Tennessee AHGP

The State of Franklin

In North Carolina and Tennessee

When the Revolutionary War came to an end, the new American government found itself greatly in debt. Nor was this all. The government had been formed in such a loose way that it had no power to levy taxes for the payment of its debts.

Many plans were proposed for getting out of this difficulty. At last the Federal Congress asked that all the States owning public lands should give these to the general government. The latter would then sell the lands and not only pay its own debts, but also the debts which the States had incurred in helping to carry on the war.

North Carolina agreed to this plan. In 1784 her legislature, sitting at Hillsboro, ceded to the United States all her lands west of the Alleghany Mountains. The national government was allowed two years in which to accept the gift. In the meantime North Carolina, would govern the territory, and, if the gift should not be finally accepted, the property would revert to her.

When the people on the Watauga and in the other settlements heard what had been done, they were much dis-pleased. They said they had not been consulted about the matter. They were also wrongly informed about the details, and thought that they should have no government for two years. As the Federal authorities at that time had no fixed plan for governing national territory and admitting new States, the western people also felt uncertain as to what would be their fate.

There ought not to have been any misunderstanding, for the members of the legislature from west of the mountains were present at Hillsboro when the act ceding the territory was passed, and they voted for it. It was also generally understood that the western country would at some time be formed into a new State. This had been provided for in the constitution of North Carolina.

The fact was that there had never been good feeling between the new settlements and the mother State. Each was disposed to be contrary and to do the opposite of what the other proposed. Thus it seems that large bodies of people, and even States, may behave no better than cross children.

The people west of the mountains said that the State always treated them as if they were stepchildren. She grumbled when she had to pay out money for their benefit. She did not allow them a sufficient number of courts or proper military organization to defend themselves against the Indians. And now, to add insult to injury, the land office was ordered closed so that no more, land could be bought. Yet North Carolina had been careful to carry away their taxes, they said, as well as all the money paid for the public lands in the western country.

After thinking it all over, the western people began to feel that they were nearly as badly oppressed as the thirteen colonies had been. The fact that they had shed their blood at King's Mountain to drive away the invader from the eastern counties seemed to count as nothing. And now to be ceded away without so much as saying, "By your permission!" It was too bad. The time had come for action. They would form a new State and take care of themselves!

Why not? The population of the western counties had increased to twenty-five thousand. The frontier had been extended to what is now the heart of East Tennessee. Settlements had been made even as far west as Sevier county. A new wagon road, opened through the wilderness from North Carolina in 1777, had brought a better-to-do class of citizens. The people had scattered out from their forts upon fertile farms and schools were being established.

In other words, the infant Watauga was indeed grow-ing into a stalwart youth of wider experience and greater powers. The people were beginning to feel their ability for self-government. They remembered what the Watauga association had done under much less favorable circumstances. Yes; they would form a new State and take care of themselves!

At this time there was no printing done west of the mountains. Besides, people were careless about preserving records of every kind. The result is that we have a very imperfect history of the State of Franklin. The historians are much mixed up in their accounts of the matter. Even the number of conventions that were held in forming the new State is uncertain. About many things you may therefore expect a difference of opinion.

By common consent, each captain's company of militia chose two men to form a committee in each county for considering the situation as indicated in the last chapter. These committees, having talked the matter over, recommended that the people elect deputies to meet in convention at Jonesboro.

An election was held, and the convention met on August 23, 1784. John Sevier was made president of the convention. A committee was appointed to consider everything carefully. This committee reported that they were of the opinion that their case was indeed like that of the thirteen colonies. They therefore recommended separation from North Carolina and the formation of a new State.

After hearing this report, the convention took up the question of forming a new State, and a. majority of the delegates voted for it. The boundaries of the State were not definitely fixed, as many of the delegates hoped that Southwest Virginia would become a part of it. There had been talk of forming a new State from all the mountain country. It was to include western North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, southeastern Kentucky, northern Georgia, and northern Alabama. Some people yet think it unfortunate that this was not done, because the people of these sections are in many ways so much alike.

There was a large crowd of people outside the little courthouse where the convention sat. When the news of what had been done was announced from the door-step, they all shouted approval.

