Forgotten States That Almost Became Part Of The U.S.

Everyone knows the United States of America has 50 states, which are all individually represented on the nation’s iconic Stars and Stripes flag. But what you might not be aware of is that there were nearly more than just the 50 we know today. If certain political leaders or movements had got their way, the American landscape could have looked very different: we might have had states including Nickajack and the Free State of Jones. Read on to learn about 20 U.S. states that almost were!

1. Jefferson

As one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and the nation’s third President, Thomas Jefferson is obviously an iconic figure in American history. So perhaps it should not be too surprising that there were several efforts to name a state after him. In actual fact, no fewer than four different regions tried to spearhead effort and claim the state name.

The first people to lead the call for a state named Jefferson were a mining community situated in the Rocky Mountains. This occurred in 1859; in fact, this community was given the green light to go ahead. Yet those involved could not agree on the terms of a constitution, and the idea was subsequently scrapped.

Several attempts

Next up in trying to form a state named Jefferson were two settlements in modern-day Texas. As you doubtless know, the Lone Star State is huge. So, perhaps it is not that shocking that there were plans to cut it up into three or four smaller territories. It was in the south-eastern quarter of Texas that a Jefferson state had first been mooted, but the proposal got nowhere. Then, a plan to create a Jefferson state came from the western part of Texas, but that idea didn’t get the necessary state sponsors for approval.

Finally, in 1941 a fourth bid to form a state named Jefferson gained traction. This state would have been situated in the area that is now southern Oregon and northern California. A fair proportion of the people living in this area were in favor: they held rallies and distributed flyers to push for their dream. But then came the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and the idea was put on the backburner for good. Still, there remain today some activists in those areas who still want to resurrect the idea.

2. Texlahoma

As the name clearly suggests, the proposed state of Texlahoma would have encompassed parts of Texas and Oklahoma. This prospective territory was put forward before World War II got under way. It would have spanned swathes of the northern part of the Lone Star State, along with the western portion of Oklahoma.

One of the chief factors for the people pushing for this new state was the lack of good roads in those areas at the time, especially as the car had by now become the primary form of transport. Yes, people in these areas were fed up with what they saw as federal and state-level neglect of their needs. They felt that establishing a new state dedicated to its own citizens would solve the problem.

Vice-Presidential support

Oklahoma resident A.P. Sights was key to the new-state push. He designed the boundaries — which would have encompassed 46 counties in Texas and 23 in Oklahoma — and enlisted the support of Vice President John Nance Garner IV and several others.

But ultimately it fell through, largely because Texans involved proved mostly unwilling to call themselves Texlahomans. If you know anything aboutTexans, it is that by and large, they are mightily proud of being Texan. Ultimately they wouldn’t accept losing their precious identity, so Texlahoma was dead in the water.

3. Republic of Forgottonia

Ever heard of “The Republic of Forgottonia?” Well, if it sounds like a jokey name to you, then it kind of is. But there once was a movement in the United States to push for such a territory, even if perhaps not all of them were deadly serious about it.

This movement arose in the 1960s and reached its peak in the 1970s. In McDonough County, Illinois, many citizens had grown tired of the lack of state and federal investment in their area, which had led to crumbling roads and infrastructure. This group soon dubbed the 16-county area “Forgottonia” to denote how it had been neglected and seemingly left behind.

White flag

Leaders of the McDonough County movement included Jack Horn and John Armstrong, the latter of whom was on the board of the Macomb Chamber of Commerce. Soon, they had gone so far as to select a capital, appoint a governor, and threaten to secede from Illinois. They jokingly declared war in order to try and claim foreign aid, and picked a white flag of surrender as their prospective state banner. 

Of course, the “Republic of Forgottonia” never did come to fruition, but the movement certainly captured the attention of the media and local people. The campaigners ultimately drew attention to the poor transport links and crumbling infrastructure in the area that had sparked their movement in the first place. These complaints all began to be addressed from the 1970s onwards; all the same, the dream of Forgottonia still lives on for some.

4. Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was another key figure in the establishment of the United States. And the Founding Father, statesman, and philosopher almost had a state bearing his name. In fact, rather than being just a proposal, Franklin — or the Free Republic of Franklin — actually existed.

