Rutherford County and Independence
RUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C. ANDAMERICAN INDEPENDENCE
Rutherford County was formed,along with Lincoln County, out of Tryon County in 1779. The firstsession of court was held at the home of Colonel John Walker,which was located near the mouth of Cane Creek, and not far fromLogan Station, that is now on highway 64 on the way to Morganton,N.C. Later the county's business was conducted at the home ofWilliam Gilbert which became known as Gilbert Town, that was justnorth of Rutherfordton, N.C., out past the Tanner plant. A courthouse was constructed in 1781 on the forks of Shepards Creek onthe property of James Holland. In 1785 the court house moved tothe new town of Rutherfordton.
Tryon County had been formed from MecklenburgCounty shortly after Mecklenburg had been divided from Anson.These divisions and creation of new counties came about as moreand more settlers came into the western part of the colonies.
The earliest settlers in what is now RutherfordCounty probably came here around 1730. They were primarily Germanand Scotch-Irish. Throughout the mountains the majority were theScotch-Irish like those that settled in the Cane Creek area andlater formed Brittain Church. They brought their own ordainedministers with them. These Presbyterian Ministers were collegetrained and served also as educators. These settlers werebecoming educated, and could read their own bibles, which hadbeen translated by authority of King James I of England, who wasalso King James the VI of Scotland. One other thing that setthese Presbyterians apart was the fact that they elected theirown church elders. This was in sharp contrast to the hierarchy ofthe Catholic Church. We will get back to the Scotch-Irishfrontiersmen a little later.
If you study the chronology of the eventsleading up to hostilities between the American Colonies andEngland, starting in 1764 with ever increasingly punitive lawsand taxes, leading to open fighting and then the Declaration ofIndependence, you will find that even after the Declaration, thewar was quite simply, not going well for the Americans. Very fewof the historical battles noted in history books were victoriesfor the Americans....1780 was especially bad.
The war in the north was stalemated withGeneral George Washington, and less than 5000 troops in New Jersyagainst superior numbers under Lord Clinton in New York. TheBritish decided to move the war south where they believed themajority were Tories or Loyalists to King George. They believedthat they could recruit these Tories to join the British Army andfight against the American rebels. The Americans were known asWhigs, a political name which denoted support for separation fromEngland. The British moved by sea to the south and attackedCharleston, S.C. in March, and forced its surrender along with5400 troops on May11th. On May 29th, Colonel Banastre Tarletonslaughtered patriot forces at the Waxhaws, butchering many afterthey had surrendered. In June Lord Clinton, supremely confident,returned to New York, leaving General Cornwallis in charge of theBritish and Tory forces in the south. As Cornwallis moved hisforces west and north into the up country, patriot forces oflocal malitia did defeat Tory forces at Ramseur's Mill, FortThickity, and Musgroves Mill. On August 16th, Cornwallis routedand destroyed the continental army under General Gates at Camden,S.C. This appeared to leave the entire south open to him.Cornwallis sent Major Patrick Ferguson to invade North Carolina.Ferguson was to recruit and train additional Troy troops and tosupress the Backwater men whom he thought of as barbarians.Recruitment had been successful throughout South Carolina. Nowall that remained was to secure the left flank along themountainous frontier, rejoined Cornwallis for a march throughNorth Carolina on to the Chesapeake, then finally to meet GeneralWashington and end the revolution.
On September 7th, Ferguson and his forces cameto Gilbertown in Rutherford County. It seemed that Cornwallis andFerguson had thought of everything. Their military strategy andtactics had been almost flawless with the exception of the threebattles with Militia. They had just made a fatal error. Notan error in military tactics or strategy but one of human nature.They completely misjudged the character of the Patriotfrontiersmen of Rutherford County, the rest of the frontier ofNorth and South Carolina, Virginia and what is now Tennessee.
