|Updated January 18, 2004
Its Place in
and Revolutionary War History
With Information on Andrew Hampton, Griffith
Rutherford, William Gilbert,
and the Death of James Dunlap
By Nancy Ellen Ferguson,
Rutherford County, North Carolina Historian
Based on a paper originally presented at the Kings Mountain National Military Park
Copyright © 1998, 2003 by Nancy Ellen Ferguson
All Rights Reserved
Early Court Cases
Overmountain Men & Trail
Colonel Andrew Hampton
General Griffith Rutherford
Major James Dunlap
Gilbert Town Key Points
Rutherford County, North Carolina, was formed April 14, 1779, from a part of
old Tryon County. (Lincoln County was formed from the remaining
part.) Rutherford County was named for General Griffith Rutherford of
Rowan County, North Carolina,
a Revolutionary War soldier who commanded the forts of Rutherford County
during the summer of 1780.
The first settler in what became the county was Abraham Kuykendahl,
who settled on Puzzle Creek. He shows up on court records of Tryon County
in April, 1770, as a captain of militia. In 1774, he was appointed to a
commision to raise money for a Tryon courthouse. The second settler
known was John Woods, who
settled in what is now Polk County.
The early courts in the county were held in the homes of Colonel John
Walker, Thomas Morris, and William Gilbert. The first
court held was held at the home of Colonel John Walker, which was
located in 1779 at the present-day Logan Station.
The first court case heard in the county was against Hannah Adams. William
Gilbert, Jonathon Hampton, and Joseph McDaniel were
securities on a bond for 500 pounds each for Hannah Adams.
The County Government
The courts with the justices of the peace provided general
supervision of the county. The county
court had charge of building and maintaining buildings, roads,
and bridges; granting letters of
administration; probating wills; seeing to the needs of the poor
and orphans; levying taxes; and
appointing tax listers and collectors.
The first justices of the peace were John Flack, William Grant,
James Whitesides, John Walker, William Nevill,
Timothy Riggs, George Black, William Gilbert, James
Withrow, Jonathon Hampton, and John Earle.
All county officers, except members of the General Assembly, were
elected or appointed by the justices of the peace. The appointed
officers were sheriff, clerk of the county court,
coroner, surveyor, public registrar, county treasurer, and county
solicitor. In other words,
all county officials were answerable to the justices of the peace,
except members of the
In 1868, the county was ruled by a new governing body called the County Commissioners
The Courthouse at Gilbert Town
John Earle, James Miller, and Robert Porter of
Rutherford County were appointed a
commission to build and erect a courthouse and jail on property of
James Holland, 400 yards
from the forks of Shepherd's Creek. In July, 1781, court was in
session at the home of William Gilbert and court adjourned for
half an hour so that Justices George Black and William Gilbert
could visit the new courthouse. In January, 1782, court was held at the new building above
the still-standing cabin, a temporary affair.
Gilbert Town was located about the center of Rutherford County
with the courthouse about in the middle of the
community. The small village of Gilbert Town consisted of a number
of buildings and log homes: the
log courthouse, William Gilbert's house, a log tavern building, and
small outbuildings. It was
said that William Gilbert brought a group of Scotchmen to the
area, where they manufactured
furniture and other wood products.
At the meeting of the North Carolina legislature in 1784, it was
charged that the Rutherford County
courthouse was not convenient for the citizens and was unfit in every
respect for its intended
purpose of use. Felix Walker, James Whitesides, William
Nevill, William McMurray, and Alexander McDonald
were appointed commissioners to buy land for a new courthouse. They bought
50 acres of land from
James Adair for courthouse and jail on the north and west sides
of Cleghorn's Creek.
They paid ten pounds and the sale was completed September 7, 1785. The
deed was executed in
1786, with construction beginning soon after. They laid out the rest
of the land in half-acre lots for a new county seat. It was called, at
first, Rutherford Courthouse,
then Rutherford Town, and, today, Rutherfordton. The first
courthouse was built on the site
where the Federal Building now stands. In 1793, only the courthouse and
Adair house existed in the new county seat. The first roads were
built in 1799.
Development of the town was delayed in a title dispute between
James Adair and David Miller
over 36 acres of the Rutherford Town site. In 1793, Holland paid
Miller for the 36 acres to provide a clear deed.
The last session of the court held at Gilbert Town was
December, 1787. The first court was held in Rutherfordton
in 1790. The log courthouse
was torn down about 1878 by its owner, J.A. Forney. In 1937, a
local paper reported that stones from
the courthouse were still visible on the site. In 1978, a log
reportedly from the original building still existed.
Early Court Cases
Among the first cases were local men accused of treason for being Tories. James
Withrow and Robert Porter were appointed Commissioners of Confiscated Property,
property seized from convicted Tories. Later some of the wives were able to reclaim
their husbands' property after the men took the oath of allegiance.
William Gilbert, for whom Gilbert Town was named, was also tried,
Ferguson used Gilbert's home as headquarters in September, 1780. At the time,
Gilbert was at Hillsborough representing Rutherford County
in the legislature. Gilbert
was cleared and given a paper to carry when traveling, clearing him of the charge.
