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This webpage reproduces an article in the
Mississippi Valley Historical Review
Vol. 13 No. 3 (Dec. 1926), pp365‑386

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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p365 The Muscle Shoals Speculation, 1783‑17891

By A. P. Whitaker

In 1783, six North Carolinians formed a company for the purpose of establishing a colony at Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River.2 The company was composed of both easterners and frontiersmen, the former doubtless to furnish capital and secure grants, and the latter to treat with the Indians, make surveys, and promote immigration. The eastern members were: William Blount, delegate from North Carolina in Congress; Richard Caswell, speaker of the state senate and, in 1784, governor; and Griffith Rutherford, a general during the Revolution. The frontier members were: Colonel John Donelson, Indian agent for Virginia, county surveyor of one of North Carolina's counties on the Holston, former associate of Richard Henderson, and the founder of Nashville; Joseph Martin, another of Virginia's Indian agents and also the land agent of Patrick Henry; and John Sevier, colonel of the militia of Washington County on the Holston, and shortly governor of the State of Franklin.

Muscle Shoals had been the site of a French trading post earlier in the century,3 was doubtless familiar to English traders who went from Carolina to the Chickasaw nation, and was on the projected trade route from Charleston to the Ohio Valley.4 In 1783, the region about the Shoals was valuable for farming p366purposes and for trade with both the neighboring Indian tribes and the growing white settlements of the Mississippi Valley. It might well become the principal entrepôt of western commerce, for a short portage connected it with the Alabama River, which was a less tumultuous waterway than the Mississippi, while continuous navigation up and down the Tennessee linked it with the Holston, Cumberland, Kentucky, and Illinois settlements. In 1784, Spaniards were reported to be settling there.5 As early as 1785, the Indian commissioners called its importance to the attention of Congress.6

The purpose of this paper is to follow the history of the Muscle Shoals project from 1783 to 1789, showing how it was first the enterprise of a private land company, how it was then taken up as the expansionist program of the State of Franklin, and how finally it became the basis of an intrigue between the governor of Franklin, John Sevier, and the Spanish government. In the course of this narrative, it will also appear to what an amazing extent public office was exploited by government officials of both high and low degree to forward their interests in western lands.

The first step taken by the company was to purchase the Cherokee claim to the Shoals region, just as Henderson had purchased the Cherokee claim to Transylvania. This business was handled by John Donelson and Joseph Martin while employed by Virginia to conclude a treaty of trade and friendship with the Chickasaw.7 Blount, the head of the company, congratulated Martin on having made a "cheap enough" purchase, and assured him the goods with which to pay the Indians were on their p367way from Philadelphia.8 Another important preliminary step was the determine whether the Shoals lay to the north or to the south of North Carolina's southern boundary. This information was very obligingly furnished by the commissioners sent out by the state to lay off its military reservation on Cumberland River. They made the long and difficult journey to Muscle Shoals, and ascertained that it lay outside of North Carolina's limits and consequently within the territory claimed by Georgia and South Carolina.9

The next step taken by the company was to persuade the legislature of Georgia to open the Shoals region to settlement. It was probably for this purpose that William Blount resigned his seat in Congress, for immediately after his resignation he went to Georgia and petitioned the legislature, on behalf of himself and his associates, for a grant of its western lands. The legislature, stimulated perhaps by the rivalry of South Carolina and Spain,10 responded with an act which Blount described as not all that he could have wished for, but the best that could be obtained. It must be said that he was rather hard to please. The act provided for the creation of a county — later called Houston — which should embrace the territory lying between the Tennessee River and North Carolina's southern boundary. Seven commissioners were appointed to survey the region and to establish the colonial government. Of these seven, three were nominated by Blount himself and were the frontier members of p368his company: Donelson, Martin and Sevier. Of the remaining members, all Georgians, Blount remarked that "they all appear to have a great Thirst for Tenesee Lands." The composition of the commission augured well for the future of the company; and indeed the commissioners treated Blount and his associates handsomely. In July, 1784, a majority of the commission, Blount's three associates and Col. Stephen Heard, of Georgia, met at Muscle Shoals. They appointed as militia officers of the new county John Sevier, John Donelson, and Valentine Sevier, to be colonel lieutenant-colonel, and major respectively. Joseph Martin was appointed Indian agent and John Donelson county surveyor, and it was provided that the land office of the new county should be opened in March of the following year (1785) at Long Island in the Holston River, where Joseph Martin had a trading post.11

There is every indication that this was a project for genuine colonization, and not, like those of the Yazoo companies of 1795, a mere real estate deal. This is shown by the location of the land office, not on the Atlantic Coast but in the Holston settlements from which the colonists were to be drawn. It is shown also by a letter in which Blount spoke of the conflicting claims of Georgia and South Carolina to the Shoals region, and declared that this was to the company's advantage, since he was confident that a grant could be secured from one state or the other and a settlement made before their dispute was ended.12

Further insight into the methods of land speculators is afforded by a letter in which William Blount informed Colonel Donelson of Georgia's favorable action: "Nothing will more readily influence the commissioners of Georgia to grant the Company a large quantity of Land than an appearance of many People being p369about to remove to the Bent [i.e., Bend, Muscle Shoals] under the influence of the Company therefore you will necessarily keep up a Report of as many being about to remove as your possibly can whether true or not." Probably with the same object and the same regard for the truth, Blount said that he himself contemplated moving out to the "Bent." He also frankly admitted that in getting the legislature of Georgia to pass the act he had made use of the name of Anthony Bledsoe, a prominent Cumberland settler, without consulting him. He excused himself on the ground that Bledsoe was "an over-mountain man and of much Influence Consequently in the eyes of the State of Georgia."13

When Blount learned that the commissioners of Houston County had met and provided for the opening of the land office at Long Island in March, 1785, he wrote a letter to Sevier, Martin, and Donelson urging them to postpone the date of its opening a few weeks. This letter, dated December 4, 1784, "at Govr. Caswell's," informed them that the government of North Carolina had decided to hold a treaty with the Cherokee at Long Island between April 20 and May 10, 1785, that he would certainly attend as North Carolina's commissioner, and that Governor Caswell also might be on hand. "Should you open the Entry Office before you see one or both of Us . . . we wish you to secure as much of the Bent as may be in your Power."14

