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Chapter 21

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 23
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p170  Chapter XXII

A Cry for Help from the Cumberland — 1787

Colonel Bledsoe, after waiting in Sullivan county for nearly a month for Major Evans' battalion, left in disgust for his home on the Cumberland. June 1st, as he passed through Kentucky he wrote to Governor Caswell:

At this place I received accounts from Cumberland that, since I last did myself the pleasure of addressing you, three persons have been killed at that place within seven miles of Nashville, and there is scarcely a day that the Indians do not steal horses in either Sumner or Davidson counties; and I am informed the people are exceedingly dispirited: had accounts that the several northern tribes, in conjunction with the Creek nation, have determined the destruction of that defenceless country this summer; and their hopes seem blasted as to Major Evans's assistance. Colonel Robertson has lately been to this country to get some assistance to carry on a campaign against the Chickamauga towns and got some assurance from several officers; and the time appointed for the rendezvous was fixed to the 15th inst. but find the men cannot be drawn out at that season of the year. I have thought it my duty to ask your advice in the matter, whether or not we shall have leave of government to carry on such a campaign if we can make ourselves able, with the assistance of our friends, the Virginians [Kentucky district] as they promise us immediately after harvest.

I am fully convinced that it is the perfidious Chickamaugas that annoy our frontiers, tho' some of them wish to have the Creeks charged with the whole of the damage. As it is always my desire to act advisedly, I should thank you to advise me as to carrying on an expedition as its appears to me and to the people in the counties of Davidson and Sumner counties,º that nothing can give security to them but to carry the war into the enemy's own country . . . .

Self-preservation and the distress and cries of a bleeding country make it absolutely necessary to preserve it from ruin and destruction.​1

Major Evans had seen fit to journey by way of Richmond, Virginia, from which place late in May he wrote that he was trying to collect men for his battalion and that he was in need of funds for  p171 the purchase of supplies "before the troops can possibly go through the wilderness."2

Governor Caswell in his reply confessed his great uneasiness to find the major's letter dated at Richmond, and to learn the causes of the delay; and expressed fear that Bledsoe had lost patience and gone west.3

The middle of August found the major yet lingering east of the Blue Ridge, as Caswell charged, "engaged in making an attack on a lady whom he has lately reduced into possession by making her his wife."4

On Colonel Bledsoe's reaching home, he and Colonel James Robertson joined in reporting to Governor Caswell the distressed situation of their people. A rumor, believed by them to be true, was that the Spaniards were doing what they could to encourage the several savage tribes to war against the summon settlers, by offering a reward for scalps. "A disorderly set of French and Spanish traders are continually on the Tennessee, . . . a great means of encouraging the Indians to do much mischief."5

The day after this was written, the Indians killed Mark Robertson, the younger brother of Colonel Robertson, near the latter's home. Without waiting for authority from Governor Caswell a spirited campaign was launched against the Chickamauga town of Coldwater.

Through the friendly Chickasaws, news reached Colonel Robertson that the Creeks had planned to raid the Cumberland settlements. The North Carolina battalion had not even been heard from. In his dilemma, Robertson addressed an urgent letter to Governor John Sevier, Mount Pleasant, Franklin, as follows:

Nashville, August 1st. 1787.


By account from the Chickasaws, we are informed that at a grand council held by the Creeks, it was determined by that whole nation to do their utmost this fall to cut off this country; and we expect the Cherokees have joined them, as they were to have come in some time to make peace, which however, they have not done. Every circumstance seems to confirm this.

The 5th of July, a party of Creeks killed Captain Davenport,  p172 Agent for Georgia, and those men in the Chickasaw nation, wounded three and took one prisoner; which the Chickasaws are not able to resent for want of ammunition. The people are drawing together in large stations and doing everything necessary for their defense. But I fear, without some timely assistance, we shall chiefly fall a sacrifice. Ammunition is very scarce; and a Chickasaw now here tells us they imagine they will reduce our station by killing all our cattle, etc. and starving us out.

We expect, from every account, they are now on their way to this country to the number of a thousand. I beg you to use your influence in that country to relieve us, which I think might be done by fixing a station near the mouth of Elk, if possible, or by marching a body of men into the Cherokee nation. Relieve us in any manner you may judge beneficial. We hope our brethren in that country will not suffer us to be massacred by the savages without giving us any assistance; and I candidly assure you that never was there a time in which I imagined ourselves in more danger.

