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Chapter 8

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 10

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p56  Chapter IX

The First General Assembly — 1785

An interesting situation was now presented for the play and interplay of influences, tending on the one hand to anchor leaders to the cause of the old State, or, on the other, to attach them to the fortunes of the fledging Commonwealth. Later researches, it is to be regretted, fail to disclose anything that adds to the bare statement of Haywood that Cocke in an interview with Sevier "erased the favorable impressions he had received towards the government of North Carolina." Cocke, more than any other man, Sevier excepted, had shaped the course of recent events. He was a lawyer and the drafting of the resolutions, articles of association and a declaration of independence naturally, in large part, fell to him; and, quite as of course, he felt the pride of parenthood. He could not easily yield assent to the wrecking of his handiwork in the construction of a new government in which his popularity and talents gave promise of raising him to high station. His must have been a persuasive appeal to Sevier, without whose coöperation headway could not be made.

Sevier felt that he owed a duty to his people. He was their recognized leader; and popular sentiment at the time ran strongly in favor of independence. By that, rather than by the influence of any leader or leaders of the frontier, Sevier was constrained to surrender his own conviction as to what was true policy. Sevier, himself, stated the case, in sum, when (in 1788) he wrote to Joseph Martin that he was "dragged with the Franklin measures by a large number of the people of this country."1

In reviewing the conduct of Sevier, the North Carolina Assembly of 1789 found that Sevier did in 1784 oppose efforts made to subvert North Carolina's authority "in such manner as actually to prevent elections being held under new government in two of the counties."2

 p57  This indicates that the first attempt to hold an election for members to an Assembly of Franklin under the Constitution was frustrated by Sevier, in efforts initiated by his Jonesborough speech and Kennedy letter; and also explains why the Assembly did not meet until March, 1785.

The Assembly met early in March and did not adjourn until near the end of the month, though it is probable that there were recesses taken in order that committees charged with the drafting of a series of legislative acts might mature the same for report and passage. The Assembly was held at Jonesborough, as Ramsey correctly states;​3 though Allison states that the meeting was at Greeneville.​4 This fact entitles the county site of Washington county to the honor of having been, in the fullest sense, the first capital of the Commonwealth.

John Sevier was elected governor, perhaps without opposition.

No roster of the members of the first Assembly of Franklin has been preserved. Landon Carter was speaker of the senate, and Thomas Talbot its clerk; and William Cage was speaker and Thomas Chapman, clerk of the house of commons. The government was organized by the election of John Sevier as governor. A judiciary was established, David Campbell becoming judge of the  p58 superior court, and Joshua Gist and John Anderson assistant judges.

The records of the legislature and council of state of the State of Franklin have been lost. The laws were never printed or published save by oral proclamation at the door of Assembly. Col. Gilbert Christian, it appears, may have had possession of the records at the time of his death in 1793.5

Copies of the titles of the Acts passed at March, 1785, session of the Assembly were forwarded to the North Carolina authorities, and filed. Haywood evidently drawing from that source gives a list of acts, ratified on March 31, 1785:

"An act to establish the legal claims of persons claiming any property under the laws of North Carolina, in the same manner as if the State of Franklin had never formed itself into a distinct and separate State."

"An act to appoint commissioners, and to vest them with full powers to make deeds of conveyance to such persons as have purchased lots in the town of Jonesborough."

"An act for the promotion of learning in the county of Washington."​6

"An act to establish a militia in this State."​7

 p59  "An act for dividing Sullivan county and part of Greene, into two distinct counties, and erecting a county by the name of Spencer."​8

"An act directing the method of electing members of the General Assembly."

"An act for procuring a great seal for this State."​9

"An act to divide Greene county into three separate and distinct counties, and to erect new counties by the name of Caswell​10 and Sevier.​11

"An act to ascertain the value of gold and silver foreign coin, and the paper currency now in circulation in the State of North Carolina, and to declare the same to be a lawful tender in this State."​12

"An act for laying a tax for the support of the government."

