John Sevier — Founding Father of Tennessee

September 23, 1745–September 24, 1815 — First Governor of Tennessee, Hero of the American Revolutionary War

John Sevier was a farmer, soldier, and politician who is most famous for the role he played in establishing the territory that became Tennessee, the 16th State in the Union. Sevier helped win the Battle of Kings Mountain during the American Revolutionary War and later was Governor of Tennessee.

John Sevier, Founding Father of Tennessee, Portrait, Wiley

John Sevier, portrait by Eleanor Wiley, circa 1930. Image Source: Calvin M. McClung Historical Collection.

John Sevier Quick Facts

  • John Sevier was born on September 23, 1745, in New Market, Virginia. At the time of his birth, he was a British citizen.
  • His parents were Valentine Sevier and Joanna Goad.
  • Sevier was a prominent militia leader in western North Carolina and fought many battles with Native American Indians to protect settlers in the region.
  • During the American Revolutionary War, Sevier led a contingent of men who joined with other militia forces to form what is known as the “Overmountain Men.”
  • Sevier and the Overmountain Men helped defeat a British force at the Battle of Kings Mountain (October 7, 1780), a significant turning point in the war.
  • He was the Governor of the State of Franklin, a short-lived territory that tried to gain recognition as the 14th State.
  • Sevier served as the Governor of Tennessee from 1796 to 1801 and then from 1803 to 1803.
  • In his later years, he became embroiled in a feud with Andrew Jackson.
  • Sevier died on September 24, 1815, at the age of 70.
John Sevier, Indian Fighter, Nolichucky Jack, Illustration
This illustration depicts John Sevier fighting an Indian. Image Source: Nolichucky Jack by John Thomson Faris, 1927, Archive.org.

John Sevier, a Short History of Tennessee’s Founding Father

John Sevier, an American militia officer, was born on September 23, 1745, near New Market, Virginia. He received a basic education and worked as a farmer and land speculator before moving to the Watauga River settlement — present-day Tennessee — in 1772. In 1773, he relocated to the Holston River Region, where he became a captain in the local militia.

In 1774, Sevier fought in the Battle of Point Pleasant (October 10, 1774) under Colonel Andrew Lewis. Afterward, he cut ties with Virginia and won a seat in the North Carolina provincial legislature. He represented the Washington District and successfully lobbied for its annexation as a western county of North Carolina. He also took on roles as a county clerk and a lieutenant colonel in the militia starting in 1777.

Battle of Point Pleasant, 1774, Illustration, Frost
This illustration depicts the Battle of Point Pleasant. Image Source: Wikimedia.

When the American Revolutionary War started, various Native American Indian groups, including the Cherokee in Tennessee, allied with the British. Sevier led militia forces against the Cherokee who were led by Dragging Canoe. On July 21, 1776, during the Siege of Fort Watauga, Sevier saved a girl, Catherine “Bonny Kate” Sherrill, who was outside the fort milking cows. Four years later, Sevier married Sherrill.

In 1780, British forces won the Siege of Charleston (March 29–May 12, 1780) and took control of South Carolina. Afterward, British forces under General Charles Cornwallis advanced north, and the intensity of the war escalated in the southern regions. Although the British were in control of the coast, the militia forces in the Overmountian Region — the western area past the Appalachian Mountain that included the districts in Tennessee — were a threat to Cornwallis.

Under his command, Cornwallis had  Major Patrick Ferguson, a well-known infantry specialist, who commanded a force of Loyalists. Cornwallis sent Ferguson west to protect the flank of his army, recruit Loyalists, and threaten militia forces in the Overmountain Region.

Instead of laying down their arms, the leaders of the militia forces — collectively known as the Overmountain Men — decided to take action. John Sevier, accompanied by Colonel Isaac Shelby, gathered roughly 240 men at Sycamore Shoals. 