Not all the cases during the war were about allegiance. Reverend Perminter
Morgan, pastor of Mountain Creek Baptist Church, brought the Reverend Daniel
Asbury of the Methodist Church before justice of the peace Jonathon Hampton
at the courthouse. Morgan complained that Asbury did not have a license to
preach. Hampton asked Morgan if what Asbury preached hurt the people
in any way. Morgan answered that it did not. Hampton then said to let Asbury
go and preach, as it did not harm the people - It might help them.
William Gilbert, of Scotch-Irish (Ulster-Scot) heritage, came
to America and settled first in
Philadelphia, where he met and married Sarah McCanless, who was born there in
1737. They traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, from Philadelphia and then came
to Old Tryon County.
In 1777 and 1778, he was assessor of taxes and, in 1778, collector of taxes. Mr.
Gilbert held the office of justice of the peace in Old Tryon County, taking his seat in
July, 1778. In 1779, he represented Tryon in the North Carolina House of Commons.
On February 8th, 1779, he was forced to resign his commission as justice of the
peace on the charge of duplicating his vouchers as commissary of militia of
Tryon County. His guilt or innocence can never be known. Despite the
charge, when Rutherford County was formed from Old Tryon, Gilbert
represented the new county in the North Carolina House of Commons. He
was selected in 1779, 1780, 1782, and 1783.
Gilbert was appointed justice of the peace for Rutherford County in
1781. At the October, 1781, term of the Rutherford County Court, he was
chosen chairman of the court. The court vindicated him of the legislative
charge of duplicating his vouchers by an order in October 1781,
reading "On motion of William Gilbert, Esq., and testimony produced to the
satisfaction of the court, it is ordered that the opinion of the court be entered
on the records, to-wit: It is the opinion of the court that the said William Gilbert
is not guilty of the charge laid against to the General Assembly, and we do
certify that the said William Gilbert never plundered, nor was guilty of
plundering, to our knowledge."
Gilbert was charged with treason, because Ferguson used the Gilbert home
as his headquarters. Lyman Draper in his definitive history,
King's Mountain and Its Heroes, on page 159, states Gilbert "was a Loyal
friend of King George." In 1897, Flournoy Rivers wrote in a Nashville newspaper
that "Draper seemed to have presumed that Gilbert was a Loyalist simply
because Major Ferguson camped at Gilbert Town, as though an invading
army would ever quarter on a friend while in an enemy's country. As a fact,
the Assembly was then sitting at Hillsborough and Gilbert,
being the county's representative
in the House of Commons, was most likely absent there, and Ferguson, in his absence,
most probably quartered on [Gilbert] as an object lesson by way of making
treason odious, as it were."
North Carolina records indicate that on October 25th, 1775, Gilbert and others,
including the Committee of Safety, signed the "Association Oath," expressing
profound regret that "his Brittannic Majesty had been so ill-advised as to
encroach on the undoubted rights of the colonists as Englishmen, with the
firmly expressed intention of sustaining both the Continental and Provincial Congresses."
In October, 1783, Gilbert wanted to visit his wife's relatives in Philadelphia. The
court, sitting at his son-in-law's house, prepared, under the seal of the court, a
statement of his standing and civic virtues, by way of a letter of introduction. "That
the said William Gilbert hath long been an inhabitant of this county, hath
frequently represented the same in the General Assembly; that he is first in
commission of the place, and that it appears from the lists of assessments
returned into the clerk's office that he is possessed of and hath given in for
assessing more taxable property than any other person in the county of Rutherford,
and that he hath uniformly distinguished himself as a warm Whig and a true
friend to his county in times of greatest distress and defection during the war."
Despite his successful defense of the charges of treason, Gilbert continued to
have legal problems after the war, being engaged in numerous lawsuits, and
eventually lost his property. In 1786, 1787, and a portion of 1788, he lived in
Charleston, South Carolina. He later returned to Gilbert Town to live at the
home of his son-in-law, James Holland, where he died in 1790. He was
buried on Ferguson's Hill above Gilbert Town.
Gilbert's wife, Sarah McCanless Gilbert, lived until 1822. She went with
the James Holland family in 1790 to Maury County, Tennessee, and is buried
at Holland's Ford on the Duck River.
James Holland married Gilbert's daughter Sarah. He represented Rutherford
County in the North Carolina House of Commons and the Senate. He was
elected to the first board of trustees of the University of North Carolina.
The Village at Gilbert Town
Gilbert Town lay on the high ground between Cathey's Creek
to the north
and Holland's (Shepherd's) Creek to the south. Ferguson's
Hill overlooked it all
on the west. (Ferguson's Hill is now generally called
Ferguson's Ridge.) Roads
entered from Cane Creek, Fort McGauhey, and Brittain
Church to the east; Quaker Meadows and Camp Creek to
the north; Montford's Cove
and Mountain Creek to the west; and the Broad River and
Cleghorn's Creek to the
south. Marlin's Knob in the South Mountains on the east side
of Cane Creek was
easily visible from Ferguson's Hill and the other high points.
Loyalist Lieutenant Anthony Allaire, in his diary (page 508 in Draper),
describes Gilbert Town as consisting of "one dwelling house, one
barn, a blacksmith's shop, and some out-houses." But this does not
match information taken from the court records. In addition to his home,
William Gilbert received a license to operate a tavern and a brewery. He was said
to have men working for him in the wood trade. Of course, the courthouse was also
in the village.
