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Signers of the Cumberland Compact 1780

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Cumberland Compact

In the spring of 1780 despite the hazards of life at the frontier, Judge Richard Henderson initiated the Cumberland Compact and obtained the signatures of 236 would-be settlers to the land south of Kentucky called "Tennessee." Many of his own family were among the pioneer settlers to Tennessee. Three of his six brothers left Carolina to settle with him at the frontier.

Henderson selected Col. John Donelson of Pittsylvania County to conduct a flotilla of settlers to Tennessee. Donelson signed up 160 neighbors. The flotilla of flatbed rafts was headed by Donelson's boat the "Adventure." The voyage covered 985 miles and was plagued by Indian ambush, illness, freezing cold and hunger. Some of the party made it to the Cumberland including the Colonel's daughter, Rachel.

Richard Henderson, land speculator and representative for North Carolina on the western Virginia/North Carolina survey team, drew up the Cumberland Compact in 1780. Signed on May 1, 1780, by 250 men of the new Cumberland settlement, it served as a guide for land transactions and as a simple constitutional government for settlers. With the inclusion of additional provisions on May 13, the compact became the document by which the settlement governed itself until North Carolina created Davidson County in 1783.

The compact called for a representative form of civil government. Each of the seven stations (or forts) of the Cumberland settlement was entitled to a specific number of elected representatives to form a twelve-man "Tribunal of Notables" which dispensed justice, received and dispersed funds, settled claims, and regulated the land office.

In 1775 Henderson privately purchased a large area of land in Kentucky and the part of Tennessee drained by the Cumberland River from the Cherokee Indians. Henderson hoped North Carolina and Virginia would accept this transaction--known as the Transylvania Purchase--and lobbied for the endorsement of the land provisions of the compact by these states. Both North Carolina and Virginia disallowed the purchase and instead granted Henderson several hundred thousand acres of land as compensation. Despite frequent Indian attacks that saw approximately one-third of the original signers of the Cumberland Compact killed in battles with Native Americans by 1784, the Cumberland settlement succeeded.

The Cumberland Compact was a forerunner of the Tennessee State Constitution, signed on May 13, 1780, by settlers when they arrived on the Cumberland River and settled Fort Nashborough, which would become Nashville, Tennessee. In 1846 the only surviving copy was discovered in a trunk that once belonged to Samuel Barton.This copy now in Tennessee State archives is slightly damaged, the first page is gone, and the second page ripped. Other than these blemishes, the document is intact and legible. The Cumberland Compact was composed and signed by 256 colonists. Only one, Revolutionary War soldier James Patrick of Virginia, was illiterate and marked his name by an "X". This constitution called for a governing council of twelve judges who would be elected by the vote of free men 21 years of age or older. Unique to the times, the Compact included a clause that these judges could be removed from office by the people. Government salaries were to be paid in goods. Governorship was worth 1,000 deer skins. Secretary was to be paid 450 otter skins, and county clerk was valued at 500 raccoon skins. The constable received one mink skin for every warrant served. All males sixteen or older were subject to militia duty. The compact did establish a contract and relationship between the settlers of the Cumberland region and limited the punishment that could be meted out by the judicial system. Serious capital crimes were to be settled by transporting the offending party to a location under the direct jurisdiction of the State of North Carolina for a proper trial. The compact remained in effect until Tennessee became a state. Frontier law was brutal and effective. In 1788, at the first Court session in Nashville, a young red-headed lawyer, Andrew Jackson, was granted permission to practice law. He was immediately handed the job of prosecuting attorney. In 1793, Judge John McNairy sentenced Nashville's first horse thief, John McKain, Jr., to be fastened to a wooden stock one hour for 39 lashes, his ears cut off and cheeks branded with the letter "H" and "T". The first female convicted of stealing soap and thread was stripped to the waist and publicly whipped nine lashes. By 1800, the first divorce was granted between May and Nathaniel Parker. Henry Baker became the first capital punishment case in Davidson County with the first death sentence of "hanged by the neck until he is dead" for stealing a horse. These records survive in a heavy leather bound book in the care of the circuit court clerk. [edit]Signers

The 256 signers included the following:[1]

  1. Philip Alston
  2. Thomas W. Alston
  3. Colonel Samuel Barton
  4. Isaac Bledsoe
  5. James Cain
  6. John Donelson
  7. Andrew Ewing
  8. Thomas Fletcher
  9. William Gowen
  10. Francis Hodge
  11. James Leeper
  12. George Leeper
  13. Isaac Lindsay
  14. William Loggins
  15. Edward Lucas
  16. John Luney
  17. Peter Luny
  18. James Lynn
  19. Kasper Mansker
  20. Amb's [Ambrose] Mauldin
  21. Morton Mauldin
  22. John Montgomery
  23. William Overall
  24. Nathaniel Overall
  25. James Robertson
  26. Daniel Ratletf
  27. David Rounsavall
  28. Isaac Rounsavall
  29. James Russell (four men by this name)
  30. Hugh Simpson
  31. Nicholas Trammel
  32. John Jonathon Crow
  33. Samuel Hays

See documents attached for complete lists

Sources

  1. Will T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt. 1913. A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities. Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Co. 94-97.