Battle of Kings Mountain, Overmountain Men
“Gathering of the Overmountain Men at Sycamore Shoals” by Lloyd Branson. Image Source: Tennessee State Museum Website.

Together with Major Joseph McDowell and Major Joseph Winston, and with Colonel William Campbell of Virginia, they moved into North Carolina to find and confront Ferguson. Together, there were about 1,200 Overmountian Men.

They finally found Ferguson in early October at Kings Mountain, near the border of North Carolina and South Carolina. On October 7, 1780, the Battle of Kings Mountain took place. During the battle, Sevier played a key role in leading his men up the side of the mountain, where they helped rout Ferguson and his Loyalists. 

The American victory was a turning point in the American Revolutionary War because it forced Cornwallis to abandon his invasion of North Carolina and boosted support for the Patriot Cause in the South.

Following Kings Mountain, Sevier joined with General Francis Marion in South Carolina and then returned to Tennessee where he engaged the Cherokee. 

Francis Marion, Illustration
Francis Marion. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

On December 16, 1780, Sevier defeated Dragging Canoe at Boyd’s Creek. Nearly two years later, on September 20, 1782, he defeated Dragging Canoe again at Lookout Mountain, one of the final battles of the American Revolutionary War.

These victories ultimately persuaded Dragging Canoe to surrender and led to further land concessions from the Cherokee to Sevier and Tennesse settlers.

After the war, Sevier became increasingly involved with frontier politics. He played a key role in the establishment of the “State of Franklin” in March 1785, where he served as governor. However, this endeavor collapsed in 1788 when the Confederation Congress refused to recognize it. Subsequently, Sevier spent several months as an outlaw.

Eventually, he was paroled and explored the possibility of collaborating with the Spanish to potentially separate the southwest from the United States. This plan also fell apart. In 1789, he regained his respectability by winning a seat in the North Carolina Senate after participating in the state constitutional convention, where he supported the Federalists.

Sevier successfully ran for a seat in the newly formed U.S. House of Representatives in 1789. When Tennessee was formally admitted as a state, he returned and became its first governor. Sevier held this position for three consecutive terms, from 1803 to 1809.

In 1798, during the XYZ Affair and Quasi-War with France, Sevier was appointed as a brigadier general in the United States Army by President John Adams

He once again served as governor of Tennessee from 1803 to 1809. From 1810 to 1815, he retained his seat in the national Congress. In 1812, Sevier supported was against Great Britain, which led to the War of 1812

Three years later, President James Madison appointed him to a commission responsible for establishing new boundaries with the Creek Nation. During the mission, Sevier passed away at Fort Decatur, Alabama, on September 24, 1815.

John Sevier Facts and Notes on His Life and Career

Early Life and Family in Virginia

  • John Sevier was born on September 23, 1745, near the present-day town of New Market, Virginia.
  • His parents were Valentine Sevier and Joanna Goade Sevier, and John was their first child.
  • The family’s last name was originally ‘Xavier,’ and they were Huguenots — French Protestants. They fled France due to religious persecution and went to England, eventually changing the name to ‘Sevier.’
  • By 1740 Valentine and his brother William had arrived in America. 
  • Valentine settled in the Shenandoah Valley in present-day Rockingham County, Virginia, where he became a prosperous farmer, trader, merchant, and tavern owner.
John Sevier, First Governor of Tennessee
John Sevier. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Education in Virginia

  • Sevier spent some time at school in Fredericksburg and Staunton Academy but otherwise received very little formal education.

Marriage to Sarah Hawkins

  • When Sevier was 16, he married Sarah Hawkins.
  • They settled near New Market where he was involved in farming and the Fur Trade. He was also involved in land speculating and operated a tavern.
  • Sarah died giving birth to their 10th child.

Watauga Association — The First Settlements in Tennessee

  • In the 1760s, settlers moved into Southwest Virginia, over the Allegheny Mountains, and established settlements along the Holston River, Watauga River, and Nolichucky River.
  • One of the locations, Watauga Old Fields, was situated near the Watauga River.
  • The site was also used as a traditional gathering place for Indians and the area was used as hunting grounds.

