As a spirit of independence swept through the colonies in the summer of 1776, pioneers living in the Watauga valley near present-day Elizabethton found themselves under attack not by the British, but by a band of Cherokee Indians determined to drive the white settlers from the lands deeded to the them through the Transylvania Company the year before.
The Transylvania Purchase, the largest private or corporate real estate transaction in United States history, took place March 17, 1775, at Sycamore Shoals. Led by Richard Henderson of North Carolina, the Transylvania Company purchased from the Cherokee Indians over 20 million acres of land — all the lands of the Cumberland River watershed and extending to the Kentucky River — for 2,000 pounds sterling and goods worth 8,000 pounds. Twelve hundred Indians reputedly spent weeks in counsel at Sycamore Shoals prior to the signing of the deed. Chief Dragging Canoe was firmly against deeding land to the whites, but the other chiefs ignored his warnings and signed the deeds amidst great ceremony and celebration.
Dragging Canoe returned home after the Transylvania Purchase determined to drive the white settlers from Cherokee lands. He was aided by English agents whose plans called for the Indians to attack the settlers from the rear while the English attacked them from the sea.
A band of 300 warriors under the command of Old Abram of Chilhowee struck against Fort Watauga, where nearly 200 area settlers had fled for safety. Lt. Col. John Carter, Capt. James Robertson, Lt. John Sevier and other officers commanded the fort, which stood at the Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River.
The Indians laid siege to Fort Watauga for approximately two weeks, but when the pioneers failed to surrender, the Indians finally departed.
More than 150 living history interpreters will re-enact that battle during Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area’s annual Siege of Fort Watauga, happening Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19 at the reconstructed Fort Watauga in Elizabethton. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday.
Visitors will step back in time as they visit the fort, along with militia, British and Native American encampments, where daily aspects of 18th-century frontier life will be on display. Colonial merchants will sell their period wares in “Sutler’s Row,” and a number of 18th-century reproductions will be auctioned off as well. The attack on Fort Watauga will be reenacted at 1 p.m. each day.
New this year, representatives from the Historic Division of MARS/American Heritage Chocolate will demonstrate chocolate making and share stories about the sweet treat dating back to the 1700s. They will also offer the opportunity to sample their historic recipes and purchase chocolate blocks, sticks and drink mix.
The Siege of Fort Watauga is sponsored by the Washington County Regiment of North Carolina Militia and the Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area.
For more information, call Sycamore Shoals at (423) 543-5808 or visit the park’s website at www.sycamoreshoalstn.org.