In addition to Ferguson's army, Patriot forces were stationed
at Gilbert Town at
various periods from 1775 through 1783. British and Loyalists prisoners from
King's Mountain, and Cowpens passed through Gilbert
Town on the way to prison camps
elsewhere. In addition, a hospital was operated for most of the time, possibly
in the tavern building. A small cemetery is located near the tavern site and
contains graves of wounded who died in the hospital. (A separate Gilbert family
cemetery is located on Ferguson's Hill.
The Early Forts of Rutherford
There were six forts in the modern boundaries of Rutherford,
arranged in an arc from Fort McGaughey on the east to
Fort McFadden southwest of Gilbert Town:
- Fort McGaughey, near Brittain
Church, was named for Andrew
McGaughey, and Samuel Martin was in charge. The son of John
Preston Goforth, killed at
Kings Mountain, was born in Fort McGaughey in 1779. He later
married Isabella Smart,
daughter of William Smart, jr., who was also in the Kings
- Montford's Fort was in the Montford's
Cove section where William Watson was stationed. The fort was named for
Montford Wilson, who received grants for extensive acres in the Montford Cove area.
- Fort Potts was named for a land speculator, John Potts,
who moved to Kentucky early in the 1800's.
- Fort Hampton was named for Colonel Andrew Hampton, and located
midway between Fort McFadden and Montford's Fort. The
Revolutionary War pension application of John Bradley tells about his
helping to build Fort Hampton.
- Fort Russell was named for George Russell.
- Fort McFadden was located on Mountain Creek and was
named for Alexander McFadden.
Patrick Ferguson at Gilbert Town and Vicinity
Major Patrick Ferguson entered Rutherford County
from South Carolina in the
late summer of 1780 by crossing the Broad River
at Denard's Ford, south of William Robbins Creek. Denard's
Ford was owned by John Denard of Ninety-Six, South
Carolina, who bought the property from John McFadden, jr.,
in February, 1775. John Denard later sold the property
to William Nettles.
Ferguson arrived at Gilbert Town September 1,
1780, and set up camp there. Ferguson used
William Gilbert's home. His troops camped on the high hill behind
the Gilbert house and the hill is known ever since
as "Ferguson's Hill." This is about three miles north of Rutherfordton,
While camped at Gilbert Town, Ferguson wrote two letters
to his commander, Lord Cornwallis, in September, 1780.
From Gilbert Town, Ferguson led his men to the head of Cane
Creek to surprise Colonel Charles McDowell and the
Burke County militia. McDowell learned that the enemy was camped
at White Oak Spring, two miles east of
Brindletown on the road from Morganton to Gilbert
Town. McDowell, too weak to meet Ferguson on equal terms, took
his soldiers to Bedford's Hill to waylay Ferguson on his southward
march. This spot, about fifteen miles from Gilbert
Town, lay in the narrow valley of Cane Creek near a crossing
called Cowan's Ford - not to be confused with the Cowan's
Ford northwest of Charlotte, scene of a battle after Cowpens
in which General Davidson was killed.
Ferguson received the unexpected attack, was defeated, and Major
James Dunlap was wounded. Ferguson
retired to Gilbert Town. Lieutenant Anthony Allaire in his
diary stated that this battle took place September 12,
1780. The trip was unsuccessful, yielding neither McDowell nor
supplies. Ferguson and his men
stock, cattle, and anything else of use to them from Samuel Andrews on
Cane Creek while
Andrews and his
neighbors hid up on Marlin's Knob.
Ferguson fortified the nearby home of Colonel John Walker, assigning
20 men to protect Major Dunlap
during his recuperation. According to Dr. Uzal Johnson, Ferguson's
physician, they stayed 11 days, retreating
just before the Overmountain army arrived in October.
Ferguson's men at Cane Creek captured Captain Aaron
Devinney. His wife, Sarah Devinney, followed Ferguson's
army crying for the release of her husband. Ferguson released Devinney,
saying he "had rather see 20 dead men
than one woman in tears."
The plundering of Ferguson's soldiers and the Tories kept the
citizens of Rutherford County in
constant fear for their lives and belongings. Ferguson's soldiers
went scouting as far as Old Fort
in today's McDowell County and Blue Ridge on Buck Creek
in search of food and cattle while
camping at Gilbert Town. These searches were unrewarded due to
the intelligence of Colonel
Charles McDowell who hid the cattle of the Whigs in mountain caves of
McDowell Counties. Ferguson and the Tories were outwitted
in this adventure.
Colonel Andrew Hampton lived a short distance from Gilbert
Town. It was reported to
Ferguson that Hampton's son, Jonathon, held the King's authority
in great contempt. Under
Majors Lee and Plummer, Ferguson dispatched a large group
of soldiers to visit the Hampton
residence. Young Hampton's father had left the day before to rejoin
Colonel Charles McDowell.
The enemy was near the Hampton home when they found an unexpected
Dickey, James Miller, and David Dickey had come within
hollering distance of the Hampton
home and called out to Jonathon on seeing the Tories and soldiers
asked if the group was his enemy or his friend. The Tories threatened to hang
Jonathon, but his mother approached Major Plummer and he ordered the execution
stopped. Hampton had to post security, so he spent the night at home but
had to appear
in court at Gilbert Town the next day.
