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Chapter 15

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 17
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p114  Chapter XVI

Franklin Sends a Commission to Carolina — 1786

As in the preceding year, a special fall session of the General Assembly was called by Governor Sevier in 1786. The month of October was chosen for it. The officers of the senate were, Gilbert Christian, speaker, and Joseph Conway, clerk; and of the house of commons, Henry Conway, speaker, and Isaac Taylor, clerk.

One of the principal matters for consideration was a plan for a campaign against the Creek Indians. Under the governor's advice and guidance, provision was promptly made to raise in the State a force of mounted rifle­men, composed of a draft of one‑fourth of the militia from every county, and the light-horse regiment of the State, provisioned for twenty days.

Preparations for the expedition were halted on the receipt of a communication from Governor Telfair, under date of November 28, 1786, stating that commissioners appointed to treat with the Creek nation had concluded peace, on account of which preparations for hostile operation were suspended. One object of Sevier in projecting this campaign was thus temporarily frustrated — that of diverting the attention of the men of the region from civil feud by concentrating it on and attaching them to a movement of a kind that never failed to enlist the enthusiastic support of the fighting frontiersmen. Peace for the infant Commonwealth was sought in hostile action in another direction.

Two commissioners, William Cocke and Judge David Campbell, were appointed to attend the approaching session of the North Carolina Assembly to negotiate for a separation. Each of them was well suited for the purpose of his mission. The former was identified with the new settlements by an early participation in the privation, enterprise and danger of pioneer life. More recently, he had taken an active part in founding the new State — had been appointed its delegate to Congress; commanded a brigade of its militia and held other positions implying confidence in his talents and address. His colleague had also a minute acquaintance with every question relating to either of the parties, held the highest  p115 judicial station in the government from which he was accredited, and by his private worth, was entitled to the respect of the one to which he was sent.1

The commissioners were to confront members of the Carolina Assembly who had been chosen by the old‑state faction from the region, and two of these members, Stuart and White, were themselves to confront contestants for their seats in two Franklinites, Landon Carter and Thomas Chapman. The mission was, indeed, a difficult one. The governor of Franklin sent an argument and appeal to Governor Caswell in support of its object, in which he uttered words of caution. "It may occasion much confusion should your Assembly listen too much to prejudiced persons" — the reference being to Tipton in the Senate and his associates in the Assembly. The communication embodied a candid statement of Franklin's claims and attitude, and was so shaped as to put to test the willingness of Carolina to yield assent to a separation on any reasonable terms.2

Judge Campbell was unable, because of ill health, to make the long trip to Fayetteville, where the North Carolina Assembly convened; and he likewise stated his State's case in a written argument addressed to Governor Caswell, but to be laid before the Assembly:

State of Franklin,
Caswell County, Nov. 30th, 1786.

May it please your Excellency —

I have hesitated to address your Excellency on so delicate a subject as the present. I shall only state a few facts, and leave your Excellency to draw the conclusion.

Is not the continent of America one day to become one consolidated government of the United States? Is not your state, when connected with this part of the country, too extensive? Are we not, then, one day to be a separate people? Do you receive any advantage from us as now situated? or do you ever expect to receive any? I believe you do not. Suffer us, then, to pursue our own happiness in a way most agreeable to our situation and circumstances. The plans laid for a regular and systematic government in this country, are greatly frustrated by the opposition from your country. Can a people so nearly connected as yours are with ours, delight in our misfortunes? The rapid settlements that are making, and have been made out of the bounds prescribed both by your state and ours, is a matter worthy your consideration; our divisions are favourable  p116 to those who have a mind to transgress our laws. If you were to urge us, and it were possible we should revert back to you, in what a labyrinth of difficulties would we be involved? Witness the many lawsuits, which have been decided under the sanction of the laws of Franklin, the retrial of which would involve many persons in certain ruin.

