Secession in America and in Tennessee - part 1 of 3

Friday, January 11, 2013 - by Chuck Hamilton

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another...”  (from the preamble to the Declaration of Independence)

 

Secession is an American tradition.  Not necessarily a legal tradition in most cases, but it is a tradition in America nonetheless.  After all, the United States of America’s “Novus Ordo Seclorum” (“New Order for the Ages”) began with thirteen British colonies seceding from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

 

Almost everyone is aware that the State of Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, but not as many know that the majority of counties in East Tennessee (plus one in Middle Tennessee) almost seceded from the state that year.  Had it happened, that would not have been without precedent in Tennessee’s history, since the state was created by secession, after multiple prior secessions, from the parent state of North Carolina.

 

In addition to some facts about East Tennessee’s near independence, I’m adding a few facts to put the whole thing into the proper context politically.

 

Antebellum (pre-Civil War) secession

 

A large part of the State of Tennessee’s prehistory and history has involved secession.  For instance, those who founded the Watauga Association in 1772 were Regulators from North Carolina who had declared themselves independent of the royal governor and corrupt officials, inciting the War of Regulation (1765-1771).  After losing that conflict, James Robertson led a couple of dozen westward across the Appalachians, where they established themselves as an independent government.

 

At the outbreak of the war in 1775, the Watauga Association together with the settlements upon the Nolichucky River organized themselves as the Washington District.  The other settlements inside the later Tennessee, Pendelton District (aka North-of-Holston) and Carter’s Valley, were considered part of Washington County, Virginia, and remained outside Washington District.

 

Westsylvania (roughly the current state of West Virginia plus the southwest corner of Pennsylvania) seceded from the states of Virginia and Pennsylvania in 1776 and petitioned to join the new United States. Their appeal was turned down and what is now West Virginia became the District of West Augusta at the end of 1776.  The would-be citizens of Westsylvanian in southwest Pennsylvania continued to seek separation until 1782 when the state legislature made any discussion of the region’s independence treason subject to the death penalty

 

Washington District successfully petitioned to become part of North Carolina in 1777 after failing to be accepted by Virginia as part of that state’s Washington County.  In North Carolina, it became that state’s Washington County, and included what are now the Allegheny, Ashe, and Watauga Counties in North Carolina.

 

It was partly in response to the creation of Washington County in support of the Revolution that the Cherokee leader Dragging Canoe and his militant followers seceded from the rest of their Nation after the latter made peace that year.  They first relocated to what was long known as the Chickamauga country, after Dragging Canoe’s town on South Chickamauga Creek.  However, they remained Cherokee rather than becoming a separate tribe as some claim.

 

That same year, 1777, the Republic of Vermont declared its independence from both New Hampshire and New York, first attempting to Quebec as New Connecticut before organizing the independent republic.  This Republic of Vermont was the first government in the New World to outlaw slavery and to allow all adult males to vote.

 

In 1780, the Pendelton District and Carter’s Valley were added to North Carolina.  Also that year, James Robertson, leader of the pioneers on the Watauga River, joined with others  in what is now the Nashville area to establish the Cumberland Compact.  The Cumberland District became North Carolina’s Davidson County three years later.

 

After North Carolina reneged on giving its western territories to the federal government in 1784, the people of those counties, eight in East Tennessee (Sullivan, Spencer, Wayne, Washington, Greene, Caswell, Sevier, and Blount) and three in Middle Tennessee (Davidson, Sumner, and Tennessee) seceded from North Carolina.  When the Continental Congress failed to accept them as the 14th State of Frankland, the future Tennesseans became the Free Republic of Franklin. 

 

The independent republic’s territory included the modern East Tennessee counties of Sullivan, Hawkins, Johnson, Carter, Unicoi, Washington, Greene, Cocke, Jefferson, Hamblen, Sevier, and Blount; the modern Middle Tennessee counties of Davidson, Sumner, Montgomery, Robertson, and Humphries; and the western North Carolina counties of Allegheny, Ashe, and Watauga Counties, which were then part of Washington County.  Its first capital was Jonesboro, but was later moved to Greeneville.

 

In 1786, the leaders of the Republic of Franklin, along with the with the government of the State of Kentucky and the newly-appointed Superintendent for Southern Indian Affairs, began scheming with Esteban Rodriguez Miro, governor of Spanish Louisiana, to bring their territories into the Spanish Empire.  James Robertson, Daniel Smith, and Anthony Bledsoe from the Cumberland region and Joseph Martin and John Sevier of the eastern counties, along with James Wilkinson, governor of Kentucky, and James White, the Indian superintendent, were the main conspirators. 

 

I should point out that at this time Spain’s province La Florida claimed all the territory to the Ohio River anyway and had for some time.  In fact, Spain had established short-lived forts inside what are now North Carolina and Tennessee as early as 1567.

