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