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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a section of
The Journal

John Sevier

published in Vols. V and VI
of the Tennessee Historical Magazine,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!


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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

(John Sevier's Journal)

Vol. VI
Appendix I.

Survey of the Line between Virginia and Tennessee

In 1802, John Sevier, Moses Fisk and George Rutledge were appointed Commissioners for Tennessee, in connection with Creed Taylor, General Joseph Martin and Peter Johnson, for Virginia, to run the line between Virginia and Tennessee. This joint commission fixed a line midway between Walker's line and Henderson's line, and this compromise was accepted by both states. Thus the demarcation of the boundary was finally and completely settled.

The appointment of this commission resulted from an attempt, in 1792, by William Blount, Territorial Governor, to repudiate as invalid the adoption of Walker's line by Virginia and North Carolina. A brief history of this line is as follows: By 1779 the line between Virginia and North Carolina had been run by two successive commissions from Currituck Inlet to Steep Rock Creek. In 1779, Richard Henderson and William B. Smith, for North Carolina, and Thomas Walker and Daniel Smith, for Virginia, failing to find the end of the line on Steep Rock Creek, began, by agreement, at a point in latitude 30° 31′ 25ʺ, ran due south one mile to a point supposed to be in latitude 36° 30ʺ (the north boundary of Carolina, as specified in the grant of Charles II to the Earl of Clarendon and his associates). From this point they ran a line, which they supposed to be due west, about forty-five miles to Carter's Valley. Here a disagreement occurred and the two commissions separated, running parallel lines about two miles apart. The North Carolina commissioners, running the northerly line, abandoned the work at Cumberland Mountain. This was called Henderson's line. The Virginia commissioners continued running the southerly line, called Walker's line, to the Tennessee River, leaving an unsurveyed gap of about 109 miles from Deer Fork to the first crossing of Cumberland River. Both states adopted Walker's line, but the North Carolina act was passed during the session at which that state ceded Tennessee to the United States Government. Even after the execution of the deed of cession the North Carolina legislature again confirmed the adoption of Walker's line. The boundary was then regarded by both states as settled, but in 1792 Governor Blount insisted that the first act, or resolution, of the North Carolina legislature was not a legal confirmation, and that the second was invalid as to the United States, of which Tennessee was then a territory. He announced his intention of maintaining Henderson's line. Matters remained in this hostile shape until 1801, when the commissions headed by Sevier and Martin were appointed.

It will be noticed from Sevier's journal that the observations at the two lines showed variances from the latitude of 36° 30ʺ; that then the commissioners with much care went from one line to the other; that they mutually agreed to run an intermediate line between them; and that they ran this intermediate line to Cumberland Gap, where the Carolina commissioners had abandoned the work in 1779. The line thus fixed is now the true boundary.

In 1893, in the case of Virginia vs. Tennessee (148 U. S. Reports, 503), the United States Supreme Court declared that this boundary line fixed in 1802 was the real, certain and true boundary between the two states; that the compact between them, establishing the line as adopted by their commissioners, was binding upon both states and their citizens; and that the compact had been impliedly assented to by Congress after its execution. See this case and W. R. Garrett's History of the South Carolina Cession and the Northern Boundary of  p62 Tennessee, read before the Tennessee Historical Society, reprinted in American Historical Magazine, Vol. –––––, p. –––––.a

Thayer's Note:

a Properly History of the South Carolina Cession and Northern Boundary of Tennessee, two separate papers, read respectively on Nov. 8, 1881 and March 18, 1884. I haven't yet found the citations in the American Historical Magazine, very possibly because in fact they were never printed there (they are often cited in it, but never with a reference to another number of the journal, and this although Garrett was the journal's editor); but an offprint of both together was published in 1884 and is online at Internet Archive.

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Page updated: 24 May 09