Sir Walter Scott, in one of
his greatest historical fictions, has immortalized Robert Patterson under
the name of "Old Mortality." Patterson was a Cameronian, and a descendant
of some of the Covenanters who had perished under the reigns of the bloody
Stuarts. When the hand of persecution was staid, friends and kindred had
erected simple memorial stones over the graves of those who had perished
for their faith, on which were carved in rude letters their names, their
virtues, and their deeds. "Old Mortality," forsaking home and kindred,
with hammer and chisel, devoted forty years of his life in visiting these
tombs, in setting up the fallen slabs, in brushing away the moss and
lichen, in repairing the defaced letters, and in brightening the dim
inscriptions. In every place where the Covenanter had perished, was
annually heard the click of the hammer of " Old Mortality." In the humble
sphere of imitation, we too, like " Old Mortality," come to brush away the
moss and lichen which have gathered on the tombs of our ancestors, and to
revive the almost forgotten memory of their great deeds.
It would be difficult to
fully understand the characteristics of the Scotch-Irish without some
knowledge of the antecedent history of their Scottish ancestry. The
history of Scotland, and of the lives of its people, during the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries is the history of the religion of the Scotch
people. Previous to the time of John Knox, Scotland was Romish in faith.
The reformation had made but little progress there. At every manifestation
it made, it was repressed with an iron hand. Knox had been absent for some
years with Calvin in Geneva. The Scottish nobility now invited him to
return to Scotland. Immediately on his return, he was proclaimed a rebel
and an outlaw. The nobility prepared to defend him and his religion with
arms! It was a time of extreme peril. But no earthly perils could silence
the voice of Knox, nor subdue his undaunted spirit. As dangers thickened,
he was kindled into the highest enthusiasm. He inspired his followers with
his own great courage.
In August, 1560, a free
Parliament assembled; and, under the inspiration of Knox, all papal
jurisdiction and ceremonies were abolished, and the Protestant faith made
the national religion of Scotland.
The reigns of James I. and
Charles I. were marked by acts of perfidy and persecution against the
Scottish people. Each of these monarchs claimed to be the head of the
Church, with the power to appoint bishops and regulate all ecclesiastical
affairs. Their object was to overthrow Presbyterianism, and to establish
the Anglican Church. Under the direction of Charles, a book of canons and
liturgy was prepared for use there. Every minister was required to adhere
to the prescribed forms, under pain of expulsion. The people rose in
defense of their religion. Ministers and noblemen sent petitions to the
king, entreating him to suspend the use of the liturgy. Crowds of people
flocked to Edinburgh to learn the king's answer. Instigated by the
monster, Laud, he answered by commanding instant obedience to the
requirements of the service book, and denouncing all dissent as treason.
Now, the Presbyterians felt
that a great crisis had arrived, when they must resist or give up their
religion and bow to the yoke of a tyrant. They were prompt to decide. They
determined to renew the old "National League and Covenant" of 1580. At
day-break, on the day appointed, Greyfriars Church, in Edinburgh, and
church-yard were filled with Scotland's nobility and peasantry. After an
earnest prayer by Henderson, Johnstone, in a clear voice, read the
covenant. "We promise and swear," ran this solemn instrument at its close,
"by the great name of the Lord our God, to continue in the profession and
obedience of the said religion; and that we shall defend the same, and
resist all their contrary errors and corruptions, according to our
vocation, and the utmost of that power which God has put in our hands, all
the days of our life."
The venerable Earl of
Sutherland was the first to come forward and put his name to this solemn
pledge; then others followed. When all in the church had signed, it was
taken to the church-yard and spread out on a grave-stone, where the vast
crowd signed it. The next day three hundred ministers signed it. Copies
were made, and gentlemen and nobles, ministers and peasants rode with
rapid speed over Scotland to procure signatures. And thus the
Presbyterians of Scotland acquired the immortal name of "Covenanters."
The "Bishops War" followed.
Twice the king's armies were led into Scotland, and twice they were
defeated and driven back in confusion. Charles II. renewed the effort to
establish Episcopacy. Under the influence of Sharp, a cruel tyrant, who
had been made archbishop, an edict was made, commanding all Presbyterian
ministers to submit to the bishops, or be expelled from their charges.
Soldiers were poured into Scotland to enforce obedience. The Covenant was
burned by the common hangman. On a dreary winter Sabbath nearly four
hundred ministers, amid the tears of their congregations, preached their
sad farewell sermons. The next day they were fugitives in the snow-clad
mountains. The fugitive ministers were hunted out in their secret
concealments like wild beasts, and their faithful followers shot down in
cold blood, or tortured and mutilated.
In 1666 despair drove the people to arms on
the Pentland Hills. The battle lasted till evening, when the famished
peasants fled. New persecutions followed. The penalty of death was
denounced on all who should preach in the open air or attend such a
on coming to the throne, "hunted down the scattered remnant of the
Covenanters," says Macaulay, "with a barbarity of which no prince of
modern times, Philip the Second alone excepted, had ever shown himself
preaching still went on. In the wild recesses of the mountains, the
Covenanters still secretly assembled, still prayed, still preached. The
merciless Claverhouse, with his fierce dragoons, was ever on their track.
With blood-hounds and baying dogs they hunted them out in their secret
retreats. A body of Highlanders, more savage and alert than blood-hounds,
was brought down to aid in ferreting out the fugitives.
Perhaps no people in Europe so universally
accepted the doctrines of the Reformation as the Lowlanders of Scotland.
They were Presbyterians of the strictest faith. Through all their
persecutions they remained true to their solemn Covenant. They several
times flew to arms, many of them with no weapons but farm implements, and
with no leaders but religious enthusiasts. The battle of Loudon Hill was
fought and won against the fearful Claverhouse by such men.
In 1688 the yellow banner of William II., the
mild Protestant Prince of Orange, floated over Scotland, and gave peace
and security to its weary, faithful people. The national Covenant bad been
kept, and a legacy of civil and religious liberty had been secured, not
alone for Scotland, but for all mankind. On all struggling people has
descended, and still descends, like the dew of Hermon, the blessings of
the Covenant and of this great victory. The contest lasted, with short
respites, for nearly one hundred years. The last great struggle, the
fiercest and the cruelest, lasted continuously for twenty-eight years.
