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The residents of Washington County were left without any formal protection or support from any official government—state or federal—as rumors swirled regarding the act of cession. To remedy this problem, delegates from Washington County met at the courthouse in Jonesborough on August 23, 1784 and voted to establish the independent State of Franklin, with John Sevier elected president. In November, North Carolina chose to repeal the April cession act and formed the Washington County militia into a formal brigade with John Sevier serving as brigadier general.

The State of Franklin once again petitioned North Carolina for recognition and protection, with Sevier delivering a full report to the Assembly in early 1785. Legislators replied “by suggesting to North Carolina that the United States was just as entitled as they to the land which had been ‘conquered by our own joint efforts,’” and unanimously supported separation. Sevier then petitioned the Continental Congress for statehood; “when the votes were counted, Franklin missed being the fourteenth state by one vote.”[19] Franklin continued to function independently, however, even making treaties with the Indians to open land on the French Broad River. Conflict over the formal structure of government and adoption of a state constitution, however, hindered the government from running smoothly, and rivalry with North Carolina continued unabated. As one historian notes, “both governments imposed taxes, but most citizens chose to pay neither.”[20]

Colonel John Tipton, elected to the North Carolina Senate in August of 1786, blamed Sevier and the State of Franklin for the troubles eliciting tax revenues from citizens, and in 1788 issued a warrant for seizure of Sevier’s stock and slaves to pay for unpaid North Carolina taxes. The seizure was successful, but on discovering it, Sevier quickly mustered a militia of 150 loyal supporters and set up camp a mile from Tipton’s home. A stand-off ensued for several days before Sevier’s forces retreated to Jonesborough and Tipton returned the property. When Samuel Johnson took over as governor of North Carolina several months later, he issued a warrant for Sevier’s arrest on the charge of high treason. Loyal supporters effected an escape, but in 1789 Sevier took an oath of allegiance to North Carolina and was in August elected to the state senate, made retroactive to 1784; “in other words, it was as if Franklin had never existed, and he had held that post the entire time.”[21]

The State of Franklin was officially dissolved in 1788, and Tennessee organized with the final execution of cession formalized on February 25, 1790. In May of that year, Congress officially established a territorial government called “Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio,” which included all of East and Middle Tennessee. Though Sevier was interested in the position, the first governor was William Blount.

Notes:

[19] History of Washington County, Tennessee, 1988, 20.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid., 21 – 23.

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Jonesborough, Tennessee, is located in present day Washington County, and centrally located in the easternmost tip of the state.

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[STATE OF FRANKLIN]

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