It’s the 1780s, the War of Independence has not long been won, and in North America a new union has been born from the ashes of Britain’s former dominions. Way out on the fringes of this nascent nation, though, an often-forgotten region wants in on the action. And while this territory then makes a valiant plea for statehood, it soon finds itself facing bloodshed and crippling poverty as well as a resounding rejection from Congress. This is the curious story of Franklin – the state that never was.
Back then, of course, North America was very much unlike how it is today. After escaping Britain’s shackles, the United States hadn’t at that time established a robust system of rule. The U.S. was also comprised of just 13 states – all of which hugged North America’s Atlantic coast. But while the union was only in the early stages of its existence, its promise of liberty and autonomy still seemed, for some, too enticing to ignore.
Indeed, way out in the far reaches of the union – nestled in a patch of land just west of the Appalachian mountains – an aspiring state emerged. There, rumblings of discontent gave way to a committed independence movement. And just as had happened in the Revolutionary War only years earlier, the underdog’s bid for freedom soon spiraled into conflict. Yes, Franklin’s volatile maelstrom of Native American tribes, separatists, state forces and European interests descended into brutal hostility.
But on the land that would become known as Franklin, it wasn’t all violence from the get-go. At the conception of its independence movement, in fact, its proponents weren’t faced with soldiers and combat but a question of identity. You see, when Britain’s former colonies were newly bound together in a young republic, those on its fringes weren’t all convinced of their inclusion.
Dr. Kevin Barksdale, an academic whose work includes the book The Lost State of Franklin: America’s First Secession, recognized this question of allegiance. According to an April 2020 article by Atlas Obscura, he said, “There is a sort of political marginalization being so far away from the seat of state power and not having your political interests represented.”
Yet while the U.S.’ sovereignty stretched as far west as the Mississippi, not everyone within its boundaries knew their place. Indeed, in Franklin – a parcel of land nowadays governed by Tennessee – many citizens found themselves neither expressly tied to the union nor distinctly separate from it. And so, as a new order was established in North America, these people were faced with a crucial decision: to whom would their loyalties lie?
Well, the region had three distinct options, according to historian Jason Farr. These fringe territories, he argued in the journal Tennessee Historical Quarterly, faced the choice of either “creating jurisdictions within existing states, forming new states within the union or creating their own sovereign republics.” Franklin, as we know, would opt for the second course of action, launching a disastrous bid for statehood. And it seems that the reason for its decision all came down to a distrust of North Carolina.
At that time, Congress was riddled with war debts. Having not yet ironed out the kinks in the Constitution, the politicians couldn’t even tax their own citizens. Instead, member states of the union contributed patches of land to the debt-ridden new seat of power, with one of these areas falling under the jurisdiction of North Carolina.
Yes, North Carolina ceded the lands on its outer western fringes to Congress in April 1784. And as the union scrambled to pay off the money it owed, the region’s citizens feared their homeland was to be handed off to the French or the Spanish. So, faced with the grim reality that their homes might be sold to the highest bidder, how did the people respond?
Well, the masses took swift, decisive action in defense of their freedom. Emissaries from the endangered counties – Greene, Sullivan and Washington – formed an assembly as summer drew to a close in 1784, electing a leader in John Sevier and drawing up a rudimentary constitution. And before the end of the year, the rebels had officially declared their autonomy from North Carolina.
Writing in their Declaration of Independence, Franklin’s representatives stated, “We unanimously agree that our lives, liberties and prosperity can be more secure and our happiness much better propagated by our separation.” They went on to conclude, “It is our duty and unalienable right to form ourselves into a new independent state.”
So, rather than have their homeland gifted to Congress, Franklin’s citizens – who would become known as Franklinites – opted to secede from their ruling state. Little did they know, though, that North Carolina had since retracted its offer of giving the dissident region to the national government. And by the time the territory’s separatists heard this news, they were in too deep to turn back.
In May 1785 representatives from the disputed region therefore filed an official request to become the 14th member of the new American republic. However, this plea for federal affiliation was not submitted under the name Franklin. Instead, it was issued under the short-lived title of Frankland – or “land of the free,” as the term was then known to mean.