From this school of trial came forth that long
list of scholars, poets, philosophers, divines, and historians which have
made Scotland so illustrious. The national spirit was exalted by trial and
suffering. The national intellect was quickened, and kindled into a blaze
of intensity. Great intellectual lights shot up everywhere. During this
long struggle many of her people passed over into Ireland, and settled
there. Some had been banished; some sent to the "Plantations " and sold
into slavery; and others had, to avoid persecution, voluntarily emigrated
to the colonies or to Canada. It was in the trials and conflicts which I
have referred to that the hardy and robust Scotch-Irish colonists were
formed and molded into their heroic proportions.
I now return to Ireland. During the reign of
James I., a part of the Irish nobles having rebelled against his
authority, after reducing them to submission, he declared their lands
forfeited to the crown. On these lands he planted a Scotch and an English
colony. The region to which they went was wild and desolate, having been
wasted by war and forays. They found it a desert, and made it a garden of
fertility and productiveness. By industry and frugality they became
prosperous, and soon gathered around their little homes the comforts and
many of the luxuries of the age. These Scotch colonists were a brave,
austere, evenly poised race. No danger could daunt them; no earthly power
subdue their stubborn wills, or swerve them from duty. Their
Presbyterianism was founded on conviction, and had been confirmed by
persecution. It was a part of their very being.
The Episcopal form of worship was the
established religion in Ireland. The country was under the domination of
the Established Church. The natives were Catholics. When the Scotch-Irish
first came to Ireland, their religious scruples were respected. Soon,
however, the bishops began to suspend Presbyterian ministers from their
functions. "All who refused to obey the bishops, and introduce and use the
liturgy, were deprived of their cures.'' Numbers of ministers were
arrested and imprisoned for non-conformity. In Ulster alone sixty-one
ministers were deposed, their pulpits declared vacant, and curates sent in
some cases to take possession of them. The bishops insisted that no
minister should officiate unless he had been ordained by them. In some
parts of Ulster the people were not permitted to bury their dead unless an
episcopal minister officiated and read the burial service of that Church.
Efforts were made to prohibit Presbyterian ministers from celebrating the
rite of marriage among their own people. Private members were subjected to
prosecution in the ecclesiastical courts for their marriage by their own
clergy. A law for the "suppression of popery" was turned against the
Presbyterian dissenters. Froude says: "The bishops fell on the grievance,
which had so long afflicted them, of the Presbyterian marriages.
Dissenting ministers were un-sanctified upstarts, whose pretended
ceremonial was but a license for sin. It was announced that the children
of Protestants not married in a church should be treated as bastards, and
many persons of undoubted reputation were prosecuted in the Bishops'
Courts as fornicators."
With a strange fatuity, the British Parliament
imposed grievous restrictions on the trade of the Irish colonists, which
threatened their industrial enterprises with ruin. To add to the many
wrongs under which they suffered, as their leases expired, the landlords
commenced demanding higher rents. Often these amounted to little less than
Thus wronged by the Church, and stung with indignation at the perfidy and
the ingratitude of the British Government, at last the patience of the
Scotch-Irish was exhausted: and they determined to seek homes in the
wilderness beyond the Atlantic, "in a country where the long arm of
prelacy was too short to reach them." When we recall how prompt the
ancestors of these men had been in Scotland in resistance to oppression,
and remember how ready they were afterward, in the colonies, to fly to
arms against little more than merely menaced wrongs, we are amazed at the
patience with which they endured their multiplied grievances in Ireland
for one hundred years. God had not yet turned their hearts to war, but had
held them in check, and reserved their courage for a larger theater of
brighter hope and wider usefulness.
It is impossible, within the short limits of
this paper, to give a detailed history of the remarkable exodus of the
Scotch-Irish from Ireland, which commenced in force early after the year
1700. Doubtless a considerable number had emigrated previous to this time,
but after that date it became active and unceasing. Between 1729 and 1750
it is stated that 12,000 annually arrived in Philadelphia alone. With more
or less activity, the swelling stream of immigration continued to pour
upon our shores until 1774. The number of Scotch and Scotch-Irish blood in
the colonies at the date of the Revolution must have been between 500,000
and 800,000 souls. It is impossible to trace out accurately the separate
streams of these two sources of population; nor is it necessary, since
they were in most of their characteristics essentially the same. But the
Scotch-Irish element was very much the more numerous and potential. A
majority at first landed in Philadelphia. Afterward many of these passed
over into Virginia, and moved southward into North Carolina. It is this
last colony that I am at present most interested in considering. [My
Grandfather Temple moved from Pennsylvania to Mecklenburg County, N. C, in
1766; and my grandfather, Capt. Samuel Craig, moved from the same colony
to South Carolina after the close of the Revolutionary War.] It is
conceded by all the authorities I have seen that the larger part of the
colonists of North Carolina were Scotch and Scotch-Irish. There were
several reasons why this colony should have been chosen as their home—a
mild climate, fertile lands, perfect freedom of religious worship: these
were, perhaps, the most potent.
It may be well to state that this colony was
at first proprietary. In 1663 Charles II. granted to eight of his
noblemen—namely, Edward, Earl of Clarendon ; George, Duke of Albemarle;
William, Earl of Craven; John, Lord Berkeley; Anthony, Lord Ashley; Sir
George Carteret, Sir John Colleton, and Sir William Berkeley—all the
country lying between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, between the
31st and the 36th parallels of latitude, which was called Carolina. This
grant covered the present States of North and South Carolina, Georgia,
part of Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, a
part of Missouri, nearly all of Texas, and a large part of Mexico and
California. These men were made proprietors of this immense domain. Locke
and Shaftsbury drew up a Constitution for its government, aristocratic in
all its features, which was heralded to the world as the perfection of
human wisdom. Long lines of earls, dukes, lords, and nobles were to have
feudal dominion and exercise perpetual authority over this vast territory.
The Anglican Church was to be supported by the State, and, with splendid
pomp and ceremonial, was to regulate the religion and consciences of men.
