June 9, 2024 at 7:17 a.m.

Native Americans During the Revolutionary War

Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

This is another in our series of articles from the DAR & SAR leading up to the celebration of America's 250th birthday in 2026.

Compiled by Jennifer Baker, DAR Vesuvius Furnace Chapter

Prior to the expansion of the North Carolina colony what is now Lincoln County was predominantly occupied by Native Americans. As colonists moved westward, Cherokees, Catawbas, and other native tribes were forced westward and often clashed with the colonists. When the war for independence began, Cherokees sided with the British who promised to limit western expansion while other tribes supported the colonists because their experiences with the white settlers  had been more amicable.

Tryon County was the name of this land before 1779 and there were several skirmishes and battles with the local native tribes. One of those was called Round Peak or Round Mountain while others referred to it as Howard’s Gap.  That's where colonists and Cherokees clashed on June 1st, 1776.  It is near what is now Columbus, NC.

As a prelude to the battle, South Carolinians Capt. Edward Hampton and his brother, Capt. Preston Hampton were sent on a mission to seek peace with the Cherokee nation. Instead of being welcomed as emissaries, the Hamptons were held captive by the Cherokees and had their horses, guns, and a case of pistols taken from them.

The two brothers managed to escape and to return home. A short time later,Cherokee leaders came to the Hampton home and recognized Preston, their former prisoner. He did not trust the Cherokees and sent his children to warn the neighbors that they were at his house.

Preston's father, Anthony, came out and as he was shaking hands with the chief, Big Warrior, another Cherokee fired and mortally wounded Preston. The Chief let go of Anthony's hand and drove a tomahawk through his skull. Another Cherokee grabbed the Hamptons' infant son and dashed him against the wall of the house. Anthony's terrified wife was then killed with a tomahawk.

Following this attack, the men of the nearby settlement met at the Block House on the Pacolet River where they chose a 16-year-old, Thomas Howard, as their leader to exact revenge. A young Cherokee named Skyuka guided  Howard and his men to Round Mountain, where the Cherokees were celebrating their victory.

Capt. Howard pitched camp at the base of Round Mountain on the suggestion of Skyuka. When it became dark, several bonfires were lit, and three men were left there with instructions to shout and yell as if they were having a big celebration. They were also instructed to quickly pass in front of the fire to make it seem as though there were many more men than just the three of them.

Then, Capt. Howard led the remainder of his men on a circular route and approached the Cherokees from the rear. These men completely surprised the Cherokees and almost all were killed. Skyuka was later captured by Loyalists and hanged from a sycamore tree at the foot of Tryon Mountain. There is now a stream there named Skyuka Creek.

This was only one example of many skirmishes that took place. Later that summer, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford began the Cherokee Expedition across western North Carolina. After the British instigated multiple Cherokee raids in July of 1776, the governments of North Carolina and South Carolina coordinated an offensive with the governments of Georgia and Virginia. North Carolinians under Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford were to rendezvous with Major Andrew Williamson's South Carolinians and attack the lower and middle Cherokee settlements. The Virginians under Col. William Christian would march south and west and strike the Overhill Cherokees, and the Georgians would strike north and attack the Indian settlements in northern Georgia and South Carolina.

Rutherford began calling for men to assemble as early as the first week of July. His orders were for every county within the Salisbury District to provide every available man - and over 100 distinct companies answered the call, totalling over 2,500 men. Units also began to gather within the Hillsborough District - Orange and Chatham counties--and began marching westward, only to have to turn back since they could not find enough wagons to carry the provisions needed for the anticipated long trek.

Two rallying points were designated - Cathey's Fort and Davidson's Fort. Halfway between the two was a fairly large open field known as Pleasant Gardens, where Brigadier General Rutherford's camp was situated while his men assembled. On September 1st, his large army headed west for Cherokee territory.

In mid-September, South Carolina Col. Andrew Williamson [promoted at the end of August] left 300 men to guard Fort Rutledge (his base camp at Seneca Town, SC) and moved with approximately 2,000 men to rendezvous with North Carolina Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford. Guided by Catawba tribe scouts, Col. Williamson marched through Rabun Gap to the Tennessee River and reached the Cherokee settlement of Coweecho on September 17th, but Brigadier General Rutherford was not there. The South Carolinians pushed onward through the narrow trails up the mountains, following the Coweecho River.

On September 19th, Col. Williamson and his men marched into a major ambush at a steep-sided gorge known as the "Black Hole" [near present-day Franklin, NC]. The advance party under Lt. Hampton found themselves under attack by 300 Cherokees and 50 Loyalists. Before the remainder of Col. Williamson's troops arrived, this advance party had to contend with fretful odds. It was not only a woodsman's fight from tree to tree, but also hand to hand. The battle lasted two hours. Due to the terrain of the steep gorge, there was no way to counterattack except to charge straight towards the enemy, which the South Carolinians did, clearing a path with bayonets. The Cherokees were forced to withdraw when their gunpowder ran low.

On September 26th, Col. Andrew Williamson finally met up with Brigadier General Rutherford at Hiwassee, creating a combined force of 4,500 Patriots to take the next step against the Cherokees - but that step was not taken. Rutherford and Williamson discussed moving further northward to link up with Virginia Colonel William Christian in what is now Tennessee, but both decided that they had accomplished enough for this trip.

An important Revolutionary War event will be celebrated the weekend of June 22nd & 23rd.  The Battle of Ramsour's Mill will be remembered at the battleground, 402 Jeb Seagle Drive in Lincolnton.  



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