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Chapter 14

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

Samuel Cole Williams

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

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 16
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p106  Chapter XV

Storm Clouds Gather — 1786

In likelihood the Assembly of Franklin at the spring session had under consideration a campaign against the Creek Indians in conjunction with the State of Georgia.1

Early in the year Governor Edward Telfair, of the latter State, had approached Governor Sevier on the subject, giving notice of the probability of vigorous operations against the Creeks in November, 1786; and in February, in accordance with resolutions of the Georgia General Assembly, he had appointed Robert Dixon and Stephen Jett commissioners to effect an alliance with the Cherokees and Chickasaws, and to visit the Franklin settlement for the purpose of explaining to the people there the plan of campaign that had been formulated.​2 In preparation for the campaign, Governor Telfair applied to Governor Henry, of Virginia, for a loan of five hundred muskets, but instead Henry arranged for Georgia's purchase of the necessary arms. Dixon was directed to go on to Virginia to receive the arms and provide for their transportation to Georgia. In doing so Dixon probably passed through Franklin and laid before Sevier the design of Georgia in detail.

Sevier kept in close touch with the authorities of Georgia because of his interest in the Great Bend enterprise, and because of a purpose on his part to induce an emigration from Franklin to found settlements there. In reply to a letter from Telfair on the subject, Sevier wrote from Franklin, May 14, 1786, summarizing the conditions in that Commonwealth:

Being appointed one of the commissioners of the Tennessee district, I beg leave to inform your Honor that it appears impracticable to proceed on that business before the fall season.

The people here are apprehensive of an Indian war. Hostilities are daily committed in the vicinities of Kentucky and Cumberland. Cols. Donelson, Christian, and several other persons, were lately wounded and are since dead.

 p107  The success of the Mussel Shoals enterprise greatly depends on the number that will go down to that place. A small force will not be adequate to the risk and danger that is to be encountered, and the people here will not venture to so dangerous a place with a few.

Your Honor will be pleased to be further informed, and, through you the different branches of your government, that no unfair advantage will be taken from this quarter; and no surveying will be attempted until a force sufficient can be had, and timely notice given to those who may intend to move down. The people in this quarter wish to proceed in the fall, but will wait your advice on the subject. Your Honor may rest assured that I shall, with pleasure, facilitate everything in my power that may tend to the welfare of this business.​3

Telfair did not reply until August 27th in order to await the action of the legislature of his State, which was about to meet when Sevier's letter was received. He gave information that the Assembly had postponed consideration of the Tennessee District until January, 1787. "The Creek Indians have committed murders and depredations on the persons and property of the citizens of this State, which have caused the Legislature to adopt measures for further security . . . The General Assembly have appointed commissioners to meet the 15th day of October, next, for the purpose of negotiating a peace with the Creek Nation; on failure of which, this State will carry on immediate and vigorous operations against the said Indians. It has been suggested that you intend to march a body of men against the Creek Indians. I flatter myself it will tend greatly to the success of both armies to begin their movements at one and the same time, should it become necessary; which movements will take effect in this state about the first of November. On this subject I have to solicit your immediate answer and determination."

The provision for elections in the western counties to be held by citizen-inspectors, acting independently of the Franklin officials, proved to be what was intended — a firebrand that excited, confused, and disrupted. Malcontents, led by John Tipton, concerted plans to hold an election in Washington county for members of the North Carolina General Assembly in August following. Tipton appeared as a candidate for a seat in the senate, and James Stuart and Richard White for seats in the house of commons. The sheriff of Washington county was prevailed upon to advertise the election,  p108 which he did under date of July 19th, 1786:

"Advertisement. — I hereby give public notice that there will be an election held the Third Friday in August next, at John Rennoe's near the Sycamore Shoals, where Charles Robertson formerly lived, to choose members to represent Washington county in the General Assembly of North Carolina, agreeable to an act of Assembly in that case made and provided, where due attendance will be given by me.

George Mitchell, Sheriff."

