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The Southern States of America
Chapter I - Colonial and Territorial Tennessee


Early Explorations of Tennessee.

BEFORE the trader, the hunter and the explorer invaded the territory now known as Tennessee, the land was held by several remarkable tribes of Indians. The Chickasaws were dominant in West Tennessee and the Cherokees in East Tennessee, while the middle division of the state was a part of the famous hunting grounds of the Iroquois. At one time, probably in the Seventeenth century, the Shawnees took up their abode in the hunting grounds and gave their name to Sewanee, the town, Sewanee the mountain, and to the beautiful river that now bears the name of Cumberland. They were expelled about the year 1714 by the allied Chickasaws, Cherokees and Iroquois. Tennessee was often visited by those wanderers of the forest, the Creeks, whose home, however, was further south. The Chickasaws were inclined to peace, though redoubtable in war. The Cherokees, who were warriors above all, were unrelenting in their hostility to the white men. The Creeks, being soldiers of fortune, gave the early settlers of East Tennessee not a little trouble. Such were the inhabitants of Tennessee when the indomitable white man put in his appearance.

The first white man to set foot within the boundaries of Tennessee was Ferdinand De Soto who crossed the Mississippi near Chisca's village on the Chickasaw Bluffs, where Memphis is now situated, in the spring of 1541. Nothing came of this incident except to give Spain a phantom claim to the country, which was afterwards ratified by the Pope. In 1584 Queen Elizabeth with a royal flourish handed over to Sir "Walter Raleigh a patent granting him all the land in America between the 33d and 40th parallels of north latitude. The name of Virginia was given to this empire and Tennessee was a part of it. The Spanish claim was allowed virtually to lapse, when the French took up the work of exploration in earnest in 1673. Marquette and Joliet were the first to explore the Mississippi valley and they made a note of the Chickasaw Bluffs. In 1682 La Salle voyaged down the Mississippi and claimed the country in the name of France, calling it Louisiana. He stopped and built a cabin and fort which he called Prud-homme, made a treaty with the Indians and established a trading post. It was here that the first house was built by the white men in Tennessee. Subsequently the French trader Charleville built a store at Salt Lick, where the city of Nashville now stands.

Early Settlements.

Tennessee was thus included in English Virginia and French Louisiana at the same time, with the shadowy Spanish claim hanging over. But while the French were making the approach from the west and expected to hold the land through a powerful chain of forts located at favorable points on the river, the English from the east were casting longing eyes upon a territory reputed to be of unrivalled charm and fertility and to be a paradise for the hunter. On the eastern side of the Alleghanies there were hordes of adventurous spirits who were eager to penetrate the land beyond the mountains where the western waters flow. The first of these daring invaders was Andrew Lewis, who was dispatched by the Earl of Loudon, governor of Virginia province, in 1756 to build a fort on the Little Tennessee River. He established Fort Loudon accordingly on the south side of the stream, about thirty miles from the present city of Knoxville—the first structure built by the English on the soil of Tennessee. The venture was unfortunate, however, for the promise of becoming a permanent settlement was never realized. A clash with the Cherokees resulted in the massacre of the garrison and the destruction of the fort.

The apprehension was general among the Indians that the English settlers entertained the purpose of seizing their lands and driving them out, and this fear was encouraged by the French, whose object seemed to be trade rather than colonization. In order to allay the Indian unrest, King George issued a proclamation forbidding the acquisition of lands from the Indians or the establishment of settlements west of the sources of the streams which flow into the Atlantic. But the restless frontiersmen could not be restrained. They began to straggle across the mountains, to clear the wilderness, and build their cabins. This steady invasion aroused the resentment of the Indians, and in order to conciliate them, a conference was held and the boundary line between the lands of the contestants was fixed by treaty. The dauntless backwoodsman, however, cared little for imaginary lines, and it is noticeable that the boundary was continually moving west.

When Virginia was divided in 1663, Tennessee became a part of Carolina, and when Carolina was divided in 1693, Tennessee became a part of North Carolina, though the boundary lines were so indererminate that some of the early settlers were uncertain as to the colony in which they were located. When the tide of English settlement became strong, Tennessee was a part of the colony of North Carolina.

