Tennessee AHGP

Tennessee, Part of North Carolina

Washington District, a County

The General Assembly of North Carolina in November, 1777, formed Washington District into Washington County, assigning to it the boundaries of the whole of the present great State of Tennessee. By an act passed at the same session, establishing Entry Takers' offices in the several counties, lands which had accrued or should accrue to the State by treaty or conquest, were subject to entry.

The Public Lands

At the same session of the Assembly provision was made for opening a land office in Washington County, at the rate of forty shillings per hundred acres, with the liberal permission to each head of a family to take up six hundred and forty acres himself, one hundred acres for his wife, and the same quantity for each of his children. The law provided that the Watauga settlers should not be obliged to pay for their occupancies until January, 1777, and then, for any surplus entered above the quantity before mentioned, the purchaser was required to pay five pounds per hundred acres.

Early Immigration

The facility for taking up the choice lands of the country induced great numbers of persons, principally those without means, to immigrate to the frontier. A poor man, with seldom more than a single pack horse on which the wife and infant were carried, with a few clothes and bed quilts, a skillet and a small sack of meal, was often seen wending his way along the narrow mountain trace with a rifle upon his shoulder the elder sons carrying an axe, a hoe, sometimes an auger and a saw, and the older daughters leading" or carrying the smaller children. Without a dollar in his pocket when he arrived at the distant frontier, the emigrant became at once a large land holder. Such men laid the foundation of society and government in Tennessee. They brought no wealth but had what was far better, industrious and frugal habits, hardihood and enterprise, fearlessness and self-reliance. With such elements in the character of its pioneers any community will soon subdue the wilderness to the purposes of agriculture.

Road Commissioners

Hitherto emigrants had reached the new settlements upon pack-horses and along the old trading paths or narrow traces that had first been blazed by hunters. No wagon road had been opened across the mountains of North Carolina to the West. The Legislature of this year, 1779, appointed commissioners to lay off and mark a road from the court house in Washington County into the County of Burke. After that road was opened emigrants of larger property began to reach the country, and some of the settlements assumed the appearance of greater comfort and thrift.

Encouraging the Militia and Volunteers

Under the provisions of an act passed for encouraging the militia and volunteers to prosecute the war against the Indians, the militia of Washington County was, for the greater part of this year, in the service of the State. This enabled every able-bodied man between eighteen and fifty years of age to secure the lands he wished to own. It had the further effect of keeping the frontier well-guarded. Companies of rangers were kept upon the most exposed points to scour the woods and canebrakes, and to pursue and disperse small parties of ill-disposed Indians who, hovering about the settlements, occasionally killed and plundered the inhabitants. Under the protection of these rangers the settlements were widened and extended down the Nolichucky below the mouth of Big Limestone, and down the Holston to the treaty line. Indeed, the frontiers were so well guarded that the Indians considered their incursions as perilous to themselves as they could be to the whites, and for a time abandoned them, causing the whites to become careless. The relaxation of their vigilance and care invited aggression and a renewal of the outrages and massacres which had been experienced by the whites from the Indians.

New Counties

Soon Sullivan and Green Counties were formed from Washington District. Washington District was added to Salisbury Judicial District which contained several counties. Jonesboro, the oldest town in the State, was made the county seat of Washington County.

Vigilance Committees

The Tories continued depredations and formed strong bands for protection, centralizing their efforts against the adherents to the American cause. Vigilance committees were formed by the inhabitants for safety, and they promptly reported acts of violence and indicted men for being Tories. The Whigs had two bodies of dragoons, numbering about thirty each, to punish disorderly conduct, which they did admirably. They required the Tory leaders in crime to expiate their guilt by their lives. After order was restored the committees disbanded.

