Arthur Campbell, a political and military leader in Virginia and frontier Tennessee, was born in Augusta County, Virginia, on November 3, 1743. A band of Wyandotte Indians captured fifteen-year-old Campbell and took him to the area of present-day Detroit where he lived with the tribe for two years. He escaped in 1760 and joined British troops in the area, serving as a guide for the remainder of the Seven Years War.
After the war Campbell returned to Virginia and took up farming. He married Margaret Campbell in 1772. Campbell served on the first Fincastle County Court in 1773, opened a grist mill, and led militia forays in Southwest Virginia and along the Clinch and Holston Rivers in present-day Tennessee. In 1776 Fincastle County elected Campbell to the Second Continental Congress. When Washington County was carved out of Fincastle County, Campbell was appointed to the top militia post and served as county lieutenant and justice of the peace for the new county.
During the Revolutionary War Campbell led expeditions against Native Americans, the British, and their loyalist supporters. Campbell's militia unit joined those of John Sevier and Isaac Shelby in the victory at the battle of Kings Mountain, although Campbell did not fight. Convinced that the Cherokees represented a true threat, Campbell and Sevier combined forces to raid the principal Cherokee towns of Chota, Tellico, and Hiwassee.
Campbell and Sevier believed the frontier settlements should be admitted to the new republic as separate states but could not agree on the terms. Campbell wanted the new state, “Frankland,” to include portions of western North Carolina, southwestern Virginia, and part of Kentucky. Sevier favored the name “Franklin” and limited the territorial boundary to western North Carolina. In 1784 delegates to a general convention at Jonesborough favored Sevier's smaller State of Franklin and petitioned the United States for admission as an independent state. North Carolina refused to cede the western lands and blocked the petition, while Virginia brought charges of treason and misconduct against Campbell. Although the treason charges were dismissed, Campbell was removed as justice of the peace in Washington County in 1786; he was reinstated in 1789. President George Washington later commissioned Campbell as an Indian agent in the Southwest Territory.
A Federalist in the new political world of the United States and in poor health, Campbell retired from service in 1799 as the Jeffersonian Republicans gained power. After retirement Campbell led a quiet life and began writing a history of the Revolutionary War in the Southwest, which he never completed. Campbell died at his home in Virginia in August 1811. He was buried in the Cumberland Gap, at the juncture of the three states that shaped his life.