June 25th , 2012 9:24 am Leave a comment

Tennessee Heritage: First territorial capitol is set up near Carter County


In our last two columns, we have been tracing the high points of our national and local history during frontier times; today we move on toward statehood. Our Overmountain Men were the heroes of the Revolutionary War battle at Kings Mountain in 1780 and this victory was a decisive step toward our ultimate winning of that conflict.

Rocky Mount” the restored 18th Century Cobb home.

(NOTE: We try very hard to avoid mistakes in these carefully researched articles, but my grandson has pointed out to me that our last column used the term “Shelter Rock” to describe a place above today’s Roan Mountain Village — this was in error. We have consulted Judge Samuel Cole Williams’ authoritative Tennessee During the Revolutionary War at page 146, which says (regarding the aforementioned Overmountain Men’s march from Sycamore Shoals to King’s Mountain in September 1780) as follows: “…the riflemen mounted horses to commence a toilsome advance up Gap Creek from which they crossed to the waters of Doe River. There at the SHELVING Rock they encamped for the night.” I stand corrected and apologize for the misnomer.) 

Many local men received Revolutionary War soldier’s land grants for their service; following the war, in 1783, Charley Boyd settled the “Jones Field” near the “Backwoods” site on Ripshin Mountain. Two years later our whole area became part of what is today known as the “Lost State of Franklin.”

That state existed from August 1784 until February 1788, but was never able to gain recognition from the Federal government. During the “free state’s” short lifetime, the area later to become Carter County was known as Wayne County, Franklin (in honor of Revolutionary War General “Mad Anthony” Wayne). From March 1785, it continued to exist as the County of Wayne until the collapse of the so-called Free State of Franklin government in 1788.

During the last year of the stillborn state’s existence, the march of scientific study on Roan Mountain began when noted botanist John Fraser, a Scotsman, made the first of his three trips to explore and study The Roan. He was followed by the great French botanist Andre Michaux and, in later years, by his son, Francois A. Michaux. For those interested in the natural history of this area, we recommend Jennifer A. Bauer’s most excellent books: “Roan Mountain: History of an Appalachian Treasure” and “Roan Mountain: A Passage of Time.”

Congress created a territorial government in 1790 for the vast territory that lay south of the River Ohio, usually referred to as The Southwest Territory (a well researched book on this subject is Tennessee historian Walter Durham’s “Before Tennessee: The Southwest Territory, 1790-1796”). William Blount, a wealthy land speculator from North Carolina, was appointed Territorial Governor and was sent to organize the territory. He took up his duties at Rocky Mount (present-day Piney Flats) in today’s Sullivan County, just a few miles north of Carter County.

When William Cobb had arrived with his family on the raw western frontier of North Carolina in 1769, he did not realize that his new home would play an important role in shaping the future of our country. Incidentally, Piney Flats’ Rocky Mount Museum annually puts on a marvelous Candlelight Christmas program with a living history reenactment of Christmas in 1791. This year’s Yule celebration is slated for December 7-8 and 14-15 and all details are on the web at www.rockymountmuseum.com.

Holiday revelers will “join” the Cobb family at their Rocky Mount home as they celebrate Christmas in the 18th century, before the heavy commercialization we know today. For the Cobbs, 1791 was a special Christmas; Governor Blount had just returned to Rocky Mount, bringing his family from North Carolina. Music, dancing, decorations and sacred tales will all be part of your 2012 experience on this magical candle-lit evening. Tours begin at 4:30 p.m. each afternoon and the last tour starts at 8 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended. To get back to our story, however, Governor Blount later moved the capital to White’s Fort near present-day downtown Knoxville (which site is also preserved with living history presentations).

Two years after gaining territorial status for the vast region, a German born immigrant, John Simerly [Zimmerle], claimed a 300-acre Revolutionary soldier’s grant in Doe River Cove (today’s Hampton). The territorial period lasted from 1790 until statehood in 1796, when delegates met at Knoxville in constitutional convention, which document was presented to Congress and President Washington. Tennessee was admitted as the 16th state on June 1, 1796. At about the same time the Tennessee General Assembly created Carter County out of Washington County, with the county seat at Elizabethton, which was incorporated in 1797. Thus began the statehood of Tennessee.

-Earl Hendry


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