Sevier not unwisely determined that his presence in his home county would not tend to tranquillize the turmoil. He, therefore, made headquarters at Greeneville. Soon there was need of his services as leader in a campaign against the Indians, who were tempted to activity by the fratricidal strife among the white people. Evidence that the danger from the savages was real and imminent comes from leaders of both factions. March 17th Colonel Hutchings reported to General Martin that the situation in his quarter bore "a very disagreeable aspect. The inhabitants within •six miles of my house have forted on account of the Indians. . . . I daily am pressed upon to carry a campaign against Chickamauga."1
Martin (April 17th) reported to the governor of Virginia the alarmed state of the frontiers throughout the whole of Franklin on account of the incursions of Indians. "Mr. White,2 in particular, who has been a great advocate for the State of Franklin, sends to James Robertson for aid;" and in a later communication to the governor he said, "I fear it will be out of my power to keep the people back much longer."3
On April 24th Martin went to the settlement on the lower Holston to make an effort to allay the excitement, only to find on arrival that a man and a boy had been recently killed and number of men were in arms for an avenging foray. He finally persuaded this party to choose four of their number to accompany him to the Cherokee towns to ascertain whether the nearby Cherokees were guilty of the murders. Martin believed that the Chickamaugas were responsible. On investigation the whites were satisfied that this was the fact, and Martin prevailed on the Cherokees to remain in their towns and plant corn, he agreeing to stay among them at the request of the Cherokees and their white neighbors.
p211 Unfortunately, about the 15th of May, a white family was killed within •nine miles of Chota, and two parties gathered to chastise the Cherokees. Martin met one of these and turned it back. The other proceeded to attack and burn one of the towns; and the Indians, believing that Martin was deceiving them, were incensed. They put Martin under guard for several days. He finally persuaded them that their suspicions were baseless, and "they let him go, but told him had any of their men been killed, his life must have gone for theirs."4 The murders were the work of the Chickamaugas and Creeks, Martin persuaded himself but not the border people.
General Martin being unwilling to act as brigadier against the Indians without authority from the far‑away government of North Carolina,5 Sevier's work was cut out for him both by circumstance and the will of the people.6
Martin left Chota on May 24th, and on reaching the French Broad river learned that Sevier was at the head of a force raised to go against the Cherokees. Martin turned back to the Indian towns to move off his negroes, horses, etc. Then turning again northward, he met and endeavored to dissuade Sevier, but to no purpose. At the head of one hundred mounted riflemen Sevier pressed forward to find Chota abandoned. He then struck a town on the Hiwassee river. Surprising the Indians, he killed a number and burned the town, which, Colonel Hutchings reported, "so raised him in the esteem of the people of the frontier that the people began to flock to his standard."7
Returning to Hunter's Station, the next day they made a push up the Little Tennessee river to Tallassee town, from which the Indians fled to the nearby mountains pursued by the white troops. Many of them were killed.
Next came a deed of grievous cruelty, news of which was received with horror by the saner inhabitants of Franklin and the entire western people, and stained the records of the campaign. It p212can only be fully understood when its background is seen, as given by Haywood.8
In the raids, made by the Indians in May and now being punished, there had been an act of atrocious treachery and murder committed by them. The Kirk family lived on the southwest side of Little river, •twelve miles south of the present site of Knoxville. While Kirk was away from home an Indian, Slim Tom, or Chilhowee, well known to the family, came to the house and asked for food, which was given him. He withdrew, having noted the defenceless situation of those in the house. Slim Tom soon returned from the woods with a party of Indians, fell upon the family and massacred the whole number present, eleven. John Kirk, upon returning home, saw the dead bodies lying on the ground. He gave the alarm, and word was sent to the militia under the command of Sevier, who collected a force at Hunter's Station, on Nine Mile Creek, which runs into the Holston on the south side. The troopers, with this outrage rankling in their hearts, were now out to administer punishment. John Kirk, a son of him whose family had been massacred, was of their number.
