March 13, 1952


This Article Appeared In The Times

But Was Not Actually Titled Calís Column


Transcribed by Janette West Grimes


The State of Franklin

By G. W. Allen



The average student of Tennessee history might be said to have a rather sketchy history of the short-lived State of Franklin, in whose limits were embraced the larger part of the then settled portions of what afterward became the State of Tennessee. Possibly one of the reasons for this lies in the fact that much of the history of the organization, life and final dissolution of the State is found, not in the history of that day and time, but in various letters, papers and private manuscripts.


†† The State of Franklin came into existence shortly following the close of the Revoluntionary War, and certain incidents of that War were primarily responsible for its birth. During the seven long year of conflict, the various states had each contracted large debts upon the state treasuries. This was specially true of North Carolina, which claimed ownership of that vast domain then known as the "Western Territory," now consisting of the State of Tennessee. And, of course, the national government was encumbered with a very heavy indebtedness. The State of North Carolina adopted the expedient of paying its soldiers in grants of land; and, since these soldiers had the right of selection, it is small wonder that many of them were attracted to and settled in Smith County because of the fertility of the soil.


†† In an effort to replenish its treasury, the national government suggested to the various states that they cede to the government such of their lands as they felt they could spare, which lands would then become subject to sale by the government. It was hoped that in this way a common fund might be created which would help to liquidate the national indebtedness.


†† Now the "Western Territory," due to the sparseness of its population, had been more of an expense than an asset to the parent State. Accordingly in June of 1783, the State of North Carolina, through its General Assembly passed an Act ceding to the federal government the entire territory now embraced in the State of Tennessee, and authorized its representatives in the National Congress to make a deed to the government. In this territory there were at that time only four organized counties, Washington, Greene, Sullivan and Davidson. It was, however, provided in the Act of Cession that if Congress should not accept the Cession in two years, the lands ceded would revert to the State of North Carolina. Since the Act of Cession made no provision for the protection of the settlers until it had been accepted by the Congress, and since they had been automatically taken out of the protection of North Carolina, and since they would be further deprived of any courts of law, much dissatisfaction and confusion naturally resulted. In an effort to remedy a well-nigh desperate situation, a number of men from Washington, Greene and Sullivan Counties, including leaders of John Sevier, Landon Carter, Samuel Doak, William Cocke, and many others, met and decided to hold an election to select deputies for a convention to be held at Jonesboro to formulate some plans of action. Davidson county was not included in this election. At this election 40 delegates were elected and these delegates met at Jonesboro on Aug. 23rd following. At this convention a resolution was passed, forming themselves " Into a separate and distinct State independent of the State of North Carolina." This convention also passed a resolution calling for the election of five delegates from each of the three counties to form a Constitutional Convention to adopt a constitution and give a name to the new State. This convention adopted a Constitution subjectto future ratifications by the voters and also an act providing for the election of a Legislature for the new State.


†† This Legislature which concluded its labors on March 31, 1785, passed a number of acts, setting up and establishing the state government, providing for elections, fixing salaries, elected a delegate to Congress, set up a system of Courts, and elected John Sevier as Governor, and fixed his salary at 200 pounds annually. It also passed acts providing for the levying and collection of taxes. A portion of this tax act is as follows: "Be it enacted that it shall and may be lawful for the afore said land tax and all free polls to be paid in the following manner: Good flax linen, ten hundred, at three shillings and six pence per yard; good, clean beaver skins, six shillings; cased otter skins, six shillings; raccoon and fox skins, one shilling and three pence; woollen cloth, at three shillings per yard; bacon, well cured, six pence per pound; good, distilled rye whiskey, at two shillings and six pence, per gallon; good, neat and well-managed tobacco, fit to be prized and that may pass inspection, the hundred, at fifteen shillings;" and many other articles which time does not permit mentioning.


†† It was further provided that the salaries of any public officials might be paid them in specific articles at the price fixed, or in money, according to the condition of the treasury. In view of the present day scandals about "mink coats," it might be said, according to Haywood, certain would-be wits exaggerated the true condition of affairs by saying that "The salaries the Governor, judges and other officers were to be paid in skins absolutely;" and, to add to their merriment, had them payable in "mink skins." This action of the Legislature in providing for the payment of taxes in this way might be laughed at today; but it was a practice commonly followed by all the colonies during the early history of this country. For many years tobacco was the standard of value in Virginia and Maryland. In 1688 the Legislature of Virginia fixed the yearly salary of each minister of the gospel at 16,000 pounds of tobacco. In 1715 the State of North Carolina levied a special tax of one bushel of corn on each farmer.


†† I have written more at length than I had intended. Perhaps at some later date, I may write you further of the later history of this interesting State. Following are some portions of the Constitution of the State of "Frankland," so-called in the Constitution itself: " Sec. 3. No person shall be eligible to hold a seat in the House of Representative of the free men of this commonwealth unless he actually resides in and owns land in the county, to the quantity of one hundred acres, or to the value of fifty pounds, and is of the full age of twenty-one years. And no person shall in this office or any otherin the civil department of the State who is of an immoral character, or guilty of such flagrant enormities, as drunkenness, gaming, profane swearing, lewdness, Sabbath breaking and such like; or who will either in word or writing, deny any of the following propositions, viz:


†† "First--That there is one living and true God, the Creator and Governor of the universe.


†† "Second--That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.


†† "Third--That the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are given by divine inspiration.


†† "Fourth--That there are three divine persons in the Godhead, co-equal and co-essential.


†† "Sec. 10. All the able-bodied men in this State shall be trained for its defense under such regulations, restrictions and exceptions as the General Assembly shal direct by law, preserving always to the people from the age of sixteen, the right of choosing their own Colonels and all other officers under that rank, in such manner and as often as shall be by the same law directed.


†† "Sec. 23. Justices of the Peace shall be elected for each county, ten or more, by the free men, as shall, by the General Assembly, be thoughtnecessary for each of those residing within the same, and qualified as mentioned in Section 3, who shall be commissioned during good behavior, by the Governor or Lieutenant Governor in Council; and no Justice of the Peace, or any other commissioned officer, shall hold his cinnussuib who misbehaves, or is found guilty of such things as disqualify, nor shall anyone be chosen who is not a scholar to do the business, nor unless acquainted with the laws of the county in some measure, but particularly with every article of the Constitution."


†† [Editor's note. We are quite sure that many readers will appreciate this fine article from Judge Allen on the history of the State of Franklin. We are requesting Judge Allen to furnish with other articles as he has time to prepare them.]