Colonel John Tipton

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John Tipton was born in that greatest American generation which was destined to change the colonies, the British Empire and the world.  Others of this generation were George Washington, Patrick Henry, Reverend General Peter Muhlenberg, George Mason, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson.  These men, all born in America, had the ability and the drive to bring republican government to the world.  Over the course of Tipton’s life, he was to know and serve with these men as the United States was conceived and born of the American Revolution.

John Tipton was born August 15th, 1730 in Baltimore County, Maryland.  He was born into a prosperous but not privileged family.  His father, Jonathan, was a farmer as were the great majority of colonists in eighteenth century English America.  John’s mother was Elizabeth Edwards Tipton.  He had four brothers and three sisters.  His siblings Edward, Sarah, William and Joseph were born between 1728 and 1738 so this was the family he grew up learning, playing and working among.  His brother Jonathan and sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, were born in the early 1750’s when John was a young man.

Colonel John Tipton

The Tipton’s family life was similar to their contemporaries.  Farm life was hard work and the boys in the family were the farm labor.  No doubt John labored in the fields sowing crops, clearing land for more fields and chopping wood to heat the home.  While the boys did the farm work and cared for the livestock, John’s mother and sisters would have tended the vegetable garden, made the clothes and done other domestic duties equally as laborious as the boys’ work.  Being prosperous, it is possible the family had indentured servants or even a slave to help with the labor.  John’s education was not formal but he learned to read and write acquiring the education necessary to run his own successful farming business when an adult.

Life was not all drudgery and hard work.  John’s grandfather, Jonathan, had immigrated to Maryland from Jamaica, an exotic place for a young boy to hear about.  According to Tipton Family history, John’s great grandfather, Edward, was a soldier in the army of General Robert Venable who sailed in the English fleet of Sir Admiral William Penn that conquered Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655.  This family lore, told around the fireside, was heady stuff for a boy growing up.  Besides that, Grandfather Jonathan bred race horses on his Maryland plantation called Poor Jamaica Man’s Plague.  Stories and fine horseflesh provided plenty of adventurous tales in the life of young John Tipton.  He might also have heard the legend of his ancestor, Anthony de Tipton, who was knighted by English King Edward I after Tipton slew Welsh Prince Llewellyn in 1282.

In 1747, John’s father moved his family from Maryland to the Shenandoah Valley in the western mountains of the Crown Colony of Virginia.  This was the frontier of English North America.  The land was rich and resources were plentiful.  There was a constant threat of Indian raid but the frontier was relatively peaceful until about 1755.  Of course in those times, people lived with the constant threat of war.  England was continually at war with the French, the Spanish, or the Dutch.  All men were required to be part of the militia and ready to defend their homes and be called to fight when an enemy appeared.  Every man had his musket.

In 1751, John married Mary Butler, daughter of Thomas Butler of Cedar Creek, a tributary of the Shenandoah River.  The marriage was to last for twenty-five years and result in the birth of nine sons.  The first, Samuel, was born in 1752.  The births of Benjamin (1755), Abraham (1758), William (1761), Isaac (1763), Jacob (1765), John (1769), Thomas (1771), and Jonathan (1776) followed.  In the tradition of the times, the family enjoyed the labor so coveted by a farming family and so necessary to a successful agricultural business.

By 1757, at the age of twenty-seven, John Tipton was a landowner and owned a farm of 181 acres.  He learned well from his father and grandfather as the land he purchased was on the seven bends of the Shenandoah River.  This area, near the crossroads of Tom’s Brook in what was then Frederick County, Virginia, was some of the most fertile in the entire Valley.  Here, he raised corn, wheat, potatoes and barley enough to distill an amount of whiskey as was the habit of virtually every colonial that could.  He raised hogs and a few cattle.  As with his grandfather, he was fond of horses and had an eye for racing horseflesh.  This farm was close to the Valley Pike that is referred to by history as the Great Wagon Road, well-traveled even in the 1760’s.  In 1765, the road was cleared for horse drawn vehicles.