Under this caption was the following section:

"Be it enacted, That it shall and may be lawful for the aforesaid land tax, and all free polls, to be paid in the following manner: Good flax linen, ten hundred, at three shillings and six pence per yard; nine hundred, at three shillings; eight hundred, two shillings and nine pence; seven hundred, two shillings and six pence; six hundred, two shillings; tow linen, one shilling and nine pence; linsey, three shillings, and woollen and cotton linsey, three shillings and six pence per yard; good, clean beaver skin, six shillings; cased otter skins, six shillings; uncased ditto, five shillings; rackoon and fox skins, one shilling and three pence; woollen cloth, at ten shillings per yard; bacon, well cured, six pence per pound; good, clean tallow,  p60 six pence per pound; good, clean beeswax, one shilling per pound; good distilled rye whiskey, at two shillings and six pence per gallon; good peach or apple brandy, at three shillings per gallon; good country made sugar, at one shilling per pound; deer skins, the pattern, six shillings; good, neat and well managed tobacco, fit to be prized, that may pass inspection, the hundred, fifteen shillings, and so on in proportion for a greater or less quantity."

"An act to ascertain the salaries allowed the Governor, Attorney-General, Judges of the Superior Courts, Assistant Judges, Secretary of the State, Treasurer and members of the Council of State."

The salary of the governor was fixed at two hundred pounds, per annum; the attorney-general 25 pounds for each court he attended; the secretary of state, twenty-five pounds, in addition to fees allowed him by the law; the judge of the superior court, one hundred and fifty pounds; the assistant judges, twenty-five pounds each for every court attended; the treasurer, forty pounds; and each member of the council of state, six shillings per day, for each day of actual service. The last section of the act was in these words:

"And all the salaries and allowances hereby made shall be paid by any treasurer, sheriff or collector of public taxes, to any person entitled to the same, to be paid in specific articles as collected, and at the rates allowed by the State for the same; or in current money of the State of Franklin."

"An act for ascertaining what property in this State shall be deemed taxable, the method of assessing the same, and collecting public taxes."

"An act to ascertain the powers and authorities of the judges of the Superior Courts, the Assistant Judges and Justices of the Peace, and of the County Courts of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, and directing the time and place of holding the same."

"An Act for erecting a part of Washington county and that part of Wilkes lying west of the extreme heights of the Appalachian or Alleghany mountains, into a separate and distinct county by the name of Wayne."13

Haywood, who, by reason of his intimate knowledge of North Carolina legislation, could speak with authority, says that these enactments conformed closely to those which had been made on the same or similar subjects-matter in North Carolina. The enacting  p61 clause was,

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Franklin."

Those named for the offices of civil government were, in large part, those who had been in the service of the old State.

Ramsey states that, as far as could be ascertained at the time he wrote, James Sevier was clerk of the Washington county court; John Rhea, of the Sullivan court;​14 Daniel Kennedy of the Greene court; Thomas Henderson, of the Spencer court;​15 Joseph Hamilton, of the Caswell court; and Samuel Wear, of the Sevier court.

Francis A. Ramsey, father of the historian, was appointed by Governor Sevier to the clerkship of the superior court for the District of Washington, which was held at Jonesborough.

Manning the state offices were: Landon Carter, secretary of state; William Cage, treasurer; and Stockley Donelson, surveyor-general. The council of state was composed of William Cocke, Landon Carter, Francis A. Ramsey, David Campbell, Daniel Kennedy, and Colonel Taylor.16

 p62  On Cage's election as state treasurer, Joseph Hardin, of Greene, succeeded to the speaker­ship of the house of commons, and served for a remnant of the March session, 1785.

Governor Martin determined to send to the disaffected region a personal representative to ascertain and report the true state of affairs. He selected Major Samuel Henderson, a brother of Judge Richard Henderson, who had in former years been on the western frontiers;​17 and on February 27, 1785, a letter of instructions was delivered to Henderson.18

 p63  When Henderson reached Jonesborough, he found the first Assembly of Franklin in session. Governor Sevier laid before the Assembly a letter brought to him from Governor Martin — addressed to him as "brigadier-general." The Assembly formulated a reply to it:​a

Jonesborough, 22nd March, 1785.