The deputies then called a new convention to adopt a constitution and give a name to the new State. Each county was to elect five members. The new body was to meet September 16th at the same place, but somehow did not get together till later.

When this second convention had organized, the various members reported that the people were much divided in sentiment as to the best course to pursue. Many different opinions were expressed in the convention. There was no agreement, and the convention finally broke up in great confusion.

The trouble was that the new movement had been entered into without any sanction of law. North Carolina still claimed control and ownership; nor was there any provision under the Federal government for such action. Those engaged in the movement were really, though doubtless without intending it, in a state of rebellion against civil authority.

By this time the legislature of North Carolina was again in session. News had come to that body that the national government was not going to treat North Carolina fairly in settling the debt question. So a vote was taken and the act ceding the western lands was repealed. The State would not give away her western settlements after all.

The governor of North Carolina and other leading citizens had heard what was going on west of the mountains. They said it was wrong to form a new State, and called upon the western people to drop the matter.

The people of North Carolina had at first thought that they would be glad to get rid of the western counties. Now, since the latter were so willing to go, they had changed their minds. The legislature even hastened to establish a superior court at Jonesboro. By its order the Washington county militia was formed into a brigade, with John Sevier in command.

With this turn of affairs, many of the western people said they were satisfied and ready to go back under the government of the mother State. John Sevier felt that way himself, and said that they might as well give up the idea of a new State. He thought that all parties would have to agree about the matter before a new State could be formed.

In those days there were very few newspapers, and news was carried by word of mouth and private letters. In this way the western people often got false ideas as to the action and intention of North Carolina. They also had their minds fixed on forming a new State government, and it was hard to change them.

It seems that the convention last mentioned met again at Jonesboro. Others think it was a new convention that was chosen later. Sevier had been elected as delegate against his will, and was again made president of the convention. He yielded to the wishes of the people and again fell into line.

A plan of government for the new State was agreed upon. It was to be submitted to a new convention for adoption or rejection. At the same time a legislature was ordered to be elected.

Another convention met in December, 1785, at Greeneville. The plan of government submitted by the former convention had met with so much opposition among the people that it was rejected. Rev. Samuel Houston then offered another constitution, which was also voted down. John Sevier, who was again president of the convention, proposed that they adopt the constitution of North Carolina with necessary changes. This was agreed to.

Several names were proposed for the new State. Some members wanted to call it Frankland, or the land of freemen. Others suggested that it be named after Benjamin Franklin, the great American philosopher and statesman. The latter proposition finally prevailed, and it became the State of Franklin. Greeneville was made the permanent capital. It was then a rude village of perhaps twenty log cabins.

The sessions of the convention were held in the county courthouse. This was a small structure of unhewn logs, with only one door and no windows. The cracks between the logs let in sufficient light. In such a lowly place was the State of Franklin born.

The convention sent General Cocke with a copy of the constitution and a memorial to Congress asking admission into the Union. Sad to say, he was not received or even noticed by Congress. That body evidently' considered the whole movement irregular and without the sanction of law.

The Franklin legislature had met at Jonesboro early in the year 1785 and elected John Sevier governor of the new State and David Campbell judge of the superior court. Such offices are now filled by a vote of the people.


Governor Sevier's Residence in Washington County

Martin Academy, under Dr. Samuel Doak, was granted a charter. This is believed to have been the first legislation in favor of education which occurred west of the Alleghany Mountains. The institution stood near the present site of Washington College.

Salaries of State officers were provided for. The governor received about $1,000 a year, and other officers in proportion. As before stated, there was at this time no printing press west of the mountains. So the laws of Franklin were never printed. They were published by reading them out at the militia musters, where all the people had gathered.

John Tipton was the leader of the old State party. When the new movement began, he was strongly in favor of it; but he soon changed and worked as zealously for the opposite side. Sevier had also wavered, but he went back to the new State party.

Tipton held a North Carolina court at Buffalo', in Washington County. One day he brought a posse of men and seized the records of the Franklin court, which was sitting at Jonesboro, and put the justices out of the courthouse. He also broke up the Franklin court at Greeneville. Having been elected senator, he sat for awhile in the North Carolina Assembly.

