State of Franklin

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Free Republic of Franklin (Frankland)

August 1784 – December 1788
Location of Franklin
The State of Franklin and its counties
Capital Provisional

Jonesborough, August 1784 – December 1785
Greeneville, December 1785–88
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Government Republic / Organized, extralegal territory
"Governor" (President)
 •  December 1784 – December 1788 President/Governor Col. John Sevier
Speaker of the Senate
 •  December 1784 – December 1788 Landon Carter
 •  Speaker of the House
August 1784 – June 1785
William Cage
 •  Speaker of the House
June 1785 – December 1788
Col. Joseph Hardin
Legislature Congress of Greeneville
 •  Upper house Senate
 •  Lower House House of Representatives
Historical era post American Revolution
 •  North Carolina cedes the Washington District to Federal Government April 1784
 •  Secedes from North Carolina and blocks Federal Government claims; Franklin proclaimed August 23, 1784
 •  Petition for Frankland statehood sent to Congress May 16, 1785
 •  Provisional name changed to "Franklin" December 24, 1785
 •  Disbanded; and re-acquired by North Carolina March–September 1788 1788
 •  Area is designated part of the Southwest Territory 1790
Political subdivisions Counties
Today part of Tennessee, United States

The State of Franklin (also the Free Republic of Franklin or the State of Frankland[note 1]) was an unrecognized, autonomous territory located in what is today eastern Tennessee. Franklin was created in 1784 from part of the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains that had been offered by North Carolina as a cession to Congress to help pay off debts related to the American War for Independence. It was founded with the intent of becoming the fourteenth state of the new United States.

Franklin's first capital was Jonesborough. After the summer of 1785, the government of Franklin (which was by then based in Greeneville), ruled as a "parallel government" running alongside (but not harmoniously with) a re-established North Carolina bureaucracy. Franklin was never admitted into the union. The extra-legal state existed for only about four and a half years, ostensibly as a republic, after which North Carolina re-assumed full control of the area.

The creation of Franklin is novel, in that it resulted from both a cession (an offering from North Carolina to Congress) and a secession (seceding from North Carolina, when its offer to Congress was not acted upon, and the original cession was rescinded).


The concept of a new western state came from Arthur Campbell of Washington County, Virginia and found North Carolina's John Sevier an adherent to such an idea.[1] They believed the Overmountain towns should be admitted to the United States as a separate state. They differed, however, on the details of such a state, although John Sevier (in a letter written in 1782) acknowledged Campbell's leadership on the issue.[citation needed] Campbell's proposed state would have included southwestern Virginia, eastern Tennessee and parts of Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama. Sevier favored a more limited state, that being the eastern section of the old Washington District which was then part of North Carolina. Although many of the frontiersmen supported the idea, Campbell's calls for the creation of an independent state carved out of parts of Virginia territory caused Virginia Governor Patrick Henry, who opposed a loss of territory for the state, to pass a law which forbade anyone to attempt to create a new state from Virginia.[1] After Virginia stopped Campbell, Sevier and his followers renamed their proposed state Franklin, and sought support for their cause from Benjamin Franklin. The Frankland movement had little success on the Kentucky frontier, as settlers there wanted their own state (which they achieved in 1792).[citation needed]

Cession and rescission

Franklin's support

Congress was heavily in debt at the close of the American War for Independence. In April 1784, the state of North Carolina voted "to give Congress the 29,000,000 acres (45,000 sq mi; 120,000 km2)[note 2] lying between the Allegheny Mountains" (as the entire Appalachian range was then called) "and the Mississippi River" to help offset its war debts.[2] This area was a large part of what had been the Washington District (usually referred to simply as the Western Counties).[3] These western counties had originally been acquired by lease from the Overhill Cherokee, out of which the Watauga Republic had arisen.

