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Chapter 25

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 27
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p198  Chapter XXVI

The Sevier-Tipton Skirmish — 1788

Colonel John Tipton, after his rebuff by the Assembly of Carolina, returned home, intent upon pressing his fight to a successful issue. He was left in authority as colonel of his county and clerk of its court, held at Davis's. It was determined that the most effective way of delivering a telling blow at the State of Franklin was to stop the functioning of her courts. Therefore, at the February term of the Carolina court of Washington county, an order was entered "that Jonathan Pugh, Esq., sheriff take into custody the court docket of said county, supposed to be in the possession of John Sevier, Esq." Raids to get possession of court records were now resumed. A correspondent of the Winchester (Virginia) Advertiser wrote that "the disturbances for some time past have been very alarming. The Tiptonites and the Franklinites have been constantly in arms against each other. The former have two or three times taken possession of Jonesborough; the Franklinites were lately in possession of the same place. Their succors came in so slowly that they thought it prudent to evacuate the town, and in the evening about 240 Tiptonites appeared so suddenly that the few who were in it were captured." Andrew Caldwell, Francis Baker and Ambrose Yancy were taken and obliged to appear at court where they engaged thereafter to be inactive in the dispute.1

Sevier was in Greene county where he had gone to hearten the new‑State followers. A few days before (January 24th) he had written to General Daniel Kennedy with the same end in view:

"I have lately received some favorable news from Doctor Franklin, and other gentlemen; also, am happy to inform you that I find our friends very warm and steady — much more so than heretofore. My son can inform you of some late particulars. Anything material your way, will thank you for a sketch of it by my son."

The Franklinites driven from Jonesborough fell back to Greeneville where their leaders were.​2 Word was sent to the strongholds  p199 in the lower counties of a rendezvous at Greeneville;​3 and soon the clans under Captain Nathaniel Evans were gathering on the waters of the French Broad to join Sevier.4

Sevier had another and personal grievance to be redressed. In the early part of 1788 an execution from a court sitting under the authority of North Carolina had come into the hands of Sheriff Pugh, who levied it on a number of Governor Sevier's slaves, and removed them from his Mount Pleasant farm on Nolachucky river to the home of Colonel Tipton for safe-keeping. Deeming this action illegal, Sevier determined to put an end to the raids on the courts, to suppress open opposition to the authority of the courts of Franklin and to recover his slaves, all in one blow.

Having gathered about one hundred and fifty men, from Greene, Sevier and Caswell counties at Greeneville, he marched to the home of Tipton on Sinking Creek, about one and one‑half miles from the present Johnson City. Other men from Washington county joined the force as it passed. In Tipton's house was a guard of about forty-five men.5

 p200  Sevier's force arrived in the afternoon of February 27th and first took a position about a quarter of a mile away from Tipton's house. Sevier then sent in a flag with a communication requesting a surrender within thirty minutes.6

Tipton gave only a verbal reply: that he asked no favors, and if Sevier would surrender himself and his leaders they all should have the benefit of North Carolina's laws. At this time a company from the eastern part of Washington county (now Carter county) under Captain Peter Parkinson, responding to a call for aid from Tipton, appeared upon the scene. The Sevier troopers opened fire on this company and killed three horses. Parkinson's contingent was driven back, temporarily at least. Two women out of Tipton's house were fired upon by mistake, and one was wounded in the shoulder.

Sevier seems now to have proposed a siege of the Tipton house.  p201 He ordered all passes to that house guarded. A party of which his son James was a member, occupied a rocky eminence west of the house the night of the 27th. Colonel Love secretly escaped from the house and under cover of darkness made his way toward Greasy Cove to raise more men. He met his brother, Thomas Love, with ten or twelve men coming to join the Tiptonites. The night being exceeding cold, the guard under young Sevier had left their post and gone to the camp-fire to warm. In this way the men under the Loves reached the home of Tipton unobserved.

The next morning Sevier sent in another flag with a communication of milder nature. Tipton replied demanding submission and said: "if they would acquiesce I would disband my troops and countermand the march of the troops from Sullivan." This was directed to "Colonel" John Sevier. Sevier's officers, offended at this, pretended to believe that the message was for Valentine Sevier, a brother of the governor, and it was by them replied that Colonel Sevier was not in camp and that they undertook to answer themselves to say: that as they were not uneasy about the forces now on the grounds; and, as to the troops on the march from Sullivan, they could countermand the march themselves, without putting Colonel Tipton to any trouble. It is probable that the officers in the Sevier camp thought that Tipton referred to Parkinson's company which, they knew, had been turned back.