Your letter of the 27th of February, 1785, to his Excellency Governor Sevier, favored by Major Henderson, was laid before the General Assembly of the State of Franklin by the Governor.

We think it our duty to communicate to you the sense of the people of this State. We observe your Excellency's candor in informing us that the reason North Carolina repealed the cession act was because the sense of Congress was to allow the State of North Carolina nothing for the land ceded. The truth of that assertion we will not undertake to determine; but we humbly conceive the terms on which Congress was empowered to accept the cession were fully expressed in the cession act itself. Consequently every reason existed for not passing the cession act that could have existed for the repeal, except that of doing justice to the United States in general, who, upon every principle of natural justice, are equally entitled to the land that has been conquered by our own joint efforts.

We humbly thank North Carolina for every sentiment of regard she has for us; but we are sorry to observe that it is founded on principles of interest, as is apparent from the tenor of Your Excellency's letter. We are therefore doubtful, when the cause ceases which is the basis of your affection, we shall consequently lose your esteem.

Sir, reflect upon the language of some of the most eminent members of the General Assembly of North Carolina at the last spring session, when the members from the Western Country were supplicating to be continued a part of your State. Were not these their epithets: "The inhabitants of the Western Country are the off‑scourings of the earth, fugitives from justice, and we will be rid of them at any rate." The members of the Western Country, upon hearing these unjust reproaches and being convinced it was the senseº of the General Assembly to get rid of them, consulted each other and concluded it was best to appear reconciled with the massesº in order to obtain the best terms they could, and were much astonished to see North Carolina, immediately on passing the act of cession, enter into a resolve to stop the goods that they, by the act of the General Assembly, had promised to give the Indians for the lands they had taken from them and sold for the use of the State. The inadequate allowance made the judges who were appointed to attend the courts of criminal justice, and who had to travel over the mountains, amounted to prohibition as to the administration  p64 of justice in this quarter, and altho' the judge appointed on this side of the mountain might, from the regard he had to the administration of justice in the Cumberland Country,º have held a court there, yet, as your Excellency failedº to grant him a commission agreeable to the Act of Assembly, he could not have performed that service had he been ever so desirous of doing it. In short, the Western Country found themselves taxed to support government, while they were deprived of all the blessing of it — not to mention the injustice done them in taxing their lands, which lie five hundred miles from trade, equal to the land of the same quality of the sea shore. The frequent murders committed by the Indians on our frontiers have compelled us to thinkº on some plan for our defense. How far North Carolina has been accessory to these murders we will not pretend to say. We only know that she took the land the Indians claimed, promised to pay them for themº and again resolved not to do it; and that in consequence of the resolve, the goods were stopped.

You say it has been suggested that the Indian goods are to be seizedº and the commissioners arrested when they arrive on the business of the treaty. We are happy to inform you that the suggestion is false, groundless and without the least foundation; and we are certain you cannot pretend to fault us that the goods are stopped by a resolve of the Assembly of your State;º and if your State are determined to evade their promise to the Indians, we entreat you not to lay the blame upon us, who are entirely innocent and determined to remain so. It is true that we have declared ourselves a free and independent State, and pledged our honors, confirmed by a solemn oath to support, maintain and defend the same. But we had not the most distant idea that we should have incurred the least displeasure from North Carolina, who compelled us to the measure; and to convince her that we still retain our affection for her, the first law we enacted was to secure and confirm all the rights granted under the laws of North Carolina in the same manner as if we had not declared ourselves an independent State; have patronized her Constitution and lawsº and hope for her assistance and influence in Congress to precipitate our reception into the Federal Union. Should our sanguine hopesº be blasted, we are determined never to desert that independence which we are bound by every sacred tie of honor and religion to support. We are induced to think that North Carolina will not blame us for endeavoring to promote our own interest and happiness, while we do not attempt to abridge hers; and appeal to the impartial world to determine whether we have deserted North Carolina or North Carolina deserted us.

