Saturday, May 21, 2016


Please indulge me as I write about our adventure, our trip to Tennessee while it is fresh in my memory as it pertains to our family history.  As a favorite college holiness professor Albert Lown used to say in his lectures, "give it a peg to hang it on."  Since we love, love, love history, it makes it come more alive to us as we insert our families' stories as a peg to hang it on.

Perhaps our favorite part of the journey was traveling over the Blue Ridge Mountains from NE Tennessee up through Virginia and over to where North and South Carolina come together at the site of the Battle of Kings Mountain.  This is where our great grandfathers John Sharp, Benjamin Sharp, Samuel "Revolutionary War Patriot" Vance, Capt. James Fulkerson, and John Laughlin all fought.
It is amazing to me that we had five of them plus some of their brothers all fighting in this pivotal battle in the Revolutionary War.  Al did as well, William King.

They were called the "Overmountain Men."  This is because they traveled over two hundred miles, perhaps as much as 250 miles in October, in snow up to the tongues of their shoes, over Indian or game trails over the Blue Ridge Mountains to get there.  Some of these came down from Abingdon, Virginia perhaps where they rendezvoused from Watauga Fort in Elizabethton, Tennessee to begin their march .  Why would they do this?

Perhaps you can watch a description of this Battle of Kings Mountain on the history channel to better understand it.  In fact, you can read our ancestor Major Benjamin Sharp's account either by looking it up online or as found in one of several history books such as the one I purchased, "The Battle of Kings Mountain, Eyewitness Accounts" by Robert M. Dunkerly.  There is also a quote from John Sharp, Benjamin's father, presented here. 

Basically, the answer to why they came so far to fight the British lay in the fact that some, such as John Sharp, were first generation of those who though born in Bruce's castle sought refuge in America.  Almost all of  this line were immigrants from Ireland.  They weren't about to be intimidated by the King's threats. When they heard that the British officer Major Patrick Ferguson threatened to ride over the mountains to hang them and burn their homes, though perhaps not fervent nationalists, they weren't about to give up the homes they had carved out of the wilderness and were in heated earnest to protect their own hearths.

Overmountain Men gathering at Sycamore Shoals in TN

Fort Watauga, Elizabethton, Tennessee

So while Gen. George Washington crossed the Delaware in the time of the brutal winter at Valley Forge, and the cause was in peril losing support, the Battle of Kings Mountain in the South at October of 1780 rallied the cry for independence breathing new hope into the cause.  Both Washington and Thomas Jefferson recognized the tide was turned by this pivitol victory the Overmountain Men wrung out in an hour of fierce battle. 

Sycamore Shoals, Elizabethton, TN by where we stayed.

The remarkable thing about this battle was that it was not just 1200 British against the 900 Americans, but the majority of the enlisted men who fought for the King were loyalists from America, Tories.  Only about 200 were from Britain.  It was American against American, neighbor against neighbor, it's own kind of "civil war."  To put this in perspective, in the South especially, Tories were emboldened to burn out and even hang those who where Whigs, those who supported Gen. George Washington and his cause.  Up until this time, they held the upper hand. 

Since few had uniforms to identify one from the other in the heat of battle, the Tories wore a sprig of pine or twigs of some sort in their hat bands to mark themselves, while the Whigs fighting for independence had a piece of paper in theirs.  As the battle began to be turned in favor of those for independence, many of the Tories pulled out the sticks from their hats and jumped sides mid-stream.
When the victory came and nine hundred prisoners were taken, the troops wanted to hang all the Tories.  They only succeeded in hanging two of the most notorious before they were stopped by their officers unable to carry out their intent. 