Appearing in court the next day, when asked his name by Ferguson,
told Ferguson that, although in the hands of his enemies, he would never
deny the honored
name of Hampton. Major Dunlap told Ferguson that Jonathon
Hampton had done more
harm to the Royal cause than ten fighting men. Jonathon's brother, Noah
Hampton, had been killed by
Dunlap at Earle's Ford on the North Pacolet River in
Rutherford County (today's Polk County) earlier in the year.
Despite Dunlap's words, Ferguson dismissed young Hampton on parole. Hampton
observed that Ferguson wrote the parole with his left hand, for his right arm was badly
shattered at the Battle of Brandywine, New Jersey.
Ferguson sent a message across the mountains to the Overmountain
Men that, if they
did not desist from their opposition to the British army, he would march over the
mountains, "hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword." He
unwisely referred to them derisively as "Backwater Men."
Hearing of the approach of the Overmountain Men, Major Ferguson
and his men
left Gilbert Town on September 27th on their way to King's Mountain,
battle took place on October 7th, 1780.
Overmountain Men & the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
Following the battle with Ferguson at Bedford's Hill,
Colonel Charles McDowell
with 90 men from Burke County and Colonel Andrew Hampton
with 70 men from
Rutherford County fled west across the mountains to the
in the Watauga and Holston River valleys. On September
25th, 1780, they formed
part of the Overmountain army that formed at Sycamore Shoals
in today's Tennessee,
then western North Carolina.
John Sevier brought 240 men from Washington County,
Tennessee (then North Carolina). Isaac
Shelby brought about the same number from Sullivan
Campbell brought in about 400 men from Washington County, Virginia.
McDowell commanded the 160 men from Rutherford and Burke Counties, North
Carolina. About 1,040 men marched from Sycamore Shoals on September 26th.
The Reverend Samuel Doak led the departing men in a prayer and urged them
to remember as they entered battle, "the sword of the Lord and Gideon." This
phrase became the battle cry of the Patriots.
On September 27th, the army crossed through Yellow Mountain Gap
Avery County, North Carolina. Continuing southeast, the men reached the
at Quaker Meadows on the last day of September. Lying along the Catawba
McDowell home was near today's Morganton (then Alder Springs),
the seat of Burke County.
The next day the army moved to Bedford's Hill in Rutherford County
(today's McDowell County). The army spent two
nights there. On the 3rd of October they proceeded down Cane Creek
to a camp below Marlin's Knob and near the home of Samuel Andrews.
Late in the afternoon of October 4th, the
Overmountain Men arrived at Gilbert Town. They camped that
night on Ferguson's Hill. From
Gilbert Town, Benjamin Cleveland (from Wilkes County,
North Carolina), Isaac Shelby,
John Sevier, William Campbell, Joseph Winston (from
Surry County, North Carolina), and
Andrew Hampton wrote a letter to General Horatio Gates, who
forces in the South, asking him to send a Continental officer to command the troops,
about 1500 men, with William Candler from Georgia and James
Williams and Edward
Lacey from South Carolina expected with another 1,000. This
letter was written on
the 4th of October and carried by Charles McDowell.
(With this letter, Charles McDowell, who'd called the Patriot
army together, passed
out of the history of King's Mountain. His leadership was questioned
while the army
was at Bedford's Hill. Andrew Hampton never forgave
McDowell for the death of his son,
Noah Hampton at Earle's Ford in the summer, blaming McDowell
for allowing the army to
be surprised in camp. Isaac Shelby, who'd campaigned with McDowell
during the summer,
called McDowell too old and slow. Whatever the reason, McDowell
went away, leaving
the army to proceed united against Ferguson.)
The Overmountain Men left Gilbert Town the morning of
October 5th, marching to
Alexander's Ford on the Green River in present-day Polk
County, North Carolina. In camp there on the Green River,
the Overmountain Men learned
Ferguson had requested
help from Cornwallis and requested a junction with him somewhere
near King's Mountain. The
Overmountain Men were determined to pursue Ferguson and
overtake him before he could
reach a post or receive reinforcements. The army turned east, beginning a monumental
march through Cowpens covering some 50 miles in 32 hours.
Reaching the mountain in the afternoon of October 7th, the men, armed with accurate
and deadly Deckard long rifles, surrounded Ferguson's
army. They climbed the steep slopes,
determined to put an end to their long-sought foe. In a little over an
hour, Ferguson and 119
of his men were slain, 123 were wounded, and the rest, some 664 taken
prisoner with all the
arms and supplies.
The Overmountain Men suffered 28 killed and 62 wounded. Two
Patriots from Rutherford
County, John Smart and Preston Goforth, were among the
killed. James Porter and William
Robertson were among the wounded. Captain James Withrow, William
Smart, and John Smart,
all veterans of the Patriot army at Kings Mountain are all buried
at Brittain Church, not far
from Gilbert Town.
Both armies spent the night on the mountain. The next morning they headed directly for
Gilbert Town, reaching there October 11th, 1780. They camped the
the same building for their prisoners that Ferguson used to house American
prisoners. Leaving Gilbert Town, the army camped two nights at
Colonel John Walker's home a
mile from Brittain Presbyterian Church. The
Overmountain Men and their prisoners marched to Biggerstaff's
Old Field on
The officers united in presenting a complaint to Colonel Campbell, who
was in command since the departure of Charles McDowell on October 5th
to carry the officer's letter to Horatio Gates. The officers complained that the
prisoners included house burners, parole breakers, and assassins. Isaac
had the North Carolina statutes brought from Gilbert Town. He formed
from the North Carolina magistrates present to try the prisoners
under North Carolina
law, not by court martial.
