Sycamore Shoals
State Historic Area

Sycamore Shoals

Sycamore Shoals played a significant role in 18th century history as the setting for some of the most dramatic events to occur in the expansion of America's western boundary. Here was established the first permanent American settlement outside the original 13 colonies, and the
Watauga Association - the first majority rule system of American democratic government - was formed in 1772.
   Sycamore Shoals became the hub of the frontier as pioneers from Virginia and North Carolina settled along the Watauga River. Trails soon connected Sycamore Shoals (Elizabethton) with Fort Robinson (1761), Fort Patrick Henry (1776), Sapling Grove(Bristol), Rocky Mount the first territorial capital (in Piney Flats between Bristol and Johnson City), and settlem

ents in northwestern North Carolina and South Carolina.
   In May, 1772, the settlers compiled the "Articles of the Watauga Association" and elected five of their number to "govern and direct for the common good of all the people." This group, called a court, combined the legislative, judicial, and executive functions of the infant government.

The Transylvania Purchase

   The Transylvania Purchase, the largest private or corporate real estate transaction in United States history, took place March 17, 1775, at Sycamore Shoals. The Translyvania Company, led by Richard Henderson of North Carolina, 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 2000 pounds sterling and goods worth 8000 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.

Fort Watauga

   Fort Watauga, which had been built near Sycamore Shoals, became a refuge for the settlers in the summer of 1776. Dragging Canoe returned home after the Sycamore Shoals Treaty (or 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 warriors under Old Abram of Chilhowee struck against Fort Watauga, where most of the settlers had already fled. Lt. Col. John Carter, Capt. James Robertson (founder of Nashville in 1779), Lt. John Sevier (Tennessee's first governor in 1796), and other officers commanded the fort. The Indians laid siege to Fort Watauga for approximately two weeks, but when the pioneers failed to surrender, the Indians departed.
   A reconstruction of Fort Watauga, based on archaeological and historical research, stands near the Sycamore Shoals River crossing. The original location was approximately 1500 yards to the southwest. A scenic trail leads from the fort to the bank of the Watauga River the historic Shoals.

The Battle of King's Mountain

   It was at the Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga that the Overmountain Men assembled on September 25, 1780. The muster included approximately 1100 fighting men, who marched the next day over the mountains in search of the British Major Patrick Ferguson and his Tory militia. Eleven days later on October 7, 1780, the Overmountain led by Colonels John Sevier and Issac Shelby found Ferguson's army at King's Mountain, South Carolina. In little more than an hour on that October afternoon Maj. Ferguson lay dead, and his army defeated. The victory at King's Mountain has been described as a crucial first link in the chain of events that led to the eventual surrender of the British forces in the Revolutionary War.

The John and Landon
Carter Mansion

   The Mansion, thought to have been built around 1780, certainly would have been classified a Mansion by 1780's standards on the frontier. It's finely detailed interior, and overmantel paintings place it among the most significant historic homes in the State. Three rooms have retained their original wall finishes.
   The John and Landon Carter Mansion is possibly the only remaining link to the Watauga Association, and one of the oldest houses remaining in Tennessee. In 1772, the Wataugans elected John Carter chairman of the court, under the terms of the "Articles," and the independent community functioned for six years in defiance of the British and colonial governments and the Cherokee Indians. John Carter and his son, Landon, were prominent in governmental as well as military affairs, having taken part in the Revolutionary War and in various conflicts with the Indians. In 1796 when Tennessee attained statehood, Carter County was named for Landon Carter, and the county seat, Elizabethton, for his wife Elizabeth Maclin Carter.

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Sycamore Shoals Map

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