Such men as Colonel Andrew Hampton, DavidDickey and James Gray were there and knew when Major Fergusoncame just to far. Under the command of Colonel Charles McDowellthey had fought against Tories in numerous fights for years. Theyhad also fought against the Cherokee Indians who fought on theside of the British as far back as 1755. At this time GeneralGriffith Rutherfod (for whom the county is named) had led them ina successful campaign that drove the Indians further into themountains.
A small battle was fought on Cane Creek beforethese few troops, greatly outnumbered, retreated over themountains to Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River near presentday Elizabethton, Tennessee. One of the patriots in the CaneCreek fight was Aaron Devinney. He was captured by Tory spies andheld prisoner by Ferguson at Gilbertown. His wife sarah followedand pleaded for his release. This was refused but Sarahpersisted, finally getting in to see Ferguson himself. Resortingto tears she again implored for Aaron's freedom. Finally Fergusonconsented, saying that he would "rather see 10 men dead thanone crying woman." Under terms of Aaron's parole he waspledged not to fight against the British and served in defenseagainst the Indians thereafter....... Joan Devinney Wall, thewife of Ben who is the current president of the Rutherford CountyHistorical Society, is the great great great grand daughter ofAaron and Sarah.
Other wives came to Gilbertown to inquire abouttheir captive husbands. On one occasion in answer to what wasgoing to happen to them a Tory woman, wife of an active Toryfighter, said, "we are going to hang all the dammed rebelsand scrape their wives tongues and let them go." Perhapsthis was what reduced Sarah Devinney to tears. At any rate wewill hear more about that Tory lady later.
Colonel Andrew Hampton had lost his sonNoah,... killed by a Tory raiding party just because his name wasHampton. Witnesses said that one of the Tories was Ambrose Millsof Rutherford County. Mills Springs was named for his family. Wewill here more about him later.
Such incidents were typical of the war in thesouth. Not only neighboragainst neighbor, but brother against brother was not uncommon.Some on both sides fought as outlaws but both sides had goodpeople that felt strongly for their beliefs...loyalty to the kingor for this new concept of freedom and independence. James Gray had killed a 'noted Tory' at the CleghornPlantation in a previous skirmish. James lived not for from thereon Grays Creek. Hampton , Dickey and Gray marched with theirfriends to Sycamore Shoals to a gathering that was to changehistory.
Now what kind of people were these fiercefrontiersmen? They were, for the most part, the Scotch-Irish. 220years before, their ancestors lived in the lowlands of Scotland,close to the northern border of England. They were a mixture ofCelts, Britons, Normans, Romans, Anglo-Saxon, and the stone-agetribes of Ireland. They were recently reformed into thePresbyterian Church and were very religious. King James I ofEngland had been James the VI of Scotland. The failure of thecrown to get the Irish Catholics to become protestant had ledJames to a new strategy. Starting in 1610 he began granting landsto his English Lords and sending the lowland Scots to Ulster inNorthern Ireland as tenant farmers . Professor James G. Leyburnin his book "the Scotch-Irish: a social history" tellsus that the Presbyterian Church had transformed these Scots intoa sense of self responsibility. The work ethic replaced the oldraid ethic which had been much like the wild west was later inthe U.S., with cattle rustling and constant threat of battle. Buttheir old fighting instincts endured. They knew they were beingused by King James and the Lords but they accepted the movebecause it held the promise of a better life than on the poorsoil of Scotland.
By the early 1700s, due to successive cropfailures, increased land rents, and punitive acts to restricttrade, these people began to immigrate to the American Colonies,first to New England, then in ever increasing numbers toPhiladelphia, sailing up the Delaware River, then west to themountain valleys on the frontier, then south through the Valleysof the Cumberland, the Shenandoah, the Dan of Virginia, then intoNorth Carolina along the Yadkin.
