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Richmond Times Dispatch                                        April 21, 1935


Home    >    Newspaper Articles    >    Transylvania: Fourteenth American State



Transylvania: Fourteenth American State

Hanover County Virginian Was First and Only Head of 'Free Colony'
Which Afterwards Became Kentucky;
To Be Celebrated October 12

By Archibald Henderson, Litt. D., D. C. L., LL. D.
University of North Carolina



Colonel Richard Henderson opening the Legislature of Transylvania, Boonesborough, Kentucky, May 23, 1775


"Last evening, Mr. Hewes of North Carolina introduced to my namesake and me a Mr. Hogg from that colony, one of the proprietors of Transylvania, a late purchase from the Cherokees upon the Ohio. He is an associate with Henderson, who was lately one of the associate judges of North Carolina, who is president of the convention in Transylvania. The proprietors have no grant from the crown, nor from any colony, are within the limits of Virginia and North Carolina, by their charters, which bound those Colonies in the South Sea. They are charged with republican notions and Utopian schemes."

This unfamiliar quotation is found in the still largely unpublished diary of John Adams, entry for Philadelphia, October 25, 1775. What a strange reversal of conventional historic values does this singular passage reveal! The loyalists, John and Samuel Adams, are amazed at the efforts of these forerunners of the American Revolution, Richard Henderson, James Hogg, and their associates, to found an independent state in the heart of virgin West. "They are charged with republican notions"--words written by Adams with evident lack of sympathy for republican notions! The effort to found a free state beyond the mountains, on the other side of the forest barrier, as Transylvania means, is suspected by John Adams to be an Utopean scheme."

Independence and revolution were evidently far from Adams' mind when he penned this entry. James Hogg had been dispatched to Philadelphia by the great Transylvania Company of North Carolina on a diplomatic mission: the attempt to secure the recognition by the Continental Congress of Transylvania as an independent state. The Adamses were resolute in their refusal to give color to the charge that they favored independence. In his letter to the proprietors of Transylvania, written from Hillsborough, N. C., in January, 1776, Hogg explicitly states that John Adams warned him, in view of the efforts then making toward reconcilation between the colonies and the king, that "the taking under our (the Continental Congress') protection a body of people who have acted in defiance of the king's proclamation will be looked on as a confirmation of that independent spirit with which we are daily reproached."



Royal Governors Denounce Independence of Colony


Richard HendersonEarly in June, 1775, when the Mecklenburg patriots of Charlotte, N. C., sent on to Philadelphia a copy, among other documents, of their famous resolutions of May 31, published in various newspapers of the time, their emissary Captain James Jack, was sent back home by the North Carolina delegates, William Hooper, Joseph Hewes and Richard Caswell, with an appreciative word, but the solemn admonition that their proceedings, aiming straight for independence, were premature. When Hogg wrote to the proprietors of Transylvania in January, 1776, George Washington, be it remembered, was forthrightly declaring that he "abhorred independence." Like Adams, Hancock, Washington and other leaders, Jefferson was then expecting to remain a British subject, and desired, as he said, the "most permanent harmony with Great Britain."

Four days after Richard Henderson and his associates on March 17, 1775, had purchased of the Cherokee tribe the vast area of Transylvania, estimated at upwards of twenty million acres, Lord Dunmore, the royal Governor of Virginia, issued a fiery proclamation demanding the immediate relinquishment of the territory by "one Richard Henderson and other disorderly persons, his associates," and "in case of refusal, and of violently retaining such possession, that he or they be immediately fined and imprisoned."

In a letter to the earl of Dartmouth, Governor Josiah Martin, the royal Governor of North Carolina, denounces "Henderson the famous invader" and dubs the Transylvania Company "an infamous company of land pyrates."

Lord Dunsmore's proclamation, says a peppery old chronicler, may well rank with the later one, of the British issued by General Thomas Gage, June 12, 1775, excepting those arch traitors, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, from the mercy of the British monarch. Henderson, Hogg and the other proprietors of Transylvania, by their independent action at Sycamore Shoals, March 14-17, 1775, anticipated by three months the like royal denunciation of Samuel Adams and John Adams for offenses "of too flagitious a nature to admit of any other consideration than that of condign punishment."



Was Greatest Real Estate Deal in History


"Clio," once sardonically observed the late Clarence Walworth Alvord, brilliant author of "The Mississippi Valley in British Politics," "has often heard our historians sing of the deeds of the stalwart pioneers with guns and axes following buffalo traces into the West; she has been obliged to listen to the hymns of the squatter with family and household goods in his Conestoga wagon trekking across the prairies; but less frequently has there reached her ears the epic of big business whose devotees have been present at the opening up of every new territory and whose pervading and powerful influence has been experienced as wilderness gave way to frontier and frontier to civilized settlement."