Watauga Association — Proclamation of 1763

  • Following the French and Indian War and the 1763 Treaty of Paris, Indians living in the Great Lakes Region and Ohio Valley staged Pontiac’s Rebellion
  • King George III and Great Britain responded with military force and the Proclamation of 1763, which forbade settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains and reserved the territory for the Indians to use as hunting grounds.
  • Despite the Proclamation, the settlers continued to live in the area and started the construction of a fort, originally known as Fort Caswell. It was near Sycamore Shoals, along the Watauga River, near present-day Elizabethton.
  • In 1770, a formal survey was conducted that identified the exact location of the Proclamation Line. When the survey was completed, it was verified the settlements that were part of the Watauga Association were west of the Proclamation Line.
Pontiac, Illustration
Illustration of Chief Pontiac by John Mix Stanley. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Watauga Association — Acquiring Land from the Cherokee

  • In 1772, James Robertson and John Boon arranged for the settlers to lease the land from the Cherokee. 
  • The people living in the region established a government, called the Watauga Association, for communication with British officials.
  • By 1773, Sevier was living in the Watauga Region, in the Carter Valley settlements along the Holston River, and became one of the commissioners of the Association
  • In 1775, the Association purchased the land from the Cherokee. Sevier participated in the transaction on behalf of Watauga.

Watauga Association — Conflict with Dragging Canoe and the Cherokee

  • British officials refused to modify the Proclamation Line but the settlers refused to leave.
  • This increased tension with Dragging Canoe, a Cherokee chief who opposed the sale of the lands to the Watauga Association.
  • Dragging Canoe responded by siding with the British in the war and organizing attacks on the settlers in the region, who were aligned with the Patriot Cause.
  • A committee of Safety was established for the Washington District.

Sevier Establishes Plum Grove on the Nolichucky River

  • In 1776, Sevier moved south from the Holston settlements and settled on the Nolichucky River, near present-day Elizabethton, Tennessee.
  • He built a home and established a plantation he called “Plum Grove.”
  • During this time, he served as clerk of the county court of Washington County and became a prominent land speculator.
  • Because he lived on the Nolichucky River, he gained the nickname, “Chucky Jack.”

Watauga Association — Nancy Ward Warns the Settlers

  • In April 1776, the British supplied Dragging Canoe with weapons.
  • Dragging Canoe sent a message to the settlers, informing them they had 21 days to leave. If they failed to do so, the Cherokee would attack.
  • As part of the District’s defenses, Sevier oversaw the construction of a new fort, called Fort Lee at the Nolichucky settlement, which was near present-day Limestone, Tennessee.
  • A Cherokee woman named Nancy Ward told a trader, Isaac Thomas, that the Cherokee were planning to follow through and attack. Thomas went to Nolichucky and told Sevier about the attack.
  • Most of the settlers fled to Fort Caswell for protection, leaving Sevier without enough workers to complete Fort Lee, so he also went to Fort Caswell.

Watauga Association — First Cherokee Attacks

  • In mid-July, the Cherokee launched their attacks against the settlements.
  • When they arrived at Nolichucky, they split into two contingents.
  • One continent, led by The Raven, went toward Carter’s Valley and attacked settlers near present-day Kingsport, Tennessee.
  • The other, led by Old Abraham and Dragging Canoe, attacked Nolichucky and burned Fort Lee. Afterward, Old Abraham and Dragging Canoe went in different directions.
  • Dragging Canoe went north to attack the Holsten settlements and Old Abraham went east to attack Fort Watauga.
  • At Easton’s Station, Captain John Thompson organized the militia and attacked Dragging Canoe at Island Flats. The settlers won the battle and forced Dragging Canoe, who was wounded, to retreat.

