John Sevier

From Academic Kids

Missing image
John Sevier

John Sevier in bronze by
Belle Kinney Scholz
and Leopold F. Scholz;
located in National
Statuary Hall.

John Sevier (23 September 174525 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 Rockingham County, Virginia near the town of New Market to the Huguenot branch of the French Xavier family that included as a distant relative Saint Francis Xavier. Sevier, along with his first wife, Sarah Hawkins, and their children, settled in the Holston River Valley in what is now East Tennessee, although as this was still then claimed by Virginia, he served briefly under George Washington in Lord Dunmore's War in 1774. In this war Sevier began to win the reputation as an Indian fighter that would make him a hero in his own day while making some modern historians uncomfortable with his legacy.

Revolutionary War

Soon after settling in Upper East 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 the present site of 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 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 passed away, and he married Catherine 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 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 session, 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 Don 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 making war 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 Carolinia supporters were often called Tiptonites), and laid siege for three days (27 February to 29 February 1788). Tipton was ultimately re-enforced 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. In 1789, Sevier was elected to the North Carolina Senate as a Federalist.

Southwest Territory

In 1790, what is now Tennessee was again ceded by North Carolina to the US 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, Tennessee. 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. Sevier and Jackson would remain bitter enemies until Sevier's death, and they would even make an attempt at dueling one another in 1803. 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, and 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.


Both Sevierville, Tennessee and Sevier County, Tennessee are named in his honor, as is John Sevier Highway in East Tennessee.

Preceded by :

Archibald Roane (2nd term)
Governor of Tennessee Succeeded by:
Archibald Roane (1st term)
Willie Blount (2nd term)

External links


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