The Strange Story of Franklin, America’s Lost State

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Shortly after the Revolutionary War in the late 1700s, 13 colonies united with a brand new, independent government and had to figure out how to organize and build an entire country. Naturally, the Founding Fathers ran into a few issues. The State of Frankland (later renamed Franklin) was one of them. Here’s the story of America’s long-lost state that didn't make the cut.

Organizing a Country

Actors in traditional revolutionary costumes re-enact a battle from the colonial era
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After the Revolutionary War was over in 1783, the new U.S. Congress had a big job to do. Its members were responsible for organizing an entire country. The primary players in the Revolution were the original 13 colonies, which were now the first 13 states of the union. But, as is typical with American history, the states weren’t the only places where Americans lived.

Since Americans loved to travel west, there were plenty of settlers living on the frontier beyond the western borders of the colonies. When the Revolutionary War was over, Congress assumed that since they were outside the colonies, the frontier communities wouldn’t be a part of the new country. Of course, you know what happens when you assume. This led to a rather tumultuous relationship between the U.S. government and the western territories.

North Carolina Cedes Land

 Blue Ridge Mountain landscape trail off the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina
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Soon after the U.S. won its independence, the newly created state of North Carolina, which was no longer a colony, ceded some of its western land between the Allegheny Mountains and the Mississippi River to the U.S. government. This territory was known as the Cumberland River Valley. Worried that the government would sell the land to France or Spain to pay off war debt, the settlers who lived in the area decided to take initiative and form their own independent state.

They drafted their own constitution, formed new treaties with the local Native Americans, implemented their own government, and even elected a president. Since the U.S. government didn’t recognize the western territories as a part of the union, Frankland — as it was named — became an independent nation.

Frankland’s Attempt at Statehood

The east side of the US Capitol in the early morning. Senate Chamber in the foreground
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The settlers of Frankland, who were looking for protection from Native American attacks and economic support, wanted to rejoin the United States. Instead of being absorbed back into North Carolina, they wanted to become a separate state. They went to Congress with the idea and even changed their state’s name to “Franklin” in an effort to gain favor from Benjamin Franklin and other leaders at the time. Most of the states supported the proposition of Franklin joining the U.S., but the vote failed to get the two-thirds majority that it needed to pass. Franklin was again on its own.

The Nation of Franklin

American flag on a flag pole
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Franklin survived as an independent nation for four years. Since it was such a small region, it didn’t take long for its economy to weaken. Needing monetary and military aid, Franklin’s leaders reached out to Spain for help since it was quite clear that the U.S. wasn't going to assist.

Terrified of having the Spanish as neighbors, North Carolina set up a parallel government in the region and arrested the Franklin governor, John Sevier. With their government struggling, a lack of militia to defend or enforce their Native American treaties, and their economy in the red, Franklin willingly rejoined North Carolina in 1789.

Franklin’s Achievements

Up close view of U.S. capitol building with American flag in foreground
Credit: Andrea Izzotti/ Shutterstock

Although Franklin’s attempt at statehood (and nationhood) ultimately failed, the settlers of the area did manage to alter the way that the U.S. Congress handled western territories. It lead to the addition of a new clause to the U.S. Constitution about the process of forming new states. The land that once made up Franklin is no longer a part of North Carolina. When Tennessee went from being a territory to an official state in 1796, the counties that once made up Franklin became the northeastern tip of the new state.

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