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Chapter 7

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 9
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p45  Chapter VIII

The Franklin Movement in Virginia

It cannot be a matter of doubt that Colonel Arthur Campbell took an active part in encouraging and aiding the people living in the territory ceded by North Carolina in June, 1784, to form a separate and independent government. He saw in the act of cession an opportunity to carry into execution his favorite plan for a new State including the Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee counties. Campbell attended one or both of the conventions held at Jonesborough, in furtherance of his scheme. "It is notoriously known that Col. Campbell did, in a convention of North Carolina people, publicly propose to separate himself with the citizens of Washington and Montgomery in Virginia; and, joining them, declare themselves independent of the States of Virginia and North Carolina; moreover to stand in the front of battle between these people and Virginia when necessary . . . The charges herein contained can be supported by General Russell, Captain Andrew Kincannon, and Captain Wm. Cocke of the Franklin Settlement."1

Martin wrote to Henry: "Col. Campbell made use of many arguments to draw me over to that [the Franklin] party . . . as it would be much to my interest, as I had a body of valuable lands in Powell's Valley; that as soon as the new State would take place, I might have a county laid off and the court-house on my land and convenient to the seat of government. My reply to him was that as long as I appeared in public character, I did not look altogether at private interest; that I was in every sense of the word against a new State."2

On his return from Franklin to his home, Campbell began an agitation in favor of joining the fortunes of the contiguous part of  p46 Virginia with those of the promoters of Franklin. A large element of the people in Southwest Virginia was ripe for action. General Russell and his friends at this time had the ear of the governor in respect to State appointments, rather than the Campbell faction.

One of the complaints of the Western Virginians, not dissimilar to that put forward by the Western Carolinians, was that they were excessively taxed and received no adequate governmental benefits in return. Campbell contended that two million dollars more than was justly due had been collected from the inhabitants of his county; and he urged resistance to further payments on days when, as chief judge in the county, he held county court. Rev. Charles Cummings, who had been a member of the committee of safety organized in his county in revolutionary days and who was a leader among the Presbyterians of his section, appealed to his people to stand for their rights; and he presided at meetings held to advance separation. At one of these gatherings there was set on foot a memorial to Congress asking for the establishment of an independent government. This must have been some time before January 1, 1785, since the document was read in Congress January 13, 1785. It was signed by many leading Virginians on the Holston waters; and, it is interesting to note, by Gilbert Christian, John Anderson, David Looney and John Adair, residents of Sullivan county, across the state line. Concert of action on the part of the two peoples is evident. The connecting link was Arthur Campbell. His was the master mind that moulded the

To the Honorable Congress
of the
United States of America

The Memorial of the freemen inhabiting the county westward of the Alleghany or Appalachian mountain, and southward of the Ouasioto, humbly showeth:

That having been made acquainted with the several Resolves and other Acts of Congress respecting the Western Territory, and having considered maturely the contents of the same, we are highly pleased with that equal respect to the liberties of the people which seems to induce the councils of Congress. That nothing but a firm adherence to the principles of the Confederation, and a sacred regard for the rights of mankind could produce the late resolves for laying off independent States, thereby pointing out such effectual measures to prevent the encroachment of arbitrary power in the asylums of freedom.

 p47  Next we are happy to find so large a part of territory already ceded to the United States for national purposes, and trust that every obstacle will speedily be removed for the completion of that business by the individual States effected thereby. That we are too much elated at the prospect before us not to wish that we very speedily enjoy the advantages of such government as will be exercised over a convenient territory, not too small for the support of authority, nor too large for the security of freedom.

That our situation is such, inhabiting valleys intermixed with and environed by vast wilds of barren and inaccessible mountains, that the same compensation of latitude allotted to the new States northwest of the Ohio might prevent us from ever being on an equal footing with our neighbors, blessed with so many natural advantages, navigable waters, and a level, fertile country.

