The settlements in the Holston-Watauga region suffered a serious loss in the removal to the Cumberland Country of an increasing number of settlers of the better class. A main reason for their removal was the lack of room for expansion in the valleys to the southward. The Avery Treaty of 1777 with the Cherokees (at Long Island of Holston) fixed the Indian line •about twenty miles south of Jonesborough. All entries and surveys of land which had been made below this line were declared utterly void by legislative act.1 North Carolina did not move to remedy this situation until 1783, when her General Assembly undertook to fix the upper line of the hunting grounds of the Cherokees at the French Broad river, without having obtained the consent of the Indians.2 By a later act of the same session, the governor was empowered to appoint commissioners to treat with the Cherokees for a further cession of territory and the sum of twenty-five hundred pounds was appropriated to be laid out in goods to be delivered as a consideration.3
At the time there was grave danger of another exodus that would drain entirely away from trans-Alleghany Carolina more of that region's most energetic and enterprising citizens. In the Great Bend of the Tennessee river was a fine body of land, to which there were rival claims by Georgia and South Carolina. For a time, North Carolinians were hazy as to the true southern boundary line of that State and thought that the territory in the Bend was within the limits of their State. The investigations and report of North Carolina commissioners, appointed by the act of 1782, to locate lands for a reservation for the continental line of the State, demonstrated that this was an erroneous conception. Immediately a plan was formulated by East Carolinian leaders, General Richard Caswell,4 p14 James Glasgow and William Blount, to exploit the region and settle it with men then residing on the western waters of Carolina. Joseph Martin, at the time Virginia's Indian agent to the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations, was now caused to be chosen North Carolina's agent to the Cherokee and Chickamauga Indians. Martin was at the Assembly at Hillsborough when report of the locating commission was made. Writing to Patrick Henry on May 21, 1783, he said of the report:
"They find all the Bent of Tennessee in Georgia, and several Indian nations between. General Caswell and three other gentlemen have agreed to join with Colonel [John] Donelson and myself in said purchase. They promise the goods; Donelson and myself are to make the purchase; the whole jointly concerned and intend to take possession immediately, letting the same out on such reasonable terms as will make that part so strong in a short time that they cannot be ousted. If you should, after consideration, incline to be an adventurer in that scheme, you will please let me hear from you as soon as possible."5
There is much of record to lead to the belief that Patrick Henry did become interested under cover of Colonel Martin, who was his confidential agent and friend. In fact, Martin was, at the time this letter was written, on his way to the Holston region of Carolina to purchase lands for Henry.6
By the summer following, Stockley Donelson, son of Colonel Donelson, and Martin had consummated a contract with the Indians — by what means, it would be interesting to know.
Blount wrote to Martin from Hillsborough, North Carolina, October 26, 1783:
I am very glad to find that you have made the purchase of the p15 Indians of the Bent of Tennessee, and I think cheap enough. The most of the goods to make the payment with were purchased in Philadelphia early in September . . . .
I am told that a dispute has arisen between the States of Georgia and South Carolina by the latter claiming a right to the back lands as far west as the Mississippi.7 Now if South Carolina has any back lands, the Bent of Tennessee must be a part of it. This dispute between the two States, will in my opinion, be very favorable to our designs of obtaining the Georgia title or the South Carolina title, and either will answer our purpose equally well, for we shall surely settle the country before the dispute can be determined; and, in order to procure a title from one or both of these States, I will certainly attend both their next Assemblies; and I have not the least doubt I shall succeed.
General Rutherford has agreed to become a joint adventurer with us in the purchase, and I have this day given him an instrument of writing interesting him as much as either of the original adventurers. It was good policy to do so, and General Caswell advised it to be done, and I hope it will be agreeable to you and Colonel Donelson. I am glad to find that Colonel Sevier has also joined the Company . . . .
It now seems that every person I have seen envies us the purchase and wished to own a part of the Bent of Tennessee.8
On February 9, 1784, "petitions of William Blount, Richard Caswell, Griffith Rutherford, with sundry others from North Carolina" (doubtless including Stockley Donelson, one of the boldest and most persistent promoters in the West, Joseph Martin and John Sevier, all of the western territory of North Carolina) were presented to the Assembly of Georgia. A bill was passed for the laying out of a county to the westward and pointing out the mode of laying out and settling the lands.9
Blount evidently had complied with his promise to attend this session of the Georgia Assembly. The next action was the report of the committee (February 20) and in it the petition was referred to as that of "Mr. Blount in behalf of himself and other citizens of North Carolina, respecting the expediency of laying out a new county" to include all that tract of territory in the Bend of Tennessee river. The report recited that in the opinion of the committee, it would be necessary in order to prevent future contests to settle p16 that tract of country, and it was recommended that seven commissioners be vested with the powers necessary to ascertain quantity, quality and circumstances of the lands and report their findings to the legislature. The commission or board of seven was empowered, however, to grant warrants of survey, provided that grants based thereon should be limited to •one thousand acres to any one person, issuable on payment of one‑eighth of a dollar per acre into the State treasury. The board was authorized to appoint militia officers for the district, who were to be commissioned by the governor.10
The board of commissioners was composed of Lachlan McIntosh, Jr., William Downes, Stephen Heard, John Moore, John Donelson, Joseph Martin and John Sevier.11
The board visited the Bend Country and appointed as officers of a battalion of militia, three residents of the West Carolina region: John Sevier, colonel; John Donelson, lieutenant-colonel, and Valentine Sevier, Jr., major. Commissions for captains and subalterns were issued in blank.12 It recognized that a collision with the Indians must be avoided, if possible, and the surveyor-general of Georgia was authorized to have surveyed and marked "the line that is to circumscribe the Indian hunting grounds."13
Valentine Sevier, Junior, a brother of John Sevier, was chosen to represent the Bend Country in the General Assembly, but he was denied a seat. John Donelson was made surveyor and John Sevier was appointed to receive locations and entries of land.14 Donelson, Charles Robertson, Joseph Martin and Valentine Sevier, Jr., were appointed justices of the peace; and Martin was recommended for appointment as Indian agent.
