|1st Governor of Tennessee|
30 March 1796 – 23 September 1801
|Succeeded by||Archibald Roane|
23 September 1803 – 20 September 1809
|Preceded by||Archibald Roane|
|Succeeded by||Willie Blount|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee's 2nd district|
March 4, 1811 – September 24, 1815
|Preceded by||Robert Weakley|
|Succeeded by||William Grainger Blount|
|Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 5th district
June 16, 1790 – March 3, 1791
|Preceded by||New office|
|Succeeded by||William B. Grove|
September 23, 1745|
Rockingham County, Virginia
|Died||September 24, 1815
|Resting place||Knox County Courthouse
|Spouse(s)||Sarah Hawkins (1761–1780, her death)
Catherine "Bonny Kate" Sherrill (1780–1815, his death)
|Service/branch||Colonial and state militias|
|Years of service||1776–1782, 1790–1814|
|Battles/wars||American Revolutionary War
• Fort Watauga (1776)
• Kings Mountain (1780)
• Boyd's Creek (1780)
• Flint Creek (1789)
• Hightower (1793)
John Sevier (September 23, 1745–September 24, 1815) was an American soldier, frontiersman and politician, and one of the founding fathers of the State of Tennessee. He played a leading role, both militarily and politically, in Tennessee's pre-statehood period, and was elected the state's first governor in 1796. Sevier served as a colonel in the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780, and commanded the frontier militia in dozens of battles against the Cherokee and Chickamaugas in the 1780s and 1790s.
Sevier arrived on the Tennessee Valley frontier in the 1770s. In 1776, he was elected one of five magistrates of the Watauga Association and helped defend Fort Watauga against an assault by the Cherokee. At the outbreak of the War for American Independence, he was chosen as a member of the Committee of Safety for the association's successor, the Washington District. Following the Battle of Kings Mountain, he led an invasion that destroyed several Chickamauga towns in northern Georgia. In the 1780s, Sevier served as the only governor of the State of Franklin, an early, unsuccessful, attempt at statehood by the trans-Appalachian settlers. He was brigadier general of the Southwest Territory militia during the early 1790s.
Sevier served six two-year terms as Tennessee's governor, from 1796 until 1801, and from 1803 to 1809, with term limits preventing a fourth consecutive term in both instances. His political career was marked by a growing rivalry with rising politician Andrew Jackson, which nearly culminated in a duel in 1803. After his last term as governor, Sevier served two terms in the United States House of Representatives, from 1811 until his death in 1815.
John Sevier was born in Rockingham County, Virginia (then part of Augusta County), near what is now the town of New Market.:4 He was the oldest of seven children of Valentine "The Immigrant" Sevier and Joanna Goad. His father was descended from French Huguenots, and had migrated to Baltimore in 1740 and gradually made his way to the Shenandoah Valley.
Sevier's father worked variously as a tavernkeeper, fur trader, and land speculator, and young John initially pursued a similar career path.:5 At a young age, he opened his own tavern, and helped plat the town of New Market, near his birthsite (the town claims Sevier as its founder). In 1761, he married Sarah Hawkins, and gradually settled into a life of farming. Some sources suggest Sevier served as a captain in the Colonial Militia under George Washington in Lord Dunmore's War in 1773 and 1774.
Watauga Association and Washington District
In the early 1770s, Sevier and his brother began making trips to various settlements on the trans-Appalachian frontier, in what is now northeastern Tennessee.:7 In late 1773, Sevier moved his family to the Carter Valley settlements along the Holston River. Three years later, he relocated further south to the Watauga settlements, in what is now Elizabethton, Tennessee.:10 The Wataugans had leased their lands from the Cherokee in 1772, and had formed a fledgling government known as the Watauga Association. Sevier was appointed clerk of the Association's five-man court in 1775, and was elected to the court in 1776.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 forbade English settlement on Indian lands, and as the Watauga settlements were in Cherokee territory, the British considered them illegal. In March 1775, the settlers purchased the lands from the Cherokee, with Sevier listed as a witness to the agreement.:51 The British refused to recognize the purchase, however, and continued to demand the settlers leave. Furthermore, a group of Cherokees led by Dragging Canoe disagreed with the tribe's sale of the lands, and began making threats against the settlers.:64
With the outbreak of the American Revolution in April 1775, the Wataugans, most of whom were sympathetic to the Patriot cause, organized the Washington District, and formed a 13-member Committee of Safety. The committee, which included Sevier, submitted the "Watauga Petition" to Virginia in the Spring of 1776, formally asking to be annexed, but Virginia refused (historian J. G. M. Ramsey suggested Sevier wrote the petition, but later historians rejected this). The Wataugans then petitioned North Carolina.
