Monday, May 15, 2017

The first independent government in America? The "Watauga Association" of 1772–1776


It seems that this is in a sense the ‘missing link’, connecting the Regulators of North Carolina of 1771 with the Fincastle Resolutions of Virginia in January 1775.

It was said by President Theodore Roosevelt that these were "first men of American birth to establish a free and independent community on the continent”, up in the Appalachian Mountains. Made up by rural frontier settlers near what is today Elizabethton, Tennessee, the "Watauga Association" straddled Carter County, Tennessee and Watauga County, North Carolina, and was named after the Watauga River which flows through both.

Among the seventy homestead farms who bonded together was that of James Robertson, later one of the founders of Nashville, who might even have suggested the name "Watauga Association”. They were a combination of English, Scot and Scotch-Irish; they had their own Constitution (based on that of Virginia), their own laws, their own court system, and were part of the historic success at the Battle of King’s Mountain in 1780.

“…the Watauga colonists were largely Scotch-Irish has been generally accepted, and in view of the fact that the areas from which they came were so largely occupied by this race, the belief seems justified. It is however interesting to note, in this connection, the variety in stock as shown in the leaders, most of them American born …:

Robertson brought a group of around sixteen Regulator families from North Carolina to Watauga after the Battle of Alamance of May 1771 (see recent posts); John C Campbell carries on that quote above by pointing out the English, Welsh and French Huguenot ancestry of some of the thirteen Watauga commissioners. This belter of a quote from the History of Tennessee (1903; online here) by William Robertson Garrett (1839–1904), a former lawyer, then Captain in the Confederate army, and then Chair of American History at the University of Nashville, covers very familiar ground –

“… But whether they came from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Pennsylvania, the first settlers of Tennessee were, in the main, the same type of people— an aggressive, daring, and hardy race of men, raised up in the faith of the Presbyterian Covenanter, and usually comprehended under the general designation of Scotch-Irish, that people forming their largest element … These Scotch emigrants were stern, strict, liberty-loving Presbyterians, who believed in the Westminster Catechism and taught it to their children. They resented the pretensions of the Crown to be the head of the church, and believed with John Knox that the King derived his authority from the people, who might lawfully resist, and even depose him, when his tyranny made it necessary …"

Contrary to modern assumptions, it seems that the Wataugan settlers got on well with the local Cherokees. During the Revolution, Fort Watauga was built, and was recreated in 1976 at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. Eventually Watauga was subsumed into the post-Revolution state of North Carolina.

Another big story for somebody to dig further into. 

The Wataugans by Max Dixon (1976) is online here
• More details available here on
• Wikipedia entry here
This article gives detail on the various individuals and families involved. 

Fort Watauga is shown below