I have often wondered if John Sevier had been given the chance to know the details of his future before he left Virginia, would he have still made the trip to Tennessee? Speculations often lead to four wheeling adventures off the main road of research. It also makes one wonder of the different possibilities. If you’ve not heard of Colonel John Sevier and his mark on early American History, allow me to attempt a proper introduction. A man of regular height, Col John Sevier was a son, a brother, a husband and a father of at least eighteen known children. He was an adventurer, an entrepenuer, a frontiersman, a leader for freedom and a warrior during many battles. He was a strong-willed man filled with visions of the future. Plans, dreams, sustainable living which he protected at any given moment. Let’s step back in time and view the man named Colonel John Sevier.
Born during the year of 1745 in Augusta County, Virginia to the parents of Valentine and Joanna Goad Sevier. John was the oldest of 7 known children and grew up in present day New Market, Rockingham County. His father was a well-known tavern keeper, store merchant and fur trader. The early years of John’s schooling were held at the “old field school”. He would later attend Staunton and refuse to attend William and Mary. Education was not on John’s current list of things to achieve. But, he was educated and experienced at a young age. John learned many skills and opened his own business just prior to his first marriage. He married at the age of 16 to Sarah Hawkins and continued to live in the area. He also farmed and traveled during these first years of married life. John and his brother, Valentine would embark on exploration trips of the western lands to primarily hunt, explore and conduct surveys with various surveying parties. Owning land gained immediate respect and freedom during this colonial period. John saw the possibilities of both in the eastern lands of present day Tennessee.
John moved his family to Carter Valley. Now, when I say John moved his family, I mean John moved his entire family. This included his parents and all of his siblings as well. A home was built along the Nolichucky River and a nickname would emerge for John years later, referring to him as Nolichucky Jack. The area was remote, filled with wild game and fertile soil. It is assumed that John had previous dealings with the Cherokee and felt comfortable moving his family to this location. But, I believe John used his communication skills to outwit the Cherokee and he was very sharp in utilizing military tactics in the wilderness as well. He and others organized lease agreements with the Cherokee leaders in order to farm the land and settle. John was one of the leaders who formed the Watauga Association that established an early government for the citizens of the area. He was a natural leader. John was appointed clerk of the association in 1775 and was elected to the court during the year of 1776. He was often seen engaging in conversations of the future, making plans to prosper and persuade others to join his ideas and way of thinking.
Fort Watauga during a Cherokee attack
John with other settlers helped to organize a Committee of Safety and would be involved in several engagements during the years leading up to the American Revolutionary War. Some of these were the Battle of Point Pleasant, attacks located in Boonesborough, Harrodsburg and Fort Watauga. During the summer of 1776, the Cherokee attacked the settlers in this region and the fort known as Watauga was attacked. Unknown to John at the time, he would meet his future wife during this attack. Many settlers lost their lives and revenge was carried out with attacks by a force of men organized by John Sevier. They torched and burned various Cherokee villages and towns. These raids and ambush attacks took place for the remaining year of 1776. These settlers were alone in the wilderness defending land that in reality they didn’t own. They received no assistance from the crown in most cases. Life in the area of eastern Tennessee was hard and strenuous but these families carried onward and proclaimed the Watauga area loyal to the rising onset of American colonies and freedom.
Memorial Dedicated to Sarah Hawkins Sevier 1746-1780
To fully understand John Sevier, we have to look at his best friend, his wife, Sarah. She was a woman of genuine inner strength and courage that was completely devoted to her husband’s ideas and morals. She was described by many as “delicate’ and “proper”. Sarah married at the age of 15 in 1761. By 1773, she was the mother of 7 small children. Together they endured the long trip to eastern Tennessee with all family members arriving safely. This not only says something about John, but proclaims a great deal about Sarah as well. She was an educated woman and often took her post at the fort during her husband’s absence. By the spring of 1780, Sarah gave birth to her tenth child. News of another Cherokee attack provoked John to move his family to the interior of a fort along the Nolichucky River. Sarah died that afternoon and the burial was conducted at night due to the fear of a sunrise attack. Legend states that a storm was brewing to the west and pouring rain and wind was quickly upon those attending the funeral proceedings. The newborn, Nancy, was present at the burial along with John and his children. Her grave was leveled and bushes were quickly planted and leaves placed on the ground to hide the burial from the approaching Cherokee party.
