Washington County - Ceded to Tennessee

A History of Washington County - Ceded to Tennessee
Washington County was named after George Washington. It was a renaming of the earlier Washington District.

Goodspeed's History of Washington County, Tennessee [with minor edits]

Washington County was laid off by a Legislative Act of the Legislature of North Carolina, passed in November of 1777, and was made to include the whole of the territory afterward erected into the state of Tennessee. The first magistrates appointed were James Robertson, Valentine Sevier, John Carter, John Sevier, Jacob Womack, Robert Lucas, Andrew Greer, John Shelby, Jr., George Russell, William Bean, Zachariah Isbell, John McNabb, Thomas Houghton, William Clark, John McMahan, Benjamin Gist, John Chisolm, Joseph Wilson, William Cobb, Thomas Stuart, Michael Woods, Richard White, Benjamin Wilson, Charles Robertson, William McNabb, Thomas Price, and Jesse Watson.

The first session of the court of pleas and quarter sessions was begun and held on February 23, 1778. John Carter was chosen chairman; John Sevier, clerk; Valentine Sevier, sheriff; James Stuart, surveyor; John MeMahan, register; Jacob Womack, straymaster; John Carter, entry taker, and Samuel Lyle, John Gilliland, Richard Wooldridge, Emanuel Carter, William Ward, V. Dillingbam, and Samuel and John Smith, constables. At the next term of the court, which was held at Charles Robertson's in May following, the rates of taxation were fixed as follows:

For every one hundred £s worth of property 16s 8d
For building a court house, prison and stocks 2s 6d
For building a court house in Salisbury 4d
For the contingent fund of the county 1s
Total £1/6d

The county was then divided into seven districts, and the following magistrates appointed to make return of the taxable property: Benjamin Wilson, John McNabb, John Chisolm, William Bean, Michael Woods, Zachariah Isbell, and Jacob Womack. The first grand jury was empaneled at this term, and was composed of the following men: William Asher, Charles Gentry, James Hollis, Amos Bird, John Nave, Arthur Cobb, John Dunham, Peter McNamee, John Patterson, Nathaniel Clark, James Wilson, Adam Wilson, Drury Goodin, Samuel Tate, Jacob Brown, David Hughes, Joseph Fowler, Robert Shurley, James Grimes, Robert Blackburn, John Clark, Hosea Stout, Andrew Burton, John Hoskins, Ning Hoskins.

The greater number of the first cases which came before this court were those of Loyalists, and deserters from the Continental Army, who had sought safety in these remote settlements. The intense loyalty of these pioneers to the American cause, however, made this section eztremely uncomfortable for Loyalist sympathizers. The first case in the records of the court is that of the "State vs. Zekle Brown." It was "ordered that the defendant he committed to gaol immediately, to be kept in custody until he can be conveniently delivered to a Continental Officer." Another case was that of the State Vs. Moses Crawford, In Tory's'm. "It is the opinion of the court that the defendant be imprisoned during the present war with Great Britain, and the sheriff take the whole of his estate into custody, which must be valued by a jury at the next court -- one-half of said estate to be kept by said sheriff for the use of the State, and the other half to be remitted to the family of the defendant."

At the same time, on motion of Ephraim Dunlap, who had been appointed state's attorney, it was ordered that Isaac Buller, be sent to the Continental Army, there to serve three years or during the war. He was soon after released upon giving bond that he would apprehend two deserters, Joshua Williams and a court under the certain Dyer who keeps company with said Williams, "by the 20th day of September next, and deliver them to the proper authorities. At the February term of 1780, John Reding was arraigned for speaking words treasonable and inimical to the common cause of liberty." He plead not guilty and the court, after hearing the evidence, bound him over to the superior court, in the sum of £20,000 continental currency.

This was at a time when the continental currency was at its lowest value, and the above apparently enormous sum amounted to less than £200 in specie. The following tavern rates fixed for 1781 illustrate the great depreciation of the currency: Dinner, $20; breakfast or supper, $15; corn or oats per gallon $12; pasturage, $6; Lodging, $6; West India rum, $120 per quart; peach brandy, $80 per quart; whiskey, $48 per quart; Normandy or Tafia rum, $100 per quart.

