Page images

arbitration where nonresidents were involved, and it is evident from this, and from other facts that might be mentioned, that the people regarded their Association as being the only thing that it really could have been, that is, a temporary arrangement by which they agreed that a designated body of men should exercise such powers of government as were necessary for the common good. So far as the associates themselves were concerned, it was perhaps, in effect, a fully appointed and empowered government, but as to others, it was not.

The Articles of Association provided either expressly, or by adopting the laws of Virginia, for the recording of deeds and wills, and for the transaction of other "public business.” In addition to this, the Association first leased, and then purchased lands, in its corporate capacity, and entered into treaties with the Indians. These things indicate the existence of a government claiming, and exercising nearly all the more important attributes of sovereignty, while the anxiety of the Association lest it "should in any way intrude on the legislature of the Colonies," and its acknowledgment of a "want of proper authority to try and punish felons," show that it did not regard itself as possessing, rightfully, all the powers of an independent state.

The form of organization was that of a Virginia County, not of a State, or Province. It had a Sheriff but no Governor, a Court but no Legislature, although the Court had the power to make laws, a power which, to a limited extent, belonged to the county courts of Virginia.

It is reasonably certain that after the annexation to North Carolina, in 1776, no changes were made in the government of Washington District, as it was now called, until the spring of 1777. During the five years existence of the Watauga Association the settlements increased and flourished, and at the outbreak of the Revolution, as we have seen, were able to enlist a company of “fine riflemen.”

There is every reason to believe that the government, while simple and crude in organization and equipment, and informal in method, was both just and efficient. Its official head, for a part of the time at least, was John Carter, who was probably of the Carter family which had so prominent a part in the early history of Virginia. It is impossible to say certainly when he went to Watauga, but Ramsey says that it was in 1771 or 1772. He did not live to take part in founding and building the State of Tennessee.

James Robertson was the first of the leaders of the Association to settle on the Watauga, and probably he was the most useful as well as the most influential member of the community.

John Sevier was one of the most brilliant figures in early western history, a gallant soldier, a skillful commander, a genial, kindly, and attractive man, and statesman of constructive ability. He alone of all the pioneer leaders of Tennessee seems to have been able to foresee the coming greatness of the State. He had faith in her destiny from the first, and his policy wisely provided for the future.

Next to these three in importance was Charles Robertson, who was highly esteemed by his associates, as appears from the fact that he was the trustee in whom title to the lands purchased from the Cherokees was vested.

The pioneer history of the west does not contain the names of men of greater worth or ability than James Robertson and John Sevier.

Watauga may have had but little influence on the course of history beyond the borders of Tennessee, but it has a great and general interest and importance as the first concrete manifestation of the distinctively American spirit of independence.

The Watauga settlers were, with a few exceptions, plain people, without any claim to social position. possessing the rougher virtues and not a few of the finer ones, but having also the faults that were begotten, almost invariably, by the unrestrained life of the frontier, its hard and unrefining conditions and its constant scenes of violence. The generation which succeeded them retained their characteristics, and, on account of the isolation of Eastern Tennessee, social and general conditions in that section of the State were but little changed until about the time of the civil war, and many living men know the Watauga

pioneers through their immediate descendants. We know that as a rule they were honest and worthy; that a majority of the better class were Presbyterians, until the advent of the aggressive pioneer, Baptist and Methodist Churches; that the Scotch-Irish predominated; that the moral tone of the community was sound despite the unavoidable pauper and criminal immigration; and that political principles were of the soundest Anglo-Saxon stock.

The first settlers west of the Cumberland Mountains, were, generally, of the same race and quality. West of the mountains, however, the proportion of the immigrants from North Carolina was greater than in the east, because of the payment of the revolutionary soldiers of the mother state, by grants of land in that division.

It will be found, however, that throughout the State, except perhaps in the larger cities, the Scotch-Irish to this day outnumber by far the representatives of any other race. If the western divisions are right in claiming the more opulent ancestry, it is nevertheless true that from the first Tennessee has been, probably, the least aristocratic and the most democratic state in the Union. It is very justly remarked by Mr. Roosevelt that while in Kentucky and other Southern States, the control of affairs passed quickly to a wealthier class which followed the first immigration; in Tennessee it was not so. Here the intensely democratic spirit displayed by the first settlers still

exists and is dominant. Even the institution of slavery could not overcome it. Nowhere is the equality of men more positively or more persistently asserted. The fixed opinion of the genuine Tennessean is that he has no superior, if indeed he has any equal.

The Calvinistic theology of the early settlers inculcated democracy, and personal independence, while racial instincts and traditions, and the necessarily strenuous life of the frontier begat combativeness. As in all Calvinistic communities Old Testament influences were strong, and in church and state the good fighter was the public favorite. Andrew Jackson is the best representative of the class of public men developed in the early history of the State; men of indomitable courage, genuine and unselfish patriotism and strong prejudices; unfailingly true to friends, and relentless toward enemies.

The people were industrious, and, from necessity, intensely economical. Their lives were hard, and narrow, but hospitality and neighborliness were among the virtues most esteemed. Luxury and wealth were disapproved to such an extent that demagogy was unconsciously encouraged. Each neighborhood was its own world, consumed its own products, and supplied its own necessities. The houses were rough, and at first, were built of logs, puncheon floored and meagerly furnished. The people were nearly all theologians and politicians, and Eastern Tennessee was long noted for bitter political strifes, and, not less

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »