On Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, author Randell Jones lectured on his award-winning book, “Before They Were Heroes at King’s Mountain” at the Iredell County Public Library in Statesville. The book tells the story of the Overmountain Men and the conflicts they were involved in leading up to their confrontation with British Major Patrick Ferguson and his loyalists at Kings Mountain just across the border in South Carolina. Mr. Jones’ book received the 2011 Willie Parker Peace History Book Award from the North Carolina Society of Historians. On Oct. 7, 2011 he was the keynote speaker at Kings Mountain National Military Park.
Mr. Jones says, "Before they were heroes at King's Mountain, the Overmountain men of the Carolina and Virginia frontiers were challenging the Shawnees and the Cherokees, developing the fighting skills that garnered them the fearsome appellation, the yelling boys. Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774 and the campaigns against the Cherokees in 1776 and against the Chickamaugas in 1779 developed their capacity of traversing mountainous terrain and fighting tree-to-tree in fierce, hand-to-hand battles. The Battle of Great Bridge in 1775 helped build the reputation of the shirtmen for their expert marksmanship. The Loyalist support in the Southern colonies was tested at Moores Creek Bridge and later at Ramsour's Mill. All these skirmishes, battles, and campaigns during the six years before the fall of 1780 prepared these backcountry frontiersmen for the challenges they would face in their relentless pursuit of Major Patrick Ferguson and before they were heroes at Kings Mountain.”
The Overmountain men were not professional soldiers. They lacked the uniforms, weapons, training, and bayonets of the British army. They were frontiersmen made up of farmers and hunters who cared little for the European affairs of the British Empire. The Overmountain men just wanted to be free and left alone. That freedom and way of life was threatened by Major Ferguson when he sent word that, “If you do not desist your opposition to British arms, I shall march this army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste your country with fire and sword.” He didn’t have to make reservations, the Overmountain men came to him. On Oct. 7, 1780 Ferguson and his army of Loyalists were defeated at Kings Mountain by these frontiersmen. President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that "This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution." When news of the Patriot victory reached Thomas Jefferson he called it, "The turn of the tide of success."
The march of the Overmountain men to King’s Mountain is reenacted annually in October by men who follow the same route the Patriots took to Kings Mountain. We are coming up on the 40th anniversary of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association which started in 1975 to seek Congressional designation as a national historic trail. President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation in 1980 and you can learn more about the annual march at http://www.ovta.org. Randell Jones is a past-president of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association and works closely with the National Park Service in promoting the trail that covers 330 miles through four states. He is a North Carolina Humanities Council Road Scholar and his visit is made possible by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark on Sept. 19, 2014