The foundation for the newly proposed State of Franklin was indeed solid. Approved by the majority, the right to separate from North Carolina was received with very little negativity with the exception of one strong voice, John Tipton. The last segment shared North Carolina’s actions with the area and the establishment of Washington County. A new leading commander, John Sevier, was taking shape over the western lands in more ways than one. The attention of new NC landowners together with plans of dissolving the State of Franklin had quickly began soon after the NC Land Grab Act of 1783. A great many prominent and leading officials stood the chance of losing their newly acquired lands if a new state was recognized. The State of Franklin represented a threat to their prosperity and future growth. The people of eastern Tennessee were beginning to gain popularity all throughout the United States. New states were having difficulty with specific areas as the news traveled about Franklin and North Carolina. Massachusetts was having an awkward time dealing with people organizing themselves and attempting to submit new proposals for state separation to Congress. A great deal of attention held both good and bad favors for the families residing beyond the Appalachian mountains. Let’s explore the next phase and continue our journey with the State of Franklin.
John Sevier may have thought that by North Carolina recognizing and establishing the county of Washington, the need for the State of Franklin would quickly subside. Sevier’s quote in regards to the new Washington District is as follows: “satisfy the people with the old State and we shall pursue no further measures as to a new state”. Sevier would go further with this realm of thinking and discourage elections to the legislatures. However; the next session brought about change and Sevier accepted the fact that the people were moving forward as planned with or without him. Sevier stepped into position and was appointed governor of Franklin. This added the leadership needed for Arthur Campbell to continue with his proposals and talks among Congress members to fully recognize the area as the upcoming 14th state.
Another interesting note that may have contributed to Sevier’s change of thinking could be located at Muscle Shoals at the Great Bend of the Tennessee River. Sevier was an active land pursuer like many of the men of this time period. During negotiations with several North Carolina businessmen, he secured grants at Muscle Shoals and was eager to create a new settlement in that area. If the State of Franklin would broaden the boundaries to include Muscle Shoals, then his land would be secure and his plans for another settlement would occur. Arthur Campbell submitted the boundaries for the new state to Congress and they did include this particular area.
North Carolina Governor Alexander Martin was not pleased with the decision of newly elected Franklin Governor John Sevier. Martin responded quickly with a letter addressed to Sevier.
The letter from Governor Martin was addressed to General Sevier and assured Sevier that his general’s commission was on the way. Martin then inquired about the rumors he has heard in regards to the State of Franklin. The arrival date of the letter just happened to be during the same time when the Franklin legislature was still in session and Sevier took it upon himself to address the letter to the legislature. The response from the majority was overwhelming and shouts of freedom from North Carolina reigned through the air. The written response from Sevier was just as direct and pointed to all the grievances between the families of Franklin and the state of North Carolina. Sevier’s letter left little doubt on the current position of Franklin and John Sevier.
The letter outlined specific actions such as remarks made by North Carolina legislature members about the inhabitants of the frontier. Sevier also shared the extensive distance and mountainous terrain that separated the western lands and the problems associated with the administration of justice. Sevier also noted that the promises of delivered goods to the Cherokee were not received which was created in honor of the recent Land Grab Act and trade for their lands. This created hardships among the Cherokee and the local families residing in the area. The lives lost due to this failure were the result of North Carolina’s actions and failing promises. In other words, Sevier was holding North Carolina accountable for the lives lost during the recent attacks by the Cherokee. The letter ended with the statement proclaiming the people of Franklin held a “duty and inalienable right to form a new independent State.”
Governor Martin’s reply to this was filled with anger and resentment. If Martin intended Sevier to lead the Franklin legislature into abandoning the quest for statehood, he was mistaken. In response, Martin states that the State of Franklin consists of “restless ambition and a lawless thirst for power.” Martin further stated that North Carolina held no desire to “imbrue her hand in the blood of her citizens” which clearly states that force was a real possibility in moving forward. Sevier issued a proclamation to the “peaceful citizens of this new happy country” and reminded Martin that they were subject to the laws of the new state and not North Carolina. Martin’s term for governor would soon expire and Sevier expected the new governor would see things in a different light. Richard Caswell, the upcoming governor, was a close and personal friend of Sevier. I’m sure it stands to reason that Sevier considered this friendship as a win for Franklin and concentration was placed on the May session of Congress in 1785.