A light field piece was placed on a hill over­looking the Tipton place. Major Elholm, second in command, in order to make short work and obviate the danger incident to delay proposed the erection of a light movable overcover, and a prompt advance of the troops under its protection; but Sevier did not assent. A part of the command was engaged in foraging for supplies for the troops and their horses. Certificates of the State of Franklin were given for the supplies impressed for that purpose.7

Toward evening William Cox came into the Sevier camp and gave information that the militia of Sullivan was embodying to  p202 reinforce Tipton, and would that night cross the Watauga river at Dungan's mill ford,​8 about six miles distant. "Cox was thought to act a doubtful if not double part, and many gave no heed to his information." However, two of the young blades, Captain Joseph Hardin, son of Colonel Joseph Hardin, and John Sevier, Jr., with a party of forty men started, out of abundance of caution, for the ford to dispute the passage of the Sullivan troops should they attempt it. When within half a mile of the ford, the men under Hardin and Sevier, suffering from the bitter cold, refused to go further, seeing no signs of a foe and believing the intelligence to be a hoax.

Cox, however, had acted in good faith, and the men under Colonels Maxwell and Pemberton were allowed to collect in a body at Dungan's on the night of the 28th in response to urgent appeals from Colonel Tipton. From this rendezvous they marched at an early hour the next morning, undiscovered and unmolested. Before sunrise they were at Tipton's. A very heavy fall of snow aided in screening them from the view of Sevier's pickets and troops. A party of Franks composed of Captain John Sevier, Jr., and his brother James, and thirty others, all mounted, at daybreak "went out on a scout, and as they passed along the lane fronting the house of Tipton, they were fired upon, the balls rattling on the fence, they at full gallop. None was injured."

The troops under Maxwell, says Haywood, fired a volley and raised a shout which seemed to reach heaven, announcing that deliverance was at hand for the besieged. From the house the shout was reëchoed as the force under Colonel Tipton sallied, joining the Sullivan troops in an attack on the dismayed Franks in Sevier's camp.

The battle now commenced. After the first volley from the Carolinians, the Sevier forces, abandoning the small piece of ordnance, camp equipment, saddles, etc., retreated to an eminence not far from their camp which being gained a number of shots were returned on the attacking force. Webb, of the Sullivan county force was killed and Jonathan Pugh, high sheriff of Washington county, was wounded and died eight days after the action. About six other Tiptonites were wounded. The attack being pressed with firmness, the Franks were soon dislodged, and, not able to discern in the blinding storm the size of the attacking force, beat a retreat  p203 toward Jonesborough. In this action John Smith, on the side of Sevier, had his thigh broken and died from the effects a few weeks afterward. Henry Polley was wounded in the hip.

The casualties would have been greater but for the heavy snowfall. Ramsey, however, on the authority of men who were in the engagement, says that many men, of both parties, fired into the air purposely, to avoid the shedding of blood; and this seems probable when we recall how expert all were in the use of firearms.

The scouting party out under Captain Sevier, on hearing the volleys near the camp, hastened back and on riding up saw the flag of the Franklinites still flying above the camp. They did not suspect that so sudden and complete a change had taken place. But a volley from the Tiptonites arrested them and "some few, amazed and wondering, were pulled from their horses and called upon to surrender, among these John Sevier, Jr., James Sevier, and their cousin, John Sevier," and sixteen others. Gasper Fant of this party was wounded in the arm, and "Samuel Beard, who had on a red overcoat received several balls through it but escaped unhurt."

That night, on the intercession of Colonel Love, the young Seviers were permitted, on pledge of honor to return, to go with the wounded John Smith to the home of the latter. They returned on the next day and gave bond for their appearance at court and were set at liberty. Colonel Love signed as their surety.

