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Episode 22 Transcript
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 22 – Down the Blue Ridge to Quaker Meadows.
The Overmountain Men arose on September 29th, 1780 at Cathey’s Plantation just south of present-day Spruce Pine. They break camp and prepare for the next leg of their journey. Their leaders, William Campbell, Isaac Shelby, and John Sevier met to discuss the best route to take off the mountain that would ensure protection for the force from Ferguson. They were concerned with the narrow trails heading down the Blue Ridge Escarpment, fearing that Ferguson could set up an ambush at a narrow point and take out the army as it tried to descend, attacking from above. So, the decision was made to split the force in two, taking two paths down the Blue Ridge at Gillespie Gap, where the Museum of North Carolina Minerals sits by the Blue Ridge Parkway today south of Spruce Pine.
Isaac Shelby and John Sevier would skirt along the Blue Ridge to Roses Creek, which is located in the last curve on present-day Altapass Road before it joins the Blue Ridge Parkway, following a trail up the mountain to Hefner Gap, then descend the Blue Ridge into North Cove. You can walk a portion of that trail today that still contains the original 1780 roadbed from on Altapass Road to the Parkway.
William Campbell would take his troops and head southwest towards present-day Little Switzerland to Lynn Gap, where Henry Gillespie had a toll road that descended the Blue Ridge into Turkey Cove in present-day McDowell County. There was particular interest in Gillespie on this route, as Campbell was unsure of Gillespie’s loyalties, it was thought Gillespie might know Ferguson’s current whereabouts as their last good intelligence on his location was now several days old. Campbell also feared Gillespie might tip off Ferguson to the presence of the Overmountain Men. He had reason to suspect Gillespie’s loyalty to the crown, as Gillespie had received his land grant from King George to whom he pledged loyalty and received immunity from molestation by British troops. Patrick Ferguson himself issued an order dated September 18, 1780 that “Henry Gillespie having engaged to be faithful to the King and his government is not to be injured in person or property.”
Gillespie was not alone in seeking the King’s protection. When Ferguson arrived in the area and dispersed the last of the organized rebel resistance under McDowell at the Battle of Cane Creek, Ferguson’s Surgeon, Dr. Uzal Johnson said that the “Deluded people came in very fast”. British Lieutenant Anthony Allaire agreed noting that “500 subjects including some ladies came in” to seek protection. In the Revolution, historians have determined that about a third of the population remained fiercely loyal to the crown throughout the war. Another third was just as fiercely devoted to the cause of independence. The remaining third hoped to remain neutral or in reality supported whoever was winning at the time because of the old maxim that the worst side to be on in a civil war was the losing side.
So, Campbell arranged for Gillespie to be detained as his force descended the mountain. Gillespie was interrogated and held overnight in the Patriot camp in Turkey Cove near Cathey’s Fort. After what was surely a frightful night for him, Gillespie was released the following morning. Gillespie had no useful information to give them about Ferguson’s current location. After his release, he also apparently did not alert the British to the presence of the Patriot army that used his road.
Both armies made it successfully down the mountains, with Shelby and Sevier setting up camp in the North Cove area of McDowell County at the site of the old North Cove Elementary School. Campbell’s forces encamped near Cathey’s Fort for September 29th. Word came to both camps that evening that Ferguson was at Gilbert Town, some two days’ march from their location.
However, that information was already out of date as Ferguson moved out of Gilbert Town on September 27th moving southwest. Ferguson, at that point still unaware of the angry horde that was coming for him, was in pursuit of other game. He had received intelligence that Colonel Elijah Clarke and his Georgia militia that had fought so bravely with the Overmountain Men at Musgrove’s Mill earlier that summer had just made a failed attempt to capture Augusta, Georgia. Clarke finding his situation untenable was retreating towards the safety of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Overmountain Settlements beyond. Ferguson intended to bag him in the attempt.
On September 29th, the same day that the Overmountain Men passed through the gaps in the Blue Ridge to enter North and Turkey Coves. British Surgeon Dr. Uzal Johnson noted his diary, “Constant information [was coming in] that the rebels were collecting in force at Burke County Courthouse [Quaker Meadows] under Colonel Shelby, Colonel McDowell and Colonel Cleveland.” The deserters Crawford and Chambers may have been the first to bring Ferguson news of the army’s approach but they are traditionally not believed to have arrived in his camp until the next day September 30th. In any case, the backcountry’s network of Loyalist spies and informants picked up news of the Patriot army’s approach and relayed it to Ferguson. Ferguson does not seem to have taken the threat very seriously at first as he continued his efforts to bag Clarke’s retreating Georgians and even placed Chambers and Crawford under arrest on the suspicion that they were lying to him about the whole thing.
On September 30th, both wings of the Overmountain army, marched through valleys now under the waters of Lake James, and joined back together before arriving at Quaker Meadows, the home of Colonel Charles McDowell and his brother Major Joseph McDowell. McDowell’s home was the agreed-upon assembly point for several militia units that were journeying to take on Ferguson. It was centrally located and large enough to accommodate the ever-growing army. Colonel Benjamin Cleveland and his militia of 350, along with Joseph McDowell’s militia and forces from Surry County under Major Joseph Winston gathered with the Overmountain Men and preparations began for the combined armies to begin their march to Ferguson. They now numbered some 1,400 strong and were spoiling for a fight.
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.
- Find A Grave – Joseph McDowell
- Find A Grave – Martin Davenport
- McDowell House at Quaker Meadows
- Quaker Meadows Information
- The Battle of Kings Mountain & The Overmountain Men
- The Overmountain Men: Battle of King’s Mountain, Cumberland Decade, State of Franklin & Southwest Territory by Pat Alderman
- Wikipedia Article on Quaker Meadows