April 25, 2013
We left Kingsport about 9 AM headed on a two day adventure going back almost 233 years to the days of the American Revolution. Strong willed and independent patriots living in the “overmountain” region (then Virginia and North Carolina) – now , East Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia heard about the possibility of the British, under the leadership of Major Patrick Ferguson invading their area. They set out to stop any such advance. Their impact on the US struggle for independence is said to have turned the tide of the Revolution. We live in the “over-mountain” area and have heard and read the story of these patriots many times but neither Ben nor I had traveled this trail that is practically in our own back yard!
Redbud and dogwood trees were blooming and most other trees were leafing out in bright greens. Blue sky, sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s made for a perfect journey.
Our first stop was at the Muster Grounds in Abingdon VA. The city of Abingdon has partnered with the National Park Service and has a very informative visitor center. Staffed with a friendly and informed staffer, we experienced a little history and were soon on our way with a recently written guide book. Men as well as cattle and even a few women from across Southwest VA under the leadership of Col. William Campbell gathered here on Sept 24th to travel to Fort Watauga at Sycamore Shoals where they would meet others joining in their cause.
Abingdon Muster Grounds
The trail today follows several state and county roads as it makes its way through the valleys of East TN. The militia primarily followed the creeks and streams. The TN “topo” maps have one name on roads, the park service map another, and the road signs often an even different name – but we found our way to the next mustering spot – the Pemberton Oak. Here Captain John Pemberton gathered his militiamen under the huge spreading oak. This tree thought to be the last living thing on the trail survived into the 21st century. Only a portion of the tree remains today. While the tree sits on private property – the owner, a descendent of the Pemberton family, was walking her dog and invited Ben to walk over to the tree remains. She explained to Ben the route of the road during the 1780’s. It would have followed the driveway of the home – looking back towards our van.
Remains of Pemberton Oak
Original Trail with Sprinter in background
From Pemberton Oak we journeyed on along the trail passing the site of Womack’s Fort and stopped briefly at a small city park in today’s Bluff City to view Choate’s Ford – a river crossing. Today there is a railroad bridge and a new pedestrian bridge built at the site.
We journeyed on reluctantly passing without stopping the best BBQ restaurant in east TN.
Ridgewood Barbeque near Bluff City TN
While the Virginia militia was traveling south towards Ft. Watauga at Sycamore Shoals – the militia from the areas of now East TN were traveling to Fort Watauga under the leadership of Cols. John Sevier and Issac Shelby. On Sept 25th the militia all met near Fort Watauga to prepare for their journey across the mountains. Today Fort Watauga has been reconstructed and is a part of a TN State Park at Sycamore Shoals. The town of Elizabethton has grown up around the park that now sits behind a developed business strip. We explored the fort but the museum was closed for renovation so we will have to come back (only 30 minutes from our home if coming directly) – perhaps during their summer outdoor drama of the events.
Fort Watauga through the dogwood
On Sept 26th the combined force of 1000 men set off on their journey to meet up with the North and South Carolina militia at Quaker Meadows Plantation near Morganton NC,
After eating a quick sandwich on the “strip” in Elizabethon we were back on the road. We followed modern day roads towards Elk Park and Roan Mountain and stopped as the militia did at Shelving Rock just to the south of Roan Mountain. We covered in about 45 minutes what took the militia all day. The weather was bad on their journey and they needed a dry place to store their gun powder. Shelving Rock was the answer – they camped in the nearby pasture where now each fall re-enactors camp as part of the annual re-enactment of this journey.
Shelving Rock today – road construction has filled in some of the cave said to have been much deeper in 1780’s
Location of Sept 26th encampment
Attempts to follow a small road through Yellow Mountain Gap failed and we took US 19 and arrived at the site of the Sept 27th encampment near the intersection of Roaring Fork creek and Highway 19E. This mountainous section of the trip must have been difficult on horseback. Again what took the militia a day took us less than an hour.
Site of Sept 27th encampment where records document several inches of snow in 1780!
It was at the Yellow Mountain encampment that the leadership noted the absence of two of the militia members. Since the two were suspected of being loyal to King George III it was feared they had gone ahead to warn Ferguson of their arrival.
On Sept 28th the militia proceeded along the plateau of the Blue Ridge reaching Grassy Creek near today’s Spruce Pine NC. As they left Grassy Creek and reached Gillespie Gap they could see the Catawba Valley of NC spread out below them. Knowing that two good paths lead down the mountains the leaders were forced to make a bold decision – to split their force to prevent Ferguson heading up one way as they traveled down the other – they could not risk Ferguson reaching their communities, left with little protection.
Today a monument to the “Over-Mountain Men” sits near the NC Museum of Minerals located where US 221 crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway at Gillespie Gap. The day was clear and sunny but my photo did not turn out well. The small museum is interesting and does have a small display about the Over-Mountain Men; but primarily it explains the various minerals of the area.
The split groups traveled on towards Quaker Meadows planning to arrive on the 30th. We followed the path of the Campbell group that camped the night of the 29th near Turkey Cove. While this is not an excellent photo it shows both the terrain and what is now a large industry in western NC – growing Christmas Trees!
Turkey Cove area near Marion NC
We continued into Marion NC passing by the home of Joseph McDowell brother of the Charles McDowell of the Quaker Mountain Plantation. Traffic did not allow photographs at this site.
We continued from Marion to Morganton NC again following creeks through a valley along the Catawba River. We stopped at Paddy’s Creek, now a part of Lake James State Park. A part of the actual OVNHT passes nearby and we were able to cross an interesting newly constructed bridge and walk down a part of the trail.
Jane taking photos along the trail and sprinter in the distance.
Our day ended in Morganton NC where we spent the night. For dinner we chose Judges on the River – supposedly a very good barbeque restaurant. The location was great – turned out to be at the site of where the militia crossed the Catawba at Greenlee Ford. Morganton has a developed a greenway trail along the Catawba River and our restaurant was located at one end of the greenway. The site was fantastic but the food was mediocre at best. There was however a good crowd for a Thursday night!
Judges on the River – Morganton NC