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Gov. William BLOUNT in "Historic Sullivan" (Pt. I)

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Gov. William BLOUNT in "Historic Sullivan" (Pt. I)

Posted: 29 Mar 1999 5:00AM GMT
Classification: Biography
Edited: 29 Dec 2005 12:54PM GMT
From "Historic Sullivan: a History of Sullivan County, Tennessee, with brief Biographies of the Makers of History" by Oliver Taylor (1909, King Printing Co., Bristol, TN; reprinted 1988 by Overmountain Press, Johnson City, TN). Surnames changed to ALL-CAPS.

There is a full-page portrait of William BLOUNT between pages 120 and 121, which has been scanned and uploaded to the web site linked below.

[p. 120]


Next to SHELBY and SEVIER the name of BLOUNT is the most compelling in our nomenclature. He was the first governor of the first recognized government organization west of the Alleghanies. He chose as his official residence, when he came to take charge as governor of the Territory south of Ohio, the home of William COBB in "the Forks" of Sullivan County, near Piney Flats. Blountville,(1) the county seat, was named for him.

He was a polished diplomat and a gentleman of culture, commanding in presence and power. He understood the people with whom he had to deal and they understood him.

"He was of an ancient English family of wealth and rank, which at an early day emigrated to North Carolina. The name is often mentioned in the annals of that State during the Revolution. Mr. BLOUNT was remarkable for his address, courtly manners, benignant feelings and a most impressive presence. His urbanity, his personal influence over men of all conditions and ages, his hospitality unostentatiously, but yet elegantly and gracefully extended to all, won upon the affections and regard of the populace and made him a universal favorite. He was at once the social companion, the well-bred gentleman and the capable officer."

Jacob BLOUNT the father of William BLOUNT, was a member of the War Congress of North Carolina. He was twice married. By his first wife he had eight children, of whom William was the eldest, and by his sec-[p. 121]ond wife he had five children, one of whom was Willie.(2) William and Willie, half brothers, each became governor, each serving six years in that capacity. William BLOUNT was born in Bertie county, North Carolina, March 26, 1749. He was married February 12, 1778, to Mary GRANGER (sic), daughter of Col. Caleb GRANGER (sic), of Wilmington, North Carolina.

The BLOUNTs were in the battle of The Alamance.(3)

When Congress finally accepted from North Carolina the ceded lands, which afterward became Tennessee, Washington appointed William BLOUNT Governor of the Territory south of the Ohio. In addition he had the supervision of the Indian agency.

During his encumbency he had many perplexing duties to perform, requiring sound judgment, a firm hand and sympathy, for he was polishing this rough structure preparatory to self-government. His most difficult problems were the troublesome Indian affairs, which he solved satisfactorily to all concerned.

Gov. BLOUNT arrived in Sullivan County October 10, 1796, and at once entered upon his work. One of this first acts and one in which he was very zealous, was to encourage immigration. In consequence of this increasing interest the population grew in unparalleled rapidity from six thousand in 1790 to seventy-seven thousand in 1795--sixty thousand being required for admission to statehood.

The constitutional convention met in Knoxville, January 11, 1796. Gov. BLOUNT was chosen president and a constitution was adopted that lasted from 1796 to 1834.(4)

John SEVIER was chosen by this convention first Gover-[p. 122]nor of Tennessee. William BLOUNT, the retiring territorial governor, and William COCKE were elected the first United States Senators. They took their seats in the fourth Congress, of 1796.

On July 3rd, next year, President ADAMS sent a confidential letter to the Senate, full of alarm. This alarm was due to a letter that had been discovered, addressed by Senator BLOUNT to "Dear CAREY." It was read before the Senate during the absence of the Senator, but on his return was reread and he was asked if he had written it. He replied he had writted a letter to CAREY, but could not say whether this copy was correct, and asked time to examine his papers. This was granted.

This CAREY letter was written at the mouth of the Steeles Creek in Sullivan County, within five miles of the county seat and, since it influenced the official life of the nation from the President down, aroused the greatest excitement and came near creating international complications, it is given in full:

Col. King's Iron Works,(5)
April 21, 1797.