Haywood is authority for the statement that Tipton was determined to hang the two sons of Governor Sevier:

Apprized of the rash step he intended to take, the young men sent for Mr. Thomas Love, and others of Tipton's part, with whom they had a good understanding, and solicited their intercession with Tipton. Those persons went directly to him and represented in strong terms the rashness, illegality and impolicy of the intended execution. They urged their arguments so effectually that, with tears flowing down his cheeks at the mention of his own sons, supposing them to be in possession of Sevier about to be executed by him for offenses imputed to their father, he pronounced himself too womanly for any manly office, and desisted from his purpose."​9

 p204  However, the little battle was not without its humorous phases. Major John Sevier left on record the story that when the rout of the Franks began Major Elholm bawled out: "Halt, form, Colonel Robertson!" Robertson, who talked through his nose and had not time for extended remarks, replied gruffly: "Damnation, I'll halt for no man!"

George W. Sevier, a son of the governor, related this incident to Draper: Sevier's negro servant, Tobe, was among the prisoners taken and conducted to Tipton's front yard to be there guarded. Strolling about the lawn, Tobe was asked by one of the guards to whom he belonged. "To the Sullivan troops, sir," was the quick-witted reply. Surveillance being relaxed, Tobe sauntered off, soon saw his opportunity, mounted a good horse and dashed off, leaping the yard fence. A gunshot failed to hit him or to stop him.

Ramsey describes the demeanor of Sevier during the siege, as represented by those who were of his party, to have been very different from that which was usual. He was silent and morose. In his abstraction even Elholm's vivacity failed to arouse him. He communicated little with his officers and suggested no plans, either of attack or defense. The fact that in the besieged house and opposing force were many of his former friends, who could no longer follow his fortunes, grieved him to the point of making him no longer the purposeful and resourceful campaigner.

Colonel Joseph Hamilton, Sr., is quoted to the effect that Sevier made repeated efforts to compromise, sending Captain John Cowan time and again, under flag, for that purpose; but without avail.10

Tipton's forces followed in pursuit of the retreating Franks, but before going far they were met by Robert Young, Jr., with a verbal message from Sevier, asking for time to consider terms. Colonels Maxwell and Tipton replied, giving until the 11th inst., for the purpose.

Sevier's reply has been preserved. It was addressed to Tipton:

"I received the flag sent by yourself and Colonel Maxwell. The answer thereto is sent by Messrs. Young and Evans. You can discover the purport and sentiment of the officers. As to my own part, I am at liberty to do it for myself. I wish you would be so good as to write me particularly from under your own hand, setting forth the  p205 terms in plain manner, and let me know what I have to depend on, and I shall answer you by the 11th inst., agreeable to your flag."​11

Colonel Tipton stated to his brigadier-general that he proposed a submission to the laws of North Carolina. Sevier and his followers went south to Greeneville, where, on March 3rd, a council of officers was held and its conclusion was forwarded to Colonels Tipton and Maxwell by Young and Evans:

"We have received your flag of truce, dated 29th February, 1788, but as we do not fully comprehend its contents you have not put it in our power to give any answer thereto. But it is the sentiment of our council, equally now as heretofore, to be amenable to the laws of the Union for our conduct; and flatter ourselves that you will be answerable to the same laws for your proceedings. And, actuated by the principles of humanity and justice and discretion of the people, and honor of both parties, this council wishes that a convention of the people may be called at the earliest opportunity. In the meantime, this council remains peaceably disposed until the arrival of another flag of truce from you. As a proof of our peaceable disposition, we have already given up some property taken, and are willing to give up the rest; and hope that your party will also return the property that fell into your hands.

"John Sevier, P."​12

Sevier, conceiving that his term of office as governor expired March 1st, no longer undertook to act in that capacity. He signed as president of the council.

Neither party could assure the other; at base was a deep distrust of the other's intentions. And, in fact, not without some reason. Tipton and Maxwell had on the 10th sent a call on Colonel Arthur Campbell for volunteers from Virginia, to "quell the insurrection"; satisfied as they were that "Sevier is trying to raise another party."13

This was not true of Sevier, but General Cocke, in Spencer (Hawkins) county, was (17th) issuing "orders to Thomas Henderson to raise the militia of their party to march against Colonel Tipton."14

Tipton in particular, was for punitory action. On March 11th,  p206 he issued to Colonel Robert Love an order: "You will cause the men of Greasy Cove to be notified to appear at my house on Saturday evening next, well equipped with arms and ammunition, and six days provisions. Those that have arms, etc., and do not comply, take and give to those that will serve."

