History Timeline 1770s

Photo above: Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag in Philadelphia. Courtesy National Archives. Right: Lithograph of the Boston Tea Party. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Boston Tea Party

U.S. Timeline - The 1770s

The American Revolution



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  • Timeline

  • 1774 Detail

    May 1772 - The first independent Anglo-American government is founded by the Watauga Association in East Tennessee, a group of settlers needing mutual protection along the Watauga River. The written agreement allowed for a five man court to act as the government. Also is 1775, the Wataugans would negotiate a ten year lease with the Cherokee for land along the river.

    Marker Commemorating the Watauga Association


    The rumblings and consequences of the British acts against the American colonists had been raging for a decade, with the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and Townshend Acts going into law, then being repealed. And it was not yet time for those in New England and the other colonies to bring themselves to the important meetings later in the year, i.e. Committee of Correspondence. As of May of 1772, the Wautauga residents in East Tennessee were dealing with a different, yet similar problem. The Regular Movement had been defeated the year before and now the residents of this frontier area had no stomach for taking an oath to the British government and their king.

    Some call the Battle of Alamance that proceeded this as the first battle of the American Revolution; I'm not sure I'd go quite that far, but it sure had an impact in East Tennessee and the Royal Colony of North Carolina. The residents there wanted to throw out corrupt local officials, not give up their British loyalty.

    James Robertson had gone on the third trip of Daniel Boone into the area of East Tennessee in 1769. There he found the Native American fields, the Watauga Old Fields, that had been planted by the Native Americans along the Watauga River. He decided to stay and plant corn while Boone went forward into Kentucky. Boone wanted to settle the vast area of Cherokee lands in middle Tennessee and Kentucky, but returned to Watauga in 1771.

    The British government of the Royal Colony of North Carolina took exception to the tactics of some of its citizens who did not want to follow British rule, so Robertson, with a dozen or so other families, joined the Regulator Movement, a rebellion against taxes and local control. On May 11, 1771, the Battle of Alamance, began, six miles south of today's Burlington, North Carolina. Two thousand Regulators had come in a show of force against Governor Tryon and his militia, but they were disorganized, and attempts at peace saw peacekeepers killed. Although the Regulars started off well in the battle, the militia was better armed and organized. Eventually, many of the Regulators fled the field, with some remaining to take sniper shots at the militia. Tryon set the woods on fire and took prisoners; some of whom were killed, others pardoned.

    You can visit the Alamance Battlefield State Historic site today which includes a visitor center, the field of battle, a film, and the Allen House.



    So How Did That Lead to the Watauga Association


    James Robertson was not at the Battle of Alamance (this is disputed), but he had no intention to pledge an oath of allegiance to the Colony of North Carolina or the King. His family and a dozen or so others moved west back to the corn fields along the Watauga River and set about to make their own community. They had believed the land they were on was part of the Colony of Virginia previously bought from the Cherokee; however, a later survey proved that incorrect. They were ordered to leave under the edict of the Proclamation of 1763. They crafted a document at the banks of the Sycomore Shoals of the Watauga River, called the Articles of the Watauga Association. It was fashioned after the laws of Virginia and required unanimous consent of the settlers. It was supposed to have five elected members of a court, James Robertson being one member, and a courthouse and jail was erected near the Shoals. The document made no claims of independence from Great Britain. The Association bought the land from the Cherokee themselves on March 19, 1775, the Watauga Purchase. It was not considered a legal contract by the British colonial government.

    Some of these facts are assumptions, however, as there has never been a copy of the Article of the Watauga Association found. Some refer to the area as the Watauga Republic despite that.



    The Revolution


    When the American Revolution began in earnest in 1775, the Watauga Republic transitioned into the Washington District, loyal to the United Colonies. A Committee of Safety was formed to govern it. The men of the committee included John Carter, Zachariah Isbell, Jacob Brown, John Sevier, James Smith, James and Charles Robertson, William Bean, John Jones, George Russell, and Robert Lucas. They constructed Fort Watauga with the area at general peace until July 1776, when the Cherokee lay siege to the fort. The forty Wataugan men withstood the siege of two weeks and the Cherokee were eventually subjugated and Robertson made an Indian agent.

    As far as the Articles of the Watauga Association, it is said to have formed the basis for the Cumberland Compact, and the State Constitution of Tennessee. James Robertson became a link to both of these historic documents after leading a group of colonists to form the city of Nashborough, Nashville, in 1779. It was named after Francis Nash, who fought in the Battle of Alamance. Robertson is known as the Father of Middle Tennessee.

    Image above: Marker in Elizabethton, Tennessee designating the spot where the formation of the Watauga Association was held, 2009, Brian Stansburg. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons, C.C. 3.0. Image below: Montage (left) James Robertson, 1840's, Washington B. Cooper; (right) Postcard painting of the Battle of Alamance, 1905/1915, James Steeple Davis. Both courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Info Source: "Watauga Association," Michael Toomey, northcarolinahistory.org; "James Robertson," Terry Weeks, Tennessee Encyclopedia; Wikipedia Commons.


    James Robertson and Battle of Alamance
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