Colonel John Sevier was born in Shenandoah county, Virginia, in 1734. His father descended from an ancient family in France, the name being originally spelled Xavier.
About 1769 young Sevier joined an exploring and emigrating party to the Holston river, in East Tennessee, then a part of North Carolina. He assisted in erecting the first fort on the Watauga river, where he, his father, his brother Valentine, and others settled. Whilst engaged in the defence of the Watauga fort, in conjunction with Captain James Robertson, so known and distinguished in the early history of Middle Tennessee, he espied a young lady, of tall and erect stature, running rapidly towards the fort, closely pursued by Indians, and her approach to the gate cut off by the savage enemy. Her cruel pursuers were doubtless confident of securing a captive or a victim to their blood-thirty purposes; but, turning suddenly, she eluded the savages, leaped the palisades of the fort at another point, and gracefully fell into the arms of Captain John Sevier. This remarkably active and resolute woman was Miss Catharine Sherrill, who, in a few years after this sudden leap and rescue, became the devoted and heroic wife of the gallant Captain and future Colonel, General, Governor and people’s friend, John Sevier. She became the mother of ten children, who could gratefully rise up and call her blessed.
During Sevier’s visit to his family in Virginia in 1773, Governor Dunmore gave him a Captain’s commission.
Through his own exertions he raised a company and was in the sanguinary battle of Point Pleasant, on the Kenhawa, in which James Robertson and Valentine Sevier actively participated.
The first settlers on the Holston, Watauga and other tributary streams, were so far beyond the influence of the State laws of North Carolina as to induce them in 1772 to form a temporary government for their better protection and security. The people enjoyed the advantages of this “Watauga government,” as it was called, from 1772 until 1777, at which date Colonel Sevier procured the establishment of courts and the extension of State laws over “Washington District,” then in North Carolina, embracing an interesting section of country in which he and other pioneers of civilization had cast their lots. These hardy pioneers opened roads across the mountains, felled the forests, built forts and houses, subdued the earth, and began rapidly to replenish it, for they married and were given in marriage. The State of North Carolina, several years afterward, with a motherly forgiveness, passed laws to confirm marriages and other deeds of these wayward children in the wilderness.
Colonel Sevier served in the expedition under Colonel Christian to chastise the Indians for their numerous murders and depredations. In 1779, he raised troops, entered the Indian territory, and fought the successful battle of Boyd’s creek. A few days after this battle, he was joined by Colonel Arthur Campbell with a Virginia regiment, and Colonel Isaac Shelby with troops from Sullivan county, then in North Carolina. These active officers scoured the Cherokee country, scattered hostile bands, destroyed most of the Indian towns, and, after inflicting this severe chastisement, returned to their homes with greater assurance of peace and security.
The former part of the year 1780, was one of gloom and despondency in the Southern States. Charleston surrendered, Gates defeated, and other minor reverses; Tories becoming daring and insolent; the British overrunning South Carolina and Georgia; the Indians upon the borders, bribed and inflamed against the Americans–all tended to increase the gloom and darken the prospect of achieving our independence. But amidst all the obscurity which shrouded the sun of American independence, there was a gallant band of patriots in the mountains of North Carolina and upper South Carolina, who never quailed in duty before the enemy, struck a severe blow at every opportune moment, and never despaired of final success.
In the brilliant victory of King’s Mountain, Col. Sevier, with his regiment, displayed the most consummate bravery. In June of the same year, he marched into South Carolina and assisted Col. McDowell and other officers in the successful battle of Musgrove’s Mill.
In 1781, Colonel Sevier was appointed by General Greene a commissioner to treat with the chiefs of the Cherokees and other tribes of Indians, which trust he faithfully performed. During the years 1781 and 1782, he was almost constantly engaged in leading expeditions into the Cherokee country.
On the 14th of December, 1784, a convention of five delegates from each county of the extreme western portion of North Carolina, met at Jonesboro, now in Tennessee, of which body Col. Sevier was made President. They formed a constitution for a new State, to be called “Frankland,” which was to be received or rejected by another body of similar powers, “fresh from the people,” to meet at Greenville in November 1785. This anomalous state of things, as might be expected, caused Governor Caswell, who was both a soldier and a statesman, to issue his proclamation “against this lawless thirst for power.”
The prescribed limits of this sketch forbid a full recital of all the angry discussions and violent acts of the opposing parties which unfortunately, for about three years, seriously disturbed the peace and welfare of Western North Carolina.
In 1789, Colonel Sevier was elected the Senator from Greene county to the Legislature of North Carolina. In 1790, he was elected a member of Congress. He was twice elected Governor of Tennessee. In 1811, he was elected a Representative to Congress, and in 1813, re-elected to the same position. In 1815, he was appointed by President Madison a commissioner to adjust difficulties with the Creek Indians. Whilst engaged in the performance of this arduous duty, he was taken seriously ill, and soon thereafter died near Fort Decatur, Ala., on the 24th of September, 1815, aged about eighty-one years.
Gen. Gaines, then in command of the regular troops near that place, though quite ill at the time, paid the last sad tribute of respect to a brave fellow-soldier, and had him buried with the honors of war.