On the 16th he with his force was at the home of Abednego Inman, from which he wrote to General Kennedy of Greene county that his business was not to disturb or molest the inhabitants, but rather to protect them. "As I am persuaded that you have the interest of the country at large at heart, if it should coincide with your approbation you should bring the commissions to Greene Court House tomorrow, for the purpose of establishing a court, so that the inhabitants may be exempt of the penalty prescribed by law."

Both Sevier and Kennedy had been away on the frontiers since the 10th; and Colonel Tipton's march was fruitless.

Joseph Martin, the successor of Evan Shelby in command of the brigade west of the mountains, had been absent. On his return, he asked for a report from Tipton as one of his colonels and seemed a bit querulous in respect of Tipton's actions; particularly about his treatment of Gilbert Christian, a follower of Sevier. Martin, from frequent consultations with the executives of North Carolina, knew that diplomacy and not war was the policy of the State. He conceived himself fitted by long experience to play the part of diplomat and now essayed the role. From this time forward Tipton was to play a minor part.

Knowing that Sevier and Kennedy were closely knit in friendship, General Martin wrote the latter on March 21st:

I am greatly distressed and alarmed at the late proceedings of our countrymen and friends, and must beg your friendly interposition, in order to bring about a reconciliation, which, you well know, was my object in accepting the brigadier's commission. I am, perhaps, as little afraid of stepping forth in the field of action as any other man; but I would be sorry to imbrue my hands in the blood of my countrymen and friends, and will take every method in my power to prevent anything of that nature. In our present situation, nothing will do but a submission to the laws of North-Carolina, which I most earnestly recommend to the people. You well know this is the only way to bring about a separation, and also a reconciliation for our worthy friend, whose situation at this time is very disagreeable. I most sensibly feel for him, and will go very great lengths to  p207 serve him. Pray see him often, and give him all the comfort you can.

I am told that a certain officer says, that if I issue an order for a reconciliation, that it shall not be obeyed; but I shall let that gentleman know that I am not to be trifled with. Pray write me all what the people will do, and whether you will accept your commission, which I hope you will. Have the militia immediately officered and prepared for action, as I expect a general Indian war shortly. Please give my best respects to the people in general. Tell them my object is reconciliation, not war.

Martin wrote to Governor Samuel Johnston, successor of Caswell (March 24th) that "confusion in the West was truly alarming."

I sent Saturday last to Sevier and his party requiring them to lay down arms, but can get no answer, only from Colo. Joseph Hardin which I forward. Though I know that on Friday last they [the Franklinites] met in convention to concert some plan. The bearer of my express informs me that he understood that Sevier had gone towards French Broad river since the 10th instant; that Colonel Kennedy and several others had gone the same way to carry on an expedition against the Cherokee Indians, which I am well assured wish to be at peace except the Chickamauga party, which could be easily drove out of that country if your Excellency should recommend it. I am somewhat doubtful that Sevier and his party are embodying, under the color of an Indian expedition to amuse us, and that their object is to make another attack on the citizens of this State, to prevent which I have ordered the different colonels to have their men in good order until I could hear from your Excellency . . . .

Private papers are in circulation in many parts for the people to sign in opposition to the laws of this state, setting forth that the taxes are heavier than they can bear; that the poll‑tax is four dollars, etc . . . .

Should the Franklinites still persist to oppose the laws of this State, would it not be well to order General McDowell to give some assistance, as a few men from there [North Carolina] will convince them that North Carolina is determined to protect their citizens. The leaders of the rebel party assure the people that North Carolina will not interfere, and that we are to settle the dispute among ourselves.​15

Sevier himself had not gone on an Indian campaign. He wrote, on March 27th, from Greeneville to Martin, in reference to the latter's letter of solicitation to Kennedy:

Yours of the 21st instant is now before me. I consider myself  p208 under obligations to any friend for his interposition in time of distress, but in the meantime beg leave to assure you that, in my opinion, I have acted no part in behalf of Franklin but what I have been justly authorized to do by the laws of North Carolina, which State is the author of all these disturbances. I have served North Carolina in public character for many years. In the height of her calamities I was faithful; and you are well acquainted that I made every exertion where few others dared to mention the name of Independence. Yourself are a witness that I was dragged into the Franklin measures by a large number of the people of this country. I have been faithful, and my own breast acquits myself that I have acted no part but what has been consistent with honor and justice, tempered with clemency and mercy. How far our pretended patriots have supported me as their pretended chief magistrate, I leave the world at large to judge.