You will please to lay these our sentiments before the General Assembly, whom we beg leave to assure, that, should they ever need our assistance, we shall always be ready to render them every service in our powers, and hope to find the same sentiments prevailing in them towards us; and we hereunto annex the reasons that induced  p65 the convention to a Declaration of Independence, which are as follows:

1st. That the Constitution of North Carolina declares that it shall be justifiable to erect new States westward whenever the consent of the Legislature shall countenance it; and this consent is implied, we believe, in the cession act, which has thrown us into such a situation that the influence of the law in common cases became almost a nullity, and in criminal jurisdiction has entirely ceased; which reduced us to the verge of anarchy.

2nd. The Assembly of North Carolina have detained a certain quantity of goods which was promised to satisfy the Indians for the lands we possess, which detenure we fully conceive has so exasperated them that they have actually committed hostilities upon us, and we are alone impelled to defend ourselves from their ravages.

3rd. The resolutions of Congress held out from time to time encouraging the erection of new States have appeared to us ample encouragement.

4th. Our local situation is such that we not only apprehend we should be separated from North Carolina, but most every sensible, disinterested traveler has declared it incompatible with our interest to belong in union with the eastern parts of North Carolina. For we are not only so far removed from the eastern parts of the State, but separated from them by high and almost impassable mountains, which naturally divide us from them. Have proved to us that our interest is also in many respects distinct from the inhabitants on the other side and much injured by a union with them.

5th. We unanimously agree that our lives, liberty and property can be more secure and our happiness much better propagated by our separation; and consequently that it is our duty and inalienable right to form ourselves into a new independent State.

We beg leave to subscribe ourselves,

Your Excellency's Most Obedient Humbl. Sert's.º
William Cage, S. H. C.
Landon Carter, S. S.

By order of the General Assembly.º
Thomas Talbot, C. S.
Thomas Chapman, C. C.

Governor Sevier also returned a short reply by Henderson, in which only one point was reinforced — that North Carolina had granted, for a consideration inuring to herself, the lands of the Cherokees up to the mouth of Holston river, the actual settlement of which lands she was now threatening to resist.

William Cocke was elected agent or commissioner of the State of Franklin to appear before the Congress of the Confederation and present a memorial prepared by the General Assembly, praying admission to the Union.

 p66  The Assembly considered it necessary to bring the Cherokee Indians into relation­ship with the new Commonwealth, and Governor Sevier, Alexander Outlaw and Daniel Kennedy were appointed commissioners with authority to make a treaty with the Overhill Cherokees.

The first session of the Franklin Assembly was the longest ever held. The bulk of the legislation was large; necessarily so in the launching of a new State.

Buoyancy and hopefulness were in the hearts of the Franklin people as they faced the future. In the summer of 1785, a neighbor across the line in Washington county, Virginia, wrote that the "new society or State called Franklin has already put off its infant habit and seems to step forward with a florid, healthy constitution; it wants only the paternal guardian­ship of Congress for a short period to entitle it to be admitted with eclat as a member of the Federal Government. Here the genuine Republican! here the real Whig will find a safe asylum, a comfortable retreat among those modern Franks, the hardy mountain men."19

The Author's Notes:

1 Calendar Virginia State Papers, IV, 416.

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2 Report, North Carolina Senate, Nov., 1789, signed by John Rhea, Chairman. Rhea was from Sullivan county; and in later years represented the first district of Tennessee in Congress.

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3 Ramsey, 293.