This Constitution, which was framed to endure forever, never had a trial,
and is remembered only as a magnificent monument of the folly of
attempting to transplant to the wilderness the feudal institutions of the
Old World. The pioneers of the woods waved it aside as if it had been the
merest gossamer. This work of the first philosopher and the first
statesman of that age was swept away by the first breath of popular
discontent. The pioneers substituted for it their own sovereign will. A
mightier King, a more royal potentate had reserved this domain as a
heritage for every sect and creed, and for a race of men co-equals in rank
and dignity; and as a part of a great republic, destined to become more
resplendent in genius, culture, wealth, and power than the vast realms of
the Caesars "in the most high and palmy State of Rome."
Of all the colonists, the Scotch-Irish
inhabitants of North Carolina were the most restless and turbulent under
wrongs. The very year that the Constitution of the proprietors was to have
gone into effect, an assembly chosen by the people made laws for
themselves—"few, simple, and fundamental" in character. Freedom of
conscience and security against taxation, except as imposed by themselves,
were the cardinal points. During the administration of acting Gov. Miller,
they seized the President and six members of the Council, threw them into
prison, convened the Legislature, established courts of justice, and
exercised all the functions of government for two years. They derided the
authority of Gov. Eastchurch, and he was left powerless. They imprisoned
and impeached Gov. Sothel for his extortions, sentenced him to twelve
months exile and perpetual incapacity for the office of Governor. They
successfully resisted, by insurrection, the attempt of Lord Granville to
establish the Church of England in that colony.
A writer of that day said: "It was a common
practice of the people of North Carolina to resist and imprison their
Governors." Gov. Burrington wrote in 1731: "The people of North Carolina
are neither to be cajoled or outwitted; . . . always behaved insolently to
their Governors. Some they have imprisoned, others they have drove out of
the country, and at other times set up a government of their own choice."
Says Bancroft: "Any government but their own was oppressive."
In 1765, when a vessel laden with stamp paper
arrived in North Carolina, the people, under Cols. Ashe and Waddell,
marched to the harbor and overawed the captain, who soon after sailed
away. After this, the royal officers adopted a regular system of extortion
and oppression. Excessive taxes were collected, and unlawful fees
demanded. The people were plundered at every turn of life. Fifteen dollars
was demanded for a marriage license. The people assembled, by delegates,
in a convention, and formed themselves into an association "for regulating
public grievances and abuse of powers." Tryon, the royal Governor, raised
an army of 1,100 men, and marched to inflict summary punishment on the
defiant sons of liberty, or the regulators. The latter hurriedly assembled
to the number of two thousand men, one-half of them unarmed.
On the 16th of May, 1771, the two forces met
on the banks of the Great Alamance. The patriots demanded a redress of
grievances, and offered to disperse if their demand was granted. The
Governor ordered them to lay down their arms and submit. When they
refused, he ordered his men to fire. His soldiers hesitating, he fired the
first shot himself. The battle now became general, and lasted two hours,
when the ammunition of the patriots failed, and they were driven from the
field, stubbornly yielding to necessity. Of the royal troops, 9 were
killed and 61 wounded; on the side of the patriots, 20 were killed,
besides the wounded. This was four years before the battle of Lexington;
and here was fired the first shot and fought the first battle by the
Scotch-Irish in defense of popular rights on this continent.
That the men who had thus taken up arms were
not lawless, desperate men is conclusively proven by history. Alexander
says: "These regulators were not adventurers, but the sturdy, patriotic
members of three Presbyterian congregations, all of them having as their
pastors graduates of Princeton." The celebrated Dr. David Caldwell was one
of them, and was present as a peace-maker, trying to prevent the effusion
of blood. Says another writer: " There, also, on that day were the
parishioners of such noted ministers as Paltillo, McAdden, Balch,
Craighead, and McWhorter—all Scotch-Irish." Had this battle been
sanctified by success, it would have been pointed to by history as the
first victory in behalf of popular rights.
I have dwelt somewhat at length on the early
history of the Scotch-Irish in North Carolina because that State was the
parent of Tennessee. The first settlers in East Tennessee were these
Scotch-Irish patriot heroes of the Alamance. After their defeat, they were
hunted down and scattered by the victorious army of Tryon. Many of them
were hung or shot, and all of them outlawed." Their homes were invaded and
desecrated, but these brave men were not cowed. "Like the mammoth," says
Bancroft, "they shook the bolt from their brow, and crossed the
mountains." They passed over the great and pathless Alleghanies, and,
descending into the basin of the Tennessee, made their homes on the
majority of the early settlers in East Tennessee were of the Scotch-Irish
blood is, I think, susceptible almost of demonstration. It is agreed by
all the authorities that a majority of the people of North Carolina were
of this and the Scotch race. We have seen that after the battle of the
Alamance many persons who took part in it came to East Tennessee. East
Tennessee was a part of North Carolina, and more inviting in many ways
than the old State, and especially in its perfect immunity from royal
oppression. It was the very asylum the Scotch-Irish desired. Hence they
sought this region.
But there was another source of supply from this race. There were two
streams of Scotch-Irish movement, which, after reaching the colonies,
finally united in East Tennessee. One poured southward through Virginia,
into North and South Carolina. This stream was swollen by the immigration
which landed in Wilmington; which, turning westward, met the northward
stream from Charleston, on the upper waters of the rivers which rise in
the Blue Ridge, and flow down to the Atlantic. Gradually working their way
up these rivers, the two streams of settlers united; and, arriving at the
foot of the mountains, they crossed their lofty summits and descended into
the valleys of the Nollachucky, the Watauga, and the Holston.
The other stream of Scotch-Irish movement
overflowed from Pennsylvania, and came up the Valley of the Shenandoah,
and early filled it with this race. Ascending the valley, they overleaped
the Alleghanies in Virginia, and descending into the basin of the Holston,
and following its downward and westward course, they came into East
Tennessee, on its eastern borders. Thus these two streams, the one from
the South, and the other from the East, met in this region and gave a
Now, if these people were not of the
Scotch-Irish race, who were they? They were certainly not Puritans or
English, they were not Dutch, they were not Swedes nor Catholics, they
were not Quakers nor Huguenots, except in limited numbers. Nor were they
of the Cavaliers or planters of Virginia, in any considerable numbers. The
Cavaliers, too, were nearly all adherents of the Episcopal Church, and yet
no Church of that denomination was established in all East Tennessee for
nearly sixty years after this first settlement was made.