Kentucky being nearest, we have applied there for some assistance, but fear we shall find none in time. Could you now give us any? I am convinced it would have the greatest tendency to unite our counties, as the people will never forget those who are their friends in a time of such imminent danger. . . . I have written to General Shelby on this subject, and hope no division will prevent you from endeavoring to give us relief, which will be ever remembered by the inhabitants of Cumberland.​6

It must have been with some hesitation that Robertson wrote this to Sevier, his comrade of the old Watauga Association whose gallant efforts in behalf of Franklin had more than once been chilled by Robertson's people. There is more than a hint here of a union with Franklin in the future as there had been once before in 1786.

Another Cumberland leader at the same time appealed to Governor Sevier — Anthony Bledsoe, who had but a few months before joined General Shelby in urging Governor Caswell to "act a decided part" in putting down the Franks:

When I had last the pleasure of seeing your Excellency, I think you were kind enough to propose that, in case the perfidious Chickamaugas should infest this country, to notify your Excellency and you would send a campaign against them without delay. The period has arrived that they, as I have good reason to believe, in combination with the Creeks have done this country great spoil by murdering numbers of our peaceful inhabitants, stealing our horses,  p173 killing our cattle and hogs, and burning our buildings through wantonness, cutting down our corn,º etc. . . . Our dependency is much that your Excellency will revenge the blood thus wantonly shed.​7

Putnam states that Governor Sevier was able to assure Colonels Robertson and Bledsoe: "Let matters occur as they may here (in Franklin) if I am spared, I propose joining the Georgia army with a considerable number of volunteers, to act in concert against the Creeks, though many of our enemies are making use of every diabolical plan in their power in order to destroy our laudable intention."​8 Putnam also says that a number of the men of Franklin enlisted in the battalion of Evans.9

And to Governor Mathews, of Georgia, Sevier wrote enclosed the communications of Robertson and Bledsoe, and saying: "It is our duty, and highly requisite in my opinion that such lawless tribes be reduced by dint of the sword . . . Be assured we will encounter [surmount] every difficulty to raise a formidable force to act in conjunction with the army from Your State."10

The danger on the frontiers passed without the necessity of the troops taking the field. The plans of Sevier included the erection of a fortified station in the vicinity of the Chickamaugas, as Robertson had asked.

The men on the Cumberland were thoroughly disgusted and ireful over the failure of the North Carolina troops to come to their rescue. The battalion raised in February had been scheduled to arrive on the Clinch river in April. In point of fact, Major Evans reached General Shelby's (Bristol) August 18th and halted there until the 29th, and only reached Moccasin Gap on September 10th, headed for Nashville through Cumberland Gap and Kentucky, and arrived at his destination October 16th, 1787.​11 Virginians and  p174 Franks had been enrolled,​11a yet the battalion was reduced in number, and in a bedraggled, half-clad condition — truly not an imposing representation of the strong arm of a sovereign State when Nashville was reached.

After-history records still less to the credit of North Carolina in respect to her treatment of the men of this battalion. Survivors of Evans' force were compelled to petition the first legislature of the Territory South of the Ohio River (September, 1794) for compensation for the services they had rendered, payment of which had been pledged by North Carolina out of the taxes to be collected west of the mountains. By irony of fate, it fell to the lot of North Carolina's champion in the Franklin State contest, John Tipton, as chairman of the committee, to report upon the petition to the Assembly. That report can scarcely be conceived of as being purposely unfair to the obligor State:

The said battalion was raised on the faith of the State of North Carolina as appears by their act of 1786, and was destined for the protection of their then frontiers. The soldiers did their duty faithfully, and in discharging the same many of them lost their lives, but have received no part of their pecuniary pay.

It would be dishonourable and iniquitous for the government of this Territory not to pay these troops had its public faith been pledged for that purpose, nor could the failure of any particular fund have in that case been with propriety alleged as a pretext to evade the debt.

Your committee are forced to recall to remembrance that this Territory has never been protected in a state of peace and security, without which it was not reasonable to expect from it finances equal  p175 to the payment of such troops as North Carolina might think proper to enlist: besides that, the inhabitants of this country contributed equally with said battalion to afford security and peace to the interior parts of North Carolina.

The most natural fund for the payment of the soldiers aforesaid would have been derived from the vacant lands which those soldiers helped to protect and secure, which fund has been disposed of for other purposes by the government which raised the battalion; that as for any other fund established for this payment by the State of North Carolina, if said fund has not proved effectual, the default did not arise from any misconduct in this government, or in the citizens thereof, but either through the neglect of the officers of that State, or the deficiency might be fairly ascribable to this, that the lands on which the taxes ought to have been collected were chiefly in the hands of citizens of North Carolina whose absence from the Territory enabled them to evade the taxes imposed on and paid by the people of this Territory.

