The State of Franklin

GRADES: 4 and 8
DURATION: 45 minutes



Like other western settlers, Tennesseans were often suspicious of the motives of the young federal government.  Part of the reason for this mistrust was because at the beginning, the new US government was too weak to help the settlers defend themselves against Indian attacks. Since attacks occurred with regularity, it must have seemed as if the Tennessee region was being ignored. 
Settlers also felt ignored by their home state of North Carolina. Then, in 1784, North Carolina gave the western lands, including Tennessee, to Congress. The settlers decided that it was time to convince the national government to recognize them as a separate state.

The settlers met in Jonesborough in 1784 and elected John Sevier as president of a newly created assembly. But then North Carolina repealed the act of cession, essentially taking the Tennessee land back. Sevier and the assembly decided to go ahead with plans to form a new state.
 In March 1785, Sevier was chosen governor of the proposed state of Franklin. William Cocke traveled to Philadelphia to make an appeal to Congress to recognize the new state, but Congress refused without the permission of North Carolina.  And the North Carolina governor refused to give permission. 
There was a shortage of currency (coins and bills) in the United States in the early years. Many people and governments accepted European coins as currency. Since there was even more of a shortage of currency on the frontier, the state of Franklin had to get creative in what they would accept as payment for taxes.
The schedule of goods and their worth included:
  • Flax linen:
3 shillings, 6 pence per yard
  • Beaver skins:
6 shillings
  • Deer skins:
6 shillings
  • Fox skin:
1 shilling, 3 pence
  • Rye whiskey:
2 shillings, 6 pence per gallon
  • Apple brandy:
3 shillings
  • Sugar: 
1 shilling a pound
  • Tobacco:
15 shilling per 100 leaves
There were two governments in the state—the government of Franklin led by Sevier and government officials who represented North Carolina.  Sevier made an attempt to get a loan from Spain for the state of Franklin, but when it didn’t come through, he gave up the effort. In Middle Tennessee, James Robertson had North Carolina name the counties the Mero District in honor of the Spanish governor at New Orleans. It is not certain why Robertson did this—maybe to discourage Indian attacks by making it seem that the settlers were protected by the government of Spain. 

The Constitutional Convention meeting in Philadelphia drew up procedures by which new states could enter the union.  Finally, in 1790, North Carolina once again ceded her claims to Tennessee. This time Congress accepted the land and created the “Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio.” Franklin continued on a short time, but its backers eventually gave up. The territorial government was in charge of the land. 

Guiding Question:

  • How did the “State of Franklin” come to exist and what happened to it?


  1. Students will understand the events and motivations surrounding the creation of the State of Franklin.
  2. Students will understand general information about the State of Franklin.


  • Students will explain their decisions about a Franklin state flag using the research conducted on the website.
  • Students will discuss in groups or in a whole class discussion how history could have been changed if the State of Franklin had been approved by the Continental Congress.


Ahead of Time:
Make copies of the State of Franklin counties map at
Make copies of the state of Tennessee counties map at
  1. Poll the class as to how many have heard of the state of Franklin.
  2. Explain that for 4 years there existed a state called Franklin that included part of what is now East Tennessee.
  3. Pass out copies of the map of the state of Franklin and of the counties of Tennessee.   
  4. Have students compare the two maps. (Franklin only included part of what is now          Tennessee. Several of the “counties” in Franklin have were later divided or renamed.) Organize students into teams of “researchers”.
  5. Have students explore the information on the state of Franklin at        
  6. Have teams use information on the State of Franklin to create a state flag based on what they have learned about Franklin.
  7. The teams will then explain why they chose certain symbols or colors for their flag based on their research.



5-minute National Public Radio program on the State of Franklin,


  • Tennessee Social Studies Standards: Grade 4 Social Studies:
    4.5.09 Recognize major events, people, and patterns in Tennessee.
    a. Focus on the creation of the State of Franklin and subsequent creation of the state of Tennessee.
  • Tennessee Social Studies Standards: Grade 8 Social Studies:
    8.5.13 Identify Tennessee's role within early development of the nation.
    a. Describe the events that led to the creation and the failure of the State of Franklin.
National History Standards:
Standard 3D: The student understands the interactions among all these groups throughout the history of his or her state.
Grade Level
Therefore the student is able to:
Analyze the significance of major events in the state's history, their impact on people then and now, and their relationship to the history of the nation. [Analyze cause-and-effect relationships]