On June 1, 1796 Tennessee became the 16th State of the United States. Twelve years earlier, however, John Sevier led an effort through secession to petition our fledgling Republic for the admission of 8 East Tennesee counties as the 14th State. The tale includes secession from the sovereign, armed conflict with loyalists, resulting in charges of treason and arrest.
John Sevier, hero of Kings Mountain, remained the most dominant personality of the Southwest Frontier following the Revolutionary War. In June 1784 North Carolina ceded land west of the Appalachian Mountains back to the Continental Congress. William Cocke and others approached Sevier to immediately petition Congress to establish the State of Franklin.
In October 1784, North Carolina rescinded its cession and attempted to reclaim the western land. Although he’d been offered a military promotion to General in the North Carolina militia, Sevier opted to stay with his fellow Wataugans and became the would be State’s Governor. Over the next four years a competing rivalry grew for citizen loyalty between North Carolina and Franklin.
North Carolina loyalists led by John Tipton brought the issue to a head in early 1788. While Sevier was away doing as he did best, fighting the Cherokee, Tipton, a magistrate, ordered some of Sevier’s slaves seized for “taxes owed” to North Carolina. In February 1788 Sevier led 150 militia onto the Tipton farm. Loyalist reinforcements from Sullivan caused Sevier to retreat, but not before shots were fired with several killed on both sides. Thus, the first bloodshed over secession in America happened barely five months after the Constitution was signed in Philadelphia.
As North Carolina hadn’t ratified the Constitution, the bitter rivalry between Tipton and Sevier escalated when Tipton persuaded Governor Samuel Johnson to issue a criminal warrant for treason against Sevier in July, 1788. In October after an altercation between
Sevier and a tavernkeeper, Tipton and others arrested Sevier and had him jailed in Morganton, NC. The Sheriff, himself a Kings Mountain veteran, let Sevier escape quietly and he returned home. John Sevier again swore allegiance to North Carolina and was pardoned one year after the Battle of Franklin. Sevier was elected to the North Carolina State Senate, where he worked for ratification of the US Constitution. After ratification, he secured passage of a second Cession Act which turned over what is now Tennessee to the United States to become the Southwest Territory.
Sevier’s earlier controversy prohibited him from being named Territorial Governor, but upon statehood in 1796, he was easily elected Tennessee’s first Governor. The Tipton – Sevier family feud continued however and would bleed over into the next generation and fueled the rivalry between John Sevier and Andrew Jackson.