Thirty-two were condemned under law to be hanged. A suitable oak tree was
selected and nine were immediately hanged, including five from Rutherford
County: Colonel Ambrose Mills, Captain James Chitwood,
Captain Walter Gilkey,
Lieutenant Lafferty, and Lieutenant Biddy. After the
Patriots left, Mrs. Martha
Biggerstaff, wife of Aaron, with the help of an old man, cut
down the bodies and
buried them in a shallow trench. (Ironically, Captain Aaron Biggerstaff
was wounded at King's Mountain and died without returning home.)
The hangings ended when one of the prisoners reported Banastre
was approaching. The Patriot army began a forced march for Quaker
put the Catawba River between them and Tarleton. The army
scattered, the prisoners
being taken to Hillsborough, North Carolina. Tarleton was
not on the way, however,
for Cornwallis was retreating to Winnsboro, South Carolina.
As part of the preparations for the Revolutionary War Bicentennial,
in Virginia, Tennesee, North Carolina, South
Carolina, and Georgia sought national
recognition for the trail followed to King's Mountain by the victorious Patriot
army. On September 8th, 1980, when President Jimmy Carter signed the bill
making the Overmountain Victory Trail the second National
Historic Trail in America,
Rutherford County received part of the honor as part of the trail
goes through the county.
The importance of Gilbert Town and Ferguson's Hill is that this is the
only place on the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail where both armies
engaged at Kings Mountain camped on the same site. On October 5th, 1998, the
National Park service certified Gilbert Town as an important historic site along the
Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.
The citizens of Rutherford County are proud of the Overmountain Men and are
honored that the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail goes through our county.
Colonel Andrew Hampton
Andrew Hampton was a native of England who emigrated to the American colonies
as a young man. His early education is unknown, although he seems to have been a
man of above average literacy for his time. He first settled in Virginia, where he
remained for a few years. Prior to 1751, he came to North Carolina, where he
settled on Dutchman's Creek on the Catawba River, in what later
became Tryon County.
Before the Revolution, he moved southwest into what became Rutherford County,
where he had extensive landholdings.
He rose in military rank rapidly. In 1775, he was made captain in the militia. In
1776, he served against the Scotch Tories. He was appointed major April 26, 1776, by
an act of the North Carolina General Assembly. He was promoted to lieutenant-colonel
later in 1776 and colonel in 1779. In 1779, he pursued Colonel John Moore's Tories
when they fled south from North Carolina. Early in 1780, he went with relief forces
to Charleston, South Carolina, then under attack by the British. He later served in
battles at Earle's Ford, Thicketty Fort, Cane Creek, and
where he commanded the Rutherford County troops.
In 1781, Hampton was appointed Rutherford County Sheriff,
holding that position
until 1784. He was the county's second sheriff, having succeeded Richard Singleton
in that office. Hampton died in Rutherford County in October, 1805,
and was buried
near his home on Mountain Creek. On November 3rd, 1998, a U.S. marker was dedicated
at his grave in recognition of his role in the Revolution.
General Griffith Rutherford
Rutherford County was named for General Griffith Rutherford,
who did not live in
the county, but who did command county troops.
Rutherford was born in Ireland in 1721. His father was Scotch
and his mother Welsh.
Soon after his birth, his parents sailed for America, but both died at sea. He was
taken in by relatives in New Jersey, where he grew up and learned surveying.
At maturity, Rutherford stood 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 180 pounds.
Rutherford moved to Halifax County, North Carolina, where he was appointed
King's Surveyor. In 1753, he bought land in Rowan County, near Salisbury, North
Carolina. He became a wealthy farmer, married Elizabeth Graham in 1754, and they had 10
In 1771, Rutherford was elected to represent Rowan in the North Carolina
Assembly. He supported efforts aimed at restricting the Anglican Church,
introducing a bill allowing any minister to perform marriages. (At the time, only
marriages performed by Anglican clergy were legal. Since few Anglican ministers
served in the counties west of the tidewater, the result was that many couples were
not legally married and their children technically illegitemate. This was a source
of both anguish and potential legal troubles.)
On April 22, 1776, Rutherford was among the members of the Assembly who voted to
approve independence for North Carolina.
In May, 1776, the Assembly reorganized the Royal Militia into the North Carolina
Militia. Rutherford was chosen Brigadier General for the Salisbury District that included
Rowan and Tryon (socalled Old Tryon) Counties. His
first duty was to raise 300 men to
defend North Carolina. That summer, the British and North Carolina Loyalists were
active along the coast. In addition, the Cherokee rose in support of the Crown,
attacking settlements in the Crooked Creek and Toe River
areas in Western Tryon and Rowan.
When reports arrived that Colonel Charles McDowell was besieged at
on the upper Catawba River, Rutherford raised 2500 men
and marched west to the frontier. From
Fort McGauhey, near Gilbert Town, Rutherford marched
for the Nolichucky (the Toe in today's
Tennessee). By September 1, 1776, Rutherford's army enetered
Cherokee country, marching
down (west) the French Broad River, burning Cherokee towns and crops.
proceeded down the Pigeon, the Tuckasegee, the Little
Tennessee, and the Hiwassee,
burning 36 or 40 Cherokee villages, before returning east in a month. His
route became known as the "Rutherford Trace."