I never meaned to spill blood on any occasion to the latest period of my time in office, though, unfortunately for some, it has been the case, but contrary to my orders; and their fate I do sincerely lament. I am now a private citizen sometime since. I have supported the authority of Franklin during my continuance in office; and, if the people have not spirit enough to support it further, I shall not concern myself more than to secure my person and friends from the hands of ruffians and assassinators. It is my wish that a peace and good order may take place in this country.

If it is your wish that hostilities cease, you must request your officers to act accordingly. Otherwise, should armed men range through the country it will exasperate the people, and I know not what may be the consequence. If myself and friends can be protected and unmolested until your North Carolina Assembly, we shall let all matters lie, and the people at large must act as they see fit. What I mean by my friends is, those that have been active in behalf of Franklin. I am determined to share fate equally with those that have stood by me, and live and die together.

If you think proper, I will meet you at any time. Colonel Hardin will inform you where we can have an interview, and you may rest assured that you will suffer no insults whatever. And I shall be glad how soon you can make it convenient to attend in order to compromise the irksome dispute.​16

Sevier felt confident in appealing to Martin's own recollection for confirmation of the fact that he had been dragged into the Franklin movement. Martin's reply to this manly letter is not preserved, but its contents may be gathered from Sevier's next communication to him of date April 3rd:

I have just been honored with your letter with respect to an  p209 accommodation of our unhappy disturbances. I am ready to suspend all kind of hostilities and prosecutions on our part, and bury in total oblivion all past conduct. If you and the officers under your command will accede to like measures until the rising of the next North Carolina Assembly, and be guided by the deliberations of that body, peace and order may immediately take place.​17

Both Martin and Colonel Arthur Campbell wrote to Governor Randolph of Virginia, assuring him that the commotions in Franklin had subsided.

But the tumult and violence, once started, were not so easily and promptly quelled.

Bishop Asbury, writing in his journal of preaching at Nelson's, in Colonel Tipton's immediate neighborhood, made this entry under date of May 6, 1788: "The people are in disorder about the old and the new State. . . . At Nelson's I had a less audience than was experienced, the people having been called away on an expedition against the new‑State men."18

On April 10th, Sevier wrote to the Governor of Georgia that "our country is, at this time, almost in a state of anarchy, occasioned as we suggest, by the North Carolinians stimulating a party to act in a hostile manner against us;" and once more he expressed the purpose to aid with a considerable number of volunteers in any campaign against the Creeks.19

The stipulation of the pact of accommodation against straggling bands and molestation was not kept; but not because of blame immediately attributable to either Martin or Sevier. The animosities engendered in the little civil war now found vent in feuds in the upper counties; and in some instances no doubt bad men availed of the opportunity offered to wreak private vengeance. It was difficult for the law to set bounds to the forces that had been loosed. The compact failed; and seemingly neither Sevier nor Martin reproached the other as blameworthy because of it.

The Author's Notes:

1 See also same quoted, Maryland Journal, Apr. 11, 1788.

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2 Ib.

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3 One of the calls for aid was sent by Sevier from the home of Major Christopher Taylor, west of Jonesborough (Feb. 11th) probably as Sevier was en route to Greene county. It was addressed to Captain John Zahaun (Seehorn) Caswell county (Seehorn's Ferry, near the present town of Dandridge): "I am informed that the Tipton party has got very insolent, and have been guilty of several cruelties and barbarous actions. I have ordered fifteen men out of each company to turn out; and am well satisfied that the men of Sevier county will turn out bravely. I beg you will use your influence to get as many men out of your neighborhood to turn out as may be in your power. I shall expect your company up. I am satisfied that a small exertion will settle the matter to our satisfaction. Pray speak to Mr. Allen and let us raise as many men as in our power. For further particulars, I beg leave to refer to the bearer [James Sevier]. Ramsey, 413.

