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Part of the Lemuel Moore Narrative
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The Lost State of Franklin

From the archives of The Business Journal of Tri-Cities TN/VA

The mystery of the lost State of Franklin

New state split away from North Carolina in 1784, but soon became history


By Hank Hayes

A territorial dispute now regarded by history as a blessing in disguise began in 1782.

The American colonists had fought long and hard to gain their independence from Great Britain, but still had some emotional baggage left from the Revolutionary War. Americans distrusted authority and refused to take orders from fellow citizens who weren't residents of their known immediate region.

The tension between states and their residents was thick - especially in a region of North Carolina now known as Upper East Tennessee. Settlers there hated North Carolina so much they refused to pay taxes.

A move to separate from North Carolina gained ground in August 1784 when delegates from around the region gathered in Jonesborough. By the following December, separation was a done deal and a new state was born. Its name was Franklin - after Benjamin Franklin, one of America's founding fathers.

How the idea came about to name the new state was unknown, but the choice was popular. The delegates penned a letter inviting Benjamin Franklin to move to the new state, and requested permission to name it after him.

"Dr. Franklin had a greater prestige than any other American," writes author Noel B. Gerson in his book, Franklin: America's Lost State. "He was a diplomat and statesman, inventor, noted philosopher, author and publisher."

Franklin responded that he had too many business interests in Philadelphia, and couldn't move because of his advanced age. But he was proud to give his name to the new state.

Franklin's only governor was military hero John Sevier, who had fought 35 skirmishes against the Indians without a loss.

"Vain, obstinate and quick-tempered, [Sevier] was also a man of great courage, foresight and ability," Gerson writes.

Sevier immediately hit it off with settlers. He granted them a two-year grace period before paying taxes. Sevier would later become governor of another state called Tennessee.

The year 1786 was the golden era in Franklin's brief history.

Thousands of settlers arrived, mostly near the Tennessee, Nolichucky and Holston rivers. No one went hungry. The government was functioning and the state was at peace. Settlers were so happy they voted to remain independent of North Carolina.

The situation with the former British colonies, however, appeared to be disintegrating. Franklin's leaders weren't interested in joining the union. They talked about becoming an independent nation and obtaining financial aid from Spain.

But an Indian war complicated matters. By the end of March in 1788, the Cherokee, Chickamauga and Chickasaw had gone on the warpath - killing, burning, looting and scalping.

No remote dwelling or home on the frontier was safe. Settlers were abandoning their homesteads. Taxes weren't collected.

Franklinites set aside their differences with North Carolina and fought side by side with the state's militia. Sevier, as expected, showed no mercy to the Indians.

The last 15 months of Franklin's history are a mystery. Only fragments of records exist. Franklin disappeared forever when it was ceded to a new federal government in the late 1780s and became known as the Southwest Territory.

"The story of Franklin is an exciting one - a self-made state carved out of the wilderness almost overnight by ambitious energetic frontiersmen who refused to be halted or even slowed by obstacles that would have forced the more cautious to wait and proceed slowly," Gerson writes. "Franklin... laid the foundation for the establishment of Tennessee."

The following document is a petition signed by many inhabitants of Greene Co, TN, Washington Co, NC and other counties asking the United States to allow them to form a separate state called Franklin with Greenville as it's capital. The names of people who signed this petition are listed at the bottom in the order they appear on the document.

"The Lost State of Franklin"

Petition of the Inhabitants of the Western Country

The Honourable, The General Assembly of North Carolina now sitting:

The Inhabitants of the Western Country humbly sheweth:

That it is with sincere concern we lament the unhappy disputes that have long subsisted between us and our brethren on the Eastern side of the Mountains, respecting the erecting of a new Government. We beg leave to represent to your Honourable body, that from Acts passed in June 1784, ceding to Congress your Western territory, with reservations and conditions therein contained; also from a clause in your wise and mild Constitution, setting forth that there might be a State or States, erected in the West whenever your Legislature should give consent for same; and from our local situation, there are numberless advantages, bountifully given to us by nature
to propagate and promote a Government with us. Being influenced by your Acts and Constitution and at the same time considering that it is our undeniable right to obtain for ourselves and posterity a proportionable and adequate share of the blessings, rights, privileges, and immunities allotted with the rest of mankind, have thought that the erecting of a new Government
would greatly contribute to our welfare and convenience and that the same could not militate against your interest and future welfare as a Government. Hoping that mutual and reciprocal advantages would attend each party, and that cordiality and unanimity would permanently subsist between us ever after, we earnestly request that an impartial view of our remoteness be taken
into consideration; that great inconveniency attending your seat of Government, and also the great difficulty in ruling well and giving protection to so remote a people, to say nothing of the almost impassable mountains Nature has placed between, which renders it impracticable for us to furnish ourselves with a bare load of the necessaries of life, except we in the first instance travel from one to two hundred and more miles through another State ere we can reach your Government.

