The State of Franklin
Many in North Carolina and Tennessee may not know about the State of Franklin which came into existence on December 14th, 1784. The State of Franklin began at the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and extended west to include most of what is now Alleghany, Ashe, and Watauga counties. The territory also included what is now Washington, Sullivan, Hawkins, and Green counties in Tennessee. The State of Franklin lasted for five years, ceasing to exist in 1789.
After the Revolutionary War, many citizens residing in the Appalachian Mountain region were so far removed from their state’s capitol that they were not able to receive their government’s support in times of need. Most were still paying state taxes but were too far away to receive aid should an emergency arise. For example, Native Americans had allied with the British during the Revolutionary War, but most tribes had not been notified of the War’s end and continued raids on settlements in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. Mountain folk were left to deal with these and many other hardships without the aid of their government – survival in these times meant being self-sufficient.
Largely due to sentiments arising from this unique situation, there was a push in this remote region of the nation to create an independent state. John Sevier was one of the main leaders to lead the charge for this region’s autonomy and served as the region’s first and only governor. In May of 1785, a delegation submitted a petition for statehood to United State Congress with the proposed name of Frankland. Seven states voted to admit Frankland into the Union, but the nascent state still lacked the two-thirds majority needed to officially become a state under the Articles of Confederation. John Sevier, along with other leaders of the region, changed the name of their state to Franklin soon after these obstacles for statehood were encountered. Sevier even sought Benjamin Franklin’s backing, but failed to gain additional support from him or others with additional pull in the US government.
While not officially a state recognized by the United States’ government, the State of Franklin’s territory independently functioned under a constitution written by elected representatives and fashioned to resemble the Constitution of the State of North Carolina. At the time of its creation in December 1784, the region had a population of around twenty-five thousand people. Most landowners wrote deeds to Jonesborough, the capitol of the State of Franklin.
John Sevier would later serve as the governor of Tennessee after the State of Franklin’s territory was ceded to North Carolina and Tennessee. No back taxes were paid by Franklin residents to their new states, and each family was able to keep their homestead without penalty from their new respective states.
Even though Ashe county residents are now proudly North Carolinians; a large portion of southern Appalachia was at one point rather close to becoming an independent state. If it was not for a few decisions made by politicians in the late 18th century, we very well may be living in the State of Franklin today. No matter the name of our beautiful corner of the state, those now living in Ashe County are now well connected to the rest of North Carolina all while enjoying the splendor the Blue Ridge Mountains have to offer.
Arthur Lloyd Fletcher, 2006. Ashe County, A History, a new edition. Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies, 14.