Memphis began as a Native American tribal settlement, first established by the Chickasaw Indians but is actually named after the ancient capital of Egypt of the same name.  Early European explorers began visiting Memphis as early as the mid-sixteenth century.  By the late seventeenth century, European settlement in the area was strong, with French explorer Rene Robert Cavelier establishing Fort Prudhomme in the area at that time.

Tennessee became a state in 1796, and Memphis was officially founded in 1819 but was not actually incorporated as a Tennessee city until 1826.  The rest of the nineteenth century was a rocky time for Memphis inhabitants.  During the Civil War, Memphis was captured by the Union armed forces, putting the area in to turmoil.  During this same time period, Memphis was plagued with several yellow fever epidemics which killed many of the people in the area.

Once the troubles of the eighteen century came to a close, Memphis began to thrive as a major city which was home to a number of critical people in American history.  Civil rights politics were often located in Memphis, and Memphis has the bittersweet claim to fame of being the home of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  On a more upbeat note, Memphis is the location of Graceland,  home of Elvis Presley and full of many musical landmarks.

A longer and more detailed history of Memphis can be found here.