I wished to have seen you before I returned to Philadelphia, but I am obliged to return to the session of congress which commences on the 15th of May.

Among other things that I wished to have seen you about was the business of Captain CHISHOLM mentioned to the British Minister last winter in Philadelphia.

I believe, but am not quite sure, that the plan then talked of will be attempted this fall, and if it is attempted, it will be in a much larger way than then talked of, and if the Indians act their part, I have no doubt but it will suceed (sic). A man of consequence has gone to England about this business; and if he makes arrangements, I shall myself have a hand in the business, and shall probably be at the head of the business on the part of the British.

You are, however, to understand that is is not yet quite certain that the plan will be attempted, and to do so will require all your [p. 123] management. I say will require all your management, because you must take care in whatever you say to ROGERS or anybody else, not to let the plan be discovered by HAWKINS, DINSMOOR, BYERS or any other person in the interest of the United States or of Spain.

If I attempt this plan, I shall expect to have you and all of my Indian friends with me, but you are now in good business I hope, and you are not to risk the loss of it by saying anything that will hurt you until you again hear from me. Where Captain CHISHOLM is I do not know. I left home in Philadelphia in March, and he frequently visited the Minister and spoke about the subject; but I believe he will go into the Creek Nation by way of South Carolina or Georgia. He gave out that he was going to England, but I do not believe him. Among things that you may safely do, will be to keep up my consequence with WATTS and the Creeks and Cherokees generally; and you must by no means say anthing in faver (sic) of HAWKINS, but as often as you can with safety to yourself, you may teach the Creeks to believe he is no better than he should be. Any power or consequence he gets will be against our plan. Perhaps ROGERS, who has an office to lose, is the best man to give out talks against HAWKINS. Read the letter to ROGERS, and if you think it best to send it, put a wafer in it and forward it to him by a safe hand; or perhaps, you had best send for him to come to you, and speak to him yourself respecting the state and prospect of things.

I have advised you in whatever you do to take care of yourself. I have now to tell you to take care of me too, for a discovery of the plan would prevent the success and much injure all parties concerned. It may be that the Commissioners may not run the line as the Indians expect or wish, and in that case it is probable that the Indians may be taught to blame me for making the treaty.

To such complaints against me, if such there be, it may be said by my friends, at proper times and places, that DOUBLEHEAD confirmed the treaty with the President at Philadelphia, and received as much as five thousand dollars a year to be paid to the Nation over and above the first price; indeed it may with truth be said that though I made the treaty that I made it by instructions of the President, and in fact, it may with truth be said that I was by the President, instructed to purchase much more land than the Indians would agree to sell. This sort of talk will be throwing all the blame off the late President, and as he is now out of office, it will be on no consequence how much the Indians blame him. And among other things that may be said for me, is that I was not at the running of the line, and that if I had been, it would have been more to their satisfaction. In short, you understand the subject, and must take care to give out the proper talks to keep my consequence with the Creeks and Cherokees. Can't ROGERS contrive to get the Creeks to desire the President to take HAWKINS out of the nation? for if he stays [p. 124] in the Creek Nation, and gets the good will of the Nation, he can and will do great injury to our plan.

When you have read this letter over three times, then burn it. I shall be in Knoxville in July or August, when I will send for WATTS and give him the whiskey I promised him.

I am, &c,

The preceding letter was enclosed in a cover, with the following directions, viz: "Mr. James CAREY, Tellico Block House."

The senate committee, after a brief and hurried investigation of five days, when Senator BLOUNT refused to answer questions, presented the following conclusion by resolution:

"Resolved that William BLOUNT, Esq., one of the Senators of the United States, having been guilty of a high misdemeanor, entirely inconsistent with his public trust and duty as a Senator, be and he hereby is, expelled from the Senate of the United States."

The resolution was adpoted by a vote of twenty-five to one -- Senator TAZEWELL, of Virginia, voting in the negative. On the same day the House appointed a committee composed of SITGREAVES, BALDWIN, DANA, DAWSON and HARPER "to prepare and report articles of impeachment" and were granted power to send for persons, papers and records.

