Friends of
Sycamore Shoals
State Historic Park

The Stories of "Liberty!"

"Where History Comes to Life"

The Saga of Sycamore Shoals

During the eighteenth century, as and in the colonies became scarce and British rule increasingly oppressive, people began to push beyond the colonial borders and onto land deemed “Indian Territory” by Great Britain. The King of England had made a law called the Royal Proclamation of the 1763, which forbid any settlements west of the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. The settlers, seeking new land and a fresh future for their families, began living here illegally, and the risks were high.

Facing retribution for violating British law, the uncertainty of wilderness and a fragile harmony with the native Cherokee people, settlers were willing to give up everything to begin a new life in the Watauga Settlement. This seemingly impossible challenge was met with resolve and fortitude. These early founders of what would later become Tennessee found strength and courage together as the community in their pursuit – of "LIBERTY!"

This is the Saga of Sycamore Shoals …

First to be Free! A Dangerous Example

The settlers seeking new land and a fresh future for their families were actually living here illegally. The king of England had made a law called the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which forbid any settlements west of the crest of the Appalachian Mountains. The settlers appealed to the colonies of Virginia and North Carolina to annex the Watauga Settlement, but the colonies were unwilling.

In 1772 the Watauga Settlement formed their own government called the Watauga Association. Formed four years before the Declaration of Independence, this was the first free and independent government formed on the continent. It was a system of 5 judges elected by settlers. This made it possible to maintain law and order and conduct business, specifically to lease the land occupied by the settlers from the Cherokee. John Carter, John Sevier, and James Robertson were among the first 5 judges.

A Land All Our Own

The settlers and the Cherokee were able to live together in relative peace and harmony for several years until 1775. Here at Sycamore Shoals, a man named Judge Richard Henderson purchased by means of the Transylvania Land Company from Chief Attacullaculla of the Cherokee Indians what is now Kentucky and most of Middle Tennessee. This was called the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals and was the largest private land transaction to take place in American history which has gone unmatched even today! During the negotiations, many of the people here including John Carter, purchased their land as well which they had previously leased from the Cherokee.

A Dark and Bloody Ground

In 1775, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals depicted in the drama as the "Transylvania Purchase", took place at Sycamore Shoals and divided the Cherokee who were devoted to protecting their lands from those who wished to remain peaceful with the settlers. Attakullakulla, the Little Carpenter, was a peaceful chief, friendly to settlers, and in favor of the treaty. His son, Dragging Canoe, was not in favor of the land purchase and predicted that the land the settlers had bought had “a cloud hanging over it and was a dark and bloody ground”. Dragging Canoe took with him about 1,000 braves and relocated south to Chilhowie. When the American Revolution began, peace became fragile on the frontier as the British Army began providing guns and ammunition to their Cherokee allies. The settlers knew that an attack was now unavoidable.

Siege of Fort Watauga

On the morning of July 21, 1776, nearly three hundred Cherokee warriors attacked Fort Watauga. The attack was fierce for about three hours and random attacks lasted for about two weeks. At one point during this time approximately 150 people took shelter inside the fort. Living conditions were no doubt crowded and miserable. Under the command of Captain James Robertson, and Lieutenant John Sevier, the fort was successfully defended with minimal casualties among the settlers. After devastating defeats, the Cherokee warriors fled further south.

They Turned the Tide of the American Revolution

On the banks of a rocky stretch of the Watauga River stood the settlement at Watauga Old Fields and Fort Watauga which by 1780 already had a rich history. On September 25 it became one of the primary muster sites for the Overmountain Men. More than 600 Patriots under the command of Sevier, Shelby, McDowell and Hampton mustered here once Ferguson’s threat was known. In addition to the men under those commanders, there were those who had traveled from Virginia under Campbell, bringing the total to over 1,000 militia members. They encamped on the flats along the river and on the morning of the 26th of September heard a sermon from Reverend Samuel Doak, who invoked the “sword of the Lord and of Gideon” in praying for and rousing the gathered Patriots. They set off that morning in pursuit of Ferguson and their freedom. The men traveled for nearly 2 weeks through unforgiving mountain conditions and found Ferguson and his men at King’s Mountain in South Carolina. In a battle that lasted little more than one hour, the courageous frontier militia was victorious! This battle was a decisive Patriot victory which helped win the American Revolution, and turned the tide— for LIBERTY!  

In The Winning of the West, Theodore Roosevelt wrote of Kings Mountain, "This brilliant victory marked the turning point of the American Revolution." Thomas Jefferson called it, "The turn of the tide of success." Herbert Hoover's address at Kings Mountain said, "This is a place of inspiring memories. Here less than a thousand men, inspired by the urge of freedom, defeated a superior force intrenched in this strategic position. This small band of patriots turned back a dangerous invasion well designed to separate and dismember the united Colonies. It was a little army and a little battle, but it was of mighty portent. History has done scant justice to its significance, which rightly should place it beside Lexington, Bunker Hill, Trenton and Yorktown." [sources: National Park Service & The Douglas Archives]

Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area features an interpretive museum and film which tells about the history of the site and the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVNHT). It features a certified section of trail to walk with interpretive waysides, which passes by the section of river the men from Virginia forded, the muster field, and a reconstruction of Fort Watauga. Other sights to see include an arboretum and a butterfly garden. 

More information about the history, region, and historical figures portrayed in "Liberty!" can be found at:

Tennessee Historical Society

Relay Graduate School of Education Library

Tennessee History

Tennessee History for Kids

More information on Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park and Friends of Sycamore Shoals

Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park

c/o Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area

Jason Davis, Park Manager

1651 W. Elk Avenue

Elizabethton, TN 37643



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Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. P.O. Box 1772, Elizabethton TN 37644-1772
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park is located at 1651 W. Elk Ave., Elizabethton, TN 37643
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