The United States of America may have been born on July 4th, 1776, but the idea of American self-government began a full four years earlier in 1772, and it happened in what is now Elizabethton, Tennessee. Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park will celebrate the birth of American democracy with a special event on Saturday, April 9th commemorating the 250th anniversary of the Watauga Association.
In 1763 a royal proclamation had forbidden settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. As British rule became increasingly oppressive in the colonies, people began to move west across the Blue Ridge. Being outside the authority of the 13 colonies, the settlers in the Watauga River valley saw the need for law and order and joined together to create a compact to “govern and direct for the common good of the people”. In the spring of 1772, meeting under a large sycamore tree by the Doe River in what is now Elizabethton, TN, settlement leaders drafted articles of governance for the Watauga Association. They negotiated a land lease, and later a purchase, with the Cherokee, formed a court and a militia, and organized the defense of the settlement in 1776.
The Watauga Association existed as a body of democratic self-rule for 5 years before being annexed by North Carolina in 1777 as Washington County. Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, said, “It at least sets a dangerous example to the people of America of forming governments distinct from and independent of His Majesty’s authority.” In later years historians would call the Watauga Association the first free and independent community on the continent. It proved that Americans could govern themselves, and four years later the 13 colonies would declare independence from Great Britain.
If you would like to join in the celebration of this historic occasion, come to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton, TN on Saturday, April 9th. The commemoration will begin at 10:00 am in the Fort Watauga Amphitheater with a special ceremony which will include a wreath laying, a proclamation by the Carter County Commission, and a presentation of the Watauga Association scene from Tennessee’s official outdoor drama, Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals.
Following the morning program guests are invited to visit the many displays and demonstration of 18th century life that will be presented throughout the day in and around the replica of Fort Watauga. Presentations will include 18th century weaponry, uniforms and clothing of the period, soldier’s equipment, quill pen writing, colonial era music, women’s roles on the frontier, flintlock musket and rifle demonstrations, militia drill, and much more. The event will close at 4:00 pm.
Also, as part of the celebration, commemorative tours of the historic Carter Mansion will be offered. Built in 1775, the Carter Mansion is Tennessee’s oldest frame-house and was built by Col. John Carter who served as the Chairman of the Watauga Association. Enjoy the detailed 18th century interiors, hand carved moldings, and over-mantle paintings as you visit this elegant frontier home. Tours will be at 11:00 am, 1:30 pm, & 2:30 pm. Admission is free, but you must register at www.tnstateparks.com/parks/events/sycamore-shoals. The John and Landon Carter Mansion is located at 1031 Broad Street, Elizabethton, TN 37643.
The Watauga Association 250th is a chance to bring the entire family and immerse yourself in one of Tennessee’s most historic sites. Admission is free so take this rare opportunity to be a part of the anniversary of one of the most historic events in our nation’s history. Walk in the path of patriots, “share in the glorious cause of liberty”, and see how you can make history at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park!
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park is located at 1651 West Elk Ave. Elizabethton, TN 37643. For more information log on to www.tnstateparks.com, visit us on Facebook, or call 423-543-5808.