A Little History of TN TNFlag TNFlag

A Little History of Tennessee

For those of you researching in Tennessee that would like a little background of the state, I thought the following would be interesting.

England and France had begun successful colonization of America almost simultaneosly. Jamestown in 1607 and Quebec in 1608.and in the course of their expansion they had by the middle of the 18th century engaged 3 times as each of them move toward claims in the upper reaches of the Ohio river. The British colonists were along the Applachian frontier.

The latest conflict was indeed a French and Indian war. Indians tended to side with the fur trading French against the land hungry colonial farmers. But the British had support of the Iroquois in New York and the English had sought support of the Cherokee in the So. Appalachians.

In 1730, Sir Alexander Cumming had bought brought Attacullaculla and several other chiefs to England to impress them with the "great white father" and sign a treaty. At Attacullaculla's request, both VA and SC built forts on the Little Tennesse River for the protection of Cherokee women, children and elderly. In 1757 South Carolinians finished theirs... Fort Loudon never the less, British effort to elicit Cherokee support failed after their mistreatment and in 1760 with French encouragement the Cherokee captured the fort. British Capt John Stuart survived and was to become the Indian superintendant for the South. Two expeditions were sent and the 2nd recovered the fort. Meanwhile victories at Montreal and Quebec secured victory for the British crown.

It has been said that the history of the U.S began with the fall of Quebec. With equal truth, the history of the Wataugan settlement began.

The Royal Proclamation forbade British settlement and colonial land grants beyond the West of the Appalachians. This land was supposedly reserved for the Indians. This would abort the plans of VA land companies. The frontier settlers were dismayed, these border people hearing of the fertile valleys, from the militia, long hunters, hesitated... but only briefly, as they crossed the invisible line.

Squatters holdings prompted a treaty by John Stuart defining a new Cherokee frontier in VA. More immigrants then spilled over into the valley, and by the end of 1768 were filtering toward the Watauga River.

*** Who were they? ***

Historical accounts raise questions about their identity, in terms of colonial, ethnic, and class origins. Most of them came down the Holston River from VA in a natural progression. Some were immigrants, coming from NC who chose to cross the mountains because of political unrest. Most notably, The Regulator Movement, a revolt of farmers against oppressive taxation.

Admirers of the Wataugans traditionally have found direct ties between them and the Regulators and their movement in NC., 1765 thru 1771. To them, they were men of "regulating" principles. Others say that it is no compliment to tie the Wataugans to the Regulator movement. After making a pitiful showing in battle, they were dispirited by defeat and fled. These poor shiftless losers were hardly of the caliber of the spiritual liberty-loving men who went to Watauga.

George Bancroft - "The Regulators from the connecting link between the resistance to the Stamp Act and the movement of 1775, and they also played a glorious part in taking possession of the Mississippi valley" And also, some transients, traders, and long hunters.

Daniel Boone had come as early as 1760. Nineteenth century publicists have regularly emphasized the Scotch Irish origins of the early settlers. One averred that every Tennessean descending from our first hardy settlers is to put down as of this people, if he can not prove his descent otherwise!

It is noteworthy that among the leading figures here, national origins were decidedly mixed.
  • James and Charles Robertson - Scotch Irish
  • John Sevier - French Hugenot
  • Evan and Isaac Shelby - Welsh
  • William Bean - Scotch highlander
  • John Carter and Jacob Brown - English
No doubt there was a rowdy element, and other fugitives from justice. There was a back country "gentry" as well. John Lucas, and John Carter were from well known VA families. These first permanent settlers of record arrived in 1779. William Bean of VA had already been here on hunting expeditions with Daniel Boone. In 1768, he cleared some land, and settled on Boone's creek, later joined by his family. Members of the Bean family were prominent in civil and military affairs in the Watauga valley. In 1769, the Cherokees were engaged in a war with the Chickasaw, to the west. They lost the war, and half their number, helping to explain the survival of the Watauga settlement, during it's initial months.

In 1770, James Robertson visited Sycamore Shoals (present day Elizabethton). He played a part in the early history of Watauga, as well as Nashville TN. He is honored in text as the "Father of Tennessee". The Beans were several miles downstream. Sycamore Shoals became a rendezvous for those who followed. Some stimulation of growth occured when John Stuart again negotiated for land with the Cherokee, in Oct 1770. In 1771, Jacob Brown, merchant from SC., bought rights on the Nolichuky River, bringing with him NC farmers, including William Clark and William Closin. John Carter arrived about the same time, from Ambest, VA to Carter's valley.

After the second agreement, the area was surveyed again, and those west of the new line were told to "remove themselves forthwith". Daniel Boone advised against leaving, saying "Now's the time to keep the country!" The decision was made. They would ignore the English agents, and deal with the Indians, and lease the land from them. A 10 year lease for some $6000. There was some opposition as the Cherokee were divided. A direct result of leasing the land was the organization of a government. They met in May 1772, to agree on "Written Articles of Association". The political history of TN began with this meeting. Two reasons were given in forming a government.
  1. Being geographically isolated from NC
  2. Outside the jurisdiction of Va
They took the Va laws for their guide. *** Some sad news... *** The Wataugan constitution and the records of their government, have perished. When the Association dissolved, the documents fell into private hands. They are known through the Wataugans own brief collective testimony and the testimony of early historians of TN. Mose Fisk, who knew James Robertson wrote, in 1816, that a code of laws was drawn up to be signed by every individual. If anyone should refuse, he was debarred from it's benefits.

Favorable observations of the Wataugans' significance?

The articles were the first constitution west of the Appalachians, and the first written constitution formed by native born Americans. They created a separate state, The Republic of Wataugan, as an ascension of a very real independance. The Articles was a precursor to several Associations that followed. The Cumberland Compact (1780) and The Constitution of Franklin (1785).

The Wataugan Assn was one of the most thoroughly democratic instruments ever penned in the New World, free of religious tests, and class distinctions. Not all historians take such an exalted view....But a letter penned to the British Sec. of State, for Colonial Affairs, the Earl of Dunmore "There being actually a set of people in the back part of this colony, bordering on the Cherokee country, who finding they could not obtain the land they fancied under any of the neighboring governments, have settled upon it without, and contented themselves with becoming a manner tributary to the Indians. It at least sets a dangerous example to the people of America, of forming governments distinct from, and independant of, His Majesty's authority."

That certainly makes me proud!

The majority of this material was gained from "The Wataugans: First Free and Independant Community on the Continent" by Max Dixon. It also contains a great deal of info, on the Wataugans involvement in the Rev War as well. Great reading!

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