After leaving Tallassee the militia proceeded toward Chilhowee town down the Little Tennessee river. Sevier was absent, which unfortunately left Major Hubbard in command. Abraham, a friendly chief residing at Chilhowee, had declared publicly that if his people went to war he would not quit his home to engage in it. The Tassel (Corn Tassel) who for years had endeavored to keep the peace with the whites, also remained at home. Hubbard sent for Abraham to come over the river to him. White flags had been displayed by the Indians and the troops. Abraham answered the summons and was requested to bring over The Tassel and his son in order that both might be held. When they came, all were put in a house into which young Kirk found his way, Hubbard going in with him. Kirk there drove his tomahawk into the heads of the five or six Indians, including the two chiefs.
Sevier, on his return, saw what would be the result of the rash and savage act, and remonstrated with Kirk who answered that it was an eye for an eye, and that any man, even Sevier himself would have acted in like manner under the same provocation.
This bloody scene, terminating the immediate campaign, shocked the conservative element throughout the western counties; and great indignation was excited throughout the entire country. The Continental Congress passed resolutions condemning the act; and Andrew Pickens in behalf of the justices of Abbeville county, South Carolina, wrote in protest and denunciation "to the people living on Nolechucke, French Broad and Holstein."10
Early in June Brigadier-General Martin projected a campaign against the Chickamauga Indians. A council of officers holding Carolina commissions was held at Hawkins's Court House (Rogersville) to make plans. Martin astutely drew Colonel Outlaw into coöperation by asking that he act as commissary officer. By the aid of Colonel Outlaw, Colonel Daniel Kennedy was induced to accept command of the quota of troops allotted to Greene county.11 A second council was held at Sullivan Court House on the second Monday of June, when the expedition was abandoned. Ardor had cooled.
p214 General Martin left his jurisdiction later in June, and wrote that he was doubtful as to the date of return. Maxwell, one of his own colonels, wrote him to come back. "Your presence was never more wanted than on this occasion. A number of people say you are an Indian's friend, and they'll warrant we won't see you till the campaign is over, while your friends assert the contrary. Your conduct at this crisis will consummate your character in this country."12
At this time Sevier was planning to go against the Chickamaugas in their strongholds. A fort, called Houston's Station, was now erected, •sixteen miles south of Knoxville and •six miles from the present site of the town of Maryville; and Major Thomas Stewart was placed in command. From there (July 8) Sevier and Hubbard addressed an appeal which explains the delay in executing their plan:
To the Inhabitants in general: Yesterday we crossed the Tennessee13 with a small party of men and destroyed a town called Toquo. On our return we discovered large trails of Indians making their way toward this place. We are of the opinion their number could not be less than five hundred. We beg to recommend that every station be on their guard; that also, every good man that can be spared will voluntarily turn out and repair to this place with the utmost expedition, in order to tarry for a few days in the neighborhood and repel the enemy, if possible. We intend waiting at this place some days with the few men now with us, as we cannot reconcile it to our own feelings to leave a people who appear to be in such great distress.
N. B. It will be necessary for those who will be so grateful as to come to the assistance of this place, to furnish themselves with a few days provisions, as the inhabitants of this part are greatly distressed by the Indians.
Maxwell attributed the delay of Sevier to "the severity of the Indians and the disaffection of the rubites." But it was the rubes who held the Indians back, turning out time and again under that knight of the saddle, Captain Nathaniel Evans, and his followers to meet repeated onslaughts of the Indians.
p215 On Friday, August 8th, a party of thirty‑one, under Captain Fain, a part of the guard at Houston Station, joined by a party of settlers, crossed the Little Tennessee at a point •about nine miles distant. Tempted by the fruit in an orchard in the vicinity of the abandoned Indian town, Cittico, they stopped to gather apples. The Indians surrounded them, drove them into the river, killed sixteen and wounded four. The Indians had taken possession of the ford, and as the whites endeavored to swim across the stream many were slaughtered in the water.15
General Martin on his return to the West found that the Indians were growing bolder and more ferocious in their attacks on the frontier settlements. He was compelled to subordinate the character of Indian agent to that of brigadier, and reluctantly to lead a military expedition against the Cherokees without having obtained the consent of the governor of North Carolina. A second and successful effort was made to organize for an expedition. The council of officers was held at Jonesborough, August 19th, where the result was thus recorded:
That it is the opinion of the council that an expedition is absolutely necessary, and that every exertion ought to be used to carry it into effect.
