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American Revolution 01 Roan Mountain American Revolution 02 Fort Watauga American Revolution 03 Hanging Tories American Revolution 04 Ferguson enters American Revolution 05 Isaac Shelby American Revolution 06 death of ferguson

The American Revolution

Settlers in what is now Tennessee were by nature independent and sympathetic to the patriots in New England and Virginia.

Obviously they didn’t like the British telling them where they could live since they had ignored King George III’s Proclamation Line of 1763 to settle in Tennessee.
 
In 1775, they appointed a Committee of Safety and called themselves the “Washington District” in honor of George Washington, who had been named head of the Continental army.
 
Indians living in Tennessee, for the most part, took the side of the British during the American Revolution. Many Indians felt their enemy was the settler who was taking their land,  and these settlers were usually American patriots. 
 
Settlers built Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals and Fort Lee in Nolichucky as protection against Indian attacks. Dragging Canoe attacked Long Island Flats in July of 1776 while a second group attacked Fort Watauga. Both attacks failed. In response to Indian attacks, the Continental Congress sent militia to Tennessee. The militia destroyed many of the Cherokee Overhill towns. 
 
After the attacks, Cherokee leaders asked for a peace treaty. Dragging Canoe, however, refused to honor the treaty and established a new tribe, the Chickamaugans, near present day Chattanooga. They continued raiding settlements until 1779, when a militia of 900 men left Fort Watauga and destroyed the Chickamaugan villages.
 
Tennesseans played little role in the Revolution until the 1780s, when the British began an aggressive campaign against the southern colonies. Plagued by set-backs in the middle and northern colonies, the British hoped to place a stranglehold in the South by choking off the key port of Charleston, South Carolina. 
 
In 1780, English forces, made up mainly of Tories (colonials loyal to Britain) and commanded by British Major Patrick Ferguson, pressed deep into the Carolinas. Their mission was to punish the settlers who resided west of the mountains in violation of the Proclamation of 1763.  Ferguson sent a letter to the Tennessee settlements telling them that if they did not surrender, his army would march over the mountains, hang their leaders, and burn their homes and farms.
 
Local leaders Issac Shelby and John Sevier decided that they needed to attack the British before they got to Tennessee. They called for volunteers, and on September 25, 1780, nearly 1,000 men gathered at Sycamore Shoals where they met up with 400 Virginians. Rev. Samuel Doak prayed over the troops and told them to “wield the sword of the Lord and Gideon.”
 
Other men from the Carolinas and Georgia joined the group. They met the British troops at Kings Mountain on the border of North and South Carolina. 
 
On October 7, 1780, the colonial leaders decided to attack. They picked off Ferguson’s men one by one, and Ferguson himself was killed by several shots, including one from “Sweet Lips,” a gun carried by Tennessee soldier Robert Young. All of Ferguson’s troops were either killed or captured while the Overmountain Men, as the Tennesseans were called, had fewer than 100 casualties .
 
Although the war lasted another three years, King’s Mountain was considered by many to be the turning point in the South. John Sevier emerged a hero, enabling him to become a political leader and ultimately the state’s first governor. 
 
Even though East Tennessee’s role during the Revolution is well-known, West Tennessee was also the scene of action. Like the Cherokee, the Chickasaws sided with the British during the war, mainly because Spanish forces bordering them sided with the Americans. 
 
In 1779, a band of British citizens and Chickasaw warriors led by James Logan Colbert conducted a successful raid on Arkansas Post using West Tennessee as his base of operations. Attacking the garrison of 40 Spanish soldiers, Colbert’s men captured a number of soldiers before retreating. They later were overcome by Spanish-allied Quapaw Indians, and the prisoners were released. Colbert’s raid had little effect on the outcome of the Revolutionary War.
 
For Indians, including the Cherokee and the Chickasaw, siding with the British helped to doom them to removal. Settlers considered the Indians a vanquished foe, believing from the Revolutionary War onward that it was their right as victors to seize Native American territory. By the 1830s most of Tennessee’s Indian population would be forced to move west.



Picture Credits:
  • A photograph taken on Roan Mountain in 2006.  The Overmountain men met at Sycamore Shoals on September 25, 1780, and then camped at the foot of Roan Mountain.  The next day they crossed the mountain at Yellow Mountain Gap.  They battled the British at King's Mountain on October 7. Photo by Tom Forbes, Wikipedia
  • A photograph of the recreation of Fort Watauga near Elizabethton.  The fort was built to protect the Watauga settlers from Cherokee attacks during the American Revolutionary War.  It was reconstructed in the 1970s based on archaeological digs and is part of Sycamore Shoals State Park.  Overmountain men met here before traveling to South Carolina and participating in the Battle of King's Mountain.  Photo by Brian Stansberry, Wikipedia
  • A painting by Louis Glanzman showing three British soldiers on horseback being hanged.  The painting is titled "Hanging Tories After Kings Mountain."  This painting was one of five commissioned in 1980 by the National Park Services as illustrations for one of their publications, "With Fire and Sword," by Tennessean Wilma Dykeman Stokely.  The paintings were later purchased by the Tennessee State Museum,  80.48.2
  • Painting entitled, “Ferguson Enters Gilbert Town, 1780.” This painting was made in 1980 by Louis S. Glanzman. It shows a column of British soldiers in military uniform marching while carrying their long guns and haversacks. An officer on horseback is shown in the foreground, while cabins and mountains are shown in the background. Tennessee State Museum Collection, 80.48.4

  • Engraving of Isaac Shelby. This engraving was made in 1852 by Asher Brown Durand from a portrait painted earlier by Matthew Harris Jouett. New York Public Library
  • Print entitled, “Death of Major Ferguson at King’s Mountain.” This print was published in 1878 by A. Chappel in his work, Battles of America by Land and by Sea. New York Public Library


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