Nickajack was the name of a proposed neutral state of Unionist areas of North Alabama and East Tennessee. In the period leading up to the American Civil War there was much talk of secession made by the politicians representing wealthy plantation owners in the Black Belt. Hill country residents were typically poor dirt-farmers and rarely slave-owners. They considered the war that would inevitably follow secession to be "a war for the rich, fought by the poor," and wished to have nothing to do with it.
Civil War era
On January 7, 1861, Alabama Governor Andrew B. Moore called delegates from Alabama to Montgomery for a convention to debate Articles of Secession. Delegates from South Alabama wanted the convention delegates to determine the vote, while Northern delegates wanted the issue put to a popular vote. Because the apportionment of delegates to the convention was based on total population (including slaves), the southern delegates effectively voted "on behalf" of the African-American slaves which made up a large proportion of the population in their region. In a popular vote, the balance of power would shift to the North, which was mostly white.
Ultimately, the Ordinance of Secession was passed by a vote of 61 to 39, split along geographic lines. In addition to Nickajack, Winston County, Alabama threatened to form its own Free State of Winston. These threats of internal separation never officially materialized, but men in the region fiercely resisted conscription into the Confederate Army; many even joined the Union Army.
Earlier history of the area
The word Nickajack referred generally to the rugged Appalachian foothills in Eastern Tennessee and Northeast Alabama. John P. Brown, in Old Frontiers, states that "Nickajack" is a corruption of the Cherokee ᎠᏂ ᎫᏌᏘ Ᏹ ("Ani-Kusati-yi"), which he says means Coosa Town but more likely means Koasati Town. A popular story about the origin for the name is that the town was named after "Jack Civil", supposedly a free black man who led a renegade band of white and black fugitives and Cherokee and Creek warriors in "Five Lower Towns" on the Tennessee River west and southwest of Chattanooga during the Chickamauga wars. The warriors were actually Cherokee led by Dragging Canoe, though small groups of Shawnee and Muscogee lived and fought with them, in addition to occasional large bands of Muskogee as allies, renegade whites, white traders, Spanish, French, and British agents, and runaway slaves (at least in the earlier years).
After those wars, Nickajack eclipsed its neighbor Running Water, Dragging Canoe's seat of operations, as the dominant town in the immediate area due to its position on the river (Running Water was far up the hollow in which it was located) and at the crossing of the Federal Road from Athens to Nashville over the Tennessee River. One of the town's more prominent residents, Turtle-at-Home (Dragging Canoe's brother), owned the ferry at that crossing and had other commercial interests in addition to being on the council of the Lower Towns and Speaker of the Cherokee National Council.
Nickajack Cave, formerly called "Tecallassee", near the site of the former town, may have been used as a hideout and cache by the so-called "Chickamauga" Cherokee. Its deposits of bat guano were mined by Confederate forces during the Civil War and the cave became one of the leading sources of saltpeter for the Confederate Powderworks at Augusta, Georgia. The road used to transport the material became known as the Nickajack Trail.
- Brown, John P. (February 1939) Old Frontiers: The Story of the Cherokee Indians from Earliest Times to the Date of Their Removal to the West, 1838". Journal of Southern History, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 107–108
- Downing, David C. A South Divided: Portraits of Dissent in the Confederacy. Nashville: Cumberland House, 2007. ISBN 978-1-58182-587-9
- US Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District. (2006) "Nickajack Lock" - accessed November 14, 2006
- The Annals of Tennessee to the End of the Eighteenth Century - a history by J. G. M. Ramsey, 1853 - contains many historical Nick-a-jack references
- The “Lost” State of Nickajack
- Chickamauga wars
- Historic regions of the United States