To the English colonists on the Atlantic coast Tennessee had all the charm of mystery. The traders had been the first to penetrate it but they had done little in the way of exploration. The hunters who were attracted by the stories of abundant game to be found there, were the real forerunners of the permanent settlement. In 1748 a considerable band of hunters under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Walker, of Virginia, penetrated the heart of Middle Tennessee. He gave to a range of mountains the name of the Duke of Cumberland, and the mountain stream to which the Shawnees had given their own name, he called the Cumberland River. In 1760 Daniel Boone and a large party of hunters made their way into Tennessee, and an inscription on a venerable tree crediting him with having killed a bear there testifies to his visit. The hunters naturally carried back with them to Virginia and North Carolina wonderful stories of the beauty and richness of the land; and so the way was paved for the coming of the hardy pioneer whose purpose was to make for himself and his family a home in the wilderness.

The trader, the hunter, and the explorer having performed their task, the settler now took up the work. Tennessee had been in turn a part of three English colonies, yet it was a terra incognita to all of them. The settlement of the state was hardly due to any organized effort. The pioneer settlers were of Scotch-Irish descent, and they came in small parties as the impulse moved them. Their first settlement was made north of the Holston River in the northeastern part of the state. The Shelbys were the leaders in this settlement. The most famous colony, however, was that of the Wautauga Association on the Wautauga River, which ran to the south of the Holston.

The most striking figure at "Wautauga was James Robertson, who has been accorded the honor of being the Father of Tennessee. Robertson was born in Virginia, but his family moved to North Carolina while he was a youth. In 1770 he journeyed to the beautiful valley of the Wautauga, where he was entertained by a pioneer settler. He remained long enough to raise a crop of corn there and decided to return home and bring back his family. While crossing the mountains he lost his way and would no doubt have perished had not two hunters found and relieved him. He brought with him a considerable party from North Carolina, and thus the settlement became an assured fact.

Robertson was not a man of much education or wealth but he was a splendid type of the pioneer, hardy, brave and resourceful. Though virtually the founder of the Wautauga settlement his name is more closely identified with Middle Tennessee, and a county in that division of the state was named after him.

Wautauga had a unique and eventful history. The settlement throve apace, and in 1772, the families there were so numerous that a political organization was effected, the first within the confines of the present state. The settlement was considered by its inhabitants to be in the limits of Virginia, but a government survey showed that the Virginia line was the Holston River, and as land below that stream was forbidden territory, the agent for the Crown among the Cherokees ordered the Wautauga settlers to move off. They were living on Indian land outside the protection of any organized colony. Singular as it may seem, the Cherokees expressed the wish that they might be allowed to remain, provided they remained where they were, and made no further encroachments on the territory of the Indians.

Washington District; Revolutionary War.

This relieved the situation. Wautauga was thus an independent colony, owing allegiance to no government—a tiny, unorganized republic lost in the western wilderness. From this anomalous condition of affairs came the first written constitution in America ; for the settlers being sensible men and realizing that they were beyond the jurisdiction of the white man's government and living on land at the sufferance of the Indians, organized a government of their own and dispatched James Robertson and John Bean to negotiate a lease of the land from the Indians. This little independent commonwealth existed until the breaking out of the Revolution in 1775, when it became voluntarily a part of the Washington District.

How this district originated is a matter of some interest. When the colony of North Carolina declared her independence of Great Britain, the settlements on the Wautauga and Nollichucky rivers united and constituted themselves the Washington District—the first division of the kind to be named after George Washington. At their own request they were included in North Carolina, in order that they might share in the expense of maintaining the Revolution and participating in the conflict of arms. Formal recognition of the admission of the district was made in 1776, and the county of Washington was established therefrom in 1777. It has been noted as a singular fact that no British invader ever set foot upon the soil of Tennessee. The British fought the early settlers through the Indians. During the transition period between the application for admission and the establishment of Washington county, the Indians were incited by their British allies to wage war against the settlements in this county. The information of the approaching invasion was given by an Indian woman, Nancy Ward, the Pocahontas of the West. The pioneers took steps to repel the invasion by building forts at various points. The Indians in two parties of about 350 each marched against the forts at Heaton's Station and Wautauga. The garrison at the former place, 170 men in all, did not wait for the Indians under Dragging Canoe to come up, but marched out to meet them. The encounter ensued at a place called Island Flats, where the Indians were dispersed with a loss of forty killed, while the pioneers did not lose a man.