Much confusion had been produced by trying to run two governments at the same time over the same people. There was little or no bloodshed, but much contention and quarreling. One party would lake away court records and the other party would take them back again. In this way many valuable papers were lost.

The people paid taxes to whichever party they pleased. Most persons did not pay any taxes at all. There was uncertainty about the settling of estates and the probating of wills. People who wanted to get married never knew when the ceremony was legally performed. In after years the State of Tennessee had to pass a law to make the Franklin marriages legal.

Finally everybody became so disgusted with this state of affairs that the leaders tried to make a compromise whereby both governments could run along smoothly, side by side, without any friction until the dispute could be settled. A meeting with this purpose in view was held on the 20th of March, 1787. Governor Sevier represented Franklin and Evan Shelby represented North Carolina. The latter was brigadier-general of the western militia which mustered under the old State.

According to the compromise agreement, the people were allowed to pay taxes to either government. All lawsuits were to be stopped, so far as possible. Each party was to have its own justices of the peace, but they were to use the same jail for prisoners.

As this arrangement was not expected to last forever, each party was advised to elect members to the North Carolina legislature and instruct them to settle the whole matter in the way that they thought best. However, the compromise plan was not satisfactory to either party, and proved a failure.

The governor of North Carolina, having been applied to by the old State party to send a military force to put down the opposition, refused to do so. Instead, he sent a very peaceful letter and an address to the people, advising them to wait till they were better prepared before they formed a new State. Most persons accepted this advice.

Sevier, doubtless in part on account of the antagonism between him and Tipton, hesitated to accept these terms. He formed an alliance with the State of Georgia to subdue the Creek Indians and occupy the lands in the Great Bend of the Tennessee River. This was when the States were acting under the Articles of Confederation and were more independent in their actions than they were after the Constitution had been adopted.

By this movement Sevier hoped to secure the mediation of Georgia in favor of Franklin. He may also have thought that, if the worst came, he and his friends would immigrate to the Great Bend and be independent of their enemies. The last legislature of Franklin met in September, 1787. It opened a land office and authorized the taking of the Great Bend country.

In the latter part of 1786 the new State had tried again to get the old State's consent to depart in peace. She appointed General Cocke and Judge Campbell as commissioners to plead her case before the North Carolina legislature.

General Cocke went and made an eloquent plea, but Judge Campbell was detained at home by ill health. Governor Sevier and Judge Campbell both sent very kind letters, but nothing definite was accomplished. The governor of North Carolina wrote very kindly in return. His letter had the effect of weakening the power of the Franklin government.

By 1787 the new government existed only in name. Nearly all its friends decided that the movement was a mistake, and deserted the cause. Sevier, being the leader, naturally hated to give up. He retired to Greene County and busied himself with protecting the frontier against the Indians.

In the latter part of the year a writ was issued under the North Carolina government against the estate of Sevier on some plea of debt. It was executed early in 1788, and Sevier's Negroes were seized. They were carried to the house of Colonel John Tipton for safe keeping.

Sevier heard of the proceeding and came from Greene County with one hundred and fifty men to rescue his property. He besieged Tipton in his residence. After a series of skirmishes and the capture of a pail of his troops, Sevier finally withdrew.

Sevier went off for some months on an expedition against the Indians. When he returned, he was arrested at Jonesboro by Tipton, who handcuffed him and sent him to Morganton, North Carolina, for trial. Some of Sevier's friends followed with his favorite horse. While the trial was in progress, they led the horse to the courthouse door. Sevier ran out, and, leaping into the saddle, galloped off at full speed. He escaped over the mountains to his home on the Nollichucky.

The North Carolina legislature passed an act of pardon for everybody except Sevier. He was treated as an outlaw. Yet Greene County elected him to the North Carolina senate, and he went the next fall to take his seat. After a hasty repeal of the act of outlawry, he was admitted.

Sevier was soon appointed brigadier-general of the militia in the western counties. The year following he was sent to Congress as their first representative. Thus he was the first congressman from the Mississippi Valley. The little State of Franklin had passed quietly away.

 AHGP Tennessee

Tennessee History Stories, By T. C. Karns, B. F. Johnson Publishing Co., Atlanta, 1904

 

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