The Great Wagon Road began in Pennsylvania west of Philadelphia and ran down the Shenandoah Valley to Roanoke, Virginia.  There it branched south and east into the Carolinas and south and west into what is now East Tennessee.  The Road was the major pathway for immigration to the frontier of the southern colonies.  It is believed that in the twentieth century, over forty per cent of all Americans could trace their lineage to ancestors who traveled the Great Wagon Road.  So, while John Tipton was on the frontier, this frontier benefited from news and the social life attributed to the constant traffic of the Great Wagon Road.

John Tipton was an Englishman and loyal to the King.  He served in the militia with his neighbors.  Muster days, as they were called, were also social events on the frontier with horse racing, contests of strength and marksmanship, fiddling, dancing, laughter and the best source for all the local news and news of the outside world.  Militia days served as voting days.  In 1761, Tipton’s vote for Colonel George Washington to serve in the House of Burgesses is recorded.  The polling was done in Winchester, the county seat of Frederick County and Washington’s “home town”.

In 1772, John Tipton’s career of service to his neighbors and country began in earnest.  Dunmore County was formed and Woodstock, just south of Tom’s Brook, was designated the county seat.  Tipton was appointed to the Commission of Peace for the new county by Lord Dunmore, Royal Governor of Virginia.  He was a Vestryman of the Anglican Church of Beckford Parish.  In colonial times, the county government provided the civil functions of the government while the Anglican Church Parish provided the social governance.  Parishes were as powerful as the courts.  Separation of church and state did not exist in the British Empire.  County government held court and provided roads while Parish vestrymen helped the poor and monitored moral behavior.

Dunmore County Court records now list the presence of John Tipton, Gentleman.  What may seem a courtesy to us in the twenty-first century was an official honorarium in colonial
Virginia.  Being referred to as “gentleman” was a title reserved for use by prominent men.  Thomas Marshall, father of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall was the clerk of this court.

In 1774, John Tipton began his career as an American patriot.  On June 16th, a public meeting was called for the citizens of Dunmore County.  From north to south, American colonists were outraged and concerned about the British imposition of martial law in Boston.  The citizens formed a Committee of Safety and Correspondence for the county.  John Tipton, gentleman, and four other men were elected to serve on the Committee.  The Reverend Peter John Muhlenberg was Chairman.  This Committee wrote and published the Woodstock Resolutions declaring the liberties of Englishmen and their right to resist tyranny as reported in an article in the Virginia Gazette published in Williamsburg on August 4th.  When King George III learned of the Woodstock Resolutions, he branded them “seditious”.

Tipton was not only a patriot in word; he was a patriot in deed.  As a soldier, his first command was as Captain in Lord Dunmore’s War.  He led his men to the “Battle of Big Connaway”, also called the Battle of Point Pleasant serving under General Andrew Lewis.  The frontier militia called out by the royal governor defeated a confederation of Indians on the Kanawha River at the place where this river empties into the Ohio River.  In January, 1775, Tipton was an organizer of the First Independent Company of Dunmore, a militia organized by the Dunmore Committee of Safety and Correspondence.

First a patriot, next a minute man, on April 23rd, 1776; John Tipton became a rebel to the English Crown.  He was elected to represent Dunmore County at the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg.  This most significant of Virginia Conventions adopted a Declaration of Rights on June 12th and a constitution for Virginia on June 29th.  Independence for the State of Virginia had been declared!

Following the Virginia Convention, Tipton was elected to the House of Delegates for the next four years where he served on Committees with leading Virginia patriots Patrick Henry, George Mason and James Madison.   Benjamin Harrison, father of President William Henry Harrison was a Delegate.  Tipton served on Committees with the prominent men of the Shenandoah Valley: Andrew Lewis, Isaac Zane and Arthur Campbell.  During these years, he served his county, renamed Shenandoah in 1777, as Justice of the Peace appointed by Governor Patrick Henry who also appointed Tipton County Sheriff in 1778 and recruiting officer for the Virginia Continental Line in 1779.  In 1780, Governor Thomas Jefferson appointed him Commissioner of the Provision Law.  Tipton was County Lieutenant for Shenandoah.  The County Lieutenant was the principal military officer in a Virginia County and thus a Colonel of militia.  It was from this time forward that he was referred to as Colonel.

