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Watauga commonwealth, the

A name applied to the first independent civil government established in North America. In 1768 the Six Nations, by the treaty of Fort Stanwix, agreed to surrender all the lands between the Ohio and Tennessee rivers to the English, and many backwoodsmen began settling beyond the mountains before it was known that the Iroquois Indians had ceded lands to which they had no legal right. What is now eastern Tennessee was then western North Carolina, and this region consisted of a most tempting valley, with the Cumberland River on one side and the Great Smoky Mountains on the other. The first settlers in this region were largely from Virginia. In 1769 the first settlement was made on the banks of the Watauga River, the people believing they were still within the domain of Virginia. Two years later, however, a surveyor discovered that the settlement was really within the limits of North Carolina. This fact led to the organization of a civil government for the growing settlement, an act that was consummated at about the time the troubles between the royal governor of North Carolina and the regulators reached their climax. These troubles caused many people in North Carolina to seek repose and security beyond the mountains, and they located among the pioneers on the Watauga and Upper Holston rivers. The majority of these settlers were men of sterling worth, and were influential in forming in 1772 that government which subsequently grew to be the State of Tennessee. John Sevier and James Robertson were among their number, and both of these men were conspicuous in the novel movement. Under the title of “Articles of the Watauga Association” a written constitution was drafted, the first ever adopted by a community of American-born freemen. The settlers elected a representative assembly of thirteen men, which in turn elected a committee of five vested with judicial and executive authority. This was the first free and independent community established on the American continent. See State of North Carolina; Sevier, John; Tennessee.

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