In the uncertainty as to whether the Union had succeeded to the rights exercised by the British crown, the endeavors of the national legislature took the direction of bringing pressure to bear on the claimant States to cede their back lands to the general government.
Congress, on September 6, 1780, on motion of Joseph Jones, of Virginia, seconded by James Madison, resolved "that in case the recommendations to the States of Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia to cede to the United States a portion of their unappropriated western territory shall be complied with, the territory so ceded shall be laid out in separate States at such times and in such manner as Congress shall hereafter direct."1
By a resolution of October 10, 1780, it was more explicitly set forth by Congress, that such new States should be republican in form, and "members of the federal union and have the same rights of sovereignty, freedom and independence as the other States."
This is the first action of Congress in reference to new States on the western waters, and the first hint that a State in the hinterland, such as the State of Franklin, might come into existence in the near future.
The assertion of a purpose on the part of Congress to create new States was construed, it seems, in some quarters, to have been a declaration of sovereignty in the United States over the western country.2 Information of these resolutions, in time, reached the settlements on the Holston and Watauga rivers.
A leading spirit on the upper reaches of the Holston, in Virginia, was Colonel Arthur Campbell. His progenitors emigrated from Northern Ireland to Pennsylvania, and thence to Augusta county p6in the Valley of Virginia, where Arthur Campbell was born in 1742. A few years before the Revolutionary War, he removed to the Holston river section, then a wilderness; and there along with his cousin, General William Campbell, he was active in the leadership of his people, serving as county lieutenant, legislator and Indian campaigner.
In the brain of this virile and strong-willed man, possessed of Scotch-Irish initiative, courage and tenacity, was formed the first conception for a separate State for the sturdy population which was then flowing into the valleys of the Holston and its tributaries, in South-western Virginia and the close-lying settlements to the south in North Carolina.
What may be called the genesis of the State of Franklin was this document circulated (evidently early in January, 1782) by Colonel Campbell among the settlers on the border:
A Scheme for obtaining the sense of the inhabitants of the Western Country on the subject of the late Resolves of Congress declaring the sovereignty over the same to be in the United States.
1st. That Selectmen or Deputies be chosen for the five southwestern counties of Virginia and the counties of Washington and Sullivan in North Carolina to meet at Abingdon the third Wednesday in April, 1782.
2nd. That in order that the representation be adequate, let the Deputies be in number proportionate to the number of farmers above eighteen years of age, allowing one Deputy for every hundred such farmers.
3rd. That the election be held at the respective Court Houses on the third Tuesday in the month of March next, by the same officers and under the same regulations as elections for delegates are held.
4th. The business and power of Deputies when convened to be the consideration of the late Resolves of Congress respecting the Western Country, and to adopt such measures as may be adjudged proper by a majority for the interest and safety of their constituents as members of the American Union.
5th. The representation to continue one year, in which time the Deputies may adjourn from time to time and to such places within the Western Counties as may be found most convenient.
A search has not disclosed whether an election was held in March, 1782. it was not one of such official character as to lead to certification and preservation.
On May 1, 1782, Congress, which in the preceding year had declined to accept a cession from Virginia of her western lands because p7of conditions attached, earnestly recommended to the State of Virginia that, by a proper act of cession, her claims be surrendered to all lands "beyond a reasonable western boundary" and free of all conditions and restrictions.
That Arthur Campbell continued in earnest efforts to establish a new State at that time appears from a letter which he wrote to Arthur Lee, of Virginia, June 9, 1782:
Resolving in my mind the substance of the papers lately transmitted from Congress, I shall now take this opportunity of troubling you with a few sentiments.
I suppose it will be the policy of the Assembly to instruct their delegates to claim to the Ohio as the western bounds of the State. I could wish that Congress would admit that as our boundary for the present; because when a new State is laid off, I trust we will be more competent to fix its limits and prescribe conditions than men perhaps under an improper bias and very little acquainted with our municipal regulations.
Should not this claim succeed, I would call it a reasonable boundary, and an ample cession, to give up the lands on the Ohio, below the mouth of the Great Kanawha and west of the Auscioto mountains; because the Auscioto is an Indian descriptive. A line run S. W. from the mouth of Green Briar to the Carolina line would be near the thing. It should be the last retreat, the ridge and the mountains that divide the Eastern and Western Waters. Because in that case the people in the two southwestern counties, Montgomery and Washington (which contains an extent of 150 miles by 40 or 50) would necessarily be obliged to associate with the inhabitants of North Carolina situated on the heads of the Cherokee [Tennessee] river, and have in contemplation a new State in that beautiful valley of which the Cherokees are yet the principal possessors. It will be more inconvenient for that valley to be connected with Kentucky, than remain an appendage to the eastern parts.
