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April 23, 2014

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'Overmountain Men'
Stage Living History

Sun photo by Ken Little

Revolutionary War-era reennactors Tim Massey, left, and Chad Bogart, speak with the crowd Saturday at the Nathanael Greene Museum during activities to recognize the 230th anniversary of the founding of Greene County.

Originally published: 2013-04-29 11:02:53
Last modified: 2013-04-29 11:10:38
 


Kings Mountain

Battle, Founding

Of Greene County

Stories Reenacted

BY KEN LITTLE

STAFF WRITER

Patriots fighting for liberty on the North Carolina frontier in the Revolutionary War did so in all kinds of weather.

As the rain poured down outside Saturday, reenactors dressed in 18th century-era clothing used the Nathanael Greene Museum as a base of operations to tell the story of two significant events that shaped history.

Many of the weekend activities planned for the observance of Greene County's 230th anniversary were canceled because of the rainy weather, but reenactors who relocated to the museum gave lively presentations about the role of the Overmountain Men in the Battle of Kings Mountain, and the roles of Daniel Kennedy and Landon Carter in the contentious founding of Greene County.

'OVERMOUNTAIN MEN'

The Battle of Kings Mountain, S.C., on Oct. 7, 1780, had a decisive impact on the outcome of the Revolutionary War and the formation of the United States, said Ronnie Lail, of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association: a reenactor group whose members in buckskins and other period attire participated in weekend activities.

"A lot of historians call it the turning point of the revolution," he said.

The battle was fought by about 1,000 patriot troops. Nearly half were "Overmountain Men" from what would become Tennessee.

They successfully attacked a larger force of fellow Americans -- loyalist "Tories" under the command of English Col. Patrick Ferguson.

Through first-person accounts of the battle, reenactors described the events leading up to the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Steve Ricker of Greene County, wearing frontiersman attire he made himself, assumed the persona of Issac Morgan, an ancestor who fought at Kings Mountain.

"We hadn't had a good meal in days," said Ricker, portraying Morgan.

As he lay in his wet blanket, Morgan thought of the impending battle, which took place after an all-night forced march in heavy rain.

The morning of the battle, as the men took to the saddle, it was still dark and raining, "Morga" said.

"As we came riding up the Nolichucky, the men started coming up (out of) the hollers and the ridges," he said. "Everybody was mad."

GILMER'S STORY

The patriots rode up to a house, where they encountered a "little feller" named Enoch Gilmer.

"He said, I'll find out where Ferguson was at," "Morgan" said.

Heather Wilcox, of Boone's Creek, was called from the crowd to play Gilmer.

Gilmer stopped at the home of a local Tory and posed as a sympathetic Loyalist who wanted to find Ferguson's headquarters. He learned valuable information and reported back to William Campbell, who had assumed the role of patriot chief officer.

Beef found at Cowpens at the site of an abandoned Tory camp fed the hungry troops. As the rain poured down and men took their blankets from their shoulders to wrap their guns and powder as they marched, Gilmer again went forward.

He learned at a nearby home that Ferguson's camp was less than 10 miles away. As the men continued on, Gilmer gathered more intelligence at another house several miles down the road.

Gilmer declared Tory allegiance and had been well-fed by an old woman and her granddaughters.

Campbell decided to have some fun with Gilmer and ordered that a rope be put around his neck and marched him outside, presumably to be hanged.

The girls cried and begged for Gilmer's life. Campbell told them he would hang Gilmer out of sight of their home, so they wouldn't have to watch the gruesome spectacle.

As soon as the patriots were on the road, Gilmer gave the latest information to Campbell, and plans were laid for the impending battle.

'APPRECIATIVE CROWD'

The whole scenario was played out by reenactors for the receptive crowd.

"It was fun. I really enjoyed that," Wilcox said afterward.

Gilmer's information gave patriot troops looking for Ferguson an added edge.

"Now we knew where that rascal was at. Our spirits was high," "Morgan" said.

Troops started up the mountain, were pushed back by the Tories, and came back up again. Morgan and the other patriots charged up the mountain a third time.

"We were screaming our heads off. We were screaming like banshees," "Morgan" said.

Ferguson was spotted as the patriots reached the top of the mountain. Ferguson had earlier predicted an easy victory over the patriot troops.

Kings Mountain turned out to be Ferguson's final resting place. After a battle lasting about one hour, Ferguson and scores of Tories were dead.

'BOYS FROM NOLICHUCKY'

"(He) got a little too far on the south side of the mountain that day. He ran into John Sevier and the boys from Nolichucky," "Morgan" said

"(Ferguson) said nobody but God almighty will take me off this mountain, and he was right. He is still there today."

Victory was complete for the patriots, "Morgan" said.

"Ferguson and his boys had been whipped, and when he died, they turned tail and ran like a scalded dog," "Morgan" said.

The victory helped lead to the eventual defeat of British troops commanded by Lord Cornwallis, who surrendered in October 1781 to George Washington in Yorktown, Va.

The most important seed planted during the Battle of Kings Mountain "was the seed of freedom," "Morgan" said.

MANY PRESENTATIONS

Members of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association give many presentations about Kings Mountain. Saturday's program was entitled "Turning of the Tide -- the Story of the Overmountain Men."

"We tell this story to everybody who will listen because it is one of the great stories of American history," Ricker said. "It was written on Oct. 7, 1780, and it was signed by every man who ran up the side of Kings Mountain."

Also participating in the events surrounding the 230th anniversary of Greene County were the Tennessee Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Washington County Militia Regiment.

Others active in weekend events were the Descendants of the Battle of Kings Mountain, along with members of other state and local historical organizations.

"The battle was the turning point of the Revolutionary War," said Tim Massey, president of the Descendants of the Battle of Kings Mountain.

FOUNDING OF COUNTY

Greene County was formed in 1783 from the original Washington County, N.C., part of the former Washington District of North Carolina.

Its founding was not without controversy, as portrayed by reenactors in a presentation Saturday afternoon.

Chad Bogart portrayed Landon Carter, whose father, John Carter, established a plantation just north of present-day Elizabethton in the early 1770s.

Massey assumed the role of Daniel Kennedy, the "Father of Greene County."

Kennedy and Carter did not see eye-to-eye on the idea of Greene County's formation.

The two men sat at a table and exchanged heated opinions, with "Kennedy" emphatically slicing an apple in two with a large knife to emphasize a point at one juncture.

"North Carolina is across the mountains," "Kennedy" said.

"I'm opposed, and I'll stay opposed," "Carter" responded.

Massey said afterward that Landon Carter, who was active in politics, did not want to divide Washington County, N.C., and weaken his political power base.

ONGOING DISPUTES

The disagreement was also an example of ongoing disputes between those of English descent from the northern part of Washington County and Scots-Irish descendants living in the county's southern section.

Voting irregularities in a local election spurred Kennedy to action. The proposed county was to be named after Revolutionary War hero Nathanael Greene.

"I will drink (to) the health of Gen. Greene any day," "Carter" told "Kennedy," but "Carter" did not want to have a separate county named after the general.

Spearheaded by Kennedy, the North Carolina legislature approved the formation of Greene County in 1783.

Tennessee achieved statehood in 1796, and Greene County became part of the new state.

 
For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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