Gilbert Town: Its Place in North Carolina and Revolutionary War History E-mail

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Updated January 18, 2004

Gilbert Town:
Its Place in North Carolina
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

Formation     The Government     The Courthouse     Early Court Cases     William Gilbert     The Village     Early Forts     Patrick Ferguson     Overmountain Men & Trail     Colonel Andrew Hampton     General Griffith Rutherford     Major James Dunlap     Gilbert Town Key Points     Sources     Links



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.

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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 General Assembly.

In 1868, the county was ruled by a new governing body called the County Commissioners

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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.

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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 the James 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.

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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, since Patrick 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.

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William Gilbert

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."

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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.

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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 Musgrove's Mill, 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.

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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 Mountain campaign.
  • 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.
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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, North Carolina.

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 took poultry, 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.

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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 Rutherford and 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.

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The enemy was near the Hampton home when they found an unexpected surprise. Andrew 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 gathering. They 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, young Hampton 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, where that battle took place on October 7th, 1780.

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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 overmountain settlements 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 County. William Campbell brought in about 400 men from Washington County, Virginia. Charles 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 into today's Avery County, North Carolina. Continuing southeast, the men reached the McDowell home at Quaker Meadows on the last day of September. Lying along the Catawba River, the 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.

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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 commanded American 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.

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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 night, using 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 October 14th.

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 Shelby had the North Carolina statutes brought from Gilbert Town. He formed a court from the North Carolina magistrates present to try the prisoners under North Carolina law, not by court martial.

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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 Tarleton was approaching. The Patriot army began a forced march for Quaker Meadows to 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, local people 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.

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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 King's Mountain, 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.

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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 children.

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.

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When reports arrived that Colonel Charles McDowell was besieged at Quaker Meadows 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. Rutherford 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 Rutherford arrived, 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 Yorktown, 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 the Wilmington 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.

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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 Trace. Comparing 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
singing streams.
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.

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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.

Dunlap 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 commander, Dunlap and his men killed both the Patriot garrison and the Loyalists being held there!

When the British retreated from Philadelphia, Dunlap's company was in the Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey, June, 1778. On August 31, 1778, Dunlap's 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.

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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 the house.

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 King's Mountain.

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 next night.

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.

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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:

Declaration respecting
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.
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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.

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Gilbert Town: The Key Points

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. In 1771, William Gilbert took out a license to run a tavern in his home. This may have been used as the military hospital.
  4. The first store listed in the Rutherford County court minutes was operated by a Rouse on Adams Branch near the tavern.
  5. On June 1, 1776, Colonel Charles McDowell and his militia skirmished at Gilbert Town with a Tory (Americans loyal to the British Crown) and Cherokee party.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. The Bechlter Mint produced the first gold dollar in America. The Bechlter Tunnel at the old mine is listed on the National Historical Register.
  16. 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.
  17. Francis Augsburg, known as the Father of Methodism in America, preached at the courthouse at Gilbert Town on March 31, 1788.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. John Blackwell of Burke County, under the command of Colonel Charles McDowell and Captain Thomas Kennedy, was in an engagements at Gilbert Town.
  21. Gilbert Town was the only place, except King's Mountain, where both Ferguson's army and the Overmountain men camped.
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Suggested Reading

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, Scotia-Hibernia Press
  • The Loyalits at King's Mountain, by Dr. Bobby Gilmer Moss, Scotia-Hibernia Press
  • 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.

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This page is copyright © 1998, 2003 by Nancy Ellen Ferguson