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Chapter 18

This webpage reproduces a chapter of History of the
Lost State of Franklin

by
Samuel Cole Williams

published by the
Press of the Pioneers,
New York, 1933

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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Chapter 20
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p140 Chapter XIX

Efforts to Compromise Futile — 1787

There seems to have been a spring session of the Franklin Assembly.1 The Kentucke Gazette, of September 29, 1787, published a news item, bearing date "New York, August 7" to the effect that "the General Assembly of the State of Franklin, at their last session, have divided that State into two districts and appointed Col. D. Kennedy brigadier-general of Washington District, and Col. Wm. Cocke brigadier-general of Elholm District. They have likewise appointed the Honorable Wm. Cocke and Wm. Nelson and George Elholm, Esqrs., delegates to wait on Congress for the purpose of being admitted to the federal union. From the frequent murders committed in Kentucky and Cumberland on unwary travellers to and from these countries by the Creek and Chickamauga tribes of Indians, the State of Franklin has lately resolved to place a strong garrison at the mouth of the Highawassee river, in order to give a check to the future progress of such a banditti of bloodhounds who make it their business to live by their predatory excursions, and likewise to secure the great number of emigrants that are daily settling on the frontiers of Franklin."

Ramsey could find no trace (save the bare name of one of them) of the formation of Franklin into districts, but gives a tradition, which was erroneous in that it assigned Greene county to Elholm District.2 The distribution of counties probably was: To Washington District, Sullivan, Washington, Wayne and Greene; and to Elholm District, Caswell, Spencer, Sevier and Blount. Elholm District was named in honor of Major Elholm.

There was serious danger of Indian hostilities, and provision was made by the Assembly for the raising of a force of four hundred men. A party of about seventy-five from Lincoln county, in the Kentucky District, under the command of Col. John Logan, invaded the country of the Chickamaugas, for the purpose of destroying p141a small Indian town (Crow Town) on the north side of the Tennessee river, west of the Cumberland Mountains, in punishment for depredations committed by the Indians in the Kentucky country. Col. Logan's troops met a band of Cherokees, who were then in friendship with the whites; and, mistaking them for Chickamaugas, killed seven, among them a chief belonging to Chota. Joseph Martin, agent to the Cherokees, rushed to Chota from Long Island of Holston, and found the Cherokees in greater confusion than he had ever before seen. About forty of their warriors had already gone to make war on the settlers of Cumberland and Kentucky.3

Col. Arthur Campbell feared that Southwest Virginia would be attacked, and wrote a friendly "talk" to the Cherokees, assuring them that the Virginians east of the Cumberland mountains were not to blame, and would not molest the Cherokees unless provoked by an attack, in which event it was threatened that "we can send a great many against you and destroy you altogether."4

Martin reported that the Cherokees felt deep resentment toward the settlers south of the French Broad. As Martin passed through the white settlements on his way to Chota and spoke of Governor Caswell's removal proclamation, the settlers retorted that "they knew enough to judge for themselves, and that they should not ask North Carolina how they were to be governed."5

Only fear of the prowess of the Franklinites stayed the embittered Cherokees from an attack on the frontier settlements.

In March, a small delegation of Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians stopped to visit Governor Sevier and were entertained at his Mount Pleasant home on the Nolachucky river in Washington county. They were on their way to New York to lay before the Continental Congress the state of their tribes, and to insist upon an early compliance with a treaty agreement to establish a trading post on Tennessee river near Muscle Shoals,6 so that the Choctaws and Chickasaws might be more readily supplied with merchandise. Toboka, a principal chief of the Choctaws, headed the delegation, which was p142conducted by Capt. John Wood, who at one time had been continental commissioner to the Choctaws.

Piomingo sent a talk in behalf of the Chickasaws to Martin (February 17th) in which he referred to the cession by his nation of a tract of land for the trading-post, and said:

"We have had nothing of goods since, only what we got by way of the Spaniards. This makes us very uneasy, and it seems that you only meant to jockey us out of our lands. The Spaniards are often sending talks to us, but we want to have nothing to say to them if we can help it, but must have trade from some place . . . Necessity will oblige us to look to new friends if we cannot get friends otherwise."7

The program laid down by the Assembly brought the officers of the old State to a consideration of the frightfulness of an armed conflict. There can be no doubt that at this time the friends of the new State were in the majority and prepared to put the issue to crucial test. Their cession leader, however, in some unexplained way, was led into a grievous error. Sevier had no stomach for fratricidal warfare; he had it not in his heart to resort to the shedding of the blood of men, now in opposition, whom he had led to victory time and again in warfare with the Indians, if by any peaceable means it could be avoided. Shortly after the adjournment of the Assembly, he was again approached and asked to enter into conference with General Evan Shelby; and he consented.