That it is the unanimous opinion of this council that Brigadier-General Martin ought to command the said expedition.
That the campaign consist of 1,000 men; viz.: 700 mounted infantry and 300 foot to go by water.
That Colonel Outlaw be directed to purchase or impress, on the rivers Chucky and French Broad, as many boats and canoes as will transport 150 men with provisions to Chickamauga. That Mr. Doak,16 commissary for Hawkins, purchase or impress, as many boats and canoes on Holston as will carry a like number.
That the several commissaries will be directed to purchase immediately and have carried to the general rendezvous a sufficient quantity of provisions.17
One‑half the number of men called for enlisted for the campaign.18 p216Colonel Robert Love commanded the soldiers from Washington county, Colonel Kennedy those from Greene county, and Colonel George Doherty those from the French Broad section. General Martin led the men of Sullivan county. Colonel Thomas Hutchings, of Hawkins, who had thirsted for the gore of Franklinites, was not on the expedition, it seems.
The rendezvous was at White's Fort (Knoxville) on the Holston, and it is probable that the entire command went as mounted infantrymen.
A rapid march was made down the valley of the Tennessee. Two Indian towns were laid waste as the troops passed. They arrived at Lookout Mountain late in the afternoon, too late to make a crossing of the river. They camped for the night on the site of an old Indian field. A detachment of fifty men under Colonel Doherty was sent forward to take possession of a narrow defile or pass and to hold it until the next morning. But the Indians had anticipated this move, and from a point of vantage on the mountain fired upon the party and drove them back. During the night the Indians reinforced and prepared for a stubborn defense. The troops spent the entire night holding the bridles of their horses. Early next morning spies were sent out to reconnoitre. They also were fired upon, and William Cunningham, of Doherty's command wounded. A large division was now ordered forward to force a passage. The men had to march single file, zigzagging among the rocks between the bluff and the river. It was the custom of the captains to march a though their companies in attacking. The Indians, concealed behind rocks and trees, poured down on them a sudden and destructive fire. Among the many killed were three captains, John Hardin, son of Colonel Joseph Hardin, Fuller and Gibson. Captains Joseph Bullard and George Vincent were wounded. Great confusion followed. The place was such that it was impracticable to rally the men until they were withdrawn to the foot of the mountain. Some fled back to the encouragement, declaring that it would prove another Blue Lick affaira if they went beyond the pass. General Martin endeavored to rally his force, but most of them refused to follow him farther and broke up into independent p217squads. Left with about sixty men, the commander was obliged to call a retreat.19
The situation was a difficult one for General Martin, even if he had made no mistake in directing the attack at such a place. Because of his close personal connection with the Cherokees20 and because, as long-time agent of the government among them, he had frequently taken the part of the redmen against the whites, he had not the full confidence of his troopers.21
He did not have the skill and experience of their tried and trusted "Nolachucky Jack." The failure of the campaign emboldened the Indians to raid the settlements.
The first retaliatory foray was made against Sherrill's Station by two hundred Indians. Sevier, with forty horsemen, out ranging, came upon the trail of the savages. Following the trail they arrived at the station just as the Indians were engaged in setting fire to buildings under cover of darkness. At a given signal Sevier's men charged; the redmen gave way and the rescuers were welcomed with joy by the besieged. The North Carolina State Gazette stated that the exploit was "performed to the governor of Franklin's usual good fortune; not a man of his party was hurt."
1 N. C. St. Rec., XXII, 715.
2 James White, the founder of Knoxville.
3 Calendar Virginia State Papers, IV, 424, 428, 432.
4 State Gazette of South Carolina, Sept. 1, 1788. See also State Dept. MSS., 150, Vol. II, Martin to Secretary Knox, July 15, 1788. Martin had just been appointed assistant to the superintendent of the Southern Indians.
5 Calendar Virginia State Papers, IV, 424, et seq.
6 Martin wrote to the governor of Virginia in April that he "expected nothing but a troublesome, bloody war with the savages this summer." N. C. St. Rec., XXII, 693.