By August of the same year, John married Catherine Sherrill. Catherine was known as Bonnie Kate and she was rescued by John during the 1776 attack at Fort Caswell, known today as Fort Watauga. Bonnie Kate was running away from the Cherokee during an attack and climbed up the fort wall while John killed the Indian chasing her and pulled her to safety. Catherine would be the mother of eight children making John the father of 18. By October of 1780, John marched to King’s Mountain and became Lt. Col. of the Washington County Regiment of NC Militia. His son, James, accompanied him although he was not yet old enough to be included in the list of men participants. John received funding for the march from John Adair and put his own farm and land up for collateral. The 240 men marched down the Blue Ridge Mountains hoping to make a stand for the cause of freedom among the colonies. John lost his brother, Robert, during the battle. One wonders the thoughts going through his mind during the long walk home to Tennessee. He lost his wife and brother during these months after defending his family against the Cherokee and defending the right of freedom from a King who lived thousands of miles away.
I am in suspense as to the probable or improbability of being called into the Army, a station I would prefer to any other that of being in arms to defend an injured and grossly insulted country.
John Sevier 1812
Upon arriving home, the settlers had heard rumors of planned Indian attacks. By December of 1780, a large group of 300 men organized by John and others began several attacks on the Cherokee, beginning with the Chota village on Christmas Day. The group followed with the capture of Chilhowee and Tallassee, burning villages as they went. They ended the raid by New Year’s Day and began their journey home. During the month of February, 1781, John Sevier set out again burning the villages of the Cherokee with approx. 150 men. 50 Cherokee warriors were captured and many were killed in battle. In September of 1782, Sevier was determined to seek Dragging Canoe and his band of Cherokee warriors. Sevier defeated a small group of them at Lookout Mountain and burned several small villages along Coosa River.
State of Franklin
During the year of 1784, John Sevier was attempting to create a new state and separate from North Carolina completely as a district. North Carolina was pressured to cede it’s lands of Tennessee and added they were glad to do so as the area of Tennessee was costly and unprofitable at best. In March of the following year, Sevier was elected Governor of the newly proposed state of Franklin. Many factors came into play with this subject and the details require a complete separate segment on the state of Franklin alone. I will have a new video concerning this subject during the next month on YouTube. John became very active in politics and continued to attempt control over the Cherokee Nation in eastern Tennessee. Continuous battles and attacks were occurring all through the years as John served for Governor of Franklin. This was a historic time and should be remembered for the facts and the people. Following the Battle of Franklin, the current Governor of North Carolina, Samuel Johnston, issued a warrant for John’s arrest in July of 1788. Later in the months to follow, John attacked a local store owner, David Deaderick, for not selling him the liquor he desired. A group of local citizens formed together and captured John Sevier. He was transported to Morganton, North Carolina to stand trial for treason. He was moved to Burke County and released by the sheriff who was William Morrison, well known to John as a Battle of King’s Mountain veteran. The trial never took place.
By 1789, John Sevier was again involved with a huge Cherokee invasion occurring at the Battle of Flint Creek. By February of the same year, Sevier takes the oath of allegiance to North Carolina and is pardoned by then Governor, Alexander Martin. Sevier also accepts the seat of State Senator. He is a delegate for representing Greene County and works to gain the ratification of the US Constitution. The territory known as Franklin was entered as part of the Northwest Ordinance by 1790 and was included with the Tennessee Territory. By 1796, the land was admitted to the Union as the State of Tennessee. Although William Blount served as Governor of the territory, John Sevier was the first elected state Governor of Tennessee. He served three two year terms and the term limits prohibited him from serving a fourth.
John Sevier and Andrew Jackson were well known rivals and after the inauguration of governor, John accused Andrew of adultery with Rachel Donelson. Andrew was so upset over this public humiliation, he challenged Sevier to a duel. John quickly accepted and it was to take place at Southwest Point. But, an incident occurred with John’s wagon delaying him and then once he caught up with Jackson, Sevier’s horse ran away carrying his pistols with it. Guns were drawn at the scene with Jackson holding a pistol aimed for Sevier’s head. Sevier’s son aiming another pistol at Jackson’s head. After much yelling and arguing, the scene was calmed and all parties separated and went their own way. Years later, the two would join hands in a friendly handshake and would remain friends for their remaining years.