Shelby was a blunt, stern man, sixty-seven years of age. He deserved and had the confidence of the people of the entire section. Ramsey says that "he was remarkable for his probity, candor, good sense, and patriotism." Sevier had been induced by him to remove to the Holston-Watauga country; and the younger man had been, not unnaturally, disposed to defer to Shelby's judgment. At any rate, the older man out‑witted him in the formation of a modus vivendi. The representatives of the two States met at Samuel Smith's, in Sullivan county, and entered into the following agreement:

Conference at Smith's

At a conference at the house of Samuel Smith, Esquire, on the 20th day of March, 1787, between the Hon. Evan Shelby, Esquire, and sundry officers of the one part, and the Hon. John Sevier, Esquire, and sundry officers on the other part.

p143 Whereas disputes have arisen concerning the propriety and legality of the State of Franklin, and the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the State of North Carolina over the said State and the people residing there.

The contending parties, from the regard they have for peace, tranquility and good decorum, in the Western Country, do agree and recommend as follows:

"First, that the courts of justice do not proceed to transact any business in their judicial departments, except the trial of criminals, the proving of wills, deeds, bills of sale, and such like conveyances; the issuing of attachments, writs and legal process, so as to procure bail, but not to enter into final determination of the suits except the parties are mutually agreed thereto.

"Secondly, that the inhabitants residing within the limits of the disputed territory are at full liberty and discretion to pay their public taxes to either the State of North Carolina or the State of Franklin.

"Thirdly, that this agreement and recommendation continue until the next annual sitting of the General Assembly of North Carolina, to be held in November next, and not longer. It is further agreed that if any person, guilty of felony, be committed by any North Carolina justice of the peace, that such person or persons may and shall be received by the Franklin sheriff or jailer of Washington, and proceeded against in the same manner as if the same had been committed by and from any such authority from under the State of Franklin. It is also recommended that the aforesaid people do take such modes and regulations, and set forth their grievances, if any they have, and solicit North Carolina, at the meeting of the next general assembly, for to complete the separation, if thought necessary by the people of the Western Country, as to them may appear most expedient, and give their members and representatives such instructions as thought to be most conducive to the interest of our western world, by a majority of same, either to be separate from that of North Carolina, or be citizens of the State of North Carolina.

"Signed and agreed on behalf of each party, this day and year above written,

"Evans Shelby
"John Sevier."

Ramsey is mistaken when he states8 that "a temporary quiet succeeded this compromise . . . Anywhere else, anarchy, misrule, tumult and violence would have followed." Tumult reigned, and violence was scarcely held in leash. Other Franklin leaders, Cocke among the number, on learning of the truce, declined to concur; and p144set about to put Sevier in the straight path, while others, such as Stockley Donelson, had their ardor cooled. Only harm to the cause dear to his heart came from this action of Governor Sevier — particularly in the decline of the morale of numerous followers.

Six days after the conference, Colonel Anthony Bledsoe, then on a visit to General Shelby on his way from Carolina to his home on the Cumberland, wrote to Governor Caswell:

"Politics in this part of the country run high. You hear in almost every collection of people frequent declarations, 'Whorah for North Carolina!' And others in the same manner for the State of Franklin . . . God only knows where this confusion will end. I fear it ends in blood."9

Thomas Hutchings, who had just been appointed colonel of the Hawkins county militia, expressed the opinion to the governor of North Carolina that it would be difficult to prevent an effusion of blood; and appealed for military aid:

"I think your excellency will readily see the necessity for the interference of government; and unless those people are entitled to exclusive and separate emoluments from the rest of the community they ought certainly to be quelled. If we are in our allegiance, protection should be reciprocal. I therefore give it as my opinion that it is highly necessary that notice should be taken of the conduct of these people, as there are many plans and matters agitated by them which seem to have a tendency to dissolve even the federal bands."10

A few days later, Hutchings in reporting to General Shelby from Hawkins county states that "Major Elholm advises Cromwell's policy to be adopted; Mr. Cocke is threatening confiscation and banishment. Cocke's party is getting very insolent, but success against his boasted numbers is foreseen if they have not assistance from Greene county."11

At the same time Shelby was sending out a cry for help to Brigadier-General Wm. Russell, of Southwest Virginia, saying that North Carolina measures were being treated with the utmost contempt.12 "The new‑State party are now falling on the civil officers of the government with men at arms wresting their property from p145them forcibly . . . I am not certain that I may not be under the disagreeable necessity of making a very speedy application to you for assistance, should troops from our State not arrive in time to relieve us."13

To Governor Caswell, after a conference at his home with Cols. Tipton, Maxwell and Hutchings, Shelby wrote that the safety of government was at hazard; that the Franklinites were proceeding with the greatest vigor imprisoning, and by armed forces seizing the property of those in opposition.