Besides all this, the religious character of
the early Churches, the names of people, the early habits and customs
which prevailed, the traditions on that point which has come down to this
generation, all tend to prove that the larger part of our early population
were of the Scotch-Irish race. These Scotch-Irish took part in all our
Indian and colonial wars. In 1774, a company of the Holston and Watauga
men, under the command of Capt. Evan Shelby, took a decisive part in the
great Indian battle of Point Pleasant, at the mouth of the Kanawha, which
raged the entire day. Twice during the day the fate of the battle, and
possibly that of Gen. Lewis's army, depended on these men. It happened
that James Robertson, a Scotch-Irishman, and Valentine Sevier discovered
the Indians stealthily approaching the army before daylight, with the
intention of a surprise and massacre. Firing their guns, they ran to camp
and gave the alarm. The Indians were surprised, thrown into confusion, and
halted, and this gave the army time to form for battle. Again, late in the
day, some Indians, protected by rude breastworks made of brush and logs,
held the army in that part of the field at bay. John Sawyers, another
Scotch-Irishman, one of Shelby's men, asked and obtained permission to
dislodge them. With a little party he gained their rear by a way which he
had discovered, and executed his bold conception by a desperate charge.
The Indians were driven from their position, and soon after this the whole
body fled across the Ohio.
No one of the colonies was more stirred by the
great events of 1775 than North Carolina. Her people were not at that time
greatly oppressed, yet they were the ripest for revolution of any people
in America. There had settled that large population of Scotch-Irish, who
knew from tradition or experience the monstrous wrongs of tyrants.
Mecklenburg County was peopled nearly entirely by these determined
Scotch-Irish, When, therefore, they learned in May, 1775, that Parliament
had declared the colonies in a state of revolt, they knew that the great
crisis had come. The Scotch-Irish of Mecklenburg County did not wait for
the action of the Continental Congress, nor for that of their own
Provincial Legislature. The people met in convention in Charlotte to take
counsel together. While in session, news came that patriot blood had been
shed at Lexington. The meeting was addressed by Hezekiah J. Balch, a
Scotch-Irish Presbyterian minister, and by Dr. Ephraim Brevard and William
Kennon. Resolutions were offered by Dr. Brevard and adopted, "which," says
Bancroft, "formed in effect a declaration of independence." They declared
among other things "that the Provincial Congress of each province, under
the direction of the great Continental Congress, is invested with all
legislative and executive powers within the respective provinces, and no
other legislative or executive power does or can exist at this time, in
any part of the colonies."
I do not quote from the disputed declaration
of May 20, but from the unquestionably authentic resolutions of May 31.
Bancroft says in reference to these: "Thus was Mecklenburg County
separated from the British Empire."
I care not to talk about mere terms. The
action of this meeting was a substantial declaration of independence, and
no amount of words can take from North Carolina, and these Scotch-Irish,
this great crown of glory. All honor to the memory of the brave people of
North Carolina. When the dreadful conflict of arms came on, the settlers
on the Watauga, the Nollachucky, and the Holston were remote from danger,
and secure in their peaceful homes, except as against the Indians. Yet
they were not indifferent to the fate of their kindred beyond the
mountains. Early in 1780 Cornwallis, having overrun South Carolina, was
threatening North Carolina with the same fate. In March Col. John Sevier,
commanding the militia of Washington County, in what is now East
Tennessee, raised two hundred men and took up his march for North and
South Carolina. Col. Isaac Shelby, commanding the militia of Sullivan
County, hastened home from Kentucky, raised two hundred men, and also
marched southward across the mountains. During the next few mouths these
splendid officers rendered brilliant services in staying the almost
resistless tide of British invasion. They, in conjunction with Col.
Clarke, of Georgia, attacked Col. Moore, on the Pacolet River, who held a
strong fort, and forced him to surrender. Col. Shelby, with his command,
was in the desperate battle of Mus-grove's Mill, on the Enoree, and
shared, by his gallantry, in the honor of that splendid victory. In this
battle Capt. Shadrick Inman, of Shelby's command, the ancestor of the
well-known and excellent Scotch-Irish Presbyterian family of East
Tennessee, so favorably known in financial and railroad circles in Atlanta
and New York, contributed much to gain this victory by a bold strategem
and a desperate charge. He was killed at the very moment of victory,
bravely fighting the enemy hand to hand. Shelby also took part in the
battle of Cedar Spring.
After Gen. Gates's defeat at Camden, Gen.
McDowell, who now commanded in Western North Carolina, with Col. Shelby,
retired across the mountains in East Tennessee. The army was broken up. I
come now to the battle of King's Mountain. Col. Ferguson, with his elated
army, marched into North Carolina, after the defeat of Gates, and took
position at Gilbert Town. From this place he sent a threatening message to
Sevier and Shelby. On receipt of the message Shelby rode at once to
consult Sevier. They agreed to call out a part of their respective
commands, and march to surprise and destroy Ferguson before he was aware
of their movement. Col. Shelby was to secure the co-operation of Col.
Campbell, who commanded in Washington County, Va., just beyond the State
line. Col. Sevier was to raise the money for the expedition. He tried to
borrow it on his own account, but there was none in the settlement. He
went to John Adair, entry taker, who is believed to have been a
Scotch-Irishman, and represented to him the importance of getting the use
of the public money in his hands, pledging him that his act should be
legalized. Adair replied: "If the enemy, by its use, be driven from the
country, I can trust that country to justify and vindicate my conduct.
Take it," a reply worthy of a Roman in the best days of the republic.
The whole military force of the settlements at
that time was less than a thousand men. Sevier and Shelby each selected
from their commands two hundred and forty men, consisting of the young and
vigorous, leaving those who were less so to defend the settlements. Not
another man could be safely spared. On the 25th of October, 1780, the
forces assembled at Sycamore Shoals, on the Watauga. Campbell came from
Virginia with four hundred men, and McDowell was there with a few of his
refugee soldiers. Sevier and Shelby were there with their contingents.
