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2024 Summer Fine Art & Antiques (Day 1)

Sat, Jul 6, 2024 09:00AM EDT
Lot 582

2 John Overton Signed Letters, 1803, re: TN Statehood

Estimate: $800 - $900

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John Overton of Tennessee (1766-1833), two 1803 letters, signed, documenting the beginning of his negotiations with North Carolina over land issues including settlements and land grants or titles in the newly formed state of Tennessee (once part of North Carolina). The letters are bound together and each measures 9 1/2" x 7 14". The first document (1 sheet, front and back, signed by Overton and dated Nov. 26, 1803) concerns Overton's appointment as Agent for the state of Tennessee. The second is a 7-sheet (13 pages, front and back) letter signed by Overton and dated Dec. 3, 1803, asking the North Carolina legislature to "mak(e) good on claims on land in Tennessee which originated under the laws of North Carolina" and arguing eloquently that NC should allow Tennessee "to issue grants upon imperfect claims within the limits of her state" rather than forcing the settlers of Tennessee to deal with North Carolina. He writes: "The Agent cannot dismiss this important subject to the interest of his country, without again observing that the expense, lots of time, and trouble, attendant on traveling from Tennessee over the mountains the distance of from four to six hundred miles are grievances felt by all descriptions of people in that state; and from which they, earnestly entreat their mother country to assist them in being relieved." 

"It is the first duty of a state to study the disposition and habits of its people," Overton writes on page 7. "Tennessee therefore being an infant state, fondly attached to her agricultural interests, by having a large quantity of waste and uncultivated lands, for the improvement of which she wishes to acquire citizens, it were natural to conclude, that she desires to take every step consistent with justice, for the security of the landed interests of the country. Upon this point, emigration, the settlement of her wilderness lands, and respectability of the state, essentially depends."

Note: also included with these period documents is a 1946 signed typewritten letter from Judge Walter W. Faw to the Hon. Hu C. Anderson of Jackson, Tennessee, discussing the significance of the documents.

Virginia-born John Overton had moved to Nashville in 1789 and was admitted to the bar in 1790. He initially lodged with Andrew Jackson, who was to become a close friend and political ally, and later built his own fine home, known as Traveller's Rest. Overton represented Sumner County as a delegate to the 1789 North Carolina convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution, and George Washington named him Supervisor of Revenue and later District Inspector of Revenue for the territory of Tennessee. Tennessee gained statehood, separating from North Carolina, in 1796. Between 1803 and 1806, Overton, as agent for Tennessee, was responsible for clarifying land rights in the new state between it and North Carolina. Under the terms of the compromise Overton would make, Tennessee ceded most of the western third of its territory to the United States, agreed to recognize land warrants that had been issued by North Carolina, and obtained clear title to the remaining land within its bounds.

In August 1804 Overton was elected to succeed Jackson as a member of the Superior Court of Tennessee, the forerunner of the Tennessee Supreme Court. He went on to become one of Tennessee's wealthiest men, helped Jackson win the U.S. Presidency, and co-founded the city of Memphis. (Source: The Tennessee Encyclopedia). 

PROVENANCE: Private Southern collection. 


Both documents with light toning; the lower third of the Appointment document is moderately toned, affecting Overton's signature. Overton's signature on the 13 page letter is slightly faded. 

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Private Southern collection.