Then they came west and south to the Catawba,the Green, the Broad, the French Broad, the Holston, the Watauga,and others. They farmed, raised corn (some of which theyconverted to whiskey before selling it), and raised cattle . Theyraised their own wool , linen, spun and wove their own clothes.The Colonial Governments welcomed them and gave them grants ofland on the provision that they would raise forts to be the firstline of defense against the hostile Indians. Once again, theywere considered as expendable to a governments plans, but, againthey accepted it gladly, because it offered the hope of somethingbetter. In the French and Indian War of the 1740's they learnedabout Indian fighting, very similar to the fighting of theirancestors against the Highland Scots, and became very efficientand fierce fighters.
From Scotland to Ulster to Rutherford County,these people had survived centuries of living in a hardenvironment, which made them hard, both physically and socially.Through famine, plague , poor soil for crops, and constantfighting, they learned to fight back, to give blow for blow, andabove all to endure. They had been tempered by their religion,but it too was a hard religion, steeped in the old testamentreligion of the Lord of battle. And finally these men came to thegathering at Sycamore Shoals, a gathering primarily ofPresbyterians. They were joined by Colonel Campbell and his menfrom Western Virginia, by Issac Shelby and John Sevier, from thatarea, and they determined to go and get Ferguson. But first theywould have a religious service, after all, five of theircommanders were elders of the church: Colonels Campbell,Cleveland, Shelby, Sevier, and Williams.
It was altogether fitting that they wouldgather there along with their women folk and children, under thepreaching of the Reverend Sam Doaks, a Presbyterian Minister. Hehad done his share of fighting but would not go with them afterFerguson, but stay in defense of the women and children. Hepreached a powerful sermon admonishing the men to do their dutyin the upcoming battle. He prayed and asked the Lord to note thesimilarities of these men to the army of Gideon in the fightagainst the Midianites and he ended his prayer with the words ofGideon when he instructed his men to surround the enemy and onthe signal of the trumpets to shout, 'The Sword of The Lord andof Gideon.' Reverend Sam paused. Then raised his arms and hisvoice to the gathering and told them "let that be yourbattle cry. The Sword of The Lord and of Gideon". The menshouted back "The Sword of The Lord and of Gideon."
It was time to go, and they started the climbup the mountains, once again looking for something better. Thistime though, the something better was not just for them. It was,in fact a 'birth of freedom 'which became the last great hope offreedom loving people the world over.
As they reached the top of Roan Mountain theyfound snow and lost two deserters [probably spies] who rushedahead to warn Ferguson. Duly alarmed by what he called aninundation of barbarians, Ferguson leftGilbertown to rejoin Cornwallis in Charlotte.
The patriots went from Roan through YellowMountain Gap, by Roaring Creek, through Brights settlement andDavenport Springs. On September 28 they were at Grassy Creek,then on through Gillispe Gap where they split into two columns,now suspecting that Ferguson had been warned. At Quaker Meadows,near Colonel Charles McDowell's house, they were given thehospitality of his home, and then were joined by additional menfrom Wilkes and Surry Counties under Colonel Cleveland. OnOctober 3 they camped at Cane Creek, and on the fourth on theGilbert Town campsite abandoned by Ferguson. They were at a fordof Green River on the fifth, and there learned that Ferguson washeaded for Charlotte and Cornwallis. The night of the sixth theywere at Cowpens. On the seventh they learned from a young farmgirl whose father was afraid or unwilling to give theminformation, that Ferguson was on Kings Mountain. She pointedtoward Kings Mountain..'they are over yonder.' At three o'clockon the 7th. The battle was joined, Ferguson was killed, his wholearmy either killed or captured, many of those wounded. The battlelasted only one hour.
The next morning, James Gray found a neighborof his that had been captured. He had a severe wound in theankle. James knew that this was a true loyalist and not just araider. He bound up his wound and helped him down to a creekwhere he could get water. The Tory recovered from his wounds andbecame a good and useful citizen of Rutherford County. Heremained a close friend throughout his life.
