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East Tennessee, Pre-1796

Petition of the Inhabitants of Washington District,

In 1772, the white settlements south of the Holston River, although acknowledged to be an unorganized part of North Carolina, were without any form of government. In 1772, they "exercised the divine right of governing themselves," forming a "written association and articles for the management of general affairs. Five Commissioners were appointed, by the decision of a majority of whom all matters in controversy were settled..." The Articles of the Watauga Association are apparently not extant, but it is known that they "in convention assembled, elected as Commissioners, thirteen citizens. They were John Carter, Charles Robertson, James Robertson, Zach. Isbell, John Sevier, James Smith, Jacob Brown, William Bean, John Jones, George Russell, Jacob Womack, Robert Lucs and William Tatham." ("The First American Frontier, The Annals of Tennessee to the End of The Eighteenth Century...," J.G.M. Ramsey, A.M., M.D., Lippincott, Grambo & Co., Philadelphia, 1853)

In 1775, the Wataugans secured their lands by purchasing it from the Cherokee Nation, and by August 1776, had petitioned North Carolina for recognition of their government, now termed "Washington District." The following petition is undated, but is believed to have been signed in 1776. The original, located in the North Carolina State Archives at Raleigh, states "Received August 22, 1776." (ibid.)

To the Hon. the Provincial Council of North-Carolina:

The humble petition of the inhabitants of Washington District, including the River Wataugah, Nonachuckie, &c., in committee assembled, Humbly Sheweth, that about six years ago, Col. Donelson, (in behalf of the Colony of Virginia,) held a Treaty with the Cherokee Indians, in order to purchase the lands of the Western Frontiers; in consequence of which Treaty, many of your petitioners settled on the lands of the Wataugah, &c., expecting to be within the Virginia line, and consequently hold their lands by their improvements as first settlers; but to their great disappointment, when the line was run they were (contrary to their expectation) left out; finding themselves thus disappointed, and being to inconveniently situated to move back, and feeling an unwillingness to loose the labour bestowed on their plantations, they applied to the Cherokee Indians, and leased the land for a term of ten years, before the expiration of which term, it appeared that many persons of distinction were actually making purchases forever; thus yielding a precedent, (supposing many of them, who were gentlemen of the law, to be better judges of the constitution than we were,) and considering the bad consequences it must be attended with, should the reversion be purchased out of our hands, we next preceded to make a purchase of the lands, reserving those in our possession in sufficient tracts for our own uses, and resolving to dispose of the remainder for the good of th community. This purchase was made and the lands acknowledged to us and our heirs forever, in an open treaty, in Wataugah Old Fields; a deed being obtained from the Chiefs of the said Cherokee nation, for themselves and their whole nation, conveying a fee simple right to the said lands, to us and our heirs forever, which deed was for and in consideration of the sum of two thousand pounds sterling (paid to them in goods,) for which consideration they acknowledged themselves fully satisfied, contented and paid; and agreed for themselves and their whole nation, their heirs, &c., forever to resign, warrant and defend the said lands to us, and our heirs, &c., against themselves, their heirs, &c.

The purchase was no sooner made, than we were alarmed by the reports of the present unhappy situation between Great Britain and America, on which report, (taking the new united colonies for our guide,) we proceeded to choose a committee, which was done unanimously by the consent of the people. This committee (willing to become a party in the present unhappy contest) resolved (which is now in our records) to adhere strictly to the rules and orders of the Continental Congress, and in open committee acknowledged themselves indebted to the united colonies their full portion of the Continental expense.

Finding ourselves on the Frontiers, and being apprehensive that, for the want of a proper legislature, we might become shelter for such as endeavored to defraud their creditors; considering also the necessity of recording Deeds, Wills, and doing other public business, we, by consent of the people, formed a court for the purposes above mentioned, taking (by desire of our constituents) the Virginia laws for our guide, so near as the situation of affairs would admit; this was intended for ourselves, and was done by the consent of every individual, but wherever we had to deal with people out of our district, we have ruled them to bail, to abide by our determinations, (which was, in fact, leaving the matter of reference,) otherways we dismissed their suit, lest we should in any way intrude on the legislature of the colonies. In short, we have endeavored so strictly to do justice, that we have admitted common proof against ourselves, on accounts, &c., from the colonies, without pretending a right to require the Colony Seal.

We therefore trust that we shall be considered as we deserve, and not, as we have (no doubt) been many times, represented, as a lawless mob. It is for this very reason we can assure you that we petition; we now again repeat it, that it is for want of proper authority to try and punish felons, we can only mention to you murderers, horse thieves and robbers and are sorry to say that some of them have escaped us for want of proper authority. We trust, however, that this will not long be the case; and we again and again repeat it, that it is for this reason we petition to this Honourable Assembly.

Above we have given you an extract of our proceedings, since our settling on Wataugah, Nonachuckie, &c., in regard to our civil affairs. We have shown you the causes of our first settling and the disappointments we have met with, the reason of our lease and of our purchase, the manner in which we purchased, and how we hold of the Indians in fee simple; the causes of our forming a committee, and legality of its election; and same of our court and proceedings, and our reasons for petitioning in regard to our Legislature.