Of course, Frankland soon became Franklin, as the counties trying for statehood hastily changed their name in an attempt to butter up – you guessed it – Benjamin Franklin and his supporters. Having this bid approved by Congress required the approval of at least two-thirds of the existing 13 union members, and the people of Franklin presumably knew that every effort to win the powerful round would count – no matter how transparent.
But even with its new name, the aspiring state of Franklin was denied membership to the new republic. Indeed, having fallen just two votes short of approval, the region would never become an independent state within the union. How, then, would Franklin continue in its bid for freedom?
Well, after having been shunned by Congress and severing ties with North Carolina, Franklin’s proponents became determined to go it alone. A constitution was published in late 1785, after which the failed state claimed land, set up its own judiciary and commenced a primitive form of government. In other words, Franklinites staked their claim to an autonomous democracy.
But this assertion of independence wouldn’t go unnoticed. Defying Franklin’s plea for sovereignty, North Carolina set up a parallel government in the region. And with two ruling forces vying for power there, the isolated territory perplexingly became both its own republic and a dominion of North Carolina – at the same time.
This meant the contested region’s citizens may have simultaneously owed levies to both Franklin and North Carolina; they could also be tried in either power’s judicial system or protected by either government’s soldiers. And as if the situation wasn’t mystifying enough, no single currency was adopted in the disputed locale. U.S. dollars, foreign bills and even a good old-fashioned haggle or swap were all perfectly acceptable recompense for goods or services there.
But the local separatists and the North Carolina state forces weren’t the only ones to compete over Franklin’s land; Native American tribes also wanted their piece of the pie. And with another faction vying for power in the area, Franklin’s separatists faced potential complications on two fronts.
Initially, Franklinites managed to abate tensions with their native neighbors, the Cherokee, by signing a land pact. Yet while this agreement was known as the Treaty of Amity and Friendship, the relationship that followed its approval wouldn’t be nearly as harmonious as this moniker suggests. Shortly after the treaty was signed, you see, North Carolina brokered its own deal with the local tribes, serving a devastating blow to the peace between the separatists and Native Americans.
This North Carolina-Cherokee alliance – which was known as the Hopewell Treaty – rendered the terms of the Treaty of Amity and Friendship entirely defunct. Suddenly, Franklinites were trespassers on native land, and as their relationship with neighboring tribes turned sour, violence ensued. Facing enemies at every corner, Franklin suffered many long months wedged between a rock and a hard place.
Exhausted by conflict and impoverished by paying levies to two governments, Franklin’s citizens thus grew despondent. By the turn of 1788, in fact, most of the region’s inhabitants were ready to pack in their bid for autonomy altogether and reunite with North Carolina. But, unfortunately, a peaceful reconciliation was never an option.
You see, as winter drew to a close in 1788, tensions between Franklin and North Carolina reached fever pitch. In lieu of receiving taxes from Sevier, the official state government sent forces to requisition his goods and land. The defector responded with force, rallying approximately 100 of his men to demand the return of his property. And this escalation would cost both sides gravely.
Seeing Sevier’s 100 amateur fighters and raising the stakes, North Carolina threw 100 of its own – far superior – troops into the pot. Thus ensued the Battle of Franklin. And while this skirmish probably shouldn’t be remembered as one of North America’s most epic – clocking in as it did at under ten minutes long – there were still casualties. The brief engagement ultimately led to the deaths of three men, in fact, along with many more injured.
While both sides suffered, however, North Carolina clearly emerged with the upper hand. Then, just a month after the battle, things went from bad to worse for Franklin, as Native American tribes launched a number of raids on portions of the disputed territory. Sevier, seeing his hold over the region slipping away, therefore made one final effort to avoid defeat: he turned to Spain for financial assistance.
But this plea for aid would eventually prove disastrous for the region’s separatists. The proposed pact stipulated, you see, that the Appalachian territory would fall under the European power’s control. So, even though they had initially sought independence from North Carolina in the fear that their land would be sold off to Spain, Franklinites found themselves sustaining their secession from North Carolina by handing their autonomy to that very same nation.
