Episode 7: Dysart Family, Continued

On May 4 of this year, I introduced you to the Dysarts of Dysartsville. As there are none left in the area, I cannot share memories from interviews. I have edited some of my earlier findings that may have been untrue. This past summer I did meet a John Dysart who grew up in the Mackey Mountain area of Pleasant Gardens, where Pete Gibbs of Lake Tahoma Steak House legend lived. (The Bear Hunter’s Son) Although, Mr. Dysart denied knowledge of family in Dysartsville, he claimed relation to the Greenlees, and they were all involved in the gold mining era that came to Dysartsville in the 1800’s. However that will come later in my story. For now, we are tracking down the James Dysart family, and I have contradicting information, probably because there was an abundance of James and Johns.

In fact, a James Dysart from Donegal, Ireland, came to Philadelphia in 1761, and settled around the Little Holston River area in Tennessee. He married Mattie Beattie and had three sons and three daughters who stayed in Tennessee and Kentucky. However, this James Dysart answered the call of the Overmountain Men and fought at King’s Mountain in 1780 where he was badly wounded; his hand was crippled for life, according to Lyman Draper, pg 404 of King’s Mountain and It’s Heroes. He died in 1806. Ironically our James Dysart was there as well, but he died in 1781, at the Battle of Cowan’s Ford.

At the western foot of Pilot Mtn that stands alone
South Mtn range to the right

In the McDowell County Library research room, there is a prized historical scrapbook put together by Nina Greenlee, a noted historian. She records that Captain Bill Moore was the “first white settler west of the French Broad River.” Before that, he had a cabin on the South Muddy Creek in the area to be Dysartsville. Moore’s Fort surrounded at least one large log building that served as the “Muddy Creek Mission,” a community meeting place for worship among other uses. His first residence in North Carolina, on property later sold to “Mr. Bill Owens, a well-to-do and well-respected black farmer from Brackett Town.” (from My Father’s Folks: Laughridge Family, an article by Jennie Lee Laughridge, 1906-1992, in Burke Co library) Mr. Moore bought two grants, making a total of about a thousand acres at the foot of Pilot Mountain. Mr. Charles McFeeters was an adjoining landowner. William Higgins, Morrisons and Pearsons were also neighbors.

Bill Moore’s standing rock chimney was said to be on the old Bridgewater Road (Dysartsville Rd) two miles north of the “Crossroads.” It might be found in the fork of Mills and Muddy Creek, close to Rhom Duncan’s current house, which is said to be on former Owens land. William Hamilton Moore’s family gave land to build the Drucilla Presbyterian Church, also north of this area, and within its cemetery rest settlers and soldiers from the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and WWI and WWII.

Here is another possibility for confusion. Mr. Draper wrote in 1881 about a Mr. William Moore from Washington County in Tennessee from the Watauga settlements who came down the mountain to fight at King’s Mountain in 1780. He was so badly injured there that his leg had to be amputated. His pioneer wife came down to fetch him in the family wagon and carry him back to the Holston area. This was in November, not a good time to travel over a mountain. Mr. Moore hung on until 1826, receiving his invalid pension for 37 years.

Our Dysartsville Captain Moore married Margaret Patton, daughter of Benjamin Patton, one of the signers of the Mecklenberg Declaration of Independence, (Charlotte) and that seemed to be worthy of four grants to 1200 acres on both sides of Hominy Creek. The census of 1790 showed Captain Bill living on South Muddy, but in 1794 he gave up the questionable “safety” of civilization and moved up the Blue Ridge to Hominy Creek. He was 68 years old. Soon other settlers joined him, and the area became Asheville and Buncombe County where his family has flourished for over 200 years. Folks in western North Carolina put down deep roots. Captain Bill’s tombstone reports death visited him on November 12, 1812. His descendant, Daniel Moore, would be governor of North Carolina, 1965-1969, when governors could only serve one term, but he then served on the NC Supreme Court, 1969-1978.

