20 June 2013

Six degrees of separation, from Turkey 2013 to Tennessee 1788

You’ve heard of the hypothesis (mistakenly called a theory) about the “Six Degrees of Separation”, right?  If not familiar with the actual hypothesis you may have seen or at least heard of the film by the same name, or may even its Pulitzer award winning predecessor play by John Guare.

Ok, so here’s how I got from current protests in Turkey in the in 21st century to frontier war in the later Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the 18th century in six easy steps.

I was working on an essay on the recent troubles in Turkey, part of which have to do with the increasing amount of theocracy Erdogan’s AKP party is passing into law, when I came across some information I hadn’t known before.  So I got distracted, something that partly came from getting just five hours of sleep because of watching Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

Speaking of which, wasn’t that a great game?  Just as the Spurs looked to be on their way to crushing their rivals at the beginning of the second half, someone remarked, “The Miami Heat should change their name to the Miami Cold”.  Almost instantly the Heat came back and made it a game, eventually winning to go on to a seventh game.

Anyway, I quoted “Ben Martin” from the character’s address to the assembly in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Patriot” (“Why should I trade one tyrant 3000 miles away for 3000 tyrants one mile away?”) and wanted to check on the correct name of the colonial legislature in South Carolina, which is how I made the discovery that got me started on this more historical essay.

It really piqued my interest because of the anti-theocracy themes in the Turkish protests, signs such as the one reading, “Keep Religion out of Politics in Turkey and Everywhere”.  Many Turkish citizens fear the ruling AKP is compromising the strict secularism of the republic founded after the Ottoman Empire was abolished.

Freedom of religion in Carolina colony

When the colony of Carolina was founded in 1663 (split into South and North in 1729), its charter (drawn up by philosopher John Locke) guaranteed freedom of religion to “Jews, heathens, and dissenters” as well as Anglicans.  At the time, only the colonies of Rhode Island and Maryland had similar provisions and neither as broad, so it was a major attraction for religious nonconformists (to the Church of England) such as English and Irish Puritans, Scottish and Irish Presbyterians, French Huguenots, Baptists, Quakers, Unitarians, etc.

Rhode Island had been founded in the 1630’s by Roger Williams and Anne Hutchison, the first American Baptists, as a refuge from Puritan exclusivity.  Maryland had been founded in 1632 by Lord Baltimore as a haven for Catholics but with freedom for all Trinitarian Christians.  After Virginia mandated membership in the Church of England in 1646, Maryland gave refuge to fleeing Puritans. 

Maryland’s guests thanked their hosts by overthrowing the colonial administration and outlawing Catholicism and Anglicanism in 1654.  The revolt lasted until 1658, when the 1649 Act of Toleration was restored.  After the so-called Glorious Revolution in England in 1688, in which Calvinist William of Orange deposed Catholic James II, there was another revolt of the Puritans, and this time freedom to worship did not return for Catholics until after the Revolution.

South Carolina colony’s insurrection

The colony of South Carolina’s Anglican majority resented not being able to suppress the Dissenters, and its propertied members wanted to chart their own path free of absentee interference.  In 1719, largely due to dissatisfaction with the myopically greedy and woefully incompetent Lords Proprietor but also to disenfranchise Dissenters, the Anglican colonists of South Carolina appealed to the king to make them a royal colony with a royal governor. 

An insurrectionist convention was called in Charlestown specifically to deal with this issue—leaving the Lords Proprietor for the crown.   It asked the then current royal governor, Robert Johnson (no known relation to the later blues singer of the same name), to stay on, but he declined out of loyalty to his employers. 

Very competent in contrast to the Proprietors, Johnson personally led the campaign to destroy the pirates plaguing South Carolina’s ocean trade while in office.  A decade after the change of government in the colony, he accepted appointment from the crown and arrived in Charlestown in 1731.  One of his main programs involved bringing Protestant (mostly Reformed) colonists from Europe to settle the western frontier of the colony to protect against encroachment by France and Spain and attacks by the Cherokee.  So much for the plan of the colony’s Anglicans to get rid of those Dissenter types.

The Regulators

There were two groups in the Carolinas called Regulators at roughly the same time but they were composed of opposite social groups and had much different goals.  Neither, of course, had any relation to the much later New Mexico group of Regulators with whom Billy the Kid fought in the Lincoln County War of the late 1870’s nor to the Regulators who fought with the Moderators in Shelby County, Texas in 1839-1844.

