Transylvania Purchase

The Transylvania Purchase occurred on March 14, 1775, when Richard Henderson, a North Carolina land speculator, met with Cherokee representatives at Sycamore Shoals near the present site of Elizabethton. Henderson wanted to purchase a tract of land in what is now Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, where he planned to establish a fourteenth colony. The venture posed several problems: the Cherokees held the strongest among competing claims to the region, and there was no guarantee of British recognition of the purchase, inasmuch as it represented a violation of the Proclamation of 1763. Nevertheless, Henderson had spent the previous year organizing the Transylvania Company and conducting negotiations with the Cherokees. Four days after the conference began, the Cherokees agreed to the Sycamore Shoals Treaty, whereby they transferred to the Transylvania Company a tract of 20 million acres lying north of the Cumberland River, southeast of the Ohio River, and west of the Cumberland Mountains, with a narrow access route extending from Sycamore Shoals to Cumberland Gap. In exchange, the Cherokees received trade goods valued, according to some scholars, at approximately ten thousand British pounds.

Henderson moved quickly to consolidate his claim, constructing a road to the proposed settlements and initiating a system of government under the authority of the Transylvania Company. The Virginia legislature refused to recognize the Transylvania Purchase, however, despite Henderson's intense lobbying. In December 1776 Virginia annexed the Transylvania settlements and soon afterwards nullified the entire purchase agreement, awarding Henderson a compensatory grant of two hundred thousand acres.

The Virginia decision did not affect the Middle Tennessee portion of the Transylvania Purchase, and Henderson turned his attention to this region. In the winter of 1779-80 he had a proprietary interest in establishing a settlement at Nashborough. Following his Kentucky plan, Henderson implemented a system of local government but made no claims to the establishment of an autonomous colony. In 1783 the state of North Carolina again nullified Henderson's claim and awarded him a grant of two hundred thousand acres as compensation.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » February 28, 2011