By 1782, Colonel Tipton had endured several tragedies in his life.  In 1776, Mary died in child birth with Jonathan.  While serving with George Rogers Clark in the Ohio Country, son Abraham, a Captain, was killed by Indians on Beargrass Creek at the Falls of the Ohio, present-day Louisville, Kentucky.  His son William was badly wounded fighting at the siege of Savannah under General Isaac Huger.

In 1777, he married Martha Denton Moore, the widow of Dr. James Moore and member of a large, prosperous Valley family.  The Dentons and John Tipton had a close relationship during his years in the Shenandoah.  It was from Samuel Denton that John bought his farm on the seven bends.  In 1781, Martha gave birth to a son who was named Abraham to honor the brother who fell in the Ohio country.  With the birth of Abraham, Tipton had fathered ten sons.

In 1783, after the American Revolution was won, Colonel John Tipton moved to the Watauga Settlements on the Western Waters in what is now East Tennessee.  His brothers Jonathan and Joseph had already moved to the area accompanied by their father, Jonathan, who was over seventy-five years of age.  Brother Jonathan is a signer of the Watauga settlers’ petition to North Carolina of 1776 and Joseph is on the 1778 Watauga tax lists.  John’s brother Edward had moved to Pennsylvania while his brother William stayed in the Shenandoah Valley.

Prior to Tennessee statehood in 1796, East Tennessee was part of the colony, then state, of North Carolina.  Communication between the area and the state was very difficult because of the high mountains in between and the lack of roads for travel.  It was not until the 1790’s that a wagon road connected East Tennessee to Asheville.  The majority of settlers on the western waters was from Virginia and had traveled down the Shenandoah Valley to get there.  Many of the settlers were Scotch-Irish but there were English, German and Huguenots.

Tipton brought with him considerable skills and experience as a judge, legislator, and public official.  He had a steady and prominent part in bringing democratic government to his country.  His life included first hand experience drafting a resolution of resistance to tyranny, a declaration of rights and a constitution for the neighbors who were his constituency, his state and his country.  He had been bold and fearless as a patriot.

As before, Tipton had an eye for choice farmland.  On May 15th, 1784 he purchased 100 acres between Sinking Creek and Buffalo Creek from Samuel Henry.  In addition to being very fertile, the land was along an ancient buffalo trail with a bold spring and sheltering cave.  In 1673, the first Englishmen to visit Tennessee; James Needham and Arthur Gabriel; camped at the site and later Daniel Boone made the cave his campground while hunting and exploring.  Tipton built his home on this land.  General Thomas Love, friend and ally, described the house as a “large size house, some 25 x 30 feet of hewed logs – a story and a half – no windows below – two or three window holes, round, in each gable and above – a door in front”.

Post-Revolutionary War times were confusing and trying times in East Tennessee, North Carolina and all the former colonies.  In every state, the economy was depressed and the governments were struggling with massive war debt.  North Carolina had ceded her western territory, including East Tennessee, to the Confederation government and then rescinded the cession.  North Carolina’s action was distressing to the Watauga settlers causing them to feel without a government and abandoned by the state.  As was common, a public meeting was held in August, 1784 at Jonesboro to consider the question of government in the Watauga area.

Given his experience and proven leadership, Colonel Tipton was depended upon by his neighbors almost as soon as he arrived.  Records are incomplete, but Tipton was a “delegate” to the State of Franklin Convention held in mid-December, 1784.  Here, a resolution passed 28-15 declaring independence from North Carolina and statehood for Franklin.  Both Tipton and his brother Joseph voted against the resolution.  In November, 1785, he was at the State of Franklin constitutional convention held in Greenville and was associated with a constitution which was very liberal for its day authored by Reverend Samuel Houston, uncle of the future Tennessee statesman.  This constitution was defeated.  Existing records indicate John Tipton and eighteen other men were in favor of this democratic constitution.

