John Sevier

John Sevier

Sevier, John, 1745-1815, American frontiersman and political leader. He was born near the site of New Market, Va., the town he founded in his young manhood. In 1773 he moved with his family to W North Carolina, where he became a leader of the Watauga Association. In the American Revolution, Sevier, a supporter of independence and a veteran of many campaigns against Native Americans, was prominent as one of the frontier leaders in the American victory at Kings Mountain (1780) in the Carolina campaign. After the war, when North Carolina ceded (1784) its western lands to the United States, Sevier served (1785-88) as governor of a separate, short-lived state organized by the settlers (see Franklin, State of). For this he was arrested (1788) by the North Carolina government on a charge of treason, but he escaped. Following his election (1789) to the North Carolina senate, he was pardoned by the governor. He voted for the U.S. Constitution in the state ratifying convention of 1789, and he was elected (1789) to represent the western districts in Congress. In 1791 he was made a brigadier general in the "Territory South of the River Ohio" and in 1794 was appointed to its 10-man legislative council. The new state of Tennessee was organized (1796) out of this territory, and Sevier, elected the first governor, served from 1796 to 1801 and again from 1803 to 1809. The rising young Andrew Jackson unsuccessfully tried to curb Sevier's political power, and the two men became bitter personal enemies. Sevier ended his distinguished career by returning to Congress (1811-15).

See his Letters in C. B. Sevier and N. C. Madden, Sevier Family History (1961); biographies by J. R. Gilmore (1887) and C. S. Driver (1932).

John Sevier (23 September 1745 25 September 1815) served four years (1785–1789) as the only governor of the State of Franklin and twelve years (1796–1801 and 1803–1809) as Governor of Tennessee, and as a U.S. Representative from Tennessee from 1811 until his death. He also served as the commander of the Washington County, Tennessee, contingent of the Overmountain Men in the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Early life

John Sevier was born in the town of New Market, Virginia. His paternal grandfather, known as Valentine 'The Huguenot' Sevier, was from the French Huguenot branch of the Xavier family that included as a distant relative Saint Francis Xavier; his paternal grandmother, Mary Smith, was English. Sevier's father was born in London, England, and his mother, Joanna Goad, was an American.

Along with his first wife, Sarah Hawkins, and their children, Sevier settled in the Holston River valley in what is now East Tennessee. It was at this time that he gained the nicknames Nolichucky Jack and Chucky Jack for his exploits along the Nolichucky River. That area was then claimed by Virginia, and he served briefly in Lord Dunmore's War in 1774. In this war John Sevier began to win the reputation as an Indian fighter that would make him a hero in his own day, though making some modern historians uncomfortable with his legacy.

Revolutionary War

Soon after settling in Northeast Tennessee, Sevier became involved in local politics, helping to organize a petition to North Carolina to become part of that state, and commanding Washington County militia in the Cherokee siege of Fort Caswell (or Fort Watauga) near Sycamore Shoals (present-day Elizabethton, Tennessee). After this battle he was promoted from Lieutenant Colonel to Colonel, and in this capacity led 240 of over 1,000 militiamen over the Appalachian Mountains to fight against Major Patrick Ferguson and a similar number of British Regulars and Carolina Loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The tremendous victory for the Overmountain Men increased Sevier's fame and popularity on the frontier, and when the time came for the people of the area to govern themselves, Sevier was more than once their first choice.

During this time, Sevier's first wife, Sarah Hawkins, died, and he married Catherine "Bonnie Kate" Sherrill.

Much of this story is presented every year in The Wataugans, an outdoor drama performed in Elizabethton, Tennessee, site of the muster of the Overmountain Men.

State of Franklin

In 1784, North Carolina, bowing to the pressure from the Continental Congress and eager to be rid of an expensive and unprofitable district, ceded all her lands west of the Appalachian Mountains to the United States Government. However, the Congress did not immediately accept the lands, creating a vacuum of power in what is now East Tennessee. Sevier was one of several prominent men who stepped into that vacuum, accepting the role of governor of the new State of Franklin (named after Benjamin Franklin according to most sources, but occasionally spelled 'Frankland,' meaning 'land of free men'). When North Carolina rescinded her cession, Sevier initially wanted to return to the Old North State, in part because he was offered a promotion to brigadier general, but William Cocke, another prominent Franklinite (and later U.S. Senator from Tennessee), convinced him to stay the course.