The background to its establishment came just after the Revolutionary War. Back then, it was common practice for American states to give the land farthest to the west of them to the newfangled federal government, which was struggling with debt after the Revolutionary War. It could then raise much-needed funds by selling it to settlers venturing further west.

Nearly the 14th state

North Carolina would follow this pattern, selling part of its western portion back to the U.S. Congress in 1784. Yet the people who lived in this area feared that the broke federal government might sell their land to Spain or France; instead they declared independence in December 1784 from North Carolina as the Free State of Franklin.

This state stretched to the west of the Appalachian Mountains in what is now East Tennessee. If officially recognized, it would have become the 14th state of the United States of America. Yet it lasted for around four-and-a-half years as a separate entity, with first Jonesborough and then Greenville as its capital, until it was eventually brought back under North Carolina’s control.

5. Free State of Jones

The complete truth about the Free State of Jones is hard to come by. But legend has it that the state was declared in the early spring of 1864 during the Civil War. The area that comprised the Free State of Jones was Jones County, Mississippi, where there had been particularly violent resistance to the Confederacy within its own boundaries.

Yes, a few years into the Civil War, a significant number of young men in Jones County had become disillusioned with the Confederacy and even sympathetic to the Union cause. Many of them chose to desert from the Confederate Army, which led to a conflict.

Knight Company

The resistance movement to the Confederacy in Jones County was led by a poor white farmer called Newton Knight. He led a unit called the Knight Company that battled with, and then essentially overthrew, the authorities in that area. After defeating the Confederate forces, Knight and his men raised the U.S. flag over Ellisville’s county courthouse and allegedly declared the Free State of Jones.

Did it genuinely secede from the Confederacy? Historians are divided on this. Anyway, the Knight Company was effectively defeated in April 1864 when Confederate Colonel Robert Lowry sent bloodhounds to find the guerilla fighters and expel them from their swamp hideout. Knight escaped though; he became deeply involved in Reconstruction efforts at the end of the war.

6. Transylvania

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Transylvania specifically pertained to Bram Stoker, Dracula, and Romania. So unless you are a U.S. history buff, you probably don’t know there was almost a state called Transylvania.

What’s more, the proposed state of Transylvania was spearheaded over 100 years before Stoker’s novel hit the bookshelves. The breakaway state encompassed American territory that is now part of northern Tennessee, and western and south-eastern Kentucky.

Daniel Boone brought in to establish the colony

The land that would have encompassed the state of Transylvania was all set to be the 14th colony if it could get the required ratification. Two men were key in establishing Transylvania: Daniel Boone and Richard Henderson.

Henderson — a jurist and businessman who owned and ran the Transylvania Company — was not short of a few bob,. He brought in noted frontiersman Boone to help him establish the colony after he’d bought the land off the Cherokee tribe that had inhabited it. But British law ruled the purchase illegal and void, and the colony of Virginia claimed the land that made up Transylvania was theirs. The bigwigs there annulled the Transylvania Purchase and reclaimed the land, ending the secessionists’ dreams.

7. Madawaska

Let’s travel back in time to the 1820s, when there was a substantial dispute between the U.S. and Great Britain. That tiff concerned the boundary between the British colony of New Brunswick — now in modern-day Canada — and the U.S. state of Maine.

Yes, both the British and the Americans argued over the border in that area, each having their own distinct maps defining where Maine and New Brunswick began and ended. This, of course, had the end result of creating a significant chunk of disputed territory.

John Baker declares the formation of Madawaska

The dispute between the two countries came to a head in 1827 when American crusader John Baker went ahead and declared the establishment of a republic in the disputed terrain. He named it the Republic of Madawaska.

Though formally unrecognized, the republic existed for nearly 15 years from 1827 to 1842. But Madawaska was dissolved in 1842 when the quarreling countries put pen to paper on the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. This agreement formally determined the border between Maine and New Brunswick that we recognize today.

8. South California

California is a huge state by both population and total size. So, it’s no surprise that there has been a lot of internecine bickering between people of different ethnicities and political outlooks for centuries.

In fact, California has had numerous secession struggles down the years, and it continues to have such debates today. But never has a breakaway movement come as close to success as the one in 1859. That struggle almost led to the establishment of Southern California.

