoun lost his job in North America, his name started to lose the second "u."

"As early as 1762, Lieutenant Henry Timberlake drew a very detailed map of the little Tennessee Valley. He very clearly has written 'Loudon.' That is the earliest misspelling that I have seen in print.  It is a very common mistake that has been repeated for 250 years," said Wells.

Loudon County and City

The spelling of "Loudon" was repeated in 1870 when residents changed the newly formed Christiana County's name to Loudon County.  The county was named in honor of the nearby colonial Fort Loudoun.  The City of Loudon kept the shorter spelling when it incorporated in the 1920s. 

The misspelling of "Loudoun" is so common that two markers placed by historical societies at the site of the fort in Monroe County spell the name "Loudon."

"The Historical Society for the Colonial Dames of America placed this stone marker at the site of the old fort in 1917 with the hope that it would generate interest in the site and potentially lead to someone rebuilding it.  That eventually became a reality, but for all of their well intentions they did manage to misspell it Fort 'Loudon' on the marker," said Wells.

The standard pewter plaque placed throughout Tennessee at historic sites by the Tennessee Historical Commission also mistakenly drops the second "u" to spell "Fort Loudon" at the entrance to the state park.  The marker is directly beside the large wooden sign that reads "Fort Loudoun State Historic Area."

TVA spells it out

TVA went back to the original spelling of "Loudoun" when it built the Fort Loudoun Dam in Lenoir City.  Likewise, Fort Loudoun Lake on the Tennessee River retains the British spelling.

Wells believes the combination of John Campbell's signature and the names of TVA's structures should make the issue of Loudoun clear.  Yet, he said the best way to verify the correct spelling is with you.

"Come on out and explore this wonderful fort for yourself.  It's a great part of our country's history and will also let you decide for yourself if it is 'Loudoun' or 'Loudon.'  You decide," said Wells.

Other Loudouns chime in

Loudoun County, Virginia, and Fort Loudoun, Pennsylvania, are also named in honor of John Campbell, the Earl of Loudoun. 

The Virginia namesake has made its feelings known on the spelling of Loudoun on its government website.  A page humorously titled "Never Asked Questions" addresses the pronunciation of the name as well as the spelling.

The website poses the question, "Isn't Loudoun misspelled a lot?"  It then answers by stating:

Unfortunately, yes. As a matter of fact, one of the words used most frequently in search engines to find Loudoun County is "Loudon," a misspelling. We recommend using the correct spelling for best results.