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History of Sycamore Shoals and the "Overmountain Men"

















Did you ever wonder how the Overmountain Chapter was named in 1986? The following information is an excerpt from a Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area pamphlet. When in the Elizabethton area, you may want to visit the Historic Area.


The series of events that unfolded at Sycamore Shoals were critical to state and national history in the eighteenth century. These dramatic chapters in America's westward expansion set the tone for a number of events that helped propel the British colonies towards independence and a democratic form of government.


Sycamore Shoals was the site of the first permanent American settlement outside the 13 original colonies. It was here that the Watauga Association, the first majority-rule system of American democratic government was formed when, in 1772, the settlers elected five of their number to "govern and direct for the common good of all the people."


These Articles of the Watauga Association invested in those elected representatives the legislative, judicial and executive functions of their fledgling government.


Sycamore Shoals was a busy area as the 1700's drew to a close, it became a hub for pioneers from North Carolina and Virginia, who were pushing westward and settling along the Watauga River. Trails connected the Watauga Settlement to Fort Patrick Henry and Fort Robinson near present day Kingsport, Sapling Grove (Bristol), Wolf Hills (Abingdon, VA) and Rocky Mount, located between Johnson City and Bristol, which later became the territorial capital of the Southwest Territory.


Perhaps the most significant event associated with Sycamore Shoals was the muster of the "Overmountain Men" militia who fought and defeated a Loyalist army at the Battle of King's Mountain.


The British were gaining an upper hand in the South during the fall of 1780. With Lord Cornwallis' defeat of General Gates at Camden, SC the Carolinas had no defense except for Patriot militia. British Major Patrick Ferguson was given command of the Loyalist militia in the Carolinas. If the "rebels" did not cease their opposition to the Crown, he threatened to "march his army over the mountains, hang the leaders and lay waste their country with fire and sword." Colonels Isaac Shelby and John Sevier decided on a plan to gather militia units from the Overmountain settlements and attack Ferguson.


On September 25, 1780, approximately 1,100 men gathered at Sycamore Shoals and marched in pursuit of Major Ferguson and his Loyalists. These "Overmountain Men", as they became known, caught Ferguson on October 7 at King's Mountain in South Carolina and soundly defeated the British forces with Ferguson being killed in the hour-long battle.


The victory of the "Overmountain Men" at King's Mountain is considered by many historians to be a turning point in the Revolutionary War. Indeed, Sir Henry Clinton, commander of British forces in America, later pronounced Ferguson's defeat at King's Mountain as "the first link in a chain of events that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America."


Years later Thomas Jefferson called the event, "that memorable victory the joyful annunciation of that turn of the tide of success, which terminated the Revolutionary War with the seal of independence."


Ken Chase


March 2004

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