Cumberland Compact

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The Cumberland Compact was a forerunner of the Tennessee State Constitution, signed on May 13, 1780, by settlers when they arrived on the Cumberland River and settled Fort Nashborough, which would become Nashville, Tennessee. In 1846 the only surviving copy was discovered in a trunk that once belonged to Samuel Barton.This copy now in Tennessee State archives is slightly damaged, the first page is gone, and the second page ripped. Other than these blemishes, the document is intact and legible.

The Cumberland Compact was composed and signed by 256 colonists. Only one, Revolutionary War soldier James Patrick of Virginia, was illiterate and marked his name by an "X". This constitution called for a governing council of twelve judges who would be elected by the vote of free men 21 years of age or older. Unique to the times, the Compact included a clause that these judges could be removed from office by the people. Government salaries were to be paid in goods. Governorship was worth 1,000 deer skins. Secretary was to be paid 450 otter skins, and county clerk was valued at 500 raccoon skins. The constable received one mink skin for every warrant served. All males sixteen or older were subject to militia duty.

The compact did establish a contract and relationship between the settlers of the Cumberland region and limited the punishment that could be meted out by the judicial system. Serious capital crimes were to be settled by transporting the offending party to a location under the direct jurisdiction of the State of North Carolina for a proper trial. The compact remained in effect until Tennessee became a state.

Frontier law was brutal and effective. In 1788, at the first Court session in Nashville, a young red-headed lawyer, Andrew Jackson, was granted permission to practice law. He was immediately handed the job of prosecuting attorney. In 1793, Judge John McNairy sentenced Nashville's first horse thief, John McKain, Jr., to be fastened to a wooden stock one hour for 39 lashes, his ears cut off and cheeks branded with the letter "H" and "T". The first female convicted of stealing soap and thread was stripped to the waist and publicly whipped nine lashes. By 1800, the first divorce was granted between May and Nathaniel Parker. Henry Baker became the first capital punishment case in Davidson County with the first death sentence of "hanged by the neck until he is dead" for stealing a horse. These records survive in a heavy leather bound book in the care of the circuit court clerk.


The 256 signers included the following:[1]

  • Philip Alston
  • Thomas W. Alston
  • Colonel Samuel Barton
  • John Blakemore Sr.
  • John Blakemore Jr.
  • Isaac Bledsoe
  • Andrew Bushong
  • James Cain
  • John Donelson
  • Andrew Ewing
  • Thomas Fletcher
  • William Gowen
  • Francis Hodge
  • James Leeper
  • George Leeper
  • Isaac Lindsay
  • William Loggins
  • Edward Lucas
  • John Luney
  • Peter Luny
  • James Lynn
  • Kasper Mansker
  • Amb's [Ambrose] Mauldin
  • Morton Mauldin
  • John Montgomery
  • William Overall
  • Nathaniel Overall
  • James Robertson
  • Daniel Ratletf
  • David Rounsavall
  • Isaac Rounsavall
  • James Russell (four men by this name)
  • Hugh Simpson
  • Nicholas Trammel
  • John Jonathon Crow
  • Samuel Hays
  • Henry Guthrie


  1. ^ Will T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt. 1913. A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities. Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Co. 94-97.