Talk on over-mountain men set for Sept. 5

David Broyles Civitas Media

September 1, 2013

The Surry County Historical Society will host a dinner and program about the over-mountain men on Sept. 5 by award winning author and storyteller Randell Jones. It is titled “Before they were heroes at King’s Mountain.” The meal will be held at 6 p.m. at the Edwards-Franklin House with the free program following.

“In many ways, the Revolutionary War was a civil war,” said Society President Dr. Annette Ayers. “It was a conflict between loyalists trained as British forces and Whigs and the rebels who were often from the backcountry. One thing not widely known is the majority of soldiers in the Revolutionary War were teenagers. They answered the call, fired up by the injustice of British laws.”

She also said North Carolina had called for its Independence with the Halifax Resolve and told its delegates to bring up the issue in February of 1776. The Continental Congress drafted the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776.

The Battle of Kings Mountain happened on Oct. 7, 1780, and is credited with turning the tide in the revolution. Research provided by Ayers indicates Lord Charles Cornwallis planned to invade North Carolina and Virginia in 1780 and had assigned Maj. Patrick “Bulldog” Ferguson to protect the left flank of the British army. He led loyalists from New York, Georgia and South Carolina and was the only British soldier in his unit.

Ferguson moved west into North Carolina in September 1780 to the small settlement Gilbert Town. He challenged the “Over the Mountain Men” to either put down their weapons against the British or he would “march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.”

Ayers explained these mountain men were second and third generation settlers who had fought for their land through six years of conflicts with Shawnees, Cherokees, Chickamaugas, Scots Highlanders, Loyalist Tories, Royal grenadiers, robbers and thieves.

“This was not a smart challenge to make to fiercely independent pioneers who lived on the frontier,” wrote Ayers.

Word went out among the mountains and the patriots marched across the Appalachian Mountains, often wading in ankle-deep snow. Benjamin Cleveland, with his nephew Jesse Franklin and Joseph Winston, led 350 men from Wilkes and Surry County and joined the frontier army near Morganton. They marched toward King’s Mountain where Ferguson had camped on top of the mountain’s flat summit which was framed by steep, rocky slopes covered with trees and brush. Ferguson’s army numbered 1,100 men.

She said the over-mountain men attacked from three directions and used frontier fighting methods of attacking from ambush and used trees and rocks for cover. The frontiersmen defeated Ferguson in about an hour. Ferguson, wearing a plaid hunting shirt, blowing a silver whistle and mounted on a white horse, was shot dead. Ferguson lost 244 men, 163 were wounded and 698 were taken prisoner.

Ayers said news of British actions traveled throughout the colonies by letters of correspondence and word of mouth, and there was a correlation between the strong spirit of Independence of the mountain men, who had spent three generations fighting for their land with little to show in the way of support for their taxes compared to other areas which had been recently settled by immigrants who still had strong ties with England.

The cost of the dinner is $15 and participants are asked to make reservations by Saturday. Persons may obtain more information by calling 325-2161 or 374-2353. Jones’ talk is free and will start at 7 p.m. It is made possible by the Road Scholars Program of the NC Humanities Council.

Reach David Broyles at dbroyles@civitasmedia.com or 719-1952.