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4 "Coming to one of my appointments on French Broad, in the afternoon of one of the coldest days I ever witnessed in that country, I found a large company of armed men there, going to attack Colonel Tipton in his own house where he had fortified himself." Rev. Thomas Ware, Sketches of a Life and Travels.

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5 This account of the Sevier-Tipton battle is based on the accounts given by Haywood, who was followed in the main by Ramsey; by Colonel Tipton in his report to General Joseph Martin, N. C. State Records, XXII, 691; by Maxwell to Colonel Arthur Campbell, Mar. 10, 1788, Draper MSS., Vol. IX, 47; by General Wm. Russell in Maryland Journal, Apr. 8, 1788; Statements of Major John Sevier, Draper MSS., 32 S, pp140, 180, 210‑213; Rev. Thomas Ware, Life and Travels; communication from Washington county, June 10th, State Gazette, South Carolina, Sept. 1, 1788; Statement of son of Col. John Tipton, Draper, XX, vol. 5, p40; Maryland Journal, Apr. 11, 1788. The last account says Tipton had "not more than 60 or 70 men" but Tipton's son says 45. Haywood gives 15 as the number. Tipton had been busy ordering in reinforcements. He had kept in touch with the plans of the Franks. On Monday, February 25th, he wrote to Colonel Robert Love, in command of the militia of Greasy Cove, Washington county (now Unicoi county) as follows: "The rebels are again rising; Sevier is now making his last effort; he has given orders to his officers below to draft fifteen men out of each company, and to take property from those that will not serve and give to those that will. This day they are to meet at Greene; tomorrow at Jonesborough, and Wednesday, if not before, make a push here. I therefore request you to give orders to officers in the Cove to collect their men with the greatest expedition and march to my house tomorrow, fixed in ample manner; as I propose to defend this quarter, without making any excursions, unless I can get further information. N. B. Let no time be lost." Ramsey, 414.

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"State of Franklin, February 27th, 1788. In a Council of the Officers to secure the rights of the Citizens in this State, and from Motives to Establish Peace and Good Order:

"It is our request to Colonel John Tipton that he and the party now in the house surrender themselves to the discretion of the people of Franklin within thirty minutes from the arrival of the flag of truce.

"John Sevier, C. Gen'l.

"Honored by Colonel Conway."

The officers in command under Sevier were Col. Henry Conway, Col. Charles Robertson and Major George Elholm.

The house of Tipton is standing today. The log house has, however, been covered with weatherboarding. It is said that the bullet marks may be seen in the logs beneath. In after years, the farm of Tipton and the house occupied for many years by Landon C. Haynes, Confederate State Senator from Tennessee. The house stands on the right of the highway and of the line of the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway, running from Johnson City to Erwin, and in sight of the former place.

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7 One of these certificates reads:

"State of Franklin, February 28th, 1788.

"Received four bushels of meal at two shillings per bushel for the use of said State. Given under my hand this said date.

"Received from Jonathan Pugh.

"Drury Robertson, Captain."

Pugh, who as sheriff had levied on Sevier's slaves, was thus made to aid the effort to retake them. He was to forfeit his life, in the battle of the next day.

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8 On the place of James P. St. John, near Watauga station of the Southern railway, and just below the railway bridge that spans the Watauga river.

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9 In his letter to Draper, a son of Colonel Tipton, Jonathan Tipton, undertakes to correct errors in Haywood's account of the Sevier-Tipton battle, but he registers no denial of this statement. He construes Haywood to mean that two sons of Tipton were, in fact, taken prisoners by Sevier, and denies that such was true. Draper MSS., XX, vol. 5, p40.

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10 Ramsey, 412.

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11 N. C. State Records, XXII, 695.

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12 N. C. State Records, XXII, 715.

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13 Draper MSS., XX, 47. Another call, it seems was sent on the 12th, in which it was stated that Parkinson's home had been fired on.

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14 Hutchings to Martin, N. C. State Records, XXI, 716.

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15 N. C. State Records, XXI, 459.

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16 Calendar Virginia State Papers, IV, 416.

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17 Calendar Virginia State Papers, IV, 421.

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18 Asbury's Journal, II, 32.

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19 Ramsey, 414.

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Page updated: 20 Feb 14