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Chapter 20

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 22

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p161  Chapter XXI

Defeat of Compromise and Resulting Violence

In June Sevier was hopeful of an accommodation with his opponents. He wrote to General Kennedy, of the Washington District, on July 6th:

"I met with the Old State party on the 27th of last month; few of our side met, not having notice. I found them much more compliable than I could have expected, except a few. I have agreed to a second conference, which is to be held at Jonesborough the last day of this month. You will please to give notice to all those appointed by the convention that may be in your District to be punctual in attending at the time and place. I shall earnestly look for you there, and as many other of our friends as can possibly attend; and I flatter myself something good for the public may be expected."​1

The purpose of the projected conference was to arrange a compromise before the election in August for representatives in the assemblies of the two States. Conflicts of a serious character were expected, if no agreement was reached.

When, therefore, the August election came on (the third Friday and Saturday) discord and strife marked the occasion in several of the counties in the north part of Franklin. In the lower counties of Caswell, Sevier and Blount the opposition to Franklin was a negligible quantity.

Disappointed and confused by the failure of the conference, the Franklinites hurriedly fell back on Cocke's strategy which had been discussed and discarded in May. The plan itself is surprising to one of to‑day who contemplates it: Franklin leaders offered themselves for election to the North Carolina Assembly!

In Hawkins county (Spencer county in the Franklin government) Stockley Donelson (Franklinite) was a candidate against Thomas Amis (Carolinian). The polls were opened and the North Carolina sheriff made proclamation that no person would be  p162 allowed to vote unless he had paid taxes to North Carolina. When three votes had been cast, Colonel Wm. Cocke appeared on the scene with a number of men, some of whom were from Greene county as claimed by the opposition. The sheriff, apprehensive that a riot would ensue, adjourned the election to the next day. Fear of violence prevented the polls being opened the following day or at all.

Peter Turney,​2 the Spencer sheriff, was asked by Thomas Henderson, "who was to open the election, the sheriff of the old State or the sheriff of the new?" And was answered by Turney: "By both, agreeable to a resolve of the convention." What informed that only such as had given in their property taxes could vote, Turney replied: "If that is the case, the strongest party shall take the house" — a decision by physical strength.

The polling place having been abandoned by the Carolinians, Donelson was declared elected; and the sheriff of North Carolina gave him a certificate of election which the North Carolina Assembly refused to recognize, but declared the election void, and ordered a new writ to be issued. Thus far the Franklinites' plans had succeeded.3

In Sullivan, the Franks attempted to use like tactics, and Sevier charged that they would have been successful but for the opposition tearing up tickets, denying the franchise to those who had not given in their taxable property to North Carolina, and using foul play.4

Landon Carter and — strangest of all — Sevier stood for election from Washington county. "I wrote him [Governor Caswell] I was elected, and also mentioned the other gentleman, and wished his advice whether it would be expedient for me to attend. He writes pressingly for me to attend, and promises every assistance to compromise matters, and seems to have no doubt of it being done.  p163 Also that we be prepared with petitions, &c., to show the great majority that is in favor of the separation. I cannot be so well determined whether to attend or not, until I hear from Georgia."5

Judge David Campbell was elected to the senate from Greene county, in pursuance of this plan; and it is probable that, at the time of his election, he did not intend to take the seat.

Now began the resort to violence in the form of forays of armed men. Colonel John Tipton, although not colonel of the county, appeared in Hawkins county with a force of about fifty men, "under a pretense of redressing a quarrel" between the two sheriffs, though the principal purpose was to get possession of the county records held by the Franklin officers. This conduct gave rise to a rumor that they had made a prisoner of Governor Sevier with purpose to carry him to North Carolina. Two hundred Franks hurried to the home of Tipton, only to find that the report was baseless. "It was only through the influence of his Excellency that the opposite party did not fall a sacrifice to our Franks. During that time a body of about fifteen hundred veterans embodied themselves to rescue their governor (as they thought) out of the hands of the North Carolinians."6

In July, the sheriff of Washington county, Andrew Caldwell, was incarcerating in jail the sheriff who represented North Carolina's authority, Jonathan Pugh, thereby demonstrating that the Franks prevailed there, in actual exercise of power, though much reduced in numbers.

