Late in the 17th century, English fur traders began to come over the Appalachian Mountains from the colonies of Virginia and Carolina and compete with French traders for the Native American trade in the region. The rivalry was encouraged by the national governments of France and the United Kingdom of Great Britain (a union of Scotland, England and Wales). These two powers each sought Native American support in a series of wars that culminated in the French and Indian War (1754-1763).
Both the Cherokee and the Chickasaw fought on the side of Britain during most of the war. The Chickasaw had long been unfriendly to the French, ever since the French allied themselves with the Chickasaw’s traditional enemies, the Choctaw of Mississippi.
The Cherokee wavered, however. In 1760, fearing deception by Britain and resenting British encroachment on their lands, they laid siege to the British post of Fort Loudoun on the Little Tennessee River and killed several people. They made peace again with the British in 1761.
In 1763 the French surrendered after the British defeated them in the last major battle of the war. The peace treaty gave Britain control of Louisiana, including the Tennessee region, as far west as the Mississippi. France lost all its possessions on the North American continent.
The Royal Proclamation of 1763 issued by the British king banned settlement by whites west of the Appalachians, but the backcountry dwellers of Virginia and North Carolina ignored it.
The “long hunters,” who hunted and trapped for several months at a time before returning home, were the first to come in fairly large numbers. By 1769 hundreds of people had built log cabins in the Watauga River valley with the intention of making permanent homes. They soon explored and settled the rich valleys of the nearby Holston and Nolichucky rivers and by 1772 formed the Watauga Association to govern themselves. Although they still considered themselves North Carolinians, they knew that North Carolina was prevented by the king’s proclamation from extending its law to where they lived. So they adopted their own constitution, the first one west of the Appalachians. They gained a temporary right to remain by negotiating with the Cherokee a ten-year lease on the land they occupied, which they later converted into a purchase.
Three years later, the American Revolution began in the East. At the same time land speculators in North Carolina formed the Transylvania Company, headed by Judge Richard Henderson, and purchased a vast tract of Cherokee land in present-day Tennessee and Kentucky.
Henderson urged a Wataugan, James Robertson, to examine the rich central basin, which is now called the Nashville Basin, with a view to starting a settlement there. Robertson agreed, and took a small party across the mountains in 1779. Robertson found the land promising, and in 1780 he and John Donelson led several hundred people overland, while others went by flatboat, to establish Fort Nashborough (which is now Nashville) on the Cumberland River near the site of the old French Lick. Like the Wataugans, these settlers formed a government and wrote a constitution, the Cumberland Compact. Soon they were growing even more rapidly than the Watauga colony. Henderson had already sent the wilderness scout Daniel Boone to blaze a trail through the Appalachians, at Cumberland Gap, to the Kentucky River. For many years, the first part of Boone’s trail, known as the Wilderness Road, remained a portion of the major link between settlements in East and Middle Tennessee. "Tennessee" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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