Although the colony was not to be autonomous but a mere county of the State of Georgia, Blount's company would have had things very much its own way. Not only were all the county offices in the hands of its members, but it was provided that the company should receive a grant of land in compensation for its services. What would have happened to the lands of the county is indicated by a warrant of the State of Georgia directing John Donelson, surveyor of Houston County, to lay out for John Sevier one thousand acres of land in Houston County. The warrant was signed by John Donelson and John Sevier.15

At this point we come to the end of the first phase of the Muscle p370Shoals project. In December, 1784, the Holston and Watauga settlers erected the independent State of Franklin, and the Shoals project, hitherto a private enterprise, now became a part of the expansionist program of the new state. The members of Blount's company not only did not promote but they actually opposed this particularist movement.16 They did so with good reason, for this movement was a complex phenomenon compounded of localism and expansionism, of religiosity and worldly greed, of humanitarianism and of hatred for the Indians, of imitativeness and of originality, and it was by no means certain that it would not seriously interfere with the company's project by diverting the energy of the Holston settlers away from Muscle Shoals into other channels. Such, indeed, was its first effect, for after the rapid progress of the company in 1783 and 1784, culminating in the organization of Houston County and the provision for the opening of the land office, the enterprise came to a standstill. The land office was not opened in March, 1785, and the colony was not established. This pause has been attributed by one writer to Indian hostility, an explanation that will not stand in the face of the fact that the southern Indians committed no hostilities of any consequence until 1786, and that, indeed, they were but scantily supplied with the sinews of war until 1785.17 Altogether it seems much more probable that it was the rise of the State of Franklin that halted the company's enterprise; and it is this fact, in turn, which enables us to understand p371the otherwise puzzling fact that John Sevier was at the outset opposed to the establishment of the new state.

Even Sevier's influence was not enough to check the separatist movement. The independence of the State of Franklin was declared in December, 1784. Sevier's only recourse was to use the new state as an instrument to advance his own interests, and this he did with a right good will. He himself was made governor. Stokeley Donelson, the son of Sevier's partner, Colonel John Donelson, was made surveyor; and Alexander Outlaw, an ardent supporter of the Muscle Shoals scheme, was an Indian commissioner and one of the chief militia officers of the new state.18 It would be interesting to observe at this point how profoundly a desire to control the western lands influenced the organization of the State of Franklin and North Carolina's repeal of its cession act of 1784; but this would involve a digression, since we are concerned only with the projected colonization of the Muscle Shoals region, which lay outside the limits of North Carolina's western territory.

Immediately upon the establishment of the State of Franklin, an observer on the spot pointed out its intimate connection with the Muscle Shoals enterprise. A letter dated December 20, 1784, from "a gentleman living in the western territory, lately ceded by North Carolina," described the establishment "last week" of the new state, and continued: "If I was to venture a conjecture, the good of the commonwealth is not at the bottom, but the views of a few crafty land-jobbers, whom you know, who are aiming at purchasing the great bent of Tenasee from the Indians, and if not successful that way, to contrive a quarrel, and drive the natives (Cortez-like) out by force."19 That the writer's surmise was correct is abundantly proved by the history of the infant state during the rest of its brief existence. For the next four years (1785‑88) the Franklinites were busily engaged in first one quarter and then another in seeking aid for their p372expansionist problem. They attempted now peaceful purchase, now Cortez-like conquest, now both simultaneously.

They seemed to hope at first that Congress itself would support their project. William Cocke, formerly employed by Henderson in the establishment of Transylvania, was sent to Congress to secure the admission of Franklin to the Union. While the memorial which he presented to that body does not describe the boundaries of Franklin, the omission may well have been due to a desire to permit Congress to be as generous as it wished on this point. Certainly the separatists of southwestern Virginia, who had connections among the Franklinites, asked Congress to create a state embracing the settled area of Franklin and the Muscle Shoals district.20 It is not probable that the Franklinites were less ambitious.

It was also hoped that Congress would, in its approaching treaties with the southern Indians, open up territory to the expansionists on the Holston. Even the anti-Franklinite writer of the letter cited above was, like most frontiersmen, an expansionist, and expressed the expectation — induced no doubt by hope — that Congress would make "an advantageous bargain" with the Indians "for a national purpose" and thus "give our politics a right turn." Bitter disappointment awaited such hopes. Franklin was not admitted into the Union, and the treaties of Hopewell, negotiated with the Indians by the commissioners of Congress, gave great offence to the expansionists by fixing the Cherokee boundary line far up the Tennessee River above Muscle Shoals and by guaranteeing to the Indians perpetual possession of the lands within this boundary. Sevier wrote resentfully of these treaties, and his fellow-Franklinite, Outlaw, said the people were "much alarmed" at the conduct of the commissioners of Congress, who were depriving the frontiersmen of their "just Right."21

p373 We may note in passing that partner Blount did his bit for the company at the treaties of Hopewell. Although attending them in the official capacity of observer for the State of North Carolina, he did not hesitate to look after his own business interests. As it happened, one of his partners, Joseph Martin, was a member of the congressional commission. On December 23, 1785, Blount wrote Martin expressing his regret at the news that the Chickasaw were on their way to Hopewell to negotiate with the commission, and urging Martin to use his influence with the Indians, and if necessary to use some of the goods as well, to persuade them to agree to make the Tennessee River their northern boundary: "Across it they must not come."22 The reason why they must not is obvious: on the northern bank of the Tennessee lay Houston County.