Sevier turned his attention to other projects after the turn of the century. He ran for the senate seat of Knox County and won easily. In 1811, he ran for US Congress and won serving the 2nd District. He supported the efforts for the War of 1812 and President James Madison offered him a command in the army, but Sevier turned it down. He was on a survey expedition for President James Madison in the Alabama Territory during 1815 and contracted a fever. For over two weeks he would remain in his tent suffering from the illness until he died one day after his birthday at the age of 71.
So, exactly what was the core of this man named John Sevier? What were the most important things to him? He was not a member of any church, although he did attend the Lebanon In The Fork Presbyterian Church with his family. When he did attend services, he would not wear his military uniform. Whenever anyone would approach him about his deeds for the community, he would reply, “I was only an instrument, guided by the Infinite Goodness.” He spent a great deal of his time away from home and his family. Although, his sons would often accompany him on his travels throughout his life. Some say, he was deeply broken hearted when his first wife, Sarah died, and others say he quickly married Bonnie Kate in order to support his small children. This was common practice during this time period. Many have documented the love this couple shared and Bonnie Kate was very open with her conversations about her feelings for John and his feelings for her. John gladly entertained guests at his home in Marble Springs and Bonnie Kate was proclaimed as the perfect hostess. Once, John brought home Cherokee prisoners and held them captive at his home. Bonnie Kate prepared meals for them and cleaned their quarters so neatly, they didn’t want to leave. During the 1770’s John and Sarah established a well maintained farm named Mount Pleasant but during the year of 1797, John moved his family to the Knoxville area. Building only a foundation of a home, he moved again to south Knoxville and remained there at Marble Springs.
John Sevier was a natural born leader. He held a power to convince others to follow his lead and act upon them. He was a strong family man, determined to bring his parents and entire family to eastern Tennessee. His father, Valentine, lived to be 100 and died peacefully in his bed. Many proclaim that John blamed the Cherokee for Sarah’s death, but I’ve not been able to confirm this with any documents. I picture him as a bold upright man who demanded respect at all times, yet trying to conduct himself in a proper manner due to his role in the community. I think he failed at some things, was harsh at times and possibly unfair and quick to judge. But, after all, we are talking about a man and not a perfect person?
John Sevier was indeed open with his ideas for eastern Tennessee and the United States as well. Many people liked his visions and agreed with them. He most heartily made a difference for Tennessee and was one of the first settlers to organize and defend the area for early settlements. When he died, a simple marker was placed on the site, stating only, “John Sevier”. It wasn’t until 1889, when the first Governor of Tennessee was brought home to the courthouse yard in Knoxville. Today, a huge memorial is dedicated to him. He was proclaimed a hero of King’s Mountain and fought over thirty-five battles. It may be interesting to know that John Sevier did not die a wealthy man even though he received a political salary for the majority of his life. He owned his land and his home. Both were opened to his neighbors who knocked on his door. Various people would come to him many times and he was happy to oblige them all. His children were well cared for as so the rest of his family. But, I think once John became a known leader in the community, everyone in the area became family to him. And, I believe that’s the real legacy of Nolichucky Jack.
- Tennessee Encyclopedia
- The Known Patriots at The Battle of Kings Mountain
- Life of General John Sevier
- Diary of John Sevier
- New Market, Virginia History
- John Sevier, Citizen, Soldier, Legislator, Governor, Statesman
- Marble Springs Historic Log Structures
- Sevier Family of Madison Parish, LA
- History of Washington County, Tennessee by Joyce and W. Eugene Cox and Washington County Historical Association Overmountain Press, Johnson City, Tennessee 2001
- Fort Watauga Photo courtesy of Sevierville website
- State of Franklin map photo credited to North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources 109 E. Jones Street Raleigh, NC 27601
- Photo of John Sevier courtesy of Wikipedia.org
- Photo of John Sevier letter courtesy of Case Antiques Auction Lot 4 Knoxville, TN
- Photo of Sarah Hawkins Sevier memorial courtesy of Pinterest Pin