At the November term of 1778, the commissioners appointed to lay off the place for erecting the court house, prison and stocks, Jacob Womack, Jesse Walton, George Russell, Joseph Wilson, Zachariah Isbell, and Benjamin Gist reported that they had selected a site, and the following May term the court convened at that place in the first court house erected in Tennessee [soon to be named Jonesborough]. "This house was built of round logs, fresh from the adjacent forest, and was covered in the fashion of cabins of the pioneers, with clapboards."

The excitement and ill feeling had somewhat subsided at this time, however, and after hearing the above report, the court ordered that John Nolan be paid £25 in part for completing the public buildings at Jonesboro.

Click Here to learn about all of the known officers and men raised in the Washington County Regiment of Militia during the American Revolution. All names in "blue/underscore" can be clicked on for more information.

The General Assembly of North Carolina in 1782 passed an Act providing for the holding of a Court of Oyer and Terminer and General Gaol Delivery twice a year at Jonesboro for the counties of Washington and Sullivan. Previous to this time it was necessary either to take all cases coming under the jurisdiction of the superior court of Salisbury, or to allow the crime to go unpunished, or the wrongs unredressed, an alternative in which there was but little choice. The first term was begun on August 15, 1782, by Hon. Spruce McCoy, who appointed Waighisill Avery attorney for the state, and John Sevier, clerk. John Vance, Isaac Choate, and William White were convicted of horse stealing, and sentenced to be executed on the 10th of September following. This court continued to be held until the passage of the first cession Act by North Carolina in June of 1784, and after the repeal of that Act Washington District was erected from the counties in what became east Tennessee and a superior court was established.

There is no evidence, however, to show that this court was organized until February 15,1788, at which time Judge David Campbell held a Superior Court of law and equity at the court house in Washington County for the new district of Washington. F. A. Ramsey was appointed clerk, and William Sharp was admitted as an attorney. At the next term Judge Samuel Spencer sat with Judge Campbell, and it was at this time that he issued the warrant for the arrest of John Sevier.

The first permanent settlement in what is now Tennessee was made in 1769 on Boone Creek by Captain William Bean, who came in that year from Pittsylvania County, Virginia. His son, Russell Bean, is said to have been the first white child born in the state. Soon after Bean made his settlement in 1770 and 1771, James Rohertson, Landon Carter, and others, laid the foundation of the Watauga settlements, which at first were mainly in what is now Carter County, Tennessee. The steady stream of emigrants from the older states, however, soon forced these to overflow into the territory now embraced in Washington and Greene Counties.

In 1772, Jacob Brown, with one or two families from North Carolina, located upon the north bank of the Nolachucky River, which up to this time had remained undisturbed by the white man. Mr. Brown had been a small merchant, and brought with him a packhorse loaded with goods with which he soon purchased from the Indians a lease of a large body of land lying on both sides of the Nolachucky. In 1775, he obtained one deed signed by the chief men of the Cherokee Nation, embracing the greater part of the present Washington County west of the Big Limestone, and another deed for the land lying between the Big Limestone and a line drawn from a point on the Nolachucky Mountains north 32 degrees west to the mouth of Camp Creek; thence across the river; thence northwest to the dividing ridge between Lick Creek and Watauga or Holston; thence up the dividing ridge to the rest of the said Brown's land. This land Mr. Brown sold to settlers at a small price. The government of North Carolina, however, refused to recognize the validity of this deed, and continued to make grants in the territory covered by that instrument.

Among the most prominent of the pioneers who located within the present limits of Washington County was John Sevier, who lived on the Nolachucky, on the farm now owned by William Tyler. His sons, John and James, located on farms nearby. John Tipton, the political enemy of the Seviers, lived on Turkey Creek, eight or ten miles east of Jonesboro. The first settlers on Little Limestone were Robert and James Allison, whose descendants still own a portion of the land entered by them. In 1775, Michael Bawn and James Pearn were each granted permission by the county to build a grist-mill on Little Limestone. In the same year an enumeration of the male inhabitants of Washington County, which included all the settlements in eastern Tennessee, showed that the aggregate number subject to poll tax was 450. Computing from this, upon the usual ratio, the population at that time was not far from 2,500.

The first Baptist Church organized in the county was the Cherokee Creek Church, constituted in 1753 [?] by Tidence Lane. Among its first members were James Keels, John Broyles, John Layman, William Murphy, Owen Owens, William Calvert, Reuben, John and Thomas Bayless, Thomas and Francis Baxter. Four years later Buffalo Ridge Church was constituted. Some of the prominent members were Anthony Epperson, Isaac Denton, Joseph Crouch, Peter Jackson, William Nash, David Parry, and Nicholas Hale.

