North Carolina

Tipton Versus Sevier State of Franklin

The Franklin convention of November, 1785 was held in Greenville. The gathering met with a surprising resistance among the general public. After missing the opportunity of becoming a new state by two congressional votes, the convention focused on the second attempt and advocated the need for the State of Franklin. The constitution was drafted mainly by Reverend William Graham and Arthur Campbell. Reverend Samuel Houston was selected to present the draft to the convention and this is why the document is often referred to as the Houston Constitution. This setting was the beginning of a new division among the people. A division that would lead to failure for the state of Franklin.

John Tipton House (courtesy of Library of Congress)

The characteristics of the proposed Franklin constitution contain a number of interesting features. Among these listed are the operation of a single legislature chamber. In other words, the State of Franklin did not encourage a house legislature and a senate legislature. The draft stated that only one body of government would control the State of Franklin. It went on to state religious freedom was guaranteed and that prior to the admission of any new laws, the citizens would be granted access to the proposals and given the chance to debate any issues before the new law would be acted upon. All adult males would be granted the right to vote without owning land. Lawyers, ministers and doctors were excluded from public office and those who owed property within the state boundaries were allowed to hold a public office position.

State of Franklin Constitution (courtesy of the Tennessee Historical Society)

The unique features of the proposed constitution initiated the first of many heated discussions at the convention. Over time these conversations grew and became much more intense as the days and months went by. Pamphlets were printed by both sides to spread the word either for or against the proposal. Many of these were harshly written and only intensified the situation. One of these pamphlets was present for court and placed on trial for treason. The pamphlet suffered punishment and was sentenced to be burned. This particular court action gives us a glimpse of the atmosphere and tension growing on the lands of Franklin. John Tipton seized this opportunity of burning a pamphlet in open court to degrade the measures taken by the Franklin government and John Sevier as acting governor.

Gazette of the United States January 13, 1790 (courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The angry conversations among the streets and businesses were filled with outbursts at any given moment. Many of these episodes occurred between John Sevier and John Tipton. Shouting back and forth, name calling and at least one instance where it was recorded that the two men “exchanged blows for some time with great violence and in a convulsion of rage” quoted by Lost State of Franklin by Williams pp 334-335. John Tipton was a prominent leading member of the area and was respected just as much if not more than John Sevier. To have these two respected men at each other’s throats while the area was striving for national statehood speaks volumes to the intense relations among the communities as well. This was not the only factor that contributed to the State of Franklin during this period. Congress began opening negotiations with the Cherokee Nation in order to define the actual boundary of Cherokee lands. The Dumplin Creek Treaty, negotiated by John Sevier, was ignored completely. The Hopewell Treaty line ran north of the area which placed Greenville, the capital of Franklin, south of the line and within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. This furthered divided congressmen on respecting Franklin and it’s proposal as a new state.

The State of Franklin quickly responded to these actions by Congress and sought an immediate solution by directing attention stated in the Hopewell Treaty that allowed the Cherokee to remove illegal settlers. Families felt threatened by this action and kept a close watch on their property and homes. The first months of 1786 was met with hostilities among the Cherokee and the people of Franklin as attacks were carried out. By August, Sevier met with various Cherokee chiefs and signed a new treaty named the Coyatee Treaty. The Cherokee agreed to relinquish all lands within the State of Franklin and speculation grew that the Cherokee were forced to sign the treaty. New families poured into the region during this time and new communities were established. The new settlers were first meeting the frustrations of Tipton and Sevier while experiencing the signs of Cherokee uprisings. To add to the atmosphere, North Carolina was still regarding Washington County as a legal state county and expecting it’s citizens to act within the law, pay taxes, etc. The people of Franklin were preparing for anything in order to protect their property and family.