The two most important witnesses will be introduced, giving in brief the text of the trial -- Nicholas ROMAINE and James CAREY:

Interrogatories of the Committees and Answers of the Deponent(6)

1. Who was the friend at whose request you wrote to William BLOUNT, while Governor of the Southwestern Territory, about the purchase of military lands?

Answer. It was Mr. Edward GRISWOLD, now resident of Paris.

2. You have said that articles of agreement were drawn up between you and William BLOUNT, previously to your departure for Europe in 1795. Were they executed, and what was their tenor? [p. 125]

A. They were executed, and are, I understand, in possession of the Committee. They related solely to lands, and their tenor and contents may be discovered from a perusal.

3. How long did you remain in Europe, and what part of it?

A. Something more than a year; during which time I visited first England, then Holland, France, and Belgium; from whence I returned to England, and after a short stay there, embarked for New York.

4. Who were the persons in whose hand you left certain maps and papers on your departure for England?

A. I left them with different persons. They were wholly of a private nature, and in no manner connected with the subject of this examination.

5. Are you acquainted with Sir William PULTENEY; and if you are, did your acquaintance commence with him before you visited England in 1795?

A. It did not. My acquaintance with him arose from letters from Mr. WILLIAMSON, in the Genesee country, to him, with which I was particularly charged. The personal delivery of those letters, which I understood to relate to private concerns, gave rise to conversation between us, and that let to a further acquaintance.

6. Were you acquainted, while in England, in 1795, with Lord GRENVILLE, or with Mr. DUNDAS?

A. Not with Lord GRENVILLE. With Mr. DUNDAS I had some acquaintance, having been introduced to him by a gentleman at whose house I met him at dinner. This gentleman afterwards carried me to breakfast with Mr. DUNDAS, whose desire of acquaintance with me might have arisen from some sketches which I had written respecting this country, and which I believe were seen by him. This was all the acquaintance or intercouse (sic) I had with Mr. DUNDAS.

7. Did not those persons, or some, and which of them, in those conversations, express to you a desire to add Louisiana or the Floridas, or both, to the British crown; and did you not hear this desire expressed by some other, and what persons of consideration in England?

A. I never heard such a wish expressed by those or any other persons in England.

8. Were you, while in England, requested by any, or what persons to sound the people of the United States on the subject of a plan to annex Florida or Louisiana, or both, to the British crown; or to make some propositions tending that way?

A. No such request or overtures were ever made to me. The plan originated between Mr. BLOUNT and myself, as far as I know, in the manner stated by me in my deposition.

9. In your conversations in England with persons of consideration, was any mention made of a description of people in this country who wished to separate the Western settlements from the Union? [p. 126]

A. No mention of such persons was made to me by any persons whatever.

10. How long have you been acquainted with the British Minister in this country, and by what means did you come to know him?

A. I was introduced to him at London, by Mr. PICKNEY, soon after his appointment to this country, and I paid him a visit and left some letters for America, of which he took charge. I have never seen him since his arrival in America.

11. On your return to this country, in 1796, you wrote to Governor BLOUNT. Did you urge him to meet you in New York?

A. I did write to him, as stated in my deposition, and spoke of some private business; but I did not mention this subject, nor did I request him to come to New York. His arrival there in February was without my knowledge or privity, and, as I understood, for private business of his own.

12. To what persons in England or America have you written on the subject of this inquiry, since your return, and what answers have you received?

A. I have written to one person in England, a member of Parliament, but not of Administration; from whose answer it does not appear that the business was ever spoken of there by him. I also wrote to Governor BLOUNT, and received answers; the purport and substance of which I have already explained. I likewise wrote to Mr. LISTON, and I believe, to no other person. Mr. LISTON gave me an answer, which is now in possession of the Committee.

