National Military Park
Patriot Commanders at Kings Mountain
The patriot leaders at the Battle of Kings Mountain were of Irish, Scotch, Welsh, English, French, and German ancestry. Six militia colonels and two militia majors, who were in command of the eight detachments which surrounded the battle ridge, are selected for particular mention. The list includes Isaac Shelby, John Sevier, and William Campbell, without whom there would have been no expedition to Kings Mountain. Others of importance in the list are Benjamin Cleveland, Frederick Hambright, James Williams, Joseph McDowell, and Joseph Winston.
Col. Benjamin Cleveland was born May 26, 1738, near Bull Run (later of Civil War fame), in Prince William County, Va. As he grew to manhood, he received little if any education beyond the lessons that a hazardous life on the frontier could teach. Later, when he settled in Wilkes County, N. C., he is reputed to have been the equal, if not the superior, of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone as both hunter and Indian fighter.
His life was filled with adventures all of which added to the respect and admiration in which he was held by his friends. He despised the Tories and often showed his ruthlessness toward them. At Bickerstaff's plantation, he is believed to have been most responsible for the hanging of 9 Tories after the Battle of Kings Mountain, and on other occasions he also displayed his familiarity with the use of the rope.
In later life, he served as a justice of Pendleton County Court, in the region of the Tugaloo River, near the western border of South Carolina. It has been reported by his associates, among them Gen. Andrew Pickens, that he frequently dozed on the bench and it often was necessary to awaken him when his snoring interfered with the court proceedings.
With the passage of years, Cleveland is said to have attained the impressive weight of 450 pounds. It was always a question, when he came as an overnight guest, whether this would prove too much for any bed in the house. His excessive weight became a source of considerable embarrassment and was partly the cause of his developing a case of dropsy, with which he suffered for a number of years before Isis death.
In October 1806, when he was in his 69th year, Cleveland died at the breakfast table. He was outlived by his wife, son, and two daughters. They buried him in the family burial ground on his old plantation, in the forks of the Tugaloo and Chauga Rivers.
Lt. Col. Frederick Hambright, who came with his parents from Germany to America at the age of 11, lived from 1727 to 1817. He is believed to have received a sound education that fitted him well for his activities in later life. About 1755 he moved from Lancaster County, Pa., to Virginia where he married Sarah Hardin. In 1760, he settled near the South Fork of the Catawba River in North Carolina.
As Hambright became immersed in the "American melting pot," he took part in battles against the Indians and the British. He served also in the provincial congress of the State of North Carolina. The value of his services was recognized by promotion to the rank of lieutenant colonel of militia.
This was the rank he held in 1780 when he received such a severe thigh wound in the action at Kings Mountain that he was forced to resign his commission. Finally, on March 9, 1817, at the age of 90, Hambright died on property he had purchased in later life in the vicinity of Kings Mountain. He is buried in the old Shiloh Presbyterian Church cemetery, not far from the present park boundary.
Col. James Williams was born in the late 1730's at the family home in Hanover County, Va. Upon the death of both his parents, when he was still quite young, he moved to Granville County, N. C., to live with his brother John. The latter was an able jurist and helped James to gain a little education.
In his thirties James Williams moved to Laurens County, S. C., where he worked as a farmer, miller, and merchant. Here he was chosen a delegate to the provincial congress of South Carolina and later made a member of the local Committee of Safety just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. As he pursued his several vocations, he made a good living for his wife and eight children.
After the outbreak of war with England, Williams served ably in many actions, including Brier Creek, Stone Ferry, Savannah, and Musgrove's Mill. Williams has been compared, in soldierly qualities, to "Stonewall" Jackson. He was the only one of the colonels in the Battle of Kings Mountain who died from a wound received in that action. He was in his early forties. An eminent American historian paid him this tribute: "A man of exalted character, of a career brief but glorious."
Maj. Joseph McDowell, commanding patriots from Burke County, N. C.
The McDowell brothers, Charles and Joseph, were representative of the landed gentry of the piedmont section of North Carolina. Maj. Joseph McDowell (February 15, 1756, to August 11, 1801) commanded the troops of his brother at Kings Mountain. Joseph McDowell had the further distinction of being among the men of Kings Mountain who later helped win the brilliant American victory at the Cowpens.