"With the exception," says Ramsey, "of the few colonists on the distant
Cumberland, the entire military force of what is now Tennessee was
assembled at Sycamore Shoals. Scarcely a single gunman remained that day
at home."The aged were there to cheer and encourage; the mothers, the
wives, the sisters to say farewell. "Never," says Ramsey, "did mountain
recess contain within it a loftier or more enlarged patriotismn; never a
cooler or more determined courage."
On the morning of the 26th the men were drawn
up in a body, by the direction of the officers, for the purpose of
invoking the Divine protection. The Rev. Samuel Doak, one of the
Scotch-Irish pioneer preachers, was there, from his church and school at
Salem, twenty-five miles distant. He offered a fervent prayer for the
safety and success of the expedition, and in a few patriotic remarks he
closed with the words, "The sword of the Lord and of Gideon," and these
sturdy Scotch Irish Presbyterians, leaning on their rifles, shouted in
patriotic acclaim: "The sword of the Lord and of our Gideon."
The battle of King's Mountain is totally
unlike any other in our history. It was the voluntary uprising of a
patriotic people, rushing to arms to aid their distant kindred, when their
own homes were hourly menaced with danger from fierce savages. There was
no one in chief command, and no one entitled to command. They served
without pay, or the hope of pay. Their march lay through an uninhabited
mountain wilderness, with no roads, and with scarcely a trail. These
mountains are the loftiest east of the great Rocky Mountains. The distance
to the enemy, by the circuitous routes the little army had to take, was
perhaps two hundred miles, or more.
On the way the expedition was joined by small
forces under the command respectively of Cols. Cleveland, Winston,
Hambright, and Maj. Chronicle, of North Carolina, and by those under Col.
Williams, of South Carolina, thus swelling the total number to eighteen
hundred men. Senator Vance's grandfather, as he relates, voluntarily
joined the patriots on the way. My Grandfather Temple, a Scotch-Irish
Presbyterian, also joined them, and both of these took part in the battle.
[My grandfather, Samuel Craig, was at that time and throughout the war
serving as captain in the army of Washington, and my great-grandfather,
John Burns, was with Sumter or Marion.]
Two days before the battle the little army
halted. The officers selected the best horses and men, and with these,
amounting to nine hundred and ten men, they determined to make a forced
march to overtake Ferguson, leaving the others on jaded horses and on foot
to follow. For twenty-six hours these brave men were in the saddle,
without sleep, and with little to eat, and some of them without any thing,
marching through a drenching rain.
On the 7th of October, 1780, they found
Ferguson posted on King's Mountain, with eleven hundred men, part of them
British regulars. Galloping forward to within a short distance of the
enemy, the patriots alighted, tied their horses, and hurriedly arranged
the order of battle. They were to attack simultaneously on the four sides
of the mountain, thus surrounding Ferguson. They were "arranged in four
columns, two on either side of the mountain, led respectively by Cols.
Campbell and Sevier on the right, and Shelby and Cleveland on the left."
When these columns arrived at their several
positions, with a loud yell they dashed up the craggy mountain on every
side, and encircled it with a sheet of living fire. The crest was swept by
their rifles as if by a tempest. The late eloquent Bailie Peyton, of
Tennessee, said of this battle: "When that conflict began, the mountain
appeared volcanic; there flashed along its summit and around its base, and
up its sides one long, sulphurous blaze." Three times were the forces of
Campbell and Shelby in turn driven down the mountain by bayonet charges,
and three times were they rallied and led back to the fight. At the last
charge on Campbell, the British raised a yell, and shouted: "Tarleton and
his legion are coming." At the dreaded name of Tarle-ton the retreat
became almost a panic and a rout. Sevier, who fought next to Campbell,
quickly caught the sound and saw the danger, and spurring his horse into a
gallop, he rushed his command to the rescue, saying: "Let them come on, my
men. One more charge will end Ferguson, and then we will finish Tarleton
and his Tories." His presence gave new courage to the fugitives, and he
and Campbell again rushed to the scene of conflict, to strike, with their
companions, the last fatal blow. Ferguson, seeing all was lost, with a few
of his officers, attempted to cut his way out, but was shot down by
Sevier's men, pierced by half a dozen bullets.
The battle lasted one hour and five minutes.
During that terrible hour two hundred and twenty of the enemy had closed
their eyes in death, one hundred and eighty were wounded, and either six
or seven hundred (the authorities differing on this point) were taken
prisoners. Every man present was either killed, wounded, or captured. I
think, therefore, that I am justified in saying that this was the most
daring as well as the most brilliant achievement of the revolutionary war,
fought by Scotch-Irish Presbyterians almost exclusively. Nor was this
victory less signal in its consequences. At that time Cornwallis was on a
triumphant march through North Carolina to Virginia. Charleston and
Savannah had fallen. Lincoln had lost his entire army. Gates had been
defeated at Camden. All Georgia and South Carolina had yielded to British
arms. There was no organized force in the Southern States capable of
withstanding for an hour the victorious army of Cornwallis. There was
universal gloom throughout the colonies. The best patriots were almost in
despair. The news, therefore, of this victory came like a great light in
the midst of profound darkness. It was the sound of triumph, the rift in
the dark cloud, the breaking of morning. Mr. Jefferson said: "It was the
joyful annunciation of that turn in the tide of success that terminated
the Revolutionary War with the seal of our independence." The very night
Cornwallis heard of it he commenced a hasty retreat back into South
Carolina. From that day the patriot cause grew brighter and brighter,
until the perfect day dawned at Yorktown.
But the hardy Scotch-Irish soldiers of the
Watauga were to have no rest, even after their immortal victory at King's
Mountain. Shelby repaired with his force to Gen. Gates at Hillsboro, and
afterward under Gen. Morgan it took part in the battle of the Cowpens.
In February, 1781, Sevier found urgent appeals
to Shelby and himself from Gen. Greene and the Legislature and the
Governor of North Carolina to again cross the mountains, to aid in
checking Cornwallis. Sevier at once sent Maj. Charles Robertson with a
part of his force to the aid of Greene, which afterward did gallant
service in the battle of Guilford Court-house. Sevier himself could not
go, for the Indians were threatening the settlements.