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4 Allison, Dropped Stitches, 28. This statement called out a newspaper controversy as to which of the two towns was the first capital of the State. Judge Allison was drawn into the discussion, and in a communication of April 5, 1916, (Johnson City Daily Staff, April 8, 1916) after quoting and reaffirming his statement, he says that he gathered the facts from Haywood's History of Tennessee, records and other official sources (without citation) and concludes: "So it appears that while there were meetings at Jonesborough, on the subject, the Constitution of Franklin was finally adopted at Greeneville, the government organized there, and state officers elected and located there, and the legislature met, first and last at Greeneville." Haywood, however, is silent on the point in issue. The Assembly's reply to Governor Martin was dated Jonesborough, March 22nd. A proclamation was issued by Governor Sevier dated "in Washington [County] this 15th day of May 1785, and in the first year of our independency;" Pennsylvania Packet, August 9, 1785; State Gazette of South Carolina, August 8, 1785. Governor Sevier wrote from "Washington Court House" to Governor Martin 1785 — while the Assembly was yet in session. Not only was the March session of the Assembly held at Jonesborough; there was an August, 1785 session held at the same place, as is shown in a later chapter. Allison was a native of Washington County, and that fact might be thought to add weight to his statement.

[decorative delimiter]

5 George Christian's statement to Draper (1842): "I can say that in father's possession at the time of his death, there were a quantity of manuscript copies of the laws of Franklin, all of which fell into the hands of others after the death of my mother which occurred in 1812. I presume my youngest sister, Margaret, who married Rev. Thomas Milligan, if preserved at all."

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6 By this act, Martin's Academy was reincorporated. The North Carolina Assembly of 1783 had provided for the establishment of that Academy, naming it in honor of Governor Alexander Martin. It was the institution that had been founded by Rev. Samuel Doak about 1780, near Jonesborough, at Salem church (Presbyterian) on Hominy branch of Little Limestone creek. Doak had been a member of the Franklin December convention, and doubtless asked legislative recognition of his classical school. Later the Assembly of the Territory South of the Ohio River (1795) on motion of John Sevier, granted a charter to the institution under the name of Washington College. John Sevier, Jr., was named as one of the trustees. It was the first literary institution west of the mountains, and has had a useful and honorable existence ever since. Alexander, Historical Sketch of Washington College, Tennessee, 4‑10.

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7 Under this act, field officers for the several counties were named, as follows: For Sullivan county: Gilbert Christian, colonel; John Anderson, lieutenant-colonel; George Maxwell, first major. For the "middle county" (later at the same session created Caswell county): Alexander Outlaw, colonel; James Roddy, lieutenant-colonel; John McNab, first major; Nathaniel Evans, second major. For Greene county: Daniel Kennedy, colonel; George Doherty, lieutenant-colonel; James Houston, first major; Alexander Kelly, second major. For Washington county: Charles Robertson, colonel; Valentine Sevier, lieutenant-colonel; Landon Carter, first major; Jacob Brown, second major.

Haywood and Ramsey state that Daniel Kennedy and William Cocke were made brigadier-generals of the Franklin militia.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Corresponding to Hawkins county, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

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9 Ramsey, 294: "This act was probably never carried into effect. More than two years afterward commissions to the officers of Franklin were issued, having upon them a common wafer as the seal of the State."

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10 In honor of General Richard Caswell, who had been elected and was soon to be inaugurated governor of North Carolina.

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11 In honor of John Sevier. In 1794 at the Assembly of the Territory South of the Ohio River, a county, covering a part of the same territory, was created and given the name of Sevier.

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12 Conveyances registered at Jonesborough in the year 1785, in recital of the consideration, say: "good and lawful money of the State of Franklin." Bonds were payable in "Franklin currency."

[decorative delimiter]

13 Named in honor of General Anthony Wayne. It embraced the territory now within the limits of Carter and Johnson counties.

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14 In respect to Rhea the historian must be in error, since Rhea wrote to Governor Caswell, May 4, 1787, stating that he had been clerk of the Sullivan county court, under North Carolina, previous to the establishment of the Franklin government; but that he had been called abroad by business. "At my return lately, it appeared that during my absence there had been a change respecting a government called Franklin, that the justices of the county had let the court [North Carolina] fall, a majority if not all having joined the new‑made government. When the county courts were erected under the Franklin authority, the person who was deputy for me was by them made clerk of their court in Sullivan, by which proceeding all the records of this county have fallen into the hands of the people of Franklin," and "as an officer of the State of North Carolina" Rhea asked instructions from the governor how to proceed. The letter sheds much light upon the sentiment of the inhabitants of Sullivan County toward the new State at that time. Rhea had been clerk of the Sullivan county court as early as 1780.

[decorative delimiter]

15 It appears that Thomas Hutchings, before his defection, was for a time clerk of the Spencer county court. Ingram's Heirs vs. Cocke, 1 Overton Rep. 22.

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16 Ramsey, 296. An effort was made to win Col. Joseph Martin's adherence to the Franklin government. As seen, he had been active in the earlier stages of the movement, but on visiting the seat of government of North Carolina, he had learned that the separation would meet with Governor Martin's determined resistance; whereupon he shifted his course. He was chosen as a member of the council of state of Franklin, but declined to qualify. Active in the affairs of Virginia, as well as those of North Carolina, he had incurred the displeasure of Col. Arthur Campbell of Washington county, Virginia. Campbell wrote to Governor Patrick Henry, June 3, 1785, in regard to Martin's appointment as lieutenant-colonel of Virginia militia; "since that he became a citizen of North Carolina, resided in that State and served there in different offices — no duty having been done by him in this for years; and lately, at his own solicitation, was chosen one of the privy council for the State of Frankland (as it is called)." Va. Cal. State Papers, IV, 31. Martin wrote to Governor Henry a letter, in which he made no reference to his active participation in the Franklin movement and guardedly stated: "As I am informed, Colo. Arthur Campbell informed your Excellency that I was an officer in the new State. I beg to assure your Excellency that the report is vague, and that no earthly thing shall prevail on me to neglect my duty as agent for the State of Virginia so long as I have the honour to fill that office. True it is the Assembly of Franklin, as they call themselves, elected me one of their privy council, which I refused to accept." Va. Cal. St. Papers, 53 (Sept. 19, 1785). Martin on the same day wrote the governor of North Carolina quite as "vague" a denial as the above: "I find myself under some concern . . . wherein I am considered a member of the new State. I beg leave to assure your Excellency that I have no part with them." N. C. St. Rec., XVII; Ramsey, 318.

[decorative delimiter]

17 Henderson: Conquest of the Old Southwest.

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18 "You will please to repair with disestablish to General Sevier and deliver him the letters herewith handed you, and request his answer. You will make yourself acquainted with the transaction of the people in the Western Country, such as holding a convention; and learn whether the same be temporary, to be exercised only during the time of the late cession act, and that since repeal thereof they mean to consider themselves citizens of North Carolina; or whether they intend the same to be perpetual; and what measures they have taken to support such government. That you procure a copy of the constitution, and the names of such officers at present exercising the powers of the new government. That you be informed whether a faction of a few leading men be at the head of this business, or whether it be the sense of a large majority of the people that the State be dismembered at this crisis of affairs, and what laws and resolutions are formed for their future government; also, where the bounds of their new State are to extend, and whether Cumberland or Kentucky, or both, are to be included therein, and whether the people of these places have taken part in these transactions. You will learn the temper and disposition of the Indians, and what is done in Hubbard's case, and how his conduct is approved or disapproved in general. Lastly, every other information you think necessary to procure, you will communicate to me as soon as possible; at the same time you will conduct yourself with that prudence you are master of, in not throwing out menaces, or making use of any language that may serve to irritate persons concerned in the above measures." Ramsey, 307, and N. C. St. Records.

[decorative delimiter]

19 Quoted by Turner, "Western State-making," Am. Hist. Rev.,º I, 258. Col. Arthur Campbell was perhaps the writer.

Thayer's Note:

a The same document is given by George Henry Alden, American Historical Review, VIII.277‑279, where the source is stated to be the Pennsylvania Packet of May 21, 1785. The two versions differ in minor and less minor points, and although the Alden version is claimed to be given "in full", the version here contains several paragraphs not to be found in the other. I've flagged by bullets the more important of the small differences between the two transcriptions. It should be noted that Williams gives no source for the version given above: if it is not the Pennsylvania Packet, that would account for the differences.

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