William Cocke generated a great deal of debate during the Congress Session of 1785 for the State of Franklin. The petition for statehood would not prevail due to the shortage of two votes.
William Cocke represented the State of Franklin during the Congress session of May, 1785. He received satisfaction when Congress determined that North Carolina had no legal basis to repeal the cession act imposed earlier. The victory was short lived as the petition for statehood failed by two votes. Cocke and Sevier quickly discussed a new strategy and agreed to contact Benjamin Franklin whose name was honored by the new state. It’s humorous to note Franklin’s response to this as the surprise overwhelmed him. Benjamin Franklin had mistaken the name of the new state as Frankland and not Franklin in honor of himself. Franklin urged the State of Franklin to seek a resolution with North Carolina and offered little support. The majority of people did not want to reconcile their relationship with North Carolina and Sevier began to enter into more detailed negotiations with the Cherokee and acquire more land for the new state just south of the French Broad. The Dumplin Creek Treaty was signed June 10, 1785 without the representation of many Cherokee leaders. The Cherokee would later recite that the treaty was nothing more than a grant of permission for those settlers who already resided in the area. The State of Franklin recorded the treaty as transfer of lands and encouraged new settlers to arrive to the area. The families soon began traveling to the area and the French Broad area grew significantly over the next six years, containing over 3,600 inhabitants.
It was after the signing of the Dumplin Creek Treaty when Governor Caswell responded to Sevier. Caswell assured Sevier that no action would be taken until the North Carolina legislature would reconvene. The conclusion of Caswell’s letter confirms the fact that the State of Franklin held the right to govern themselves, for the moment at any rate.
It appears that the State of Franklin is moving at a successful rate with the exception of an angry former state governor and the lack of majority votes from the May session of Congress. The Philadelphia Gazette reported an article about Franklin and stated, “After the example of Frankland, the eastern counties of Massachusetts Bay are attempting to raise their crests and demand separation. The article continues by proclaiming the State of Franklin Movement as “solecism truly ridiculous”. Many supported this realm of thinking and voiced their opinions that such actions should be stopped or an epidemic of large proportions would erupt all across the land. These critics produced little effect on the Franklin legislature and the second constitutional convention was scheduled in Greenville during November of 1785.
The resistance that plagued the State of Franklin began to take root among the western land inhabitants as we will soon discover with the next segment. The foundation, strong as it may have been, would not support the walls needed to shelter the state in place. Men of distinguished character and strong morals began to create division and John Tipton was the leader of this opposing side of Franklin. Since the beginning, he proclaimed against statehood. Tipton continuously held meetings in his home and encouraged others to resist the proposal and reconcile with North Carolina. Tipton viewed the State of Franklin as an act of treason and strongly informed others that the name was not even known correctly. Frankland versus Franklin. Even Benjamin Franklin himself suggested reconciliation with North Carolina. One can just imagine the conversations taking place around the fire. The walls of Franklin were tumbling downward but the will of the people and the strong foundation would not give up so quickly.
- History of Washington County Tennessee compiled and edited by Joyce and W Eugene Cox published by Washington County Historical Association
- Tennessee Encyclopedia
- Washington County, Tennessee Department of Records Management and Archives
- East Tennessee Historical Society
- North Carolina History Organization
- The Civil And Political History of the State of Tennessee by John Haywood published by House of Methodist Episcopal Church in Nashville, Tennessee 1891
- Photo 1-replica of Franklin Convention courtesy of State of Franklin virtual tours
- Photo 2-Alexander Martin courtesy of Wikipedia
- Photo 3-William Cocke courtesy of Wikipedia
- Photo 4-French Broad River courtesy of Wikipedia