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How intimately Robertson was connected with Henderson, we do not know, but the hand of the great promoter is to be seen in everything in connection with the settlement and the organization at Nashboro. Robertson had been almost ten years at Watauga, when, probably Henderson's eloquence, and it may be, more substantial incitements, gave new energy to the westward impulse which had brought him over the mountains. Whatever the immediate cause may have been, we find him taking long and dangerous journeys into the wilderness, which extended unbroken, from the Holston to the Mississippi. There were others not less daring than he, and these returning joined him in spreading the most alluring accounts of the fertility and beauty of the rolling plains of Middle Tennessee, as it is now called. If Henderson and his associates were instrumental in this, the first results were most satisfactory to them. Through Cumberland Gap, or down the long and winding course of the Tennessee, and up the Ohio and Cumberland, eager Companies of adventurers and home-seekers, starting mainly from Watauga, found their arduous way to the new land of plenty. Another Scotch-Irish settlement was planted upon the site of the future capital of Tennessee under the leadership of Robertson. The station at Nashboro, now Nashville, was established early in the year 1779, and on the twenty-fourth of April, 1780, arrived the devoted party that had made with Donelson the epic voyage from Watauga, an undertaking as daring, as heroic, and as full of adventure, privation and suffering, as any recorded in pioneer history.
On the first of May, 1780, the Compact of govern ment was drawn up, and on the thirteenth of that month important additions were made. There were at this time eight stations each of which was represented in the Court or Committee which was now created, the representation being apportioned according to population, as follows: Nashboro 3; Gaspers 2; Bledsoe's 1; Asher's 1; Stone's River 1; Freeland's 1; Eaton's 2; Fort Union 1. The delegates as a body were designated, usually, as "Notables" but technically as "General Arbitrators, Judges or Triers,” and their powers and duties may be defined as follows: “Said persons, or a majority of them, after being bound by the solemnity of an oath, to do equal and impartial justice between all contending parties, etc., shall be empowered and competent to settle all controversies relative to locạtions and improvements of lands; all other matters and questions of dispute among the settlers, protecting the reasonable claims of those who may have returned for their families; providing implements of husbandry and food for such as might arrive without such necessaries; making especial provision for widows and orphans, whose husbands or fathers may die or be killed by the savages; guaranteeing equal rights, mutual protection, and impartial justice; pledging themselves most solemnly and sacredly to promote the peace, the happiness and well being of the community, to suppress vice, and punish crime.” 1
The Compact which was discovered and preserved by Putnam, the historian of Middle Tennessee, is a document of excellent literary quality, and shows a clear perception of the essential principles of popular government, and a liberal and enlightened public spirit. Its framers gave careful attention to the subject of land locations and improvements, as a result, no doubt, of ample and painful experience, and as a necessary precaution in dealing with the Transylvania Company. Payments for the lands, all of which the Company undertook to convey, were made contingent upon the legal recognition of the Transylvania purchase. The regulations affecting the settlers in land transactions among themselves were eminently wise and just, as the quotation above will show. Not the least commendable was a provision authorizing males sixteen years of age to hold land in consideration of their liability to military service.
Subsequent sections of the Compact provide adequately for the administration of the departments and affairs of an orderly government, but there is an express recognition of the want of sovereign authority. The Judges, or a majority of them, were made competent to transact all public business. They were elected by the votes of all free men over the age of twenty-one years, at least it is inferred that this was the age prescribed, an unfortunate mutilation of the only copy of the Compact that has been preserved, making it impossible to speak with certainty on this point.
1 Putnam's History of Middle Tennessee, page 90.
Vacancies in the Committee were filled by the electors of the stations losing representatives, and the highest regard for popular rights was shown in the following provision: "That as often as the people are dissatisfied with the doings of the Judges or Triers,' so to be chosen, they may call a new election at any of the stations, and elect others in their stead." It will hardly be denied that this was essentially a democratic Constitution.
The judges were declared to be a proper “Court of Jurisdiction,” for the recovery of any debt or damages, provided the cause of action had arisen among the settlers at a time when they were beyond the limits of established government. Cases involving $100 or less were tried before three of the Judges whose decision was final. If the amount involved was larger, it seems that the three Judges might still hear the cause, but an appeal would lie to the whole Court. Upon the hearing of these appeals, the Judges who had officiated as a lower Court, were excluded, and the remaining members constituted a full bench, the concurrence of seven being necessary to a decision.
The costs were taxed according to the discretion of the Court, and the judgments were executed by persons designated by it.
It is not to be doubted that Henderson designed the Court system and its regulations, following, apparently, the judicial establishment of the Province, and not of the State of North Carolina.
The Judges had general criminal jurisdiction, but were forbidden to proceed with execution "so far as to affect life or member, and in case any shall be brought before them, whose crime is or shall be dangerous to the State, or for which the benefit of clergy is taken away by law;" then the offender was to be sent under guard to the place where the offense had been committed, or to a place where a legal trial could be had.
The Compact was signed by Henderson, not as a proprietary, as in Transylvania, but as a private citizen, and also as the agent of his Company. His name is first in the list of signers, and the next is that of Nathaniel Hart, another of the Transylvania proprietors. Among the other signatures are those of Nathaniel and Pleasant Henderson, brothers of Richard Henderson. The contract, as to the lands, was with Richard Henderson, and it is expressly recited that “the said Richard Henderson, on his part does hereby agree," etc. The price of lands fixed in the Compact was twenty-six pounds, thirteen shillings, and four pence, current money, for one hundred acres, but Putnam declares that the sales were made at ten dollars for one thousand acres.?
2Putnam's History of Middle Tennessee, page 103.