When the State of Franklin Tried To Become America’s 14th State


United States Map 1783-1803 includes inset that features State of Franklin

On This Date In History: In Colonial times, the Crown made the rules and in 1763, England decreed that no settlements be made west of the Appalachian mountains.   This decree was known as the Proclamation of 1763 and the intent was to prevent an escalation of fighting between English settlers and Native Americans. 

Note that Extreme Western NC and East Tennessee Are Beyond The Boundary of the 1763 Proclamation

After the French and Indian War, English settlers poured over the mountains into the region formerly inhabited by the French.  The Indians of the region formed an alliance under the Ottawa chieftain Pontiac in an effort to push back the intrusion.  The proclamation was designed to give London control over westward expansion rather than provincial governments.   The Native Americans really weren’t too keen on the proclamation because one of the provisions was that they had to cede more land for European settlement.  But, they went along as they felt it was probably the best deal that they could get.  The Cherokee worked hard to quickly draw the boundaries so as to preclude further White settlement.  Nevertheless, frontiersman refused to abandon their outposts…remember Daniel Boone was running around what is now Kentucky in the 1760s.

Painting of Franklin in 1785 Looks As if Ben Were Asked About His Feelings Toward Having a State Named For Him

Several of the original coastal colonies stretched westward deep into the continent and colonial governments had a difficult time maintaining control of their western territories.  In the 1670’s, revolt in western parts of Virginia led to Bacon’s Rebellion.  In the case of the North Carolina Colony, the western boundary was the Mississippi River.  The vast majority of inhabitants lived on the coastal plain, east of the Appalachian Mountains and they enjoyed the most services for their taxes and they also controlled the political system.   Much as the folks in western Virginia in the 1670’s, people living in the western portion of North Carolina felt as if they had no representation in any political system and that they were forced to pay taxes in support of the regions along the coast.  In 1772, hundreds, if not thousands, of folks in the mountains of what is now eastern Tennessee formed the Watauga Association.  The effort was mainly for defense against the Indians but it also gave them a unified political voice.   When the American Revolution came about, the Wataugans used their expert aim with their long rifles to defeat the British at King’s Mountain, South Carolina under the leadership of John ” Nolichucky Jack” Sevier.   After the Revolution, the state of North Carolina wasn’t any nicer to the region than the king had been as they taxed the Wataugans “grievously….without enjoying the blessings of it.”

Sevier-A "Statesman"?

Sevier-A "Statesman"?

In 1784, it was apparent that it was politically impossible to effectively control the vast region of  North Carolina  and the state legislature offered to cede the Tennessee lands to the federal government.  In response, the Wataugans held  a convention and on this date in 1784 representatives of the people who lived in what is now eastern Tennessee voted to found the 14th state of Franklin.  Even though the new “state” was named for him, Ben Franklin declined an invitation to visit but Thomas Jefferson approved of the move. They even elected John Sevier as Governor. But, they got a little ahead of themselves as only 7 of the 13 states agreed with Jefferson and the Constitution said that they needed 9 to gain statehood. Meanwhile, back in the North Carolina capitol of Raleigh, the state rescinded their offer of secession of its western lands to the federal government  and arrested Sevier as a traitor!   Undeterred, the state of Franklin continued to operate on its own until 1789.   This was an illustration of the difficulty of the time as Raleigh making laws and decrees was one thing but being able to enforce the law in the west was another story.  Eventually, in  North Carolina gave in, pardoned Sevier and forgave the settlers back taxes and once again ceded the western lands to the Tennessee territory of which Franklin became part.  When the territory was admitted to the Union in 1796, Sevier was elected its first Governor.

James Alex Baggett Wrote About the Union Cavalry From Tennessee

 In truth, East Tennessee is a legal distinction as is Middle Tennessee and Western Tennessee.  According to the Tennessee Constitution, no more than two state supreme court justices can come from any of the regions, thus insuring that each part of the state is represented on the state’s highest court.  But, the regions also were, and to some degree still are, differentiated by their socioeconomic level.  In the 1860’s, the eastern part of the state was the poorest of the three regions and had, by far, the fewest number of slaves.  Yeoman farmers had little in common with wealthy slave owners.  At the 1861 state secession convention, 29 counties in East Tennessee and 1 in Middle Tennessee spoke out against secession and threatened to once again form an independent state aligned with the Union.   While they did not rejuvenate the state of Franklin, the folks in East Tennessee maintained their independence.  During the Civil War, most of the mountain folks of East Tennessee remained loyal to the Union and proved to be a real thorn in the side of the Confederacy, much as they had to the King and to North Carolina. 

Kevin T Barksdale Wrote About the Lost State of Franklin

If the US was ever invaded, I have thought there were parts of the country that would never be conquered and East Tennessee is near the top of my list.  Today, one can find State of Franklin Blvd east Elizabethton, TN; I’ve driven by it before it may even be in North Carolina but I can’t find it on a map.  Just north of that Elizabethton is the town of Watauga.  Not far to the east in North Carolina is Watauga County.  Curiously, the town of Franklin, TN is nowhere near the region as it can be found south of Nashville.

Weather Bottom  Line:  As it turns out, the storms on Saturday morning robbed the atmosphere of so much energy when the front came through on Saturday night, it had nothing to work with.  I should not have been so wishy washy.  Declaring “If” and “Maybe” is not really making a forecast.  My bad.  We will be dominated by high pressure with relatively dry air in the region so for the week ahead, highs in the upper 80’s will feel quite refreshing.  I really do think we’ve turned the corner on excessive heat for this year.

3 Responses

  1. I guess the Sevierville, TN is named after John Sevier; Sevierville is not too far from Smoky Mountains Nat’l. Park. I always thought that it was a little bit different kind of name but didn’t know enough of the history of Tennessee to understand where it came from. It is pronounced like “severe-ville” by the locals.

    Man, what a rain on Saturday morning. We were hosting a church association function that day and lost several pop up tents due to the weight of the rainwater that accumulated quickly on top of them. Thankfully no wind though. They were talking about wind with the possible severe storms that might have developed ahead of the cold front. Thankfully, they didn’t materialize!

    I hope that you’re right about this being the end of the extreme hot weather. I’m not complaining really but I am ready for some cool Fall weather, I can tell you that!

  2. I learn so much here! I’d never heard of the State of Franklin. Or, I wasn’t listening when one or another teacher told me about it.

    I’m passing this one on to a couple of Carolinians I suspect will enjoy it even more than I did.

  3. Nah…they don’t have time to teach this sort of thing in high school history. I did drive by the a road called State of Franklin though I thought it was near Elizabethton though someone else claims its in Johnson City, TN. Most of the people I’ve talked to in Western Carolina…Watauga County….have never heard of it.

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