Joseph McDowell's home was at the family plantation known as "Quaker Meadows." He grew up there and later served in many Revolutionary War battles under the watchful eye of his older brother Charles. After peace was made, he engaged actively in politics on local and national levels.
While serving as a member of the North Carolina Conventions of 1788 and 1789, he opposed ratification of the proposed State constitution, because it did not include a bill of rights. A few years later (1797—99), as a member of Congress, he opposed passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Because of his stand on these issues and others he came to be recognized as one of the leaders of the Democratic Republican Party in western North Carolina. "Throughout his life," according to a local historian, "he was the idol of the western people of North Carolina."
Maj Joseph Winston, commanding patriots from Surry County, N. C.
Maj. Joseph Winston was from a distinguished family of Yorkshire, England, a branch of which settled first in Wales. Later, this family group migrated to Virginia. Joseph was born on June 17, 1746, one of seven sons, all of whom served in the Revolutionary War. He received a fair education for that day, which prepared him not only for years of successful military service, but also for a postwar career in the State Legislature and in Congress.
At the age of 17, he joined a company of rangers and took part in an expedition against the Indians on the frontier. This was the beginning of his military service which ended after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. In that engagement he answered Gen. Nathanael Greene's call for troops by coming to his assistance with 100 riflemen.
Winston represented his district, first Surry County and then Stokes County which was formed from it, in the State Senate for eight different terms. On the national scene, he served in Congress from 1792 to 1793 and 1803 to 1807. As a presidential elector, he voted for Thomas Jefferson in 1800 and James Madison in 1812.
Joseph Winston died on April 21, 1815. He was survived by his wife and a number of children. Among them were triplet boys who lived to become a major general, a judge, and a lieutenant governor.
Col. Isaac Shelby, commanding patriots from Sullivan County, N. C. (now eastern Tennessee)
Col. Isaac Shelby was born December 11, 1750, near North Mountain, Md. He was the son of Evan Shelby, who emigrated from Wales to America in 1735. In 1771 the Shelby family moved to the Holston country in Virginia. Here young Shelby acquired the elements of a plain English education and spent much of his time fighting the Indians and the British. Between 1775 and 1780, with rank first of captain and then of major, he explored the wilds of Kentucky.
Shelby is said to have had a sturdy, well-proportioned build with strongly-marked features, and to have been of florid complexion. He had a good constitution that withstood the rigors of frontier life where fatigue and privation were every-day occurrences. His bearing was impressive, and, although he maintained a dignified reserve, he was affable and possessed of a pleasing personality.
He married Susannah Hart on April 19, 1783, at Boonesborough, Ky. The young couple settled on land Shelby had staked out for himself in 1782, when he was a commissioner to adjust pre-emption claims on the Cumberland River. Eleven children were born of their marriage.
Shelby devoted tireless energy to the creation of the New State of Kentucky. With the adoption in 1792 of a State constitution by the convention of which he was a member, his efforts were rewarded. Shortly after, he became the first governor of Kentucky.
After Shelby left the governor's mansion, he performed several other public services. Among the most important of these was his command of 4,000 Kentucky volunteers in the American army of Gen. William Henry Harrison, during the Canadian campaign in 1813. He was stricken with paralysis in 1820 and died of apoplexy 6 years later.
Col. John Sevier, commanding patriots from Washington County, N. C. (now eastern Tennessee)
Shelby's friend and associate John Sevier (whose name was anglicized from Xavier), likewise was well suited to frontier life. Sevier, born to Valentine and Joana Goode Sevier on September 23, 1745, was of Huguenot ancestry. The Sevier family lived in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where they farmed and traded with the Indians.
Sevier received a haphazard education, but this was in keeping with the times. It included schooling at Fredericksburg Academy and the Staunton School. At 16 he left school to marry Sarah Hawkins. About 7 months after her death in 1780, he married Catherine Sherrill, the "Bonny Kate" in song and story of the Tennessee frontier.
Wherever this leader of varied training, great courage, and personal magnetism went, he brought change. Moreover, from the day he founded the town of New Market, Va., where he engaged in trade as a merchant, innkeeper, and farmer, until his death September 24, 1815, his actions stirred controversy.