If we set out wrong, or were too hasty in our separation, this country is not altogether to blame; your state pointed out the line of conduct, which we adopted; we really thought you in earnest when you ceded us to Congress. If you then thought we ought to be separate, or if you now think we ever ought to be, permit us to complete the work that is more than half done; suffer us to give energy to our laws and force to our councils, by saying we are a separate and independent people, and we will yet be happy. I suppose it will astonish your Excellency to hear that there are many families settled within nine miles of the Cherokee nation. What will be the consequence of those emigrations? Our laws and government must include these people or they will become dangerous; it is vain to say they must be restrained. Have not all Americans extended their back settlements in opposition to laws and proclamations? The Indians are now become more pusillanimous, and consequently will be more and more encroached upon; they must, they will be circumscribed. Some of your politicians think we have not men of abilities to conduct the reins of government; this may in some measure be true, but all new states must have a beginning, and we are daily increasing in men both of political and law knowledge. It was not from a love of novelty, or the desire of title, I believe, that our leaders were induced to engage in the present revolution, but from pure necessity. We were getting into confusion, and you know any government is better than anarchy. Matters will be differently represented to you, but you may rely on it, a great majority of the people are anxious for a separation. Nature has separated us; do not oppose her in her work; by acquiescing you will bless us, and do yourself no injury; you bless by uniting the disaffected, and do yourself no injury, because you lose nothing but people who are a clog in your government, and whom you cannot do equal justice by reason of their detached situation.

I was appointed to wait on your General Assembly, to urge a ratification of our independence, but the misfortune of losing one of my eyes, and some other occurrences, prevented me. You will therefore, pardon me for the liberties I have taken, whilst endeavouring to serve a people whose situation is truly critical.

On the opening day of the session a number of petitions from the trans-Alleghany counties were presented and referred to a select committee appointed to report on the western situation, Elisha Battle, of the senate, being its chairman.

 p117  At this juncture appeared Cocke who asked leave to be heard, at the bar of the house of commons, by both branches of the Assembly. The scene was an impressive one. Cocke was himself of an imposing presence, tall, swarthy, black-haired, black-eyed; and bold and eloquent in utterance. To some of his hearers he had been comrade in arms on battlefields of the Revolution, the principles of which he now urged in behalf of Franklin. Fortunately, John Haywood, the historian, as secretary of the senate of Carolina, was present lending an ear particularly attentive because upon himself had been bestowed an appointment to serve as chief judge in one of the districts of the Western Country. He thus graphically outlines Cocke's address:

In a speech of some hours, he pathetically depicted the miseries of his distressed countrymen; he traced the motives of their separation to the difficult and perilous condition in which they had been placed by the Cession act of 1784; he stated that the savages in their neighbourhood often committed upon the defenceless inhabitants the most shocking barbarities; and that they were without the means of raising or subsisting troops for their protection; without authority to levy men; without the power to lay taxes for the support of internal government; and without the hope that any of their necessary expenditures would be defrayed by the State of North-Carolina, which had then become no more interested in their safety than any other of the United States. The sovereignty retained being precarious and nominal, as it depended on the acceptance of the cession by Congress, so it was anticipated would be the concern of North-Carolina for the ceded territory. With these considerations full in view, what were the people of the ceded territory to do, to avoid the blow of the uplifted tomahawk? How were the women and children to be rescued from the impending destruction? Would Congress come to their aid? Alas! Congress had not yet accepted of them, and possibly, never would. And if accepted, Congress was to deliberate on the quantum of defence which might be afforded to them. The distant states would wish to know what profits they could respectively draw from the ceded country, and how much land would remain, after satisfying the claims upon it. The contributions from the several states were to be spontaneous. They might be too limited to do any good, too tardy for practical purposes. They might be unwilling to burthen themselves for the salvation of a people not connected with them by any endearing ties. The powers of Congress were too feeble to enforce contributions. Whatever aids should be resolved on, might not reach the objects of their bounty, till all was lost. Would common prudence justify a reliance upon such prospects? Could the lives of themselves and their families be staked upon them? Immediate and  p118 pressing necessity called for the power to concentrate the scanty means they possessed of saving themselves from destruction. A cruel and insidious foe was at their doors. Delay was but another name for death. They might supinely wait for events, but the first of them would be the yell of the savage through all their settlements. It was the well-known disposition of the savages to take every advantage of an unpreparedness to receive them, and of a sudden to raise the shrieking cry of exultation over the fallen inhabitants. The hearts of the people of North-Carolina would not be hardened against their brethren, who have stood by their sides in perilous times, and never heard their cry of distress when they did not instantly rise and march to their aid. Those brethren have bled in profusion to save you from bondage, and from the sanguinary hands of a relentless enemy, whose mildest laws for the punishment of rebellion, is beheading and quartering. When driven in the late war, by the presence of that enemy, from your homes, we gave to many of you a sanctified asylum in the bosom of our country, and gladly performed the rites of hospitality to a people we loved so dearly. Every hand was ready to be raised for the least unhallowed violation of the sanctuary in which they reposed.