That a State bounded by a meridian line that will touch the confluence of Little River near Ingles Ferry, thence down Kanawha to the Roncovert or Green Briar River, thence southwest to latitude 37 degrees north, thence along the same to the meridian of the Repulse of the Ohio, south to the same to the part nearest latitude 34 degrees, south to the same, and eastwardly on that parallel to the top of the Appalachian mountains, and along the heights that divide the sources of the waters that fall into the Mississippi from those that empty into the Atlantic to the beginning. This, though not equal in quantity of habitable lands with the adjoining States, yet may be sufficient territory for a society that wishes to encourage industry and temperance as cardinal virtues.

That in our present settlement we have maintained our ground during the late perilous war, and frequently gave effectual aid to our brethren to the south and eastward; that we are first occupants and aborigines of this country; freemen claiming natural rights, and the privileges of American citizens.

Our prayer, therefore, is, that your Honourable Body, with a generous regard to the rights of mankind, would speedily erect the aforesaid described Territory into a free and Independent State, subject to the federal bond, and likewise confirm and guarantee to the inhabitants all their equitable rights and privileges acquired under the laws of the States lately claiming this territory; that the disposition of the vacant lands be under the power of the Legislature of the new State, in as full a manner as that exercised by such Eastern States having unappropriated lands, with this reservation, that the monies arising from the sale of vacant lands shall be faithfully paid to the order of Congress, towards the payment of the national debt.

And your memorialists shall ever pray, &c.

Approved and subscribed by us, in behalf of ourselves and the freemen of our respective districts, who we represent.

 p48  Charles Cummins, Chairman
John Campbell John Kincaid,
John Jameson, Arthur Campbell,
Robt. Buchanan, Thos. Woolsey,
Alexander Wiley, John Campbell, S'n'r.,
William Tate, Richard Brownlow,
George Finley John Davis,
Mathew Willoughby,
Gilbert Christian,
John Anderson,
David Looney,
John Adair.

Campbell's enthusiasm for a new government was, at this time, great. He was asked by an opponent: "If the State of North Carolina were to send a force against the Franklin people to subject them to obedience to the government of North Carolina, whether he would be willing to give them aid, meaning the Franklin people? On which he answered, by all means we ought, if we expect to share with them the benefits of government."3

Turner says:​4 "Again, in the spring of 1785, another petition went to Congress from the deputies of the same county. They proposed modifications in the rigid rectangles that Jefferson had laid down for the western States in the Ordinance of 1784. The eastern meridian lines, they complained, passed across a great number of the most inaccessible and craggy mountains in America; and severed communities naturally one. The western meridian divided the Kentucky settlers. They proposed two States with natural boundary lines; the Kentucky settlements bounded by the Great Kanawha were to make one, and the upper waters of the Tennessee, including the Muscle Shoals of that river, another. The Cumberland settlers would have been left as a nucleus of another State provided for by the Ordinance of 1784. As thus modified, the settlers declared the Ordinance the basis for liberal and beneficial compact. With this petition they forwarded an association which they had drawn up, resolving, among other things, that the lands cultivated by individuals belong strictly to them, and not to the government; otherwise every citizen would be a tenant and not a landlord, a  p49 vassal and not a freeman; and every government would be a usurpation, not an instrumental device for public good."5

Their conception of their rights differed materially from the view expressed by Governor Alex. Martin in opposing a cession by North Carolina in 1783: "For cogent is the reasoning, when we can with great truth say: our own blood was spilt in making these settlements effectual; for ourselves we fought, for ourselves we conquered, and for ourselves alone we have a right to hold."

The two peoples, on the Holston in Virginia and those of Franklin, were animated by the spirit of independence; and they sought from the beginning the guardian­ship of the Congress of the Confederation.​6 Alike they refer in their resolutions to the Ordinance of 1784 for justification, though both saw the impracticability of its provision for rectangular States. They had experienced the inconvenience of being severed by an arbitrary line of latitude — that dividing Virginia and Carolina — and even that line they would disregard, if Congress could be brought to approve.