Fearing an invasion by Dragging Canoe, who was receiving arms from the British, the Overmountain settlers built Fort Caswell (commonly called Fort Watauga) to guard the Watauga settlements, and Eaton's Station to guard the Holston settlements. Sevier had begun building Fort Lee to guard settlements in the Nolichucky Valley, but after receiving word of an impending Cherokee invasion from Nancy Ward, the Nolichucky settlers fled to Fort Caswell, and Sevier soon followed.:63-4
The Cherokee invasion began in mid-July 1776. Dragging Canoe proceeded north to attack the Holston settlements, while a detachment led by Old Abraham of Chilhowee invaded the Watauga settlements. On July 21, Old Abraham's forces reached Fort Caswell, which was garrisoned by 75 militia commanded by John Carter, with Sevier and James Robertson as subordinates.:64 One settler, Catherine Sherrill, Sevier's future wife, failed to make it into the fort before the gate was locked, but Sevier managed to reach over the palisades and pull her to safety.:64 The fort's garrison managed to beat back the Cherokee assault, and after a two-week siege, Old Abraham retreated. The Cherokee eventually sued for peace following an invasion of the Overhill country by William Christian in October 1776.:65-6
The Wataugans sent five delegates, among them Sevier, to North Carolina's constitutional convention in November 1776. The new constitution created the "District of Washington," which included most of modern Tennessee. The new district elected Sevier to one of its two seats in the state's House of Representatives. The district became Washington County, North Carolina in 1777.:67 Sevier was appointed lieutenant-colonel of the new county's militia.
Battle of Kings Mountain
Following the British victory at the Battle of Camden in August 1780, a detachment of Loyalists under Major Patrick Ferguson was dispatched to suppress Patriot activity in the mountains. After routing a small force under Charles McDowell, Ferguson sent a message to the Overmountain settlements, warning them that if they refused to lay down their arms, he would march over the mountains and "lay waste the country with fire and sword.":86 Sevier and Sullivan County militia colonel Isaac Shelby agreed to raise armies and march across the mountains to engage Ferguson.:86
On September 25, 1780, the Overmountain Men, as they came to be called, gathered at Sycamore Shoals to prepare for the march. This force consisted of 240 Washington County militia commanded by Sevier, 240 Sullivan County militia commanded by Shelby, and 400 Virginians commanded by William Campbell. To provide funds for the march, Sevier obtained a loan from John Adair, putting up his own property as collateral.:144 The combined force departed across the mountains on September 26, eventually linking up with the remnants of McDowell's men.