It seems that the irony of the situation was lost on North Carolina, as fearing an encroachment on its land and power, the state fought back tooth and nail. Raising charges of treason, state officials then detained Sevier in the summer of 1788. And with its leader seemingly lost, Franklin’s claim to sovereignty slowly evaporated. Still, while the region’s plea for independence may have looked to have finally ended in tatters, there were yet more curious twists of fate in store for the territory and its people.
For starters, Sevier was never actually tried for sedition. Indeed, the failed leader seemingly had luck on his side when, after his arrest, he found himself at the mercy of North Carolina’s County Sheriff. You see, while the two men were certainly on opposite sides of the law, they just so happened to be brothers in arms, having fought side by side in the War of Independence.
And with Sevier’s revolutionary comrade in charge of the keys to his cell, the detainee managed to escape any sentencing and simply walked off scot-free. The failed separatist evaded the clutches of the law so swiftly, in fact, that when a group of loyal Franklinites supposedly went out searching for him after his arrest, they found the newly liberated Sevier already three sheets to the wind in a nearby inn.
Then, in early 1789, Sevier once again aligned with North Carolina, promising his official commitment to the region. By the end of the year, moreover, he had become a devoted member of the state’s government, with his former subjects soon following suit. And as Franklin’s separatists simply drifted back under the wing of North Carolina, the area once known as the “land of the free” came to the end of its short period of independence.
But what of Franklin now? These days, its former capital of Greeneville is just an unassuming settlement in Tennessee housing roughly 15,000 residents. The old government headquarters didn’t stand the test of time, although a humble reproduction now sits in the area. However, while the relics of free Franklin have largely been forgotten, the state’s independence movement does have an enduring legacy.
In particular, the Franklin affair ultimately played an important role in influencing Congress’ approach to its fringe regions. According to Barksdale, “the chaos surrounding Franklin” after the close of the Revolutionary War became “a major player in shaping how the frontier in the Western territories [would] be integrated into the United States.”
Following Franklin’s failed secession from North Carolina, in fact, Congress actually went as far as to amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent a repeat of the bloody episode. Owing to the violent movement, when U.S. citizens now try to secede from their ruling state, they must first receive its consent as well as that of the national government. And it seems that the amendment was certainly a smart decision on the part of Congress, as Franklin isn’t the only failed state in U.S. history.
For instance, there was also Deseret. Conceived of by mid-19th-century Mormons, the proposed territory was ultimately never realized for a couple of crucial reasons. Firstly, the suggested domain encompassed a colossal area that would nowadays stretch from California to New Mexico and up to Wyoming. In addition, many U.S. citizens were vehemently opposed to one crucial aspect of the Mormon lifestyle: polygamy.
Owing to this difference of values, the aspiring state faced fierce resistance from the get-go. Some were so suspicious, in fact, that they feared Mormon rule was working its way into the United States. And on top of all the criticism, the proposed mega-state suffered a deadly setback: the Utah Territory was welcomed into the union, banishing any remaining hopes of an independent Deseret.
Then, shortly after the turn of the 20th century, an alliance of Native American tribes launched their own bid for autonomy within the union. The proposed state encompassed what was then known as the Indian Territory – roughly equivalent to today’s eastern Oklahoma – and adopted the name Sequoyah.
Ultimately, though, the Native American dominion was never welcomed into the union. The land’s proposed constitution was never widely enforced, for one, with the region’s inhabitants instead drifting under the jurisdiction of Oklahoma. Yet while Sequoyah may not have joined the ranks of U.S. states, its name lives on as the title of the annual Cherokee summit.
And Sequoyah wasn’t even the last failed bid for statehood in U.S. history. The late 1930s also saw calls for secession emerge out of Wyoming, where citizens rebelled against the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and its response to the Great Depression. The dissidents there agreed on the name Absaroka for their proposed state and installed ex-sportsman A. R. Swickard as their leader.
At first, Swickard’s playful form of governance – which involved circulating Absaroka-specific goods and memorabilia – was met positively. It seems, though, that the region never really took its independence movement seriously, as a formal declaration of independence was never penned. And just as had happened in Franklin, Deseret and Sequoyah, Absaroka’s secession plea was abandoned, with its very existence going on to largely disappear from common memory.
