The Watauga Settlement

Excerpts from Tennessee Cousins, Worth S. Ray, (1950)

In early American History it was generally the "Indian Traders" who were the first to penetrate the Indian Country. Julius DUGGER and Andrew GREER have been awarded the honor of being the first white men to settle in the Watauga Country. They are said to have been about three miles above the present town of Elizabethton, and Dugger's not far from what was long called "Dugger's Bridge". Col. James ROBERTSON came across the mountains about 1770, from North Carolina; Valentine SEVIER, Sr. from up in the Valley of Virignia about the same time, and Col. John CARTER in 1770-71.

These men were followed in a very short time by other settlers who found their way down into this then unknown country; Simon BUNDY, Matthew TALBOT, Baptist McNABB, Charles ROBERTSON, Michael HYDER, James EDENS, Thomas GOURLEY, William BOYD, Joseph HYDER, Col. John TIPTON, and Samuel TIPTON and other sons, including Isaac and Thomas; Edmund WILLIAMS, Johnathan and David PUGH, Isaac, Andrew, Abner and Nathaniel TAYLOR, Peter, John and Henry NEVE and John S. THOMAS and others. These men left their establised homes for the American wilderness and established the most remarkable government known to white people of the civilized world at the time - the Free Settlement of Watauga.

The Watauga Settlement was actually an independent state

In a 1774 letter to his superiors, Lord Dunmore said, after being advised of what had taken place on the Watauga, that the people there had, "to all intents and purposes erected themselves into, though an inconsiderable, yet a seperate State."

This was the status openly assumed by these adventurous but determined pioneers, when in the early part of 1772, they formed what they called an "Association", drew up Articles relating to their own government & established rules and regulations designed to make their own self-government a fact and not a theory, appointing officers and courts and constabulary necessary for that purpose.

This action in fact brought into full force and effect the first written constitution ever adopted by a community of American-born Freemen.

The organization of this "seperate state" on the Watauga, was born of mecessity, since they found themselves beyond the reach and protection of any other government or state, or its administrative powers.

Control of the Watauga Settlement

To what State or Government did these pioneers owe allegiance? They did not know. In fact since no official boundary lines were darwn and no surveys made even the Governor of Virginia did not know who had control over the territory on the Watauga. The Governor of Virginia erroneously issued grants and patents to land that North Carolina had claimed but had not surveyed. No one was interested in the rugged pioneers who crossed the mountains and they were left to fend for themselves.

If the Watauga residents needed protection they had to furnish it themselves because Virginia, North Carolina and the British Isles didn't care. Needing some form of government they formed their own in their own way and according to their own ideas. Thus they met and erected themselves into an inconsiderable, and yet a seperate State.

The First Watauga Government

The "Articles of Association" drawn up and adopted by the settlers of the new State in 1772 have long ago been lost. Their preceedings have not been preserved. But it is known that they proceeded to the election of thirteen "Commissioners" and those commissioners were:

John CARTER
Charles ROBERTSON
Zachariah ISBELL
John SEVIER
James SMITH
Jacob BROWN
William BEAN
John JONES
George RUSSELL
Jacob WOMACK
Robert LUCAS
William TATHAM

These commissioners proceeded to the establishment of a court as was evidently provided in the Constitution of "Articles" that had just been adopted. This court was the first one that ever met in what is now Tennessee, which at the time was the "Watauga Settlement". The members of this first court were:

John CARTER
Charles ROBERTSON
James ROBERTSON
Zachariah IZBELL
John SEVIER

The Clerk of the Court was a young Englishman by the name William TATHAM, who was afterwards one of the defenders of Fort Caswell on the Watauga in 1776, participated in the treaty of Long Island the next year, but went in 1787 he became a member of the House of Commons from Robeson County.