The boundaries for the new State at the South named in this petition differed somewhat from the earlier ones:

The "State to the South will include the inhabitants on the heads of Kanawha and Cherokee [Tennessee] rivers, to be bounded by a line extended due South from that part of Cumberland river where the meridian line drawn from the mouth of Salt river will touch it, until it reaches Elk river, down that river to the Tenasee, thence South [easterly] to the top of Appalachian mountain, eastwardly along the same to a point from whence a north line extended would meet the Kanawha at the mouth of Little river near Ingles' Ferry; and down that river to the Ronceverte [Greenbriar], westwardly along the boundary as above described for the Kentucky Country.

"At this day, we find a new Society forming itself back of North Carolina, which, if the re­quisition of Congress of the twenty-ninth  p50 day of April last is regarded, we of course will be annexed to; and the natural situation of the country points out the connection; but we are yet restrained from formally joining them by a deference to the opinion of those who bear rule in Virginia, and the want of an orderly accession to Independence under the auspices of Congress. These obstacles, we confide, the rulers of the Federal Government will remove. The interest of America seems urgently to call for it, and the peace and prosperity of the western inhabitants will no longer admit of delay."

This well-phrased resolution of the deputies of Washington county, Virginia, was signed by Chas. Cummings, as chairman.

A formal remonstrance​7 was lodged against Campbell with the governor and council of state, by the Russell faction; learning of which Campbell wrote Governor Henry (July 26, 1785):

"We are told (but it is only from report) that we have offended the government on account of our sentiments being favorable to a new State, and our looking forward to a separation. If such a disposition is criminal, I confess that there is not a few in this county to whom guilt may be imputed, and to many respectable characters in other counties on the Western Waters. If we wish for a separation, it is on account of grievances that daily become more and more intolerable; it is from the hope that another mode of government will make us more useful than we now are to the general Confederacy, or ever can be, whilst so connected. But why can blame fall on us when our aim is to conduct measures in an orderly manner, and strictly consistent with the Constitution? Surely men who have bound themselves by every holy tie to support republican principles, cannot, on a dispassionate consideration, blame us. Our want of experience and knowledge may be a plea against us. We deplore our circumstances and situation on that account. But, sir, why we may not take courage and say we are right when adverting to our own Constitution, to the different Acts of Congress, that of different Legislatures, the opinions of the best statesmen in America, among whom we can number an illustrious Commander, a great Lawyer and Judge in this State, and a Governor of Virginia himself."​8

 p51  Campbell's activity for a separation gave no little concern to the leading statesmen of Virginia. Richard Henry Lee wrote from Congress to Madison (May 30, 1785) favoring the grant of self-government to the Kentucky people, since they would remain for a long time "more expense than profit to the rest of the country. Washington county seems to be stimulated by a troublesome person who for self-aggrandizement appears to be willing to dismember that part also, and join with the revolters from North Carolina. This last seems to merit the wise and firm attention of the government and the legislature."9

Governor Henry had written an account of the Franklin proceedings to the Virginia delegates in Congress; and Col. Martin had notified Henry that a firm hand would be shown by the North Carolina government toward the Franklinites in her western counties.​10 This in reply to an inquiry from Henry: "Let me hear from you how the Overhill Carolina folks go on."11

Under these influences, Governor Henry issued a proclamation of warning (June 10) to the "freemen of Washington county."

By the summer of 1785, Campbell deemed it unwise to coöperate directly any longer with the other projectors of the State of Franklin.​12 Governor Sevier evidently noted his change of attitude; and thought it good diplomacy to court the favor of Virginia, with a view to changing the position of her delegation in Congress in respect to a recognition of the State of Franklin. On July 19, 1785, Sevier wrote to Henry:

"Having an opportunity to send a letter to Gen. Russell's from whence I expect it can be forwarded to your Excellency, I take the liberty of writing to you. The people of the Western Waters in No. Carolina, for many reasons too long to trouble you with, have formed themselves in a new State by the name of Franklin, and have appointed me their Governor. I will beg leave to mention to your Excellency that I am taking every measure in my power to prevent encroachment on the Indians' lands. This, however, is a difficult task, because North Carolina actually sold the lands up to their towns. I have fixed a temporary line as far as the people have settled, and none shall settle over it until it can be done by mutual  p52 agreement. Although we have been forced into necessary measures for separation from North Carolina, I think it is necessary to inform you that we will, on no account, encourage any part of the people of your State to join us, nor will we receive any of them unless by consent of your State. We reverence the Virginians, and I am confident the Legislature here will, at all times, do everything to merit your esteem. Congress have again called upon No. Carolina to confirm the cession which they unwisely withdrew, and I believe a majority of the people in Carolina are in our favor. I do not expect your Excellency to correspond with us until our government is recognized by Congress; but in the meanwhile you may rely we shall do everything in our power to contribute to the welfare of all our neighboring States as well as our own cause. And we hope to convince them all that we are not banditti, but people who mean to do right, as far as our knowledge will lead us."​13