The Regulators in South Carolina from 1767-1769 bore grievances over lack of safety and security and quality-of-life services on the frontier.  They were not rebels, but vigilantes cooperating with the government based in Charlestown.  They worked against bandits, squatters, and illegal hunters who had started as refugees left homeless in the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1758-1761 and who later accepted free blacks, runaway slaves, mulattos, and half-breed Indians into their ranks.

The Regulators in North Carolina, on the other hand, were in rebellion against the corruption of the colonial government which benefitted only the wealthy few.  One of their chief complaints was against the system of taxation in which collections were made by local sheriffs supported by the courts.  It was to destroy this system and institute one more amenable to the needs of the people that these Regulators first rose up.

The colony’s War of the Regulation lasted from 1765 to 1771.  It was after its failure and the hanging of most of its leaders by the colonial militia that James Robertson led a band of settlers across the Blue Ridge Mountains to settle along the Watauga River.  The settlement was centered on flatlands along the river’s Sycamore Shoals known as Watauga Old Fields.  This was the site of a settlement by Indians predating the Cherokee, likely the Chisca (Yuchi) town of Guapere burned by Moyano, Juan Pardo’s adjutant, in 1567.

The Mecklenburg Reserves

Just a few years later on 20 May 1775 after the battles at Lexington and Concord, the Mecklenburg County Committee of Safety meeting in Charlotte drew up and signed the Mecklenburg Resolves, officially adopting them on 31 May.  These Resolves announced that all laws of Parliament were null and void until such time as legislative and executive power be vested in the Continental Congress.  The document did leave the door open for reconciliation between London and the colonies and did not declare separation.

Delivered to the North Carolina delegation of the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, the Mecklenburg Resolves formed the basis for the legend of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.   According to this story, the document was actually a declaration of independence which preceded the actual one adopted by the Continental Congress by over a year.

This story first surfaced in 1818, and when they heard of it, both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson denied such a thing had ever been brought to their attention.  No copy has ever been found, the original supposedly have been destroyed in a fire.  By contrast, however, a copy of the actual Mecklenburg Resolves was found in a South Carolina newspaper from the period in 1847, the complete text.

The mythical “Last Battle of the Revolution”

When I first learned of the alleged Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (in, of all places, one of Katy Reichs’ novels about forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan, inspiration for Fox TV’s “Bones”), it reminded me of the spurious story about John Sevier, the Cherokee, and the “Last Battle of the American Revolution” on the slopes of Lookout Mountain in 1782.  Sevier and his men were indeed in the Chattanooga area that year and burned a lot of abandoned Cherokee towns here and in north Georgia, but he and his army never crossed west over the Chickamauga River (South Chickamauga Creek) and therefore never reached the location of the supposed battle. 

That story first surfaced in the 1890’s during rampant land speculation surrounding the Chickamauga-Chattanooga National Military Park being opened here to commemorate the two major battles of the Chattanooga Campaign (whose sesquicentennial is this year, 2013).  Its source was a couple of developers who owned a large tract of the lower foot of Lookout Mountain, the supposed site of the alleged battle.  The story was vehemently condemned as a fraud at the time from several quarters, including the then Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt.

There was such a battle fought at that location, but it had nothing at all to do with the American Revolution, and rather than being a victory for the frontiersmen was something of a debacle.  Fought in August 1788, five years after the Treaty of Paris, it pitted militia from the State of Franklin led by Joseph Martin (married to Nancy Ward’s daughter) against what were by then called the “Lower Cherokee” (previously known as the “Chickamauga Cherokee”). 

With the latter led by their most brilliant tacticians (Dragging Canoe, Little Owl, Bloody Fellow, The Glass, The Breath, John Watts, Dick Justice, and Kitegisky), the outcome was written ahead of time.  It was an epic fail for Martin, primarily because his vanguard panicked in the face of staunch resistance from a strong position and fled to the rear, causing a rout. 

The “battle” took place five years after the end of the Revolution and six years before the end of the Chickamauga Wars.  Its primary effect was to help Dragging Canoe raise an army of three thousand Cherokee to invade and ravage East Tennessee that autumn and into winter.  One band, led by John Watts, destroyed Gillespie’s Station then attacked White’s Fort, present-day Knoxville, though unsuccessfully.

See?  From protests in the Republic of Turkey in 2013 to the western frontier of the new U.S. state of North Carolina, or eastern frontier of La Louisiane to the Spanish in 1788, in just six easy steps, counting the starting point.

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