Fort Wautauga was garrisoned by forty men under the command of Captain James Robertson and John Sevier. The Indians, commanded by Old Abraham of Chilhowee, attacked the fort about sunrise, but were repulsed with considerable loss and forced to retreat. It was during this attack that Kate Sherrill—Bonny Kate—a handsome mountain girl, was pursued by the Indians up to the stockade where she was rescued by her future husband, the gallant John Sevier. These and other successes against the Indians resulted in a treaty of peace.

The county of Washington was now commensurate with the present state of Tennessee, and inducements were offered to settlers to take up their abode within its confines. James Robertson organized a body of pioneers and crossed the lonely hills of Tennessee, arriving at French Salt Lick, the site of the present city of Nashville, where he laid the foundations of a permanent settlement.

While the indomitable settlers were thus acting as the Rear Guard of the Revolution, they were also pushing the work of civilization into the West. The task of developing the Cumberland colony went actively on. Robertson brought his family from Wautauga and that settlement acted as a sort of feeder for the Middle Tennessee colony. In order to make the journey between the two less toilsome, a fleet of boats was constructed under Captain John Donelson, who took a considerable party from Fort Patrick Henry on the Holston River to the French Salt Lick on the Cumberland. The expedition was consummated on April 24, 1779, and it brought a valuable addition of forces to the Cumberland settlement. Subsequently Donelson's fleet of thirty or more vessels was used by the colony in hostilities against the Indians and for other public services.

In 1780 the Cumberland settlers took steps to form a government by adopting a compact, which has been pronounced a model of its kind. These settlers were mostly of good Virginia stock, and they believed in law and order. In penetrating into the wilderness they were animated by an intense love of liberty and a desire to elude British oppression. They were for the most part men of some education. It has been said that in 1776 out of 200 of those who crossed the Alleghanies, only two were unable to write their names.

At first everything went well with the Cumberland settlers. They built cabins and cultivated the land, and entertained the hope that they had at last arrived at a place where the strong arm of British oppression could not reach them. But while they had escaped one danger, they soon found themselves in the meshes of another. They were surrounded by hostile Indians who ambushed them when they strayed away from their homes, and shot a good many of them while they were cultivating their crops. Agriculture became almost impossible under these conditions. In ordinary engagements with the Indians the pioneers were consistently successful, but the savages were numerous and they were experts at Parthian warfare. Repulsed to-day, they were apt to return to-morrow. This constant warfare with the Indians began to tell on the nerves of the settlers. They were confronted with starvation and their ammunition had nearly given out. Some abandoned their new homes and returned to the old. In this emergency Robertson made a dangerous trip to the East and returned with a supply of ammunition just in time to prevent the despairing settlers from abandoning their homes for good. Though Robertson had made peace with the Chickasaws, the colony was continually beset by the Cherokees, the Creeks and other tribes. The hardy pioneer proved himself a valiant Indian fighter, but many of the leading men in the colony were killed, crops were destroyed, cattle and horses were captured and cabins were burned by the savages. General despair set in, and in 1782 a council was held to decide whether the colony should be abandoned. This would probably have been done, but for the resolution of Robertson. It was on this occasion that he proved his dauntless spirit more conclusively than in all his battles with the Indians and his hazardous expeditions across the mountains. His address to the council turned the tide. His rude eloquence put new spirit into the drooping hearts of the pioneers. The end of the Revolutionary War was in sight, he told them, the Indians would no longer be fortified by English support, and it would not be a great while before there would be large accessions to the colony from the ranks of the patriot armies. "Fight it out here," was Robertson's thrilling command, and the colonists responded to the call of the man who never went back. He had, indeed, foreseen the future. Peace between Great Britain and the American colonies in 1782 brought some relief from the Indian attacks; and there was an influx of settlers who gave new strength to the colony. The savages, indeed, kept up a guerrilla warfare, but the men of the Cumberland were better prepared for them. Conditions marked a steady improvement. Life and property became measurably secure. The farmer could pursue his calling with but little fear of interruption. James Robertson's great work of forging a new state out of the wilderness—once the hunting grounds of the wild men of the forest—had been practically assured.

