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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 Twenty-One: Grassy Creek, Gillespie Gap, and a Split of Forces.
The first crisis of the Overmountain Men’s march to Kings Mountain occurred on the morning of September 28th. As the men fell in for roll call, it was discovered that two of their party, Samuel Chambers and James Crawford, were not in camp. John Sevier immediately became suspicious that the two had deserted to warn Major Patrick Ferguson of the impending attack upon him.
So, why would Chambers and Crawford desert the army they had joined to support? According to the website The Notorious Meddler, James Crawford’s “religious convictions prohibited participating in non-military raiding, maliciously causing damage to civilian property, and nearly regular loss of civilian lives.” As we noted earlier, this part of the Revolutionary War more resembled a civil war as it pitted neighbor against neighbor and sometimes split families. In 1779, Crawford was accused of objecting to participate in raiding parties sent over the mountains to raid Tory farms. He apparently persuaded young Samuel Chambers that the upcoming battle was morally wrong, and the two slipped out of camp in the wee morning hours. We will pick up more of their story later.
The leaders gathered to discuss the situation. If Chambers and Crawford were to be successful getting word to Ferguson, he would most likely move to intercept the force before they could get out of the mountains. To thwart in any spies that were watching their intended route of march to the south, they turned left and took the more northly route descending “a worse path than was ever traveled by an army of horsemen.” However, this route offered some advantages. They could continue following the Yellow Mountain Road down the Toe River Valley, where several trails led off the Blue Ridge Escarpment which would help complicate Ferguson being able to locate the force to attack.
So, camp broke up and they began moving down the Yellow Mountain Road, turning south at Roaring Creek Gap and picking up the North Toe River, following roughly the route of US 19-E between Cranberry and Spruce Pine, North Carolina. Samuel Bright, whose name originally graced the trail, had established shelters along this path which followed the Toe River closely. The marchers used them for rest as they passed by and watered their horses in the clear, cold mountain stream when it was needed.
Around mid-day, the Overmountain Men entered into the Ingalls area of present-day Avery County, arriving at the location of Bright’s settlement and of Davenport Springs, which are named for Martin Davenport, who owned about 1,000 acres in the area. Davenport served as a captain in the Burke County Regiment of the North Carolina Militia from 1778-1782. He was born in 1742 in Culpeper County, Virginia, and was a noted scout and guide, serving under both Colonel Benjamin Cleveland and Major Joseph McDowell in the Johns River and Yadkin River Valleys. He was one of the early pioneers helping to open the frontier for settlement. Davenport is buried in the Davenport Cemetery, which is located near the springs.
At Davenport Springs, the marchers found a refreshing spring where man and beast could drink heartily and recover from their journey from Yellow Mountain Gap. Famed historian Lyman C. Draper, whose popularized account King’s Mountain and Its Heroes that we will be learning more about soon, noted that in the 1850s an old sword was found near Davenport Springs, supposedly lost by one of the Overmountain Men. After a period of rest, they set off once again down the North Toe River, heading toward Spruce Pine.
Draper has an extensive description of this section of the trip, where he notes that “The mountain scenery along their route is scarcely exceeded for wildness and romantic grandeur in any other part of the country.” He continues noting “if we were to meet an army with music and banners, we would hardly notice it; man, and all his works, and all his devices, are sinking into significance. We feel we are approaching nearer and nearer to the Almighty Architect. We feel in all things about us the presence of the great Creator. A sense of awe and reverence comes over us, and we expect to find in this stupendous temple we are approaching, none but men of pure hearts and benignant minds…as we clamber up the winding hill, the sensation of awe gives way, new scenes of beauty and grandeur open upon our ravished vision, and a multitude of emotions swell pithing our hearts.”
The marchers passed by present-day Spruce Pine in the afternoon. Near Altapass where Grassy Creek empties into the Toe River, they turned up the creek and came to what is known as Cathey’s Plantation. William Cathey owned land located at the intersection of modern-day highways NC 226 and US 221 in McDowell County where he established a fort to protect his family and neighbors during Indian attacks. Until Davidson’s Fort was constructed at present-day Old Fort, Cathey’s Fort was the farthest western military outpost in North Carolina.
Cathey also owned land in the Spruce Pine area, having a mill at the mouth of Grassy Creek along with abundant relatively flat land where the present-day Grassy Creek Golf Course and the Spruce Pine shopping centers are located. There was plenty of water and space for an encampment of approximately 1,000 men on his plantation. So, the Overmountain Men stopped there for the night after covering some twenty miles from the beginning of their march earlier in the day. Their camp would have covered most of the valley in this section. They enjoyed a meal of parched corn meal and beef that evening, bedding down for night three on the journey. So far, they had avoided detection by Ferguson’s forces, but would this continue? Join us as next we leave the Blue Ridge Mountains by way of Gillespie Gap and begin the descent to Morganton and Quaker Meadows where other forces are assembling to aid in the discovery of Ferguson’s men and engage them in battle.
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, Google Podcasts and other pod catching software. 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.
- The Notorious Meddler on James Crawford & Samuel Chambers
- Pat Alderman’s The Overmountain Men: Battle of King’s Mountain, Cumberland Decade, State of Franklin and the Southwest Territory – The Elusive Ferguson
- Cathey’s Fort
- Cathey’s Plantation at Grassy Creek
- Cathey’s Plantation Map
- Lyman Draper’s Kings Mountain and Its Heroes – William Cathey
- Find A Grave – Martin Davenport
- Map of the Overmountain Men’s Trek