On this day in 1784, the State of Franklin declares its independence from North Carolina. Did you know that a state named Franklin could have been the 14th state?
After the American Revolution, North Carolina stretched from the eastern seaboard all the way to the Mississippi River. The western part of the state was separated from the eastern part by a mountain range. Especially given the travel difficulties of the day, you can imagine that the westerners felt barely connected to the eastern side of the state—and vice versa.
The North Carolina legislature didn’t really want to be responsible for the western lands anymore, but legislators didn’t want to lose an asset, either. The legislature ended up passing an act known as the “Land Grab Act” by which western lands were put on sale. Much of the land was sold to legislators. Hmmm. Let’s just say that some of the sales that resulted probably weren’t entirely above board. Nevertheless, the state legislators passed an act ceding all remaining lands to the federal government. In return, the Confederation Congress was supposed to accept, as valid, all the grants of land that had already been made.
The cessation pushed three western counties into action. On August 23, 1784, residents met and declared themselves a new state named Franklin (for Benjamin Franklin). For a time, things seemed to be working. A state constitution was adopted and John Sevier was elected as the first state governor. But then, unsurprisingly, matters became complicated.
For one thing, Americans were in negotiations with the Cherokee to determine who held which territory. Unfortunately, the outcome of these negotiations contradicted the outcome of Franklin’s negotiations. Other clashes occurred between the state and federal governments. Many Franklinites became tired of the situation.
In the end, a man named John Tipton became head of a movement to have Franklin reabsorbed back into North Carolina. But Sevier continued to advocate for the State of Franklin. At one point, Sevier even considered getting Spain to annex the state! A skirmish—the Battle of Franklin—brought matters to a head. Sevier was at first arrested for treason, but by early 1789, he had agreed to take an oath of allegiance to North Carolina.
After Franklin was dissolved, North Carolina ceded the land to the federal government. A few years later, the new territory became the state of Tennessee. I suppose Sevier got the last laugh?! He was elected as Tennessee’s first governor in 1796.
Kat Eschner, The True Story of the Short-Lived State of Franklin (Smithsonian.com; Aug. 23, 2017)
Kevin T. Barksdale, Lost State of Franklin: America's First Secession (2009)
Samuel Cole Williams, History of the Lost State of Franklin (1924) (revised edition 1933)