John Sevier

1745 – 1815

JOHN SEVIER, pioneer, soldier, statesman, Governor of the State of Franklin, first Governor of the State of Tennessee.  He was born near the site of New Market in Rockingham County, Virginia on September 23, 1745; son of Valentine and Joanna (Goad or Goade) Sevier. His grandfather had been a French émigré to London. His father Valentine had moved from London to Baltimore and then to the Shenandoah Valley.  Sevier attended school in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He had stints in farming, trading, surveying which included laying off what would become New Market and serving as a militia officer. In 1761, Sevier married Sarah Hawkins. In 1773, Sevier and his family moved with his brothers to the Holston River in what is now Tennessee. Described as having had a fair education at Stanton, Virginia, Sevier studied law and was admitted to the bar of Southwest Territory, May 6, 1796. 

Sarah Hawkins, daughter of Joseph and Annake Jane (Edwards) Hawkins  died early in 1780; children by this marriage-Joseph, James, John, Jr., Elizabeth, Sarah, Mary Ann, Valentine, III, Rebecca, Richard, and Nancy Sevier.  His second marriage August 14, 1780, was to Catherine (“Bonnie Kate”) Sherrill, native of North Carolina and daughter of Samuel Sherrill.  Children by this marriage-Catherine Sherrill, Ruthe, George Washington, Samuel, Polly Preston, Eliza Conway, Joanna Goode, and Robert Sevier.   John Sevier lived for some ten years at New Market, Virginia, where he engaged in farming and trading; laid off town lots in New Market; and established a tavern.

Soon after 1770, he became interested in the Watauga settlements in portion of North Carolina to be included in Tennessee; named one of commissioners of Watauga Association; moved family, 1773, to Tennessee country, arriving, December 24 or 25 of that year, in Holston settlements; after two or more moves, settled on Nolachucky River about ten miles from Jonesboro, Washington County, North Carolina, later in Tennessee, living on plantation “Plum Grove.”

Not long after, Sevier served as a Captain of militia under George Washington in Lord Dunmore's War against the Indians in 1774. In 1776, he signed a petition that requested North Carolina extend its authority to over the Watauga and Holston settlements. These settlements were actually on land granted to the Indians in treaties with the British. When the petition was granted, he became a representative to the Provincial Congress and then a Lt. Colonel of militia.

In July 1776, Lt. Colonel Sevier was at the siege of Fort Watauga. In 1777, he was promoted to Colonel although he did not participate in the Revolutionary War until 1780. Sometime during these years his wife Sarah died, but in 1780, he married Catherine Sherrill. In September 1780, he gathered 240 Over Mountain Men in response to threats made by Major Patrick Ferguson.

Sevier’s public career in Tennessee country began in 1776.  He and James Robertson were officers in charge of defense of Watauga settlements against attacks by Cherokee Indians.  In the same year Sevier served as delegate from Watauga settlements to the Provisional Congress of North Carolina which framed that state’s first constitution.  In September 1780, he gathered over 240 Mountain Men in response to threats made by Major Patrick Ferguson.  Along with other militia bands, Sevier pursued Ferguson until they caught and defeated him and his Tory force at King's Mountain.Following King's Mountain, Sevier returned to Holston and became active in fighting against the Cherokee Indians who were allied with the British. In 1781, he again went east with men to support Maj. General Nathanael Greene and Francis Marion.

Following the war, Sevier became involved in starting a colony at Muscle Shoals. Back in his former home, the Hoston and its neighbor Watauga settlements were pursuing seperate statehood. In March 1785, John Sevier was elected governor of "the proclaimed" State of Franklin and used the post to promote his Muscle Shoals project. In 1788, the State of Franklin and the efforts behind it were declared illegal and Sevier's reputation became that of a political meddler and fugitive, rather than an Indian fighting hero.

In 1789 as the United States Constitution was being ratified, Sevier now emerged as a Federalist and was elected to the state senate. He was then elected to the First Congress where he served from March 4, 1789 to March 3, 1791. He was elected the first governor of Tennessee, serving from 1796 until 1801. He was again elected governor in 1803, serving until 1809. He served in Congress from 1811 to 1815, during which he served as an Indian Commissioner. He died in a tent on September 24, 1815, while negotiating with the Creek Indians in Alabama.

In addition to duties connected with positions above, and to conducting his plantations, Sevier engaged widely in land speculation and in Indian campaigns; elected a charter trustee of Blount College, 1794, Knoxville; Greeneville College, 1794, Greene County, and Washington College, 1795, Washington County; and was named trustee of East Tennessee College, Knoxville, 1807.