In 1777, Rutherford again called out the militia against British supporters,
suppressing Tories around Hillsborough, North Carolina, where the independent
state government relocated. In 1780, he twice led troops to support Patriot efforts
to defend Charleston, South Carolina, from a British invasion. Fortunately, he
was in North Carolina when Charleston fell in May.
As Cornwallis marched toward
North Carolina in the summer, Rutherford called out his men, assembling against
a Loyalist army at Ramsour's Mill near Charlotte. By the time
General Davidson had dispursed the Tories. Rutherford joined
up with the Southern
Army under General Horatio Gates and took command of the North Carolina Militia just before the
disastrous defeat at Camden, South Carolina, August 16, 1780. While his troops did not fight well,
Rutherford, himself, did, refusing to yield and being seriously wounded. Taken
prisoner, he was held in the Camden jail, later a prison ship at
Charleston, and, finally, the fortress at Saint Augustine, Florida.
Ironically, while Rutherford was held captive, King's Mountain occurred,
and Cornwallis resumed his campaign
in North Carolina, marching almost to Virginia, before turning
back. Early in 1781,
Rutherford's home near Salisbury was sacked and burned by
Cornwallis. After the
questionable British victory at Guilford Courthouse in March, 1781,
Cornwallis withdrew to
Wilmingon, North Carolina, to recuperate. Then he marched north again to
Virginia, where his was besieged and surrendered in October.
Rutherford was taken north to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
in the summer of 1781 and
exchanged by the British. He returned to North Carolina in August,
1781. He immediately
took command of troops engaged against North Carolina Loyalists in
area, who were left to carry on the king's fight when Cornwallis left. In the summer
of 1782, Rutherford and Charles McDowell led another expedition against the Cherokee.
When a new county was formed from Tryon February 8, 1779, it was named for
a hero of the early
days of the American Revolution, Benedict Arnold. For some reason, the
North Carolina Assembly changed its mind, and April 14, 1779, the new county was
renamed for that local
hero, General Griffith Rutherford. On April 12, 2003, a marker was unveiled on the lawn
in front of the courthouse in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, commemorating the General
and the route of his 1776 march against the Cherokee, the Rutherford
the times of Rutherford with the days following September 11, 2001,
and the invasion of
Iraq, a speaker offered a poem for the dedication:
Above the Broad, where the Thermal Belt
meets the mountains and the streams run cold,
with the Chimney Rock looking down,
roll the hills of Rutherford
under a Carolina sky.
We've put our names
upon the ridges,
laid our homes
among the trees
shading the sweetly
Rutherford, old general
from the times of hope and fear,
let your shadow fall upon us,
in our times of hope and fear.
Let our children put their names
upon the ridges, lay their homes
upon the hills,
upon the hills of Rutherford.
The Hills of Rutherford, Copyright © 2003 Bob Sweeny. All rights Reserved.
In the 1790's, Rutherford moved to Sumner County, Tennessee,
where he died. His grave, apparently, is unmarked.
The Hated Major James Dunlap
James Dunlap was a Loyalist officer under Patrick Ferguson. We don't
know his early life, but he was commissioned a captain November 27, 1776, in
the Queens American Rangers, a Loyalist Provincial unit originally raised by
Robert Rogers, of French & Indian War fame. Named for Queens County, New York,
the Rangers included men from Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.
served at the Battle of Brandywine, September 11, 1777, in the British
campaign that resulted in the capture of Philadelphia.
Dunlap commanded a company that attacked the Hancock House in
Salem, New Jersey, on March 20, 1778. Following orders from his
and his men killed both the Patriot garrison and the Loyalists being held
When the British retreated from Philadelphia, Dunlap's company
was in the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, June, 1778. On August 31, 1778,
men ambushed a party of Patriots escorting
a group of Sturbridge Indians. Twenty Patriots and 20 Indians died, including
the chief and his son.
Dunlap came south with Ferguson in the British campaign against
Charleston. Dunlap commanded troops during the summer of 1780,
including at Earle's Ford on July 14 and the Peach Orchard (second
Cedar Spring or Wifford's Iron Works) in August. At Earle's Ford,
Dunlap surprised Charles McDowell in his camp on the Pacolet
River in today's Polk County, then Rutherford County. This action seriously
damaged the military reputation of Charles McDowell
In September, when Noah Hampton appeared before Ferguson,
Dunlap was quite clear in his condemnation: "He is one of the d—dest
Rebels in all the country, and ought to be strung up at once, without fear or
favor." While Ferguson ignored this suggestion, it is a revealing story.
Dunlap was a man whose opposition to the Patriot
cause was well known. His reputation was not one of compromise or lenience.
Draper called Dunlap "an advocate for hanging Whigs for no other crime than
sympathizing with their suffering country." Major James Sevier remarked
that Dunlap's "severities incensed the people against him."