In the summer or fall of 1781 Sevier and
Shelby, on the call of Gen. Greene, with five hundred men, again crossed
the mountains to aid the general cause. At the request of Greene, they
agreed to march on to South Carolina, to join Gen. Marion on the Santee.
With this re-enforcement Marion marched to meet the enemy under Gen.
Stuart. Shelby and Sevier asked and obtained permission to undertake one
of their characteristic and daring exploits. It was to surprise and
capture a body of the enemy, ten miles in the rear of Stuart. By a flying
march and a wide detour, on the evening of the second day out, they
reached the point contemplated, but the force they were after was gone.
There was, however, near by a strongly fortified post, protected by abatis,
and defended by one hundred and fifty men. They determined to take this
fort. On the stern demand of Shelby, the commander surrendered, with all
his men and guns. Burning the fort and putting the prisoners behind the
men, they again marched around Gen. Stuart, who was now close after them,
and the next morning they were safely in the camp of Marion, having
marched sixty miles in twenty-four hours.
Stuart now advanced for battle. Marion ordered
these gallant officers to the front to meet him. Learning that the men
thus pushed forward were "the yelling devils" of King's Mountain,
commanded by Sevier and Shelby, Stuart at once turned and retreated to
Charleston. Cornwallis by this time having surrendered, and the war being
virtually over, Shelby and Sevier led their veteran soldiers back across
the mountains "through a deep snow" to their homes in East Tennessee.
And where else can be found in all the
colonies one thousand men (a little over the number in all the settlements
in East Tennessee in 1780) who did more effective service for the cause of
liberty than these Scotch-Irish on the Holston, the Watauga, and the
Nollachucky? King's Mountain, Musgrove's Mill, the Pacolet. Cedar Springs,
Cowpens, Guilford Court House, the captured fort in South Carolina, and
the countless victories over the hostile Indians: these tell the tale of
their toils and of their valor. Nor can sufficient honor be given to the
memory of the great leaders—Sevier and Shelby, those twin brothers in
arms—under whose guidance these illustrious deeds were mainly
accomplished. No wonder their admiring fellow-citizens afterward bestowed
on them their highest civic honors! No wonder that Sevier was regarded as
the father of his people, and loved and adored by them as no other man in
the State ever was! No wonder he was made the first elective Governor, and
four times afterward reelected to the same office, and twice or thrice
elected to Congress, for he was as noble as he was brave! No wonder Shelby
was also elected the first Governor of his adopted State, Kentucky; and
that a number of years afterward, at a time of great public peril, he was
again called to preside over his State as its honored chief executive.
Thus had the Scotch-Irish of East Tennessee
done a great and honorable part in achieving our independence. The war was
now over; henceforth they were to tread the quiet paths of peace; nor was
their history to be less honorable in peace than it had been in war.
Where-ever they were, they had always been the friends of education; in
every place where they settled they at once provided the means for the
education of the people; as far as possible, they established schools for
every congregation and settlement. Colleges and grammar schools were
provided for larger districts. At an early day the Synod of the Carolinas
enjoined all Presbyterians "to establish within their respective bounds
one or more grammar schools." The preacher was in those days, and even
down to a much later period, the teacher as well. Within the memory of
many now living, the Presidents of all our colleges and most of the
professors were, almost as a matter of course, taken from the clergy.
Teaching had not yet grown into a great and distinct profession. The
preacher was the most learned man in the community, and had more leisure.
His pay for preaching was a mere trifle, and doubtless he was often driven
to teaching from necessity. These schools were generally theological as
well as classical. Sometimes the minister added to his other useful
accomplishments the profession of medicine also.
As we have seen, nearly all the first settlers
in East Tennessee came from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia.
They were a brave, pious, intelligent, and self-reliant race. The timid
and the worthless did not seek the wilderness. It required true manhood to
encounter its dangers and endure its privations. Intelligence and a daring
spirit were needed. They were, as a whole, the best race of men this State
has ever had, not alone in virtue, piety, and true manhood, but also in
intelligence. I am speaking of the Scotch-Irish. I go farther, and say
that I doubt if any State was ever founded by better or abler men. In
proof of this I refer to the first Constitution of Tennessee, which Mr.
Jefferson pronounced the most republican of all the Constitutions adopted
by the States. This was formed by such historic men as Jackson, Sevier,
Tipton, Robertson, Anderson, Rhea, Roane, Outlaw, Blount, and McMinn.
In every community in which these Scotch-Irish
settled, they left the permanent impress of their austere and solid
qualities, seen in the strict observance of the Sabbath, in family
government and training, in orderly and high moral conduct, and in the
respect for law and all the proprieties of an upright life. Every such
community is pervaded today, even after the lapse of a century, by a grave
morality and a deep religious tone, due to the stern faith and solemn
example of the earnest men who first dwelt there.
Wherever these Scotch-Irish settled in East
Tennessee they got possession of the best lands, laid out the towns,
framed and administered the laws, filled the public offices, and gradually
gathered into their hands a large part of the wealth of the country. So
far as I can judge from their names and my knowledge of the men, the first
Territorial Legislature and the "Legislative Council" were composed
entirely, except Sevier, of Scotch-Irishmen. Judging in the same way, at
least thirty of the fifty-six men who formed the first Constitution of the
State were of this same race, and probably a much larger number.
