The Historic Burke Foundation, along with historians across the country, notes that the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780 turned the tide of the Revolutionary War in America’s favor.
“We signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and in 1780, we were still fighting the British on our soil,” said Linda Lindsey of the Historic Burke Foundation. “The war between General Washington and Lord Cornwallis from England had come to a stalemate in the Hudson River Valley, so he (Cornwallis) decided he was going to go to Charlestowne (present-day Charleston, South Carolina), which was the largest city in the south, and he thought he could march inland and defeat the South Carolina militia and then move north and defeat Washington from the south.”
With the British having invaded the two Carolinas and threatening to “lay waste the land” of anyone who would not serve the Crown, frontiersmen, farmers, hunters, trappers and tradesmen in the mountain and Piedmont regions of the Carolinas, Virginia and what is now Tennessee decided to find British Maj. Patrick Ferguson and his Tory troops and defeat him before he could do further damage.
“By the spring of 1780, the British were plundering Burke County farms and homesteads,” Lindsey said. “They were stealing pigs and chickens and looking for grain. There was a bit of a civil war, because you had brother fighting against brother. Some people supported the Crown, and some wanted independence. But everyday people decided, ‘We’re not going to wait for him (Ferguson) to come to us — we’re going to go to him.”
Some on horseback, some walking, some barefoot, they came from Abingdon, Virginia, the Watauga Valley and Nolichucky region of what is now Tennessee, from western and Piedmont North Carolina, including areas from current-day Avery County to current-day Forsyth County. Those from north and west of Burke County crossed Roan Mountain in “shoe-deep snow, took Yellow Mountain Road across Yellow Mountain Gap, the highest point that patriot troops crossed during the American Revolution, and gathered at Quaker Meadows near the Catawba River in Burke County on Sept. 30, 1780. The leaders of the various groups met under the Council Oak to make their plans.
“They picked up recruits as they came, but these were not trained militia,” Lindsey said. “These were ordinary people. They had to decide what to do going forward, because all of the sudden, they were a big group of seven different militias with seven different leaders.”
At Quaker Meadows, the men were greeted, welcomed and hosted by Charles McDowell, then the ranking officer in the Burke Militia. A wealthy man, McDowell ordered some of his cattle slaughtered to feed the men, who numbered more than 1,400, and Mrs. McDowell called for the removal of the top boards in fences around their extensive lands to use to build fires to cook the beef.
“The McDowells were the only people in Burke County who could feed that many men and horses,” Lindsey said. “Mr. McDowell was hiding his cattle up in Avery County, to keep them away from the Tories, who were plundering the farms.”
On Oct . 1, 1780, with full bellies and a night’s rest, the men rode their horses or walked along the banks of the Catawba River to Greenlee Ford, site of present-day Freedom High School. There, they crossed the river, following Silver Creek and turning south. One week later to the day, on Oct . 7, they found Ferguson and his Tory troops camped on top of Kings Mountain in South Carolina.
“They (the American militiamen) were outnumbered,” Lindsey said. “They didn’t have anything as good as the Tories did. They were tired and hungry after two or three weeks of sleeping out in the open and trying to get whatever food they could. They took the 900 most able men they had, left the rest at Cowpens, South Carolina, and they stormed up the mountain like the Cherokee do.”
In an hour and five minutes, this unlikely group of volunteers killed Ferguson and defeated the British in a battle that opened the way for the eventual Patriot victory at Yorktown.
“It’s a story of the quintessential American spirit that says, ‘We’re going to come together and do something for the common good,’” Lindsey said.
The route these men took from Virginia and North Carolina to South Carolina is now known as the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail and the trail is a National Park.