Western Lands and the American Revolution

By Thomas Perkins Abernethy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
VIRGINIA AND THE TRANSYLVANIA COMPANY

WHEN Virginia's Indian boundary was established in 1771 by the marking of Donelson's line from the Holston to the mouth of the Kentucky, much desirable land lying in Clinch and Powell's Valleys, just east of Cumberland Gap, was left in the Indian country. At the time when settlers were moving across the Virginia line into the Watauga Valley, others were occupying the valley of the Clinch. Prominent among them were William Russell, son of the Knight of the Golden Horseshoe from Orange, and Daniel Smith, the erstwhile school-teacher from Wolf Hills. In 1772 the Watauga people leased their lands from the Cherokee and established a committee to administer affairs pending a more permanent arrangement. The Clinch settlers continued to consider their territory as being in Virginia and to take an active part in the government of Fincastle County.1

Naturally this situation could not exist indefinitely. In the spring of 1774 a group of speculators, including three members of the governor's council--William Byrd, John Page and Ralph Wormeley, along with Patrick Henry and his brother-in-law William Christian--determined to make an effort to buy from the Cherokee the lands in question. They sent William Kennedy to consult the natives, and he returned with a favorable reply. On April 5 Governor Dunmore wrote to John Stuart, the Indian agent, instructing him to take measures to defeat the designs of a group of men who were trying to buy lands from the Cherokee. It seems highly probable that it was the Byrd group which he had in mind, particularly in view of the fact that nothing more was ever heard of their scheme. It was not until April 19 that William Murray wrote the petition which notified Dunmore of the Camden-Yorke opinion; consequently, Byrd and his associates may have proceeded without a knowledge of it.2

The next plan to buy these lands from the Cherokee came out of North Carolina. The organizers of the movement were Judge Richard

____________________
1
T. P. Abernethy, From Frontier to Plantation in Tennessee, map p. 5, p. 9.
2
Deposition of William Christian, June 3, 1777, C.V.S.P., I, 288-289; deposition of Patrick Henry, June 4, 1777, ibid., 289-290; Dunmore to Stuart, April 5, 1774, C.O., series 5, 1353.

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