7 N. C. St. Rec., XXI, 718; Roosevelt, Winning of the West, IV, ch. IV.
8 Haywood, 181; Ramsey, 419; Roosevelt, IV, ch. IV; N. C. St. Rec., XXII, 695; Goodpasture, Indian Wars and Warriors, Tennessee Historical Magazine, IV.
9 Kirk to John Watts, now become chief warrior of the Cherokee Nation, dated October 17, 1788:
"Sir: I have heard of your letter lately sent to Chucky John [Sevier]. You are mistaken in blaming him for the death of your uncle. Listen now to my story. For days and months the Cherokee Indians, big and little, women and children, have been fed and treated kindly by my mother. When all was at peace with the Tennessee towns, Slim Tom with a party of Sattigo and other Cherokee Indians, murdered my mother, brothers and sisters in cold blood, when children just before were playful about them as friends; at the instant some of them received the bloody tomahawk they were smiling in their faces. This began the war; and since I have taken ample satisfaction can now make peace except with Slim Tom. Our beloved men, the Congress, tells us to be at peace; I will listen to their advice if no more blood is shed by the Cherokees, and the headmen of your nation take care to prevent such beginnings of bloodshed in all time to come. But if they do not, your people may feel something more to keep up remembrance of
"John Kirk, Jun.
"Captain of the Bloody Rangers."
Georgia State Gazette, April 25, 1789.
10 Roosevelt, citing letter of Justices, July 9, 1788, State Department MSS. Roosevelt contends that Sevier should be held responsible for the murders, but Haywood acquits him of blame: "Sevier never acted with cruelty before or since; he was never accused of inhumanity; he could not have given his consent on this occasion." Haywood's History, 183.
11 Kennedy to Martin, June 6, 1788. Library of Congress, State Dept. MSS., II, p439.
12 Maxwell to Martin (July 9), N. C. St. Rec., XXI, 718.
13 Now known as the Little Tennessee river.
14 Ramsey, 419.
15 Maryland Journal, Sept. 16, 1788. This account gives the names of the killed and wounded: Killed — John Fain, captain; Caleb Jones, Joseph Alexander, Van Piercefield, William Long, Jonathan Dean, John Brannon, William English, John Medlock, Robert Houston, George Matthews, Isaac Anderson, Charles Payne, Luther Johnson, Hermon Gregg, and George Buly. Wounded — John Kirk, Thomas Brown and ––––– Bullock.
16 Samuel Doak, but not the minister and educator.
17 State Dept. MSS., p357.
18 The Martin MSS. state that the number was 1,000, evidently having in mind the number called; Haywood and Ramsey say 450; Weeks's Martin "some 800," and Goodpasture, "about 500."
19 The account of this campaign is based upon that of William Martin, son of General Martin (written for Draper) in Southern History Association Proceedings, IV, 464; Ramsey, 517, and Weeks's General Joseph Martin, 463.
20 Martin, while living among the Cherokees, had married a daughter (Betsy) of the celebrated Nancy Ward, and grand-niece of Atakullakulla. She was living as late as 1800, on a fine estate at Wakhovee on the south side of Hiwassee river, •fifty miles from Tellico Blockhouse, and was still called Mrs. Martin. Williams, Early Travels, 490.
21 The muster rolls of this campaign, yet in existence, show the following officers under Gen. Martin, down to and including the captains: Colonels: George Doherty, Thos. Gillespie, Daniel Kennedy and John Scott. Majors: Thomas King and John Newman. Captains: Francis Berry, Alexander Brown, Joseph Casey, James Cooper, John Crafford, John Fegan, John Hardin, John Hunter, Samuel McGayha, James Moore, Moses Moore, John Mahon, John Miller, James Richardson, Thos. Vincent and Moses Webb. Capt. Gilbert Christian was the General's aide-de‑camp. The roll would have been printed as an Appendix but for its length and the fact that the campaign was not one of the Revolution.
a The reference is to the disastrous defeat in 1782 of a force of patriot mountainmen by loyalists and (mostly) Indians, at Blue Licks, KY. The Blue Licks Commemorative Commission maintains a good website devoted to the battle.
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: 20 Feb 14