In December 1773, he moved with his family to the Holston River settlements. Here he helped to create the short-lived "State of Franklin" of which he became governor. After the "state" was dissolved and the area fully reincorporated into North Carolina, his enemies circulated an unfounded report that he had used it to further his own fortunes. The report gained such wide acceptance that he felt impelled to move far out on the frontier. His was a reputation that was made and then damaged, but his fall from grace was only temporary. He later took advantage of the movement to form the State of Tennessee and, regaining his political influence, became its first governor in 1796.
Among the more unhappy experiences of Sevier's later life was a feud that developed between him and an ambitious young judge, Andrew Jackson. Although Jackson brought charges of land frauds against Sevier, the political career of the Kings Mountain hero, which included three more terms as governor between 1803 and 1807, was not damaged. These two strong men with conflicting ambitions never reconciled their grievances. In the eyes of the electorate, Sevier's record of 33 victories in 35 battles was deserving of high regard and he was duly rewarded at the polls.
Sevier lived to be 70 years old and came to be known as "Nolichucky Jack." His adventurous spirit characterized him to the end. Even as late as 1812, following the outbreak of America's second war with England, he advocated bringing "fire and sword" to the Creek Indian Country.
Colorful as were the other, patriot leaders, William Campbell of Virginia, who has been described as a man of commanding appearance, was an equally imposing figure. He was born in 1745 in Augusta County, Va., to Charles Campbell and the daughter of John Buchanan, Sr., who fought in the Wars of Scotland. As William Campbell reached maturity, he stood 6-1/2 feet tall, was amiable when not enraged, and devoted to the cause of liberty.
William Campbell Preston, who is said to have closely resembled his grandfather, Col. William Campbell, patriot commander at Kings Mountain, of whom no likeness can he found.
From a portrait by John Wesley Jarvis. Courtesy The South Caroliniana Library, University' of South Carolina, Columbia.
William was an only son and received a good education from competent teachers. When 22 years old, he moved with his mother and four younger sisters to Fincastle County, Va. The family settled on the fringe of the Holston country on land that had been purchased before the death of his father. This family plantation came to be known as "Aspenvale" and was near the present town of Abingdon, Va.
Like Shelby and Sevier, Campbell was interested in both the military and civil affairs of his community. Upon the outbreak of the War for American Independence, he raised the first militia company in southwestern Virginia to support this cause. In September 1775, Capt. William Campbell and his company of frontiersmen marched to Williamsburg and joined the Virginia regiment commanded by Patrick Henry.
When Campbell realized the British were trying to persuade the Cherokee Indians to attack the frontier settlements, he feared for the safety of his mother and sisters. Disappointed in his hope of resigning his commission and returning home for their protection, he did find happiness at the time by winning Elizabeth Henry, a sister of Patrick Henry, for his wife.
In 1777, Washington County was formed from Fincastle and Campbell made lieutenant colonel of militia. He was promoted to the full rank of colonel in April 1780; this was the rank he held at the Battle of Kings Mountain. For his services there he received praise from Gates, Washington, the Virginia Legislature, and the Continental Congress. Virginia presented him with a horse, saddle, and sword at public expense. Lord Cornwallis, with oblique recognition of Campbell's prowess as a foe, threatened him with instant death should he be captured by the British.
Before Campbell finally resigned his commission, on March 20, 1781, he and his command, a small force of riflemen, fought well at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse. He then enjoyed a brief term of office as a member of the House of Delegates from Washington County. Within a short time, however, he was recalled to duty, this time to serve under General Lafayette in Virginia. His military services were considered indispensable and the war was not yet won.
William Campbell's final Service to his country was brief for, on August 22, 1781, while on active duty, he died after a short illness. He was buried at Rocky Mills, Hanover County, Va. There his body remained until 1823, when it was removed to "Aspenvale" for interment in the family burial ground. He was survived by a daughter and his wife, who remarried and lived until 1825.
Such were some of the leaders in the drama—successful and honored in peace as in war. It is doubtful that any of them, however, reached greater heights than during that action, one October day, on the slopes of Kings Mountain.