It to me appears a very unwise temper to talk of force, spilling of blood, or persecution, to retain more dominion under the fallacious idea it will give us weight in the continental scale, and in the eye of Europe. I would rather conjecture that abolishing slavery, or sending away the blacks, introducing artists and other emigrants from Europe, wise laws, pure manners, and a predominance of virtue, would make us truly respectable and powerful. Truly weighty is the consideration that when a separation takes place, it may be like good friends, promoting reciprocal interests, and happy in seeing each other so well. I think such an event might be brought about by the same temper as the division of a county. The Chesapeake may long be the mart of the Western Country, except for exports. This will be a channel for intercourse; p8and might not wise men or rather wise legislators improve it to be a very beneficial one?
It was some entertainment to me to be frequently told of the sentiments of individuals respecting my conduct lately in the Western Country; some considered that I was aiming at public good, others private aggrandizement. To an enlightened and unbiased mind, I will always take pleasure to give an explication. I have hitherto endeavoured by my political conduct to be guided by two principal landmarks: the Constitution and the voice of the people. Whilst I persevere under this description, I shall hope to be approved of by wise republicans and good men. [Marked "confidential."]3
This letter discloses that Colonel Campbell's efforts in behalf of the new State had caused no inconsiderable stir in Virginia. His conduct was criticized and resented by a faction in Southwest Virginia which was in opposition to Campbell and his friends, on this and other questions of the day. For years the Campbells had been in practically undisputed leadership in that section. General William Campbell, one of the heroes of the King's Mountain campaign, had but recently died (August 22, 1781) while in military service against Lord Cornwallis near Williamsburg and Yorktown; and his coöperation was lost to his kinsman.
About the same year, 1781, a forceful character, General William Russell, moved into the Campbell neighborhood. He had been educated at William and Mary College, and, serving as a captain in the French and Indian War, had risen to the rank of colonel and brigadier-general in the Revolutionary War. He had long been engaged as a soldier in the exploration and protection of this part of the frontier. Of commanding presence and cultured, General Russell paid court to Mrs. Elizabeth Campbell, the widow of General William Campbell, who was a sister of Patrick Henry, and to whom Russell was married in 1783. The stage was thus set for a close alliance of Arthur Campbell with Russell, or for disagreements engendered by resentment, jealousy and rivalry. "Beneath Russell's polished exterior there was a proud and stern nature, and imperious temper."4 He was by no means disposed to act as a subordinate of p9Colonel Campbell, and a breach between the two was the outcome.
The two men had served, in 1776, as commissioners to take evidence in behalf of Virginia in respect to the claims of Richard Henderson and his associates to the Transylvania Country5 and they had also served together as delegates in the House of Burgesses, but they were not suited to be yoke-fellows in the changed conditions. At least budding hostility is manifested in a letter written by Russell to Governor Harrison from Aspenville, on September 25, 1783, complaining of Campbell's official conduct, and concluding: "I fear Colonel Campbell's present close attention to effect a new State in this part of the country will engage his time to the neglect of any individual among us."
Campbell was yet pertinacious in his advocacy of separate statehood. To what extent he had enlisted in the movement the men of the settlement on the Watauga and the Nolachucky rivers, we are left to surmise. He had but recently (December, 1780) led three hundred of these men of the lower settlements in a campaign against the Cherokees. John Sevier served as a lieutenant-colonel under him6 and it is not improbable that Sevier and his friends were not lacking in sympathy with Campbell's scheme. It is plain that Campbell felt assured that this was true. But little of actual negotiations in these early days went to written record (much that did has not escaped loss) to speak of motives, purposes and plans to the historian today.
There trickled to Congress, however, enough to arouse the fears of the North Carolina delegates.
In August, 1782, there was presented to Congress a petition from the inhabitants of a "tract of country called Kentucky," setting forth that the petitioners deemed themselves subjects of the United States, and not of Virginia; and that by virtue of the Revolution the right of the British crown to that country had devolved on the United States. They, therefore, prayed the Congress to erect them into a new State. Arthur Lee boldly asserted that to countenance the petition would be to insult Virginia, and that the document should be referred to Virginia as the only authority competent to act. Madison denounced the claim of the petitioners as extravagant.
p10 Williamson, of North Carolina, expressed the opinion that the question was of such serious import that the sword alone should decide it, and the wish that it might be put off and not be renewed in the time of their children or grandchildren. He about the same time wrote from Congress to Governor Martin, of his State, expressing the hope that the Assembly of that State would turn its "attention to the Western Country; those lands are certainly in a critical situation. The spirit of migration prevails to a high degree in these Middle States, and the spirit of making new States is becoming epidemic. It is certain that many of the small States, or at least many of the inhabitants of those States, encourage that spirit. They look with envious eyes on the large States and wish to make us all of pygmy breed. The Assembly of this State [Pennsylvania] have just received accounts that the inhabitants in general over the Alleghany Mountains are disposed to declare themselves independent. There is the utmost reason to believe that the people of Vermont and their abettors in the minor States are endeavoring to persuade the people in general on the western waters to revolt."