On October 7, the Overmountain Men caught up with and surrounded Ferguson, who had entrenched his Loyalist forces atop Kings Mountain, near the present day North Carolina-South Carolina border. Sevier's men comprised part of the south flank, along with the forces of Campbell and McDowell. Patriot forces initially failed to break through the Loyalist lines, but the frontier sharpshooters gradually decimated the American Loyalist ranks. At the height of the battle, Sevier and Campbell charged the high point of the Loyalist position, giving the Overmountain men a foothold atop the mountain.:156 Ferguson was eventually killed attempting to break through Sevier's line, and the Loyalists surrendered shortly afterward. Sevier's brother, Captain Robert Sevier, was mortally wounded in the battle.:157
Cherokee and Chickamauga Wars
Upon returning from Kings Mountain, Sevier received word from Nancy Ward of an impending Cherokee invasion, and immediately organized a 300-man force and marched south.:184 On December 16, 1780, he routed a Cherokee force at the Battle of Boyd's Creek, near modern Sevierville. A few days later, he was joined by a contingent of Virginia militia led by Arthur Campbell, and the combined forces continued south, occupying Chota on December 25, and capturing and burning Chilhowee and Tallassee three days later. Sevier and Campbell proceeded as far as the Hiwassee River, where they burned the villages of Great Hiwassee and Chestoee, before beginning the march home on New Years Day.:187-190
In February 1781, Sevier was commissioned colonel-commandant of the Washington County militia following the death of John Carter.:193 Shortly afterward, he embarked on an expedition against the Cherokee Middle Towns, which lay on the other side of the mountains in the vicinity of modern Bryson City, North Carolina. Emerging from the mountains in March, his 150-man force took the village of Tuckasegee by surprise, killing about 50 and capturing several others. Facing little opposition, he proceeded to destroy about 15 villages before returning home.:193
In September 1782, Sevier set out on an expedition against Dragging Canoe and the Chickamaugas, who were now concentrated in a string of villages in northern Georgia and Alabama. He defeated a small Chickamauga force near Lookout Mountain, and destroyed several villages along the Coosa River.:208
State of Franklin
In June 1784, North Carolina, bowing to pressure from the Continental Congress and eager to be rid of an expensive and unprofitable district, ceded its lands west of the Appalachian Mountains to the federal government. However, Congress did not immediately accept the lands, creating a vacuum of power in what is now Tennessee. In August 1784, Sevier served as president of a convention held at Jonesborough with the aim of establishing a new state.:111 In March of the following year, he was elected governor of the proposed state, which was named "Franklin" in honor of Benjamin Franklin.
In October 1784, North Carolina rescinded the cession and reasserted its claim to the Tennessee region. Sevier initially supported this, in part because he was offered a promotion to brigadier general, but was convinced by William Cocke to remain with the Franklinites.:112 Though Sevier had popular support, a number of Washington Countians, led by John Tipton (1730–1813), remained loyal to North Carolina, creating a situation in which two parallel governments– one loyal to Franklin and one to North Carolina– were operating in Tennessee. Both elected public officials. Relations between the two governments were initially cordial, though a rivalry developed between Sevier and Tipton.
As North Carolina and Franklin competed for the loyalties of the residents of the area, Sevier became involved in intrigues with Georgia to gain control of Cherokee lands in what is now northern Alabama, where Sevier had taken out claims on several thousand acres of land. He even considered an alliance with Spain, whose Governor Esteban Rodríguez Miró, attempted to sway Sevier, though Sevier eventually abandoned the idea.
In June 1785, Sevier negotiated the Treaty of Dumplin Creek, in which the Cherokee gave up claims to lands south of the French Broad River as far as the Little River–Little Tennessee River divide. The following year, the Treaty of Coyatee extended the boundary to the Little Tennessee River, and the State of Franklin created three new counties (modern Cocke, Sevier, and Blount counties).:117-120 The United States never recognized these treaties, however, and the fate of the settlers who moved into these areas remained in limbo for years.
