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Episode 11 Transcript

Painting of William Campbell

General William Campbell

In September, 1780, a ragtag group of backwoodsmen from what is today North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia assembled to begin a journey to defend their homes and belief in liberty. They met their destiny at Kings Mountain and this is their story. The Mitchell County Historical Society presents Footsteps for Freedom: The Road to Kings Mountain. Episode Eleven: William Campbell.

William Campbell and his forces from southwestern Virginia were considered to be tough, rugged mountaineers who were perfect soldiers for a battle like Kings Mountain. Born in 1745, Campbell could often be a fiery Scotchman if provoked, but he was tall, muscular, and carried himself with dignity.

A graduate of Augusta Academy (a forerunner of Washington and Lee University), Campbell was a landowner and often served in civic and military roles. He was a justice in local courts and served as a captain in Lord Dunmore’s War, fighting the Shawnee and Mingo nations in 1774. In January, 1775 he became a member of a Committee of Safety where he signed the Fincastle Resolutions, which supported armed resistance to the British Crown.

In September, 1775, he led a company to Williamsburg, then the capital of Virginia. There, he was commissioned a captain  in the First Virginia Provisional Regiment, serving under Patrick Henry. In February, 1776, he transferred to the First Virginia Continental Regiment. While he was in Williamsburg, he met Patrick Henry’s sister Elizabeth, whom he married in April, 1776. Later that fall, he was released from his Continental service and returned to southwestern Virginia to help with protection of that region.m The couple owned a tract of land called Salt Lick due to its numerous salt deposits. Campbell sold salt from is lands, and they  were an important source of salt for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

He served in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1780, but left his position when planning began for an expedition by the frontier counties agains the Native Americans, with Governor Thomas Jefferson putting him in charge of the group. However, Jefferson countermanded that order and sent Campbell to defend the lead mines in southwestern Virginia, the source of ore used to make ammunition for the Patriot cause, including the Overmountain Men.

Now serving as a colonel in September, 1780, he led men into northwestern North Carolina where he was commanded to engage Major Patrick Ferguson. Campbell was named the overall commander of at the Battle of Kings Mountain even though he was the least experienced of the officers present.

He was also known for his harsh treatment of Loyalists. He hung British agents with a trial who were attempting to incite Native Americans to attack the Patriots on the frontier. After successfully leading the Battle of Kings Mountain forces, he organized trials that resulted in the hanging of nine men, including John McFalls from our region who had declared his loyalty to the crown. Some accounts have reported that Lord Cornwallis himself threatened to put Campbell to death if he was captured because of his treatment of Tories. Campbell was not fazed. Several historical accounts note that if he captured Cornwallis, he would “meet the fate of Ferguson.”

After Kings Mountain, he fought at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse with Light Horse Harry Lee, father of famous Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Soon after, he returned to the Virginia Assembly, where they commissioned him a brigadier general. He moved to participate in the early phases of the famous Battle of Yorktown. He would not finish the conflict, as he became ill and died near Richmond, Virginia on August 22, 1781. William Campbell was only 36.

Footsteps for Freedom: The Road to Kings Mountain is a production of the Mitchell County Historical Society, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation of the history, heritage, and culture of Mitchell County, North Carolina. Today’s program was written, narrated, and produced by David Biddix. Special thanks to WTOE radio in Spruce Pine, North Carolina (1470 on the AM dial) and WKYK Radio in Burnsville, North Carolina (940 on the AM dial) for airing our program. You can also download episodes through Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts. Learn more at mitchellnchistory.org/ovm.

The Mitchell County Historical Society offices are located in the Historic Mitchell County Courthouse in Bakersville. We’d love for you to become a member of our Society! You can learn more about us on the web at mitchellnchistory.org. There, you can also see show notes about today’s episode, links to online resources about the Battle of Kings Mountain and those involved in it, and much more about Mitchell County’s history and heritage. You can also visit us on Facebook. Join us next time as we continue the journey to Patrick Ferguson and the famous battle atop Kings Mountain.

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