Governor Henry on the convening of the Assembly of Virginia, sent in the following message on the subject:

"I transmit herewith a letter from the Honorable Mr. Hardy, covering a memorial to Congress from sundry inhabitants of Washington county, praying the establishment of an independent State to be bounded as therein expressed. The proposed limits include a vast extent of country, in which we have numerous and very respectable settlements, which, in their growth, will form an invaluable barrier between this country and those, who, in the course of events, may occupy the vast places westward of the mountains, some of whom have views incompatableº with our safety. Already the militia of that part of the country is the most respectable we have, and by their means it is that the neighboring Indians are awed into professions of friendship. But a circumstance has lately happened which renders the possession of the territory at the present time indispensable to the peace and safety of Virginia. I mean the assumption of sovereign power by the western inhabitants of North Carolina. If the people who, without consulting their own safety, or any other authority known in the American Constitution, have assumed government, and while unallied to us, and under no engagements to pursue the objects of the federal government, shall be strengthened by the accession of so great a part of our country, consequences fatal to our repose will probably  p53 follow. It is to be observed, that the settlements of this new society stretch into a great extent in contact with ours in Washington county, and thereby expose our citizens to the contagion of the example which bids fair to destroy the peace of North Carolina. In this state of things it is, that variety of information has come to me, stating that several persons, but especially Col. Arthur Campbell, have used their utmost endeavors, and, with some success, to persuade the citizens in that quarter to break off from this Commonwealth, and attach themselves to the newly assumed government, or to erect one distinct from us. And to effect this purpose, the equality and authority of the laws have been arraigned, the collection of the taxes impeded, and our national character impeached. If this most important part of our territory be lopped off, we lose that barrier for which our people have long and often fought; that nursery of soldiers from which future armies may be levied, and through which it will be almost impossible for our enemies to penetrate. We shall aggrandize the new State, whose connections, views and designs we know not; shall cease to be formidable to our savage neighbors, or respectable to our western settlements, at present or in the future.

"Whilst these and many other matters were contemplated by the Executive, it is natural to suppose the attempt at separation was discouraged by every lawful means, the chief of which was displacing such of the field officers of the militia in Washington county as were active partizans for separation, in order to prevent the weight of office being put in the scale against Virginia. To this end a proclamation was issued, declaring the militia laws of the last session in force in that country, and appointments were made agreeable to them. I hope to be excused for expressing a wish that the Assembly, in deliberating on this affair, will prefer lenient measures, in order to reclaim our erring citizens. Their taxes have run into three years and have thereby grown into an amount beyond the ability of many to discharge; while the system of our trade has been such as to render their agriculture unproductive of money. And I cannot but suppose, that even the warmest supporters of separation had seen the mischievous consequences, they would have retraced, and considered that intemperance in their own proceedings, which opposition in sentiment is too apt to produce."​14

The Assembly determined to adopt vigorous measures to check  p54 the separation movement in the southwestern counties, and passed an act in the fall of 1785, by which it was declared to be high treason to erect, without authority of the Assembly, an independent government within the limits of the State.​15 But conciliatory steps were also taken. Governor Henry had appointed Gen. William Russell as head of the western militia instead of Campbell, but when Edmund Randolph succeeded Henry in the governor­ship, Campbell was reinstated and again in ascendency. Col. Joseph Martin lost his office as Indian agent short after this change in administration.

