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a short-lived state in what is now northeastern Tennessee

In April 1894, the North Carolina Legislature voted to cede all of its territory west of the Appalachian Mountains to the United States. The federal government was slow to accept responsibility for the territory, however, and a newly elected North Carolina Legislature rescinded its offer of cession later that same year.

With both North Carolina and the United States reluctant to accept responsibility for what was then known as the Washington District, inhabitants of the region were essentially left to fend for themselves, especially when it came to defending themselves against hostile Native Americans. On August 23, 1784, about 50 frontier leaders (representing Washington, Sullivan, and Greene counties) met in Jonesborough and signed a document declaring themselves independent from North Carolina. In December, elected representatives held a convention at a church in Jonesborough. There they wrote a constitution (borrowing heavily from the North Carolina constitution), elected John Sevier as their Governor, and named the state Franklin after America's elder statesman Benjamin Franklin. William Cocke, one of the authors of the new Constitution, was appointed the task of going to Washington and convincing the Continental Congress to admit Franklin as a state.

Franklin on the map

map of the State of Franklin

On May 16, 1785, Cocke made his presentation to Congress. Needing 9 affirmative votes, the state of Franklin got 7 -- those being Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Georgia.

Despite losing in Congress, the government of Franklin persevered, forming a permanent capital (Greeneville) and authorizing the issuance of money (although there is no evidence that any hard currency was ever produced). Originally consisting of three counties, by the end of 1786 Franklin had eight -- Greene, Sullivan, Washington, Sevier, Blount, Spencer, Caswell and Wayne. The additional counties were formed because the population was growing so fast -- in the latter part of 1785 and the first part of 1786, an estimated 10,000 families migrated from North Carolina and Virginia into the state of Franklin. The most extreme example of this growth was White's Fort, a community started in early 1786 which, by the end of its first year of existence, had more than 2,000 people living there. (This community is now known as Knoxville.)

In June 1785, Sevier met with Cherokee leaders at Dumplin Creek in hopes of gaining additional land south of the French Broad River.  Although the Cherokee later claimed they only agreed to permit white families already living in the region to remain, Sevier and the Franklinites interpreted the treaty differently and claimed the entire region between the French Broad and the Little Tennessee rivers open for settlement. When the United States met with the Cherokee at Hopewell in November, it completely ignored the Dumplin Creek negotiations. According to the boundaries established at Hopewell, the town of Greeneville, capital of the State of Franklin, was located well within the boundary of the Cherokee Nation.

The lack of recognition and respect at Hopewell was only one in a series of reversals for the Franklin movement, and by the end of 1787 a sizable portion of the population had rallied under the leadership of John Tipton and were calling for a return to North Carolina sovereignty.  When Tipton persuaded a North Carolina county sheriff to seize some of Sevier's property for back taxes, the Governor of Franklin responded by leading a small army to Tipton's home in February 1788.  Although the clash included only of a brief siege and an inconclusive skirmish, it is now known as the Battle of Franklin.

From that point on, the State of Franklin deteriorated quickly. Sevier attempted, and failed, to gain interest in annexation from the Spanish governor at New Orleans. In July, Sevier was arrested for treason and taken to Morganton for trial. When a heavily-armed group of Sevier's followers arrived a few days later to rescue him, the sheriff in Morganton wisely looked the other way. In February 1789, Sevier and other Franklin leaders took the oath of allegiance to North Carolina. The North Carolina legislature once again ceded its western lands to the federal government, and this time Congress acted promptly. Statehood was eventually realized in 1796, when the North Carolina cession, with the various communities that had once formed the State of Franklin as its nucleus, became the state of Tennessee.


North Carolina History Project
Tennessee History for Kids

See Also

John Sevier
Benjamin Franklin
Sevier County

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The Robinson Library >> Tennessee

This page was last updated on August 28, 2018.