Even from officials of the State of North Carolina, the insurgent Franklinites hoped to secure support for the Muscle Shoals project. They did not hope in vain. We have just given an instance of Blount's lively sympathy with them; and it might be added that North Carolina protested as vigorously as did the State of Franklin, though no doubt largely on its own account, against the treaties of Hopewell. The most striking instance, however, is furnished by the case of Richard Caswell. While governor of North Carolina, he wrote in the following terms to John Sevier, governor of a state set up and maintained in defiance p374of the authority of North Carolina: "The Bent of Tenesee is still an Object with me of an Interesting Nature. . . . I will attend to the Grant you wish to Caveat, in Bumper's Cove; pray will it not be necessary for you to have returns made of our Lands on the French Broad so that Grants issue from this State?"23

The State of Franklin rewarded these two distinguished North Carolinians for their sympathy by naming one of its new counties Blount and another Caswell. In September, 1786, Outlaw wrote Caswell in order to impress on him the importance of North Carolina' providing for the orderly settlement of the country south of the French Broad on both sides of the Tennessee, "which will settle in a very short time, whether it is purchased from the Indians or not." He referred to the joint expedition with Georgia then under discussion, which the Franklinites designed to use as a means of settling the Muscle Shoals district. Such measures, said Outlaw, would open a communication to the "lower country" — i.e., Mobile and New Orleans — and would put an end to Indian hostilities in the South.24

For all their good will, Caswell and Blount were hampered by their obligations to North Carolina and were unable to render Franklin any great service. The active leadership of the company on the Atlantic Coast seems to have passed into the hands of Wade Hampton, of South Carolina. Aided by the legal talent of General C. C. Pinckney, and with backing in Charleston, he secured grants from that state which are probably connected with the hectic history of South Carolina's boundary dispute with Georgia and its cession of 1787 to Congress. Writing on February 15, 1786, to "His Excellency" John Sevier, Hampton related his progress, urged Sevier to see that the surveyors set to work, and concluded with the expression of a wish that the assembly of Franklin might be in session at the end of the next month.25

It was from the State of Georgia, however, that the Franklinites p375most persistently and most hopefully sought support for their Muscle Shoals venture. The Georgia connection, indeed, was, as we have seen, older than the State of Franklin itself. That the Georgians' interest did not die out with the rise of that state is shown by the fact that Stephen Heard, one of the original Houston County commissioners in 1784, was actively concerned with Hampton and Sevier in 1786. A short while after the date of the letter from Hampton to Sevier of which we have already spoken, an event occurred which gave the Muscle Shoals project a new impulse. This was the outbreak, in April, 1786, of war between Georgia and the Creek Indians.26 At once hard-pressed and aggressive, the Georgians looked for aid to the Franklinites, with whom the people of the Augusta region had much in common. A bargain was struck. The state of Franklin was to aid Georgia with 1,500 men in a campaign to crush the Creek; and in return Georgia was to pay the Franklinites with land grants at Muscle Shoals. For nearly two years, from April, 1786, to the end of 1787, this joint campaign was the subject of a lively correspondence between the governors of the two states, but for one reason or another it was always postponed.27 Georgia's finances became more and more disordered, the munitions supply more and more depleted, until, as the governor of the state put it, she had a war on her hands without the means to wage it. Finally when, at the end of 1787, the Federal Constitution was submitted to the states, the Georgians hastened to accept it, deciding that in return for the protection of a stronger government it was wiser to submit to a more pacific management of Indian affairs and a more gradual extension of the frontier.28

p376 This sudden change of front on Georgia's part involved the abandonment of the joint campaign against the Creek, and this in turn gave a serious check to the Muscle Shoals project and a fatal blow to the State of Franklin. The state continued to exist in name for another year, and Sevier was never entirely without a following, but from this time until his reconciliation with the government of North Carolina his party was in a hopeless minority among the Holston settlers. So thoroughly had he and his fellows identified their state with the expansionist program that its failure discredited them, facilitated the overthrow of the insurgent state, and forced Sevier out to the extreme frontier of settlement and into an intrigue with Spain. For several months — from March to July, 1788 — before the Spanish intrigue began, he divided his time between harrying the Cherokee, surveying their lands for settlement, and writing Alexander McGillivray and the Chickasaw Indians on behalf of the Muscle Shoals project, which, as he had already assured the Chickasaw, would bring them the invaluable benefits of the arts, civilization, and the religion of Christ.29 While Sevier was writing in this strain to the Indians, Governor Johnston of North Carolina was writing to James White, one of North Carolina's delegates in Congress, that Sevier's "folly and presumption" had "reduced his affairs to so desperate a situation that it is p377not convenient for him to live under any wholesome & well-regulated government."30 And yet it was precisely his desperate situation that brought Sevier the overtures of the extremely well-regulated government of Spain; and it is a curious fact that Spain's emissary was the very person to whom Johnston's letter was addressed, James White himself.31

White's connection with the Spanish intrigue goes back to August 26, 1786. On that day he visited Gardoqui, the Spanish chargé, and assured him confidentially that the western Americans were highly indignant at Congress' recent decision to acquiesce in the closing of the Mississippi by Spain, and that their discontent might be turned to the advantage of His Catholic Majesty.32 A year and a half elapsed before White and Gardoqui took any steps to carry this idea into execution, and then it was the news of Sevier's defeat in his well-known affray with John Tipton that induced White to depart from New York for the western settlements.33 The object of his mission was not to precipitate an immediate revolution but to prepare the way for one. Gardoqui, indeed, had no authority from his government to foment an insurrection, and he charged White merely to sound out opinion on the frontier, to suggest to the frontiersmen the advantages of a Spanish connection, and to deliver friendly but unincriminating letters to Sevier, Elisha Robertson, and Governor Johnston of North Carolina. He apparently expected White to visit all the western settlements, with especial attention to the movements of Governor St. Clair of the Northwest Territory,34 and — we may suspect, though the name is not mentioned — to James Wilkinson, who had just returned from New Orleans by way of Richmond, Virginia. White was expected to continue down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Instead of p378carrying out this plan, White gave his whole attention to Franklin and the Muscle Shoals scheme, and returned to New York instead of going directly to New Orleans. It would be very interesting to knew whether he had any connection with the Shoals project before his visit to Franklin in 1788, and whether Blount was cognizant of the intrigues of Sevier and White with Spain. All that we can say is that White and Blount were both delegates in Congress from North Carolina in 1786, and that the Spanish archives do not contain the slightest evidence that Blount was in the least degree implicated in the intrigue. In view of his active support of the new Federal Constitution, it seems more than likely that he had transferred his land speculations to other fields and had severed all connection with the Muscle Shoals enterprise.