Congress defeats the proposal

Southern California would have seen the state we know today split in half from just under San Luis Obispo. The pro-separatist movement put together a bill to achieve as much; as with much political fallout of the era, slavery was a key factor.

A state referendum was held, and it revealed that three out of every four people voting in what would become Southern California favored seceding from the state proper. Yet when the proposals reached the U.S. Congress, they were soundly defeated. You see, the legislature at that time had been stuffed with anti-slavery Republicans. They had no interest in creating the state of South California, which would’ve almost certainly have become a Democratic stronghold.

9. Sequoyah

Native Americans attempted to form their own state in the U.S. in 1905 in which they could govern themselves. The main tribe spearheading this effort was the Cherokee, and the proposed name of the state was Sequoyah, named after the inventor of the written Cherokee alphabet. 

The location of the proposed state was the predominantly Native American territory — sometimes called the Oklahoma territory — which spanned what is now the eastern half of Oklahoma. It had been allocated to them following the signing of a variety of treaties, and the passage of 1830’s Indian Removal Act.

Teddy Roosevelt intervenes

The territory had a clear Native American majority in it, so the Cherokee tribe proposed the creation of Sequoyah to the U.S. Congress. Tribe members drew up a constitution, a bill of rights and trade regulations, amongst other things. But Congress refused to ratify the new state: essentially, Republicans were worried its political outlook would be staunchly Democratic.

In the end, then-U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt preferred instead to merge the territory for the proposed state of Sequoyah with the rest of the Native American territory adjacent to it form what we know today as Oklahoma. And that's how the dream of Sequoyah died.

10. Superior

Did you know that there was almost a state called Superior in the United States? If you know your U.S. geography, you might be able to work out where it was proposed. Yep, we’re talking the upper peninsula of the state of Michigan, right beside Lake Superior.

Historically, that peninsula has naturally set itself apart from the rest of Michigan, developing its own culture and identity. In fact, a bridge connecting that area to the mainland of Michigan wasn’t even in place until the 1950s. And people coming from that area have often been referred to as Yoopers.

Support for secession

There had been quite a bit of muttering down the years about forming a new state in the area cut off from Michigan’s main “mitten.” Thomas Jefferson reportedly favored having a state called Sylvania, whilst Ontonagon has also been floated.

Still, the most well-known of these prospective new states was Superior, proposed in 1975. Of course, it never came to fruition, but there are still debates about it today, and discussion include whether part of northern Wisconsin should be included too. Interestingly, if it ever did become a state, barring a sudden spate of massive immigration, it would become the least-populous state in the Union, with even fewer people than Wyoming.

11. Île à Vache

The state of Île à Vache was a proposed state for freed black slaves that was mooted in the 1860s. The state — which translates from French as “Cow Island” — would have been on a small island off the southwestern coast of Haiti, with an area of 20 square miles.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, effectively put a stop to slavery. But one night before, on New Year’s Eve 1862, Lincoln had signed a contract with a Florida cotton planter and businessman named Bernard Kock for something less warm-hearted towards freed slaves.

Poor conditions

Lincoln and Kock agreed to utilize federal money to relocate 5,000 slaves who had just been freed after the Union victory in the Civil War to Île à Vache. You see, despite being anti-slavery, Lincoln was not completely sold on racial equality; he seemed to be concerned about the prospects of integration of freed men and women into American society.

Under Koch and Lincoln’s plan, the freed slaves would work on plantations on the island, but they would have access to hospitals, schools, and the like, as well as their own homes. They would effectively earn 16 acres of land after working for four years. Despite meeting with black leaders at the White House and hearing their opposition to it, Lincoln tried to press ahead. But ultimately the free slaves revolted against the poor conditions there — they were nowhere near as good as Kock had promised — and the plan was eventually abandoned.

12. Scott

The story of the state of Scott is a really curious one whose history goes back to the Civil War period. Back then, there were rumblings of discontent from the residents of Scott County, Tennessee.

Tennessee had joined the other Confederate States; it had been the last breakaway state to do so. But the majority of people who lived in Scott County weren’t of the rich, slave-plantation-owning kind, and most didn’t feel any attachment to the Confederate cause.

