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[image ALT: A head-and-shoulders portrait of a man, in an oval frame. He wears an early‑19c military jacket with epaulets marked with 3 X's; his expression is sad rather than stern; his wiry hair is brushed back disclosing a high forehead accentuating his already rectangular face. It is a contemporary portrait of John Sevier.]

An article from the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, now in the public domain.
Any color photos are mine, © William P. Thayer.

John Sevier​a

Sevier, John (1745‑1815), American frontiersman, first governor of Tennessee, was born in Rockingham county, Virginia, on the 23rd of September 1745, of Huguenot ancestry, the family name being Xavier. He settled on the Watauga on the western slope of the Alleghanies in 1772, and served as a captain in Lord Dunsmore's War in 1774. Early in 1776 the Watauga settlements were annexed to North Carolina, and Sevier, who from the beginning had been a member of the Watauga government, now represented the district in the provincial congress, which met at Halifax in November-December 1776 and adopted the first state constitution, and in 1777 he was a member of the state House of Commons. He took part in the campaign of 1780 against the British, especially distinguishing himself in the battle of King's Mountain, where he led the right wing. In December 1780 he defeated the Cherokees at Boyd's Creek (in the present Sevier County, Tennessee), laying waste their country during the following spring. Later in the same year (1781), under General Frances Marion, he fought the British in the Carolinas and Georgia. In 1784, when North Carolina first ceded its western lands to the Federal government, he took part in the revolt of the western settlements; he was president of the first convention which met in Jonesboro on the 23rd of August, and opposed the erection of a new state, but when the state of Frankland (afterwards Franklin, in honor of Benjamin Franklin) was organized in March 1785, he became its first and only governor (1785‑1788), and as such led his rifle­men against the Indians; in May 1788, after the end of his term, men in his command massacred several Indians from a friendly village, and thus provoked a war in which Sevier again showed his ability as an Indian fighter. He was arrested by the North Carolina authorities, partly as a leader of the independent government and partly for the Indian massacre, but escaped. About this time he attempted to make an alliance with Spain on behalf of the state of Franklin. In 1789 he was a member of the North Carolina Senate, and in 1790‑1791 of the National House of Representatives. After the final cession of its western territory by North Carolina to the United States in 1790 he was appointed brigadier-general of militia for the eastern district of the "Territory South of the Ohio"; and conducted the Etowah campaign against the Creeks and Cherokees in 1793. When Tennessee was admitted into the Union as a state, Sevier became its first governor (1796‑1801) and was governor again in 1803‑1809. He was again a member of the National House of Representatives in 1811‑1815, and then was commissioner to determine the boundary of Creek lands in Georgia. He died near Fort Decatur, Georgia,​b on the 24th of September 1815.

See J. R. Gilmore, The Rear-Guard of the Revolution (New York, 1886), and John Sevier as a Commonwealth Builder (New York, 1887); errors in Gilmore's books are pointed out in Theodore Roosevelt's The Winning of the West (New York, 1894‑1896).

Thayer's Notes:

a A text of Sevier's diary is onsite; very likely redacted although purporting to be complete, it spans the years 1791‑1815.

Also, not addressed in the necessarily brief encyclopedia article above is his involvement in land speculation, and in particular the Muscle Shoals scheme which occupied the forefront of his life for several years and is closely related to his governor­ship of the State of Franklin: the deficiency is made good by Arthur Preston Whitaker's interesting article, "The Muscle Shoals Speculation, 1783‑1789".

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b Sic — but the fort is in Alabama.

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Page updated: 5 Jun 17