by Matthew Gailani
Today, you probably know that there are 50 states in America. Tennessee is just one of those states. It was the 16th to join the Union. However, did you know that there is a lost state, too? It was called the State of Franklin. So how did we lose it? It didn’t sink into the ocean! It didn’t disappear in a cloud of smoke! Instead, it was an early attempt at statehood by Americans living in what is now Tennessee. It no longer exists, but it is an important part of our state’s history.
Map of the State of Franklin (Tennessee State Museum Collection)
The story begins over 200 years ago. The year was 1784. This was a very different time for America and Tennessee. In fact, Tennessee wasn’t even a state yet! Instead, the land that would become Tennessee was part of North Carolina. Also, the United States was governed by the Articles of Confederation. This was the document that provided laws before the Constitution.
At this time, there were Americans living on the frontier, in what is now Tennessee, who felt like they were being ignored.It took a long time for news to travel from the frontier to North Carolina’s capital. Because of this, the government was late to respond to peoples’ problems. Many of these problems were the result of battles with Native Americans. The frontier settlers felt unsafe and wanted protection. The Native Americans wanted these people off their land. The Native Americans had been living there for generations, and many did not want to sell or give up their land.
Eventually, North Carolina’s government decided to let go of some of its land. Instead, they gave it to the Federal Government to deal with. Remember those unhappy settlers living on the frontier? They saw this as an opportunity. These people decided to create a new state from part of this land. They created their own government and called their new state Franklin. They even elected a governor whose name was John Sevier. John was an important man on the frontier and even fought during the American Revolution.
Portrait of John Sevier (Tennessee State Museum Collection)
After Franklin was created, trouble started. North Carolina decided it wanted its land back. Because of this, the Federal Government wouldn’t accept Franklin as a state. This angered the people living in Franklin. There were now two governments - the government of Franklin and the government of North Carolina.
So who won? Franklin? North Carolina? Eventually, a few years later, North Carolina decided to give its land back to the Federal Government again. This time, the federal government created a territory. This territory eventually became Tennessee. When this happened, the State of Franklin no longer existed. It was lost!
The State of Franklin might be lost now, but this doesn’t mean it’s not important. Remember John Sevier? Well he went on to become the 1st Governor of Tennessee in 1796.
Statehood - How an area or territory becomes a state under the Federal Government.
Articles of Confederation - The document, before the Constitution, that set up and governed the 13 original states from 1781-1789.
Federal Government - The government that oversees all of the states. Today, it is located in Washington D.C.
John Sevier - A veteran of the American Revolution who served as the Governor of Franklin and Tennessee’s 1st Governor.
Territory - An area of land that is under the rule of a government. It is a step before an area becomes a state.
What state was the State of Franklin carved out of in the 1700’s? What state is it a part of today?
How did the State of Franklin disappear?
Do you think the people on the frontier should have been allowed to create their own state? Why or why not?
Using the link below, download the Lost State of Franklin activity and create your own lost state:
Download Lost State of Franklin Activity
Tennessee Social Studies Standard:
5.30- Explain the significance of the Watauga Settlement on Tennessee history, including the following: Watauga Compact, Dragging Canoe, John Sevier, and Nancy Ward.
5.33- Identify the Lost State of Franklin as Tennessee’s first attempt at statehood, and explain the reasons for its failure.
5.36- Identify the year Tennessee became a state, its first governor, and the original capital.
TN.09- Identify reasons for the foundation and failure of the independent state of Franklin in 1784.
Matthew Gailani is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.