I was born within the environs of what historians call the “Lost State of Franklin.” This fleeting governmental boundary was composed of lands lying to the west of present day North Carolina, in the valleys of the great western waters (the Holston, Nolichucky, Watauga, French Broad, Clinch, Powell, and Tennessee Rivers). The settlements of European-descended Americans had been attempted since the 1740s, with many trading posts established to interact with the Cherokee and other native people, and a lot of activity by “Long Hunters” who collected animal skins for the growing demand in the old country. After decades of interaction with natives, these early settlers purchased lands and established residency along the very fertile river bottoms and hollows of the area.
It was in the Watauga Settlement in 1772 that early settlers drew up an agreement to live under their own rules and self-government, making themselves one of the first groups to taste independence in the Colonial days. After the Revolution got started (in the year 1780), these same families, joined by later comers, hearing of the war and fearful of what it was doing to their liberty, joined together at Sycamore Shoals near modern day Elizabethton, Tennessee, and with the Reverend Samuel Doak, a Presbyterian preacher, as their spiritual leader, and armed with flintlock rifles and fighting skills gained by interaction with the natives, marched to King’s Mountain near the North Carolina/South Carolina border, west of Charlotte, and gave the British such a routing that only a few days afterward Lord Cornwallis threw in the towel at Yorktown and a truce was called to the war, giving legitimacy to the effort for Independence of our great nation.
The State of Franklin was soon given birth as a way for these back-country soldiers to continue their effort to govern their own destiny. From 1784 to 1788 it was in existence, with its first capital at Jonesborough, and subsequent governmental operations at Greeneville. The major motivating factor for this new state was a sense of disregard coming from the governor and legislature of North Carolina, which first had claimed this region. A King’s Mountain soldier and settler of the Nolichucky area, John Sevier, quickly rose to leadership and helped shape this new statehood effort. So far the United States had no rules on the books for how new states could be formed. Soon the objections of North Carolina were heard in Washington, and the State of Franklin ceased to exist, though love of freedom had been born in the hearts of the westerners.
As a compromise, Congress finally established a “Territory.” The area then became the “Territory South of the Ohio River.” A provisional government was established at Rocky Mount, near present-day Piney Flats (between Bristol and Johnson City, off US 11-E). Governor William Blount ruled this territory until Tennessee was carved out as a separate state, with governmental operations at the new settlement of Nashville, in 1796. The old Franklinite John Sevier became the first Governor of Tennessee.
When people of Southwest Virginia, East Tennessee, and other areas in the region act stubborn and refuse to cooperate with outsiders, we’re just being true to our nature. We are Franklinites still, lovers of freedom, and we’re only doing what the scripture says in Galatians 5: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (King James Bible).
On this July 4th, let us remember how hard-fought our freedom has been. Each generation must fight the battle for themselves. I choose to embody the independence of my mountain forebears.