Barn & Talbot House

Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area (TN)


Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area is located near Elizabethton in northeastern Tennessee along the banks of the Watauga River. The site's primary attraction is a reconstruction of Fort Watauga, originally located a short distance downstream, which acted as an impromptu fortification against attacks by the neighboring Cherokee during the Revolutionary War. The Watauga Settlement, as the widely scattered collection of homesteads in the area was called, was one of the first permanent white settlements west of the Appalachians. The settlers began leasing the land from the Cherokees in 1772 and lived in relative peace with them until the outbreak of the Revolution. As allies of the British, the Cherokees were rightly perceived as an immediate threat to the settlement after the outbreak of hostilities in 1775. The homestead of one Mathew Talbot and his well-known gristmill was chosen as the site for a protective fortification.

Not a pre-designed fortification, Fort Watauga was constructed simply by building a palisade wall between the existing structures on Talbot's property. It wasn't long before the settlers fears were proven true as the fort was attacked by a force of some 300 Cherokee on July 21, 1776. One hundred and fifty settlers took refuge inside the fort and managed to fight off the initial three hour attack. After the unsuccessful assault the Cherokee settled into a sort of siege which lasted for about two weeks. Though crowded and uncomfortable, the Watauga settlers endured the siege and eventually the Cherokee gave up and went home. There is no record of how long the fort remained operational, the last mention of it in early records occurred in 1777. Later in the war, in September if 1780, the Sycamore Shoals site once again was the scene of military drama. Threatened by the possibility of the British Army invading their lands, over 1,000 men of the surrounding region gathered here at Sycamore Shoals to take the fight to the British before they had a chance. These soon-to-be nicknamed Overmountain Men marched over 200 miles, across the spine of the Appalachians to meet and destroy a portion of the British Army at the pivotal Battle of Kings Mountain.

Today the Historic Site contains the original fields upon which these Overmountain Men mustered before their historic march, as well as a replica of Fort Watauga which displays in a very tangible way the hardships of frontier life at this time in history. The visitor center houses numerous artifacts, a fabulous recently renovated exhibit hall, and a short interpretive film. A few trails crisscross the property, allowing access down to and along the Watauga River. It's not the most elaborate historic site I've ever visited but what it does contain is top notch. Come with me for a quick glimpse into one of the lesser-known theaters of the Revolutionary War...

1-31-2014