In the meantime there was another great government builder in the eastern part of the state, and as the early history of Middle Tennessee is virtually the history of James Robertson, so the colonial history of East Tennessee centres in the career of one of the most romantic figures that graced the annals of the state.

John Sevier was born of gentle parents in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Living on the frontier, he naturally had few educational advantages, but in this respect he did not differ materially from other young gentlemen of the time. He became in after life a master of apt and forceful English, but he was always a man of deeds rather than of words. He completed his education when he was not quite seventeen, married immediately and went into business. When he was only eighteen he conducted a successful fight against the Indians who had endeavored to loot his store. This was the beginning of the career of the greatest Indian fighter in America. In all he fought thirty-five Indian fights and never lost one of them. His undeviating success was due to the fact that he never waited for the savages to come after him; he went after them, and he struck as the hurricane strikes.

Such was the man who, in the Valley of the Wautauga, was destined to play so distinguished a part. Sevier was a man of some wealth at the time when he journeyed across the mountains and met Robertson, and decided to cast in his fortunes with those of the Wautauga colony. When Robertson migrated to the Cumberland, Sevier remained at Wautauga. By reason of this he took a considerable part in the Revolution. In 1780 misfortune had crowned the cause of the Revolutionists. Lincoln had surrendered to Sir Henry Clinton; Georgia was virtually in the hands of the British; Gates had been defeated by Cornwallis, and the relentless Tarleton had driven Sumpter before him in bitter defeat. Cornwallis had now determined to enter North Carolina and make his victory complete. Word was brought of his intentions to the men across the mountains and they resolved to checkmate his plans. He had sent the brave but illfated Major Ferguson to guard his army from attack on the west, and the mountaineers directed their attention towards the destruction of this body of men. Tennessee shares in the glory of King's Mountain, because of the 910 men who fought that fight, she contributed more than any other colony, and some of her ablest leaders like Sevier and Shelby participated in it with marked distinction. But for the mountain men of Tennessee it is doubtful whether the battle would have been won, and had it not been won, it is probable that the Revolution would have been lost. King's Mountain is considered by military experts the decisive battle of the Revolution, and it was largely to the splendid bravery of the early Tennesseeans of the Wautauga Association that the victory was due. This colony of valiant men from Virginia stock, but from soil included in North Carolina, did its full duty during the Revolution, not only keeping the British enemy out, but crossing the mountains and striking him in the rear to such purpose that his apparently decisive victories turned to naught. In the meantime the dauntless settlers both at Wautauga and on the Cumberland had to repel continuous assaults of the Indians who had been incited to this congenial work by the British foe.

Great was the rejoicing throughout the territory, now known as the state of Tennessee, when peace was finally declared, but the troubles of the settlers were by no means over. They were still subject to unexpected attacks from the Indians, but the white population was steadily increased by the coming of the Continental soldiers who were allowed a bounty of so much land in the territory. A concerted attack by the Indians about the time peace was declared aroused John Sevier; and, after he had repulsed it, he organized a force of men and carried the war into the enemy's country in so characteristic a manner that the Indian peril was now practically removed from East Tennessee. Moreover, the accessions to the population were rapidly making the whites strong enough to deter the Indians from any but sporadic and ill-considered attacks.

The State of Franklin.

After the Revolution many claims for military services and supplies were presented by the men west of the Alleghanies against the government of North Carolina. Irritation and friction were thus created between the main colony and her western territory. The alliance between the two had always been more or less unnatural, for the early settlers of Tennessee were Virginians who had built their homes by the western waters under the impression that they were on the soil of their native state. They had never received any protection from North Carolina and had been compelled to form their own government and protect themselves. They had even gone to the rescue of North Carolina in the pure spirit of patriotism and from an innate love of liberty.

North Carolina, however, was in financial straits, and in order to get rid of her obligations to her western citizens, she ceded Tennessee to the United States, provided the national government accepted it in two years. At a subsequent session of her legislature, sovereignty was asserted over the territory west of the Alleghanies until the cession thereof should be accepted. The land office, however, was closed and all entries of land made after May 25, 1784, were declared null and void.

