This journey is about to end for the State of Franklin. For me personally, the time spent on researching this subject has been remarkable, overwhelming at times and filled with intriguing details. Several new facts emerged throughout the past few months by reading old letters, many books and concentrating my attention on the old maps. I first discovered the State of Franklin through stories recited to me from my childhood. By high school, I attempted to define the State of Franklin without much success. Over 3 decades later, my journey began once again and I am so excited to finally be able to say that majority of the stories recited to me as a child were indeed true. The past is a wondrous place to explore and I hope you have enjoyed this journey as much as I have sharing it with you. Now, I bring you the last segment, “State of Franklin, The Final Words”.
The final days were quickly approaching the State of Franklin. These last sunsets held the hopeful grasps of a declining people that longed for statehood. Although the division increased rapidly between Sevier supporters and Tipton supporters, many were still anticipating unison with Congress. The hope still lingered through the air for the new nation to recognize the State of Franklin proposal. This was not to be as the year of 1788 continued. After the battle at Tipton’s home, the Cherokee began attacking several homes along the borders of Franklin. A horrific ambush took place at the residence of John Kirk. Eleven family members lost their lives during the raid. John Sevier led a party of men to the Little Tennessee River past the Cherokee town named Chilhowee. Sevier received reports that the attackers were taking refuge just north of the area. Sevier left his men in order to return with a larger force. He instructed the remaining men to watch the town and wait on his return.
The events that occurred were recorded in the following manner and recited to me as a kid growing up. During Sevier’s absence, a group of Cherokee appeared before the men carrying a flag of truce. The group included two Cherokee chiefs who were well known for keeping the peace in the area. The men standing watch led the two chiefs to a nearby cabin and executed them both. This action allowed the worst of the Cherokee attacks to begin within the area of Franklin.
The exact details of that evening may never be known, but it is understood that Major James Hubbard greeted Chief Old Tassel, Chief Abraham of Chilhowee and at least 3 others who now remain nameless. The flag of truce was carried by these men and they wanted to speak with Sevier who was absent from the group. John Kirk, who recently lost many of his family members, was in attendance as well as many of his relatives and neighbors. By the next morning, these Cherokee chiefs were dead by the lethal actions of a tomahawk. Many newspapers recorded the event. The Maryland Gazette publicly rejected the actions of Sevier’s men and proclaimed that the flag of truce was met with men who held no regard to humanity. Many felt this was an action of revenge and not justice. The new nation was beginning to look upon the people of Franklin as uncivilized and reckless with little respect to law and order. The brothers of Chief Old Tassel are Pumpkin Boy and Doublehead. These brothers are thought to be the sons of Great Eagle. After the death of Chief Old Tassel, Doublehead joined forces with Dragging Canoe and launched war against the people of Franklin.
Upon hearing of the deaths of these Cherokee chiefs, Sevier realized that the United States Congress would never support the people of Franklin nor vote approval for statehood. It was thought by many that the people of Franklin would leave the area and abandon their properties and their homes. The Hopewell Treaty stood firm on the location of boundary lines between the Cherokee and the United States. The people of Franklin were once again on their own on enemy soil. Sevier corresponded with Congress and North Carolina during this period, but was rejected from receiving any support against the constant Cherokee raids. By autumn of 1788, Sevier, desperate for military supplies and additional military force, wrote a letter to Diego De Gardoqui, Spanish minister to the United States. Sevier was attempting to propose an annexation with the State of Franklin from the US Congress and protection for the area. Majority of the Franklin citizens were against this move and with Tipton shouting treason at the top of his lungs with Spain, Sevier began slipping on shaky ground.
News of treason added fuel to the fire and soon spread quickly throughout North Carolina and beyond. By October 10, 1788, Sevier was served with a North Carolina warrant for his arrest from Governor Samuel Johnson. The order was dated July 29, 1788 and John Tipton was located at the head of the arresting party. Sevier surrendered quietly although, it is noted that one attempt to escape occurred while traveling across the mountains to present day Morganton, NC.
Sevier’s bail was secured by Joseph and Charles McDowell, brothers who fought with Sevier during the battle of King’s Mountain. Sevier was awaiting trial while several devoted supporters from Franklin arrived and made it publicly known that Sevier was accompanying them back to Franklin. They were a loud and rowdy group threatening the town and the local businesses. The sheriff, also a veteran of King’s Mountain Battle, turned his head and allowed Sevier to escape back to Franklin with his supporters.
The last session of the State of Franklin was held October 15, 1788 while Sevier was awaiting trial in Morganton, NC. Few participants even bothered to make their appearance known and the only business taken was the paying of local officials with pelts and furs. By January of 1789, North Carolina once again ceded the lands of the Franklin area back to Congress. But, by this time, the people of Franklin were looked down upon by the entire nation. They were known as squatters who held no legal right to the lands they worked and lived upon. A people who were in violation of the Hopewell Treaty with little regard to Cherokee lands. It would be until the year of 1796 before Tennessee would be admitted as a new state. The years in between witnessed many families leaving the Franklin area, while others traveled to the destination as planned.
The new state of Tennessee was met with huge challenges from the strong political eastern area of former Franklin. Division remained visible for many years. In fact, during the year of 1841, a new motion was passed by the state Senate to allow a new separate state of Franklin but it failed to pass in the House. The State of Franklin was finally laid to rest. From time to time, attention would be given to long ago days in Franklin from various stories shared with family and friends. Old documents handed down from one generation to the next, explaining what it meant to be a Franklinite. Some of the old hunting trails and fort paths are still visible in some areas. A few headstones of the original settlers can be found and a few original homesites. The State of Franklin defines an area dating to the late 18th century filled with ambition, landownership and future dreams of freedom. Many battles were fought upon her grounds. Many lives were lost, many heroes were born. A large number of people who wanted to become landowners and negotiated personal terms with the Cherokee in order to achieve this. Hostilities brought about from the American Revolutionary War with the British tactics and new arrivals wishing to claim even more land shattered the relationship between the Cherokee and these first settlers. For the people, they embraced the new nation and wanted to be recognized for their achievements with statehood. A group who embarked on the adventure of a lifetime and refused to lose sight of their goal. The State of Franklin, the first to dream of freedom beyond the Appalachian Mountains.
Thank You So Much for joining me as I walked on this journey of Franklin !! This has been quite an adventure and the details will never be forgotten. Piedmont Trails will continue this journey with more in depth research on Chief Old Tassel and his brothers, Pumpkin Boy and Doublehead in the months ahead. Share your thoughts about the State of Franklin with your comments. If you have family stories passed down to you through the generations, I urge you to share them. The past is a wondrous place to explore !! Enjoy Your Journey !!
- History of Washington County compiled and edited by Joyce and W. Eugene Cox
- American State Papers Indian Affairs Volume I