It slips my mind now who it was--perhaps one of the Ivey-Driggers, but I read of one of our relatives from the Carolinas in a book about Swamp Fox, who was conscripted to fight with the Tories under threat "or else..." meaning his home and barn and crops would be burned or worse if he did not fall in line with them.  After one battle in which 80 or so Americans were taken prisoner by the British, this man escaped from his company and began making his way home again.  However, he was intercepted by Swamp Fox's sentries and made to stand before the leader himself.  He explained his situation and by giving them the information as to where the American prisoners were held.  These men were freed by Swamp Fox's forces, and our relative was released to go home to protect his own.  In this way, it was an earlier situation of a "civil war."

What seemed a defensible position by Ferguson on top of the mountain, as some called him "King of the Mountain," who had the greater number of soldiers, who were supplied with better guns with bayonets--of which Ferguson himself held a gun patent to--the fierce cry of the Overmountain men armed with their hunting rifles with no bayonets, but with their hatchets and long knives kept coming.  Even when forced back, they returned two, three times until victory was claimed.  Some of his troops tried to wave a white flag of surrender, but Ferguson ripped it down before he was shot with a volley of nine musket balls at once and then drug by his horse when his foot caught in the stirrup.  One of the two women, who both were called Virginia, who "served" him was also shot, the other in her escape told the Independents that Ferguson was the one who wore a plaid shirt thus revealing their target.  One battle cry of the Americans was like "Remember the Alamo," instead calling to mind the earlier battle when the British ignored the white flag of surrender and slaughtered the Americans to the last man.  Thus, the officers had a difficult time enforcing the cease fire order when the battle was won.  In fact John Sharp used to laugh and remember how the British trembled describing the Overmountain man's fierceness as men with long yellow teeth, etc.

As they gathered at the Cowpens before the battle, these Overmountain Men's leader was laid low with illness, and so they chose William Campbell to lead them. (His grave is in the cemetery where the Vance's are in Abingdon, Virginia.)  There was some controversy about whether he stayed in front of the fray and some accused him perhaps of cowardice.  But when charges were rebutted our relative, John Sharp could only say what he saw...

Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church,
Abingdon, Virginia of which
the Vances were earliest members.

"John Sharp, of the county of Sullivan and state of Tennessee, do certify that I was an Ensign in Capt. Pemberton's company, the battle of King's Mountain, and that I was in the front line when the enemy surrendered--that Colonel Shelby was the first man I heard order the enemy to lay down their arms--after they began to cry for quarters; he damned them, if they wanted quarters, why they did not lay down their arms.  I also state, that I did not see Col. Campbell until some minutes afterwards, though I never heard him charged with cowardice on that account, and do not pretend to say he did not do his duty.  All I can say is, that I did not see him at that time.  Given under my hand this 21st day Feb. 1823." " Sharp served with Shelby's militia in the battle.  Later he settled in Tennessee."

Does this change your image of our predecessors, our heritage?  Though not privileged with much schooling, John Sharp was known for his love of reading acquiring quite a library which he willed to his two older sons.  Yet, these men went great distances upon arriving in America traveling to the uncharted territories before 1776 where in Sullivan County, Tennessee where Watauga Fort was built, their independent treaties with the Cherokee were made and their own constitution for self-rule was written years prior to the one in 1776.   They were Indian fighters and fighters for freedom.  Sadly they were slave holders.  They prospered as such from the benefit of what was taken by treaty from Indians and from the labor of their slaves.  These are the men on the monument of Revolutionary War  Heroes at the Sinking Springs Cemetery in Abingdon, Virginia.  Benjamin Sharp's name is not there because he moved and was buried in Warren, Missouri.  You just can't get more American than this!

We arrived a little late on a Sunday at Abingdon, Virginia, but were able to slip in to the Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church service.  This is the "new" brick edifice in the historic district.  A very few blocks away is the original Sinking Springs log cabin church site which is where you find the Sinking Springs Cemetery.   Now the pastor's log cabin has been moved there near our family's graves.  We drove around looking for Samuel Vance's home which was listed as one of the area's historic homes.  I believe we found it on Vance Mill Rd.  Samuel had a mill as well similar to the one pictured which I believe is located in Abingdon as well.  Abingdon is one of the prettiest little cities in America.

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