Sevier and the Siege of Fort Caswell

  • It is estimated there were 150-200 settlers at Fort Caswell, including 75 men under John Carter’s command, the head of the Committee of Safety. Sevier and James Robertson commanded men at Fort Caswell but reported to Carter.
  • On the morning of July 21, some of the women were outside the fort milking cows when Old Abraham and his men attacked.
  • The women ran back to the fort, but one of them, Catherine “Bonnie Kate” Sherrill could not get inside before the gates were closed.
  • Sevier reached over the fort’s wall and pulled her up and over the palisades to safety.
  • A battle lasted for three hours and the Cherokee tried to set fire to the walls but were stopped when Ann Robertson Johnson poured scalding hot water on them.
  • The Cherokee eventually called off the attack and laid siege to the fort.
  • After two weeks, the Cherokee decided to abandon the siege.
  • In October 1776, William Christian led Virginia Militia forces into the area to help protect the settlers.
  • After Christian arrived, the Cherokee made peace.
  • Four years later, in 1780, Sevier married Catherine Sherrill after his first wife Sarah died.
Siege of Fort Caswell, Watauga, Sevier Rescuing Sherrill
This illustration depicts Sevier rescuing Sherrill at the Siege of Fort Caswell. Image Source: Tennessee Virtual Archive.

Watauga Association — The Washington District of North Carolina

  • Watauga petitioned Virginia for recognition in 1776, but the “Watauga Petition” was rejected.
  • In November 1776, Watauga sent five delegates, including Sevier, to North Carolina’s convention for its first state constitution. The constitution established the “Washington District,” which included Watauga and most of present-day Tennessee.
  • The district elected Sevier to the North Carolina House of Representatives.
  • In 1777, the Washington District became Washington County, North Carolina.
  • Sevier became the Lieutenant-Colonel of the Washington County Militia.

Sevier and the American Revolutionary War — Patrick Ferguson Threatens the Overmountain Communities

  • After winning the Siege of Charleston, General Henry Clinton ordered General Charles Cornwallis to march through the Carolinas and Virginia to establish British control.
  • Cornwallis marched toward Charlotte, North Carolina, and sent Major Patrick Ferguson out to protect the left flank of his army and recruit Loyalists.
  • While Ferguson moved through the South Carolina Upcountry, the North Carolina Militia, led by Colonel Isaac Shelby and Colonel Charles McDowell harassed him.
  • The militia fought “Indian Style,” by attacking and then falling back into the woods for safety, which Ferguson hated.
  • By the middle of August 1780, Ferguson had chased Shelby and McDowell to Gilbert Town, North Carolina, near present-day Rutherfordton.
  • From there, Shelby and McDowell went over the mountains and Ferguson ended his pursuit.
  • Ferguson issued a proclamation and threatened the communities in the Overmountain Region, saying, “If you do not desist your opposition to the British Arms, I shall march this army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste your country with fire and sword.”

Sevier and the American Revolutionary War — Sevier and Shelby Call on the Overmountain Men

  • When Shelby received the proclamation, he rode to Sevier’s home at Plum Grove to discuss what to do about Ferguson. They agreed to gather the militia, cross back over the mountains, and engage Ferguson.
  • Sevier and Shelby sent a message via express riders to the other militia leaders in the Overmountain Region that included settlements in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
  • The message asked the leaders to muster their forces and meet at Sycamore Shoals, near Fort Watauga, on September 25.

Sevier and the American Revolutionary War — The Overmountain Men Gather at Sycamore Shoals

  • Sevier took 240 men to Sycamore Shoals, so did Shelby.
  • Colonel William Campbell arrived from Virginia with 400 men. Campbell and his men first gathered along Wolf Creek in present-day Abington, Virginia, and then rode two days to Sycamore Shoals.
  • Colonel Charles McDowell arrived with 160 men from Burke County.
  • While Sevier and the others waited for more militia to arrive, they prepared for the expedition and gathered supplies.
  • Mary Patton, who owned a powder mill, sent them 500 pounds of gunpowder to use.

