The Battle of Kings Mountain on 7 October 1780 was a hard-fought victory for patriot militiamen from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Thomas Jefferson later called that battle “the joyful annunciation of the turn of the tide of success” in the American Revolution. That victory had a decisive impact on the experience of those in Charlottetown. The heroic story of the patriot militiamen coming together for that battle has focused predominantly on those coming from the Overmountain regions. It is certainly a stirring account. Indeed, in 1980, Congress designated the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail to help commemorate and interpret that story. South Carolina militia made up more than a quarter of the fighting force; and, their story along with that of other North Carolina militia units joining in is well worth sharing, too. How these South Carolina and Lincoln County militiamen came to join forces at The Cowpens with men coming from across the Appalachian Mountains and others coming up the Yadkin River is a fascinating story tied to events surrounding British General Lord Cornwallis’s advance to invade and capture Charlottetown that dreadful September.
On 25 September 1780, the day nearly a thousand overmountain militiamen were mustering at Sycamore Shoals 130 miles away in today’s East Tennessee, some 260 South Carolina militiamen under Colonel Thomas Sumter crossed over to the west side of the Catawba River at Bigger’s Ferry about 20 miles southwest of Charlottetown. They did so as Lord Cornwallis’s massive army, the British Legion, was continuing its advance from the south into North Carolina following his decisive victory at Camden in mid-August. Cornwallis was intent on capturing Charlottetown and reestablishing royal authority over yet another rebellious southern colony.
Sumter’s men withdrew north along the Catawba River’s west side until they reached Tuckasegee Ford about 15 miles west of Charlottetown. At that ford on the 26th, they came upon about 60 patriot militiamen from Lincoln County under the command of Colonel William Graham. These men were withdrawing to the east in the face of the advance of Cornwallis’s left flank. The two groups of patriots withdrew together, heading north on 27 September, intending to join up with General William Lee Davidson. They most likely used Beattie’s Ford Road and passed not so far from today’s Latta Plantation (that land then homesteaded by others) and from Rural Hill, the home of Major John Davidson.
Word came back to Sumter and Graham from General Davidson that a large force of militiamen under Shelby, Sevier and Campbell was reportedly advancing from over the mountains. Sumter and Graham turned their men toward the west, crossing the river at Beattie’s Ford, and expecting to ride north and west along the Catawba River valley to meet up with the overmountain militia, perhaps at Quaker Meadows.
Meanwhile, South Carolina Colonel James Williams, originally from the Little River district of the Saluda River basin (modern day Laurens County), was actively recruiting in North Carolina after the patriot victory at Musgrove’s Mill in August. The colonel delivered about 70 loyalist prisoners to Hillsborough. Williams personally recruited men from Caswell County, North Carolina, as authorized by North Carolina Gov. Abner Nash. Williams also directed Major Samuel Hammond to provide a camp, a mustering point, in Rowan County, now south Iredell County, where refugee militia from South
Carolina and Georgia could gather. Hammond chose a location he called “Higgins (Huggins) plantation” not far from Torrence’s Crossroads in today’s Mooresville.
In the last days of September 1780, Williams and his 70 recruits and refugees crossed the Catawba River at Sherrill’s Ford heading west. They came upon Sumter’s men. Both South Carolina leaders were colonels, but Williams had recently acquired some special authority for requisitioning supplies as conferred by South Carolina’s governor-in-exile John Rutledge in Hillsborough. Accordingly, Williams declared his intention to command all the South Carolina militia in that camp, but Sumter and his officers would not readily relinquish Sumter’s right to command. Instead, Sumter and several of his officers rode off to Hillsborough to request a promotion from Governor Rutledge for Sumter to the rank of general. Meanwhile, Graham and Williams, with Sumter’s men and a few of his officers obeying William’s command, however reluctantly, continued west to meet up with the overmountain militiamen.
By 2 October, Williams was in camp in Burke County an estimated 70 miles from Salisbury (perhaps near present Valdese). After scouts reported that the overmountain men had already left Quaker Meadows for Gilbert Town, Williams turned south and marched to the Flint Hills (believed to be around today’s Cherry Mountain in Rutherford County). Graham and his Lincoln County militiamen departed from Williams; they rode ahead and met up with the overmountain men who had by then been joined by 350 Yadkin River valley patriots under Major Joseph Winston and Colonel Benjamin Cleaveland. Major William Chronicle of Graham’s command and his men caught up with the overmountain men in upper Cane Creek. Colonel Graham and the rest of his men joined them farther south at the mouth of Camp Creek and Second Broad River. The combined force of about 1,500 men then prepared to attack British Major Patrick Ferguson, believing he was encamped in Gilbert Town (just northeast of modern day Rutherfordton).
Continue reading the story in “Part 2: Common Pursuit.”
Anderson, William Lee, III, “Trail of South Carolina Militiamen and Lincoln County Militiamen to Kings Mountain,” 2015,www.elehistory.com/amrev/SouthCarolinaMilitiamenTrail.pdf
Jones, Randell, Before They Were Heroes at King’s Mountain(Winston-Salem, 2011).
Jones, Randell, “Route of the South Carolina Militia and Lincoln County Militia,” Tour 4, Online Tour of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail, 2015,http://bythewaywebf.webfactional.com/omvt/tours/show/4
Robertson, John, “Overmountain Victory Trail – Searching for join-up route by Lincoln/Caswell Cos. and SC Militia,” 2015,http://gaz.jrshelby.com/ovnht2/overmountain-nc-sc.htm