The Maryland Journal7 quotes a late Virginia newspaper as stating that "the State of Franklin has sent, or is to send, two deputies to Kentucky, to meet a convention of all the western settlements for the purpose of consulting on proper measures respecting navigation of the Mississippi."

 p164  The year 1787 witnessed frequent meetings of the Franklin Assembly. A session was held early in August at which General Evan Shelby was elected governor to succeed Sevier on the expiration of the term of the latter, March 1, 1788. The fact was communicated to Shelby in a letter of Franklin's governor, written from Greeneville, August 12, in which acceptance was urged:

At the request of the General Assembly, I do myself the honor to inform you that you are appointed to succeed as Chief Magistrate of this State. You will readily consider it is friends, and not enemies, who would appoint you to this dignified station; and we flatter ourselves that if it will be consistent with your principles and sentiments you would serve a number of your real friends and acquaintances, together with supporting the interests and happiness of our State, and the country you reside in, [rather] than serve a distant set of men, totally unacquainted and unknown. Dear Sir, permit me to solicit your acceptance of this office, as it will give your friends peculiar satisfaction, as well as, I hope, establish unanimity and tranquility in our distracted country. I should have done myself the honor to have waited on you, but am so harrassed with business at this time, that it is out of my power to do so at this period. Our Assembly will meet on the third Monday in next month, at which time your answer is expected. I much wish, for many reasons, to see you, were it possible at this time.​8

The Franklinites hoped to win over one of the strongest characters in the limits of the State; and through his influence to strengthen the new State at the weakest point — Sullivan county, the home of Shelby. Shelby declined the honor, but the favoritism of the Franks went far toward conciliating him. He shortly afterward resigned as brigadier-general of the Carolina militia, giving his old age as one of the reasons. On October 29th, he sent his resignation to Governor Caswell:

As matters have been in such a fluctuating abyss in the minds of the people on this side of the mountains, together with a desire to lead a retired life, and my old age, induced me to wish that the General Assembly may appoint some other to succeed me in the office of brigadier-general in this district. At the same time I have to observe to your Excellency that there are a number of petitions that are to be preferred to the Assembly for separation.​9 Some of them I have seen, and I am of opinion if we can have a separation upon reciprocal terms, it would not only aleviate the minds of the  p165 people, but would terminate in strengthening this part of the community with our parent State.

P. S. If the wisdom of the General Assembly should think Mr. John Sevier a person adequate to succeed me in the office of brigadier-general, I would wish to recommend this gentleman to the honorable, the General Assembly.

Roosevelt clearly misconceived Sevier's letters to Shelby and the latter's resultant attitude. Roosevelt represents Sevier as being suspicious that Shelby was positively hostile: "Sevier warned him that no unfriendly interference would be tolerated. Shelby could neither be placated nor intimidated." Sevier did not attempt to intimidate the old general.​10 Roosevelt evidently had not seen the letter of Shelby to Caswell, which plainly shows that the writer was placated to a degree. Certain it is that the sturdy old Welshman would not have recommended for election, as his own successor, a man who had tried to intimidate him.

One likes to think that one of the intermingling influences that prompted Shelby to commend Sevier and to counsel the grant of separation was that of his son, Colonel Isaac Shelby, (now in the Kentucky Country where much the same struggle for separate statehood was going on) interposed in behalf of Sevier, his comrade-colonel on the King's Mountain expedition. After-events showed the Shelbys and Seviers always standing together.

During this year Governor Sevier kept up a correspondence with the gray statesman, now governor of Pennsylvania, in which was solicited support of the cause of the State named in his honor. The letters best speak for themselves:

State of Franklin, Mount Pleasant,

9 April, 1787.


Permit me to introduce to your Excellency the subject of our new disputed government. In the Year 1784, in the month of June, the legislature of North Carolina ceded to Congress all their claim to the land west of the Appalachian Mountains, on conditions, I make no doubt you are acquainted with, as the act was shortly after laid before Congress. The inhabitants of this country, well knowing that the Congress of the United States would accept the cession and having no idea that North Carolina would attempt repealing the act, formed themselves into a separate and independent State by the name of Franklin.

 p166  In November following, North Carolina repealed the act of cession. In May, 1785, Congress took the several acts under consideration and entered into resolves respecting the same, the purport of which I presume you are acquainted with. The government of Franklin was carried on unmolested by North Carolina until November, 1785, when that legislature passed an act allowing the people in some of our counties to hold elections under certain regulations unknown to any former law; whereby a few, from disaffection and disappointment, might have it in their power to elect persons who were to be considered the legal delegates of the people.

This was done and countenanced; and at their last session, in November, 1786, they have undertaken to reassume their jurisdiction and sovereignty over the State of Franklin, notwithstanding the whole of their adherents do not exceed two or three hundred against a majority of at least seven thousand effective militia. They have, contrary to the interests of the people in the two counties, to‑wit, Washington and Sullivan, by their acts removed the former places of holding courts at certain places, to certain places convenient to the disaffected; as we conceive, in order that they might have a pretext to prevaricate upon.