Haywood states that Campbell drafted a constitution for the new State proposed by him, in which the boundaries were set forth with more particularity. Nothing but the "declaration of rights" of this instrument remains.16

Colonel Arthur Campbell doubtless felt that he was compelled by circumstances to give over his pet project and turn undivided attention to the defense of himself against his enemies before the Virginia Assembly. He was there deprived of his office; but he grimly fought on. The succeeding administration and General Assembly (1787) were favorable to him, and an act was passed​17 declaring  p55 the former legislative action to be void because unconstitutional, in that it trenched on judicial power. Campbell resumed the performance of the duties of the office, and William Edmiston prosecuted a qui tam action against him, but lost.18

The Author's Notes:

1 Charges preferred against Campbell by James Montgomery and others, July 25, 1785. Cal. Va. State Papers, IV, 4.

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2 Martin to Governor Henry (Cal. Va. St. Papers, 53). Martin must have assumed that Campbell was in ignorance of the former's Tennessee Bend purchase of the Cherokees while he was under the trust relation of agent to those Indians.

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3 Deposition of Andrew Kincannon, May 3, 1786, for use in the trial of Arthur Campbell for misconduct in office. Cal. Va. St. Papers, IV, 116.

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4 Turner, "Western State-Making in the Revolutionary Era," American Historical Review, I, 260; Archives, Continental Congress, No. 48, pp281, 289, 297.

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5 Turner: "They are here using the language of Jefferson's Proposed Instructions to the Virginia Delegates, 1774. Ford's Jefferson's Writings, I, 437."

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6 There is no basis in fact for the opinion expressed by Allison (Dropped Stitches, 30) that "in the beginning they [the Franklinites] did not intend to join the Union of the States, but that later they concluded they would." Here again, a stitch is dropped rather than picked up. The first resolution passed contained a reference to the resolves of Congress and to the sending of a commissioner to the national legislature.

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7 The Humble Remonstrances of the Captains of Washington county (1785) charging that Campbell was "artful in having a majority of the court favorers of his proceedings for a new State." Va. Mag. Hist. and Biog., XVII, 165.

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8 Cal. Va. St. Papers, IV, 44.

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9 Letters of R. H. Lee, II, 364.

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10 Cal. Va. St. Papers, III, 292 (April 16, 1785).

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11 Ib., IV, 18 (March 26, 1785) and 25 (April 17, 1785).

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12 Henry to Martin, Feb. 4, 1785.

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13 Roosevelt erroneously states that Campbell acknowledged that he became a member of the privy council of the State of Franklin under Governor Sevier.

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14 Cal. Va. St. Papers, IV, 34.

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15 Cal. Va. St. Papers, IV, 42.

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16 Haywood, 320. See Summers, History of Southwest Virginia, 400, for the declaration of rights. Haywood gives the boundaries as follows:

"Beginning at a point on the top of the Alleghany or Appalachian mountains, so as a line drawn due north from there will touch the bank of New River, otherwise called Kanawha, at the confluence of Little river, which is about a mile above Ingle's ferry; down the said river Kanawha to the mouth of Rencovert, or Green Briar river; a direct line thence to the nearest summit of Laurel mountain, and along the highest part of same to the point where it is intersected by the parallel of thirty-seven degrees of north latitude; west along that latitude to a point where it is met by a meridian line to Elk river, a branch of the Tennessee; down said river to its mouth, and down the Tennessee to the most southwardly part or bend in said river; a direct line from thence to that branch of the Mobile river called Donbigbee, to its junction with the Coosawatee river, to the mouth of that branch of it called the Hightower; thence south to the top of the Appalachian mountain, or the highest land that divides the sources of the eastern from the western waters; northwardly, along the middle of said heights, and the top of the Appalachian mountain, to the beginning."

The name of the commonwealth was to be Franklin, or Frankland. This grand project reached out for the much-sought territory in the Great Bend of Tennessee river, and also included lands lower down on which Colonel Joseph Martin had fixed his heart.

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17 Hening's Statutes, XII, 41.

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18 Edmiston vs. Campbell, 1 Va. Cases, 16. The constitutional question was of so much importance that the case was abstracted in Tucker's Blackstone's Commentaries, I, 125.

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