The act for our dismissal was, indeed, recalled in the winter of 1784; what then was our condition? More pennyless, defenceless and unprepared, if possible, than before, and under the same necessity as ever, to meet and consult together for our common safety. The resources of the country all locked up, where is the record that shew any money or supplies sent to us? — a single soldier ordered to be stationed on the frontiers, or any plan formed for mitigating the horrors of our exposed situation? On the contrary, the savages are irritated by the stoppage of those goods on their passage, which were promised as a compensation for the lands which had been taken from them. If North-Carolina must yet hold us in subjection, it should at least be understood to what a state of distraction, suffering and poverty, her varying conduct has reduced us, and the liberal hand of generosity should be widely opened for relief, from the pressure of their present circumstances; all animosity should be considered as the offspring of greater errors committed by yourselves. It belongs to a magnanimous people to weep over the failings of their unfortunate children, especially if prompted by the inconsiderate behaviour of the parent. Far should it be from their hearts to harbour the unnatural purpose of adding still more affliction to those who have suffered but too much already. It belongs to a magnanimous people to give an industrious attention to circumstances, in order to form a just judgment upon a subject so much deserving of their serious meditation, and when once carefully formed, to employ, with sedulous anxiety, the best efforts of their purest wisdom, in choosing a course to pursue, suitable to the dignity of their own character, consistent with their own honour, and  p119 the best calculated to allay that storm of distraction in which their hapless children have been so unexpectedly involved. If the mother shall judge the expense of adhesion too heavy to be borne, let us remain as we are, and support ourselves by our own exertions; if otherwise, let the means for the continuance of our connexion be supplied with the degree of liberality which will demonstrate seriousness on the one hand, and secure affection on the other.

North Carolina's legislative leaders were not yet willing to turn loose the State's western domain, whatever may have been their sentiments respecting the claims of the over-mountain people.

It was their firm determination that separation should not be granted but that North Carolina's sovereignty should yet be more distinctly asserted. The select committee, through its chairman, "impressed with a sense of the suffering of those people," suggested "the necessity of extending to them the benefits of government and protection, and that they be assured they will be neither neglected nor discarded by their brethren on this side of the mountains." The committee was of the opinion that the numbers and wealth of the western counties would not enable them to support a separate government. "Whenever the wealth and numbers of the citizens on the western waters so increase as to make same necessary, we are free to say a separation may take place upon friendly and reciprocal terms and under certain compacts and stipulations." The "compacts and stipulations" remained for future definition; but what was in mind to be imposed, the event showed.

General Griffith Rutherford,​3 evidently after consulting with Cocke, four days later introduced a bill to conciliate the inhabitants of the western counties that would have proved acceptable to the supporters of Franklin and brought peace to her borders. It met with short shrift. On its first reading it was rejected.

Tipton, in the senate, sought to punish the town of Jonesborough for the attitude of its citizens in the August election by introducing a bill to remove the seat of justice of Washington county. After being amended so as to name commissioners (Benjamin Ward, Robert White, Edward Williams, William Moore, John Hammer, Robert Love and William Priestly) merely to select a site, the bill passed. The commissioners later selected Jonesborough, the old  p120 county seat, and Tipton's real intention was defeated. The act provided, however, that in the meantime the courts should be held in Tipton's neighborhood at the home of William Davis, near the present Johnson City.4

Other enactments toward the close of the session followed the recommendations of the committee. Separation was denied; tender of oblivion and pardon was offered for the offenses of all persons engaged in the Franklin movement; taxes for the years 1784 and 1785 were remitted to the inhabitants of the counties that had adhered to the new State; civil and military officers were provided for in order to the restorationº of statal functioning there; a new county was carved out of the territory of Sullivan county and named in honor of Benjamin Hawkins; and an extension of two years was made for the completing of surveys of lands west of the Cumberland mountains, and for the perfecting of military grants in that region.

