This Week in History: The Revolutionary War and Sycamore Shoals, TN

Doesn’t the name Sycamore Shoals sound inviting? It is a lovely setting on the Watauga River but was also the site of serious skirmishes between Patriots and Cherokees and the launching point for one of the most significant battles of the American Revolution.

In 1772, some fearless pioneers thumbed their nose at the British King and moved into the forbidden land west of the Allegheny Mountains (as the Appalachian Mountains were then known) and founded the first permanent American settlement outside the original 13 colonies.

But that land did not belong to the British, it belonged to the tribes of the Cherokee, and Sycamore Shoals became the site of the largest private real estate transaction in US history. After intense and controversial negotiations with Cherokee elders, Judge Richard Henderson completed The Treaty of Sycamore Shoals which transferred 20 million acres of Cherokee land to the Transylvania Land Company in 1775.  Daniel Boone was hired by Henderson to work on this project, communicating with the Cherokee and blazing a trail that would become known as the Wilderness Road. Because only the British were allowed to purchase land from Native Americans, both Virginia and North Carolina refused to honor the treaty, annexing the settlements, and awarding 200,000 acres of land to Henderson in compensation.

History in this area remained complicated after the Revolutionary War, with the founding of the short-lived State of Franklin and fluid state boundaries between Franklin, Tennessee, and North Carolina. But I am off-track and that’s a story for another time.

Fort Watauga. Inside the compound docents in period costume fill in historic background and answer questions.

Adding to the era’s conflict was the fact the Cherokee sided with the British, and younger members of the tribes, who had not favored the land treaty, continued to fight the settlers. Today you can visit the reconstructed Fort Watauga and learn about the rough life and battles of the time.

241 Years Ago

Patriots were not faring well during the Revolution in 1780, with the fall of Savannah, Charlestown, and Camden to the British. Settlers in the North and South Carolina backcountry had been given an ultimatum and knew British troops were on the way.  Deciding not to wait and to meet British Major Ferguson en route, close to 1,000 men mustered at Sycamore Shoals on September 25, and pursued Ferguson for more than 330 miles.  Known as the Overmountain Men their bravery and ultimate victory over the Loyalists at the Battle of King’s Mountain is considered a key turning point in the war.

Today the Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park recognizes this significant slice of history. The Park features a visitors’ center with interesting historic information, picnic areas, and walking trails along the river. The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail starts here and passes through much of Western Carolina, running near the Orchard at Altapass. Gravesites attributed to injuries during the battle are on the Sibelco factory property off 19E. For more about the Overmountain Men and battle, check out my older post with more details. Click here.

Walking along the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals.

6 Comments on “This Week in History: The Revolutionary War and Sycamore Shoals, TN

  1. As always, fascinating. Why did you leave out the picture of the girl crossing the river on the fallen tree?

  2. Come join us! September 25th, 2021, at 1:00 PM and get your feet, and maybe more, wet! Lord willing and the river don’t rise, the Overmountain Men will cross the Watauga River then. Visitors are welcome with or without period dress. Get there early. River Crossers will be transported from Fort Watauga/Sycamore Shoals to the far side of the river. In the water at 1:00.

  3. This is history that I did not know about. Thanks for educating me. The negotiations on the native peoples land is very interesting in light of the recent claims by some tribes in the west of Canada to have their lands restored to them.

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