On an early fall afternoon, a group of local citizens and members of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association gathered along Grassy Creek to dedicate and formally open a new section of the Overmountain Victory Trail. A few volleys were fired, and the purpose of the trail was explained.
The trail itself, at least as envisioned, stretches across four states, some 330 miles, all the way to Kings Mountain. It traces the route used by the Patriot militia in 1780.
Sixteen miles of the trail pass through Avery County. Unlike the Commemorative Motor Trail, the Overmountain Victory Trail follows the exact route as closely as possible.
Of all the great historical events that took place in Avery County, most other local events pale in comparison when it comes to their impact on the national stage. The militias in the wilderness counties of North Carolina, Washington and Sullivan (now in Tennessee) had left the mountains and fought the British several times. Wishing to tighten British control in the Carolinas, the King’s forces sent a prisoner into the area to carry a warning. If the militias continued to fight against the British, then the British would march “over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.”
Instead of being cowed by the threats, the Patriot militias from Washington and Sullivan counties, along with those from the Abington, Va., area joined together at Sycamore Shoals on the Watauga River. On September 25, they set out to find the British force, led by Major Patrick Ferguson. They followed the old Bright Trace from the Watauga Settlement, toward Lower Fields of Toe, where Bright had his cabins. (This route is also called the Old Yellow Mountain Road.) They passed through Yellow Mountain Gap on September 26 and went into camp on Roaring Creek later that evening. The next day they followed the North Toe River before going into camp on Grassy Creek in present-day Mitchell County.
Eventually, the Overmountain Men were joined by the militias from Wilkes and Surry counties, and some men from South Carolina. They found the British forces on October 7, on Kings Mountain, just across the state line from Gastonia. The Patriot forces launched several attacks, eventually killing Ferguson and killing or capturing the entire British force, about 1,100 men. The Patriot force numbered just greater than 900 men. On their return to their homes over the mountains, a wounded officer, Robert Sevier, died near Davenport Springs and is buried in the old Bright Cemetery on the North Toe River.
Praise abounded for the decisive Patriot victory. Thomas Jefferson called it “The turn of the tide of success.” Theodore Roosevelt wrote that the battle of Kings Mountain was the “brilliant victory [that] marked the turning point of the American Revolution.” Senator James T. Broyhill correctly believed that “If it had not been for the Battle of Kings Mountain, there would have been no Battle of Cowpens. Without the Battle of Cowpens, there would have been no Battle of Guilford Courthouse, and without... Guilford Courthouse, there would have been no battle of Yorktown at which Cornwallis surrendered to Washington.”
From Yellow Mountain Gap, along Roaring Creek, then the North Toe River, the Overmountain Men trudged through, and then back through again, present-day Avery County. The route is just greater than 16 miles. In several places, the actual sunken roadbed can still be found. Other counties have marked their portions of the route with walkable trails. The Grassy Creek Trail that was opened this past weekend will eventually connect with Rose Creek Trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway.
This is a prime opportunity for Avery County to get on the Revolutionary War map. Only one small section, near Yellow Mountain Gap, is currently marked. Next year will mark the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Kings Mountain, and in a decade, the 250th anniversary.
Unfortunately, no one is currently working on getting Avery County on this map. While we have several great museums, the Greater Banner Elk Heritage Foundation, and the Beech Mountain Historical Society, we do not have a functioning Avery County Historical Society. We don’t have a chapter of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association. The idea of a walking trail through Avery County, following the trail these Patriots took in 1780, needs a champion. A project like this is certainly a serious undertaking, but then again, so was securing our nation’s liberty, and that, too, started with a small, dedicated group who organized, pressed on through difficulties and put in motion events whose repercussions are still being felt today.
Perhaps some brave Avery County souls out there will likewise take a stand, make a difference and help preserve our Overmountain Victory Trail section of Avery County for future generations.