We will now porceed to give you some account of our military establishments, which were chosen agreeable to the rules established by convention, and officers appointed by the committee. This being done we thought it proper to raise a company on the District service, as our proportion, to act in the common cause on the sea shore. A Company of fine riflemen were accordingly enlisted, and put under Captain James Robertson, and were actually embodied, when we received sundry letters and depositions, (copies of which we now enclose to you,) you will readily judge that there was occasion for them in another place, where we daily expected attack. We therefore thought proper to station them on our Frontiers, in defence of the common cause, at the expense and risque of our own private fortunes, till farther public orders, which we flatter ourselves will give no offence. We have enclosed you sundry proceedings at the station where our men now remain.

We shall now submit the whole to your candid and impartial judgement. We pray your mature and deliberate consideration in our behalf, that you man annex us to your Province, (whether as County, district, or other division,) in such manner as may enable us to share in the glorious cause of Liberty; enforce our laws under authority, and in every respect become the best members of society; and for ourselves and constituents we hope, we may venture to assure you, that we shall adhere strictly to your determinations, and that nothing will be lacking or any thing neglected, that may add weight (in the civil or military establishments) to the glorious cause in which we are now struggling, or contribute to the welfare of our own or ages yet to come.

That you may strictly examine every part of this our Petition, and delay no time in annexing us to your Province, in such a manner as your wisdom shall direct, is the hearty prayer of those who, for themselves and constituents, as in duty bound, shall ever pray.

John Carter, ChnJohn SevierJohn Jones
Charles RoberdsonJas. SmithGeorge Rusel
James RobertsonJacob BrownJacob Womack
Zach IsbellWm. BeanRobert Lucas
The above signers are members in Committee assembled.
  Wm. Tatham, Clerk, P.T.
Jacob WomackJohn Brown Adam Sherrell
Joseph DunhamJos. Brown Sam. Sherrell,jr
Rice DurroonJob Bumper Sam. Sherrell,Sr
Edward HopsonIsaac Wilson Ossa Rose
Lew. Bowyer, D. AttyRichard Norton Henry Bates,jr
Joseph BullerGeorge Hutson Jos. Grimes
Andw. Greer
Thomas Simpson
Valentine Sevier
Christopher Cunning-
ham, sen.
Joab X Mitchell Joshua Barten,sr
  markJonathan Tipton Joud.Bostin, sen.
Robert Sevier Henry Bates, jun.
Gideon MorrisDrury Goodan Will'm Dod
Shadrach MorrisRichard Fletcher Groves Morris
William CrocketEllexander Greear Wm. Bates
Thos. DedmonJos. Greear Rob't Mosely
David HickeyAndrew Greear, jun. Ge. Hartt
Mark MitchellTeeler Nave Isaac Wilson
Hugh BlairLewis Jones Jno. Waddell
Elias PebeerJohn I. Cox Jarret Williams
Jos. BrownJohn Cox, jr. Oldham Hightower
John NeaveAbraham Cox Abednago Hix
John RobinsonEmanuel Shote Charles McCartney
Christopher Cunning-
Thomas Houghton

Jos. Luske

Frederick Vaughn
Jas. EasleyWilliam Reeves Jos. McCartney
Ambrose HodgeDavid Hughes Mark Robertson
Dan'l MorrisLandon Carter Joseph Calvit
Wm. CoxJohn McCormick Joshua Houghton
James EasleyDavid Crocket John Chukinbeard
John HaileEdward Cox James Cooper
Elijah RobertsonTho's Hughes William Brokees
William ClarkWm. Roberson Julius Robertson
  hisHenry Siler John King
John X DunhamFrederick Calvit Michael Hider
  markJohn Moore John Davis
Wm. OverallWm. Newberry John Barley
Matt. Hawkins
(Extracted from "The First American Frontier, The Annals of Tennessee to the End of The Eighteenth Century...," J.G.M. Ramsey, A.M., M.D., Lippincott, Grambo & Co., Philadelphia, 1853)

North Carolina formally agreed to accept the Washington District government, authorizing it to send representatives to the Provincial Congress in Halifax, NC on 12 Nov 1776 (in session until 18 Dec 1776). Those representatives included Charles Robertson, John Carter, John Haile and John Sevier from "Washington District, Watauga Settlement." Jacob Womack was also elected, but did not attend. (Ramsey...)

A year later, at its Nov 1777 session, the general assembly of North Carolina approved the formation of Washington county, assigning it the boundaries of most of present-day Tennessee:

"Beginning at the north-westwardly point of the County of Wilkes [North Carolina], in the Virginia line; thence, with the line of Wilkes County, to a point twenty-six miles south of the Virginia line; thence due west to the ridge of the Great Iron Mountain, which, heretofore, divided the hunting-grounds of the Overkill Cherokees, from those of the Middle Settlements and Vallies; thence, running a southwardly course along the said ridge, to the Uneca Mountain, where the trading-path crosses the same, from the Valley to the Overhills; thence, south, with the line of this state adjoining the State of South-Carolina; thence, due west to the great River Mississippi; thence, up the same river to a point due west from the beginning. (ibid.)

Ed. Note: Because some of the above names are abbreviated, spelled "old style" or mistranscribed, the following incomplete list of "search words" has been included here: Zachariah, Duncan, Hudson, Hale, Clinkinbeard, Daniel, Abednego, George, Greer, Alexander, Peebler, Barton

Washington Co, TNGenWeb

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