John Tipton was an opponent of the right of the State of Franklin to exist.  He was not alone among notable citizens of the area.  The most respected man of his day, Evan Shelby, never supported Franklin and served as Brigadier General of Militia for North Carolina during a period of Franklin’s existence.  Colonel Robert Love and his brothers, members of a prominent family, were opposed to Franklin.  General Joseph Martin was opposed to the State of Franklin.  Many future legislators voted against independence as had Tipton.  North Carolina considered the movement a rebellion and its leaders as traitors.  The Confederation government in New York gave it no countenance.  Even Georgia, which planned military campaigns with the Franks, was careful in its correspondence to avoid addressing a state or independent government.

History has yet to decide if the State of Franklin was the spontaneous act of self-reliant, independent settlers originating a western democracy; the conspiracy of self-seeking land speculators; or a separatists’ movement which resented the subordination of its interests to those of Carolinians in the East.  There is no question that land speculation was rife in the west and that some of Franklin’s leaders were among the speculators.

Colonel John Tipton had the experience to foresee whether or not the counties involved were prepared for self-government.  He would have been offended by the land speculation schemes which had not taken place in Virginia and he was an official of the State of North Carolina which turned to him to oppose the movement.  He may have been influenced at the Greeneville Convention when he saw that a more democratic self-government was not the intent of the Franklin leadership.

For all intents and purposes, the State of Franklin ceased to exist on February 29th, 1788.  Frank Governor John Sevier attacked Tipton and some North Carolina supporters at Tipton’s home.  Sevier and his men were routed.  Sevier submitted to the laws of the mother state, North Carolina, after what history refers to as The Battle of the Lost State of Franklin.

The State of Tennessee is indebted to Colonel John Tipton for his unflagging opposition to the State of Franklin and his ability to defeat the movement.  Franklin was a convoluted “state” which brought the counties involved into conflict with federal policy, the mother state, the State of Virginia and the Indians on the frontier in addition to strife and violence in the counties themselves.  Because Franklin was defeated, Tennessee moved forward to statehood in an orderly and straightforward manner countenanced by all of the United States.

If Tipton’s decisions regarding Franklin needed any vindication, such was clearly given in March, 1788 when he was elected a delegate to the Hillsboro Convention at which North Carolina considered ratification of the proposed federal constitution creating the United States.  Tipton, an anti-federalist much influenced by his friend Thomas Jefferson, voted with the majority to not ratify the constitution.  The over-riding objection was the fact that the constitution did not contain a Bill of Rights protecting the citizens.  Once again in his life, Colonel John Tipton stood firmly for democratic, representative government.

In August, 1788, he was elected to represent Washington County as Senator in the North Carolina Legislature.  He had served in the Legislature in 1786, as a court clerk for the state and been appointed a Colonel of militia under Brigadier General Evan Shelby.  By 1789, the voters of North Carolina came to favor the federalists and Tipton was among the anti-federalists no longer in the Assembly.  Here ended his service to the State of North Carolina.

Colonel John was a big, powerful man who stood six feet tall and had been a famed boxer in his youth.  With dark hair and dark eyes, he had a ruddy complexion sustaining his English ancestry; he was described as “spare” in his youth and tended to “corpulence” in old age.  He was the type of man that did the work with his own hands even though his prosperity afforded him servants and slave labor.  Some stories about his temperament are legend.  Sometime during the upheavals of the State of Franklin, it is said that a Tipton in his mid-fifties bested a younger John Sevier in a fight begun when Sevier struck Tipton with a cane.  At a more advanced age, he is reputed to have ridden his horse from Knoxville to his home near Jonesboro in one day, a distance of one hundred miles.  His son, Jonathan said his father was honorable and kind, determined when opposed but predominately benevolent and merciful.

Tipton seems to have been circumspect where Native Americans were concerned.  Two of his sons, his father-in-law and his cousin Joshua were killed by Indians yet he displayed no vendetta.  His one documented foray against the Indians was when he captained a company of men at the Battle of Point Pleasant during Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774.  He was a slave owner.  A Shenandoah County census states he had four slaves and he gifted a slave to the widow of a man killed at the Battle of Franklin in 1788.  Thus, he clearly considered his slaves his property.

