Wautauga Settlement

Image:Long Boone Cumberland--thin.jpg
Southwest Virginia Project
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From Source:Campbell, 1921

There is a tradition, questioned by some, that in the spring of 1769 Boone and James Robertson stood on a mountain path and looked down upon the beautiful Valley of the Watauga. It was in this region in this same year that William Bean, from Virginia, settled in what is now known as the Valley of East Tennessee, but was then supposed to be Virginia, later found to belong to North Carolina, and for a while was embraced within the territory known as the state of Franklin. This was the first permanent settlement of which we have authentic record within the present state of Tennessee.

At first this settlement seems to have been but an extension of that mentioned previously as existing before 1760 in Virginia at the headwaters of the Holston, but it was soon increased by accessions of other settlers. In 1771 came James Robertson with sixteen families from North Carolina; and in 1772 followed Sevier, later to be the first governor of the state of Tennessee. Within a few years of Bean's coming there were a number of hunters, herders, and small farmers with their families in the valleys of the Watauga, Nolichucky, Holston, and Clinch. Just how many came directly from Virginia, and how many from North Carolina, and when they came, is impossible to say, but after the defeat of the Regulators* in the Battle of Alamance, 1771, their numbers were largely increased by migrations from the Piedmont counties of North Carolina. In 1772 these scattered settlements were formed into an association known as the Watauga Association.1 Writing of this association in his Winning of the West, Theodore Roosevelt says:

It is this fact of the early independence and self-government of the settlers along the headwaters of the Tennessee, that gives to their history its peculiar importance. They were the first men of American birth to establish a free and independent community on the continent. Even before this date there had been straggling settlements of Pennsylvanians and Virginians along the headwaters of the Ohio; but these settlements remained mere parts of the colonies behind them, and neither grew into a separate community, nor played a distinctive part in the growth of the west.