Another pioneer who came to Dysartsville in 1776 was Hampton Cowan, who owned property adjoining Moore’s land on both sides of the road (now US-64) that meandered from Quaker Meadows (now Morganton), to Gilbert Town (now the county seat Rutherfordton) of Rutherford County. Captain James Jack was another early settler in the area on what was later known as the Hemphill place. According to Jennie Lee Laughridge, Captain Jack carried the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence to Philadelphia on horseback in 1775. His sister Charity married Dr. Cornelius Dysart, son of James and Margaret Dysart. Other property owners in 1776 were Robert Patton, John Dysart, and John’s mother, Margaret Dysart, all located close to the South Muddy Creek and the road that would become Hiway 226. The intersection of two roads here gave the settlement its first name of Crossroads.

Historical Marker on the west side of 64 and Cane Creek

What better way to resume the history of my neighborhood than to attend a presentation at the McDowell library about the Battle of Cane Creek, often confusingly called the Battle of Cowan’s Ford. But I explained this in the last episode. The historical marker now reads Battle of Cane Creek, and we will go with that. Archaeologist Kenneth Robinson, whose mother Evelyn Daves Robinson was born in Dysartsville in 1926, was hired by the Foothills Conservancy which obtained an American Battlefield Protection grant from the National Park Service to investigate the site of the battle that took place on September 12, 1780. This was less than a month before the crucial Battle at King’s Mountain in South Carolina that many say changed the momentum of the Revolutionary War.

Looking North where 64 cuts through a mountain over the probable battle area on a now tame Cane Creek

Robinson first examined the area of concentration for the project, the Upper Crossing of Cane Creek, south of Bedford Hill where today’s US-64 is cut into a steep slope of the South Mountains and its foothill on Fortune Road. Bedford Hill is close to the grassy field where Overmountain men camped on their way from Quaker Meadows to King’s Mountain in 1780. Back then, the road had a steep grade. Robinson suggests that the mountainous terrain would have offered possibilities of retreat, especially in the dense forest.  On September 11, The Patriots were returning to Watauga settlements for a meeting, but when they heard Ferguson was giving chase, they picked a suitable place for an ambush, near the crossroads where Cane Creek seemed to follow a volcanic fault line in a gorge west of the highway toward the old Marshall place. The exact spot of battle has not yet been determined. According to Anne Landis Swann, The Other Side of the River, pg 228, the William Marshall property was purchased in 1859 by Jonathan Walker, and later by her ancestor Joseph B. Landis, Jr, to whose family a portion of the land still belongs.

The British officer leading about 150 Tories had brought forty men from New York and New Jersey with him, but the larger part of his force was from local communities in South Carolina and North Carolina. I don’t often think of the Revolutionary War as neighbors fighting neighbors, but they were. J.D. Lewis has an online site on which he has compiled the names of those who fought. The Goforth kids from Rutherfordton wiped each other out, and that is just one family’s story. I can hear mamas crying.

On page 50 of Draper’s book, he described Ferguson’s outstanding capabilities. “He invented a new species of rifle, which could be loaded with greater celerity, and fired with more precision than any then in use. He could load his newly constructed gun at the breech without using the ramrod, and with such quickness and repetition as to fire seven times in a minute. He was regarded as the best rifle shot in the British army, if not the best marksman living.” He was also goal-oriented as evidenced by his determined recovery from a wound that would have sent other men back home. Ferguson’s right arm was shattered and rendered useless by an opponent’s bullet. He had to learn how to shoot and use a sword with his left hand while astride his valiant white steed.

Ferguson also used a brief charisma to appeal to a moral superiority shared by some local Carolinians. “We come not,” declared Ferguson, “to make war on women and children, but to relieve their distresses.” (King’s Mountain and It’s Heroes, page 72) Unfortunately, not all of his troops got the memo.

Captain Patrick Ferguson was a worthy foe, but his pride ignored the expertise of the American frontiersman who used their rifles to feed their families.

However, the initial confrontation with Carolinians started out badly for the home team in July of 1780. There were three skirmishes in which the Tories prevailed over the Patriots led by Colonel Charles McDowell from Quaker Meadows in Burke County. In the third encounter, Colonel Andrew Hampton lost his son and forever held McDowell accountable since he had refused to post sentries. Noah Hampton and his friend were run through with bayonets as they woke up. This attack was in retaliation for an earlier bloodless raid on the Loyalists by the Patriots.