13. What was the purport of your letter to Mr. LISTON?

A. I have no copy of the letter, but I recollect its purport, which was to inform Mr. LISTON that I had heard of a certain enterprise in contemplation, and on which he had been consulted, and to caution him against it, as a very delicate measure, requiring great circumspection, and capable, if known to be encouraged by him, of injuring the interests, both of this country and his own, which I was persuaded it was his wish to promote. I also hinted that a plan more extensive was contemplated by fitter persons; and having understood that he intended to send his secretary to some place on the business which had been mentioned to him, I strongly dissuaded him from this step; indeed, to do so had been one of my chief inducements to address him. In his answer, now in the possession of the Committee, he assured me that he had no intention of sending his secreatry anywhere. I was induced to take this liberty with Mr. LISTON from the manner in which I became acquainted with him, and the very favorable light in which he was presented in letters which I had received fom England, and one of which I enclosed to him.

14. What was the project against which you cautioned Mr. LISTON?

A. It was that of CHISHOLM, of which I had been informed by [p. 127] Governor BLOUNT, and which the latter told me had been mentioned to the Minister.

15. What was the project to which you alluded as being in more proper hands? Did Mr. LISTON know of it, or did you explain it to him?

A. It was that contemplated by Governor BLOUNT and myself. Mr. LISTON, as far as I know, and believe, had no knowledge of it, nor was it our intention to give him any. I did not think it proper for him to be acquainted with it; the intention being to apply, not to him, but to the British government.

16. In your conversation with Governor BLOUNT, at New York, you expressed your regret that Louisiana did not belong to England, since the value of lands in the Western country would, in that case, be increased; was this the first time you had contemplated or expressed that idea?

A. It was not. I had reflected on the idea before, but had never mentioned it verbally to any person; nor in writing, except once, and that was in a letter to a gentleman in England. This letter, however, merely stated the possession of those countries by England as a desirable thing.

17. What was the nature and object of the business contemplated between William BLOUNT and you?

A. Nothing precise or definite had been agreed upon. Much was to depend on the result of Governor BLOUNT's inquries and observations, upon which I never received any communication from him. But the general object was to prevent the Louisiana and the Floridas from passing into the hands of France, pursuant to the supposed cession of Spain; and to make propositions to the British government in that view.

18. What were the propositions intended to be made to the British Government?

A. On this head, also, nothing definite had been agreed upon. Had Governor BLOUNT gone to England, he would of course have proposed his own terms; had I gone, I should have received his instruction. This would have been settled in the interview which I had proposed between us, had it taken place. Had I gone without seeing him, I should have waited in England for letters from him on the subject.

19. Was it not understood that William BLOUNT and yourself were to use your personal efforts and influence to prevent the supposed cession of Louisiana by Spain to France from being carried into effect?

A. This was certainly our object; and every means, both in this country and Europe, would, of course, have been employed by us for its accomplishment.

20. Was it not proposed that Great Britain should send a force into that country for that purpose? [p. 128]

A. To ascertain whether they would do this, was the express object of Governor BLOUNT's intended visit to Europe.

21. Was it understood that, in case circumstances should require it, Governor BLOUNT and his Western friends were to make active efforts in co-operation with the British forces which might be sent there?

A. When Governor BLOUNT and myself parted at New York, the understanding between us was, that he should go to England. Nothing was then said, or has since passed between us, on the subject of this interrogatory; nor have I any direct knowledge of his views on that head.

22. What part were the Indians and the Western people to act in this business; and in what manner were they to be used in its execution? Was a cooperation by force from the territories of the Untied States contemplated?

A. As to the Indians, there was nothing particularly said about them, nor had I any idea of their being employed. To keep them quiet was all supposed to be intended, or advisable. The Western people, according to my view of the subject, were to be rendered favorable to the possession of the Floridas and Louisiana by the British, and disposed to emigrate there, and assist in holding the country, should the reduction take place. No co-operation of forces was mentioned by Governor BLOUNT, nor had I any knowledege of his precise intentions as to either the Western people or the Indians. All this, as I understood the matter, was dependent upon his observations and inquiries in the Western counry, on which subject I had no information from him.