In February 1788, the rivalry between Sevier and Tipton came to a head in what became known as the "Battle of Franklin." While Sevier was away campaigning against the Cherokee, Tipton ordered some of his slaves seized for taxes supposedly owed to North Carolina. In response, Sevier led 150 militia to Tipton's farm, which was defended by about 45 loyalists. Both sides demanded the other surrender, and briefly exchanged gunfire. On February 29, two days after the siege began, loyalist reinforcements from Sullivan County arrived on the scene and scattered the Franklinites. Sevier retreated, though not before several were killed on both sides. Two of Sevier's sons were captured, but subsequently released.:133-6
In the Summer of 1788, a family of settlers was killed by renegade Cherokees in Blount County in what became known as the Nine Mile Creek Massacre. In response, Sevier invaded and destroyed several Cherokee towns in the Little Tennessee Valley. Several Cherokee leaders met with Sevier under a flag of truce to discuss peace, and a member of the murdered family, John Kirke, attacked the delegation and killed several chiefs, among them Old Tassel and Old Abraham of Chilhowee. This action enraged the Cherokee, and many of them threw their support behind Dragging Canoe.:121
Following the Battle of Franklin, support for Sevier and the State of Franklin collapsed in areas north of the French Broad River, and Governor Samuel Johnston issued a warrant for his arrest in July 1788.:139 In October, after he attacked Jonesborough store owner David Deaderick for refusing to sell him liquor, Tipton and his men apprehended Sevier. He was sent to Morganton, North Carolina, to stand trial for treason, but was released by the Burke County sheriff, William Morrison (a Kings Mountain veteran), before the trial began.:141
In February 1789, Sevier took the Oath of Allegiance to North Carolina. He was elected to the North Carolina state senate, and was pardoned by North Carolina Governor Alexander Martin. When the senate convened in November 1789, Sevier worked in support of the state's ratification of the U.S. Constitution. After it was ratified on November 23, Sevier helped engineer a second cession act, which passed with little opposition in December, essentially handing over what is now the state of Tennessee to the federal government.:124-7
To administer the new cession, Congress created the Southwest Territory in the Spring of 1790, which would be administered under the Northwest Ordinance. Sevier was appointed brigadier general of the territorial militia, and fellow land speculator and North Carolina politician, William Blount, was appointed governor.:127 In June 1791, Blount negotiated the Treaty of Holston, which resolved the land disputes with the Cherokee created by the Treaty of Dumplin Creek.
Just before the cession, the territory was the fifth congressional district of North Carolina, and Sevier was elected to represent it in the 1st Congress. By the time he arrived in New York City, it had the cession had already occurred. However, Sevier was permitted to serve out his term despite the fact he was no longer representing an actual district.
In the Fall of 1793, following the Cherokee attack on Cavet's Station west of Knoxville, Sevier led the territorial militia south into Georgia, where he defeated a Cherokee force at the Battle of Hightower and destroyed several villages.:144 The following year, he was appointed by President Washington to the territorial council, a body which had a function similar to that of a state senate. That same year, he was appointed to the first Board of Trustees of Blount College, the forerunner of the University of Tennessee.
Governor of Tennessee
In 1796, the Southwest Territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Tennessee. Sevier missed the state's constitutional convention while serving on the territorial council in Washington, but was nevertheless elected the new state's first governor. Sevier made the acquisition of Indian lands a priority, and consistently urged Congress and the Secretary of War to negotiate new treaties to that end.:204
During his first term as governor, Sevier developed a rivalry with rising politician Andrew Jackson. In 1796, Jackson campaigned for the position of major-general of the state militia, but was thwarted when Sevier threw his support behind George Conway.:211 Jackson also learned that Sevier had referred to him as a "poor pitiful petty fogging lawyer" in private correspondence.:213 In 1797, Jackson, at the time a U.S. Senator, became aware of massive fraud that had taken place at North Carolina's Nashville land office in the 1780s, and notified the governor of North Carolina. When the governor demanded the office's documents, Sevier blocked their transfer, leading Jackson to conclude that Sevier was somehow involved in the scandal.:34
After Sevier's third (two-year) term as governor, term limits prevented him from seeking a fourth consecutive term, and Archibald Roane was elected as his replacement. Both Sevier and Jackson campaigned for major-general of the militia, and when the vote ended in a tie, Roane chose Jackson.:215 When Sevier announced his candidacy for governor in 1803, Roane and Jackson made documents from the Nashville land office scandal public, and accused Sevier of bribery. Their efforts to smear Sevier were unsuccessful, however, and Sevier easily defeated Roane in the election.:215
Following his inauguration, Sevier encountered Jackson in Knoxville, and an argument ensued in which Sevier accused Jackson of adultery for his marriage to Rachel Donelson. An enraged Jackson challenged Sevier to a duel, which Sevier accepted. The duel was to take place at Southwest Point, but Sevier's wagon stalled at Campbell's Station en route to the duel. As Jackson returned to Knoxville, he encounted Sevier's entourage. The two loudly exchanged insults, and Sevier's horse ran away, carrying his pistols. Jackson pointed his pistol at Sevier, who hid behind a tree. Sevier's son pointed his pistol at Jackson, and Jackson's second pointed his pistol at Sevier's son. Members of both parties managed to resolve the incident before bloodshed took place.:215
In 1804, Sevier helped William C. C. Claiborne get appointed governor of the newly acquired Louisiana Territory, a position Jackson had sought.:36 Jackson again supported Roane in the state's gubernatorial election in 1805, but Sevier won with nearly two-thirds of the vote. Sevier's last campaign for governor was in 1807, when he defeated William Cocke.:36-8
Term limits again preventing him from a fourth consecutive term, Sevier sought one of the state's U.S. Senate seats in 1809, but the legislature chose Joseph Anderson. He then ran for the Knox County state senate seat, winning easily.:38 In 1811, Sevier was elected to the U.S. Congress for the state's 2nd district. Sevier was a staunch supporter of the War of 1812, and President James Madison offered him a command in the army, but Sevier turned it down.