Every tax paid you from this country would render us that sum the poorer, as it is impossible from the nature of our situation, that any part could return into circulation, having nothing that could bear the carriage, or encourage purchasers to come so great a distance; for which reasons were we to continue under your Government a few years, the people here must pay a greater sum than the whole of the medium now in circulation for the exigencies and support of your Government which would be a sum impossible for us to secure, would we be willing to give you our all; and or course we must be beholden to other States for any part we could raise; and by these means our property would gradually diminish, and we at last be reduced to mere poverty and want by not being able equally to participate with the benefits and advantages of your Government. We hope that having settled West of the Appalachian mountains ought not to deprive us of the
natural advantages designed by the bountiful Providence for the convenience and comfort of all those who have spirit and sagacity enough to seek after them. When we reflect on our past and indefatigable struggles, both with savages and our other enemies during our late war, and the great difficulty we had to obtain and with-hold this Country from those enemies at the expense of the lives and fortunes of many of our dearest friends and relations; and the happy conclusion of peace having arrived, North Carolina has derived great advantages from our alertness in taking and securing a County, from which she has been able to draw into her Treasury, immense sums of money, and thereby become enabled to pay off, if not wholly, yet a great part, and sink her national debt. We therefore humbly conceive you will liberally think that it will be nothing more than paying a debt in full to us for only to grant what God, Nature, and our locality entitles us to receive. Trusting that your magnanimity will not consider it a crime in any people to pray their rights and privileges, we call the world to testify our conduct and exertion in behalf or American independence; and the same to judge whether we ask more than free people ought to claim, agreeable to Republican principles, the great foundation whereon our American fabric now stands. Impressed with the hope of your great goodness and benevolent disposition
that you will utterly abhor and disclaim all ideas of involving into innumerable, disagreeable and irksome contentions, a people who have so faithfully aided and supported in the time of imminent and perilous dangers; that you will be graciously pleased to consent to a separation; that from you paternal tenderness and greatness of mind, you will let your stipulations and
conditions be consistent with honour, equity and reason, all of which will be cheerfully submitted to; and we, your petitioners, shall always feel an interest in whatsoever may concern your honour and prosperity. Lastly, we hope to be enabled by the concurrence of your State to participate in the fruits of the Revolution; and to enjoy the essential benefits of Civil Society
under a form of Government which ourselves alone can only calculate for such a purpose. It will be a subject of regret that so much blood and treasure have been lavished away for no purpose to us; that so many sufferings have been encountered without compensation, we hope what hath been mentioned will be sufficient for our purpose, adding only that Congress hath, from time to time, explained their ideas so fully and with so much dignity and energy that if their arguments and requisitions will not produce conviction, we know of nothing that will have a greater influence, especially when we recollect that the system referred to is the result of the collected wisdom of
the United States, and , should it not be considered as perfect, must be esteemed at the least objectionable.

Petition of the inhabitants of the Western Country, December 1787

In Senate, December 1787. Read and referred to Court on Public Bills

SOME NAMES on the Lost State of Franklin Petition:

Searling Bowman
David Carr
William Carson
Henery Combs
William Combs
William Combs, Jr.
John Comin
James Cooper
William Cooper
William Copeland
Jacob Cox
Samuel Cox
Adam McCammis
James McCammis
Thomas McCammis
William McCammis
Joseph Moor
Anthony Moore
David Moore
Moses Moore
Wm. Moore

Ellecander More
Abel Morgan
Thomas Owins
William Owins
George Smith
James Smith
Jas. Smith
Jeremiah Smith
Joseph Smith
Robert Smith


In May, 1788, the Franklin government had ceased to exist, and the courts of Davis were held unmolested. At that time John Hammer, William Puraley, Robert Love and William Moore, commissioners appointed by the preceding General Assembly of North Carolina to select a sight for a prison and stocks, reported that they were of the opinion that Jonesboro was the most convenient place. From this it may be inferred that it had been the intention of the General Assembly to remove the seat of justice from Jonesboro, that place having become obnoxious on account of its adherence to Gov. Sevier. The excitement and ill feeling had somewhat subsided at this time, however, and after hearing the above report, the court ordered that John Nolan be paid 25 in part for completing the public buildings at Jonesboro. In November, 1790, the first session of the County court under the Territorial government was held, at which time Charles Robertson, John Campbell, Edmund Williams and John Chisoim were the magistrates present. On May16, 1796, the court was again reorganized to conform to the provisions of the State constitution. The magistrates commissioned by Gov. Sevier were James Stuart, John Tipton, John Wise, John Adams, John Strain, Henry Nelson, Joseph Young, Joseph Crouch, William Nelson, Robert Blair, Jesse Payne, Isaac DePew, Charles McCray, Samuel Wood, Jacob Brown, John Alexander, Joseph Britton, John Norwood and John Gammon.