While today John Sevier is hailed as a hero among his fellow Tennesseans, it seems that the "Father of our Country," George Washington, had little regard for our state's first governor. When the threat of war between the United States and France developed in 1798, John Sevier received an appointment as one of the brigadiers in the provisional army, and quickly sought the approval of the federal government. On April 25, 1798 Sevier writes:
Permit me to assure you, Sir, nothing but a real desire to serve my Country in the time of imminent danger could induce me to accept such a Command, filling already the most respectable My country can confer..."
Your Honors etc.,
While George Washington was no longer President by this time, his Secretary of State, Timothy Pickering, remained in office during John Adams' administration. Washington still held considerable influence in the Federalist government and wrote to Pickering regarding Sevier's appointment. Needless to say, he was not impressed with "Nolichucky Jack":
- Washington to Pickering, September 9, 1798
In hindsight, Washington's opinion of John Sevier seems out of step from conventional views of Tennessee's frontier hero and first governor. But it was many years after his death that anyone outside the states of Tennessee and North Carolina knew of John Sevier. Efforts to embrace Sevier on a national scale began after the Civil War as a means to heal the region from the ravages of battle and of Reconstruction. Tennessee's Centennial celebration also resulted in efforts to forge a unique state identity, with John Sevier as its standard bearer.
One cannot fault George Washington for not seeing in John Sevier what many of his fellow Tennesseans saw in him. At the time Washington was on the national stage, and Sevier had not yet reached that plateau of statesmanship. But one could argue that first impressions are far more accurate than hindsight. If this is true, Washington's first impression of John Sevier was so negative that it's little wonder knowledge of Sevier's exploits never really crossed the borders of the Volunteer State until well after his death.
- Carl S. Driver, John Sevier: Pioneer of the Old Southwest. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1932.