The North Carolina cession to the federal government had a stipulation that Congress would have to accept responsibility for the area within two years, which, for various reasons, it was reluctant to do. The cession effectively left the western settlements of North Carolina alone in dealing with the Cherokee of the area, many of whom had not yet made peace with the new nation. These developments were not welcomed by the frontiersmen, who had pushed even further westward, gaining a foothold on the western Cumberland River at Fort Nashborough (now Nashville), or the Overmountain Men, many of whom had settled in the area during the days of the old Watauga Republic.[4] Inhabitants of the region feared that the cash-starved federal Congress might even be desperate enough to sell the frontier territory to a competing foreign power (such as France or Spain).[2]

North Carolina's reluctance

A few months later, realizing the land could not at that time be used for its intended purpose of paying the debts of Congress, and coupled with the perceived loss of economic (e.g., real estate) opportunities, a newly elected North Carolina Legislature rescinded the offer of cession. It re-asserted its claim to the remote western district. The North Carolina lawmakers ordered judges to hold court in the western counties and arranged to enroll a brigade of soldiers for defense, appointing John Sevier to form it.[2]

Secessionist movement

File:Map of Tennessee highlighting Former State of Franklin.png
The State of Franklin (in red) superimposed on a map of modern Tennessee

Rapidly increasing dissatisfaction with North Carolina's governance led to the frontiersmen's calls to establish a separate, secure, and independent state. On August 23, 1784, delegates from the North Carolina counties of Washington (which at the time included present day Carter County), Sullivan, Spencer (now Hawkins County) and Greene—all of which are in present-day Tennessee—convened in the town of Jonesborough. There, they declared the lands to be independent of the State of North Carolina.

Leaders were duly elected. John Sevier reluctantly became governor; Landon Carter, Speaker of the Senate; William Cage, first Speaker of the House of Representatives; and David Campbell, Judge of the Superior Court. Thomas Talbot served as Senate clerk, while Thomas Chapman served as clerk of the House. The delegates were called to a constitutional convention held at Jonesborough in December of that year. They drafted a constitution that excluded lawyers, doctors, and preachers as candidates for election to the legislature. The constitution was defeated in referendum. Afterward, the area continued to operate under tenets of the North Carolina state constitution.[5]

Attempt at statehood

On May 16, 1785, a delegation submitted a petition for statehood to Congress. Eventually, seven states voted to admit what would have been the 14th federal state under the proposed name of Frankland. This was, however, less than the two-thirds majority required under the Articles of Confederation to add additional states to the confederation. The following month, the Franklin government convened to address their options and to replace the vacancy at Speaker of the House, to which position they elected Joseph Hardin. In an attempt to curry favor for their cause, delegation leaders changed the "official" name of the area to Franklin (ostensibly after Benjamin Franklin). Sevier even tried to persuade Franklin to support their cause by letter, but he declined, writing:

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... I am sensible of the honor which your Excellency and your council thereby do me. But being in Europe when your State was formed, I am too little acquainted with the circumstances to be able to offer you anything just now that may be of importance, since everything material that regards your welfare will doubtless have occurred to yourselves. ... I will endeavor to inform myself more perfectly of your affairs by inquiry and searching the records of Congress and if anything should occur to me that I think may be useful to you, you shall hear from me thereupon.

— Benjamin Franklin, Letter to Governor John Sevier, 1787[6]

Independent republic

Replica of the Capitol of the State of Franklin in Greeneville, Tennessee

Franklin, still at odds with North Carolina over taxation, protection, and other issues, began operating as a de facto independent republic after the failed statehood attempt.[3] Greeneville was declared the new capital. The government had previously been assembling at Jonesborough, only blocks away from the North Carolina-backed, rival seat of government. The first legislature met in Greeneville in December 1785. The delegates adopted a permanent constitution, known as the Holston Constitution,[5] which was modeled closely upon that of North Carolina. John Sevier also proposed to commission a Franklin state flag, but it was never designed.

Franklin opened courts, incorporated and annexed five new counties (see map below), and fixed taxes and officers' salaries.[5] Barter became the economic system de jure, with anything in common use among the people allowed in payment to settle debts, including corn, tobacco, apple brandy, and skins. (Sevier was often paid in deer hides.) Federal or foreign currencies were accepted. All citizens were granted a two-year reprieve on paying taxes, but the lack of hard currency and economic infrastructure slowed development and often created confusion.

Relations with the Indians

The new legislature made peace treaties with the Indian tribes in the area (with few exceptions, the most notable being the Chickamauga Cherokee). The Cherokee claim to sovereignty over much of the area of southern Franklin, though already occupied by whites, was maintained at the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell with the Federal government. In 1786, Samuel Wear helped negotiate the competing Treaty of Coyattee on behalf of the State of Franklin. Coyattee re-affirmed the 1785 Treaty of Dumplin which the republic had secured from the Cherokee, and which Dragging Canoe's Chickamauga faction had refused to recognize. The new treaty extended the area for white settlement almost as far south as the Little Tennessee River, along which the main "Overhill Cherokee" towns were located.[7] The Cherokee did not formally relinquish their claim to this territory to the U.S. until the July 1791 Treaty of Holston[8] and even then, hostilities continued in the area for years afterward.