The 1790’s visited more sadness on the life of Colonel John Tipton.  His son Jacob, born in 1765 in the Shenandoah Valley, was killed on November 4th, 1791 at St. Clair’s Defeat by Indians in the Northwest Territory.  In 1823, Jacob’s son, General Jacob Tipton, was to name the West Tennessee County of Tipton in honor of his fallen father.  Then in 1794, Martha died after seventeen years of marriage.  Martha was buried in a family cemetery on the Tipton farm below Buffalo Mountain where they had lived for a decade.

In 1789, North Carolina ratified the United States constitution and became a member of the Union.  The state again, and this time permanently, ceded her territory west of the Alleghany Mountain watershed to the federal government as of February 25th, 1790.  On May 26th, the federal government created the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio which contained the land that would become the State of Tennessee.  The Territory was more simply referred to as the Southwest Territory and use of the name Tennessee became common.

Always a public servant, Tipton was elected to the unicameral legislature of the Southwest Territory.  When it convened in August, 1794, his legislative peers turned to him to serve on a Committee to make provisions for the poor and to Chair the Committee for Petitions and Grievances, an important legislative function.  He served on this Committee with James White, founder of Knoxville, and William Cocke, an official of the defunct State of Franklin.  On August 30th, the legislature passed a bill creating a university in Greene County which made education a territorial priority.  John Tipton was certainly one of the very few of these legislators who had been on a university campus as he had visited the College of William and Mary so many years before in Williamsburg.  Tipton served as one of the founding Trustees of the university, Washington College Academy.

Relying on the experience of Tipton with constitutional documents, the legislators of the Southwest Territory appointed him to a Committee to write a constitution for the State of Tennessee.  It was determined that the territory; with a population of 77,262; was ready to apply for statehood.  The dream of the East Tennesseans was coming true: statehood for the land from the Watauga to the Mississippi River!

The constitution of Tennessee drafted by this Committee, which convened on January 11th, 1796, was a very democratic document eliminating property qualifications for voters and providing the governor be elected by the electorate, not the legislature.  Thomas Jefferson deemed the Tennessee constitution “the least imperfect and most republican of all”.

It was on the Constitutional Committee, if not before, that Colonel John Tipton made the acquaintance of Andrew Jackson.  Tipton and Jackson had several things in common in addition to being dedicated public servants.  They both loved race horses and each had a horse descended from the most famous bloodline in America, that of the English thoroughbred, Diomed.  Tipton was known for his racing stock and to have the fastest horses in East Tennessee.  Don Quixote and Tipton’s Irish Grey were legendary racers.  Tipton and Jackson also shared an antipathy for John Sevier, although Jackson’s feud was more vociferous.

During 1795 and 1796, Frenchman Andre Michaux was a guest in the home of Tipton.  Michaux was the most famous botanist in continental Europe and he was sent to America by the French government to study the flora of North America.  In ’95, he was headed west to study the plant life of Tennessee; on his return in ’96, he revisited Tipton’s beautiful plantation.  He must have found both hospitality and a fascinating plant life as this was Michaux’s only repeat visit with a Tennessean.  It is possible Thomas Jefferson wrote an introduction to Tipton for the botanist because Jefferson did so with other friends.

The culmination of a long and admirable career of service to his neighbors was Colonel John Tipton’s election from Washington County to the Senate of the inaugural Tennessee Assembly.  He served in this capacity for four years retiring from an active political life in 1799.  His official career spanned at least twenty-seven years service to the Crown Colony of Virginia, the State of Virginia, the State of North Carolina, the State of Tennessee and the United States of America.