The Christian Ministry

Amid these scenes of violence and disorder, was shedding its benign influence. In 1779, Tidence Lane, a Baptist preacher, organized a congregation and a church house was erected on Buffalo Ridge. Rev. Samuel Doak was preaching in Washington and Sullivan Counties and Rev. Jeremiah Lambert, the first Methodist preacher, came in 1783 to the Holston Circuit.

The Chickamauga Indians occupied the summit of the mountains near Lookout, the impregnable fortress of nature, and defied the whites to occupy it. They began their scalping on inoffensive emigrants. Virginia and North Carolina in 1779, selected Evan Shelby to subdue them. He invaded their town by water, which astonished them so that they fled, making no resistance. Shelby burned their town. Five hundred Indians escaped and founded the five towns which subsequently annoyed the Cumberland settlement very much.

In Search of Good Lands

Richard Hogan, Spencer, Holliday, and others, in 1778, came from Kentucky in search of good lands. They secured and planted a field, which was the first plantation in Middle Tennessee. It was near Bledsoe's Lick. A large hollow tree stood nearby, in which Spencer lived. Holliday decided to return to Kentucky. Spencer protested, but without avail. In the meantime Holliday had lost his knife, whereupon Spencer broke his and gave half to his colleague.

The Western Settlements

During the Revolution, the western settlements were not in a condition to contribute very greatly to the American cause. They were few but not insignificant, and being called upon, they responded. John Sevier commanded the militia of Washington County, and Isaac Shelby that of Sullivan County, which amounted to about five hundred men. They induced Colonel William Campbell, of Virginia, who had four hundred men, to join them. They elected him commander of the united forces. Colonel James Williams joined them and their forces numbered fifteen hundred. They realized they were fighting a great general, whose courage was as desperate as his generalship was skillful. He had to rely upon Tories who wanted to surrender, finding themselves in a baptism of fire, but time after time he rallied his men. Patrick Ferguson, the British officer, selected the top of a cone-shaped hill, which he named King's Mountain, and said "the Almighty Himself could not drive him from it." The assailants were desperate and determined. Ascending the mountain on different sides, their deadly rifles literally mowed down the Tories. Finally Ferguson was killed, and (Dupoister) the second in command, immediately surrendered. This was a great victory for the mountaineers. In 1783, Davidson County was organized and named, and James Robertson was its first Representative to the North Carolina Legislature.

Indian Depredations

The Indians were then contemplating an invasion. Sevier returned home from King's Mountain famous, and when he was notified of their hostile intention he at once selected troops and hastened to meet them. Finding the savages at Boyd's Creek, he routed them. Re-enforcements joined him, which enabled him to cross the Little Tennessee and pursue the Indians till he had burned their dwellings, destroyed their crops, and driven away their animals. He marched south through their country in the region of the Coosa River, demolishing as he went. The next year he invaded their country at the source of the Little Tennessee. The Indians would not always conform to treaties, and they had to be dealt with in a summary way. Their deeds were atrocious and degrading, but they saw North Carolina gradually extending its line and securing their lands, which put them on the defensive.

Futile Hopes

The Watauga people evidently hoped when they formed the articles of association that at no remote day they would be governed by royal governors, but adversity defeated it. When they petitioned North Carolina in 1776 for annexation, it was readily granted. They expected defense, but it never came. An Indian war was always an impending contingency. They had had no adequate military organization, no method of compelling enlistment, no means of collecting taxes. This was bad enough. Subsequently, abuses became worse.

Cession of Territory

In April, 1784, the General Assembly of North Carolina ceded to the United States all the territory embraced in Tennessee. The cession required its acceptance within two years. To this the settlers complained because North Carolina left them without a government for two years. Indignation pervaded the entire settlement. The Watauga pride had been insulted and North Carolina was bitterly reviled. The most extravagant denunciations of her ingratitude and tyranny were indulged. They regarded themselves without a government, but sought a solution of this difficulty in their own resources.

 AHGP Tennessee

Source: History of Tennessee, by George D. Free, A.M., Nashville, Tennessee, 1895-1896.


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