 

The conspirators’ chief vector of communication with Governor Miro was Don Diego de Gardoqui in New Orleans, capital of Louisiana west of the Mississippi, which had been in Spanish hands since the end of the French and Indian War in 1763.  The plans of all the parties involved fell apart due to two main factors: first, the dithering of the Spanish government in Madrid, and, second, a letter from Joseph Martin to Governor Miro which made its way into the hands of the Georgia legislature.

 

The Sabine Free State didn’t have to secede from anyone because it was abandoned by both the United States and the Empire of Spain in 1806 because the two disagreed over the boundary of the Louisiana Territory purchased by the U.S.A. from Napoleonic France in 1803.  The disputed territory lay between the Mississippi River in the east and the Sabine River in the west and was populated mostly by a tri-racial ethnic group called the Redbones, similar to Tennessee’s own Melungeons.  The dispute was resolved in 1821 in favor of the U.S. claims, and the Sabine is the border between the states of Louisiana and Texas.

 

The Republic of West Florida seceded from the Empire of Spain in 1810.  Spain had acquired its province of West Florida in the treaty which ended the first American war of secession, our Revolution.  Great Britain had gained La Florida at the end of the French and Indian War in exchange for abandoning claims to France’s Louisiana west of the Mississippi, which became Spanish Louisiana.  The British divided La Florida into East and West, the latter including the southern tips of Alabama and Mississippi and the northern section of the eastern portion of the modern state of Louisiana.  The republic’s independence lasted three months until the U.S. arrived and assumed control.

 

That portion of the state of Massachusetts which became Maine seceded from the former in 1819 and was approved as a state by Congress in 1820 as part of the Missouri Compromise.

 

More famously, the Republic of Texas seceded from United Mexican States in 1836 and won its independence the same year with former U.S. Representative for Tennessee, former Tennessee Governor, and adopted son of John Jolly, then Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation West, as its first President.  What is not as well known by much of the American public is that far more of those fighting for independence and supporting it were Spanish-speaking Tejanos rather than English-speaking Texicans from America.  Houston had been adopted by Jolly while living at Cayuga on what used to be known as Jolly’s Island—Hiwassee Island.

 

Another short-lived republic declared its independence from the United Mexican States during the first year of the U.S.-Mexican War which lasted from 1846 to 1848.  Like its predecessor, the Republic of California lasted just three months before the army arrived and took over.

 

 

Chuck Hamilton

<natty4bumpo@gmail.com>

 


Chattanooga's Blues and Jazz Heritage Program is Monday, August 25

The Chattanooga Area Historical Association and the Local History Department of the Public Library invites all to a talk by Dr. Clark White on "Chattanooga's Blues and Jazz Heritage."  The program will be on Monday, August 25th at 6pm at the downtown Chattanooga Public Library. See the accompanying flyer for more information. CAHA events are free and open to the ... (click for more)

Five Tennessee Sites Added to the National Register of Historic Places

The Tennessee Historical Commission has announced five Tennessee sites have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. It is part of a nationwide program that coordinates and supports efforts to identify, evaluate and protect historic resources. The ... (click for more)

General Motors To Invest $185 Million In Engine Plant, Build New Cadillac SRX In Spring Hill

General Motors will invest $185 million to make small gas engines at its Spring Hill manufacturing complex, officials said Wednesday.  GM also identified the next-generation Cadillac SRX as a future mid-size vehicle to be produced at Spring Hill. “We want to congratulate GM on this important investment in its future in Spring Hill and Middle Tennessee,” Governor Bill Haslam ... (click for more)

Concurrent Grand Jury Says Mental Health Court Is On The Way

Members of the Concurrent Grand Jury said in a final report they have been advised that a Mental Health Court is on the way. The report says: "We were pleased to hear from some of our Judges that a mental health court is in the works. As stated in past reports, the need to have such a court is very clear. "We feel it would serve to break the cycle of arrest to those who are ... (click for more)

Vote No On Health Insurance Changes Affecting County Teachers

Our Hamilton County School Board will vote on insurance changes effecting both active employees and retirees, who are not on Medicare at this time.  HCEA strongly objects to changes being made at this time and urges a “No” vote.  Insurance had been frozen three years by negotiations.  Since the Educators Professional Negotiations Act was nullified by the 2011 Legislature, ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Al Sharpton’s Wise Remarks

I’ll admit I paid little more than scant attention to the Monday funeral of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot and killed by police bullets in Ferguson, Mo., after he allegedly was involved in strong-armed robbery. There are too many tawdry details and, in my way of thinking, there is nothing under God’s sun, absolutely nothing, that gives others the right to riot, burn ... (click for more)