Drawn-out end

The year 1786 was the beginning of the end of the small state, with several key residents and supporters of the state withdrawing their support in favor of a newly re-interested North Carolina.[3] Up until this point, Franklin had not had the benefit of either the federal army or the North Carolina militia. In late 1786, North Carolina offered to waive all back taxes if Franklin would reunite with its government. When this offer was popularly rejected in 1787, North Carolina moved in with troops under the leadership of Col. John Tipton[note 3] and re-established its own courts, jails, and government at Jonesborough. The two rival administrations now competed side by side.

Battle of Franklin

In 1787, the "Franklinites" continued to expand their territory westward toward the Cumberland Mountains by forcibly seizing land from the Native American populations. The frontier shifted back and forth often throughout the Cherokee–American wars. The September 1787 meeting of the Franklin legislature, however, was its last.[3]

At the end of 1787, loyalties were divided among the area's residents, and came to a head in early February 1788. Jonathan Pugh, the North Carolina sheriff of Washington County was ordered by the county court to seize any property of Sevier's to settle tax debts North Carolina contended was owed to them. The property seized included several slaves, who were brought to Tipton's home and secured in his underground kitchen. On February 27, Governor Sevier arrived at the Tipton house leading a force numbering more than 100 men. During a heavy snowstorm in the early morning of February 29, Colonel George Maxwell arrived with a force equivalent to Sevier's to reinforce Tipton. After ten minutes of skirmishing, Sevier and his force withdrew to Jonesborough. A number of men were captured or wounded on both sides, and three men killed.[9][10]

Frontier intrigues

In late March 1788, the Chickamauga, Chickasaw and other tribes collectively began to attack American frontier settlements in Franklin. A desperate Sevier sought a loan from the Spanish government. With help from Dr. James White (who was later found to be a paid agent of Spain's), he attempted to place Franklin under Spanish rule. Opposed to any foreign nation gaining a foothold in Franklin, North Carolina officials arrested Sevier in August 1788. Sevier's supporters quickly freed him from the local jail and retreated to "Lesser Franklin". In February 1789,[11] Sevier, and the last holdouts of the "Lost State," swore oaths of allegiance to North Carolina after turning themselves in.[11] North Carolina sent their militia to aid in driving out the Cherokee and Chickasaw.

Lesser Franklin

After the dissolution of the State of Franklin in February 1789, continued support of the separate state movement was confined largely to Sevier County, specifically in the country south of the French Broad River. The people there realized that the only entity recognizing title to their land holdings had been Franklin. Both North Carolina and the Federal (Confederation) government supported the Cherokee claims as set forth in the Treaty of Hopewell, and considered settlers in the area "squatters". This led to the formation of a "Lesser Franklin" government, with an Articles of Association similar to the earlier Watauga Constitution. In 1789 these Articles were adopted at Newell's Station, which served as the seat of government for the wider area of Lesser Franklin, including all the settled country south of the French Broad.[7]

The Lesser Franklin government finally ended in 1791, when Governor William Blount, of the newly formed Southwest Territory, met the Cherokee chieftains on the site of the future Knoxville, and they made the Treaty of Holston. The Overhill Cherokee now acknowledged the authority of the United States government, and ceded to the Federal government all of their lands south of the French Broad, almost as far as the Little Tennessee River.[7]

Subsequent status

By early 1789, the government of the State of Franklin had collapsed entirely and the territory was firmly back under the control of North Carolina. Soon thereafter, North Carolina once again ceded the area to the federal government to form the Southwest Territory, the precursor to the State of Tennessee. Sevier was elected in 1790 to the US Congress to represent the territory, and became Tennessee's first governor, in 1796.[7] John Tipton signed the Tennessee Constitution as the representative from Washington County.

