Prominent backcountry era settler and political leader best known for his opposition to the Franklin statehood movement, John Tipton was born in Baltimore County, Maryland, in 1730. He served in Lord Dunmore’s War, was a recruiting officer for the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and served as Colonel of the Washington County militia. A member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1774, he served in the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1776, the North Carolina Convention to ratify the federal Constitution in 1788, and the Tennessee Constitutional Convention of 1796. Prior to statehood, Tipton held office in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1776-77 and 1778-81, as well as in the Franklin Conventions of 1784 and 1785, the North Carolina Senate in 1786 and 1788, and the House of the Southwest Territory in the 1790s.
After moving to present-day Tennessee in 1782, Tipton played his most significant role in Tennessee history during the State of Franklin controversy. Although at first a supporter of statehood, desirous of protecting his own land claims and those of his speculator friends, Tipton split the movement by feuding with John Sevier, the governor of the proposed State of Franklin. In 1785, when North Carolina officials demanded that frontier residents repudiate the new state, Tipton assured North Carolina officials of his loyalty. Sevier did not offer such assurances, demanding instead that residents express their allegiance to Franklin. Tipton and Sevier also disagreed about the proposed constitution for the new state. Finally in 1786, the two came to blows over which laws should govern the Washington County militia, of which John Tipton was colonel.
Over the next two years, North Carolina officials largely diffused the statehood movement; yet Tipton and Sevier remained bitter enemies. In early 1788 a North Carolina sheriff, Jonathan Pugh, seized several Sevier-owned slaves and livestock to satisfy a court judgment Tipton had instigated. Pugh took the slaves and livestock to Tipton’s farm. Sevier responded with force. About 135 men accompanied Sevier to Tipton’s property in present-day Washington County (the Tipton-Haynes historic site) and attempted to reclaim the slaves. In the skirmishes that ensued, Sheriff Pugh along with John Webb were killed. Two of Sevier’s sons were captured but later released.
On July 29, 1788, North Carolina Governor Samuel Johnstown ordered Sevier’s arrest for treason due to his wanton and unauthorized attack on several Cherokee villages. Nothing happened immediately, but on October 10, acting for a North Carolina judge, John Tipton arrested Sevier and took him to Morganton, North Carolina, for trial. That trial, however, never took place. A group of friends and Sevier’s sons retrieved John Sevier from his North Carolina imprisonment and took him home. The State of Franklin movement was over, but the Tipton-Sevier feud continued into the early statehood era.
Tipton’s last political office was as Tennessee state senator from 1796 to 1799. He died at his home in 1813.