Had history been more favorable to these failed states, a map of the U.S. could now look very different indeed. But the valiant efforts of those who fought – and in some cases died – for their autonomy within the union are now remembered in other ways. Franklin, for example – though largely banished from American popular memory – now lives on in the words and codes of the U.S. Constitution and in the earth and relics of that small, once-revolutionary parcel of Appalachia.
And today, the U.S. teems with stunning attractions – from jaw-dropping natural wonders to man-made sights that bring in tourists from across the globe. When you’re next on a trip to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, however, take care, as some of those who have trodden the same ground haven’t lived to tell their tales.
Yes, America is home to some of the most iconic spots on the planet, attracting visitors from far and wide. But some of those locations are more dangerous than you might suspect. This list exposes 20 of the deadliest and most treacherous destinations across the States for you to venture to – if you dare, that is.
20. Eagle’s Nest Cave
In the city of Weeki Wachee, Florida, you’ll find a perfectly picturesque bed of water known as the Eagle’s Nest. Yet while, at first glance the pool appears to be just like any other lagoon, there’s a dangerous secret hiding among the swells of its deeper water. Yes, the quaint little spot is actually home to an underwater cave some 300 feet beneath the surface.
In fact, over the years, the Eagle’s Nest Cave has developed quite a reputation with divers, who commonly refer to it as their own “Mount Everest.” And like that mighty peak, the cave has tragically claimed the lives of some of those who dared to explore it – proof, perhaps, of just how treacherous the conditions there can become. Over the last 39 years or so, a dozen individuals are said to have passed away in the depths of the pool.
19. Death Valley
If you’ve ever visited California or Nevada, there’s a good chance that you’re aware of Death Valley’s notoriety. This unforgiving stretch of land spans a staggering 3,000 square miles across the middle of the two states – but that’s not all. In addition to its size, tourists also have to contend with the dangerous, even record-breaking temperatures that are often recorded there.
In fact, Death Valley’s temperature once hit 134 °F back in July 1913, and this hasn’t been topped anywhere since. And the searingly hot conditions have unfortunately led to the deaths of several visitors over the years, with 2019 proving to be especially lethal. That August, two lives were lost in just three days after a brutal heatwave descended on the valley.
18. Lake Mead
The Lake Mead National Recreation Area is one of the most visually interesting tourist spots that America has to offer. Located between Nevada and Arizona, the park is home to a near 300-square-mile bed of water that is flanked by dramatically rugged and rocky terrain. But while this may make for some sweet panoramas, it’s not the safest place to visit.
According to documents obtained by the Outside Online website, more than 250 people died in the park between 2006 and 2016. And in September 2017, one of the park’s representatives revealed a more shocking statistic still. Christie Vanover told KTNV-TV, “There’s been 11 fatalities related to drowning, and [in] each of those situations none of the victims were wearing a lifejacket.”
17. The Space Needle
In Seattle, Washington, you’d be hard-pressed to name a more iconic landmark than the Space Needle. This stunning building was first constructed back in 1962, reaching a height of over 600 feet. But while it continues to dominate the city’s skyline today, the famous tower harbors a pretty dark past.
For example, in 1974 two people committed suicide by jumping off the Space Needle. And while these tragedies ultimately led to the implementation of various precautions at the Needle, a woman still became the third to take her life at the famous spot four years later. After that, six more folks launched from the structure – albeit with parachutes.
16. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Statistically speaking, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular attraction of its kind. Located in the middle of Tennessee and North Carolina, the area – along with its mind-blowing 355-mile network of hiking trails – welcomed over 11 million tourists back in 2017. But a trip to the Smokies isn’t always the easy-going adventure that it may seem.
According to Outside Online, 60 visitors actually lost their lives in the park between 2006 and 2016; seven more people had been added to that grisly list by March 2017. To break things down further, four of those seven individuals died in car crashes while driving within the park. Of those other three tourists, two of them were submerged in water, while the last person tumbled from a wall. So, the Smokies seem to be just as perilous whichever way they are explored.
15. Angels Landing
It could be argued that Angels Landing is one of the most terrifying tourist spots on the planet, as the precarious trail can be found around 1,000 feet above ground in Utah’s Zion National Park. The incredibly slim space is made even more dangerous by the unsettling lack of guardrails around its edge.
