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The Lost State of Franklin

The Lost State of Franklin: America's First Secession

Kevin T. Barksdale
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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    The Lost State of Franklin
    Book Description:

    In the years following the Revolutionary War, the young American nation was in a state of chaos. Citizens pleaded with government leaders to reorganize local infrastructures and heighten regulations, but economic turmoil, Native American warfare, and political unrest persisted. By 1784, one group of North Carolina frontiersmen could no longer stand the unresponsiveness of state leaders to their growing demands. This ambitious coalition of Tennessee Valley citizens declared their region independent from North Carolina, forming the state of Franklin. The Lost State of Franklin: America's First Secession chronicles the history of this ill-fated movement from its origins in the early settlement of East Tennessee to its eventual violent demise. Author Kevin T. Barksdale investigates how this lost state failed so ruinously, examining its history and tracing the development of its modern mythology. The Franklin independence movement emerged from the shared desires of a powerful group of landed elite, yeoman farmers, and country merchants. Over the course of four years they managed to develop a functioning state government, court system, and backcountry bureaucracy. Cloaking their motives in the rhetoric of the American Revolution, the Franklinites aimed to defend their land claims, expand their economy, and eradicate the area's Native American population. They sought admission into the union as America's fourteenth state, but their secession never garnered support from outside the Tennessee Valley. Confronted by Native American resistance and the opposition of the North Carolina government, the state of Franklin incited a firestorm of partisan and Indian violence. Despite a brief diplomatic flirtation with the nation of Spain during the state's final days, the state was never able to recover from the warfare, and Franklin collapsed in 1788. East Tennesseans now regard the lots state of Franklin as a symbol of rugged individualism and regional exceptionalism, but outside the region the movement has been largely forgotten. The Lost State of Franklin presents the complete history of this defiant secession and examines the formation of its romanticized local legacy. In reevaluating this complex political movement, Barksdale sheds light on a remarkable Appalachian insurrection and reminds readers of the extraordinary, fragile nature of America's young independence.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5009-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-1)
    Doss Hill
  4. [Map]
    (pp. 2-2)
  5. Introduction: Footstool of Liberty’s Throne Hero-Making versus Historiography
    (pp. 3-17)

    In the winter of 1784, an ambitious coalition of Tennessee Valley leading men and their small-holder supporters defiantly declared their independence from the state of North Carolina and formed the sovereign state of Franklin.¹ Over the next four years, the Franklinites crafted a backcountry bureaucracy aimed at defending their Tennessee Valley communities and their contested trans-Appalachian land claims, advancing their regional market economy and landholdings, eradicating the southwestern frontier’s Native American inhabitants, and ultimately winning support for Franklin’s admission into the union as America’s fourteenth state. The Franklin statehood movement unleashed a cataclysmic wave of partisan violence and Indian warfare...

  6. Chapter 1 Land of the Franks The Backcountry Economy of Upper East Tennessee
    (pp. 18-35)

    The state of Franklin emerged out of the shared desires of a powerful coalition of landed elite, yeoman farmers, and backcountry merchants to defend, expand, and dominate the Tennessee Valley’s rapidly developing political economy. From the earliest permanent settlement of eastern Tennessee, a diverse, dynamic, and interconnected regional economy developed. Despite the potential financial rewards alluringly held out by commercial agriculture, mercantilism, and land sales, the region’s full economic efficacy remained unrealized throughout the 1780s. Lack of support from the North Carolina state government for the improvement of the Tennessee Valley’s infrastructure presented a formidable obstacle to economic advancement for...

  7. Chapter 2 Acts of Designing Men Community, Conflict, and Control
    (pp. 36-52)

    Following the conclusion of the American Revolution, the newly created national and state governments found themselves heavily indebted to foreign and domestic creditors and on the cusp of a financial catastrophe. Many political leaders believed that the most promising and expedient solution to America’s postrevolutionary economic crisis lay in the sale of the “uninhabited” western lands claimed by several expansive and powerful states and combative Native American groups. Beginning in 1780, the Confederation Congress began lobbying state leaders from New York, Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina to cede their western territory to the federal government. Congress hoped to sell the...

  8. Chapter 3 Agreeable to a Republican Government The Rise of Backcountry Partisanship, 1784–1785
    (pp. 53-71)

    The residents and communities of the Tennessee Valley emerged out of the violence and chaos of the American Revolution largely united. The economic expansion, eastern political marginalization, and backcountry wartime experiences of the previous decades muted any potential underlying tensions fostered by commercial and political competition. However, the postwar materialization of a determined separatist movement within these same backcountry communities led to the polarization of the region’s ruling and laboring classes. From the debate over the passage and meaning of North Carolina’s 1784 Cession Act to the public dispute over the ratification of the state of Franklin’s egalitarian frame of...

