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OVERMOUNTAIN MEN: Re-enactors pay homage to Christopher Taylor

Above, Mark Halback plays the role of the frontier’s Rev. Doak, as he addresses the crowd.
Above, Mark Halback plays the role of the frontier’s Rev. Doak, as he addresses the crowd.

By JOHN KIENER

Associate Editor

[email protected]

Members of the Overmountain Victory Trail Association — on their way to Sycamore Shoals in Elizabethton to begin their annual march to Kings Mountain — stopped in Jonesborough Friday to honor Christopher Taylor, who fought in the pivotal battle of the American Revolution.

Firing a volley from their rifles, the re-enactors paid homage to Taylor who served as a Major under Col. John Sevier.  Taylor was named as one of the county’s 108 “Notable People” in the “History of Washington County Tennessee” (Washington County Historical Association, 2001).

His log cabin occupies a prominent place on Main Street next to the historic Chester Inn.  The home was moved from its original location near Jonesborough which was a mere settlement of a few houses when the Overmountain men marched through the area in 1780.  The cabin is also the place where future President of the United States Andrew Jackson stayed with the Taylors while he was beginning his law practice.

A crowd of about 30 persons gathered at 6 p.m. in front of the Taylor cabin and began witnessing the nearly hour long presentation by nine re-enactors.  By the end of the presentation, nearly 50 persons were in attendance.  The audience listened to Rev. Samuel Doak’s famous sermon and prayer given at Sycamore Shoals on September 26, 1780 during the mustering of the contingent of 1,000-strong Overmountain Men. Rev. Doak, also one of the county’s “Notable People,” founded Washington College.

Reacting to Major Patrick Ferguson’s threat that if the Scotch-Irish frontier settlers who lived “over the mountains” would not quit opposing British arms “he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword,” Rev. Doak said in part, “O, God of Battle, arise in thy might… smite those who exalt themselves against liberty and justice and truth.  Help us as good soldiers to wield the SWORD OF THE LORD AND GIDEON.”

Rev. Doak was played by Mark Halback who recited Doak’s complete address from memory.  Halback, before his retirement three and one-half years ago, was the manager at David Crockett State Park. The re-enactors began their march this year at Mount Pleasant in Washington County, the site of the large plantation on the bank of the Nolichucky River that was home of John Sevier.

The purpose of beginning at Mount Pleasant, according to Washington County resident Doug Ledbetter, is to survey an addition to the Overmountain Victory Trail.  The John Sevier addition would run from Mount Pleasant to Sycamore Shoals.

The Washington County addition to the trail is an ongoing quest of Ledbetter who — with his wife, Donna — lives in the Gillespie Stone House. The house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1783 for George Gillespie. It became the dividing line between Washington and Greene Counties. Ledbetter plays Captain Tom Gillespie who fought in the battle.

Sevier, who would become the first Governor of Tennessee, commanded a Washington County militia force of 240 men. To provide funds for the march, Sevier obtained a loan from John Adair, putting up his own property as collateral. John’s father was Valentine Sevier (1702-1803) who was born in London and known as “The Immigrant.”  Valentine died in Carter County when he was 101-years old.

The settlers in what is now Tennessee had crossed over the “Royal Proclamation of 1763,” a boundary that forbade English settlement on Indian lands.  The British considered them illegal.  As explained Friday by re-enactor Steve Ricker, “We (Overmountain Men) were the first illegal immigrants.” In March 1775, the settlers purchased their lands from the Cherokee but the British continued to consider them “illegals.”  Ricker is part of the Knoxville Trail contingent seeking to add the John Sevier Route to the present Overmountain Victory Trail.

The trail today consists of 330 miles but less than 100 miles have been developed for public hiking use. Most re-enactors who have participated in the annual two-week march agree that Roan Mountain is the most beautiful spot on the route. There is a commemorative motor route that approximately traces the trail. Federal legislation signed by President Jimmy Carter officially designated the route as the Overmoutain Victory National Historic Trail in 1980.

In addition to tracing the route from Mount Pleasant to Sycamore Shoals, Ledbetter stopped last week at three Washington County Schools — Grandview Elementary, South Central and West View Elementary — to tell 435 students about Kings Mountain and the Overmountain men. Dressed in a period costume, Ledbetter said the students asked a number of questions about his weapons. The most often asked question posed to him, however, was, “Did you fight in the battle?”  Ledbetter answers that the battle took place 236 years ago and he would be more than 250 years old if still living.

The re-enactors distributed “Overmountain Victory” brochures to people on Main Street Friday before their program honoring Christopher Taylor.