Perhaps because of this, a number of visitors have sadly died while trying to traverse Angels Landing. In April 2019 the park’s website claimed that nine people had perished on the trail. And this chilling statistic emerged before another tragedy hit the headlines some eight months later. At that time, a teenager passed away after plummeting from the edge of the pathway.
14. The Empire State Building
New York is home to some of the world’s more recognizable landmarks – including, of course, the Empire State Building. The historic skyscraper was completed back in 1931 and has loomed over the skyline of the Big Apple ever since. Sadly, though, five workers lost their lives during the build. And the death toll doesn’t end there, either.
Yes, sadly, by December 2017 a reported 54 people had died in or at the Empire State Building. One of the biggest tragedies occurred in 1945, when a plane accidentally flew into the side of the tower. Some 14 individuals perished that day, and many others have taken their own lives there in the following decades.
13. Yosemite National Park
Famously located in California, Yosemite National Park is a beautiful spot for tourists who love the great outdoors. However, between 2006 and 2016, 150 people passed away in the park, according to Outside Online. Apparently, “natural causes” unfortunately claimed the lives of a number of visitors as they tried to explore Yosemite’s vast trails.
Many other deaths have been connected, however, to Yosemite National Park’s centerpiece. Yes, it’s said that over 60 tourists have met their ends near the famous Half Dome rock formation. Scalable only via a cable footpath, the imposing structure stretches some 400 feet into the air.
12. Volusia County
Florida is known for its stunning sands, and Volusia County boasts arguably some of the Sunshine State’s finest beaches. But while the waters there may look enticing, you may want to think twice before you paddle out, as often the county’s coastal hotspots do not offer the safest spaces in which to swim.
You see, Volusia County has recorded a number of shark attacks in recent times. Back in 2017, for instance, nine people were confronted by these aquatic predators; another three went through the same ordeal in 2018. In fact, the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File suggests that this region of the state has seen more reported ambushes by these fearsome predators than any other.
11. Colorado’s rivers
If you love rafting, the rivers of Colorado could be the perfect place to engage your passion. Incredibly, more than 550,000 people traversed the state’s choppy waters in 2016 alone – proof of just how popular these rapids really are. That said, conditions can become quite treacherous on certain parts of the route, and this has led to tragedy in the past.
Sadly, 14 visitors were killed in the unrelenting rapids of Colorado’s rivers back in 2014, with nine more people suffering the same fate just a year later. And that number went up again in 2016, when a further 11 individuals fell victim to the unforgiving currents. It’s believed that the melted snow brought by warmer weather may be upsetting the waves and so contributing to the levels of hazard.
10. Natchez Trace Parkway
As a 444-mile road straddling three different states, the Natchez Trace Parkway is certainly one of the more unique tourist spots America has to offer.
In total, it’s said that a single unbroken trip on this route would last for around ten hours, allowing you to visit Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee all in one journey.
Yet despite the beautiful views and surroundings along the way, plenty of people have perished on the Natchez Trace Parkway. According to Outside Online, 56 individuals lost their lives there between 2006 and 2016, with most of those deaths occurring – perhaps unsurprisingly – in road accidents. And by March 2017, seven others had joined that unfortunate list.
9. Acadia National Park
Located in Maine, the Acadia National Park is another picturesque spot for tourists to revel in. The area is home to the famous Precipice Trail, which tests even the more experienced and adventurous hikers. Owing to the hazardous terrain en route, though, one visitor sadly passed away there in 2012. Before that, 1985 had marked the last death on the path.
And, tragically, more people have lost their lives in the park since the 2012 incident. One man died after he had completed a swim in a lake in July 2016; not long before that, another person had tumbled off a ledge while trying to snap a shot of the setting sun.
8. Ellis Island
Across the water and away from the hustle and bustle of New York’s thriving city lie Ellis Island and Liberty Island. The latter of these locations is well known for its world-famous resident Lady Liberty; the former, however, harbors a dangerous past of its own that not many may know about.
Aside from being the first port of call for more than 17 million foreign arrivals from 1892 up until 1954, Ellis Island also operated its own “Immigrant Hospital” between 1902 and 1930. And, reportedly, roughly 3,500 patients passed away at the medical facility during that nearly 30-year period.
