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Overmountain Victory Trail

Preservationists make Overmountain Victory trail accessible

It was Oct. 4, 1780. A Patriot army of some 1,600 men made camp for the night on the banks of the Green River at a crossing that would later become known as Alexander’s Ford.

The militia had traveled nearly 300 miles, with some soldiers having come from as far away as Tennessee and Virginia, in pursuit of Maj. Patrick Ferguson and his British army.

Unbeknown to the Patriots, it would be their final rest before fighting the Redcoats in the bloody Battle of Kings Mountain.

“For many of the soldiers, Alexander’s Ford was to be the final place they lay their heads down to rest on this earth,” said Paul Carson, superintendent of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

The OVT, a unit of the National Park Service, travels through Virginia, Tennessee and North and South Carolina, retracing the route of Patriot militia as they tracked down the British to Kings Mountain.

For two centuries, the events at Alexander’s Ford were barely remembered. But now the memory of the Patriots’ long journey and their sacrifices for a new nation are revived and forever preserved through creation of the Bradley Nature Preserve at Alexander’s Ford.

The new preserve, permanently protected by a 162-acre conservation easement, is the result of persistent efforts of Polk County, the Marjorie M. and Lawrence R. Bradley Endowment Fund of the Polk County Community Foundation and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.

“We couldn’t ignore the history of this place,” explained Ambrose Mills, project manager for Polk County who oversaw the preservation efforts at Alexander’s Ford.

This fall — on the anniversary of the Patriot encampment — Mills and Carson commemorated the conservation of Alexander’s Ford by officially certifying it as part of the OVT.

More than two centuries after the American Revolution, colonial re-enactors from the Overmountain Victory Trail Association gathered with their muskets to fire a volley in celebration and honor.

Every autumn, re-enactors travel the 330-mile route of the Overmountain Men, as the original Patriot militia came to be known, camping in the same locations and following the same trails and roads. The Patriots marched in pursuit of Maj. Ferguson in retaliation for his threats to colonial settlers in the southern highlands.

“Lay down your arms and swear allegiance to the king, or I will march my army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste with fire and sword to your home and fields,” he warned.

In response, the Patriot settlers took up arms. They traveled on horseback in pursuit of Ferguson, crossing both the Appalachian and Blue Ridge ranges — hence “Overmountain” — through rugged terrain and poor weather, and with limited provisions. In less than two weeks, the volunteer army reached Alexander’s Ford. Two days later, they finally caught the British troops in South Carolina, and defeated them at the infamous Battle of Kings Mountain.

The battle proved to be a turning point in our young country’s fight for freedom. Thomas Jefferson later wrote, “Kings Mountain was the joyful annunciation of that turn of the tide of success which terminated the Revolutionary War with the seal of our independence.” The victory by the Overmountain men bore our nation.

But what happened at Alexander’s Ford was critical to the militia’s success at King Mountain.

“While Kings Mountain was a turning point in the war, it was Alexander’s Ford that was a turning point in the march,” Carson said. “It is one of the most important places along the entire OVT.”

It was at Alexander’s Ford that Gen. William Campbell, commander of the Patriot army, made two critical decisions. With many soldiers near their breaking point, Campbell sent ahead only his best men and horses to fight the Redcoats. While this decision split his force, the soldiers who continued onward had more speed and fervor.

Also at Alexander’s Ford, Gen.

Campbell received crucial intelligence — Ferguson and his troops were headed east to unite with the main British Army. The Patriots then changed their course to intercept Ferguson’s men.

Carson speculated on the consequences had events at Alexander’s Ford not occurred as they did. “It is possible that Kings Mountain would have never happened … and the outcome of the war may have been very different.” The Bradley Nature Preserve at Alexander’s Ford hosts more than just history. Its verdant forests and botanical diversity make it an ecological treasure, too. Both its history and its natural bounty will soon become accessible for visitors to appreciate.

The county plans to build a picnic shelter, a bike path and hiking trails; a portion of the property will open to the public as early as next summer.

“This is historic and hallowed ground,” Carson said.

“When you come to a place like Alexander’s Ford, and you stand on that ground and you know what happened, it’s something that’s really moving.”

The project partners worked tirelessly on the Alexander’s Ford project for more than six years.

“Worthwhile experiences are seldom easy, and that is certainly true in this case,” said Tom Fanslow, CMLC’s land protection director.

CMLC worked with the landowner and Polk County to garner grants from three North Carolina trust funds — Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, Natural Heritage Trust Fund and Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

“That’s a record for us,” Fanslow explained. “Each funder had its own emphasis: water quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and public recreation.” Funding from these agencies was used to match a generous donation from the landowner.

More than 230 years after the historic Overmountain march, a second long quest has come to a close at Alexander’s Ford. Like the Overmountain Men, CMLC and the project’s many supporters persevered to protect something important for future generations. The permanent conservation of the land will forever honor those who bravely sacrificed for our nation’s freedom. For as long as the forest grows and the river flows, the memory of the Patriots’ heroism will endure at Alexander’s Ford.

Author Peter Barr is Trails & Outreach Coordinator for Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.