In 1815, Sevier died in the Alabama Territory while conducting a survey of lands Jackson had recently acquired from the Creek tribe, and was buried along the Tallapoosa River near Fort Decatur. In 1889, at the request of Governor Robert Love Taylor, his remains were re-interred on the Knox County Courthouse lawn in Knoxville. A monument was placed on the grave in 1893, in a ceremony that included a speech by historian Oliver Perry Temple. In 1922, the remains of his second wife, Catherine Sherill, were re-interred next to Sevier's. A monument recognizing his first wife, Sarah Hawkins, was placed at the site in 1946.
In his 2009 book, The Lost State of Franklin, Kevin Barksdale points out that while Sevier was driven, at least in part, by a desire to solidify his own land claims in the trans-Appalachian region, he nevertheless represents for many East Tennesseans, "rugged individualism, regional exceptionalism, and civic dignity.":16 For nearly a century after his death, historians such as J.G.M. Ramsey and Oliver Perry Temple heaped unconditional praise upon Sevier, and romanticized various events in his life. These events were clarified by later authors such as Theodore Roosevelt (Winning of the West) and Samuel Cole Williams (History of the Lost State of Franklin).:18n
Several historians argue that the rivalry between John Sevier and Andrew Jackson was the root of the factionalism that divided East Tennessee and the rest of the state in subsequent decades.:35 Pro-Sevier sentiment in East Tennessee gradually evolved into support for the Whig Party in the 1830s, and support for the Union during the Civil War. Following the war, East Tennessee remained one of the South's few predominantly Republican regions into the 20th century.
Monuments and memorials
In the 1770s, Sevier established a plantation, Mount Pleasant, along the Nolichucky River south of Jonesborough. This residence was the inspiration for his nickname, "Nolichucky Jack." He moved to Knoxville in 1797, where he began construction of what later became the James Park House. He completed only the foundation, however, before relocating to Marble Springs, a plantation he owned in South Knoxville. A log cabin still standing at this site has been attributed to Sevier, though a dendrochronological analysis of the cabin's logs conducted by the University of Tennessee suggests the cabin was built well after his death. Marble Springs has been designated a state historic site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Numerous municipal and civic entities are named in honor of Sevier. These include Sevier County, Tennessee, and its county seat, Sevierville; Governor John Sevier Highway in south Knox County; John Sevier Middle School in Kingsport; and John Sevier Elementary School in Maryville. Other entities bearing his name include a coal-fired power plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority near Rogersville, a railroad classification yard operated by Norfolk Southern in east Knox County, and a dormitory at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville. Bonny Kate Elementary in South Knoxville and the Knoxville-based Bonny Kate Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution are named for Sevier's wife, Catherine Sherrill.
In 1931, a statue of Sevier created by Leopold and Belle Kinney Scholz was dedicated at the National Statuary Hall Collection of the U. S. Capitol. Other monuments include a bust on the first floor of the Tennessee State Capitol, his grave monument at the Knox County Courthouse in Knoxville, and Daughters of American Revolution monuments at Marble Springs in Knoxville and at Myrtle Hill Cemetery in Rome, Georgia. A monument to Sevier's father, Valentine Sevier, has been placed at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton.