23. What part was William BLOUNT to bear in this business, and who might faver (sic) or aid it, were to derive from its accomplishment?

A. I had no doubt that Governor BLOUNT had high expectations of emolument and command, in case the project should succeed, but nothing definite on this subject was spoken of between him and me; and, from the nature of the business, everything must have depended on the arrangement made in London with the British Government.

24. Did William BLOUNT ever apply to those persons of importance in and out of the Goverment whom it was agreed he should sound on this subject?

A. I do not know that he ever did apply to any of them. I had no information from him on this point.

25. In one of your letters to Willaim BLOUNT you urge the propriety of his appearing to have no connection with the land schemes and commerce in---------(sic). What place was meant, and why was caution commended?

A. England was the place meant, and the caution proceeded from an opinion in me, that the dignity and importance of character [p. 129] which it was desirable for Governor BLOUNT to maintain in England, would be lessened by his appearing to be concerned in commerce or the sale of lands.

26. In another part of the correspondence between William BLOUNT and yourslf, you tell him that it would be proper to keep his business in England secret from Mr. KING. What was the reason of this caution?

A. The reason is explained in the letter itself which contains the caution. It is possible that I may have had some further reasons than are there expressed. But I have no accurate or perfect recollection on this subject.

27. In one of your letters to William BLOUNT you mention a paper which you had drawn up on the subject of your business, to be left for him, in case you should sail for Europe without a personal interview, and which you wished him to possess, but do not choose to send. Where is that paper, and what were its purport and substance?

A. The only copy which now exists was sent by me to England, directed to myself some time in May or June. It contained a variety of notes, reflections, and cautions, relative to the business contemplated between me and Governor BLOUNT, which had occurred to me after he had left Philadelphia in the spring, on his return to Tennessee, but I cannot state the particulars. They were reflectons which occurred to me at various times, when thinking on the subject, and were noted down as they occurred, to serve myself and Governor BLOUNT as hints and memoranda in the progress of the business. One copy I sent to England for my own use when I should arrive there. Another I retained for Governor BLOUNT, but afterwards destroyed when I conceived the business to be at an end. They were never seen by him.

28. Do you know any other matter or thing which, in your opinion, is material to the objects of this examination? If yea, declare it fully.

A. The foregoing depositions and answers contain all that I know on the subject; and, aided by the correspondence now in possession of the Committee, will, I presume, furnish them with every idea respecting it in my power to communicate.

Nicholas ROMAINE.

CAREY deposes:

I am interpreter for the United States to the Cherokee Nation of Indians, and assistant at the public store established at the Tellico Blockhouse, and I reside there at present. For these offices I receive the annual salary of three hundred dollars, besides my board, from the Government of the United States. [p. 130]