Having resigned his office as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Department,35 but retaining his appointment as delegate in Congress, White set out on his westward journey about the end of April, 1788. By July he was in the Holston settlements, where he found circumstances very favorable to the success of his mission. James Wilkinson's warm reception at New Orleans was now a matter of common knowledge in the United States, and proposals, most of them connected with land speculation, were pouring in upon the Spanish officials in North America from all parts of the Union. Like the others, Sevier had his scheme of land speculation; and more than that, his situation was well-nigh desperate. Deserted by Georgia, prosecuted by North Carolina, losing his hold even in his own community, he was offered by Gardoqui's overtures both an escape from his troubles and aid for his long-cherished Muscle Shoals plan, aid that he had long and vainly sought in other quarters. The success of this plan, whose failure had just wrecked the State of Franklin, might lead to its revival and to the creation of a greater state, including both the old Franklin and the new colony at the Shoals. Even if it failed to do this, it would at any rate give Sevier a new frontier community in which, as the founder and matchless Indian fighter, his leadership would be assured.

p379 Whether or not Sevier formulated his thoughts in this manner, he and James White made the Muscle Shoals project the chief subject of their proposals to the Spanish government. White had doubtless got from his conferences with Gardoqui some idea as to what Spain hoped to gain from its intrigue with the frontiersmen, and he and Sevier probably dressed up their communications accordingly, assuring the Spanish officials that Spain might split the young republic in twain by granting a few inconsiderable concessions to the backwoodsmen.

Sevier apparently wrote Gardoqui in July, 1788, at the time of White's visit to him, but his letter seems never to have reached Gardoqui, whose despatches to Floridablanca, the Spanish Secretary of State, contain no reference to it. According to a subsequent statement by James White, Sevier promised in this letter that the Franklinites would take an oath of allegiance to the king of Spain, and declared that Spain had a better case in the boundary dispute than did the United States.36

Again, in September, Sevier addressed himself to Gardoqui, this time writing two letters, both dated September 12, 1788. One of these letters, the longer one, is well known to students of the "Spanish intrigue," and contains a request for money, munitions, and commercial concessions, and the usual professions of devotion to Spain. The other letter, which has never been published, seems to the writer the key to the intrigue so far as it relates to the State of Franklin. In this letter, Sevier first recounted the perfidy of the Indians and their punishment, and then wrote: "Should the inhabitants of this Country form New Settlements on the Tenesee or near the Mussell Shoals [we hope] that His Catholic Majesty will be gratiously disposed to reconcile the minds and keep in peace with us, all the Tribes of Indians that come immediately under the Notice, and Dominion of Spain."37

p380 So much importance did Sevier attach to this affair that he sent his son James to deliver these letters to Gardoqui. The latter, an extremely timorous individual, fearing discovery, referred Sevier to Governor Miró of New Orleans, and gave him a passport for the journey there. Neither of the Seviers went to New Orleans, possibly because Gardoqui had already started White on his way there when James Sevier left New York to return to Franklin.

Under the name of Jacques Dubois — his early training at St. Omer may explain the assumption of a French name — White proceeded to New Orleans by way of Havana. The expenses of this voyage, as well as those of his recent journey to Franklin, were paid by the Spanish government. Leaving New York about October 11, 1788, White arrived in Havana about December 20, and fortunately had to wait there several weeks for a ship to take him to New Orleans; fortunately, because it is to this stay in Havana that we owe some of our clearest proofs that he was pursuing the intrigue with Spain in order to forward the Muscle Shoals project.

Another interesting person who was passing through Havana just at this time was Manuel Gayoso de Lemos. He, too, was on his way to New Orleans, whence he was to proceed to Natchez as its first governor. Chosen for that frontier post because his knowledge of English fitted him to deal with the American frontiersmen, he was afforded by his meeting with White an unexpectedly early opportunity to exercise his talents. He cultivated White's acquaintance, and drew from him both oral and written statements of his plans. Knowing something of the American character, and studying the map of the region in which White was interested, Gayoso finally came to the conclusion that the project of White and Sevier was one of great importance and no little danger to Spain.

We are indebted to White's stay in Havana for some very interesting documents. One of these was a statement of the p381origin and objects of his mission.38 This paper is of more value than a similar statement presented by him to Miró in New Orleans a few months later and summarized in Gayarre's Louisiana,39 because it was on the former, together with letters from Gayoso and the Governor of Havana, that the Court based its decision on White's project. White first recounted the rapid growth of the American West, and then told how Gardoqui, perceiving its potential menace to Spain, had sent him to sound out the Franklinites, who had already shown an inclination for a connection with Great Britain. When White suggested to them the greater desirability of a connection with Spain, they at first objected that Spain was hostile to the freedom of mankind, and that they must first establish themselves securely before they could hope for concessions from such an illiberal power. White persisted, however, and finally converted them to his way of thinking. They went so far as to express their new sentiments in the public drinking of toasts, and Sevier wrote Gardoqui in order to promote the union.

White then enumerated the advantages that Spain would derive from such a connection. Franklin, he pointed out, lay near and perhaps within the territory in dispute between Spain and Congress, and an alliance with it would secure Spain the desired boundary. The example of Franklin would lead other western communities to seek the protection of Spain, and the Americans thus allied would be converted from a menace into a guarantee of Spain's security, restraining and subduing the turbulence of those who were not so well disposed. Recruits for the army and navy of Spain might be furnished by these communities. On the economic side Spain would derive important advantages. Concessions on her part would prevent the frontiersmen from competing with her merchants, while bulky exports from Franklin, tobacco, hemp, iron, and food-stuffs, would provide employment for many Spanish ships and seamen.