September 12, 1780, Dunlap was wounded at the battle of Cane
Creek. Draper reported Dunlap was taken to the home of William
Gilbert in Gilbert Town. Dunlap was unable to travel when
Ferguson left. A soldier named Coates was left behind
to take care of Dunlap. Coates, however, was killed soon after
and his body "burned in a coal pit!" Not much later, a Captain Gillespie
arrived from Spartanburg, looking for Dunlap. Saying he
came to avenge Mary McRae, Gillespie asked Dunlap, "Where is Mary
McRae?" "In Heaven," replied Dunlap. At this reply, Gillespie shot Dunlap and
rode away. Reportedly, Sarah Gilbert or her son buried Dunlap near
Ah, but there's more. Another story says that Mrs. Gilbert and her son
shot Dunlap! Or was Dunlap not dead, only wounded and hiding until recovered? That
was yet another story. We do know that Dunlap arrived in Ninety Six, South
Carolina, in March, 1781, and returned to duty by March 21, 1781.
The diary of Uzal Johnson gives the probable answer. Johnson reported that
Dunlap was taken to John Walker's house on September 13, 1780, for treatment.
The house was fortified and guarded by 20 men under Captain James Chitwood. When
the army prepared to withdraw, Johnson and Dunlap moved on September 24 to Gilbert's
home. On September 28, they moved to the plantation of James Adair. When
Ferguson withdrew further, Johnson and Dunlap crossed the Broad River into South
Carolina and stopped at the Powers home on September 30. On October 3,
Dunlap was left at the Case home, and Johnson went east with the baggage,
later joining up with Ferguson on Buffalo Creek before the army went to
Draper continues Dunlap's story in March, 1781, when Dunlap was collecting
supplies and forage for the garrison at Ninety Six. Patriot forces
under Elijah Clarke and James McCall were sent to intercept
Dunlap. They found him at Beattie's Mill on the Little River in
the Long Canes area of South Carolina.
Dunlap was wounded and captured along with 41 in his command. Thirty-four of
Dunlap's men were killed. According to a report by Andrew Pickens, Dunlap
was murdered soon after he surrendered. McCall reported Dunlap died the
So when did Dunlap die? James Sevier reported he died at Gilbert Town.
The Hampton family tradition was that he died at Gilbert Town in the fall. When
A.J. Forney tore down the Gilbert house, he reportedly saved the blood-stained
floorboards from where Dunlap was shot. On the other hand, other reports say
Forney tore down the old courthouse. Dunlap's grave was reported to
be near the house. That site has been identified, although it is close to both
the hospital (presumably the old tavern) and the house site.
Dr. Bobby Moss, in his Uzal Johnson, has provided
the solution. Two officers in the New Jersey Volunteers (Loyalist) supplied
the following deposition to the British commander, Sir Henry Clinton:
the murder of Captn
Dunlap Qs Rangers
28 Mar, '81
Captain Dunlap of the Queens Rangers was taken with three other officers & some
privates at a place call'd Long Canes in South Carolina , & were immediately
march'd to Gilbert Town in North Carolina, a distance of one hundred miles;
Where Captn Dunlap was most inhumanely murdered in the middle of the night
as he lay Sleeping with two of the officers that were taken with him—Five
of the Rebel Militia entered the room about eleven o clock
at night and came over the bed with a lighted candle & immediately
discharged two pistols at his head the explosion of which woke those officers
that were sleeping with him & finding Captn Dunlap shot, they
impostured the Rebels not to murder them, the bed being on fire & increasing
very fast, the Rebels desired the other Officers to put out the fire,
otherwise they would immediately shoot them which they did with the
assistance of some water that lay in the room; they then demanded Captm
Dunlap's helmet, boots & Spurs, etc. and desired the Officers with Captn
Dunlap to lie down on which they left the room for about five minutes & then returned
as before and one of them going up to the bed cried out Damn him he's not yet dead
and discharged another pistol at him, & then left the room, some time after the
Officers with Captn Dunlap finding the Rebels had entirely left the
house went to Captn Dunlap & found him still alive and able to
Speak, desiring Captn Cozens to dress his wounds adding he thought he
might live if good care was taken of him, the Officers dressed his wounds in the
best manner they could, and sat up with him 'till morning & then dress'd him
again by his own desire, but could afford him no further assistance being march'd
away immediately, but got leave for a corporal to take care of him, but the
same party came into the room at two o'clock in the day with one Arthur Cob who
did everything he could to distress Captn Dunlap by telling him he must
be mov'd etc. and on Captn Dunlap's begging of them for God's sake to
let him die easy, Cob Shot him through the body with a rifle as he was sitting
up in bed supported by the Corporal, this the Corporal related on joining us
the next day.
A Major Evan Shelby lay in the same house all night, but did nothing
to prevent the murder of Captn Dunlap; who the same night gave
him eleven guineas to keep for him which he never returned--
Saml & Elij. Moore, Capn Burnet of the
Rebel Georgia Militia & one Damewood & Fox were perpatrators
of this murder--
We the Undersigned attest whats contained in this paper to be strickly
true and are ready at any time to make oath of it--
Daniel Cozens Captn
3rdBatt. New Jersey Volunteers
George Swanton Ensign ditto
Nils. E. Olds Ens. 1stB.D.
We were taken 23rd of March 1781
And the murder was committed the 28 at night.
Dr. Moss identified the corporal left with Dunlap as Josiah Foster from the
3rd battalion of the New Jersey Volunteers.
Certainly, we can say that Dunlap did not die easliy. He
lies today in Gilbert Town.