Sevier and the American Revolutionary War — The Overmountain Men March Into the Mountains

  • On September 26, more than a thousand Overmountain Men marched from Sycamore Shoals toward the mountains.
  • The next day, they followed Bright’s Trace into the mountains to Yellow Mountain Gap where Sevier and the other leaders took a headcount. Sevier found out two of his men were missing — likely Loyalist spies who were on their way to warn Ferguson.
  • Sevier and the others decided to continue their mission. They marched some more and camped along Roaring Creek.

Sevier and the American Revolutionary War — The Search for Patrick Ferguson

  • For two days they traveled through the Blue Ridge Mountains and arrived at Gillespie Gap. 
  • At Gillespie Gap, Sevier and the leaders decided to divide their forces to search for Ferguson.
  • They did this so they could ensure that if Ferguson attacked one party, the other would still be available to defend the Overmountain settlements.
  • From there, both parties traveled down the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains and reunited at Quaker Meadows near present-day Morgantown, North Carolina.
  • On September 30, Colonel Benjamin Cleveland and Major Joseph Winston joined them, with another 350 men.
  • Sevier and the others believed Ferguson was still in Gilbert Town and marched in its direction. However, Ferguson was already gone, having been alerted by the two men who deserted from Sevier’s company.
  • On October 4, they found out Ferguson was returning to Charlotte so he could rejoin Cornwallis and the main army.
  • Ferguson sent a letter to Cornwallis on October 6, asking for reinforcements, which he believed would be enough to defeat the Overmountain Men, “I am on my march towards you, by a road leading from Cherokee Ford, north of Kings Mountain. Three or four hundred good soldiers, part dragoons, would finish the business. Something must be done soon. This is their last push in the quarter…”
  • Sevier and the others sent scouts out to pin down Ferguson’s location.

Sevier and the American Revolutionary War — The Pursuit of Patrick Ferguson

  • On October 6, they were joined by men from South Carolina and Georgia at Cowpens — the site of the Battle of Cowpens (January 17, 1781). The reinforcements boosted the size of the Patriot Militia to roughly 1,800 men.
  • Scouts reported to Sevier and the others that Ferguson was heading toward Charlotte.
  • Sevier and the other leaders chose 900 of the best men from their ranks, along with 900 horses.
  • At 9:00 that night, they left Cowpens and rode all night, moving east through rain.
  • On October 7, they crossed the Broad River and locals informed them that Ferguson was camped at what was called “Little Kings Mountain.”
  • From his camp atop Kings Mountain, legend says that Ferguson declared he was the king of the mountain and no one could drive him from it.
Battle of Kings Mountain Map
This map shows the location of the British camp and the Overmountain Men, prior to the attack. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Sevier and the American Revolutionary War — Victory at Kings Mountain

  • Sevier and the Overmountain Men approached Kings Mountain, completely undetected, due to the wet ground.
  • They circled Kings Mountain and advanced up all sides.
  • Ferguson rallied his men, using a silver whistle to send signals to his Loyalist Militia.
  • Ferguson ordered his men to fix bayonets and move down the mountain, forcing the Patriot Militia to fall back.
  • The Patriots reloaded their rifles and mounted a second, and then a third assault.
  • On the third assault, the Patriots reached the top of the mountain and circled Ferguson’s camp.
  • In a desperate attempt to escape, Ferguson charged his horse toward the Patriots and tried to break through their line.
  • One of the Patriots shot Ferguson, who fell from his horse, but his foot caught in a stirrup and his horse dragged him as it ran around the top of the mountain. Ferguson was shot at least six more times and was killed.
  • Every person in Ferguson’s command was either killed or captured. Ferguson’s body was buried on Kings Mountain.
  • Unable to take Ferguson’s supplies with them, the Patriots burned everything before they left Kings Mountain with their prisoners and marched to Gilbert Town.