The purchase of Transylvania was perhaps the largest, and certainly, as judged by the results, the greatest real estate transaction ever negotiated by private individuals in American history. The co-partners of the Transylvania Company, who lived within the earl of Granville's great North Carolina proprietary, were influenced by his example, as well as by those of Penn and the Calverts, to found a great American proprietary colony or free state beyond the Alleghanies. The object of the company was two-fold: to promote a great speculative enterprise rich with golden promises of fortune "beyond the dreams of avarice"; and to establish and secure the recognition of Transylvania as the fourteenth American state.

It is a fact of no little significance in American history that the three mimic, short-lived independent republics or states founded in North America in the eighteenth century, Watauga, Transylvania, Franklin, all lay in the old southwest, the cradle of American liberty. It is a priceless heritage that at Halifax, on April 12, 1776, North Carolina led all the American colonies in the explicit instructions to her representatives to concur with the representatives from the other colonies to vote for independence.

The type of man engaged in the great Transylvania enterprise, of the story of which so little has found its way into American history, inevitably challenges our interest and admiration. the captain of industry and the speculative promoter on the grand scale have held the center of the stage in many stirring scenes of the drama of American expansion. These men were the true "rugged individualists" so often mentioned today, the splendid pioneer type of our ancestors, hard, resolute, self-reliant, energetically making their way as best they could against all obstacles and fighting to the death for the stake in the wilderness they had won at the risk of their lives and fortunes.

The motives and the principles which actuated men of this heroic stamp have remained the same throughout our history, whether the protagonist was a Washington or an Astor, a Putnam or a Morgan, a Penn or a Hart. The ample-visioned expansionist, lured on by prospects of princely fortune, develops and exploits the new lands, for individual profit and comprehensive national expansion.



Kentucky to Celebrate Four Great Events


On October 12 of the present year at Boonesborough, Ky., will be held a memorial celebration in honor of four important events in American history.

First, the cutting of the Transylvania Trail, sometimes called the Wilderness Trail, commissioned by the Transylvania Company and executed by Daniel Boone, Richard Callaway and other pioneers, thirty strong.

Second, the building of the great palisaded fort from plans drawn by the president of the Transylvania Company, on Otter Creek, the site of present Boonesborough.

Third, the convening of the Legislature of Transylvania on May 23, 1775, the first legislative assembly of free-born American citizens to convene on the Continent west of the Alleghanies.

Fourth, the founding of the State of Transylvania, which had a short life of but 18 months, but exercised a profound influence on the course of American history.



Virginian was Head of Transylvania Unit


Richard Henderson in Silhouette  1735 - 1785Richard Henderson, the first and only head of Transylvania, was born in Hanover County, Va., April 20, 1735. The celebration is held in this, the bicentennial year of Henderson's birth. Dr. Samuel Eliot Morison of Harvard University in his "The Growth of the American Republic," describes Henderson as "one of the greatest of American land speculators and commonwealth builders." Benson J. Lossing, the versatile historian of an earlier day, dubs Henderson the "political father of Kentucky."

Dr. John F. D. Smyth, author of the two-volume work, "Travels in the United States of America" (1784), who visited Henderson in 1774, describes him as "the most brilliant and eccentric genius in America--if not in the world."

Associated with him were James Hogg, descendent of "the Ettrick Shepherd" of the same name and married to a second cousin of Sir Walter Scott: Thomas Hart, the father-in-law of Henry Clay and the maternal grandfather of Thomas Hart Benton, and his two brothers, Nathaniel and David Hart; and other distinguished citizens of North Carolina: John Williams, John Luttrell, William Johnston and Leonard Henley Bullock. During a period of more than a decade, Daniel Boone, in his far-ranging explorations of Tennessee and Kentucky, was acting as the confidential agent of this land company. Thomas Walker for the Loyal Land Company, Christopher Gist for the Ohio Company and Daniel Boone for the Transylvania Company, all made explorations of the trans-Alleghany region on behalf of intrenched capital and speculative enterprise.




Ambassador Bingham Pays Tribute to Group


Memorial tablets will be unveiled at Booneborough on October 12 in honor of the proprietors of the Transylvania Company, the 30 axmen headed by Boone who cleared the Transylvania Trail, and the members of the Legislature of Transylvania.



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