Respecting the petition sent to Congress by Arthur Campbell and his associates early in 1782, or to the Kentucky petition, Williamson was particularly concerned:
"A petition was some time ago handed to Congress, said to be from some people back of Virginia, praying to be erected into a State . . . Utmost attention is required by our State to prevent, if possible, any bad impressions from being made on the citizens of the State on the western water. The spirit of our government is so moderate and the general disposition of the western inhabitants is so good that our subjects will be among the last to run riot."7
The passage of six months did not leave Williamson so confident. He now (June 19, 1783) sought to further clinch the hold of the claimant States on the West by moving to recommend to the States to amend the Articles of Confederation so that the affirmative vote of ten (instead of nine) States should be requisite to the admission of a fourteenth State into the Confederation. Bland, of Virginia, seconded the motion. Madison in his notes of the proceedings, made at the time, explains: "The motion had reference to the foreseen p11creation of the western part of North Carolina into a separate State."8 North Carolina leaders were alert to the situation and desired to forestall consummation.
The earlier plan of Campbell and his associates for a new State included five of the Virginia counties. The suggestion in the letter of Campbell to Lee, nearly six months later, was that the counties of Montgomery and Washington be so incorporated. It may have been thought wise to lop off counties in which Colonel Campbell's influence was not so dominant.
Turner says: "There is evidence that Arthur Campbell continued in correspondence with congressional leaders. In the summer of 1783, Jefferson reported that Patrick Henry was ready to restrict Virginia to reasonable boundaries, but that instead of ceding the parts lopped off, he was for laying them off into small republics."9
The movement for statehood was renewed in Kentucky in 1783. A petition of the inhabitants of the Kentucky Country was now laid before the Virginia Assembly asking for a new State beyond the mountains. In that document it was quaintly said: "Some of our fellow citizens may think we are not able to conduct our affairs and consult our interests; but if our society is rude, much wisdom is not necessary to supply our wants, and a fool can put on his clothes better than a wise man can do it for him. We are not against hearing counsel, but we attend more to our feelings than to the arguments of others."
It is not beyond suspicion that Arthur Campbell was at this time influential in the separatist movement in Kentucky. A number of his old neighbors were leaders in that district. Jefferson in a letter written to Madison about this time showed that there was danger that the move would, if allowed to run unchecked, take away from the Old Dominion several of the counties west of the Alleghanies and east of the Cumberland mountains, named by Campbell to be parts of a new State. He urged that it was for the welfare of Virginia to cede the Kentucky region immediately because the settlers there would "separate themselves and be joined by all our settlements beyond the Alleghany, if they are the first movers . . . I am afraid that Congress would wish them well."10
p12 As will be disclosed in a subsequent chapter, Campbell was an adviser of the Kentucky separatists at a later date.11
Colonel William Christian, who had also led Virginia and Carolina troops in a campaign against the Cherokee Indians down the valley of the Holston and Tennessee rivers and had noted the beauty and fertility of the country, was a co‑worker with Campbell in his statehood scheme. Referring to the uncertainty produced by the refusal of Congress to accept Virginia's tender of cession, he wrote: "In the general confusion and disturbance we ought to take care of ourselves."12
1 Journal Cont. Congress, XVII, 808.
2 Journal of Congress, III, 235. A report of a committee of Congress to examine the claims of Virginia, (filed November 3, 1781) proceeded on the theory that the western lands had, as crown lands, passed in devolution to the United States as an entity; but Congress itself did not so resolve.
3 Calendar Virginia State Papers, III, 414.
4 Preston, Sketch of Mrs. Elizabeth Russell, 21. It seems that General Russell's temperament led to something like a family feud. "The discipline in his family was austere, and so harshly did it press upon his step-daughter, Sarah B. Campbell, that her uncle (by marriage) Arthur Campbell, applied to the court of Washington county to have her taken under his guardianship. This was done in 1789." — Ib.
5 Calendar Virginia State Papers, I, 272.
6 Calendar Virginia State Papers, I, 434.
7 North Carolina State Records, XVI, 459. In January 1783, Campbell was endeavoring to interest John Rhea, of Sullivan in the movement: "The talk about a New State is far from being husht either in Philadelphia or Richmond. Great schemes require time to arrive at maturity." Hyde MSS.
8 Madison Papers, I, 401.
9 Turner, Western State-making, citing Jefferson's Writings, III, 334.
10 Jefferson, Writings, IV, 244.
12 Turner, Western State-making, supra, 256. Christian also observed a decided drift of emigration to the Watauga-Nolachucky district. He informed Governor Harrison of Virginia (September 28, 1782) that "Indian troubles in Kentucky tended to turn the tide of migration into Carolina towards the Cherokees where they may live in safety." Calendar Virginia State Papers, III, 331.
Images with borders lead to more information.
Lost State of Franklin
History of Tennessee
History of North Carolina
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
Page updated: 12 Jul 13