Over 235 years ago in present day eastern Tennessee, voices longed to be heard and recognized. A people consisting of strength, courage and determination were striving to live and prosper on lands lying west of the Appalachian Mountains. The well-being of these individuals were dependent upon the spirit within them, their hearts filled with ambition and dreams, their minds organizing stability and common sense. Their daily hardships were many but the overwhelming sense is that they overcame these and continued to stay in the immediate area. These people who traveled so far from many directions, began to commerce with one another as if they were all family. The dislikes with the likes combining together to create such a passionate love for the land and a deep care for one another. Their lives were forever intertwined as they reflected on their first days of building their homes, sowing their fields and living day to day. The smells of the fresh cut wood, fertile soil and the sounds of the water as it flowed upon the rocky creeks and streams.
These people stood for and represented real freedom as they supported the American Revolutionary War and many lost loved ones to the various battles, Indian attacks also took lives and the wilderness itself claimed many souls as well. Small log cabins lined the landscape in between the tree lines, hillsides, babbling streams. They lived among the wild game with sunrises just over the Appalachian Mountains and sunsets casting shadows on unknown lands lying further west. Over 235 years ago, voices were longing to be heard, to be recognized as an united majority, as a people reaching for freedom in their own right with dreams of becoming the fourteenth state of the new nation. The State of Franklin.
During the days following the war, the people of present eastern Tennessee struggled for a political voice. The location included the following counties; Washington, Sullivan, Greene, Davidson, Sumner and Tennessee in the Middle District. These counties were known as the western counties of North Carolina after 1777. At the closure of the war for independence, North Carolina was reluctant to gain this area due to various of reasons. One of these was it’s location, another was the added expenses, another was the hostility between the Native Americans and finally the need of road improvements, forts and open waterways. The citizens, themselves were seeking protection from the numerous Indian attacks and were also seeking the right to navigate the Mississippi River.
By 1782, more and more families were arriving to the area due to their services performed in the American Revolutionary War. These lands were being distributed by North Carolina in payment of these patriotic duties. For many, upon arrival they found themselves in the middle of confrontations, disagreements and lack of protection from the new government that they fought so hard for. Disheartening is not a strong enough word to describe the feelings of these families residing in these six counties. They felt abandoned and learned quickly to depend on themselves, their new neighbors and their own skills for survival.
In 1784, the people organized into a movement that would separate themselves from North Carolina. The State of Franklin was born and began operating independently with the leadership of John Sevier, named Governor. Upon viewing these actions, North Carolina began to take back control of the western counties but with little protection or guidance for the families. Meanwhile, other families had formed an alliance with Spain who controlled the lower Mississippi valley. This division among the families in acting alone also resulted in the failure of the proposed new state by 1788. During 1789, North Carolina finally ratified the new Constitution by the United States and ceded it’s western lands in Tennessee to the federal government. But, the State of Franklin cannot be summarized in one or two paragraphs. Just as it was over 235 years ago, it demands the full story of it’s truths to be heard.
This is the introduction and first of several segments as we explore the time period of the proposed state and the actual surnames involved. I was hoping to conduct this article as a single entry, however; after discovering so much material while researching the area, I found myself compelled to share the entire story associated with the State of Franklin. Moving to the time period after the American Revolutionary War, the men living in this area could band together to form an instant army consisting of hundreds of armed forces at a moments notice. These men were accustomed to doing this over the years due to brutal Cherokee and Chickamauga attacks. John Sevier once quoted describing these men as “a band of brothers raised in the same family”. In a sense, these men were family because they knew one another so well. They were aware of each other’s struggles, shared their losses, they knew what they were in need of, how the individual families were prospering with their farms, the sickness that took a loved one, shared the joys of wedding days and so much more. These counties were tightly intertwined with one another and guarded this relationship at a moment’s notice.
It was custom during any battle regardless of the situation, if one was injured, another would make sure he was tended too properly and was assisted back home safely. As in every “bunch” a difference of opinion often divides the majority and thus the case in this story. Major Jonathon Tipton was traveling with an injured militia man and was to return to Captain John Sevier after delivering the injured man to his home. Instead, Tipton returned to his own home and Sevier had his commission revoked. From this point, Tipton was in disagreement with Sevier which resulted in fierce battles along the coutryside of eastern Tennessee. It divided the people as if it were a Civil War with North Carolina versus State of Franklin or brother versus brother. These heated battles brought attention to the area and allowed a spotlight to be shed on several residents bringing them to a famed national level.
When the Continental Congress received a memorial from the “Freeman Inhabiting The Country Westward of the Appalachian Mountain” on January 13, 1785, the presentation was conducted by Arthur Campbell, a resident of Washington County, Virginia. His vision was to create a new state from the wilderness counties of southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina. Campbell and his neighbors devised the presentation and approved it with a majority vote. Assuming that this request would be met quickly and approved, Campbell was sadly mistaken. As he soon found out that acknowledging these new states was met with bitter rivals, heated discussions and lack of proper leadership for the people themselves. The request was added to the uncertainty pile and continued there for four years of confusion before disappearing completely.
