Abingdon Muster Grounds- Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail
Backstory and Context
When the Overmountain Men refused
to take the loyalty oath to King George III as ordered by Ferguson,
he sent a message across the mountains to them. In it he warned them to comply
with his instructions or he would march across the mountains to "hang
their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword."
This threat did not go over well with the men of Tennessee. On September 26, 1780, they gathered at Sycamore Shoals under their leaders, Colonels William Campbell, Isaac Shelby, Charles McDowell and John Sevier. The next morning, even though icy winds and snow had settled on the mountains, they began a long hard march to find Ferguson and return his threat with fire.The trail begins in Abingdon, Virginia, and ends at Kings Mountain, South Carolina, where the Patriots vanquished the British. On Oct. 7, 1780, a group of Patriot militia from what is now Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia defeated British Major Patrick Ferguson and his band of Loyalist forces. Historians consider the Battle of Kings Mountain the "turning point of the Revolutionary War in the South," as it was the first significant Patriot victory following the demise of the Continental Army at Charleston and Camden.
Tom Gray was the marshal for Carter County, Tennessee. While he was talking up the local history of Fort Watauga and the Overmountain Men at Gap Creek Elementary School one day, he got the students excited about the commemorative march. As reported in the Johnson-City Press Chronicle by Kay Wilkins, a long-time and avid supporter of the OVT, they decided to build a monument because their school was on the historic route; but, they didn’t have much time. “The easy part was getting a couple of bags of mortar mix,” said Robert Clark, a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher, “but the hard part was gathering the rocks.” Students carried rocks from a dry creek bed behind the school to the roadside where custodian Bill Lyons volunteered his masonry skills. Without time to engrave a plaque, a poster greeted the first group of marchers in 1975. They stopped to dedicate the monument and to praise the patriotic spirit of the students. The children joined in the march for a mile before returning to their school. The following year, the first Gap Creek School monument was dismantled and reconstructed to accommodate a sizable plaque donated by the Tennessee Society, Sons of the Revolution. This time Lyons laid the foundation for the new monument and Larry Honeycutt laid the stones.
The Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail was created from the efforts of thousands of people across five states. From 1974 into 1980, they organized commemorative marches and pursued Congressional designation for the Trail. The effort began in Boone, NC at the Appalachian Consortium in 1974 as executive director Borden Mace collaborated with local writer and history buff, Rip Collins. After they enthused others about the commemorative march, a group of volunteers set off on September 26, 1975 from Sycamore Shoals in Elizabethton, TN. They were committed to walking the historic route of the Overmountain Men of 1780 all the way to Kings Mountain National Military Park in Cherokee and York counties, SC, some 130 miles away. Along with others who joined them on the way, the marchers arrived as planned on October 7. On the final day of this successful, first-year walk, the marchers were greeted in Kings Mountain, NC by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. In September 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed into law Congressman Broyhill’s bill thus securing for the historic route the long-sought designation as the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. Marches have continued annually for 30 years.