The Chickamauga Wars Continue in the Old Southwest

  • Sevier led militia forces to victory at the Battle of Boyd’s Creek (December 16, 1780) near present-day Sevierville, Tennessee.
  • Afterward, he was joined by Arthur Campbell and his Virginia Militia. Together, they carried out a campaign of destruction against Cherokee villages. 
  • In February 1781, John Carter died and Sevier assumed command of the Washington County Militia. Soon after, Sevier led another expedition against Cherokee towns.
  • In September 1782, Sevier organized another expedition. This time, he intended to attack Dragging Canoe and his village, which had settled in Northern Georgia and Alabama.
  • Sevier won a battle against Dragging Canoe and the Cherokees at Lookout Mountain and then destroyed some of their villages.
  • In the aftermath of Sevier’s campaign, Chief Oconostota helped negotiate a peace treaty with the United States, ending hostilities.

State of Franklin — Establishment and Controversy

  • Toward the end of the American Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson started to develop plans to form states from the western territories and the Overmountain Region.
  • Washington County was in North Carolina’s western lands, which were ceded to Congress as part of the process to ratify the Articles of Confederation. However, Congress did not accept the new territory right away, which led North Carolina to reclaim it.
  • In the interim, political leaders in the region formed a government for the “State of Franklin,” and Sevier was elected governor.
  • When North Carolina reclaimed the territory, Sevier remained loyal to the people who wanted to remain an independent state.
  • Sevier made the Treaty of Dumplin Creek (June 1785) and the Treaty of Coyatee (1786) with the Cherokees, which set the borders of Franklin.
  • Eventually, Congress refused to recognize Franklin as the 14th state and the movement eventually died out.
Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State, Portrait, Peale
Thomas Jefferson. Image Source: U.S. Department of State, Diplomatic Reception Rooms.

State of Franklin — Battle of Franklin

  • In February 1778, Sevier was away from Plum Grove, leading a military expedition against the Cherokee.
  • His political rival, John Tipton, who was loyal to North Carolina, had some of Sevier’s slaves seized as payment for taxes Sevier owed North Carolina.
  • Sevier responded by leading about 150 men to Tipton’s farm, which was defended by 40-50 men allied with Tipton.
  • Sevier arrived on February 27 and laid siege to the farm.
  • On February 29, Tipton received reinforcements from Sullivan County.
  • A brief gunfight ensued and Sevier and his men were forced to retreat.

State of Franklin — Nine Mile Creek Massacre

  • In the summer of 1778, the Cherokee attacked and killed settlers in Blount County.
  • Sevier responded by leading a military expedition into the Little Tennessee Valley where he destroyed several Cherokee villages.
  • Sevier and some of his men met with Cherokee leaders to negotiate peace.
  • One of Sevier’s men, John Kirke, was a family member of the settlers the Cherokee killed at the Nine Mile Creek Massacre.
  • Kirke attacked the Cherokee and killed some of them, including Old Tassel and Old Abraham.
  • The incident outraged the Cherokee, who renewed their support for Dragging Canoe.

State of Franklin — Collapse and Sevier’s Arrest

  • After the defeat at the Battle of Franklin, support for Sevier and the State of Franklin came to an end.
  • In July 1788, Samuel Johnston, the Governor of North Carolina, issued a warrant for Sevier’s arrest, on charges of treason.
  • In October, Sevier assaulted a store owner, David Deaderikck, for refusing to sell him liquor. Soon after, he was arrested by Tipton and some of his men.
  • Sevier was sent to Morgantown, North Carolina, however, he was released by Burke County Sheriff, William Morrison, before the trial started. Morrison was a veteran of the Battle of Kings Mountain.
  • Sevier was elected to the North Carolina Senate, which passed a resolution pardoning him for his role in the State of Franklin.