How to meet this issue gave the Franklin adherents no little concern, though its gravity was not fully appreciated. They, however, hit upon a counter plot, which, as the event proved, was a fatal error: to make the confusion that of Carolina, and to demonstrate to her legislators the futility of their unofficial electoral machinery. They planned to have like inspectors open a poll on the same day at which the Franklinites should vote, thereby electing two of their members to the seats in the Carolina house of commons. Evidently at their prompting, Sheriff Mitchell refused to open the North Carolina polls in accordance with his advertisement. Jonesborough, the county site, was chosen as the polling place of the Franklin adherents and Landon Carter and Thomas Chapman there received a unanimous vote, according to the returns made by inspectors Robert Rogers, Samuel Williams, and Anderson Smith. The number of votes cast was 254. At Rennoe's​4 179 ballots were cast. While the insurgents afterward claimed that the inhabitants had been warned to go to the Jonesborough polls by the militia officials for a muster, and that many were prevented from voting by threats, "both elections were conducted without violence and in an orderly manner," as the committee of the house of commons of North Carolina reported.5

This election furnished the basis for the fairest estimate of the relative strength of the opposing factions at the time in the central county of Franklin, the home of both Tipton and Sevier, where the rivalry of these leaders gave rise to the greatest discord and strife.

The result of the poll disproves Joseph Martin's "best calculations" that (in May) two‑thirds of the people were for the old  p109 State; and equally refutes the later estimate of Judge David Campbell that perhaps nineteen-twentieths of the inhabitants favored perseverance in separation, given in a letter to Governor Caswell.

This election, brought on by the dissenters, was also according to Sevier the first interference with Franklin's exercise of jurisdiction.​6 It was the entering wedge, which when further driven brought on a reassertion by the old State of her authority in the borders of Franklin. The clash of the two rival States led to increasing bitterness and retaliation. The result is best described by Haywood,​7 who, however, erroneously attributes the conditions to the early part, rather than to the middle part of the year 1786; and the same description is applicable to the year 1787: Here

was presented the strange spectacle of two empires exercised at one and the same time, over one and the same people. County courts were held in the same counties under both governments; the militia were called out by officers appointed by both; laws were passed in both Assemblies and taxes were paid by the authority of both States. The differences in opinion in the state of Franklin between those who adhered to the government of North Carolina and those who were friends to the new government became more acrimonious every day. Every fresh provocation on the one side was surpassed by way of retaliation by still greater provocation on the other. The judges commissioned by the State of Franklin held superior courts twice in each year, in Jonesborough. Colonel Tipton openly refused obedience to the new government. There arose a deadly hatred between him and Sevier, and each endeavored by all means in his power to strengthen his party again the other. Tipton held courts under the authority of North Carolina, ten miles above Jonesborough, which were conducted by her officers and agreeable to her laws. Courts were also held at Jonesborough in the same county under the authority of the State of Franklin.

As the process of these courts frequently required the sheriff to pass within the jurisdiction of each other to execute it, an encounter was sure to take place, hence it became necessary to appoint the stoutest men in the county to the office of sheriff. This state of things produced the appointment of A. Caldwell, of Jonesborough, and Mr. [John] Pugh, the sheriff in Tipton's court. Whilst a county court was sitting at Jonesborough in this year, for the county of Washington, Colonel John Tipton with a party of men entered the court house, took away the papers from the clerk, and turned the justices out of doors. Not long after, Sevier's party came to a house where a county court was sitting for the county of Washington, under the authority of North Carolina, and took  p110 away the clerk's papers and turned the court out of doors. Thomas Gourley was the clerk of this court. The like acts were several times repeated during the existence of the Franklin government. . . . In these removals, many valuable papers were lost, and at later periods for want of them, some estates of great value were lost. In the county of Greene, in 1786, Tipton broke up a court sitting at Greeneville, under the Franklin authority. The clerks in all the three old counties issued marriage licenses, and many persons were married by virtue of their authority. In the courts held under the authority of the State of Franklin, many letters of administration of intestate estates were issued, and probates of wills were taken. The members of the two factions became excessively incensed against each other, and at public meetings made frequent exhibitions of their strength and prowess in boxing matches. As an elucidation of the temper of the times, an incident may be mentioned which otherwise would be too trivial for the page of history. Shortly after the election of Sevier as governor of Franklin, under the permanent Constitution, he and Tipton met in Jonesborough, where as usual a violent verbal altercation was maintained between them for some time, when Sevier, no longer able to bear the provocations which were given him, struck Tipton with a cane. Instantly the latter began to annoy him with his hands clenched. Each exchanged blows for some time in the same way with great violence and in a convulsion of rage. Those who happened to be present interfered and parted them before victory had been declared for either. But some of those who saw the conflict believe that the governor was not so well pleased with his prospects of victory as he had been with the event of the battle of King's Mountain, in which his regiment and himself had so eminently distinguished themselves . . . To such excess was driven by civil discord a people who, in times of tranquility, is not exceeded by any on earth for all the virtues, good sense and genuine politeness that can make mankind happy and amiable.