7. Action Park
Back in 1978, a new attraction called Action Park opened up in New Jersey. And as guests explored the water slides and wave pools, it didn’t take long for folks to start getting hurt. In fact, over the following 18 years, Action Park developed a reputation for being particularly perilous.
Alarmingly, over 100 injuries were recorded in a single year at Action Park. Six guests also lost their lives at the location before it shut down in 1996. And while the site has since been rebranded as Mountain Creek Water Park, crazy stories about its past are told even today.
6. Hawksbill Crag
In Newton County, Arkansas, tourists have the chance to visit one of the world’s most unique-looking cliff edges. The spot in question, known as Hawksbill Crag, juts out to overlook a luscious woodland area. And the outcrop is just as precarious as it sounds, with some people even tumbling off the rock – just like a woman named Andrea Norton did in April 2019.
Sadly, Norton succumbed to her injuries after a 100-foot fall. And while speaking after the tragedy, the county sheriff shed some light on previous incidents at Hawksbill Crag. Glenn Wheeler informed KY3, “They’re not always fatal falls. But there are injuries in that area. It’s a beautiful, beautiful area, but it’s also kind of a treacherous area.”
5. Yellowstone National Park
All two million acres of Yellowstone National Park opened to the public for the first time back in 1872. The visually striking landmark stretches across Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, with just over four million people visiting in 2019. However, owing to the hazards in the park, a number of individuals have lost their lives there over the years.
According to the Outside Online website, 93 people passed away at Yellowstone between 2006 and 2016, with more than 20 of those deaths coming as a result of the park’s infamous hot springs. And by March 2017 another 13 individuals had lost their lives there – proof, perhaps, that Yellowstone truly is as threatening as its fiery waters make it seem.
4. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
While active volcanoes are undoubtedly dangerous, taking a closer look at these geographical wonders in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park may be hard to resist. And as the area contains such famous peaks as Mauna Loa and Kīlauea, unsurprisingly that makes it one of the more perilous locations on this list.
From 1992 up until 2002, some 40 people tragically passed away while soaking up the scenes of Volcanoes National Park, while 45 others suffered serious physical ailments. Then, from 2007, three different bike riders perished in the area over the course of 12 months. As a result of these deaths – along with plenty of additional injuries – a bicycle tour taking place in the park was halted for a time in 2007.
3. The Golden Gate Bridge
In San Francisco, California, you’d be hard-pressed to miss the Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, this 1.7-mile-long landmark has been wowing tourists since it first opened back in 1937. But it should be known that the world’s most famous suspension bridge comes with a rather notorious statistic attached.
Up until December 2017, it’s believed that over 1,600 people had taken to the bridge to jump to their deaths, with the first of those suicides occurring just three months on from the crossing’s grand opening. Over a 60-year period, a further 36 people also perished in road collisions there – proving, perhaps, that the bridge’s golden charm does not come without its risks.
2. The Grand Canyon
When looking at some of the world’s landmarks, there are few that can match up to the Grand Canyon. The huge gorge is arguably among the most stunning sights on the planet and has enchanted tourists from across the globe. Sadly, though, after the park itself was officially opened to the public in 1919, a large number of visitors went on to die there.
To explain more, a river guide from Arizona named Michael P. Ghiglieri spoke with the Los Angeles Times in March 2012. He revealed, “Some 683 people have died below the rims (thus ‘in’ the Grand Canyon) during the known history of the Grand Canyon after the early 1860s. Since the canyon became a national park in 1919, the number is 653 people.”
1. Niagara Falls
Situated on the border of Canada and the United States, the Niagara Falls are a must for tourists visiting the state of New York. This magnificent cascade in fact consists of three different torrents of water: the American Falls, the Horseshoe Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. Behind its breathtaking beauty, though, the famous location does have a pretty dark past.
From 1850 up until 2011, roughly 5,000 dead bodies were recovered from the depths there. And if that wasn’t enough, in 2009 the Niagara Falls Reporter suggested that 40 people died at the attraction every 12 months. These shocking figures prove that the beloved sight may not be as safe as you’d think.