Ferguson was camped in Gilbert Town, and it looked as though everything was going his way. On the coast, Charleston had fallen, and a British victory near Camden in August made Cornwallis appear to have conquered South Carolina. But power was laced with cruelty. If a suspected Whig (Patriot) fled to escape an insult, the whip or the rope, followers of Ferguson and Tarleton often burned his house down and raped his women. If sons refused to betray parents, they were hung. The criminal Tories probably were a small minority, but their atrocities were real. We must remember our history so we do not repeat it. Erasing it fosters ignorance.

From a British journal written by Lt. Anthony Allaire from New York, we know that Ferguson got his troops in motion at two o’clock that morning and marched up Cane Creek in Rutherford County, near the 2nd Broad River, all the way to its headwaters in the next county at daylight. About 15 miles. According to Robinson’s presentation at the library , it was very common for soldiers to move at night because they were avoiding the sun’s heat that would drain their energy. The Loyalists had to cross Cane Creek 19 times because it was so crooked. (Since then it has been straightened.) Mr. Robinson also pointed out that Lt. Allaire might not have looked favorably upon the locals. In his journal he reported that a Mrs. Bowman who lived near Cane Creek had a young child who had smoked tobacco for three years. Fake news? Or history?

Draper’s account reports the Patriots awaited the arrival of the British, and “an indecisive fight transpired. The enemy, after receiving the unexpected fire of McDowell’s backwoodsmen, rallied, and beat back the Americans, killing, among others, one Scott, of Burke County…By the heroic efforts especially of Major Joseph McDowell–the Colonel’s brother–Captain Thomas Kennedy, and one McKay (often pronounced Mackey), the Whigs were brought again into action. Major McDowell was particularly active, swearing roundly that he would never yield, nor should his Burke boys–appealing to them to stand by and die with him, if need be. By their united bravery and good bushwhacking management, in which their real wickedness was concealed, and by their activity and well-directed rifle shots, they succeeded in inflicting considerable execution on their antagonists–killing several, and, among others, wounding Major Dunlap.” (Draper, King’s Mountain and It’s Heroes, pg 148-149)

Two British journalists have similar accounts of the Patriots loss, one fatality and seventeen prisoners, along with seizure of 12 horses and all ammunition. The reports were supported by two Patriots when they filled out their pension applications years later. According to Robinson, Richard Ballew remembered that, “We had battle on Cane Creek, and Hemphill was killed. We got whipped.” Hemphill is buried at the Drucilla Presbyterian Church in Dysartsville. Robinson also said that in John Dysart’s pension application, he admitted, “We were rather defeated.” Truth to them, and not forgotten. History to us.

After Cane Creek, Ferguson was anxious to complete his victory lap and emboldened to the point of arrogance. He released prisoner Samuel Phillips with a message to be delivered to the officers on the western borders at the Watauga settlements, Nolachucky and Holston. This is where Col Charles McDowell and Col Andrew Hampton had taken their 160 men after the fight at Cane Creek. There was a rendezvous planned at Sycamore Flats at the Shoals in Tennessee on September 25.The men were demoralized, and since the Patriots at the edge of the frontier had crops to tend and Indian threats, the month of October might have been a well-needed rest for the militia.

The message that Ferguson unwisely sent was his death warrant served at the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 6, 1780. He told the settlers, “if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.” (Draper citing three references in King’s Mountain and It’s Heroes, pg 169)

The resistance of 160 men became a furious force of thousands. The rest is our history.

Surrender at Yorktown 1781
Artist John Trumbell/courtesy of Wikimedia Common


Copyright @2017 Georgia Wilson Edited Nov 26, 27, 28, 29


This entry was posted in Dysartsville Saga, McDowell County and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Episode 7: Dysart Family, Continued

  1. sandra214 says:

    Your depth of research and attention to detail rivals the best, most respected historians. Thank you for this very interesting piece on the Dysarts of Dysartsville.

    • georgia ruth says:

      Thank you Sandra, from the determined fact finder for We Bought a WWII Bomber, this is indeed a compliment. I respect the wisdom that a study of history reveals, and I strive to be accurate. Whole societies have made mistakes in the past, but the individual weighs many different factors because he is accountable for himself. IMHO Thx for responding!!!

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