On This Day

john sevier, john sevier franklin, governor john sevier
John Sevier, governor of Franklin

On This Day: State of Franklin Declares Independence from North Carolina

August 23, 2011 05:00 AM
by Cara McDonough
On Aug. 23, 1784, factions in western North Carolina declared themselves a separate state called Franklin. Never accepted into the United States, Franklin lasted only four years.

A State Is Born

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Following the American Revolution, several statehood movements surfaced in the remote western areas of the United States. The strongest emerged in North Carolina’s heavily populated Washington, Sullivan, and Greene counties, separated from the rest of the state by the Unaka Mountains.

“For some time, the North Carolina legislature had sought eagerly to rid itself of the responsibility for administering these remote settlements,” according to the North Carolina History Project. In 1783, the state decided to put virtually all its land in trans-Appalachian West up for sale through the land act of 1783, which would later be known as the “Land Grab Act.”

Between October 1783 and May 1784, private interests snapped up four million acres, three million of which were claimed by members of the legislature or their business partners. The state ceded the remaining lands to the federal government, but repealed its own decision soon after.
The land grab caused resentment in North Carolina’s western counties, adding momentum to the statehood movement, according to Michael Toomey of the East Tennessee Historical Society. In an act of rebellion, they organized as a new state called Franklin, declaring independence from North Carolina in August 1784.

Franklin’s organizers adopted North Carolina’s constitution, with a few changes, and set up their own legislature. The new legislature “made treaties with the Indians, opened courts, organized new counties, and fixed taxes and officers salaries to be paid in money, corn, tobacco, whiskey, skins … and everything in common use among the people,” wrote John Preston Arthur in his 1914 book “Western North Carolina: A History from 1730 to 1913.”

The Fall of Franklin and the Birth of Tennessee

While founders worked to make Franklin a success, they were undermined the North Carolina legislature. Made up mostly of land speculators, it sought to regain control of the western half of the state: “They pursued a policy of encouraging dissension in the west through conciliatory overtures to the Franklinites, while simultaneously condemning the movement,” writes Toomey.

The new state struggled for four years, but its dissolution came rather quickly. Former statehood advocate John Sevier had emerged as governor of the new state, while John Tipton led an anti-Franklin faction in Washington County, and their rivalry escalated into a violent feud.

After a small skirmish in February 1788, in which Tipton persuaded a North Carolina county sheriff to seize some of Sevier’s property for back taxes, Sevier responded by leading a small army to Tipton’s home in a conflict later known as the “Battle of Franklin.” The State of Franklin completely deteriorated soon after. Sevier continued to pursue independence for Franklin, but was eventually arrested for treason.

In February 1789, Sevier and other Franklin leaders took a forced oath of allegiance to North Carolina. At this point, North Carolina’s leaders felt that the time was right, once again, to cede the western lands to the federal government. In 1796, what was once Franklin became part of the new state of Tennessee.

Historical Context: The American Revolution

The American Revolution transformed not only American history, but world history as well. FindingDulcinea’s Web Guide to U.S. History provides online resources for learning more about the country’s past, including the events and far-reaching impact of the American Revolution.
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