Sevier and the United States Constitution

  • February 1789, Sevier participated in the Fayetteville Convention as a delegate from Green County, North Carolina. 
  • Sevier supported the Constitution, and it was ratified by North Carolina on November 23.
  • Afterward, Sevier was elected to represent the North Carolina 5th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Brigadier General of the Southwest Territory

  • Sevier supported an act that ceded present-day Tennessee to the Federal Government, which was approved by North Carolina in December 1789.
  • In 1790, Congress established the Southwest Territory.
  • Sevier was appointed as Brigadier General of the militia and William Blount was appointed Governor.
  • Although he was no longer a resident of North Carolina, Sevier was still allowed to serve his term in the First Congress.

Sevier Interrupts Negotiations with the Cherokee

  • The 1785 Treaty of Hopewell placed the Cherokee under the protection of the United States and allowed the Indians to attack anyone who encroached on their lands. 
  • These provisions were reinforced by the 1791 Treaty of Holston, which was negotiated by Governor William Blount. However, the 1791 treaty also included provisions that punished Cherokees who were guilty of crimes, including murder and theft.
  • Despite the treaties, Americans continued to settle on Cherokee lands, which led to attacks by the Chickamauga Cherokees.
  • In 1793, President George Washington authorized negotiations for another treaty to end hostilities. Government officials and Cherokee leaders met.
  • Sevier opposed the negotiations and planned to attack the delegates during their meeting
  • Sevier organized an expedition and marched to the village where the negotiations were taking place. When he arrived, he sent Captain John Beard to carry out the attack.
  • Beard and his men killed some of the Cherokees and the government negotiators fled.
  • When Washington found out, he had Beard arrested and tried in a military court, however, the court set him free.
  • The Chickamagaus decided to retaliate.
George Washington, Portrait, Stuart
George Washington. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Massacre at Cavett’s Station

  • On September 25, 1793, approximately 1,000 Chickamauga Cherokees advanced on Knoxville, intending to destroy the settlement.
  • General James White organized the militia in Knoxville — known as the “Invincible 38” — which consisted of 38 men, and prepared to engage the Cherokees.
  • The Cherokees, led by Doublehead, abandoned the attack when the Invincible 38 engaged them and set off cannons.
  • However, the Cherokees attacked Cavett’s Station and killed Alexander Cavett and 12 other settlers.

Sevier and the Battle of Hightower

  • Sevier planned to retaliate and organized 250 to 300 men.
  • On October 9, Sevier started to keep a journal and kept track of the expedition.
  • The expedition marched from Knoxville to the confluence of the Hightower River and the Coosa River.
  • The Indians fired on the expedition on October 14 at Estanaula, killing at least one man.
  • Etowah, an Indian town, was located at the confluence of the rivers.
  • On October 17, Sevier attacked the town and routed the Indians.
  • During the battle, Kingfisher, a Cherokee chief, threatened Hugh Lawson White.
  • White and some of the others shot Kingfisher and killed him.
  • The battle is also known as the Battle of Etowah Cliffs.

Tennessee Joins the Union

  • In December 1793, a territorial government was formed, and Sevier was one of five men chosen to serve on the Territorial Legislative Council.
  • Sevier and others urged Governor Blount to begin preparations to apply for statehood.
  • In 1796, the territory drafted a constitution and applied to Congress for admission to the Union.
  • Tennessee was admitted to the Union as the 16th state on June 1, 1796.

First Governor of the State of Tennessee

  • Tennessee leaders were confident the application would be approved by Congress and President Washington.
  • Because of this, elections were held in February 1793 and the new state government met for the first time in March 1793.
  • On March 29, Sevier was announced as the winner of the governor’s race, and he was sworn in on March 30.
  • It is estimated that the population of Tennessee was 85,000 on the day Sevier was sworn in.

