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9.  Statehood to Nationalism: 1796–1815 John Sevier was the most noteworthy transitional figure in Tennessee’s early history, occupying a position of authority from the Revolution to statehood and then holding various political offices until his death in 1815. He served six terms as governor, one as state legislator, and was elected three times to the U.S. House of Representatives. His career after 1796 echoes many themes of Tennessee’s early frontier: the striving to retain political and moral authority in the face of strong opposition from elites and upstarts alike; the emphasis on land acquisition at the expense of Indians; the intrigue with foreign powers; and the frequent demands for assistance from a young federal government that coincided with a defiant defense of local autonomy. In his later years Sevier also witnessed much that was new: the rise of thriving commercial towns; the growing importance of cotton cultivation and its iniquitous bedfellow, slavery; the emergence of the Nashville Basin as the center of population and political domination; the gradual shift from old patterns of social and political deference; the forced recasting of Indian identity toward an idealized model of “civilization”; and even in the midst of a fierce localism, the emergence of a nascent nationalism that would make Tennesseans some of the strongest defenders of U.S. honor and dignity. When he assumed office early in 1796, Sevier made it plain that one of his primary objectives was to continue the systematic acquisition of Indian lands. Though the Cherokees occupied only the southeastern part of the state and the Chickasaws resided in northern Mississippi, those two tribes still owned about threefourths of Tennessee. The Cherokees retained large, connected chunks of East and Middle Tennessee, while the Chickasaws held the western one-third of the state. This was of great concern to Sevier and other leaders in light of the “truly flattering” rush of prospective settlers into Tennessee. Adding to the problem was the difficulty of defining the precise boundaries of Indian lands within the state. The 1791 Treaty of the Holston specified Cherokee cession of the lands east of the Clinch River and north of a line from present-day Kingston to North Carolina along the divide of the Little River and the Little Tennessee River. The survey of the ceded lands was delayed because of Indian hostilities and other matters, and in the meantime some whites pushed into the lands south of the specified divide. Farther to the north, squatters were also ensconced in the Powell Valley, another unceded area. Even before commissioners finally made the survey in 1797, Governor Sevier realized that the boundary would probably leave many whites in Indian country, and he conscientiously pleaded the settlers’ case with the secretary of war. Referring to the settlers as adventurers rather than as trespassers, he sought either compensation for their claims or another Cherokee cession to accommodate them. When the general assembly contemplated taxing Indian lands as a means of forcing cession, Sevier and others managed to block the measure, which would have put the state squarely at odds with federal law. But Sevier’s meaning was clear when he wrote the secretary of war that Tennessee would observe all federal treaties with the Indians “so far as they are not pernicious, odious nor iniquitous.” While Sevier lobbied Congress to effect additional Cherokee cessions, he dutifully strove to avoid the costly consequences of  203 Statehood to Nationalism: 1796–1815 John Sevier. Portrait by Charles Wilson Peale. From the Tennessee Historical Society Collection. Courtesy Tennessee State Museum. TENNESSEE FRONTIERS 204  inciting the Indians to warfare. Though recently defeated, the Cherokees in particular remained a strong force and were capable of inflicting great harm on citizens if pushed too far. Remaining tribal landholdings enfolded the areas of white settlement and included the entire Cumberland Plateau, presenting a barrier between East and Middle Tennessee. Travelers along the Cumberland Road were sometimes robbed by wandering Cherokees , while the Indians claimed their hunters were often targets of frontier people. Governor Sevier received reports of random murders on both sides and, more frequently, of Indians and whites stealing horses and slaves for resale elsewhere. Horse theft was the most frequently cited provocation between the races. Various treaties specified that animals stolen by the Cherokees would be valued at $50 to $60 each, with the total to be deducted from tribal annuity payments. On one occasion Sevier told the Cherokees that the trail...


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