At Cherokee Creek Meeting-house, on the fourth Saturday in Octoher of 1786, [Minutes of the Holston Association. Other authorities put it as early as 1779] was organized the Holston Baptist Associations, at which time six churches were represented as follows: Cherokee Creek - James Keel, John Broyles, John Layman, and William Murphy; Bent Creek - Tidence Lane, Isaac Barton, and Francis Hamilton; Greasy Cave - Richard Deakins and James Acton; North York of Holston - John Frost; Lower French Broad - James Randolph and Charles Gentry. Tidence Lane was chosen moderator, and William Murphy, clerk.

In December of 1784, the court recommended that there be a court house built in the following manner: "twenty-four feet square, diamond corner, and hewn down after it is built up; nine feet high between the floors, body of the above the upper floor, floors neatly laid with plank, shingles of roof to be hung with pegs, a justice's bench, a lawyer's and clerk's box, also a sheriff's box to sit in." The contract was let to John Chisolm, who was to receive for his work an amount to be fixed by two men chosen by himself, and two chosen by the commissioners appointed to superintend its erection. At the same time Alexander Greer took the contract for repairing and completing the prison upon the same terms. The latter building stood on the creek opposite the present jail.

During the years 1785 and 1786, but little is known of the transactions of the court, as most of the minutes were lost in the struggle between Tipton and Sevier. It is known, however, that both county and superior courts were held at Jonesboro, under the authority of the state of Franklin government for nearly three years, although for the greater part of that time a majority of the people of the county avowed continued allegiance to North Carolina.

It was not, however, until February of 1787, that a court of pleas and quarter sessions was established under the authority of the latter state. On the first Monday of that month John McMahon, James Stuart, and Robert Allison met at the house of William Davis, on Buffalo Creek, and organized a court. George Mitchell was elected sheriff pro tem; John Tipton, clerk pro tem, and Thomas Gourley, deputy clerk. John Tipton presented his commission as colonel of the county; Robert Love, as second major, and Peter Parkison, David McNabb, John Hendricks, and Edward Simms as Captains. The magistrates appointed from the county were John Tipton, Landon Carter, Robert Love, James Montgomery, John Wyer, John Strain, Andrew Chamberlain, Andrew Taylor, Alexander Mofiltt, William Porsley, Edmund Williams, and Henry Nelson.

At the May term following, Jonathan Pugh was elected sheriff, Alexander Moffitt, coroner, and Elijah Cooper, ranger. It was ordered by the court that the sheriff demand the public records of the county from John Sevier, former clerk of this court; also that he demand from the ranger his records, and that he demand the key of the jail at Jonesboro, from the former sheriff. The series of conflicts between the two parties, which followed these orders.

In May of 1788, the Franklin government had ceased to exist, and the courts of Davis were held unmolested. At that time John Hammer, William Puraley, Robert Love, and William Moore, commissioners appointed by the preceding General Assembly of North Carolina to select a site for a prison and stocks, reported that they were of the opinion that Jonesboro was the most convenient place. From this it may be inferred that it had been the intention of the General Assembly to remove the seat of justice from Jonesboro, that place having become obnoxious on account of its adherence to Governor John Sevier of the illegal state of Franklin.

In April of 1790, North Carolina ceded Washington County to the Territory South of the Ohio River, also known as the Southwest Territory. This cession was North Carolina's payment to the U.S. government for its debts owed from the American Revolution. All counties west of the Blue Ridge Mountains were included.

In November of 1790, the first session of the county court under the territorial government was held, at which time Charles Robertson, John Campbell, Edmund Williams, and John Chisolm were the magistrates present.

On May 16, 1796, the court was again reorganized to conform to the provisions of the Tennessee state constitution. The magistrates commissioned by Tennessee Governor John Sevier were James Stuart, John Tipton, John Wise, John Adams, John Strain, Henry Nelson, Joseph Young, Joseph Crouch, William Nelson, Robert Blair, Jesse Payne, Isaac DePew, Charles McCray, Samuel Wood, Jacob Brown, John Alexander, Joseph Britton, John Norwood, and John Gammon.

Tennessee was admitted to the Union on June 1, 1796, as the 16th state.

Click Here to see how Washington County evolved from 1777 to 1790, when it was ceded to the Territory South of the Ohio River, also known as the Southwest Territory.

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