A Revolutionary History Lesson: The Overmountain Men
Just imagine. The year is 1780. The Revolutionary War is at a stalemate, no end is in sight and the fighting has moved south with the British conquest of Charleston. The King of England decreed no white men were allowed to claim land west of the Appalachian Mountains, but some had settled in the area.
This week marks the 238th anniversary of a sentinel battle of the Revolutionary War – many say the turning point. In school, we never learned about the rag-tag mountain militia who chased the British to Kings Mountain and fought for freedom. Dubbed the Overmountain Men, they also battled nature as they pursued British Major Patrick Ferguson and his well-armed forces. Ferguson had successfully recruited “loyalist” troops from colonists in the Carolinas to fight for the British crown.
Marching from Virginia, through Tennessee and the Carolinas conditions were harsh. The men had to wade through a deep early snowfall, forge rivers, and try not to succumb to hunger and the effects of steady rain. The Colonels all agreed William Campbell would be their leader. The men had a lot to lose. These self-provisioned, self-armed troops relied heavily on their honed hunting skills and burning desire for freedom to “soldier on.”
One thousand men led by Cols. Campbell, Sevier, Shelby, and McDowell met up at Sycamore Shoals (today in Elizabethton, TN) and marched on to meet-up with the Carolina men at Quaker Meadows (now a golf course) in Morganton, NC. A total of almost 2,000 patriots set out on what would become a 330-mile trek.
On October 7, the Patriots finally found Ferguson and his loyalist recruits and winning the Battle of Kings Mountain became a turning point in the war. With Ferguson dead, the British abandoned their goal of taking North Carolina and retreated to South Carolina.
Loyalists were either killed or captured and the Patriots lost 28, with another 62 wounded. One of those wounded was Robert Sevier, brother of Col. John Sevier. Sevier didn’t make it home and dying in NC on the way. He and Revolutionary War veteran Captain Martin Davenport are buried near Spruce Pine, NC.
Every year the Overmountain Victory Trail Association reenacts portions of the 330-mile march in cooperation with the National Park Service. As just one part of the re-creation, they meet-up with about 400 NC school children to visually tell the story of the men and the battle, as well as visit the graves of Sevier and Davenport.
The children are taken up to the remote, tiny Bright’s Cemetery in small groups to pay homage to the memory of those who died for our freedom. The site is on the property of the Sibelco Schoolhouse Quartz Plant and is only open once a year when the company/mine sponsors the event and hosts the kids with lunch and other creature comforts (think tents, porta-potties, and even bug spray). It’s a 2.5-mile trek to the gravesite and back to the parking lot.
As a member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution), it was a privilege to attend. Local DAR members were instrumental in finding and restoring the gravesites in the early 1950s. The Overmountain Victory Trail Association members did a fabulous job capturing and telling the stories of 1780.
Three Top Leaders:
Lines were blurry between state boundaries at that time; in fact, many states had yet to be officially established. Shelby went on to form the State of Kentucky and become its first governor. In the meantime, Sevier was busy forming the short-lived State of Franklin which he served as governor. After Franklin dissolved, Sevier was instrumental in creating the State of Tennessee, becoming its first governor, the first of four terms. In 1781, just before the battle of Yorktown, while still serving, Campbell died in Virginia after a short illness.
Militias & Officers:
Virginia/ 400 men: Col. William Campbell
Tennessee/ 400 men: Cols John Sevier & Issac Shelby
Burke County/ 200 men-Col. Charles McDowell
Surrey, Wilkes & Caldwell Counties/ 350 men-Col Benjamin Cleveland & Maj Joseph Winston
Other Troops-William Chronicle
South Carolina: William Hill & Edward Lacey
Georgia: William Chandler
The Host Quartz Plant:
This area of North Carolina is the number one spot in the world for mining high-quality quartz. Quartz from this facility was used to make the lens in the Hubble Telescope.
For More Info:
National Park Service www.nps.gov/ovvi
Overmountain Victory Trail Association www.OVTA.org
TN – Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area www.sycamoreshoals.org
SC – Kings Mountain National Military Park www.nps.gov/kimo
NC – Historic Burke Foundation (Quaker Meadows) www.historicburke.org
VA – Abingdon Muster Grounds www.abingdonmustergrounds.com