One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “If you are based in Carter County, Tennessee , why
are you called the Washington County, North Carolina Militia”. It can be confusing but maybe
I can clear things up a bit.
We’ll begin with a short geography lesson as to the layout of North Carolina in Colonial America.
In the 18th century the Colony of North Carolina included all of present day
Tennessee. These western lands over the Blue Ridge were off limits to settlers
as specified in the proclamation of 1763. However, during the late 1760s and
early 1770s white settlers crossed the mountains and began inhabiting the
beautiful mountain valleys of the Watauga, Holston, and Nolichucky.
In 1772 several of these settlers met along the confluence of the Doe and Watauga Rivers (present day
Elizabethton, Tennessee) and established the Watauga Association. This was in
effect the first government established in North America by American born
freemen, independent of British rule. Adopting the laws of Virginia they set
out to govern themselves for the “common good” of the people. Teddy Roosevelt
later said, “They were the first men of American birth to establish a free and
independent community on the continent … They successfully solved the problem
of self-government”. They leased and later purchased large tracts of land from
the Cherokee. All of this, of course, was very illegal according to the King.
Virginia’s Colonial Governor, Lord Dunmore, expressed his displeasure by saying
they were setting a “dangerous example” by forming a government independent of
His Majesty’s authority.
A general peace ensued among the natives and their new neighbors; however this harmony would not last
long. Dragging Canoe being greatly angered by the encroaching whites gathered
other militant Cherokee and planned an attack on the fledgling western
settlements. With increasing displeasure among the British Indian Agents, who
had given the settlers an opportunity to leave and cross back over the mountains,
the powder keg finally exploded. In the summer of 1776 the Watauga, Holston,
and Nolichucky settlements were the target of a three pronged attack led by Old
Abram of Chilhowie, Dragging Canoe, and The Raven respectively. Although these
attacks delivered a strong blow the militant Cherokee were unable to gain the
upper hand, and the settlements emerged scarred but not
Prior to these attacks the Watauga Association had petitioned the North Carolina General Assembly to
be annexed as a district, county, or appropriate province, pledging their
patriotism and willingness to become a party in the unhappy conflict between
Great Britain and the newly declared independent states. After assuming the
title of Washington District the overmountain settlements were finally annexed
as Washington County , North Carolina , by the General Assembly in 1777. This
included much of present day Tennessee. The Washington County Regiment of North
Carolina Militia was established and officers included Colonel John Carter, Captain
James Robertson, and other notable names such as John Sevier, William Bean,
Jacob Brown, and Jacob Womack. Just two years later in 1779 , Sullivan County was
formed out of Washington County with Isaac Shelby being commissioned as Colonel
of the Sullivan County Regiment of North Carolina Militia. Thus beginning a
long line of divisions and district and territorial establishments until
Tennessee was finally created in 1796 whereupon Carter County was formed out of
That explanation is probably as clear as mud, but hopefully it presents a chronological story as to the
formation of our early government and militia origin. Even though we reenact a
time period prior to 1777 on through to the 1780s, we chose the title of Washington County Regiment of North
Carolina Militia in an effort to preserve the name of the historic
militia that served in this area. It was men in this very unit that defeated
Patrick Ferguson at Kings Mountain and turned the tide of the Revolution.
Major Chadwick Bogart
MOLLYNOTE: Political and geographical lines change over time but one thing never does and that is to honor those who came here before, cut into unchartered, ungoverned area, a frontier of unimaginable challenges. Their determination to be free drove those men and women to put their lives and futures on the line. These are the people who gave this region, now upper East Tennessee , its unique character and substance and the name of the group who fought for our freedoms is honored through the living historians who participate in the Regiment today.