This grasping for a firmer hold of the western lands was coincident with the communication of a renewed appeal made by Congress (August 9, 1786) on North Carolina for a cession of those lands. The State was "once more solicited to consider with candor and liberality the expectations of sister States, and the earnest and repeated applications made by Congress on this subject."5

The appeals of Congress and of Franklin were alike unheeded.

A strong side-light is thrown upon the attitude and action of the North Carolina Assembly by a letter to General James Robertson from one of the most experienced, influential and astute leaders in the legislature of Carolina, General Thomas Person, written after the adjournment of the session. Requesting that surveys of western land for himself be speeded, Person wrote further: "I fully intend to be with you in the next Assembly; we will do the best we can to open the land office once more and grant out all the western country; and leave Congress no further hopes of obtaining it from us to whom it justly belongs, that is to say, the State . . . I am clear you must soon be a separate State, for which you have my  p121 hearty concurrence as soon as you can act for yourselves."​6 Person had been and continued to be an opponent of all cession or separation measures. He along with others of his type was, indeed, favorable to a separate State when the western people could act for themselves — in the sense of "doing for themselves," without a public domain worthy of the name to attract settlers or to aid in the establishment of an educational system.

Major Elholm in September, 1786, expressed the view that "Cumberland was at this time in contemplation to join in government with the Franks." At least, discontent with Carolina's failure to adopt protective measures against the Indians was manifest in that quarter, to stay which the Assembly of that year deemed it good policy to make a provision for the raising of a military force of three companies for the protection of the inhabitants of that region. The force was, preliminarily, to open a road ten feet wide, at least, from the Franklin settlements to those on the Cumberland. Each man embodied in the troop was to receive for each year's service four hundred acres of land, to be allotted out of those lying west of the Cumberland mountains; and the Westerners were thought to be able to act for themselves to the extent of paying the expenses of raising and equipping the troops by way of taxes imposed by the act, "on all lands lying west of the Appalachian mountains."7

Joseph Martin, though not a member of the North Carolina Assembly, went to Fayetteville to lay before that body "the proceedings of the pretended State of Franklin; and their encroachment on the Indian lands"; and lend his aid to the defeat of Cocke's mission.8

The separation movement was by no means confined to the State of Franklin. It was in this year rife in Vermont and yet farther east. A convention was held at Portland to effect a separation of the district of Maine from the State of Massachusetts. In Kentucky the movement for a separate government, begun at Danville in December, 1784, renewed in January and May, 1785, was carried to the point of "confirming a decree of separation from Virginia," in August, 1785. An immediate erection of the district into a new State was asked of the Virginia legislature, which body, in January,  p122 1786, stipulated that a new convention should be held in the district in September, 1786; and that, if it declared for independence, a separate State should come into being after September 1, 1786; provided, however that Congress, before June 1, 1787, should consent, and agree to its admission into the Union.​9 Kentucky was, during the year 1786, in turmoil, produced by this action of Virginia, deemed as it was by many of the leaders of the district to be purposely and needlessly dilatory. The two movements, in Franklin and Kentucky had some phases in common. Each tended to bolster the other.

The Author's Notes:

1 Ramsey, 347.

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2 This letter was carried by Cocke, who reached Fayetteville November 16, 1786.

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3 N. C. State Records, XVIII, 112. General Rutherford later removed to the Western Country where he was honored with member­ship in and the presidency of the Legislative Council of Territory South of the Ohio, and by having one of Tennessee's richest counties given his name.

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4 N. C. State Records, XVIII, 91; Acts 1776, ch. 79, and N. C. State Records, XXIV, 850. Had Tipton's design been carried through the chances are that Johnson City, at this day a thriving city of 25,000 population, would today be the site of Washington county, and that Carter county would never have been created, at least with her present territorial limits.

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5 Journal of Continental Congress (W. and G. ed.), IV, 680.

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6 American Historical Mag., I, 78.

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7 N. C. State Records, XXIV, 786.

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8 Virginia Calendar State Papers, IV, 183.

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9 Roosevelt, Winning of the West, IV, chapter V, and Brown's Political Beginnings of Kentucky, give an extended account of the movement in Kentucky.

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