Only Sevier's moderation, in the face of danger threatening from a common foe, the Indians, prevented the prompt adoption of repressive measures which, while they might have provoked civil war on a small scale, could have terminated only in favor of the new government. The time for successful vigorous action on the part of Franklin was soon to pass. One cannot escape the conviction that Sevier at the time was too much concerned in the exploitation of the rich country in the Great Bend, and too hopeful of success in making a military pact (which he designed should lead to an alliance) with Georgia, advantageous to the Commonwealth over which he presided.

To this last object he again turned his attention by replying to Governor Telfair's last communication:

 p111  You will please to be informed that the deliberations of our Assembly have not, as yet, been fully had respecting the marching of a force against that [the Creek] nation of Indians. Our Assembly will be convened in a few days, at which time I make not the smallest doubt but that they will order out a respectable force to act in conjunction with an army of your State. The determinations of our Legislature I shall immediately communicate to your Honor as soon as the same can be fully obtained. The movements to begin the first of November, I fear, will be rather early for our army. Could the time be procrastinated a few days, I hope it would not obstruct the success of the expedition. Shall be much obliged by being informed of the time of marching, should the same be found necessary. Also, as near as may be, of the time and place your army may be expected to be in the Creek country.​8

The faith that in some way effectual aid would come to Franklin from Georgia had back of it a history that abounds in pathos.

Shortly before the battle of King's Mountain, the British commander-in‑chief at Charleston ordered that all men under forty years of age remaining in the States of Georgia and South Carolina, where the patriots were hard pressed, should enroll as British soldiers, and that any who refused to do so should be shot as traitors. In September, 1780, a large number of the Whigs who were determined not to yield sought safety for their families from the advancing Tory horde by flight to the north. A multitude (400) women and children, led by Colonels Elijah Clarke and William Candler, commenced an eleven‑day march of two hundred miles through a mountain wilderness to the settlements on the Watauga and Nolachucky rivers. They arrived in a deplorable condition, nearly starved. Many of the adults had gone without food except nuts, for several days. During the last two days even the children subsisted on the same kind of food. After their helpless charges had been disposed of in a place of security and comparative plenty, to remain till the coming of peace among a sympathetic people, the men turned back, in October, to the borders of South Carolina to confront the British. Colonel Clarke and family were received as guests in the home of Sevier.9

 p112  With many of the leading men of Georgia, Sevier and his men had come in touch in their campaigns in the South during the Revolutionary War. George Mathews, who was from Sevier's old neighborhood in the Valley of Virginia, had but recently removed to Georgia where he was soon afterward elevated to the office of governor. Upon all such Sevier felt that he and his people had a claim in the crisis that was impending.

