Sycamore Shoals State Park

Location: Elizabethton, Tennessee

Webpage: Tennessee State Park

General Description: The first permanent European settlers arrived in the Watauga Valley in 1770, established what became known as the Watauga Settlement in the “Old Fields” in the valley that had been used as hunting grounds by the Cherokee Indians.  The settlers believed they were within the boundaries of North Carolina, however, in 1771 surveyors placed the settlement within the lands of the Cherokee Indians, so the settlers negotiated a 10-year lease with the Cherokee.  Being outside the British Colonies, the Watuaga Settlement created a regional constitutional government known as the Watauga Association in 1772, four years before the Revolutionary War.  In 1775, Richard Henderson, negotiated the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals with the Cherokee Indians purchasing over 20 million acres between the Kentucky and Cumberland Rivers in Kentucky.   This treaty was in violation of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 that prohibited private purchase of land west of the Appalachian Mountains and the purchase was not recognized by either North Carolina or Virginia. A faction of the Cherokee Indians, led by Dragging Canoe, strongly opposed the sale, and aligned themselves with the British during the Revolutionary War and planned to drive the settlers back across the Appalachian Mountains.  The Watauga and Nolichucky settlers built protective forts, including Fort Watuaga at the crossing of the Watauga River known as Sycamore Shoals.  In July 1776 the Cherokee Indians, led by Dragging Canoe attacked the settlements, but was thwarted by the fort’s garrison led by John Carter, James Robertson, and John Sevier.  In September 1780, Sycamore Shoals was the staging area for the Overmountain Men that mustered in response to British Major Ferguson who threatened to hang their leaders and burn their land if they continued to oppose the British.  Up to this point, the Revolutionary War in the region was protecting themselves from the Cherokee Indians that were British allies, not being directly involved in the Revolution.  Now, they mustered at Sycamore Shoals and marched over the mountains, meeting up with Piedmont militia from Georgia and South Carolina.  These combined forces eventually caught up with and defeated Major Ferguson’s loyalist at the Battle of King Mountain in South Carolina.  Over a period of only 10 years, the settlers of the Watauga Settlement played a major role the nation’s birth.  The State Park consists of an museum detailing the 10 year period, a reconstruction of Fort Watuaga, and pleasant trails along the Watuaga River including the shoals that made this location historically important.

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Impressions:

1) The museum at the State Park is one of the best I have ever seen.  It is a series of scenes with mannequins and displays highlighting each of the major events, including a section of the fort walls used to demonstrate both the Indian and settler strategies during the battle.  They have a mannequin of the bucket brigade established by the women in the fort to put out fires set by the Indians outside the walls.

2) The reconstructed fort is very close to the original location, although recent archeological records would move it closer to the river.  Every year they have a re-enactment of the battle with stadium seating for the audience outside the walls of the fort.

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3) The hiking trail along the river was very well maintained and used by the local residents as a fitness trail.  The large Sycamore trees along the river are the reason for the name and the importance of the Shoals is obvious as a place to cross the Watauga River without using a boat.

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