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Kingsport's David Oaks brings region's history to life in award-winning book

Deborah Peterson • Dec 15, 2017 at 10:45 AM

When David Sherrill Oaks decided to research his family history, he had no idea it would result in an award-winning novel. His book, “Force in the Mountains,” recently earned him the Historical Fiction Award of 2017 from the North Carolina Society of Historians.

Although he says he hasn't always been a history buff, David’s passion for history is evident as he shares about his ancestors and the amazing part they played in the life-changing historical events that literally shaped our country. While investigating the Oaks family history several years ago, his mother, Willie Mae Sherrill Oaks, suggested that he look into the Sherrill family background. She loaned David her genealogy scroll with information dating back to 1639.

“That scroll became the catalyst that got me going,” David said. His first book, “Misty, Misty Morn,” was about his sixth great-grandfather Adam Sherrill, who received the first land grant west of the Catawba River in North Carolina. “Force in the Mountains” focuses on Samuel Sherrill and his daughter, Catherine Sherrill.

Sitting inside the historical schoolhouse at the Netherland Inn in Kingsport, David shared a little of the story behind “Force in the Mountains.” Samuel Sherrill, David’s fifth great-uncle, defied the Proclamation Line Law by King George III and headed west from Sherrill’s Ford, North Carolina. He faced many hardships, including a skirmish with hostile Indians. However, one of his greatest challenges took place at the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina in 1780, which was an important Patriot victory in the Southern campaign of the American Revolutionary War. The American Revolution in the Southern states had the English gaining the upper hand in defeating the independence movement. So Samuel Sherrill joined over a thousand armed men from what is now Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia at Fort Watauga in Elizabethton. To protect their frontier homes against an army made up of those who paid homage to King George, they marched to Kings Mountain and won the battle. Thomas Jefferson later called this battle ‘the joyful annunciation of that turn of the tide of success which terminated the Revolutionary War.’ David said, “If it weren’t for these brave fighting men of this region, we might have been saying, ‘God save King George!”

Another interesting character in the story is Catherine Sherrill, also called Bonnie Kate. “She was her own person. When she wanted to do something, she did it,” David said. “She could outride and outshoot most of the guys.” Catherine became the first First Lady of Tennessee in 1796, when her husband, John Sevier, became the first governor.

A Kingsport resident since 1972, David retired from Eastman and began volunteering at the Netherland Inn, a landmark rich with history. He laughed as he explained how he began working with the Inn. “Four hours after I retired, a friend picked me up and took me over to help at the Inn,” he said. He has since volunteered there for a total of 22 years.

David soon learned that there is a lot of interesting and significant history in this area.

“There is a tremendous amount of history in this region,” David said. When someone once told him that there was more history in this area than anywhere else in the United States, David said he was skeptical. “But as I began to research the history of this area, I realized that he may be right,” David said. “People here just don’t really realize the vastness of the history here.” He also firmly believes that there are two strengths in this region that could positively affect tourism. “These strengths are our vast wealth of history and, most definitely, the music capability that exists all around us,” David added.

When asked about the great accomplishment of having published two books later in life, the inspiring author smiled and replied, “Well, if you give up and sit in a rocking chair, you’ll rock yourself to death. I stay busy.”

David has no plans to retire to the rocking chair anytime soon, and is interested in learning more about the Sherrill family history for a possible third book. He is very passionate about raising public awareness of the history of the pioneers who helped to shape our nation’s history. He also wants to bring attention to the involvement of the settlers of Carters Valley, Long Island and Nolichucky River lands. They were among the settlers who mustered at Fort Watauga and marched to Kings Mountain over what is now known as the Overmountain Victory Trail. The trail, as defined by the National Park Service, traces the route used by patriots during the pivotal Kings Mountain campaign.

“The trail did not just begin in one place,” David explained. “It was also filled with the people of the total region. It consisted of men like Samuel Sherrill and his sons; John Sevier, and others from other areas as previously noted. These people are not really recognized.

“If not for them, there would not have been that large number of people to go down to Kings Mountain to win that important battle,” he added.

To learn more about the interesting history of this region and to obtain a copy of “Force in the Mountains,” contact the author at [email protected] The book can also be purchased at the Netherland Inn Gift Shop at 2144 Netherland Inn Road in Kingsport, at the Art in the Heart Gallery at 246 Broad Street in Kingsport, and at I Love Books Bookstore on the upper level of the Fort Henry Mall.

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