These Scotch-Irish were everywhere tenacious
and jealous of their rights. Their most marked trait was their zeal for
and their earnest devotion to their religion. With this was combined a
strong love of freedom. They, or their fathers, had endured both political
and religious oppression in their native land. They had fought and won the
great battle of religious liberty in Scotland against the power of the
Church and of the Crown. They left this as a legacy to mankind. As they
claimed personal liberty and freedom of conscience for themselves, so,
contrary to the spirit and practice of the age, they conceded these rights
to all others. Nowhere in the colonies, when in a majority, did they
restrict these rights or persecute other sects. To use the beautiful idea
of Shakespeare, "From the thistle intolerance they plucked the flower
toleration." This is a beautiful page in the history of a race who had
been persecuted for two hundred years. These men knew all the ways of
tyrants. They sniffed the tainted breeze of oppression from afar, and,
like the Highlanders, when they heard the warning slogan, they rallied to
At the date of
the Revolution, as large, perhaps a larger, percentage of our population
was of this race than of any other; and I venture the assertion that this
race had greater influence in giving form to our government and in molding
our institutions than the people of any other country. They also founded
more colleges and academies and built more churches than any other single
people. They were always in front, whether in politics or religion, in
peace or in war.
too, here in East Tennessee, these Scotch-Irish built churches and
established colleges. In 1780, the Rev. Samuel Doak, of Scotch-Irish
blood, formed a Church and opened a classical school at Salem, Washington
County, both of which survive to this day. In 1783 this school was
chartered as Martin Academy, and in 1795 as Washington College. It became
a source of great usefulness throughout the State and of the South, and
to-day it flourishes in almost youthful vigor. It has the honor of having
been the first classical school in the Mississippi Valley. Dr. Doak was a
graduate of Princeton, a man of great power and learning, and became to
East Tennessee what Dr. David Caldwell was to North Carolina. From its
walls there has gone out a long line of distinguished scholars, divines,
and statesmen. Among others, that great man, Rev. Dr. David Nelson, the
author of "The Cause and Cure of Infidelity." Dr. Robert J. Breckenridge
said of him: "As a preacher, I, who have heard the great preachers of
America, Britain, and France of this age, can truly say that his power in
the pulpit exceeded all I ever witnessed." And scarcely less gifted were
the Rev. Gideon Blackburn and Rev. James Gallaher, who were also educated
by Dr. Doak.
the Rev. Hezekiah Balch, another Scotch-Irish Presbyterian, a cousin of
the Hezekiah Balch who addressed the Mecklenburg Convention in 1775,
founded Greeneville College on his own farm near Greeneville, Tenn. This
college also became a great center of learning under the successive
presidencies of Dr. Balch, the Rev. Dr. Charles Coffin, and Mr. Henry Hoss.
In this same year largely, and perhaps entirely, through the influence of
Rev. Dr. Samuel Carrick, another Scotch-Irish Presbyterian, Blount
College, at Knoxville, was founded, and he became its first President.
This institution has passed through successive changes and stages of
development, until it has finally become the "University of Tennessee,"
with a large endowment. For nearly one hundred years this institution has
been doing a noble work in the cause of education.
In 1818, the Rev. Samuel Doak, in conjunction
with his son, the Rev. Samuel W. Doak, founded near Greeneville a
classical school, called "Tusculum College," which has grown into great
usefulness and popularity. Some years ago this school was consolidated
with Greeneville College under the name of "Greeneville-Tusculum College,"
and it is to-day doing a splendid work in educating the youth of the
country. In 1819, the Rev. Dr. Isaac Anderson, another Scotch-Irish
Presbyterian, founded the "Southern and Western Theological Seminary," at
Maryville, Tenn., for the purpose of training young men for the ministry.
This great and good man, for such he really was, became eminently
successful in his noble work, haying during his life trained one hundred
and fifty persons for the ministry. It is now called Maryville College,
and has ceased to be theological.
It thus appears that five colleges were
founded more than seventy years ago, and three of them nearly one hundred
years ago, in East Tennessee, by five Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, all of
which became useful, and all of which are in a flourishing condition
Charles Cummings was the pioneer Presbyterian preacher in South-western
Virginia, on the borders of Tennessee. In 1775 the Rev. Joseph Rhea, a
Scotch-Irishman, born in Ireland, came to the Holston and Watauga region
and settled, by purchasing land and remaining some time. As far as history
shows, Mr. Rhea was the first Presbyterian minister who settled in East
Tennessee. It is said, and no, doubt truly, that while on these visits
(for it seems he made two) he preached to the settlers and in the forts.
It is, therefore, probable that he was the first Presbyterian minister who
ever preached on the soil of Tennessee. Certainly that honor belongs
either to him or to the Scotch-Irishman, Rev. Charles Cummings. Mr. Rhea
returned to Pennsylvania for his family, but died in 1777 without
returning to his home, which he had provided on the Watauga. His family,
however, moved to his new home in 1778. He was the ancester of a very
numerous connection, of as good and worthy people as ever lived in the
State, all honorable and pure in their lives, and strict in the rigid and
simple faith of their pious Scotch-Irish ancestors. A number of his
descendants have been, and some are yet, ministers of the benign gospel
which he preached. The Hon. John Rhea, a son of his, became a noted man in
the early days of Tennessee, and for a long time represented East
Tennessee in Congress.
I have already shown that the Rev. Samuel Doak
came to East Tennessee as early as 1778, and possibly a little earlier.
Church records show that Cummings, Doak, and Balch were the first three
active Scotch-Irish preachers in East Tennessee and South-west Virginia.
In those early days these brave ministers sometimes had to fight as well
as pray and preach. They always went to Church with their guns and
shot-pouches to defend themselves against constantly expected attacks from
Indians. It happened once at least, with both Cummings and Doak, that in
the midst of divine service they had to suddenly dismiss their respective
congregations to take part, which they willingly and bravely did, in
after the Revolutionary War the Scotch-Irish continued to come from
Ireland into East Tennessee. I remember many of them who were still living
when I was a young man. They were then old men, but still engaged in
business. They nearly all settled in the towns and followed merchandising.
We called them Irish, but they were in fact Scotch-Irish. They were of the
highest repute and standing, and nearly invariably the wealthiest and most
influential men in the country. These have now all gone to their Father,
leaving to their numerous descendants the memories of lives honorably and
well spent. It is remarkable that for fifty years after the Scotch-Irish
came into East Tennessee a large part of the wealth of the country should
have passed into their hands. Yet such was the fact: the legitimate fruit
of their thrift, industry, frugality, and honesty.
True to their traditional love of right, when
the War of 1812 came on, the Scotch-Irish people of East Tennessee were as
ready to fight for their country as in the dark days of King's Mountain.