The question was asked often, “Do the people of organized settlements have the right to request a separate state of boundaries?” If so, what stops any community from submitting such a request? The questions asked involved much more than state recognition. These lands were considered as the frontier, a wilderness with no acting treaty with the Native Americans, no improved roads and little to no protection for the families that resided there. It also involved economics by way of crossing the Appalachian Mountain chain and had many looking into a more natural means of travel. This involved the waterways along the Holston, Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the port of New Orleans. Yet, there were still obstacles along the river route, one was acknowledging all of the several tribes located along the rivers banks and another was concerning Spain’s alliance in the territory.
The fact remains that the new nation was acting upon former guidelines. For instance, they were acting as if they were organizing a new British colony at times while bringing forth new ideas and morals to develop a new nation. This is only a reflection of their past experiences and what they commonly knew. The statement doesn’t downplay their performance, it only demonstrates their common knowledge and the ability to change. They needed time to sort the details, separate state rights and distinguish federal versus state relationships. As it turns out, time was an enemy for the State of Franklin as we’ll find out in the next segment.
As stated earlier, this is an introduction of many future segments with this topic. The vast amount of data collected over the past several months will be shared here on Piedmont Trails. Surnames, detailed history and much more all in association with the State of Franklin. It’s important to share history and genealogy with others and I hope you enjoy these segments about the State of Franklin. Enjoy Your Journey To The Past !!
- History of Washington County Tennessee by Joyce and W. Eugene Cox Published by The Overmountain Press in Johnson City, TN
- The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture-Arthur Campbell
- 1st photo map of the State of Franklin courtesy of the Appalachian Magazine dated December 18, 2018
- 2nd photo map of the State of Franklin courtesy of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
Categories: American Revolutionary War, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia
I am LOVING your “Piedmont Trails” articles, especially the details about TN, KY, NC, and GA. Thank you for your research and excellent writing. I’ve printed off several articles and look forward to reading this ‘State of Franklin’ article this evening. I wanted to ‘request’ a subject, if you would be so kind… It occurs to me that my ancestoral family may have been in the State of Franklin region at that time.
I am descended from a War of 1812 veteran named Holland Watts. As best I can discover, he was born in an unknown location between 1786 and 1790. The first I find the definite man is on p. 27 of “James Smith of Wilkes Co., GA, and Allied Families”, by Vicki B. Druschwitz and Donna Haygood Sarchet.
Watts married Salatha Smith on 22 Jul 1805 in Greene Co., GA. But previously, he had made his home with the Cherokee Indians in the Wilkes / Greene Co., GA area. His name has been associated with the Indian Hanging Maw. According to the book, Holland Watts and his brother-in-law James Smith migrated into Greene Co., TN about 1807/07, where they ‘bought’ land on Lick Creek by indenture and remained until 1809/10. From East TN, Holland Watts moved his family to Kentucky, settling in Knox Co. about 1811. It was from Knox Co., KY that he served as Private in the War of 1812 in the KY Militia under Capt. James McNeil.
Holland Watts and his wife Salatha Smith are on the 1810 & 1820 censuses of Brush Creek, Knox Co.; and in Knox Co. for the 1830 census as well. He died in Mar 1845 and is presumed buried in Knox Co., but neither he nor wife Salatha have been located on a 1840 census nor have their burial places been found.
I’d like to learn more about Hanging Maw in a Piedmont Trails article on him / them, with Holland Watts. Hanging Maw is a ‘mysterious’, illusive figure in my research and I’d like to know more about him. I think your broader readership would also find the time period, locale, and personalities interesting.
Thanks again for your excellent brief history articles about that area. I look forward to every one.
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First of all, allow me to Thank You So Much for your kind words !! I greatly appreciate them !! Also, Thank You So Much for sharing your family history with me. I love when I hear family stories filled with mysteries and fascinating history. I simply can’t get my fill and I love every second of it. I am intrigued by Hanging Maw and I just may have to take you up on your request. We’ll see what happens !! In the meantime, Stay Safe and Enjoy Your Journey To The Past !!
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As ever, Carol, an you reveal intriguing history and present it in an interesting writing style.Your contributions are really appreciated.
I suppose that this independent streak in the Eastern Tennesee area would also flow into explaining why Eastern Tennessee was so pro-Union in the 1861- 65 conflict. Their stance in favour of the Union was in stark contrast to much of the Confederate sentiment exhibited in the rest of Tennessee. In effect it was the equivalent of West Virginia further to the north.
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Hi Leighton8-First of all, allow me to express my Thanks for your kind words !! I greatly appreciate them. As far as the topic of the State of Franklin, I felt the urge to share the information in hopes that others will learn of the details.
In addressing your comment about eastern TN and the years during the Civil War, I have found recently a great many authors who would sum this particular subject much better than myself. I mainly concentrate on the years before and during the American Revolutionary War. I know of the history from the area as being “labeled” pro-Union as well as portions of western North Carolina as well. Thanks Again for the compliments !!