Rejoining Tennessee with a party

The people of Scott County thus decided to secede from Tennessee, and effectively side with the Union cause. They proclaimed the Free and Independent State of Scott, or Scott for short. Surprisingly, the Confederate authorities in Tennessee didn’t go to war with them: they merely ignored their declaration.

When did the state of Scott cease to be? Well in truth, it was never formally recognized by the United States government. Still, the idea that the area was separate persisted until 1986. In that year, the county made a formal request to “rejoin” Tennessee. The state’s government accepted, and a party was thrown to celebrate. Incidentally, if Scott was genuinely regarded as an official state, its lifespan would have lasted for 125 years!

13. Deseret

Followers of the Church of the Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons, first proposed a new state called Deseret in the mid-19th century. Deseret means “honeybee,” and appears in the Book of Mormon.

The state put forward to Congress in 1849 encompassed the entirety of modern-day Utah and a few areas adjacent to that; the Mormons wanted to oversee their own affairs. Their proposal came just 19 years after the founding of the religion by Joseph Smith, who had been assassinated in 1844.

Congress rejects the proposals

Yet at that time Mormons were viewed with a great deal of skepticism or outright hostility. The religion was not popular with the majority of Christians, who saw it as blasphemous compared with more traditional Christian sects. It was also opposed by southern slave states, who weren’t keen on a new free neighbor popping up in the West.

Congress thus opposed the 1849 proposal outright. The area comprising the wannabe state was dissolved by the General Assembly and some of it was integrated into the smaller Utah Territory in 1851. The Mormons came back with petitions for Deseret in 1856, 1862, and 1872, respectively. But on all three occasions the proposals were rejected again. All the same, Mormons largely rule the roost in Utah today, even if Deseret remains a distant dream.

14. Nickajack

In an expanse of land that spanned northern Alabama and eastern Tennessee, there was almost a state called Nickajack. This occurred at the outset of the American Civil War, when Tennessee and Alabama seceded from the United States and joined the Confederacy.

The majority of the people who lived in those areas clearly did not support the Confederate efforts to break away from the United States and form a new country. In fact, the area was filled mostly with southern Unionists.

Fear of reprisals

Like the people in the similar breakaway state of Scott, the majority of the folk in the areas that would have made up Nickajack were poor. They did not own plantations or slaves and thus saw no benefit in joining the Confederacy, if they weren’t against it on moral anti-slavery grounds anyway.

As a result, lawyers and residents in these two states attempted to defeat the Confederate secessionist movement there, and form a new one called Nickajack. Yet the bulk of Alabamans and Tennesseans voted in favor of the Confederacy and secession, and this effectively overruled them. What’s more, the proponents of the Union supporting state of Nickajack believed that it was too risky to proceed with their new state proposal: they shelved it, fearing reprisals from local authorities.

15. Lincoln

There have been a few attempts to establish a state named Lincoln in the United States in the nation’s history. The first of these bids took place in Texas, specifically the south-western portion of the Lone Star State.

When Texas was admitted to the United States, it was also given the green light to be divided into numerous entities. One of those proposed divisions was the state of Lincoln, which would have spanned the land to the south and west of the Colorado River. This proposal was made in 1859 and presented to Congress, but ultimately it was not acted upon.

The Idaho Panhandle attempt

The second attempt at establishing a state called Lincoln came six years later in 1865. But this time it wasn’t in south-western Texas. No, in 1865 after the Washington, Montana, and Idaho territories had been established a year earlier, a state called Lincoln was proposed for the area that now makes up the Idaho Panhandle.

The people in the Panhandle petitioned the federal government to become Lincoln. Ultimately their efforts would fail, but undeterred, the people in that area and eastern Washington tried to get the concept of a separate state off the ground again in the early 1900s. “Columbia” and “East Washington” were also mooted as names, but this new drive found no success either.

16. Westsylvania

We don’t know about you, but we like the name Westsylvania: it just has a nice flow to it. Alas, it wasn’t to be, and a state by that name never came to fruition. But when did the idea and push for a state named Westsylvania begin?

Well, the notion for the state arose in 1776 — the seismic year of the American Revolution, when the United States achieved freedom from Great Britain and her colonies. Westsylvania would have encompassed parts of what is now West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania.