In 1803, Colonel John became very active in support of Andrew Jackson when Jackson worked to prove the land fraud accusations against John Sevier, then Governor of Tennessee.  Tipton sponsored a petition in East Tennessee against Sevier which garnered support for Jackson in Sevier’s stronghold neighborhood.  The petition had over one hundred signatures and represented an embarrassment for Sevier.  Tipton’s sons, Samuel and John, brought the land fraud accusations to the floor of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Colonel John Tipton spent the remaining fourteen years of his life on his plantation at the foot of Buffalo Mountain.  He died in August, 1813 at the age of 83.  His home is now a Tennessee State Historic Site, the Tipton-Haynes Homesite.  Judge Samuel C. Williams, Chairman of the State Historical Commission, exclaimed in 1945 when the state acquired the property that “no other site in Tennessee compares with this in its historic interest”.

According to the Reverend Ervin Charles Tipton in his book We Tiptons and Our Kin, the Colonel’s son John received a letter of condolences from Thomas Jefferson.  President Jefferson said “Colonel John Tipton was a man of strong conviction and loyal determination.  He was endowed with a high order of intellect.  He possessed a high sense of honor.  He was a personification of loyalty to the State and Country.”  This statement is found in a Bible owned by Abraham Butler Tipton, grandson of the Colonel and son of John.  In 1948, the Bible was in the possession of H. Hord Tipton of Church Hill, Tennessee.


At a Meeting of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the County of Dunmore, held at the town of Woodstock, the 16th day of June, 1774, to consider the best mode to be fallen upon to secure their liberties and properties; and also to prevent the dangerous tendency of an Act of Parliament, passed in the fourteenth year of  his present Majesty’s reign, entitled, “An Act to discontinue in such manner and for such time as is therein mentioned the landing and discharging, lading or shipping of goods, wares, and merchandise, at the town and within the harbor of Boston, in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, in North America,” evidently has to invade and deprive us of the same.

1st: That we will always cheerfully pay due submission to such Acts of Government, as his Majesty has a right, by law, to exercise over his subjects, as Sovereign to the British Dominions, and to such only.

2nd: That it is the inherent right of British subjects to be governed and taxed by Representatives chosen by themselves only; and that every Act of the British Parliament respecting the internal policy of North America; is a dangerous and unconstitutional invasion of our rights and privileges.

3rd: That the Act of Parliament above mentioned, is not only itself repugnant to the fundamental laws of natural justice, in condemning persons for supposed crime, unheard; but, also, a despotic exertion of unconstitutional power, calculated to enslave a free and loyal people.

4th: That the enforcing the execution of the said Act of Parliament by a military power, will have a necessary tendency to raise a civil war, thereby dissolving that union which has so long happily subsisted between the mother country and her Colonies; and that we will most heartily and unanimously concur with our suffering brethren of Boston, and every other part of North America, that may be the immediate victims of tyranny, in promoting all proper measures to avert such dreadful calamities; to procure a redress of our grievances, and to secure our common liberties.

5th: It is the unanimous opinion of this meeting, that a joint resolution of all the Colonies, to stop all importations from Great Britain, and exportations to it, till the said Act be repealed, will prove the salvation of North America and her liberties; on the other hand, if they continue their imports and exports, there is the greatest reason to fear that power and the odious oppression will rise triumphant over right, justice, social happiness, and freedom.

6th: That The East India Company, those servile tools of arbitrary power, have justly forfeited the esteem and regard of all honest men; and that the better to manifest our abhorrence of such abject compliances with the will of a venal Ministry, in ministering all in their power an increase of the fund of peculation, we will not purchase tea, or any other kind of East India commodities, either imported now, or hereafter to be imported, except saltpeter, spices, and medicinal drugs.

7th: That it is the opinion of this meeting, that Committees ought to be appointed for the purpose of effecting a general Association, that the same measures may be pursued through the whole Continent; that the Committees ought to correspond with each other, and to meet at such places and times as shall be agreed, in order to form such general Association; and that when the same shall be formed and agreed on by the several Committees, we will strictly adhere to, and till the general sense of the Continent shall be known, we do pledge ourselves to each other, and to our country, that we will inviolably adhere to the vote of this day.

Voted, That the Reverend Peter Mecklenberg, Francis Slaughter, Abraham Bird, Taverner Beale, John Tipton, and Abraham Bowman, be appointed a Committee for the purpose aforesaid; and that they or any three of them are hereby fully empowered to act.