I have thus given your Excellency the outlines of our past and present situation; and beg leave to inform you, that, from your known patriotic and benevolent disposition as also your great experience and wisdom, I am, by and with the advice of our Council of State, induced to make this application, that should you from this simple statement of the occurrences think our cause so laudable as to give your approbation, you would be pleased to condescend to write on the subject. And any advice, instruction or encouragement, you may think we shall deserve, will be acknowledged in the most grateful manner.

We have been informed, that your Excellency some time since did us the honor to write us on the subject of our State; if so, unfortunately for us, the letters have miscarried, and are not come to hand. Many safe conveyances might be had. A letter may be sent by the bearer, Capt. John Woods,​11 if he should return by way of Franklin; or, if it were directed to the care of the Governor of Georgia, it would come safe; and probably by a number of people who travel this country.

I have the honor to be, Sir, &c.

John Sevier.​12

Philadelphia, June 30, 1787.


I received the letter you did me the honor of writing to me the ninth of April last by the hand of Mr. Woods, who arrived here  p167 about ten days hence. You are pleased to ask my advice about the affairs of your government. I am very sensible of the honor your Excellency and your council thereby do me; but being in Europe when your State was formed, I am too little acquainted with the circumstances to be able to offer you any advice that may be of importance, since everything material that regards your welfare will doubtless have occurred to yourselves. There are only two things that humanity induces me to wish you may succeed in: your accommodating your misunderstanding with the government of North Carolina by amicable means, and the avoiding an Indian war by preventing encroachments on their land. Such encroachments are the more unjustifiable, as these people in the fair way of purpose usually give very good bargains; and, in one year's war with them you may suffer a loss of property and be put to an expense vastly exceeding in value what would have contented them perfectly in fairly buying the lands they can spare. There was one of their people who was going to Congress with a complaint from the chief of the Cherokees that the N. Carolinians on the one side, and the people of your State on the other, encroach upon them daily. The Congress not being now sitting he is going back apparently dissatisfied, that our general government is not just now in a situation to render them justice, which may tend to increase ill humor in that nation. I have no doubt of the good disposition of your government to prevent their receiving such injury, but I know the strongest governments are hardly able to restrain the disorderly people who are generally on the frontiers from excesses of various kinds; and possibly yours has not yet acquired sufficient strength for the purpose. It may be well, however, to acquaint those encroaching that the Congress will not justify them in the breach of a solemn treaty, and that if they bring upon themselves an Indian war they will not be supported in it.

I am sorry my letter in answer to a former one from your State, miscarried. I cannot at present lay my hands on the copy of it, but will look for it and send it at the next opportunity. I will also endeavor to inform myself more perfectly of your affairs, by inquiry and searching the records of Congress; and if anything should occur to me that I think will be useful to you, you shall hear from me thereupon.

I conclude by repeating my wish that you may amicably settle your differences with North Carolina. The inconveniences of your people attending so remote a seat of government, and the difficulty to that government in ruling so remote a people, would, I think, be powerful inducements with it to accede to any fair and reasonable proposition it may receive from you towards an accommodation.

Your Excellency's most obt. and most humble servt.

B Franklin.​13

 p168  In replying to a letter from William Cocke about a year before, Franklin had advised the authorities of the new State to submit the points in dispute to the decision of Congress. Franklin now advises Sevier to apply to North Carolina for a satisfactory compromise. The change in Franklin's views was due, doubtless, to what he knew to be the insistence of the landowning States and to his belief that they would prevail in the constitutional convention on the point of the creating new States in the West.

Sevier's next letter was scarcely more than a budget of news:

Franklin, 12 Septem. 1787.


Your favor of the 30th of June, I had the honor to receive by the hand of Mr. Dromgoole.

We are under great obligation to you for the trouble your Excellency has been pleased to take in writing, and for the kind advice contained in your letter. It affords much pleasure to discover that you are disposed to be friendly to our young Republic. We hope to continue to deserve your notice. And any services you are pleased to extend towards us will not be misapplied.

From late accounts, we learn the Creek Indians are committing hostilities and outrages on the people of Georgia; and not long since a party went into the Chickasaw nation, murdered a Capt. Davenport, Commissary for the State of Georgia, also three other persons, wounded three and made one a prisoner. This tribe also, by their predatory excursions in the Cumberland settlements have done much spoil there, by murdering a number of the inhabitants, taking and carrying off their property, burning their buildings, cutting down their cornº and wantonly destroying their cattle, &c. Although our frontier is most convenient to that nation of Indians, yet we have been so fortunate as not to receive any injuries or insults from them.