Sevier is a distant relative of St. Francis Xavier, the name "Sevier" being an anglicized form of "Xavier." In the 17th century, some members of the Xavier family became Protestants (Huguenots). In 1685, following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Sevier's grandfather, Don Juan Xavier, moved to London, and changed his name to John Sevier. Sevier's father, Valentine "The Immigrant" Sevier (1712–1803), was born in London, and moved to America in 1740.
Sevier married Sarah Hawkins (1746–1780) in 1761. They had ten children: Joseph, James, John, Elizabeth, Sarah, Mary Ann, Valentine, Rebecca, Richard, and Nancy. Following her death, Sevier married Catherine Sherrill (1754–1836). They had eight children: Catherine, Ruthe, George Washington, Samuel, Polly, Eliza, Joanna, and Robert.
Sevier's grandnephew, Ambrose Hundley Sevier (1801–1848), served as one of the first U.S. senators from Arkansas. Sevier County, Arkansas, is named for him. The Conway family, which dominated early Arkansas state politics, were cousins of the Seviers. Henry Conway, the grandfather of Ambrose Sevier and Arkansas's first governor, James Sevier Conway, was a friend of Sevier, and served as Treasurer of the State of Franklin. Two of Sevier's sons, James and John, married Conway's daughters, Nancy and Elizabeth, respectively.
A large family of Seviers in Madison Parish, Louisiana, also claim descent from John Sevier, among them State Senator Andrew L. Sevier of Tallulah, who served in the upper house in Baton Rouge from 1932 until his death in 1962.
- Robert Corlew, "John Sevier," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2009. Retrieved: 23 July 2012.
- Carl Driver, John Sevier: Pioneer of the Old Southwest (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1932).
- The Life of John Sevier Time Line. JohnSevier.com. Retrieved: 22 July 2012.
- History - Town of New Market. Retrieved: 4 October 2011.
- Samuel Cole Williams, Dawn of the Tennessee Valley and Tennessee History (Johnson City, Tenn.: Watauga Press, 1937), pp. 370-377.
- John Finger, Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2001).
- Samuel Cole Williams, Tennessee During the Revolutionary War (Nashville: Tennessee Historical Commission, 1944).
- Michael Toomey, "Southwest Territory," Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2009. Retrieved: 22 July 2012.
- Stanley Folmsbee, Robert Corlew, and Enoch Mitchell, Tennessee: A Short History (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1969), p. 86.
- Kevin Barksdale, The Lost State of Franklin: America's First Secession (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009).
- Mary Rothrock (ed.), The French Broad-Holston Country: A History of Knox County, Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1972), p. 487.
- Phillip Langsdon, Tennessee: A Political History (Franklin, Tenn.: Hillboro Press, 2000).
- J.G.M. Ramsey, Annals of Tennessee, pp. 134, 712, e.g.
- Oliver Perry Temple, Citizen, Soldier, Legislator, Governor, Statesman, 1893.
- Mark Banker, Appalachians All: East Tennesseans and the Elusive History of an American Region (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2010), p. 61.
- Jessica Brogden, Maggie Stevens, Henri Grissino-Mayer, and Charles Faulkner, "The Dendroarchaeology of Two Log Structures at the Marble Springs Historic Site, Knox County, Tennessee - Final Report Submitted to the Tennessee Historical Commission," April 2007. p. 4. Retrieved: 23 July 2012.
- Biography of John Sevier, KnowSouthernHistory.net. Retrieved: 22 July 2012.
- Samuel Cole Williams, History of the Lost State of Franklin, (New York: The Press of the Pioneers, 1933), p. 311.
- "Sevier Family of Madison Parish, Louisiana". rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved February 15, 2011.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to John Sevier.|
- Tennessee State Library & Archives, Papers of Governor John Sevier, 1796–1801
- Tennessee State Library & Archives, Papers of Governor John Sevier, 1803–1809
- John Sevier's diary
- John Sevier & Sevier Family genealogy
|United States House of Representatives|
|New district||Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Carolina's 5th congressional district
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Tennessee's 2nd congressional district
Bennett H. Henderson
|New title||Governor of Franklin
|New title||Governor of Tennessee
|Governor of Tennessee