The proposal is completely ignored

Of course, shortly after the American victory and the Declaration of Independence in 1776 the new government was still figuring things out. One such issue was how many states there would be, and there were many competing proposals at this time.

Sadly for those of us who like the name Westsylvania, the proposal for the state was basically completely ignored by Congress. In fact, the proposal never even went to a vote. Why? Well, the reason seems to be that the legislature was worried that such a state would increase mistrust between Virginia and Pennsylvania at a time when unity was the priority.

17. Delmarva

At numerous points in American history, there has been a push by the inhabitants of the Delmarva Peninsula to create a new state. That piece of real estate sits off the east coast of Maryland, and spans part of that state, and bits of both Delaware and Virginia.

The proposal called for the peninsular portions of Virginia and Maryland to secede from their respective states and join with Delaware’s Kent County and Sussex County to form a new one, which would go by the name of Delmarva.

A State Party is created

The push for Delmarva has historically gained some political support, with numerous senators — who opposed what they saw as excessive government regulation — taking up the cause. Its proposed boundaries have varied slightly, with one rival but related idea being that Delaware consumes the whole area into itself.

The political efforts to create a new state in this area have been various, with failed attempts in 1776, 1833, 1834, and 1851. As recently as 1992 a Delmarva State Party was even founded. But the three states have never been able to agree on all the particulars, or gain enough support in Congress for the proposal to succeed.

18. Absaroka

It was 1939 when the state of Absaroka was first suggested. The proposal came from a group of conservative political and business leaders from Wyoming who had been opposed to President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The leader of the group was A.R. Swickard, a street commissioner from Sheridan. Their plan was to merge parts of Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana, and build an economy centered around tourism. The state name of Absaroka had been inspired by the range in the Rocky Mountains which bore the same moniker.

Baseball teams and beauty queens

Swickard soon declared himself “Governor of Absaroka” and began to listen to the desires of those living within the prospective state’s area. Evidently, some citizens in the area were very much enthused by the plan. Many of them began to sport Absaroka license plates, and a beauty pageant was held to crown a “Miss Absaroka.”

There was even the formation of a minor league baseball team named the Absaroka Eagles. Yet the proposal for a state named Absaroka never actually made it to Congress. The bid was evidently not helped by the outbreak of World War II, which understandably took a lot of focus and enthusiasm away from the fight.

19. Washington, DC

Perhaps the most likely prospective new state is the capital, Washington DC. Yes, since 1980 there has been strong advocacy from politicians and people for the city to become a state by itself, for a variety of different reasons.

The first and perhaps most important is that statehood would allow it to acquire congressional representation. Although compared to other existing states the area is relatively small in size — the city covers 68 square miles — it has a large population. The 2020 Census estimated it around 712,000 people, which is more than either Vermont or Wyoming, both of which have senators and congressmen.

A bill is passed in the House of Representatives

As noted above, there have been serious efforts made in this regard. There have been numerous bills that have been presented in Congress with the aim of making Washington, DC the 51st state of the union.

This includes one bill that made it to the House of Representatives on April 22, 2021. It was presented by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and it passed by a vote of 216-208. On this occasion the legislation fell short in the Senate, but the push for statehood continues.

20. New York City

Many New Yorkers pride themselves on being independent and claim they feel qualitatively different to the rest of the country. So, it should perhaps be no surprise that there have been numerous attempts to make New York City a state.

The first of these bids arose in the years just before the American Civil War, a tumultuous time for the country. Back then, its mayor Fernando Wood proposed that New York City seceded from the state to become a sovereign city-state called the “Free City of Tri-Insula.” That means ‘three islands” in Latin, and is of course in reference to Manhattan, Long Island, and Staten Island. But the Democrat’s plan never came to fruition.

Norman Miller’s proposal

The second of these attempts came in 1969 during the primaries for the Democratic Party’s mayoral elections. One of the candidates in that election, Norman Miller, ran on the idea of pushing for New York City — the biggest single city in the U.S. — becoming its own state and seceding from New York as a whole.

Yet Miller was soundly defeated in the primary, earning just 5 percent of the vote, and the idea of New York City as a separate state dropped off the agenda pretty quickly after that. But who knows what will happen in the future?