Wataugans in the Military

Eventhough the Wataugans had to furnish their own government, they also helped to defend the general government, and took part in some of the fierce fighting that was done. In Evan SHELBY's company at the battle of Point Pleasant in 1774 several Wataugans, who had volunteered, whose names are familiar in the annals of the Watauga settlement. Included among those names were:

George ARMSTRONG
Abram BOGARD
Emanual CHOATE
John FAIN
Samuel FAIN
Charles FIELDER
John FINDLEY
Andrew GOFF
Robert HANDLEY
Samuel HANDLEY
Richard HOLLOWAY
Conrad NAVE
Rees PRICE
Elijah ROBERTSON
James ROBERTSON
Julius ROBERTSON
George RUDDEL
John SAWYERS
Valentine SEVIER
Henry SPANN
John STEWART
William TUCKER
Samuel VANCE
Jarret WILLIAMS
John WILLIAMS
Mack WILLIAMS

After that engagement the Indians gave up their claims to all lands South of the Ohio and Daniel BOONE and Judge Richard HENDERSON and associates made a treaty in behalf of themselves in which they evoked a title from some of the Indians to the great "Transylvania" tract of land, afterwards annilled so far as they were concerned. The names of Judge HENDERSON and associates in this deal were:

Leonard Henley BULLOCK
Nathaniel HART
Thomas HART
Richard HENDERSON
James HOGG
William JOHSTON
John LUTTRELL
Judge John WILLIAMS

Two days after this purchase, by an agreement, through the association of Robert LUCAS, a partner of the CARTERS, a large part of this land that lay in this section along the Watauga, was conveyed to Charles ROBERTSON, who acting under his power of Attorney sold to settlers, who afterwards obtained valid permits. Among them were:

William BEAN
Jesse D. Benton
John CARTER
Walling DENTON
Andrew GREER
Henry GRYMES
Joshua HAUGHTON
James HOLLIS
John JONES
Andrew LITTLE
Henry LYLE
Lucas MASSENGILL
Baptist McNABB
John McNABB
James ROBERTSON
Isaac RUDDLE
George RUSSELL
John SEVIER
William TACKET
Matthew TALBOT
Jonathan TIPTON
Robert YOUNG

In 1776 the Watauga pioneers, then holding titles to their lands direct from the Indians, petitioned the Legislature of North Carolina for annexation to that "Province", in response to which they were "noticed" and the county of Washington, North Carolina established in 1777.

The Old Gap Creek Settlement in the Watuaga Valley

The Gap Creek Settlement on the Watauga, now Carter County, is rich in history and legends of the early pioneers who settled there when time really began in this part of the old world. Among the first settlers who picked this spot for their cabins were: Simon BUNDY, James EDENS, Thomas GOURLEY, William BOYD, Joseph HYDER and others.

Gap Creek begins at the foot of Greer or Gap Creek Mountains and runs for nearly five miles northwesterly in an irregular course to empty into the Watauga River at Watauga Point just a few yards below the Sycamore Shoals. The Watauga Fort was within a mile of the mouth of Gap Creek, and therefore the section became settled very early.

The Sycamore Shoals monument stands just east of Gap Creek on the Milligan Highway. In 1780 the pioneer Wataugans assembled here to organize into a small army under John SEVIER, Colonel Jonathan TIPTON, and others, and marched across the rough country to King's Mountain to defeat the British army and General FERGUSON. Many of the settlers on Gap Creek were revolutionary soldiers, and among these were: James EDENS, Thomas GOURLEY, and Robert LOVE. The men went up Gap Creek on the way to King's Mountain.

The Pioneer Families of the Watauga Settlement

One of the first settlers on Gap Creek was Simon BUNDY, who settled about 2880 below Clark's Spring. Henry LYLE received one of the first land patents on the east bank of Gap Creek in 1776. Matthew Talbot, Sr., a pioneer Baptist preacher from Virginia, was also an early settler here and built the first grist mill on Gap Creek about 1775. His son, Matthew TALBOT, Jr., who removed to Georgia, became one of the first governors of that state. Another son, Thomas TALBOTT, was one of the first sherifs of Washington County, then North Carolina, in 1783.

Thomas GOURLEY, another settler served as county court clerk of Washington County, North Carolina, in 1787. James EDENS, Sr., a pioneer Baptist preacher, from Virginia, settled near Clark's Spring, above Simon BUNDY.

Robert LOVE, Sr., settled on the west bank, near the mouth of Gap Creek. Col. LOVE is remembered as the mediator between John SEVIER and Col. John TIPTON during the Sevier - Tipton civil war contesting the authority of the State of Franklin against the State of North Carolina. LOVE supported TIPTON but was a friend of John SEVIER.