Notable Franklinites

  • William Cocke (1748–August 22, 1828); American lawyer, pioneer, and statesman.
  • David "Davy" Crockett (August 17, 1786 – March 6, 1836); famed frontiersman and statesman, born in Greene County, Franklin.[12]
  • Samuel Doak (1749–1830); Presbyterian minister, pioneer, founded earliest schools and churches in East Tennessee; delegate to the "Lost State" of Franklin which convened in Greeneville.[13]
  • Col. Joseph Hardin (1734–1801); Speaker of the House for the State of Franklin; trustee of Greeneville (now Tusculum) College.[14]
  • Col. John Sevier (1745–1815); Chief-executive of Franklin; first governor of Tennessee.[15]
  • Lt. Samuel Wear (1753–April 3, 1817); co-founder of Franklin; veteran of the Revolutionary, War of 1812, and Indian wars; fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
  • Gen. James White (1747–August 14, 1821); American pioneer and soldier who founded Knoxville, Tennessee.[16]


Tipton's farm has been preserved as the Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Many businesses in the State of Franklin use that name to keep the legacy alive, such as the "State of Franklin Bank", based in Johnson City, Tennessee. One of the main thoroughfares in Johnson City is named "State of Franklin Road", which runs next to East Tennessee State University.

In law school examinations (and occasionally state bar tests) in the U.S., a fictional "State of Franklin" is used as a placeholder name for a generic state, often the one in which the property of Blackacre is located. This way, variations in existing state law do not complicate the theoretical legal issues arising from the property disputes. By convention, Blackacre is located in Acre County, Franklin.

References in popular culture


  • The novel Crown of Creation, 2046: Two Nations, One Murder by Robert Arias envisions the Republic of Franklin as a breakaway nation from the United States in the near future.
  • The novel The Cumberland Rifles by Noel B. Gerson takes place in the State of Franklin.
  • The novel The Canebreak Men by Cameron Judd details events related to the founding and the history of the State of Franklin.
  • In the fantasy novel American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Johnny Appleseed describes the State of Franklin as the home of the last remaining Thunderbirds.
  • The alternative-history novel Joyleg by Ward Moore and Avram Davidson depicts an independent State of Franklin in the 20th century, having somehow escaped the notice of the federal government for nearly 200 years. The novel skewers politicians and the media.
  • The alternative-history short story "Assault on Fat Mountain" by R. A. Lafferty details the aftermath of a military victory in 1788 by the Free State of Franklin over North Carolina, resulting in the creation of a new world power, the Free Nation of Appalachia, and the shrinking of the United States Union into a poor backwater nation.


See also


  1. Landrum, refers to the proposed state as "the proposed republic of Franklin; while Wheeler has it as Frankland." In That's Not in My American History Book, Thomas Ayres maintains that the official title was "Free Republic of Franklin"
  2. About 40 times the size of Rhode Island.
  3. Col. John Tipton was the great-uncle of future Senator from Indiana, John Tipton.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Arthur Campbell; Mielnik, Tara Mitchell; article; The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture; accessed October 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Arthur, John Preston (1914); [sic] "History of Western North Carolina – Chapter VI – The State of Franklin"; John Preston Arthur; 1914; (HTML by Jeffrey C. Weaver); October 1998. Retrieved from New River.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 A civil and political history of the state of Tennessee"; by John Haywood
  4. Caruso, John A (1959). "The Appalachian Frontier: America's First Surge Westward"; Bobbs-Merrill Co., Indianapolis; 1959; Library of Congress Cat. No. 59-7226.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "The Lost State of Franklin", Genealogy, Inc.
  6. State of Franklin History
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Sevier County Settlers vs. the Cherokee Indians; Tennessee Genealogy web online; accessed March 2014.
  8. Mooney; Myths of the Cherokee; p. 64 ff
  9. [1] Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site website
  10. John Tipton memorial website
  11. 11.0 11.1 North Carolina History Project – State of Franklin
  12. David "Davy" Crockett; Michael Lofaro; "The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture;" 2002; retrieved November 19, 2011.
  13. Samuel Doak; E. Alvin Gerhardt, Jr.; "The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture;" 2002; retrieved June 3, 2008.
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  15. Driver, Carl Samuel. John Sevier: Pioneer of the Old Southwest. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1932
  16. Lucile Deaderick; Heart of the Valley: A History of Knoxville, Tennessee; Knoxville, Tennessee; East Tennessee Historical Society; 1976.

Further reading

External links