Tennessee was now completely out in the cold. The territory had been ceded to the United States which had not accepted it. North Carolina still asserted sovereignty, but withdrew all protection, including even that to land titles. Naturally those independent and courageous mountaineers were indignant, and once again they held a convention and created for themselves a new government. At that time the territory, now known as the state of Tennessee, was composed of four counties— "Washington, Sullivan, Greene and Davidson. The latter held aloof, but the other three elected delegates to a convention and adopted a constitution. The Rev. Samuel Houston was a member of the convention, and he submitted a draft of a constitution which made any person ineligible to office who could be proved guilty of immorality, profane swearing, drunkenness, Sabbath-breaking, and gaming, or who did not subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity and the divine inspiration of the Scriptures. The reverend legislator's constitution did not fare well at the hands of those hard-headed, sensible men, who had seen enough of the union of church and state.

Instead a constitution similar to that of North Carolina was adopted, the new state was named after Benjamin Franklin, and John Sevier was chosen governor.

While these events were taking place North Carolina repealed the act of cession, formed the Washington District into a brigade and appointed Sevier brigadier general. He thought that it might be advisable to compromise, but finding that his people were opposed to anything of the kind he did not hesitate to go with them and accept the governorship.

It is uncertain whether the founders of the state of Franklin intended that it should become a part of the union, as one of the provisions of their constitution was that "the inhabitants within these limits agree with each other to form themselves into a free, sovereign, and independent body politic or state, by the name of the Commonwealth of Franklin.'' Subsequently, however, they did apply for recognition state, but Congress gave no sign. North Carolina, too, treated the new state as a myth. She went on legislating and executing laws within the boundaries of Franklin, and she made new counties out of parts of Davidson and Sullivan. The anomolous condition of the new state was not calculated to give it either strength or stability. It had no standing. It was beyond the pale. Though its territory contained inconceivable and at that time unknown riches, it had no means of exploiting its resources, for it was to all intents and purposes an outlaw among the states.

Efforts at compromise were made, first on the part of Franklin and then on the part of North Carolina. Commissioners from the new state were accorded a hearing by the general assembly of the old state, but nothing was done. In the meantime the relations between the two commonwealths were becoming strained. Resolute warrior though he was when war was the order of the day, John Sevier was instinctively a man of peace, and he strove continually to prevent any resort to arms between the two states. He was a soldier because the exigencies of the time made war a necessity; but he was primarily a constructive statesman and born leader of men. Had anybody but Sevier been governor of Franklin, the chances are that there would have been a useless but bloody conflict between the two states.
Evidently North Carolina began to feel somewhat apprehensive, for the second overtures came from her. Governor Caswell requested Col. Evan Shelby to confer with Governor Sevier, and see if some basis of adjustment could be agreed on. The conference resulted happily in an agreement between the two governments to avoid conflict or friction until the next meeting of the general assembly of North Carolina. The public business was to be carried on by the authorities of the two states acting in conjunction.

But the state of Franklin was giving signs of premature decay. Sevier had mistrusted the venture from the first; but he served faithfully throughout his term of office, which expired in March, 1788. No election was held to choose his successor, and thus the state of Franklin, after three years of fitful life, passed out of existence. After Sevier's somewhat curious arrest at the instigation of Col. John Tipton and his prompt release and return to his home, he was elected to represent Greene county in the senate of North Carolina, his disabilities were removed and he was admitted as a member of that body. No ill-feeling seems to have been entertained towards him, and this is not astonishing, as he was a man of charming personality and his career as the greatest of all the Indian fighters must naturally have made
an appeal to the people of North Carolina. He was, indeed, soon reinstated as brigadier general of the Washington District and had the honor to be the first member of Congress elected from the territory west of the Alleghany mountains.

The Territory of Tennessee.

"While the annals of East Tennessee were thus enlivened, those of Middle Tennessee were by no means dull. The commission of atrocities by the Indians had not ceased; and the Cumberland colony suffered not a little from the Spanish intrigues. It was necessary to organize several punitive expeditions against the savages, because of the indifference of the national government which, in 1790, had at last accepted the cession of Tennessee from North Carolina. There was no objection on the part of the Tennesseeans to the cession this time, as the United States had adopted a territorial policy that was now understood and that was generally acceptable.