I attended the Cherokees on their visit to Philadelphia last winter, and one day, about the last of December, or beginning of January, was invited, with two of the chiefs, John WATTS and John LANGLEY, to dine with Col. MENTGES. After dinner, Col. MENTGES proposed to us to take a walk to the Schuylkill; Captain CHISHOLM overtook us in a coach and invited us to ride with him, which invitation we accepted after a little hesitation. We stopped at a tavern in the nieghborhood (sic) of the city and, after taking some wine, we all returned in the carriage with Captain CHISHOLM, except Col. MENTGES, who preferred walking. After Col. MENTGES left us, and on our way home, CHISHOLM began a conversation with me, which, at his request, I repeated to the Indians who were with us. He said that he had great power in his hands, that he was going to England, and should return and take the Floridas. As I knew him to be a rattling, boasting kind of man, I laughed at him, and did not much regard what he said. He then told me, if I would not believe him, he would show it to me in writing. Accordingly, when we returned to our lodgings, he took out of his trunk four, or five, or six sheets of gilt paper, the whole of which was filled with writing in a pretty hand; this he said he had received frm the British Minister, and read to me with such rapidity that I could not distinctly understand it. It had neither signature, direction, or address, but purported to be a plan for the reduction of the Floridas by a British and Indian force, of which however, I do not recollect the particulars. It did not specify the number of men or ships that were to be engaged in the expedition; Gov. BLOUNT's name was nowhere mentioned in it, nor did it contain the names of any persons or parties or associates in the project or who were to be desired to join it; nor do I remember that it proposed at all to engage any citizens of the United States in the enterprise, or to raise any force for the purpose within the United States. CHISHOLM was styled "Captain" in the paper, and was to go to England to the British Minister with it, or, if he did not go himself, the paper was to be sent there, and the answer was to be returned to the British Minister at Philadelphia. If CHISHOLM should not be in Philadelphia when the answer was received, it was to be forwarded by hand to Knoxville to him, or, in his absence, to his son, Ig. CHISHOLM, who was to send it to the Cherokee Nation to his father; or, if his father should not be there, to deliver it to John ROGERS. If the answer should be sent round by the Floridas, it was, in like manner, to be forwarded to the Cherokee country to Captain CHISHOLM, or, in his absence, to John ROGERS. This arrangement was contained in the paper. CHISHOLM himself said that he was going to England to get everything in preparation, and to procure from the Ministry, men and naval armament; that the expedition was to come out in a large privateer; and that on their arrival in the Floridas, he was to obtain the assistance of the Indians, and then attack the [p. 131] Spanish. After CHISHOLM had read his paper and finished his story, I continued to laugh at him, and express my incredulity; whereupon he said if I still would not believe him, I should go with him to the British Minister the next morning, and take the Indians with me. I told him that I had no business with the British Minister, and declined going, and so did the Indians.

Two or three days afterwards, at the request of the widow of the HANGING MAW, I went to Gov. BLOUNT's lodgings to ask for some money that he owed her. I found him engaged in writing and alone. On my entrance, he said to me, "CAREY, what in the devil has become of CHISHOLM; damn the fellow, where is he?" I replied that he had changed his lodgings. Being thus reminded of CHISHOLM, I concluded to tell Gov. BLOUNT what I had heard and seen. I said to him, therefore, "Governor, do you know what this business is that CHISHOLM is upon?" He instantly raised his head eagerly from the paper on which he was writing, and looking at me said, "No, no; what do you mean, CAREY?" I then told him of my conversation with CHISHOLM, and what CHISHOLM had shown me. When I mentioned the writing I had seen he again raised his head suddenly, and looking at me as before, asked me eagerly whether the writing was signed? I told him it was not, and then he said, "Pooh, pooh, CAREY; you know what a windy, blasty fellow CHISHOLM is, and it is not worth while to take any more notice of it, or say anything about it."

I had no time, before or afterwards, any other communication, of any kind with Gov. BLOUNT relative to this subject or any political plan or scheme, until I received from him the letter dated Col. King's Iron Works, April 21, 1797, except that once, in the city of Philadelphia, last winter, he advised me not to be present at the running of the line, nor to have anything to do with it, as he said it would be a troublsome business, and might occasion the Indians to reflect on me.


(1) The BLOUNTs have been singularly honored in Tennessee. Blountville and Blount county were named for Willaim BLOUNT, while Maryville, the county seat of Blount county, and Grainger county were named for his wife. Blount college, which was later merged into East Tennessee University and still later, University of Tennessee, was named for him--he being one of the directors.

(2) The names and official rank of the two BLOUNTs have often been confusing. William was the territorial governor and United States Senator, while Willie (not Wylie) became Governor of Tennessee.

(3) On account of unjust taxation and exhorbitant fees exacted by officers of the crown, the people of Western North Carolina formed themselves into a band of Regulators to oppose these officers. A force of these, numbering more than two thousand, was met by Gov. Tyron (sic), May 16, 1771, on the Alamance as was defeated--some refugeeing on the Holston.

(4) Thomas Jefferson decided it the best state constitution in the United States.

(5) Description of the iron works is given in chapter on "Industries."

(6) From Gen. Marcus J. Wright's, "Life of Blount."

[End of Part I -- broken into parts only because the length of the excerpt exceeded the maximum size allowed for a post to this board]

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