Neither do we see any equitable circumstances which ought to induce this Assembly to discharge a debt contracted by and justly due from the State of North Carolina.​12

The words of the Tipton report, "the neglect of the officers" of North Carolina, may refer to a series of frauds which were being uncovered about the year now under review (1787) in the office of John Armstrong, entry-taker for the western lands under the act of 1784. The deficit in the accounts of that officer was reported to the Assembly to be £6732.13

The rank injustice to the trans-Alleghany people worked by this act of 1784 and its snap repeal seems to have invited peculation, the result of which came upon the Commonwealth as retribution. The added charge that the North Carolina grantees of such lands had evaded taxation is sustained by the record, which denounces their claim of justification as "groundless pretense."14

The Cumberland folk proposed to a new‑state convention, held in Kentucky in September, that they be included in the new government. "The Cumberland people have sent two gentlemen to wait on our convention to try if Kentucky will allow them to join with it in government; and, if so, on what terms, they first obtaining leave from North Carolina. What may be done I cannot tell at this time."15

 p176  In pursuance of this purpose, doubtless, Colonel James Robertson, who was senator in the North Carolina Assembly (November, 1787) aided by Col. William Blount, prepared a statement to that body of the situation and sentiments of his constituents. In it he set forth the people's harassment by the Indians. "They have cheerfully endured the most inconquerable difficulties in settling the Western Country, in full confidence that they should be enabled to send their products to market through the rivers which water the country; but they now have the mortification not only to be excluded from that channel of commerce by a foreign nation, but the Indians are rendered more hostile through the influence of that very nation probably with a view to drive them from the country, as they, the Spaniards, claim the whole soil." Robertson then called upon the humanity and justice of the State to prevent further massacres and depredations, and recommended as the most convenient and safest means of relief compliance by North Carolina with the resolves of the Continental Congress which had urged the cession to the nation of their western lands by the States which owned them.16

The Author's Notes:

1 N. C. St. Rec., XX, 712.

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2 N. C. St. Rec., XX, 704.

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3 Ib., 714, June 2d.

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4 Ib., 758.

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5 Ramsey, 465.

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6 For accounts of the Coldwater campaign, see Ramsey, 465; Goodpasture, Indian Wars, Tennessee Historical Mag., IV, 120 ; N. C. St. Rec., XX, 730.

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7 Putnam, History of Middle Tennessee, 285‑6.

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8 Putnam, 286.

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9 Ib., 276. Gilmore, in the Advance Guard of the Western Civilization, 110, seizing upon this fact, enlarges upon it, and represents Sevier as calling for volunteers to fill up the battalion in response to the appeal for aid, and that the "tall Watauga boys" sprang up at the call of Sevier, two hundred and fifty strong. Roosevelt's strictures on Gilmore as a romancer are justified.

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10 August 30th. Ramsey, 392.

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11 Major Evans reported Nov. 10th, vindicating his delays east of the mountains. He makes a strong case against the North Carolina authorities: "I have done my duty to the utmost of my power, and can assure your Excellency that few men would have ever attempted to march the men I did from Holston without a more ample supply than I was furnished with, as your Excellency will see by a return of commissary and quarter-master, transmitted to you by Mr. Markland, who left me with no other supply than what is contained in said return, and not one shilling of money, quite contrary to orders, to perform a march of near four hundred miles, and that cheerfully, through a wilderness and in a strange State where no supplies could be had either on public or private credit. This was my situation when I arrived at Kentucky; was therefore obliged to furlough my men in order that they might work for a sufficiency of provisions to carry them to Nashville, which they did, and returned, chiefly, agreeable to my orders. . . . The men are so bare for every necessary of clothing, that unless they are supplied soon they will be entirely unable to perform any kind of duty, and they murmur much that they have not got, or any prospect to get, what was promised them when they entered the service." N. C. St. Rec., XX, 786. For confirmation in part: Putnam, 278.

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11a Wm. Martin, son of Col. Joseph Martin, was captain of one of the companies of thirty-three men. George Doherty, yet a major, was paymaster of the battalion.

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12 Journal of Legislative Council, of Territory South of the Ohio, (reprint 1852), 10.

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13 N. C. St. Rec., XXI, 133.

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14 N. C. St. Rec., XX, 396‑7.

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15 Samuel McDowell to Arthur Campbell, Sept. 23, 1787. Draper MSS., 9, D. D. 46.

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16 Ramsey, 502‑3; Tenn. Historical Mag., III, 231.

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