Two thousand five hundred of them, under the noble and gallant Col. John
Williams, of distinguished revolutionary blood, and under Col. Samuel
Bunch, a Scotch-Irishman, volunteered to march to join Gen. Jackson in the
bloody Creek Indian War, in Alabama. In the terrible battle of the Horse
Shoe, perhaps the hardest contested Indian fight that ever took place on
the Continent, these men from East Tennessee, under their brave
commanders, were the first to storm the fort. For awhile in the desperate
struggle they and the Indians fought hand to hand. Maj. L. P. Montgomery,
[Maj. Montgomery was raised near Jacksboro, Campbelt County, East
Tennessee.] of Williams's regiment, a descendant or relative of the
gallant Gen. Richard Montgomery, of Quebec fame, was the first man to
mount the breastworks. Calling on his men to follow, he fell in the moment
of this triumphant achievement, mortally wounded. Here the young ensign,
Samuel Houston, also of Williams's regiment, won his first laurels in war.
A moment after brave Montgomery fell on the top of the breastworks he also
mounted them, and had his thigh pierced by a barbed arrow. But calling to
his men to follow, he boldly leaped down into the fort among the swarming
savages, and fought hand to hand with the utmost desperation. The other
East Tennesseeans immediately following, the breastworks were taken, and
the Indians driven to the underbrush. Thus two Scotch-Irishmen had the
honor of first storming; and entering the fort at the Horse Shoe.
Again, some of these East Tennesseeans shared
in the great and crowning victory of New Orleans, which closed the "Second
War of Independence." I need not point out the part they took in the
Mexican War. It is sufficient to say that on every battle-field where they
were present they sustained their ancient renown for courage and daring.
Nor have I the space nor the inclination to dwell on the deeds of these
descendants of the early Scotch-Irish in the late Civil War. All I dare to
say is: The history of the war proves that in courage the present
generation has not degenerated or lost the heroic spirit of its noble
ancestors. East Tennessee gave to the armies of the Union more than
thirty-one thousand men, and nearly or quite twenty thousand to the
Confederate army, all, on both sides, as good soldiers as ever went to
battle. Besides all these, Tennessee gave to the country the four great
statesmen, Jackson and Polk, White and Bell; and East Tennessee gave to
the bar and bench the distinguished lawyers and jurists, Hugh L. White,
William E. Anderson, John A. McKinney, Robert J.McKinney, Thomas C. Lyon,
and Robert McFarland. It gave to Texas Houston, Crockett, and Reagan; to
the pulpit an array of names of great ability, scarcely equaled by any
region of the same size in the United States. The neighborhood of
Washington College alone furnished Dr. David Nelson, Dr. Samuel K. Nelson,
Gideon Blackburn, James Gallaher, John Whitefield Doak, the gifted
Archibald Alexander Doak, but little inferior to his cousin, Dr. Archibald
Alexander, and the three Cunninghams—all men of ability, and four of them
men of extraordinary power. All these were Scotch-Irish in blood. The same
immediate neighborhood gave the country another distinguished
Scotch-Irishman, David Crockett, the celebrated wit, patriot, and soldier.
East Tennessee has also sent its sons to people and build up the South and
North-west and the far off shores of the golden Pacific. And wherever they
have gone they have always been able to reap as many honors and gather as
much wealth as any of their competitors.
I have thus hurriedly and most imperfectly
attempted to trace the history of the Scotch-Irish from their original
home in Scotland down to our own times. There is a bright thread in this
web of history which runs back to the days of John Knox, connecting
Scotch, Scotch-Irish, and American History, and blending them as one into
beautiful harmony. The great central fact and figure in that history is
John Knox. He was the true representative of his people. He was great
because he represented the thought and high purpose of a great race. For
fifteen hundred years, under the blighting spell of priestly superstition,
the human mind lay, as it were, in a comatose state. At the trumpet blast
of Luther, Calvin, and Knox, summoning the dead nations to awake, men
started up into a new life. They felt within themselves a new force, the
power of a free conscience. With this renaissance the human mind budded
and expanded like a marvelous growth of certain tropical plants. They
proclaimed, as men never did before or since, the germ of all liberty,
freedom of thought and conscience. From this simple truth has sprung all
civil as well as all religious liberty, for a free conscience makes a free
And no man can
estimate the debt of gratitude the world owes to the Covenanter and the
Puritan. Their merits grow brighter with each succeeding age. Their
influence is like the great gulf stream coming up from the tropics,
forever flowing on, carrying with it heat and warmth, and starting into
life and beauty the islands and shores as it sweeps onward in its course.
From the day of the victory in the great
contest in England in 1640, and the signing of the Covenant in Greyfriars
Church, in Scotland, Protestantism assumed a new life, one of activity,
earnestness, simplicity, aggressiveness, free from forms and ceremonies.
From that time liberty and religion, disenthralled from the idea of the
divine right of kings to govern, became resistant, defiant, progressive,
and absolutely unsubmissive to wrong.
For three centuries were our ancestors being
educated and trained for the heroic part they were to play in the great
drama of the world. At first they were rude and ignorant of their rights,
and groped slowly through the darkness. Gradually they grew stronger and
were polished by the friction of trial and persecution. Finally they stood
forth such as we see them in 1776: stalwart, robust, and grand in outline.
Our ancestors, like the polished statue, were hammered and chiseled by
trials and dangers into their noble proportions.
So perfect is our liberty, so free are we in
conscience, so securely do we set under our vines and fig trees that we
forget that these were planted by the toil and nurtured by the blood of
our ancestors. We overlook their sacrifices, and exclaim: "Behold our
vines and our fig trees, and the fruit of our planting!" Our liberties,
both civil and religious, were born of toil, sacrifice, suffering, and in
terrible agony, amid tumult, blood, and battle.
The great principles of freedom were slowly
evolved through long centuries of oppression and resistance. At first they
were dimly seen by a few gifted men. The circles gradually widened, until
finally that was accepted as a plain truth, which appeared almost as a
revelation to him who first saw it. For three hundred years were our
ancestors struggling for freedom. Foiled in one generation, the next took
up the fight. Advancing from one stronghold to another, often checked and
driven back, but never yielding, never submissive, at length the
Covenanter and the Puritan prevail, and "government of the people, by the
people, for the people " is established.