Gilbert Town: The Key Points
- Gilbert Town was the first county seat in the 16 western counties
of North Carolina. The first courthouse was located 400 feet from
the forks of Shepherd's Creek.
- Later the name was changed to Holland's Creek for James
Holland, Gilbert's son-in-law. In 1796, James Holland served on
the first Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill. He represented Rutherford County in the General
Assembly. He took his family and his mother-in-law and moved to Maury
County, Tennessee. William Gilbert is buried on Ferguson's
Hill not far from where his home once stood.
- In 1771, William Gilbert took out a license to run a tavern in his
home. This may have been used as the military hospital.
- The first store listed in the Rutherford County court minutes was
operated by a Rouse on Adams Branch near the tavern.
- On June 1, 1776, Colonel Charles McDowell and his militia skirmished
at Gilbert Town with a Tory (Americans loyal to the British Crown) and
- British Major Patrick Ferguson stayed at William Gilbert's
home from September 1, 1780, until September 27, 1780, when Ferguson's
army began its march to King's Mountain. Ferguson's men
encamped on Ferguson's Hill, going into western North Carolina
recruiting Tories and searching for food and horses.
- The Overmountain men camped at Gilbert Town the night of
October 4, 1780. Leaving on the morning of October 5, over 2,000 Patriots
chased Ferguson, attacking him at King's Mountain at 3:00 p.m.
on October 7.
- On October 13, the Overmountain men returned to Gilbert Town
with over 600 prisoners. Three men wounded at King's Mountain died
at Gilbert Town and were buried at Brittain Church side-by-side:
Thomas McCullough and the two Marsh brothers.
- Alexander Dunn, a native of Rutherford County, served under
Colonel William Porter and Captain Robert Gilkey of Rutherford
County. Dunn was in the battle of King's Mountain. Serving
under Colonel Benjamin Cleveland, Dunn was stationed at Gilbert
Town guarding against Tories and Cherokees after the battle until May, 1782.
- Joseph Ballew served under Captain Jonathon Camp at the
Battle of Cane Creek, September 12, 1780, and remained at Gilbert
Town for three months before going to South Carolina.
- Four Goforth brothers from Rutherford County served at
King's Mountain, two Patriots and two Tories. All four died in the
battle, reportedly shooting each other.
- John Hall from Virginia enlisted under Captain Shelton
and was sent in pursuit of Rall and his Tories from the head of the
Dan River. At Gilbert Town, they joined the chase after
Ferguson and Hall was in the battle at King's Mountain.
- William Meade, wounded in the Battle of Cowpens, January 17,
1781, was brought to Gilbert Town to the military hospital. He was
under the care of surgeons for eight weeks.
- Tory Major James Dunlap from New Jersey (one of Ferguson's
Provincial officers) was killed in bed at Gilbert Town, March 28, 1781,
and is buried with dead from the military hospital.
- The Bechlter Mint produced the first gold dollar in America. The
Bechlter Tunnel at the old mine is listed on the National Historical Register.
- Indian mounds are located on Cathey's Creek. About 20% of the
original mounds exist today. Cathey's Creek retains its original name from 1779.
- Francis Augsburg, known as the Father of Methodism in America,
preached at the courthouse at Gilbert Town on March 31, 1788.
- On October 4, 1998, the National Park Service certified 242 acres of
Gilbert Town as an historic site associated with the Overmountain
Victory National Historic Trail, the route of the Overmountain men
to King's Mountain.
- A one-mile portion of the Southern Railway (later Thermal Belt
Railway) line from U.S. 64 in Ruth to near Ferguson's Hill
is now a Rails-to-Trails conversion that is also certified as an
historic site along the OVNHT.
- John Blackwell of Burke County, under the command of
Colonel Charles McDowell and Captain Thomas Kennedy, was in
an engagements at Gilbert Town.
- Gilbert Town was the only place, except King's Mountain,
where both Ferguson's army and the Overmountain men camped.
This account is based on information from these sources:
- Rutherford County, North Carolina, Abstract of Minutes,
Court of Pleas and Quarterly Sessions, 1779-1787,
Complied and Edited by Hedy Hughes Newton, 1974, Forest City, North Carolina
- The Bulletin, Genealogical Society of Old Tryon
County, Forest City, North Carolina
- King's Mountain and Its Heroes, by Dr. Lyman D.
Draper, 1881, Reprint by Overmountain Press, includes the diary of Anthony Allaire
- The Patriots at King's Mountain, by Dr. Bobby Gilmer Moss,
- The Loyalits at King's Mountain, by Dr. Bobby Gilmer Moss,
- Uzal Johnson, Loyalist: Revolutionary Diary of Surgeon to Ferguson's
Command, Edited by Dr. Bobby Gilmer Moss, 2000,
Scotia-Hibernia Press, while similar to Allaire's diary, this account is more
detailed and includes the deposition regarding Dunlap.
- Journal of Capt. Alexander Chesney: Adjutant to Maj. Patrick
Ferguson, Edited by Dr. Bobby Gilmer Moss, 2002, Scotia-Hibernia Press,
offers new insights, since Chesney commanded troops under Ferguson.
The first two are available in the library of the Genealogical Society
of Old Tryon, Forest City, North Carolina.
Check the park
bookstores for Draper and Dr. Moss's books.
This page is copyright
© 1998, 2003 by Nancy Ellen Ferguson