Among the number was a young soldier of fortune, a foreigner, George Elholm​10 with whom, according to Ramsey, Sevier had become acquainted while campaigning in the South. Elholm was a German-speaking Dane, a native of the Duchy of Holstein in the dominion of Denmark,​11 and came to America in the early part of the Revolutionary War. He received a commission in the corps of Count Pulaski, and afterward one in Colonel Horry's regiment of dragoons, in both of which commands he served with great gallantry. After the war he was made adjutant-general of Georgia under the administration of Governor Telfair. It is probable that he while so serving learned from the correspondence between Telfair and Sevier of the situation in Franklin. He appears to have turned up there in 1786, perhaps the "embassy" of Georgia to Franklin, which he referred to in a letter to Governor Telfair, under date of September 30, 1786. This letter evidences the former's imperfect English, and the fact that he was, in a sense, an emissary of Georgia:

Governor Sevier's, Franklin, September 30, 1786.

Sir: — I does myself the honour to inform your Excellency, that your Commissioners set out from this the 28th inst., by way of Kentucky and Cumberland. They were received very politely by his excellency the Governor, from whose zeal for to assist you, aided by the inclination of the Franks, I am fully convinced your embassy will meet all wished success by the Assembly of this State, which is ordered to assemble 12th next, by his Excellency's command,  p113 in consequence thereof. Several of the inhabitants have waited on the governor, for to be informed of the contents of the embassy from Georgia. And when being acquainted therewith, it gave me great pleasure to find no other apprehension appeared, but that of making peace with the Creeks without fighting, by which occasion they said so favourable a chance for humbling that nation would fall dormant. The Governor, in order that the Americans may reap a benefit from the dread the Cherokees and Chickasaws feels from the displeasure and power of the Franks, he has despatched letters to them, offering them protection against the Creek nation, with condition that they join him.

Cumberland, it seems, has it at this time in contemplation to join in government with the Franks. If so, so much the better, and it would surely be their interest so to do, as they are yet few in numbers, and often harassed by the Indians.

Judging from apparent circumstances, you may promise yourself one thousand rifle­men and two hundred cavalry, excellently mounted and accoutred, from this state, to act in conjunction with Georgia.

P. S. Governor Sevier received letters from the principal men in Cumberland, which inform him of a convention held lately at that place, when Commissioners were chosen by the people with power for to join with the Franks in their government.

Mr. John Tipton's party, which is against the party of the new government, seems deep in decline at present, which proves very favourable to the embassy from Georgia.

Major Elholm entered the service of the State of Franklin as adjutant-general and continued faithful to the cause to the end of her existence. He organized and drilled the militia, having had the advantages of experience in foreign service and a technical skill beyond that of any of the border country.

The Author's Notes:

1 Sevier to Telfair, September 28, 1786, Ramsey, 383.

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2 Georgia Historical Quarterly, I, 145, 148.

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3 Ramsey, 379.

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4 John Rennoe resided on Sinking Creek where Charles Robertson had formerly lived and where the county court had been held under the act of 1777, creating Washington county.

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5 Infra, of date March 18, 1787.

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6 Sevier to Benjamin Franklin, April 9, 1787, infra.

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7 Haywood, 160.

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8 Date September 28, 1786; Ramsey, 383.

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9 Letter Clarke to General Sumter, October 27, 1780, cited Draper's Heroes of King's Mountain, 214; Candler, William Candler, 29, 35, 47; Williams "The Battle of King's Mountain," Tennessee Historical Mag., VII, 51, 57.

Colonel William Candler, while yet on the march, learned that forces had collected on the west side of the mountains to march against Ferguson, and filed off with a force of thirty men. They joined western forces at Gilbert Town and shared with them in the defeat of Ferguson in the fateful battle of King's Mountain. It is interesting to note that two of the descendants of Sevier and Candler, who were thus linked together by ties of hospitality and of comrade­ship in battle, became in the third generation afterward close friends and confreres as bishops of the Southern Methodist church — Hoss and Candler.

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10 Ramsey, 381. For sketch, see post p301.º

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11 Ramsey surmised that Elholm was a Frenchman or Pole, Ib. See faust, German Element in the United States, I, 370; Wagener, "Frankland und Franklin," in Der Deutsche Pioneer, II, 268; White's Historical Collection of Georgia, 628.

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