  9. Chapter 4 Strange Spectacle of Two Empires Statesmanship, Speculation, and the Dimming Fortunes of Separatism
    (pp. 72-90)

    As the year 1786 dawned, the residents of the Tennessee Valley found themselves embroiled in a bitter partisan contest to determine the political future of their increasingly divided communities. During the previous two years, competition between two ruling backcountry factions polarized trans-Appalachian North Carolina. The contentious interregional debates over the constitutionality of the Franklin statehood movement and the Franklin Constitution exasperated antagonisms between supporters and opponents of statehood and political democratization. From January 1786 until the winter of 1787, defenders and enemies of the state of Franklin intensified their partisan efforts within the Tennessee Valley. The debilitating failure of William...

  10. Chapter 5 Where the Fire of Peace Is Always Kept Burning Land, Diplomacy, and the Tragedy of the Tennessee Valley’s Principal People
    (pp. 91-117)

    On June 8, 1787, Cherokee chief King Fisher (Kingfisher) delivered an emotional “talk” to U.S. Indian Agent Joseph Martin. The aging King Fisher pleaded with Martin to “move these people [Franklin settlers] off our lands” so that “our people have room to live and hunt.” The Cherokee chief implored him to see to these “matters so that our young seed may grow up in peace,” and the “few of us left” might keep “the land we live on.” King Fisher’s conversation with Joseph Martin encapsulated the tragedy of the previous twenty-five years of Euroamerican-Indian relations in the Tennessee Valley.¹


  11. Chapter 6 Death in All Its Various and Frightful Shapes The Last Days of the State of Franklin
    (pp. 118-144)

    After nearly two years of political lobbying, the leaders of the state of Franklin had failed to garner approval from the U.S. Congress, the North Carolina legislature, or a single influential national political figure for their statehood movement. Throughout 1787, the residents of the Tennessee Valley continued to suffer against the backdrop of the heightening Cherokee and Creek resistance movements, the disruption to their communities caused by two competing state bureaucracies, and the increasingly treacherous local factionalism threatening their homes, families, and businesses. The state of North Carolina maintained its conciliatory strategy aimed at nonviolently defeating the Franklin separatist movement...

  12. Chapter 7 Vassals del Rey de España The Franklin-Spanish Conspiracy, 1786–1789
    (pp. 145-161)

    During the chaotic months separating John Sevier’s defeat at the Battle of Franklin and his arrest for treason by John Tipton, former North Carolina congressman Dr. James White secretly visited the former Franklin governor at his Washington County plantation at Plum Grove.¹ During their clandestine meeting, Dr. White revealed a “shadowy scheme” that tantalizingly held out the possibilities of simultaneously resurrecting backcountry separatism and reviving the elusive Muscle Shoals land deal.² The events that unfolded between July 1788 and April 1789 involved the government of Spain, a small group of powerful land speculators, prominent Franklinites, and the communities of “Lesser...

  13. Chapter 8 Rocked to Death in the Cradle of Secession The Antebellum Evolution of Franklin, 1783–1861
    (pp. 162-183)

    In September 1804, Ingram Weirs sued former Franklin diplomat William Cocke over disputed land grants issued by the Spencer County Court [Hawkins County under North Carolina and Tennessee] in the defunct state of Franklin. During the course of the proceedings, attorneys for both litigants debated the circumstances surrounding the creation and governance of Franklin. The legality of Cocke’s land claims rested on the legitimacy of the state of Franklin and her court system. The caseWeirs v. Cockeis emblematic of the divergent historical and popular interpretations of the Tennessee Valley separatist movement. Rhea and Williams, lawyers for the plaintiff,...

  14. Epilogue: Finding Frankland The Legacy of Separatism in the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 184-191)

    The “facts of history” are rarely unambiguous, and more often than not, they are highly subjective and open to an infinite number of interpretations. The events of and the participants in the Franklin separatist movement present a striking reminder of this historical truism. The state of Franklin stood briefly as America’s unrecognized fourteenth state, and the defenders of statehood naturally tried to cast their movement in the most favorable political and historical light possible. Throughout the twentieth century, the historical legacy of the state of Franklin continued to be a source of state and local pride and an effective symbol...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 192-255)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 256-272)
  17. Index
    (pp. 273-283)