What did the Franklinites expect in return? There is, said White, a great stretch of disputed territory lying between the p382country actually in Spain's possession and the Tennessee River. Let the Franklinites settle in this territory, just within the boundary of Louisiana (i.e., the Tennessee River), so that they may be under Spanish protection, requiring as an indispensable condition for the holding of lands or office an oath of allegiance to the king of Spain. Then let them ship their products to Mobile or down the Mississippi and export them in Spanish ships. As for their internal police, said White, would it not be well to make an exception in their favor, permitting them to continue undisturbed in the practices, customs, and prejudices to which they are devoted through habit? In time, if it should seem advisable, these customs might be supplanted by others. Finally, said White, Spain must sooner or later fix her boundary with reference to the United States. Many circumstances make the present moment opportune. Not only is the government of the United States too weak to make trouble, but it regards this particular affair as one of minor consequence, since North Carolina, which claims exclusive jurisdiction over this territory, has separated itself from the Union by rejecting the new constitution and is consequently isolated. No time, he concluded, could be more favorable than the present.

White's statement, it will be observed, was very cautiously worded, for it was obvious that he should ask neither too much nor too little and must make the arrangement seem as advantageous as possible to Spain. It is from the letters of Ezpeleta, governor of Havana, and of Gayoso that we learn the precise nature of the Franklinites' territorial ambitions. Ezpeleta wrote that they desired to extend their boundaries down the Tennessee to the headwaters of Yazoo and Mobile rivers, in order that they might use both of these for the exportation of their products. Enclosed in his letter was a map drawn by Gayoso from information furnished by White and showing precisely the territory desired by the Franklinites — i.e., a belt of territory extending from the Franklin settlements down the Tennessee on both sides of the river well below Muscle Shoals.40

Gayoso in his letter41 to Valdés, the Secretary of War, warned him that, despite White's apparent sincerity, he and the p383Franklinites were probably scheming to establish themselves in such a position — i.e., on the headwaters of the Mobile River — that if Spain did not grant them suitable terms on the Mississippi, they might secure for themselves an outlet by way of Mobile. Gayoso was not yet certain of his ground, and his warning was not given in positive or specific terms, but it is clear that from the first he suspected that the ambitions of the Franklinites were not compatible with the interests of Spain. Convinced that his government should have more trustworthy information with regard to the views and circumstances of the American frontiersmen, he offered to visit them for that purpose. The Court approved his proposal, but for various reasons he postponed the tour and finally abandoned the idea altogether.42

On February 21, 1789, after a two months' stay in Havana, White sailed for New Orleans in company with Gayoso.43 On their arrival, White found conditions much less favorable than he had expected, and Gayoso noticed an increasing reserve in his manner. His change was probably due in large part to his realization that Spanish policy — which, by the way, was outlined in a royal order received by Miró just before White's arrival — would not permit the establishment of the greater State of Franklin. It is probable that White was also discouraged by Miró's coolness, for, as usual, Gardoqui and Miró worked at cross-purposes, and the mere fact that White brought a recommendation from Gardoqui was enough to turn Miró against him. The latter had his own scheme for an intrigue with the American frontiersmen through the agency of James Wilkinson, and he had no intention of letting Gardoqui's conspirator supplant p384his own. To the Court he wrote that the Franklinites could be of little service to Spain because of the strength of the opposition to Sevier in the Holston settlements. To White he gave a verbal reply urging the frontiersmen to secede from the Union, and a written reply inviting them to settle in Spanish territory as Spanish subjects.44 In short, he made it clear that Spain would not only give no countenance to White's Greater Franklin project, but that the Spanish government was actually trying to entice into its own dominions the settlers whom White hoped to draw to Muscle Shoals. A policy so utterly at variance with his designs could not fail to alienate him, and he was unable to conceal his disappointment.

As White became more reserved Gayoso became more suspicious. In May, 1789, after being in close contact with White for nearly five months, he wrote Valdés as follows: "Don Diego White is thoroughly republican at heart. The movement that is taking place in the State of Franklin has as its object the establishment of independence rather than a rapprochement with Spain. The Franklinites know that it is to their interest to form a connection with this province [Louisiana] and they wish to do so, but they are extremely ambitious and their principal object is to extend their territory so that they may draw near the waters of the Mississippi and Mobile rivers, in the hope that this advantage will attract many immigrants from other places, and enable them to build up an opulent state."45

When the above letter was written, the Court had already come to its decision on White's proposals and its decision was unfavorable. An order was issued directing that White should be well treated, but that the Captain-General of Louisiana should reply to him in conformity with the Court's recent decision on James Wilkinson's memorial, in other words, that White should p385be denied what he most desired, aid in establishing the Muscle Shoals colony. Lest there should be any doubt, the order specified that the western Americans should be dissuaded from seeking any other outlet to the Gulf than the Mississippi.46 This order merely confirmed Miró's provisional decision and gave the sanction of the highest authority to his refusal to countenance the Muscle Shoals project. When the project was revived in 1790 by Zachariah Cox, Spain was active in opposition to it. Alexander McGillivray, Spain's agent among the Creek Indians, sent a party of his warriors against Cox's pioneers and drove them off;47 and when Carondelet became governor of Louisiana he planned to establish a Spanish fort at Muscle Shoals in order to prevent the Americans from settling there.48

When White returned to the frontier settlements, it was not to Franklin, for the collapse of the Shoals project had severed the bond that united him with those people, but to Cumberland, where he owned an estate. Far from serving the interests of Spain, he was active in dissuading the settlers there from listening to Miró and emigrating to Spanish territory.49 As for the Spanish intrigue in Franklin, it came to an abrupt end with p386White's departure from New Orleans, and there is not the slightest evidence, so far as the writer knows, that it was ever revived. If Spain would not aid the expansionist projects of these mountaineers who longed for the plains, she had nothing with which to tempt them. Our old friend Blount, who had apparently given up his interest in the Shoals colony, appeared on the scene again in 1790 as governor of the Southwest Territory, and attached the Franklinites to the federal government by giving them some of the choicest territorial offices. Zachariah Cox and the indefatigable Sevier kept the scheme alive, but the story of their activities does not fall within the limits of this article. We have shown how the Muscle Shoals project was first a private enterprise, and finally the basis of an intrigue with Spain. When Zachariah Cox took up the project at the end of 1789, the cycle was complete, for it was once more, as in 1784, a private enterprise in land speculation under a grant from the State of Georgia.50


The Author's Notes:

1 Most of the material presented in this article, except that drawn from Spanish sources, was incorporated in my doctoral thesis, The Expansion of the Old Southwest, 1783‑91, which was presented to Harvard University on April 1, 1924. Judge S. C. Williams, in his interesting book, The History of the Lost State of Franklin (Johnson City, Tenn., 1924) publishes information relating to the Muscle Shoals project; this I did not have the good fortune to see until the present year (1926). The connection between the Spanish intrigue and the Muscle Shoals project was first suggested in my article, "The Spanish Intrigue in the Old Southwest," published in this Review, XII, 155‑76.