"I have, therefore, thought it expedient to call upon you for your immediate assistance, having the faith and honor of the legislature of North Carolina pledged to us that we shall remain secure in our liberties and properties. The matter is truly alarming, and it is beyond a doubt with me that hostilities will in a short time commence, and without the interference of government without delay an effusion of blood must take place. I, therefore, think it highly necessary that one thousand troops, at least, be sent, as that number might have a good effect, for should we have that number, under the sanction of the government, it is no doubt with me they would immediately give way, and would not appear in so unprovoked an insurrection. On the contrary, should a faint and feeble resistance be made consequences might be fatal, and would tend to devastation, ruin and distress. Should your Excellency think it convenient to call on the Commonwealth of Virginia, I have reason to believe it might meet their aid, as they have four counties nearly bordering on us, and would be the most speedy assistance we could come at in case your troops do not reach us in time to relieve us. I think it highly necessary that a quantity of ammunition be forwarded to us as it is very scarce in this country . . . Thus, sir, you have the result of my conference with the aforementioned Colonels . . .

"Your Excellency will perceive that the people of Franklin have not assented to the agreement I entered into with their governor for the preservation of peace and good order in the country. Not many men here are engaged in vindicating the authority of North Carolina."14

p146 These disclosures show that the situation was acute and that the affairs of the old State bordered on the desperate.

Sevier now took a bolder tone. He seized the opportunity to send a belated reply to Governor Caswell's letter of February 23. As to the disappointing action of the North Carolina Assembly, he said:

I had the fullest hopes and confidence that the body would have either agreed to a separation on honorable principles and stipulations, or otherwise endeavored to have reunited as upon such terms as might have been lasting and friendly, but I find myself and country entirely deceived; and if your Assembly have thought their measures would answer such an end, they are equally disappointed. But I firmly believe had proper measures been adopted, a union, in some measure or perhaps fully, would have taken place. We shall continue to act as independent, and would rather suffer death in all its various and frightful shapes than conform to anything that is disgraceful.15

Governor Caswell brought General Shelby's communication before the council of state, specially summoned for its consideration, and replied May 31st, giving the results of their deliberations, which, he frankly premises, "may not answer your expectations."

It was no part of Caswell's policy to attempt a subjugation of the separatists. He knew that his State was in no condition to support an armed conflict. He was for holding consistently to his policy of conciliation. He, therefore, wrote:

It would be very imprudent to add to the dissatisfaction of the people there by showing a wish to encourage the shedding of blood, as thereby a civil war would eventually be brought on, which ought at any time to be avoided if possible, but more especially at the present as we have great reason to apprehend a general Indian war, in which case there is no doubt that they will meet with support from the subjects of foreign powers; or at least they will be furnished with arms and ammunition. And if the western and southern tribes should unite with your neighbors you will stand in need of all your force; and therefore recommend unanimity amongst you, if by any means it can be effected, as you will be thereby much more able to defend yourselves than you possibly can be when divided, but also save the circumstances of cutting each other's throats. Besides this, it would be impracticable to raise an armed force at this time, if we were ever more disposed thereto, for the following reasons: the people in general are now engaged in their farming business, and if brought out would be very reluctant to march; there is no money in the treasury to defray the expenses of such as might be called out; nor in fact, have we arms or ammunition. p147Under such circumstances it would be madness to attempt it.

I must therefore recommend to you the using every means in your power to conciliate the minds of the people, as well those who call themselves Franklinites as the friends and supporters of government. The measures you took with Mr. Sevier and his party, of which you first acquainted me, if again they could be adopted, would be best under the situation that now things are. If things could lie dormant as it were till the next Assembly, and each man's mind be employed in considering your common defense against the savage enemy, I should suppose it best. And whenever unanimity prevails among your people and their strength and numbers will justify an application for a separation, if it is general, I have no doubt of its taking place upon reciprocal and friendly terms.16

Governor Caswell enclosed with the above communication an "open letter" to the inhabitants of the western counties, in which he made the same arguments, and urged that if disputes and confusion lasted, private interests would suffer.

