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Washington County appears in Southwest territorial period

By John Kiener
Associate Editor

 [email protected]

(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of Southwest History provided by the Daughters of the American Revolution from the files of Mrs. Mary Sue Hurt Campbell.)

The SEQUICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION of the Southwest Territory: 1790 – 1940 on Sunday, October 13, 1940 featured a “Historical Pageant” produced by Tusculum College. An opening program note read: “Written and produced for the occasion by Miss Kathleen Burnett, instructor in dramatic art, Tusculum, Greeneville, Tennessee, Dr. Charles A. Anderson, president. Greeneville College was chartered in 1794, four years after the arrival in the Southwest Territory of Governor [William] Blount. Greeneville College, later amalgamated with Tusculum, was the first institution to grant a college degree west of the Alleghenies, and the 18th in the United States.” The audience was also told: “All members of the cast are Tusculum College Students.”

The play was composed of a PROLOGUE, and three EPISODES. The Prologue provided: “An Indian attack on the Watauga Settlement in 1776. Before the establishment of the Southwest Territory. The prologue contrasts the wild and heroic pioneer life of early settlers with the culture and civilization that followed on the heels of the new territorial government.

“EPISODE I – The arrival of Governor Blount at Mr. Cobb’s house, ‘Rocky Mount’ on the Watauga, Southwest Territory, Oct. 13, 1790; EPISODE II – After the meeting of the Legislative Council of the Territorial Assembly of the Southwest Territory. A large room in the village tavern at Knoxville, September, 1794; EPISODE III – The presentation of the charter to Greeneville College on Reverend Hezekiah Balch’s plantation in Greeneville, February, 1795.”

The names of the players and the parts they played in the Historical Pageant will be detailed in another installment of this series.

The SEQUICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION had seven committees: Program, Finance, Arrangements, Publicity, Radio, Safety and Invitation. The Publicity Committee was named in Part I of the series. The Program Committee of which the “Historical Pageant” was a part consisted of Mrs. Amelia S. Copenhaver, Chairman from Bristol along with members Dr. Charles A. Anderson of Tusculum; George W. Anderson of Kingsport; Mrs. Wiley Mount of Shouns; F. T. Gentry of Erwin; Raymond Campbell of Elizabethton; T. W. Preston of Bristol; Winfield Hale of Kingsport, Robert May of Jonesboro; C. Hodge Mathis of Johnson City and Paul Counce of Kingsport.

Part II of the “PHASES OF SOUTHWEST TERRITORY HISTORY” written by Samuel C. Williams was titled “Washington County in the Territorial Period. The text read:

“GOVERNOR BLOUNT decided to organize the four North Carolina counties as counties of the Territory in the order of seniority; and, therefore, the mother county of Washington stood first for organization. The Governor proceeded to Jonesborough where, on October 22, 1790, he had called together all persons who held commissions under the government of the State of North Carolina – a step which was repeated in every county to be organized.

“In 1790 and throughout the existence of the Territory Washington County covered what later on became the counties of Carter, Johnson and Unicoi, and the rosters of officials given below contain names of residents of counties afterwards detached from Washington.

“The new government was to be administered according to the laws of North Carolina in force, the laws of Congress and the ordinances and laws to be enacted by the territorial government.

“In announcing the officials, priority was given to civil officials. The governor commissioned the following as justices of the peace for Washington County: John Sevier, Landon Carter, Charles Robertson, Andrew Greer, John Chisholm, Edmund Williams, James Allison, James Stuart, John Strain, John Wear, Robert Love, Joseph Britton, John Milligan, Joshua Kelly, Richard White, Edward Smith, William Cobb and Samuel Handley.

“Later on the following were appointed justices: Thomas Gillespie, Cornelius Bowman, John McAllister, John Carter, Jr., Nathaniel Taylor, James Montgomery, Robert Allison, John Crouch, John Kincheloe, Joseph Young, William McNabb, Charles McCray, Wm. Moreland, Nathaniel Hall, Wm. Pursley, John Blair, Jesse Payne, and Robert Maclin. Michael Harrison was commissioned as sheriff; George Williams, Peter McNamee and Wm. Alexander as deputy sheriffs; William Stephenson as register, James Sevier as clerk and James Reese as county attorney.

“Appointments were next made in the county’s militia, as follows: Landon Carter, lieutenant-colonel commandant; Robert Love, Lieutenant-colonel; John Blair, first major; Leroy Taylor, second major; Samuel McQueen, Cornelius Bowman, Alexander Greer, Thomas Maxfield, Jonathan Tully, George Williams, George North, William Stone, John Campbell, John Milligan, James Wiley, Samuel Handley, Jacob Brown, James Love, and Thomas Biddle, captains; David Waggoner, Solomon Campbell, Nicholas Carriger, Thomas Lackey, Joseph Morrison, John Layman, John Melvin, David Carson, Solomon Yeager, James Scott, Thomas Gann, Obadiah Bounds, Nathaniel Armstrong and Moses Rogers, lieutenants.

“William Swiney, John Vantries, Jonathan Tipton, Jr., Solomon Massengill, Daniel Bailess, Henry Oldham, James Hall, John Clark, Joseph Rogers, John Blevins and George Davis, ensigns. In later months or years, the following officers were commissioned in lieu of those who had died, resigned or removed from the county: John Blair, lieutenant-colonel vice Robert Love, removed from the Territory; Leroy Taylor, first major, and Alexander Greer, second major; William Gallagher, cornet of cavalry.

“In the legislative council the county had John Sevier and it was represented in the lower house of the territorial general assembly at all sessions by two members, John Tipton, Sr., and Leroy Taylor. Landon Carter was treasurer of the two districts (Washington and Hamilton) east of the Cumberland Mountains.

“Jonesborough throughout the life of the Territory was the judicial capital of the Washington District. Courts of Oyer and Terminer and of Equity were regularly held there.

“As already indicated, Governor Blount was concerned to save his administration being embarrassed by a fresh outbreak of the bitter rivalry that marked the State of Franklin period, when two factions existed, one led by John Sevier and the other by John Tipton, both Washington County men. In order to smooth the running of the government Blount made a visit to the home of Tipton who had been circulating a petition criticizing Sevier, and of this visit he promptly wrote Sevier: ‘I paid a visit to colonel Tipton; my reception was kind and the interview satisfactory. Conciliation and public happiness were the objects. While I was there the petition of which you have heard was committed to the flames by the Colonel himself in the presence of David Allison. I was first induced to think of this visit by communications made by Judge Campbell, and am truly pleased with the event.”