I have the honor to be, respectivelyº Sir,
With great esteem and regard,
Your Excellency's most obtain and hum. servt.

John Sevier.

His Excellency Governor Franklin.​14

State of Franklin,
2nd of November, 1787.


Since my last by Mr. Martin, nothing very material to acquaint your Excellency with. The Creek Indians continue their partial depredations on the State of Georgia, and a war between that State and these Indians is unavoidable.

I am happy to hear of such unanimity in the late Convention, and  p169 have sanguine hopes that you have adopted a plan of government that will add dignity to the rising greatness and happiness of our American Empire.

Permit me to inform your Excellency that the people of this State pray your patronage and attention to such matters as you may judge consistent with their interest, and the nature of their case may deserve. It might become a matter of much regret, should these people be unnoticed by Congress. They are firmly attached to the Continental measures and have been particularly active and serviceable in the late war; but at the present time there appears to be a general uneasiness among a number of the Western Americans through a jealousy that their interest is neglected.

This, I expect, will be handed you by Major Droomgoole, on his way to Congress with letters from the Cherokee Chiefs. Mr. Droomgoole informs me that he is desirous of acting as superintendent over some of the Southern tribes. Should this appointment be not already filled, beg leave to introduce him to you as a gentleman much noticed among the Cherokee Chiefs, and from his general deportment toward the interest of the United States, I have every reason to believe would discharge the duty required in this office, with satisfaction to the tribes and to the power that may employ him.

The Cherokees complain that no persons attend them, and consider themselves neglected, and as Mr. Droomgoole has been at trouble and expense in quieting the minds of these people and keeping down all kinds of animosities that have been liable to rise in consequence of their being stimulated by some other power against the Americans, I hope your Excellency will not consider it impertinent in me to solicit your attention in his behalf.

I have the honor to be Sir,

With great respect and esteem

Your Excellency's mo. obedt. & hum. servt.

John Sevier.

His Excellency, Governor Franklin.​15

The Author's Notes:

1 Ramsey, 391.

[decorative delimiter]

2 The first of the name later made familiar to all Tennesseans by Peter Turney, colonel of the First Tennessee Regiment, C. S. A.; chief justice, and finally governor of Tennessee. For a sketch of Turney, see post, p327.

[decorative delimiter]

3 In Hawkins (Spenser) county, Peter Turney, the sheriff under the Franklin regime, at first advertised an election under Franklin authority, but on change of the plans allowed the sheriff of Hawkins county under North Carolina authority to conduct the election. N. C. St. Rec., XX, 322.

[decorative delimiter]

4 N. C. St. Rec., XX, 322. Roosevelt in error, treats this as an election held for members of the Franklin Assembly and frustrated by the adherents of North Carolina.

[decorative delimiter]

5 Sevier to Gilbert Christian, Mount Pleasant, Oct. 20, 1787, in Am. Hist. Mag., VI, 381. John Tipton and Landon Carter contested for the seat in the senate of North Carolina, with result that the election was held void and set aside. Tipton was thereby deprived of his seat — a sop thrown to the Franklinites.

[decorative delimiter]

6 Cocke to Elholm, from Mulberry Grove, State of Franklin, August 27, 1787. Columbian Magazine, November, 1787; Ramsey, 392.

[decorative delimiter]

7 Issue of Sept. 28, 1787. Shaler in his History of Kentucky says that efforts were made to persuade the Kentuckians to join in the Franklin movement. Unless he refers to Arthur Campbell's early scheme for a greater Franklin, this seems to be an error. Shaler may have had in mind the efforts made at this time by the Cumberland settlers to combine with the Kentuckians in government.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Tennessee Historical Society MSS.

[decorative delimiter]

9 As to these petitions, see page 193.

[decorative delimiter]

10 Roosevelt probably got the idea from Sevier's reference to Parkinson's conduct in the letter of May 30th.

[decorative delimiter]

11 Woods had been a Continental agent to the Choctaw Indians. He was now going to Philadelphia as guide and interpreter for a delegation of Southern Indians.

[decorative delimiter]

12 Sparks's Works of Franklin, X, 290.

[decorative delimiter]

13 Franklin Papers, VIII, folio, 1803, MSS. Division Library of Congress.

[decorative delimiter]

14 American Phil. Soc., Franklin Papers, XXXV, p140.

[decorative delimiter]

15 American Phil. Soc., Franklin Papers, XXXV, p276.

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