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2 Draper MSS., (State Hist. Soc. of Wisconsin), 4 XX 17, William Blount to Joseph Martin, Hillsborough, Oct. 26, 1783. Blount speaks of Rutherford and Sevier as recently admitted to partnership.

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3 Peter J. Hamilton, Colonial Mobile. . . . (Boston, 1910), 203.

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4 Verner W. Crane, "The Tennessee River as the Road to Carolina," in Miss. Vol. Hist. Rev., III, 3‑18.

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5 State Records of N. Car., XVII, 13‑14, Governor Martin to Governor Hall of Georgia, Feb. 1, 1784. Martin gave as his authority Joseph Martin, who in turn got his information from the Red King of the Chickasaw. Martin said that as Muscle Shoals lay far above the Spanish boundary as fixed by the treaty of peace, the reported settlement was an encroachment upon the territories of Georgia and perhaps of North Carolina. He suggested that Hall join him in a remonstrance to the governor of Louisiana, or in some other appropriate step. It would be interesting to know whether this report influenced the Georgia legislature in its provision three weeks after the date of Governor Martin's letter for opening the Muscle Shoals region to settlement. See also ibid., 15‑16.

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6 American State Papers, Indian Affairs, I, 48, 50.

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7 Calendar Virginia State Papers, IV, 560, Joseph Martin to Governor Harrison, Feb. 16, 1784; Gazette of the State of South Carolina (Charleston), Nov. 11, 1784, extract of a letter from Washington County, Virginia, dated Sept. 11, 1784.

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8 See letter cited ante, note 2.

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9 William Wirt Henry, Patrick Henry, Life, Correspondence and Speeches (New York, 1891), III, 243‑44, Joseph Martin to Patrick Henry, Smith's River, May 21, 1783. On Feb. 1, 1784, Governor Alexander Martin of North Carolina, writing to Governor Lyman Hall of Georgia, spoke of the uncertainty as to whether Muscle Shoals lay within North Carolina or Georgia; but a few days later he wrote Joseph Martin that the Shoals were supposed to be outside the limits of North Carolina, State Records of N. Car., XVII, 13‑16.

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10 In appointing the board of commissioners to establish the new county, the Georgia legislature stated that this action was taken in order to avoid future disputes over the territory in question. Revolutionary Records of Georgia, III, 525. This may have referred to South Carolina's claim, which covered the Shoals region, or to the establishment of a Spanish trading post at the Shoals, recently reported by Joseph Martin (see note 2), or both. For an account of South Carolina's western land claim, see R. S. Cotterill, "The South Carolina Land Cession," in Miss. Val. Hist. Rev., XII, 376‑389. It would be interesting to know how South Carolina's course was influenced by land speculators, especially those connected with the Muscle Shoals project.

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11 The information contained in this paragraph is drawn from: Revolutionary Records of Georgia, II, 654, 728, 738‑39, and III, 492, 525, 536; State Records of N. Car., XVII, 138‑39; Draper MSS.XX 72, William Blount to John Donelson, Charleston, March 9, 1784; ibid., 4 XX 18, Wm. Blount to Sevier, Martin and Donelson, Kinston, Dec. 4, 1784; ibid., XI DD 95, extract from Journals of Georgia House of Assembly, addressed to John Sevier; ibid., XI DD 78A, warrant of the State of Georgia, addressed to John Donelson, county surveyor for the county of Houston, district of Tenasee; J. G. M. Ramsay, Annals of Tennessee to the End of the Eighteenth Century . . . (Philadelphia, 1853), 377; and Stephen B. Weeks, "General Joseph Martin . . .," in Am. Hist. Assoc., Report, 1893, 401‑77. See also Martin to Henry, May 21, 1783, cited ante, note 9.

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12 See letter cited in note 2.

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13 Draper MSS., 1 XX 72, Wm. Blount to John Donelson, Charleston, March 9, 1784. The italics in the text are supplied by the present author.

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14 Draper MSS., 4 XX 18, Wm. Blount to Sevier, Martin, and Donelson, Kinston, Dec. 4, 1784.

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15 Idem, XI DD 78A.

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16 Ramsey, op. cit., 291‑93, states that Sevier opposed the establishment of the State of Franklin, and a similar statement was made on his behalf in 1789 by a committee of the assembly that recommended his pardon. State Records of N. Car., XXI, 285‑86. Joseph Martin's opposition to the establishment of the new state is indicated by his letter to Sevier of Dec. 31, 1784, informing him of measures just taken by the North Carolina Assembly to conciliate the Holston settlers. His attitude is probably explained by the influence of his patron, Patrick Henry, and by his obligations as an Indian agent. His persistent opposition to the Franklinites no doubt explains, in turn, why he no longer appears as a partner in the Muscle Shoals enterprise after the organization of the new state at the end of 1784. Cf. post, note 26. See Williams, op. cit., 41‑42, 54. As for Blount's attitude towards the Franklin movement, his letter of Dec. 4, 1784, cited ante, note 14, seems to have been intended to allay the discontent of the frontiersmen.

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17 On Sept. 20, 1784, McGillivray wrote John Leslie, a partner of William Panton in the fur trade, that the loss of a certain ship, El Guerrero, had deprived the Indians of their usual summer supply of goods and enabled the Americans to get a larger share of the Indians' trade. Archivo de Indias, 86‑6‑7, Spanish translation of McGillivray's letter, enclosed in Zéspedes to the Conde de Gálvez, No. 24 de preferencia, S. Agustín, Oct. 15, 1784. I have examined the bulk of McGillivray's correspondence in the Spanish archives at Seville and Madrid, and the earliest mention that I found of an Indian attack on Americans at Muscle Shoals is in a letter from McGillivray to Miró of May 1, 1786. Archivo de Indias, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2352.

