Following the American colonies’ hard-fought war for independence from Great Britain, it seems foreordained that the fledgling nation would spread ever outward. That a “west coast” was only a matter of time, and the new nation would spread ever westward, stopping only at the golden waters of the Pacific.
Except, that wasn’t the way it happened. In fact, aside from the original thirteen colonies, the western frontier comprising those communities west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi, were pretty much on their own. Such districts were free to create new jurisdictions within already-existing states, or form new states to be part of the union. They could even create their own sovereign republics such as the one-time Republic of Texas. or the original “Lone Star Republic” – the Republic of West Florida.
In October 1781, British General Charles Cornwallis formally surrendered 8,000 soldiers and seamen to a combined force of Americans and their French allies, at Yorktown. Representatives of King George III and the United States of America signed the Treaty of Paris in September 1783, formally ending the American Revolution.
Six months earlier, the state of North Carolina ceded land claims between the Allegheny Mountains and Mississippi River to the United States Congress, as a means of paying off some of the government’s war debt.
For ten years or more, settlers in the area known as the Cumberland River Valley operated their own independent government, along the western frontiers of North Carolina. With its new-found independence, settlers to the Western Counties found themselves alone in dealing with the area Cherokee, who were at that time anything but peaceful.
On this day in 1784, Washington, Sullivan, Spencer (modern-day Hawkins) and Greene counties in what is now east Tennessee formally seceded and declared their independence, becoming the only territory in American history, to be both ceded and seceded.
The concept of a new western state came from Arthur Campbell of Washington County in Virginia, and John Sevier, regarded today as the founding father of Tennessee. Campbell’s proposed state would have included southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama
The Western counties petitioned the United States Congress for statehood the following May as the 14th state in the Union, the independent state of “Frankland”. Seven states voted in the affirmative, short of the two-thirds majority required by the Articles of Confederation, for full statehood.
Virginia Governor and Kentucky land speculator Patrick Henry, he of the famous “Give me liberty, or give me death!” speech of 1775, opposed the loss of territory, and passed a law forbidding the creation of a new state from Virginia territory. After this, Sevier and his followers renamed their proposed state Franklin, in hopes of gaining the support of the venerable founding father, Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin himself was lukewarm toward the proposal, writing to Governor Sevier in 1787:
.. I am sensible of the honor which your Excellency and your council thereby do me. But being in Europe when your State was formed, I am too little acquainted with the circumstances to be able to offer you anything just now that may be of importance,..
As the would-be 14th state established its capital in Jonesboro, the newly elected North Carolina legislature rescinded the earlier cession, concerned about the possibility of a Spanish client state, at its western frontier.
For four and one-half years, The former colony and now state of North Carolina operated a government within the western territories, parallel to that of \the extra-legal state of Franklin.
Franklin opened courts and annexed five new counties, fixing taxes and authorizing the salaries of government officials. Both federal and foreign currencies were accepted but, without an economic infrastructure of its own, debts were often settled by exchange of corn, tobacco or apple brandy. Governor Sevier himself was often paid, in deerskins. Citizens were granted a two-year reprieve from paying taxes, which only slowed development and created chaos.
As Franklin expanded westward, the state met resistance from the Chickamauga and “Overhill Cherokee” of war chief Dragging Canoe, a man often referred to as the “Savage Napoleon”. With the protection of neither a federal army nor a state militia, Sevier sought a loan from the Spanish government, who then attempted to assert control over the territory.
Governor Sevier was arrested for his troubles in 1789 leaving government in a state of collapse, now under the firm control of the state of north Carolina. One day, the state would once again cede the area to the federal government, the region becoming the 16th state of the union in 1796 and re-electing John Sevier, governor.
Forty years later, the most famous son of the lost state of Franklin would take his last stand, at a place called the Alamo. History remembers this man by the epithet, “King of the Wild Frontier“. The rest of us remember him, as Davy Crockett.
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