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, and he even considered an alliance with Spain, whose Governor Estevan Miro sent gold to Sevier in hopes of subverting transappalachian America. Both Franklin and North Carolina elected local officials, state senators, and representatives to Congress. Eventually some of Sevier's property was seized for taxes supposedly owed to North Carolina. This confiscation took place while Sevier was campaigning against Cherokee who were defending themselves against Franklinite settlers living south of the French Broad River. Upon his return, Sevier took the militia to the farm of John Tipton, a prominent North Carolina man (so prominent, in fact, that North Carolina supporters were often called Tiptonites), and laid siege for three days (27 February to 29 February 1788). Tipton was ultimately reinforced by militia from Sullivan County, and two of Sevier's sons were captured. Upon their release, Sevier withdrew from the siege. This event became known as "The Battle of the Lost State of Franklin", and marked the beginning of the end for the Franklin government. Because the men on both sides were neighbours and friends, most deliberately missed in their shots, and few men were killed or injured. However, within a year, the State of Franklin would no longer exist.

Sevier was arrested in 1788 on a charge of treason under North Carolina law, but he escaped.

In 1789, Sevier was elected to the North Carolina Senate as a Federalist. After this election Sevier received a pardon from the governor, ending the treason charge.

Sevier was elected from North Carolina to the First United States Congress and served from June 16, 1790, until March 3, 1791.

Southwest Territory

In 1790, what is now Tennessee was again ceded by North Carolina to the U.S. government, and it was then organized into the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio, or Southwest Territory. The capital was briefly at Rocky Mount, Tennessee, and soon moved to Knoxville. The governor, appointed by President Washington, was William Blount. Sevier and Blount worked together during the territorial period; but when Tennessee became a state, Sevier and Blount, and later Blount's protégé Andrew Jackson increasingly found themselves at odds.

Governor of Tennessee

When Tennessee became a state in 1796, Sevier was elected her first governor, and held the office through two re-elections to enjoy three two-year terms (the maximum number of consecutive terms allowed by the Tennessee Constitution of 1796). Upon his relinquishment of that post, he sought the semi-elective position of Major-General of volunteer forces for all of Tennessee. The vote was a tie, broken in favor of Sevier's rival, Andrew Jackson, by the new governor, Archibald Roane who was a personal friend of Jackson's. Sevier and Jackson would remain bitter enemies until Sevier's death, and they would even make an attempt at dueling one another in 1803. Sevier and Jackson met outside the courthouse in Knoxville and Sevier brought up Jackson's marriage to Rachel. Jackson, insulted, requested an interview a euphemism for a duel and the two eventually met outside of Kingston, Tennessee. After a lot of name calling and threats, the two rode off without firing a shot. In that same year, Sevier would be reelected to the governor's chair, defeating Roane, and held it for six more years. Partially because of the unusually short length of his first term due to the time of the admission of the state to the Union, Sevier served as governor of Tennessee longer than any other person except for fellow six-term governor William Carroll, who served for slightly over twelve full years.

Later life

After serving as governor for the second set of three terms, Sevier was elected to the Tennessee State Senate in 1809 and to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1811, holding the latter office until his death. Sevier died two days past his seventieth birthday while surveying the boundary between the state of Georgia and the Creek Nation in modern Alabama, an area he was familiar with from his days as a land speculator.


By his two wives, Sevier had eighteen children between 1763 and 1796, most of whom lived to adulthood.

Monuments and memorials

The Gov. John Sevier Home is a Tennessee state historic site.

Both Sevierville, Tennessee, and Sevier County, Tennessee, are named in his honor, as is John Sevier Highway in Knox County, Tennessee. John Sevier Elementary School, located in Maryville, Tennessee, and John Sevier Middle School, located in Kingsport, Tennessee, are also named in his honor. The Tennessee Valley Authority runs a coal-fired power plant bearing his name.

John Sevier's funerary monument stands on the east lawn of the Knox County Courthouse grounds, where his body was reinterred in 1889.

Norfolk-Southern Railway operates a classification yard in the northeast Knox County. It is known as John Sevier Yard.

His monument still stands in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Further reading

  • Driver, Carl Samuel. John Sevier: Pioneer of the Old Southwest. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1932.

John Sevier,and everyone else who traveled with him are also mentioned in a Carter County History play which is called "Liberty!" It has a bit of comedy and a bit of drama.Its at the State Park(I think I'm not sure) and I loved it.You should see it too!

See also

External links

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