Tennessee now became a part of the territory of the United States south of the River Ohio, and William Blount was appointed governor thereof. The present territory of the state was divided into two judicial districts, one embracing the four eastern counties and called the Washington District; the other embracing the three western counties of Davidson, Sumner and Tennessee, and called the Mero District, after the Spanish governor of Louisiana and West Florida, who happened at the time of naming the district to enjoy the favor of the Cumberland colony. President Washington appointed John Sevier brigadier general for the Washington District and James Robertson brigadier general of the Mero District. Governor Blount proved himself an able executive, and he seems to have done all he could to speed the aspirations of the territory towards realizing statehood. A territorial legislature was established, and the people enjoyed a measure of popular government. But the territorial form of government was only transiently acceptable to the people of Tennessee. It allowed them little or no initiative, and so after six years of it, the southwest territory, as it was called, took steps to become a state. This was done with the approval of Governor Blount, who had a census taken, in accordance with an act of the legislature, showing the population of the territory to be 66,000 free inhabitants and 10,000 slaves. Thereupon the governor called a constitutional convention, of which he was made president. The constitution was modelled after that of North Carolina, and as there was a contract between that state and the United States that the territory should become a state when it had a population of 60,000, the people of Tennessee claimed admission to the Union not as a concession but as a matter of right. A government was therefore organized before Tennessee had been formally admitted to statehood, John Sevier was chosen governor of the new Commonwealth and Blount was made a United States Senator.

A State in the Union.

The Federalists in Congress opposed the admission of the new state on party grounds, and New England was almost solidly hostile. The reasons for this hostility need not be dwelt upon. The House of Representatives adopted the bill admitting the state by a good majority, but the Senate passed a different bill that placed obstacles in the way of attaining statehood. When, however, conference committees were appointed, the Senate receded from its position, and Tennessee became a state. It was from this act of volunteering into the Union that Tennessee derived the name of the Volunteer State.
At the time of admission in 1796 East and Middle Tennessee were in process of rapid settlement, and Knoxville and Nashville were growing towns. West Tennessee, though included in the boundaries of the state, was the property of the Chickasaw Indians. It was about a quarter of a century before this division of Tennessee was purchased from the Red men.

Very little is known about the schools of that time, but the settlers seemed to have numbered few illiterates among them. Of the 366 signers of the petition to annex Washington District to North Carolina and of the Cumberland Articles of Agreement only three had to make their marks. That there were some schools in the state is not only a matter of inference, but a matter of common knowledge. The Rev. Samuel Doak founded a school in Washington county in 1780, which was probably the first institution of learning established in the Mississippi Valley. The Rev. Thomas Craighead established a school near Nashville in 1785; and in 1794 the Rev. Samuel Car-rick was made president of Blount College, just established by the territorial legislature—the first college, by the way, in the country to permit the coeducation of the sexes, and the first graduate of which was Barbara Blount, a daughter of Governor Blount. In process of time this institution became the University of Tennessee.

Such was the state that those two indomitable souls, John Sevier and James Robertson, gave to the Union.

Bibliography.—Allison, John: Dropped Stitches in Tennessee History (Nashville, 1897); Clayton, W. W.: History of Davidson County (Philadelphia, 1880); Draper, Layman C: King's Mountain and Its Heroes (Cincinnati, 1881); Ellet, Mrs.: Pioneer Women of the West (New York, 1852); Gilmore, James R.: Rear Guard of the Revolution (New York, 1886), John Sevier as a Commonwealth Builder (New York, 1887); Haywood, John: Civil and Political History of Tennessee (Knoxville, 1823); Putnam, A. W.: History of Middle Tennessee (Nashville, 1859); Ramsay, J. G. M.: Annals of Tennessee (Philadelphia, 1860); Roosevelt, Theodore: The Winning of The West (New York, 1895); Sanford, E. T.: Blount College and the University of Tennessee; Wright, Marcus J.: Life of William Blount (Washington); Nashville, History of, published by H. W. Crew (Nashville, 1890).

Walker Kennedy,
Editor Memphis Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn.


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