DescriptionProbably on the morning of October 5 and perhaps while Colonel Williams was away conferring with Campbell and the other colonels near Gilbert Town, the other officers at the Flint Hills encampment received a visitor. According to Hill’s account, the visitor was well known to some of the officers and was deemed trustworthy. He had visited Ferguson’s camp at Tate’s Plantation and, pretending to be a Friend of the Government, learned about Ferguson’s plans. Ferguson had sent a letter to Cornwallis acknowledging that he knew of this party of Overmountain militiamen pursuing him and that he was then marching toward Charlotte Town along a road by way of Kings Mountain. Knowing that he no longer confidently outnumbered his opponent, Ferguson asked Cornwallis to send out Tarleton’s mounted infantry and cavalry to escort him in the last 30 or so miles. Some accounts say that Cornwallis sent a message recalling Ferguson from the west and ordering him to march to Charlottetown.
Probably from the Flint Hills encampment, Colonel Williams had also sent out his own scout, or spy, to determine what he could about the movement and plans of Major Patrick Ferguson. The scout was 19-year old Joseph Kerr, a refugee member of Colonel Williams’s command. Because of some physical impairment since birth, Kerr was not serving in the militia, but he had offered his services as a spy. He was to report back what he could learn.
At this point, the historic accounts get muddled. What did Colonel Williams do and why? Draper relied on Hill’s suspect account and wrote about a devious plan by Williams to misdirect the Overmountain Men toward Ninety Six where his homeland would be better protected. By Vance’s account, Graham directed the men toward Ninety-Six even before Williams joined in.
Hill wrote that Colonel James Williams and Colonel Thomas Brandon departed camp and rode toward the mountains. They were missed during the day and upon their return, Colonel William Hill confronted them about their absence, he wrote. Eventually, Williams related that he had found the militiamen marching under Campbell, Shelby, Cleveland, and the others south of Gilbert Town. He described them as “a fine set of fellows, well armed.” Hill pressed for news of where they were to rendezvous, and Williams declared they were to meet at the “old iron works on Lawson’s Fork.” [If Williams had visited the men in Gilbert Town, then this plan to meet on the way to Ninety-Six would have been consistent with their pursuit of Ferguson as they thought at that time, he was headed that way.] Movement in this direction would lead them toward Ninety Six. Hill wrote later that he immediately knew that Williams was leading these men, in fact, away from Ferguson and deeper into South Carolina where Williams had family and property interests. Hill wrote that he was outraged and that Williams responded emphatically that it was the responsibility of the South Carolinians to fight for their own country, regardless of what the Overmountain militia did with Ferguson. Hill may have ascribed that motivation to Williams to support his narrative. Williams had only days before written to General Gates that he was marching in pursuit of Major Patrick Ferguson. The facts may be that Williams was simply arguing to fulfill the plans he had made with Campbell and the others. He would not learn of the change in plans by Campbell and the others until Colonel Lacey returned from his through-the-night ride the next morning.
Flint Hills was a region, not a specific peak; it is properly used in the plural. Today, many agree that Cherry Mountain is in the area formerly known as Flint Hills. Cherry Mountain enjoys a 19th century legacy rich in moonshining and the making of “Cherry Bounce.”
Given that rain fell from mid-day October 1 through October 2 at Bedford Hill on the west side of the South Mountains, the militiamen under Williams, Hill, and Lacey may have been similarly affected by the weather, perhaps choosing to camp a day or two at Flint Hills to dry out. (Two pension applications mention an extended encampment at Flint Hills.) These militiamen were there until the morning of October 6.
It is evident as well that Colonel William Graham and Major William Chronicle chose to continue moving despite the rain. These Lincoln County Militiamen should be regarded as the hardiest of rangers as they caught up to Campbell, Shelby, and Cleveland on October 3.