Posted by: Ed Darrell | February 3, 2008

Proclamation of 1763: Tennessee settlers crossed the line

England cut a deal with Native Americans after the French and Indian War (which ended in 1763), to keep colonists from moving into lands west of the Appalachian Mountains in which Native Americans lived. This was a very sore point with the colonists, who badly wanted to move into the rich lands they knew lay just west of the mountains, especially the Ohio River Valley.

Tennessee students learn that the colonists didn’t necessarily obey the King’s proclamation. In fact, Tennessee traces its founding to English colonists who moved through the Cumberland Gap (in what is now Cumberland, Maryland) and other mountain gaps and into the west, especially into what is now Tennessee, defying the King’s Proclamation of 1763.

Daniel Boone escorts settlers through Cumberland Gap, painting by George Caleb Bingham

Painting: Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap, and on to Tennessee; painting by George Caleb Bingham; click picture for larger image

According to TN History 4

We aren’t certain, but we believe that the first permanent adult white male settler in the land we now call Tennessee was William Bean, who in 1768 built a cabin on the Watauga River (in what is now Carter County). Not far behind him was James Robertson, who would later be one of the founders of Nashville, and Valentine Sevier, whose son John Sevier would one day become governor of Tennessee. Within a few years there were many other settlers. It was here, in the counties that we now call Sullivan, Carter and Washington, that the state of Tennessee as we know it started.

It is important to remember that at first, these settlers had no legal right to be there. The ones who stayed kept peace with the Cherokee people by going to Chota — the most important Cherokee village, located in what is now Monroe County — and working out a deal: The white settlers gave them goods worth about a thousand dollars in exchange for permission to live on “all the country on the waters of the Watauga River” for ten years. They did this on their own, without the permission of the government of England and in complete defiance of King George’s Proclamation of 1763.

You will learn more about the early Tennessee settlers disobeying the King’s proclamation at that website.

Even though a few colonists violated the King’s directive, the mere existence of the proclamation against westward expansion was a sore point with American colonists, and one of the key causes of friction between American colonists and their fellow countrymen in England. This friction helped set up the conditions for the American Revolution.


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