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18 Ramsey, op. cit., 296; Williams, op. cit., 59, 75.

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19 Draper MSS., 7 XX 17‑18, extract of a letter from a gentleman living in the western territory, lately ceded by North Carolina, to his friend in Virginia, dated Dec. 20, 1784, copied from the Pennsylvania Journal, Feb. 5, 1785.

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20 Papers of the Continental Congress (MSS. in the Library of Congress), 48, 297, Charles Cummings, chairman, for the deputies of the people of Washington County, Virginia, to the President of Congress. This memorial is endorsed "Honored by Wm. Cocke Esqr.," showing that it was delivered by Cocke, who was sent by the State of Franklin to secure its admission into the Union (1785). David Campbell, one of the leading Franklinites, was a brother of Arthur Campbell, who was at the head of the separatist movement in southwestern Virginia. Calendar of Virginia State Papers, IV, 130, deposition of George Clarke.

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21 State Records of N. Car., XVIII, 775‑77, John Sevier to Gov. Caswell, Mount Pleasant, Franklin, Oct. 28, 1786; ibid., 756‑59, Alexander Outlaw to Governor Caswell, Bent of Churokey, Oct. 8, 1786. By "Bent of Churokey" is meant Bend of Cherokee — i.e., Tennessee River, or Muscle Shoals.

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22 Draper MSS., 2 XX 8, dated at Hopewell and directed to Martin at "Tugelo." Rumors of Blount's conduct soon spread and created such a scandal that on July 12, 1788, Caswell wrote Sevier advising him to make no attempt to survey the lands at the "Big Bent," or Muscle Shoals, "as a great Clamor is making here respecting the conduct of Colo. Blount at the Indian Treaty, tho I am satisfied he did everything in his power to prevent the same taking place . . .," Draper MSS., 4 XX 18A, Caswell to Sevier, Kinston, July 12, 1786. Caswell misstated the ground of the clamor against Blount, which was not merely that he had failed to oppose the treaties of Hopewell, but also that, while attending those treaties as the agent of North Carolina, he had purchased lands for his own use from the Indians. This is shown by a letter written by Blount, and he met the charge by declaring on his "word & honor" that he had not "purchased any Land of any Indian, or Indians, directly or indirectly, since the Month of June one thousand seven hundred and eighty-five." State Records of N. Car., XVIII, 767, Blount to Caswell, Oct. 19, 1786. That this defense was disingenuous is shown by Blount's letter to Martin, cited in the text.

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23 Draper MSS., 4 XX 18A. Richard Caswell to John Sevier, Kinston, July 12, 1786.

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24 See the letter of Outlaw to Caswell cited ante, note 21. It will be observed that this letter was dated at the "Bent of Churokey," i.e., in the Muscle Shoals region.

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25 Draper MSS., XI DD 79A. Hampton's signature has been cut out of the original, but on the cover is the endorsement: "Colo. Wade Hampton. Papers for Judge Haywood." In ibid., 1 VV 71, is a letter from Wade Hampton to Richard Hampton, dated "At Jackson's," May 3, 1785, relating to a land purchase.

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26 The Cumberland settlements also were attacked by the Creek. Anthony Bledsoe wrote Governor Caswell (Nashville, May 12, 1786) that the Creek said they were provoked by "the Attempt of Settling the Bent of Tennessee." State Records of N. Car., XVIII, 608.

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27 Besides the information about this joint campaign contained in Ramsey, op. cit., 378 ff., and in Williams, op. cit., 172‑77; 184‑87, I have discovered a large number of letters on the subject in the Force Transcripts (apparently copies of letter-books) in the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress; (1) Georgia Records, Council Correspondence, 1782‑89, and (2) Georgia Records, Indians, 1751‑1825; passim in both groups.

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28 Georgia's abandonment of the plan of invasion may also be explained by the fact that the militant Governor Mathews was succeeded at this juncture by the more pacific Handley, and that the Congress of the Confederation began to modify its objectionable Indian policy. In fact, when Governor Handley wrote Sevier informing him of Georgia's decision to "suspend hostilities" the only explanation that he gave was the action of Congress in providing for the holding of a treaty with the Indians by commissioners appointed by the Carolinas and Georgia. Georgia Records, Council Correspondence, 1782‑89, Handley to Sevier, Feb. 19, 1788 (MSS. in Library of Congress).

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29 State Records of N. Car., XXII, 719‑21, Sevier to Chomby, warrior and chief of the Chickasaw nation, French Broad, Dec. 15, 1788; and Sevier to Hardy Perry, same place and date. These letters were intercepted and sent to Governor Johnston, idem, XXI, 530. The New York Public Library has typewritten copies of two letters from the Chickasaw to Sevier. One of these, dated Sept. 20, 1787, advises Sevier not to carry out his plan of settling at Muscle Shoals, as one Chickasaw hunters might shoot at a deer "& hapin to hit One of your people . . ." A copy of a letter from Bennet Ballew, an associate of Sevier, to Alexander McGillivray about a "business of Speculation in the Western Country," dated Cherokee Nation, Coosawatee, Jan. 17, 1789, is in the library of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (transcripts from the Cuban Archives, leg. 1, Exp. 12, No. 6). The fur trader, Panton, warned McGillivray to be on his guard with Sevier: "I never heard much said in that mans favor . . ." Ibid., leg. 1, Exp. 5, No. 7, dated June 7, 1789.

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30 State Records of N. Car., XXI, 470, Samuel Johnston to Dr. James White, Edenton, May 8, 1788.

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31 For a brief biographical sketch of White see A. V. Goodpasture, "Dr. James White . . ., in Tennessee Historical Magazine, I, 282‑91."

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32 Archivo Historico Nacional (Madrid), Papeles de Estado, leg. 3893, "Resumen de cierta conversacion . . .," initialed at the end "D. G.," i.e., Diego de Gardoqui, and dated New York, Sep. 18, 1786. This collection will hereafter be referred to as A. H. N., Est.