Josiah CLARK settled on the east bank of Gap Creek opposite Robert LOVE. He built and operated a powder mill on Gap Creek. Other pioneers were William BOYD, William SHARP, Nicholas BROYLES, William MATLOCK, Chirstian SCHULTZ and Absolom MOORE.

Nathaniel TAYLOR became one of the most noted settlers of the Gap Creek community. He was the owner of Happy Valley, a large plantation extending from the headwaters of Buffalo Creek and running eastward across Gap Creek to Green Hill plantation, the Tipton plantation, now Elizabethton. He built the manor house which he named "Rotherwood" at Watauga Point, joining the Robert LOVE plantation.

Matthew TALBOTT, Sr. and James EDEN Sr. were among the first Baptist preachers to settle in the state. James EDENS, Jr., a son of James Sr., became a noted Baptist preacher in the Holston Association. Thomas D. LOVE, a grandson of Robert LOVE, Sr., became one of the first lawyers in Carter County. Later settlers on Gap Creek were:

Isaac BUCK
Thomas J. DUGGER
Alexander GRINDSTAFF
John HYDER
Jonathan HYDER
Joseph HYDER
William F. M. HYDER
Isaac KITE
Reuben LANDSOWN
Joseph TIPTON
Thomas TIPTON
Pleas. M. WILLIAMS

Others include the RANGERS, LOUDERMILKS, BURCHFIELDS, McKINNEYS, LOVELACES, HUMPHREYS, MILLERS, JONES, McINTURFFS, CHASTAINS.

Signers of the Watauga Petition

For the District of Washington, 1776

Members of the committee:

John CARTER, chairman
William BEAN
Jacob BROWN
Zachariah ISBELL
John JONES
Robert LUCAS
Charles ROBERTSON
James ROBERTSON
George RUSSELL
John SEVIER
James SMITH
Jacob WOMACK

Other signers who were not members of the Committee:

John BARLEY Joseph DUNHAM John MOORE
Joshua BARTON, Sr. Rice DURRETT Daniel MORRIS
Henry BATES, Sr. James EASLEY Gideon MORRIS
Henry BATES, Jr. Richard FLETCHER Groves MORRIS
William BATES Drury GOODIN Shadrick MORRIS
Hugh BLAIR Alexander GREER Robert MOSELEY
Jordan BOSTIN Andrew GREER John NAVE
Luke "Lew" BOWYER Joseph GRIMES Teter NAVE
William BROOKS John HAILE William NEWBERRY
Jacob BROWN George HARTT Richard NORTON
John BROWN Matthew HAWKINS William OVERALL
Joseph BROWN David HICKEY Elias PEBEER
Joseph BROWN, Jr. Oldham HIGHTOWER William REEVES
Joseph BULLER Abeinego HIX Elijah ROBERTSON
Job BUMPER Ambrose HODGE John ROBINSON
Frederick CALVIT Edward HOPSON Julius ROBERTSON
Joseph CALVIT Joshua HOUGHTON Mark ROBERTSON
Landon CARTER Thomas HOUGHTON William ROBERSON
Emanuel CHOTE David HUGHES Hosea ROSE
John CHUKINBEARD Thomas HUGHES Robert SEVIER
William CLARK George HUTSON Valentine SEVIER
James COOPER Michael HYDER Adam SHEERRILL
Abraham COX Zachariah ISBELL Samuel SHERRILL, Sr.
Edward COX John JONES Samuel SHERRILL, Jr.
John COX, Jr. Lewis JONES Henry SILER
John I. COX John KING Thomas SIMPSON
William COX Robert LUCAS William TATHAM, Clerk
David CROCKETT Joseph LUSK Jonathan TIPTON
Christopher CUNNINGHAM, Sr. Charles McCARTNEY Frederick VAUGHAN
Christopher CUNNINGHAM, Jr. Joseph McCARTNEY John WADDELL
John DAVIS John McCORMICK Jarrett WILLIAMS
Thomas DEDMON Joab MITCHELL Isaac WILSON
William DODD Mark MITCHELL Jacob WOMACK

On Aug. 22, 1776, the state of North Carolina officially accepted the Washington District and the Watauga Association came to an end.

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