Gazette of the United States April 21, 1790 (courtesy of the Library of Congress)

North Carolina, upon hearing the voices of Washington County, offered an act of pardon to citizens during the year of 1786. After passing this act in North Carolina legislature, the pardon included full restoration for citizenship and to forgive all taxes from 1784 to present day. Evan Shelby, a personal friend of John Sevier, arrived to the area in order to negotiate a compromise. Sevier and Shelby both agreed that both court systems would operate independently from one another and citizens were allowed to pay taxes to either government, North Carolina and Franklin. Shelby and his men also approached the citizens of the area in order to have them sign petitions in support of North Carolina. Tipton also encouraged the people to respect North Carolina and it’s offer of pardon. The proposal met with frustration and anxiety among many of the Franklin citizens. Evan Shelby later began advocating for North Carolina to resort with armed intervention to resolve the issue. Governor Caswell had no intention of using force with the citizens of Franklin for several reasons. The main reason was contributed to finances. North Carolina could not economically support such an action. Instead, the governor began to make the state’s presence known by using authority in the Washington County court system.

Capital of Franklin (courtesy of the TN History for Kids)

Throughout the year of 1786, citizens were instructed to pay taxes to both and/or Franklin and North Carolina. Both legislatures secured marriage licenses, settled estates, registered deeds and all other legal activities. The citizens who dealt with only one side received the wrath from the other. The records quickly became a major focus point in regards to the State of Franklin. The value of these records were priceless as it affected the well-being of the local citizens. It was vital to the courts to hold possession of these materials and each participated in extreme measures to do so. By August of 1787, John Tipton appeared at the Washington County courthouse with approx. 50 men. A dispute in regards to the records had occurred with the sheriff of North Carolina and the sheriff of Franklin. Tipton demanded the records of Franklin and at some point, James Sevier, son of John, moved the records to a nearby cave to prevent Tipton from gaining possession over them.

By September of the same year, the new United States Constitution sent a harsh message to the State of Franklin. The new document stated that the parent state must agree to any new state proposal and this was met with great disappointment to the leaders of Franklin. It was obvious that North Carolina, as acting parent state, would not approve of any such action. The Franklin convention was held a few months later and Sevier’s term of governor was set to expire the coming month of March in 1788. A motion was presented to nominate Evan Shelby but he flatly refused to be recognized for the position. The leaders were becoming more and more aware that Sevier’s last day as governor would be the last day for the State of Franklin.

Battle of Franklin (courtesy of the Tipton-Haynes Historic Site)

It was during this period that the feud between Tipton and Sevier grew to the point of a dynamite explosion, causing a new height of tension in the region. Tipton focused primarily on Sevier’s unpaid taxes to North Carolina and persuaded the North Carolina sheriff to take action. Sheriff Jonathan Pugh seized several slaves from the governor’s Mount Pleasant home and removed them to the house of John Tipton. When Sevier learned of this, he quickly gathered a group of 150 men and began traveling to Tipton’s home. The date was February 27, 1788 and the small army of men surrounded Tipton’s property. It was noticed that a group of 50 men were barricaded inside the home of Tipton and Sevier demanded their surrender to the laws of Franklin. Tipton refused and Sevier initiated an attack. For two days, both sides exchanged gunfire, verbal shouts and threats. Other citizens joined Tipton’s group by slipping past the lines of Sevier and his men. The weather was cold with snow on the ground as Sevier and his followers camped in the proximity of the house and grounds. By February 29th, Tipton counterattacked and Sevier with his men retreated to the French Broad River. During the event, two of Sevier’s sons were captured, Sheriff Pugh was mortally wounded and another man was killed.

Battle map drawn by Lyman C. Draper-Battle of Franklin (courtesy of the Tipton-Haynes Historic Site)

Eyewitnesses reported that Tipton wanted to execute the captured sons of Sevier but others around him persuaded Tipton from performing this action. Sevier delivered a letter to Tipton and his sons were released soon after. From this point, Tipton tried to carry out small raids attacking the homes of Franklin leaders, but this soon ceased as well. There would be days left for the state of Franklin. Only one more attempt would be made to breath life into this lost state. The final segment of this series will bring forth the last effort to save Franklin with a detailed account of the failures and the defeats. A personal reflection of the entire journey will also be included as the days of research quickly turned into months. Don’t miss the next segment as we narrow down the days and bring closure to the State of Franklin.


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