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33 Ibid., leg. 3803, Gardoqui to Floridablanca, New York, April 18, 1788, confidencial No. 19.

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34 Ibid.

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35 Papers of the Continental Congress (MSS. in the Library of Congress), 78, XXIV, 599, James White to Charles Thomson, New York, Jan. 22, 1788.

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36 White to Ezpeleta, Dec. 24, 1788, cited post, note 38. In regard to Sevier's letter to Gardoqui of July, 1788, the statement in the text should be amended to read "no certain reference." On Oct. 24, 1788, Gardoqui, writing Floridablanca of White's return from the State of Franklin, said: ". . . Me produxo una respuesta de Carta del Governador Sevier . . ., en la qual aseguraba la mayor sinceridad acia nosotros." A. H. N., Est. leg. 3894, oficio No. 295. Gardoqui neither gave the date of the letter from Sevier nor forwarded a copy of it to Floridablanca. Hence we cannot say with certainty that it was the letter of July, 1788.

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37 Archivo General de Indias (Seville), Papeles de Cuba, leg. 104, Sevier to Gardoqui, Franklin, Sept. 12, 1788, copy in English, enclosed in a letter from Gardoqui to Miró, New York, Oct. 10, 1788. I made a careful search in Madrid and Seville for the originals of these letters, but was never so fortunate as to discover them. I see no reason, however, for doubting their authenticity. In the first place, Gardoqui and his subordinates were not equal to the task of fabricating the letters; and, in the second place, they bear all the earmarks of being an authentic product of Sevier's character and circumstances.

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38 Archivo General de Indias (Seville), 86‑6‑17, White to Ezpeleta, Havana, Dec. 24, 1788, a Spanish translation made from the English original by Gayoso, and enclosed in Ezpeleta to Valdés, No. 2 reservado, Havana, Dec. 29, 1788.

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39 Charles Gayarré, History of Louisiana . . . (New Orleans, 1903), III, 257‑64.

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40 Archivo General de Indias, 86‑6‑17, Ezpeleta to Valdés, No. 2 reservado, Havana, Dec. 29, 1788.

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41 A. H. N., Est., leg. 3888 bis, Gayoso to Valdés, Havana, Jan. 3, 1789. There are two letters of this date, one official and one personal; both relate to White, but the warning referred to in the text is contained in the personal letter.

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42 Archivo General de Indias, 86‑6‑17, Cabello to Valdés, No. 1, muy reservada, Havana, June 6, 1789; ibid., Cabello to Valdés, No. 4 reservada, Havana, Feb. 26, 1790 (duplicate), enclosing a copy of Miró to Cabello, New Orleans, Jan. 18, 1790; A. H. N., Est., leg. 3888 bis, Acta of the Junta Suprema de Estado, March 16, 1789, with endorsement in Valdés' handwriting; ibid., Acta of the Junta Suprema de Estado, June 14, 1790 (both these Actas are signed by Eugenio de Llaguno, Secretary of the Junta); ibid., the principal of Cabello to Valdés, No. 4 reservada, Feb. 26, 1790 (cited above in duplicate), with enclosed copy of Miró to Cabello, New Orleans, Jan. 18, 1790; ibid., (Valdés) to the Governor of Havana, Aranjuez, June 19, 1790 (draft).

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43 Archivo General de Indias, 86‑6‑17, Ezpeleta to Valdés, No. 3 reservada, March 3, 1789.

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44 A. H. N., Est., leg. 3888 bis, Miró to Valdés, No. 37 reservada, April 30, 1789, principal, with six enclosures. The duplicate of this despatch is in Archivo de Indias, 86‑6‑17.

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45 A. H. N., Est., leg. 3902, Gayoso to Valdés, No. 1 reservado, New Orleans, May 8, 1789. Gayoso says that while still in Havana "noté en él [White] alguna cautela," and that on their arrival in New Orleans Miró "notó en él [White] poca franqueza," and hence Miró's reply to White "fué con precaución y sin de ningún modo comprometer al Rey" The translation in the text is not literal. Ibid., Gayoso to Floridablanca, New Orleans, May 8, 1789, to the same effect as Gayoso's letter of the same day to Valdés.

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46 The acta of the Junta de Estado of March 16, 1789, was communicated by Valdés to the Governor of Havana in the form of a royal order dated March 23, 1789. Cabello acknowledged the receipt of this order in his No. 1, muy reservada, of June 6, 1789. These documents are cited ante, note 42.

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47 Archivo de Indias, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 204, McGillivray to Carondelet, Little Tallassie, April 10, 1792, states that in the summer of 1791 Governor Blount informed him that the Tennessee Company was preparing to settle at Muscle Shoals, and that McGillivray might take what steps he pleased against the intruders, "on which I sent off Partys from this Country & dispersed them." But in a letter to Miró of June 8, 1791, McGillivray wrote that he was informed in April that 150 armed men, probably under the Tennessee Company, were preparing to leave the French Broad for Muscle Shoals, that he immediately sent a body of warriors to destroy their settlement, but that the Indians found no Americans at the Shoals. Ibid., leg. 1446, McGillivray to Miró, June 8, 1791 (copy), enclosed in Miró to Casas, No. 31 reservada, July 17, 1791.

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48 Archivo de Indias, Papeles de Cuba, leg. 2353, (Carondelet) to Casas, No. 57 reservada, New Orleans, Nov. 20, 1792, draft. Carondelet and McGillivray were undoubtedly moved by a desire to protect Panton's monopoly of the southern fur trade, as well as the territorial claims of Spain.

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49 State Records of N. Car., XXII, 792, James Robertson to the Governor of N. Car., Nashville, Sept. 2, 1789; John C. Fitzpatrick (ed.), The Diaries of George Washington, 1748‑1799 (Boston, 1925), IV, 87, summarizing a letter from Lardner Clark to Benjamin Hawkins, United States Senator from North Carolina, dated Nashville, Sep. 8, 1789.

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50 For Zachariah Cox's activities in connection with the Muscle Shoals project, see the Foreword by I. J. Cox in Quarterly Publication of the Hist. and Phil. Soc. of Ohio, VIII, 31.


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