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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 28

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 30
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p231  Chapter XXIX

The Arrest of Sevier — 1788

The success that Sevier and his followers had in every contest with the Indians was not sufficient to keep him inspirited. As one after another of his supporters in the older settlements of Franklin fell away and acknowledged allegiance to North Carolina, he became despondent, and for a time lost grip of himself while among the rough fighters of the lower country. He drank freely.

Added pressure was now brought to bear upon Sevier. In July, 1788, Governor Johnston issued an order to the authorities of Washington District that, on facts being made to appear, a warrant issue for his arrest on the charge of treason to the State of North Carolina, the military force to aid if necessary. Such order coming to Judge Campbell, he withheld action, he being so close to Sevier and his former conduct as to render adverse action unseemly if not openly hostile. The matter laid over until the arrival from across the mountains of Judge Samuel Spencer, who issued the required writ.

Early in October Sevier resolved to visit Jonesborough. On the 9th a council of the Carolina militia officers was held in that village to consult as to the feasibility of a second campaign against the Chickamaugas, General Martin, Colonel Tipton, Colonel Love and others attending. Sevier late in the afternoon of the same day appeared in the little town, and in an ugly mood. The council had adjourned and Tipton had left for his home ten miles away. Sevier engaged in a wordy altercation with Major David Craig and David Deaderick, a merchant. After nightfall he rode to the house of the widow of one of his old captains, Jacob Brown, to spend the night. News of his presence was borne to Tipton who left his home to collect a force of ten men to effect Sevier's arrest. This group went first to the house of Colonel Charles Robertson, who was then living five miles south of Jonesborough. There, however, on thorough search of the house, they failed to find the governor. The pursuers went next to Mrs. Brown's, reaching there about sunrise. Recognizing Tipton and seeing that his party was armed, Mrs. Brown seated  p232 herself in the front doorway to obstruct Tipton who endeavored to force a passage. The bustle roused Sevier from slumber; looking out and seeing Colonel Love who had attached himself to Tipton's party, he opened a door and surrendered to Love.​a Tipton, upon seeing Sevier, was greatly enraged and swore that he would hang the prisoner. He ordered Sevier to get his horse to go to Jonesborough. On reaching that place, by Tipton's command iron handcuffs were put on Sevier, who now asked Love to intercede to prevent his being carried across the mountains, far away from family and friends. Love urged upon Tipton that this would be bad policy as Sevier's friends would undoubtedly attempt a rescue and bring on a serious conflict. Under Tipton's orders a deputy sheriff with two other guards, started with Sevier for Morganton, North Carolina, to be carried farther east if it should be thought necessary. Colonel Love traveled with the party as far as his estate in the Greasy Cove and treated the prisoner with consideration and kindness.

As the guard and prisoner passed through Burke county, the McDowell neighborhood was reached. Colonel Charles McDowell, who with his companions had been given shelter under Sevier's roof when harried and driven to cover in 1780 by the British forces, and Joseph McDowell, a comrade-in‑arms of Sevier in more than one battle of the Revolution, went with the prisoner to Morganton and became sureties on a bail bond until Sevier procured a Carolina kinsman who could sign as surety for his appearances. Court was in session and Sevier attended as his bond required.

By this time a group of Sevier's relatives and friends had crossed the mountains intent upon a rescue. Joseph Sevier, the governor's brother, John Sevier, Junior, Nathaniel Evans, George North, James Cozby, Jesse Green and William Matlock composed the party. After crossing the mountains they separated and went into Morganton singly. They went to a tavern where they found Sevier in company with Major Joseph McDowell. They frankly disclosed that they had come for him and that he must go. After tarrying for an hour or two, Sevier ordered his horse and all openly rode out of town headed for the mountains.

The sheriff of the county, William Morrison, himself a participant in the battle of King's Mountain, did not order a pursuit.1

 p233  After reaching home, Sevier was constrained to write a letter (October 30th) to the Carolina Assembly, soon to convene, protesting against the "rigid persecution carried on to gratify the ambition and malice of an obscure and worthless individual"; and saying that, in opposition to the Constitution and laws of that State, he had been subjected to wanton cruelty and savage insults and borne out of the district for trial at a distance from his neighbors who could best judge of his innocence or his guilt.2

Towards the end of the year, so full of strife between Sevier and his opponents and of bloody battles with redmen, the murk lifted at last to bring into view a pleasing scene of frontier life. On his return from Morganton large numbers of Sevier's friends and acquaintances, whole families, without preconcert paid him a visit of cheer and welcome at his Mount Pleasant home where at all times unstinted hospitality was dispensed by his wife, "Bonny Kate." The horses of all who came from distant points were turned into the cornfield, and all gave themselves over to gaieties. "An old fiddler from Virginia, by the name of Black, happened along at the time, and Colonel Sevier got the old musician to tune up his violin, and for nearly a week it was a jubilee. Colonel Sevier led off in the old country dances, such as 'The White Cockade' and 'The Flower of Edinburgh.' Sevier liked to make others happy and mingled with young and old — life of all. The bright-eyed fair ones lent helping hands in providing substantials and luxuries for the table."

While Sevier was yet held at Morganton, the Indians made an attack on Gillespie's Fort, below the mouth of Little river on Holston, about eight miles from the present Knoxville. An onslaught was made at sunrise of October 17th, by above two hundred Cherokees and Creeks, under the command of John Watts (Kunoskeskie). The small garrison was over­powered after a short resistance, ammunition being expended; and twenty-eight persons, mostly women and children were killed.​3 The Indians left behind a letter addressed to Sevier and Martin and "the inhabitants of the New State" in which the reasons for their attack were given.4

 p234  Stark terror ran through the frontier south of the French Broad. An appeal for succor went to Colonel Daniel Kennedy, of Greene, who in turn wrote urgently to Colonel John Tipton, of Washington County: "The Indians are a thousand strong and reinforced by a large body of Creeks; they intend driving all the white people out of this country. . . . I hope you will exert yourself on this occasion, so very important and distressing. The stations are, chiefly, evacuated south of the French Broad and the road crowded with women and children making their escape, many of them on foot, who have lost all but their lives. The women carry their tender babies in their arms. . . . The inhabitants are in great want of provisions."5

Sevier returned to the southern border settlements, and in December conceived a design to acquire from the friendly Chickasaw Indians the lease of a body of land on the lower reaches of the Tennessee river, and to colonize it.​6 He counted largely on the coöperation of the inhabitants south of the French Broad river for settlers. The scheme was abandoned when he was able to descry not far off a turn in the tide of adversity.

The Author's Notes:

1 Based, for the most part, on the account of John Sevier, Jr., to Draper, in Draper's MSS. The alternative account given by Ramsey (p428), based on the William Smith MS., while picturesque, is not authentic.

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2 N. C. St. Rec., XXII, 697.

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3 Letter of October 25th, in Georgia State Gazette, of Dec. 27, 1788.

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4 Ramsey, 519. Forty‑two killed and taken prisoners. D. Kennedy's account, Oct. 22, 1788.

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5 From Evan's Ferry, Oct. 22nd. N. C. Hist. Com. MSS. Kennedy took the lead in sending a memorial to the N. C. General Assembly asking military aid from the State.

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6 North Carolina State Records, XXII, 719, et seq.

Thayer's Note:

a "Mrs. Brown seated herself in the front doorway to obstruct Tipton . . . The bustle roused Sevier from slumber . . . he opened a door and surrendered to Love." I don't write this stuff, folks, I merely transcribe it.

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Page updated: 5 Jan 15