Manifestly the push was to come from the Holston Country with cheap and abundant land as lure. The Board of Commissioners provided for the opening of a land-office at Long Island of Holston in March, 1785, on learning of which Blount wrote in behalf of Caswell and himself to Sevier and Martin: "Should you open the entry-office before you see one or both of us, we wish you to secure as much of the Bent as may be in your power."
p17 This Board also assembled at Jonesborough in fall of 1785, and advertised for adventurers who should rendezvous at the confluence of the Holston and French Broad rivers and from there proceed to the old Chickamauga towns. The Commissioners and their escort of adventurers went to the Bend Country by water, and there laid off Houston Country, Georgia — including all the land of that State north of the Tennessee. Warrants of survey for one thousand acres were issued to each adventurer, signed by Donelson, Sevier and Wm. Downs, as entry-takers. The scheme was defeated by the hostile attitude of the Indians,15 and by North Carolina's first cession of her western domain to the general government. The restless Westerners found vent for their enterprise and ambition in forming a new state government for the ceded territory.
The Spaniards at the South were alert to the danger from an American penetration. The South Carolina Gazette, of February 17, 1785, stated "on the authority of a gentleman from the western parts of North Carolina that a body of Spaniards have taken post at the Muscle Shoals and are building a fort. The Chicamauga tribe have abandoned and burnt their towns and moved off to some distant part, greatly disgusted with the attempts of individuals to get their country without a purchase." It is likely, however, that, if any post was in contemplation, it was not to be a military fort, but a trading post.
However the lands in the Great Bend continued to attract and engage attention of the West Carolinians for two decades. Phases of the history of the States of Franklin and Tennessee can only be understood in the light of this fact.16
p18 Indeed, the contact between the inhabitants of the Tennessee Country with those in the Great Bend was so close that Gilbert Imlay, writing about 1790‑91, predicted that the latter would join the former "in their separation from North Carolina."17
1 North Carolina Act 1777, ch. 3; Scott's Revisal, I, 275; North Carolina State Records, XXIV, 160.
2 North Carolina Act 1783, ch. 2; North Carolina State Records, XXIV, 479.
3 Ib., ch. 21.
4 Caswell was also preparing to locate lands on the French Broad river, in partnership with Donelson, under the act of 1783, opening the western country to entry and grant. He wrote his son, from Hillsborough, May 4, 1783: "Col. Donelson is here; by him I have a message from his son who was engaged to explore the country about the French Broad and fix on proper locations for Col. Glasgow and myself. This he has done, and when the office is opened will be ready to enter. . . . Stockley Donelson is now surveyor of Sullivan and the Colonel, his father, I find here in expectation of obtaining the appointment in Greene; if this should be the case, the advantages will be still greater in interesting ourselves with them." N. C. Rec., XVI, 960.
5 Henry, Patrick Henry, II, 243.
7 The dispute arose because of the uncertainty of the source of the Savannah river referred to in the charter of Georgia.
8 Draper MSS., II, vol. 4; no. 17; also Gulf States Magazine, II, 417.
9 Georgia Revolutionary Records, III, 492.
10 Georgia Revolutionary Records, III, 525.
11 Ib., 536, 564.
12 Ib., II, 739.
13 Ib., III, 565.
14 Land warrants were signed by Sevier and Donelson, some bearing date as late as December 21, 1785.
15 Haywood, 159. The noted chief, Bloody Fellow, put a stop to the operations.
16 The project was so enticing to Caswell that he, in the spring of 1784, proposed giving up his candidacy for the governorship of his State in order that he might visit the Bend. "I think to visit the Western waters. Commissioners from Georgia are to be at the Long Island the 15th of June, to proceed down the Tennessee and settle the claims of Wm. Blount and Company to that territory. I should be willing, if able, to attend them, and visit the Bend." N. C. State Rec., XVII, 138.
Martin became uneasy respecting the part he took in the scheme. He was conscious that the purchase from the Indians made while he occupied the fiduciary relationship of agent was subject to just censure. In reporting to Col. William Christian (June 6, 1784) the danger incident to efforts of Spanish commissioners sent out from Pensacola to draw the Cherokees to the support of that power, he said that he would have sent an express to Richmond, but thinks the governor (Harrison) is offended and might suppose he, Martin, "wanted to answer some private end about the Tennessee purchase." Cal. Va. State Papers, III, 590.
For later events, see Whitaker, "The Muscle Shoals Speculation", Miss. Valley Hist. Review, XIII, 365; and The Spanish-American Frontier, passim.
17 Topographical Description of the Western Territory, 80.
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