The captives were taken to the vicinity ofSunshine where nine of them were tried as outlaw Tories and werehanged including Ambrose Mills.
Remember the Tory lady that insulted the wivesat Gilbertown? Her husband was among the captives, and she cameto inquire about him. James Gray spotted her and having been toldwhat she had said couldn't help throwing her words back. 'We aregoing to hang them all and scrape their wives tongues and letthem go.' Her husband was not among those hanged, however, andhis descendants still live on the land he farmed .
Just before the battle, David Dickey and a fewothers stopped a British wagon and discovered that it belonged toFerguson. They captured Furgeson's breakfast, and paroled hiscook.
In the 1880s Lyman Draper (WHOSE PAPERS POINT THE FINGER AT THOMAS ANDJESSE BURNETT) wrote the definitive book"Kings Mountain and its heroes." Much of his researchwas by letters to and from Rutherford County citizens whoremembered the veterans or who had learned from their familiesabout these men.
W. I. Twitty wrote that James Gray was first aPresbyterian, then a Methodist. He was remembered in 1881 asbeing well respected, impulsive, even rude at times, brave anddaring. J. Gilkie writing in his 92nd year noted that James Grayserved as a Major at Kings Mountain, and was a good Whig andhated Tories with a perfect hatred.
In January 1781, the British, under the hatedTarleton, were defeated by General Daniel Morgan at Cowpens, justa short way from Kings Mountain and many of these same men foughtin that battle, also Cornwallis abandoned the south and startednorth. One year later, in October 1781, he surrendered atYorktown.
So right here in our backyard, our directancestors turned the tide of the war, and made the victory andindependence a reality. Thomas Jefferson said it, and so haveothers including Lord Clinton himself, who wrote about it afterthe war. History is filled with ironic twists, here is noexception. Forces started by King James 170 years previously ledthrough a winding trail to Kings Mountain and the defeat of KingGeorge III.
James Gray had married Isabella McClure in1776. They had two sons , Samuel and David. David married thedaughter of David Dickey, his fathers friend, and had 14children, three of the children went to California to seek gold.One of David's daughters married a Wilkins, and one of theirdaughters married Nathan Moore who was my wife's grandfather.
James Gray was born in Virginia in 1755, anddied in Rutherford County in 1832. He is buried at Gray's ChapelChurch on the Rutherford/Polk County line. There he was honoredby the over the Mountain Victory Trail Association on Sunday,October 5th, 1997.
David Dickey became a doctor, a civil engineer,surveyed for the county, served as Commissioner, Justice of thePeace, and in the State Legislature. He died in 1835, and wasburied in the Old Lynch Cemetary in Green Hill. Carpenters andToms are among decendant families.
Lucille Hampton Daniels, thegreat-great-great-great granddaughter of Andrew Hampton lives upon Hampton road and writes text books which many of you havestudied.
I want to close by talking about perfecthatred. The Treaty of Paris which officially ended the warspecifically stated that no one would lose property or freedomjust because they were a Tory. I am sure there was somebitterness, but no drawn out lingering conflict. The leaders hadplanned it so. One Tory among those captured at Kings Mountain,William Greene, was later a State Legislator from RutherfordCounty and in 1886 Centennial Methodist Church was founded onland donated by three grandsons of Tories, including AmbroseMills one of those hanged.
I invite you to join and come to meetings ofthe Rutherford County Historical Society, and the GenealogicalSociety of Old Tryon County. Learn if your great great greatgreat grandfather was there . The Genealogical Society's libraryis in the old bank building with the clock on the square inForest City. Come see us.
This text is a slight modification of a talkgiven to the students of Chase High School on their Pioneer Dayon October 3, 1997, the 217th. anniversary of the day that theOver The Mountain Men reached Cane Creek in pursuit of Ferguson.
Rutherford County Historical Society & TheGenealogical Society of Old Tryon County
E-Mail- bharnold @blueridge.net
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