Is there an individual in your country who does not look forward to such a day [of separation] arriving? If that is the case must not every thinking man believe that this separation will be soonest and most effectually obtained by unanimity? . . . 'Tis my opinion that it may be obtained at an earlier day than some imagine, if unanimity prevailed amongst you. Altho' this is an official letter, you will readily see that it is dictated by a friendly and pacific mind . . . I will conclude by once more entreating you to consider the dreadful calamities and consequences of a civil war. Humanity demanded this of me; your own good sense will point out the propriety of it. At least, let all animosities and disputes subside till the next Assembly; even let things remain as they are, without pursuing compulsory measures until then, and I flatter myself that honorable body will be disposed to do what is just and right and what sound policy may dictate.17

Caswell a few weeks before had written to Sevier, as one old friend to another, in terms of assurance: "I cannot account for the conduct of our Assembly at this last session. I think that some of the gentlemen's sentiments did not coincide with my own, but still think if the people on your side the mountains had have beenº more unanimous, the measures of separation would have been pursued. . . . You may only rely upon it that my sentiments are clearly in favor of a separation whenever the people to be separated think themselves of sufficient strength and abilities to support a government. My idea is, that nature, in the formation of the hills between p148us and directing the course of the waters so differently, had not in view the inhabitants on either side being longer subject to the same laws and government . . . I conclude by recommending unanimity among you as the only means by which your government can obtain energy even when the separation is effected by consent of North Carolina."18

The wisdom of Caswell's policy was demonstrated by the event. A constantly increasing number of the friends of Franklin became persuaded that separation would be consummated at the next Assembly. Why not acquiesce in the course suggested by such a fair man as Governor Caswell? Had not Governor Sevier himself shown that at heart he was for conciliation when he signed the conference agreement? True to human nature, not a few of the Franks saw personal advantage in the tax remission granted by North Carolina. How could the Franklin Commonwealth survive if her Assembly should carry out in good faith her pledge to release the taxes in the years 1788 and 1789? Besides, the thirteen original States had appointed delegates to a convention which was to assemble in May — the month when Governor Caswell's proclamation was published in Franklin — to remodel and strengthen the federal government. Might not that body in some way be induced to satisfy the aspirations of the western peoples for separate governments?

Fortunately for North Carolina's cause her adherents were able to point to the fact that Governor Caswell was sending a troop of militia, commanded by Major Thomas Evans, to aid the inhabitants of the Cumberland counties, and that Colonel Anthony Bledsoe was at that time waiting in Sullivan county to pilot the militia to Nashville. Here at last was a manifestation of the strong arm of government reaching across the mountains!19

The drift of sentiment during the summer of 1787 was in favor of the old State. As the partisans of Franklin dropped away the remnant became deeply resentful of the defection and made no effort to hide their umbrage. Recriminations and factional bitterness resulted (save only in the lower counties) which tended to undermine the new Commonwealth.


The Author's Notes:

1 Governor Sevier to Governor Mathews, August 30th.

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2 Ramsey, 376.

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3 Martin to Governor Randolph, March 16th and 25th, 1787, Cal. Va. St. P., IV, 254, 261.

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4 March 3rd, Ib. 249.

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5 Ib., 250.

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6 Treaty with the Chickasaws, Hopewell, January 10th, 1786. 18 N. C. St. Rec., 493; U. S. Stat. at Large, 24.

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7 Cal. Va. St. Papers, IV, 241, 287.

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8 Ramsey, 259.

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9 March 26th, 1787. N. C. St. Rec., XXII, 676.

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10 April 1st. Ib., 678.

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11 N. C. St. Rec., XX, 680.

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12 John Rhea (later a member of Congress from Tennessee) who was at the time county clerk of Shelby's own county, wrote the same day to Caswell, that "a majority, if not all the justices had joined the new‑made government . . . All the records of this county have fallen into the hands of the people of Franklin," Ib., 691.

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13 April 27th. Cal. Va. St. Papers, IV, 275. The North Carolina delegates in Congress were now undeceived: "I am sorry that the conduct of the Franklinites is likely to involve the western country in a civil war." Spaight to Iredell, July 3rd, 1787. McRee's Iredell, II, 162.

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14 N. C. St. Rec. XXII, 680.

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15 N. C. St. Rec. XXII, 679; Ramsey, 362.

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16 N. C. St. Rec. XXII, 687; also Draper Coll. Shelby MSS.

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17 N. C. St. Rec. XXII, 686.

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18 N. C. St. Rec. XXII, 681; Caswell to Sevier, April 24th, 1787.

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19 Proof that the North Carolina militia would not march to subdue the Franklinites is furnished by Maj. Evans who complained of "so many officers declining to serve" in the battalion for the defense of the Cumberland Settlements. May 21st, 1787. N. C. St. Rec. XX, 703.


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