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John Sevier

leader in the State of Franklin Movement and Governor of Tennessee

John Sevier

John Sevier was born near present-day New Market, Virginia, on September 23, 1745, the first of seven children born to Valentine and Joanna (Goad or Goade) Sevier. His father worked variously as a tavernkeeper, fur trader, and land speculator, and John initially pursued a similar career path. He received his primary education at an academy in Staunton. At a young age, he opened his own tavern, and helped plat the town of New Market.

In 1761, Sevier married Sarah Hopkins, with whom he had ten children -- Joseph, James, John Jr., Elizabeth, Sarah, MaryAnn, Valentine III, Rebecca, Richard, and Mary.

Soon after 1770, Sevier became interested in the Holston and Watauga settlements in western North Carolina. He moved his family to the area in December of 1773, settling first in the Holston settlements and, after two or more moves, on the Nolachucky River about ten miles from present-day Jonesboro, Tennessee, where he established "Plum Grove" plantation. In 1773 he served as a Captain of Militia under Colonel George Washington in Lord Dunmore's War against the Indians.

In 1775, Sevier became the clerk of the Watauga Association, and rose quickly to leadership not only in governmental affairs but also in military defense. That same year, the Watauga Association changed its name to the Washington District and replaced its court of five with a Committee of Safety of thirteen members, of which Sevier was one of the most prominent. Between 1777 and 1780 he served as both County Clerk and District Judge.

In 1776, Sevier signed a petition requesting that North Carolina extend its authority to the Watauga and Holston settlements, which were on land originally granted to the Indians via treaties with the British. The petition was granted, and he subsequently became a representative to the Provincial Congress and then a Lieutenant Colonel of Militia. In July of 1776, Sevier and James Robertson were in charge of the defense of Fort Watauga during a siege by Cherokee Indians.

Sarah Sevier died in early 1780, soon after the birth of the couple's 10th child. On August 14 of that year he married Catherine Sherill, with whom he had eight more children -- Catherine Sherrill, Ruthe, George Washington, Samuel, Polly Preston, Eliza Conway, Joanna Goode, and Robert Sevier.

On September 25, 1780, John Sevier, two of his sons, his younger brothers Robert and Valentine, and more than 300 of his neighbors gathered at Sycamore Shoals in what is now Tennessee. These "Overmountain Men" mustered there with patriots and soldiers from Virginia and North Carolina, about a thousand in all, where they intended to answer a message sent by British Major Patrick Ferguson, "that if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, and take protection under his standard, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword." On October 7th, they met Ferguson and his loyalist forces at King's Mountain, South Carolina, where the patriots won an overwhelming victory. After the victory, he returned to Holston and became active in fighting against the Cherokee, who were allied with the British. In 1781, he and the Overmountain Men went east to support Major General Nathanael Greene and Francis Marion. Upon his return, Sevier became involved in starting a colony at Muscle Shoals.

In 1784, North Carolina citizens living on the western side of the Smoky Mountains and south of the Ohio River gathered to organize this territory as the State of Franklin and petitioned Congress for admittance to the United States of America. John Sevier was elected Governor of "the proclaimed" State of Franklin in March 1785. Although neither North Carolina nor the Congress of the Confederation recognized the legitmacy of the State of Franklin, the "state" initially functioned well, and Sevier proceeded to negotiate land cessions from the Cherokee.  The resulting treaties had no real validity, but Sevier encouraged settlement in the disputed areas, a decision that caused confusion and bloodshed for many years. Internal dissension among the Franklinites increased over the years, however, and by the time the State of Franklin was declared illegal in 1788 the movement had completely disintegrated. As the Franklin government faded away, hostilities with the Cherokee increased, and the summer of 1788 was one of constant attacks and vicious counterattacks by both sides.  A leading figure in this conflict, Sevier was condemned by some for failing to prevent the escalation of brutality.

In 1789, Sevier was elected to represent North Carolina in the first Congress of the United States, and served from March 4, 1789 to March 3, 1791. After leaving the House of Representatives, he was appointed Brigadier General of militia for the Washington District of the Territory South of the Ohio. He subsequently studied law, and was admitted to the bar of Southwest Territory on May 6, 1796.

In 1796, Tennessee became the 16th State of the Union, and Sevier was elected as its first Governor that same year. As Governor, Sevier dealt with a variety of issues ranging from internal improvements to military appointments. He was re-elected twice, but was constitutionally prevented from seeking a fourth consecutive term and he ultimately served until 1801. In 1803, after his successor, Archibald Roane, denied him an appointment as Major General of the state militia, Sevier determined to run again for governor. Still a favorite with voters, he easily won the election and served three more consecutive terms. His second administration ended in 1809.

Following his second administration as Governor, Sevier served in the Kentucky State Senate and then, from 1811-1815, as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He was in Alabama as part of a congressional delegation to establish a boundary with the Creek Nation when he suddenly became ill and died on September 24, 1815. Originally buried near Decatur, Alabama, in 1889 his remains were disinterred and brought to Knoxville, Tennessee, where in an elaborate ceremony he was reburied on the courthouse lawn.

See Also

George Washington
Nathanael Greene
State of Franklin

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The Robinson Library >> United States >> Revolution to Civil War >> Biography, A-Z

This page was last updated on September 23, 2018.