State of Franklin Genealogy

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State of Franklin land imposed on a map of modern Tennessee counties.
United States  Gotoarrow.png  Tennessee  Gotoarrow.png  State of Franklin


In August 1784 delegates of three western North Carolina counties, Washington, Sullivan, and Greene (all now in Tennessee), declared their Independence from North Carolina because of perceived neglect, and misuse by North Carolina’s legislature. By May 1785 they had petitioned to be admitted to the United States as the new State of Franklin. The Franklin statehood request was denied.[1]

In March 1786 the Franklin legislature created four new counties: Wayne (old), Spencer, Caswell, and Sevier (all in present-day Tennessee).[2] In a later session Blount County was also created by Franklin before its statehood effort collapsed in 1789.[3][4] Until 1792 the lands of Alleghany, Ashe,and Watauga counties, now in North Carolina, were part of Washington County, and were also considered part of the abortive, short-lived State of Franklin.[5]

However, in 1789 North Carolina ratified the Constitution, was admitted the union, and ceded her westernmost counties to the United States. The United States used them to create the Southwest Territory. The five new counties erected by the Franklin government were not recognized by North Carolina, the Southwest Territory, or by Tennessee. Three of the five counties were renamed at the time they were reconstituted. No mention was made of their Franklin predecessor county governments. In 1786 North Carolina created Hawkins County as a parallel to Franklin's Spencer County, so Spencer is now known as Hawkins County. In 1792 North Carolina annexed the land of Alleghany, Ashe, and Watauga counties back from the Southwest Territory, and the Southwest Territory created Jefferson County out of land that was once part of Franklin's Caswell County. The Southwest Territory reconstituted Sevier County in 1794, and Blount County in 1795, but Blount's borders were significantly redrawn. And in 1796 the new State of Tennessee erected the new Carter County out of land once part of Wayne (old) County.[6]

In 1796 the land of all these counties (except Alleghany/Ashe/Watauga) became part of the new State of Tennessee.

Since then, in 1797 Cocke County was created from the southeast part of Jefferson (former Greene/Caswell) County. Johnson County was formed out of northeast Carter (former Wayne (old)) County land in 1836. In 1870 the southern part of Hamblen County was formed from Jefferson (former Caswell) land and the rest from parts of Hawkins (former Spencer), and Grainger County. Unicoi County was created from the southwest part of Washington County in 1875.[7]


In his well researched article "The Tennessee Constitution of 1796: A Product of the Old West" (1943), John D. Barnhart concluded that because of better road access, the largest percentage of East Tennessee pioneers had come to the area from Virginia. This, he believes changed over time. To reach this conclusion, he did a statistical analysis of the origins of Tennessee Constitution delegates and places of enlistment for Revolutionary War pensioners.

Origins of Tennessee Constitution Delegates (1796)

Origin No.
Virginia 16
Unknown 12
Pennsylvania 8
North Carolina 7
South Carolina 4
Maryland 3
Ireland 3?
England 1

Revolutionary War Tennessee Pensioners (1818)

Place Enlisted %
Virginia 47
North Carolina 27

Revolutionary War Tennessee Pensioners (1832)

Place Enlisted %
Virginia 37
North Carolina 45

Barnhart concludes that these numbers reveal that the earliest settlers (there by 1818) had come principally from Virginia, while between 1818 and 1832, a larger influx of North Carolina migrants settled in Tennessee, once road access improved.[8]


Records of the State of Franklin are now found at various repositories in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

Gordon Aronhime (1911-1983) collected information on hundreds of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee pioneers. His note cards, which reference more than 4,000 early settlers of the Holston-Clinch River area and East Tennessee (1770s-1790s), are held at the Library of Virginia. The cards have been digitized and made available online.[9]

Some records of settlers in this area may be found in:

  • North Carolina State Records, Vol. 22
  • Territorial Papers of the United States, Vol. 4
  • Cook, Michael L. and Bettie A. Cook. Fincastle & Kentucky County, Va.-Ky.: Records and History. Evansville, Ind.: Cook Pub., 1987. FHL US/CAN Book 976.9 H2cc.

Reconstructed censuses of the area help identify early settlers:

Professional genealogist Arlene Eakle's Tennessee Genealogy Blog discusses many sources and strategies for tracing early frontiersmen in what is now Tennessee:

For early settlers, Fischer's book is a great place to start searches. She created a comprehensive index to pre-1800 Washington County court, land, marriage, probate, and tax records, see:

  • Fischer, Marjorie Hood. Tennesseans before 1800: Washington County. Galveston, Texas: Frontier Press, 1996. FHL US/CAN Book 976.897 N22f.



  • Reeves, Charles A. The Counties of the State of Franklin. Published 2000. Purchase at; website includes a scaled-down version of the map.
  • Reeves, Charles A. The Road to Statehood, County Formation in East Tennessee, 1779-1796. Published 2000. Purchase at; website includes a scaled-down version of the map.
Wikipedia has more about this subject: State of Franklin


  1. “State of Franklin” in North Carolina History Project at (accessed 27 June 2010).
  2. “State of Franklin” in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture at (accessed 27 June 2010).
  3. Iamvered (Wikipedia User), The Eight Counties of the State of Franklin, circa 1786 at (accessed 27 June 2010).
  4. Robert M. McBride, "Lost Counties of Tennessee," East Tennessee Historical Society's Publications 38 (1966): 4 (footnote 3)
  5. Arthur L. Fletcher, Ashe County: A History (Jefferson, N.C.: Ashe County Research Assoc., 1963), 33-34.
  6. McBride, 6.
  7. Alice Eichholz, ed. Red Book: American State, County and Town Sources, 3rd ed. (Provo, Utah: Ancestry, 2004), 637-39.
  8. John D. Barnhart, “The Tennessee Constitution of 1796: A Product of the Old West,” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Nov. 1943): 532-548. Digital version at JSTOR ($).
  9. "Original Virginia Records Imaged and Indexed Online," Arlene Eakle's Virginia Genealogy Blog, 12 October 2008.
  10. Arlene Eakle, "Territory Southwest of the River Ohio," Arlene Eakle's Tennessee Genealogy Blog, 5 June 2009.