Cumberland Compact

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The Cumberland Compact was both based on the earlier Articles of the Watauga Association composed at present day Elizabethton, Tennessee and is a foundation document of the Tennessee State Constitution. Signed on May 13, 1780, by early settlers led to the Cumberland River area by James Robertson and John Donelson, where they settled Fort Nashborough, which would later become Nashville, Tennessee.

The only surviving copy the Cumberland Compact was discovered in 1846 inside a trunk that once belonged to Samuel Barton.The copy in Tennessee State Archives is slightly damaged. Other than this the document is intact and legible.

The Cumberland Compact was composed and signed by 256 colonists. One colonist, James Patrick of Virginia, was illiterate and marked his name with an "X". This constitution called for a governing council of 12 judges who would be elected by the vote of free men 21 years of age or older. Unique to the times, the Compact included a clause that these judges could be removed from office by the people. Government salaries were to be paid in goods. Governors are paid 1,000 deer skins, secretaries are paid 450 otter skins, county clerks are paid 500 raccoon skins, and the constables are paid one mink skin for every warrant served. All males sixteen or older were subject to militia duty.

The compact did establish a contract and relationship between the settlers of the Cumberland region and limited the punishment that could be meted out by the judicial system. Serious capital crimes were to be settled by transporting the offending party to a location under the direct jurisdiction of the State of North Carolina for a proper trial. The compact remained in effect until Tennessee became a state.

Frontier law was brutal and effective. In 1788, at the first court session in Nashville Andrew Jackson was granted permission to practice law. He was immediately handed the job of prosecuting attorney. In 1793, Judge John McNairy sentenced Nashville's first horse thief, John McKain, Jr., to be fastened to a wooden stock one hour for 39 lashes, his ears cut off and cheeks branded with the letter "H" and "T". The first female convicted of stealing soap and thread was stripped to the waist and publicly whipped nine lashes. By 1800, the first divorce was granted between May and Nathaniel Parker. Henry Baker became the first capital punishment case in Davidson County with the first death sentence of "hanged by the neck until he is dead" for stealing a horse. These records survive in a heavy leather bound book in the care of the circuit court clerk.


The 256 signers included the following:[1]

  • William M McMurray
  • Philip Alston
  • Thomas W. Alston
  • Colonel Samuel Barton
  • John Blakemore Sr.
  • John Blakemore Jr.
  • Isaac Bledsoe
  • Andrew Bushong
  • James Cain
  • Francis Catron
  • Peter Catron
  • Philip Catron
  • Thomas Cox
  • John Donelson
  • Thomas [Hutchings]
  • Andrew Ewing
  • Thomas Fletcher
  • William Gowen
  • Francis Hodge
  • James Leeper
  • George Leeper
  • Isaac Lindsay
  • William Loggins
  • Robert Lucas
  • Edward Lucas
  • John Luney
  • Peter Luny
  • James Lynn
  • Kasper Mansker
  • Amb's [Ambrose] Mauldin
  • Morton Mauldin
  • John Montgomery
  • William Overall
  • Nathaniel Overall
  • John Pleakenstalver
  • James Robertson
  • Daniel Ratletf
  • David Rounsavall
  • Isaac Rounsavall
  • James Russell (four men by this name)
  • Hugh Simpson
  • Frederick Stump
  • Nicholas Trammel
  • John Tucker
  • John Jonathon Crow
  • Samuel Hays
  • Henry Guthrie
  • William McWhorter
  • John Caffery


  1. ^ Will T. Hale and Dixon L. Merritt. 1913. A History of Tennessee and Tennesseans: The Leaders and Representative men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities. Chicago and New York: The Lewis Publishing Co. 94-97.
  • The Mansker Chronicles
  • Tennessee Encyclopedia
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