Rivalry with Andrew Jackson

  • During Sevier’s first term in office, a rivalry with Andrew Jackson developed.
  • Sevier did not care for Jackson and called him a “poor pitiful…lawyer.”
  • In 1797, Jackson was serving as a U.S. Senator from Tennessee when he uncovered fraud in the land office in Nashville. Sevier refused to comply with the investigation and Jackson believed Sevier may have been involved with the fraud.
General Andrew Jackson, Portrait, Jarvis
Andrew Jackson. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Fourth Term as Governor

  • Sevier served three consecutive terms as Governor, but the state constitution prohibited him from running for a fourth consecutive term.
  • Archibald Roane succeeded Sevier as Governor.
  • Sevier and Andrew Jackson sought to be named Major-General of the Tennessee Militia, and Roane selected Jackson.
  • In 1803, Sevier ran for Governor again. Roane and Jackson tried to use the land office scandal against him but were unsuccessful, and Sevier was elected for a fourth term.

Sevier’s Duel with Andrew Jackson

  • After Sevier’s inauguration, Sevier and Jackson were in Knoxville and started arguing with each other.
  • Sevier accused Jackson of adultery and Jackson challenged him to a duel, which was to take place at Southwest Point, a fort in present-day Kingston, Tennessee.
  • Sevier encountered difficulties during the trip to Southwest Point and his wagon was stopped at Campbell’s Station.
  • Jackson was returning to Knoxville and came across Sevier.
  • Another argument ensued and Sevier’s horse ran off, carrying his dueling pistols.
  • Jackson aimed Sevier with his pistol and Sevier hid behind a tree for safety.
  • Sevier’s son threatened to shoot Jackson and one of Jackson’s sons threatened to shoot Sevier’s son.
  • At that point, Sevier and Jackson ended the confrontation.

Final Years as Governor

  • In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson agreed to the Louisiana Purchase
  • A year later, Sevier helped Wiliam C.C. Claiborne become the Governor of the Louisiana Territory, instead of Andrew Jackson.
  • Sevier was reelected Governor in 1805 and 1807.

U.S. Representative and Support for the War of 1812

  • Sevier was elected to the United States Congress in 1811.
  • In 1812, he joined with Henry Clay and the War Hawks in support of going to war with Great Britain.
  • President James Madison offered Sevier a command in the U.S. Army, but Sevier declined.

Death in Alabama

  • In 1815, Sevier was in Alabama helping survey lands acquired from the Creek Tribe in the Treaty of Fort Jackson. The treaty was negotiated by Andrew Jackson after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
  • Sevier became ill during the mission and died on September 24, 1815. He was 70 years old.
  • Sevier was buried near Fort Decatur, Alabama, but his remains were moved to Knoxville in 1899.

John Sevier’s Legacy

A monument in Knoxville included this inscription, which explains the legacy of John Sevier.

“John Sevier, Pioneer, soldier, statesman, and one of the founders of the Republic; Governor of the State of Franklin; six times Governor of Tennessee; four times elected to Congress; a typical pioneer, who conquered the wilderness and fashioned the State; a projector and hero of King’s Mountain; fought thirty-five battles, won thirty-five victories; his Indian war cry ‘Here they are! Come on boys!”

John Sevier APUSH Review

John Sevier is part of APUSH Unit 3 (1754–1800). Use the following links and videos to study Colonial America, the American Revolutionary War, and the War of 1812 for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

John Sevier APUSH Definition

The definition of John Sevier for APUSH is a prominent figure in early American history and a key leader in the settlement and development of what would become the state of Tennessee. Sevier was born in 1745 and played a significant role in the American Revolutionary War, participating in battles and serving as a militia leader. Afterward, he became the governor of the State of Franklin, an early attempt at statehood for the region. Later, he served as a governor of Tennessee, a U.S. Congressman, and a state senator.

John Sevier APUSH Significance

John Sevier is significant to APUSH for the role he played in the founding, defense, and government of the State of Tennessee. Sevier also contributed to the establishment of the United States through his role in the Battle of Kings Mountian. The American victory at Kings Mountain was a turning point in the war that led to British forces altering the Southern Campaign.