Friday, August 29, 2014

John Sevier and William Blount

Thanks to our former intern, Kristin Brig, for leaving us a few blog entries to keep posting!

When William Blount took up his post as Governor of the Territory South of the Ohio River in 1790, he was alien to the population living to the west of North Carolina. Blount, a North Carolina native, traveled across the Appalachian Mountains into this new southwest territory, present-day Kentucky and Tennessee. He set up his government in present-day East Tennessee and quickly made the acquaintance of the popular leaders of the region, most notably John Sevier.

Sevier and Blount got along well, considering Sevier’s heavy influence in the region and Blount’s high-ranking position in government. In addition to appointing Blount governor of the territory, President George Washington placed Blount in the position of Superintendent of Indian Affairs; given Sevier’s clashes with the Overhill Cherokee, Blount saw Sevier as an even more important ally in his new political position.[1] As such, Blount recommended Sevier and another popular territorial leader, James Robertson, to the position of Brigadier General. President Washington agreed with the recommendation and commissioned Sevier and Robertson to the post.[2] Sevier thus recovered his political image after the failure of the State of Franklin, for which he was the governor for a short term.

Political allies now, Blount and Sevier struck up a personal friendship as well. Sevier began recording activities related to Blount in 1793, three years after the governor had taken up his post. The entries began with mainly political relations between the two men, as in one entry discussing a talk Governor Blount gave relating to an event of scalping in Easternoly by Native Americans.[3] By late 1794, Sevier began taking tea with Mrs. Blount and dining with both the Blounts. Sometimes the dining contained merely politics, as when members of the Assembly including Sevier met with Governor Blount and drank wine together.[4] Yet sometimes Sevier and Blount (with Blount’s wife) spent time with one another outside the political realm, such as when they attended church together in September 1794.[5]

When Sevier became the first governor of Tennessee in 1796, the new state elected William Blount as one of its US senators. At first there was controversy over the admittance of the newly-elected Tennessee senators to Congress, since the majority of the state refused to support John Adams as a candidate for the next president after George Washington left the seat. In the end, however, Blount and his fellow Tennessee senator William Cocke took their seats in Congress as representatives for Tennessee.

Blount, expelled from the US Senate in July 1797 on account of illegal land deals with Spain, moved back to Tennessee and was elected to the Tennessee State Senate. John Sevier, still governor of Tennessee, picked up his friendship with Blount. The two visited each other frequently, taking more tea with one another and dining at each other’s houses in Knoxville. Sevier never writes of Blount visiting Marble Springs, but the close relationship of the men means that the Blounts may have been out to the farm to visit.

Blount suddenly fell ill on March 15, 1800. On the 17th, Sevier visited Blount, as he had just returned to the city of Knoxville after a visit to Marble Springs. Blount died on March 21. Sevier wrote of taking his family with him to Blount’s burial.[6]

While Sevier never wrote much of political events past a few words in his journals, he did record many friendly events with the Blounts. The fact that Blount’s death is recorded in the journal with some details indicates that Sevier and Blount’s relationship had transcended the political and became a personal affair.
As such, John Sevier and William Blount became fast friends, beginning with Blount’s rise to governor of the Territory South of the Ohio River and ending with a personal visit to the old governor’s burial by Sevier.

[1] Marcus Joseph Wright, Some Account of the life and Services of William Blount (1884), 9.
[2] Wright, Some Account, 11-12.
[3] John Sevier, Journal, October 24, 1793.
[4] Sevier, Journal, July 30, 1794.
[5] Sevier, Journal, September 21, 1794.
[6] Sevier, Journals, March 1800.

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