A new lesson for the siege of Fort Watauga
The reenactment of the Siege of Fort Watauga has always told the story of the colonial, British and Native Americans living in the Watauga settlement during the 1776 Cherokee attack.
This year, that story will include a new viewpoint, not featured before: that of the colonial slave.
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park interpretive ranger Chad Bogart said reenactor Lynette Stuart will perform “Ms. Jane,” a colonial frontier slave narrative, on Saturday, May 17, at 1 p.m.
“We have always told two sides of the story, that of the European settlers and the Natives,” Bogart said. “We have told about their different cultures, their beliefs and how those came together. There was one part that was never included before, and that was the viewpoint of the slaves in colonial America.”
In colonial times there were African slaves, brought against their will to the country, and indentured servants, who were usually European citizens who agreed to serve a set number of years with a colonial settler in return for passage to the new country.
Bogart said African slaves and free black citizens were present at Fort Watauga during the 1776 Cherokee attack. He said they had felt that was part of the story that had been neglected in the past, but that it was difficult to find a reenactor to take on those roles.
However, that dilemma was resolved when Bogart was introduced to Stuart at a reenactment at Southwest Virginia’s Natural Tunnel State Park.
“I asked her to come, and she was happy to be a part of it,” Bogart said. “It is the opportunity to tell another viewpoint.”
In an interview Stuart did during the Frontier Muster and Trade Faire at Natural Tunnel State Park, she said, “It is a part of history that’s left out, a part of history that’s been misinterpreted, and a part of history that we oftentimes want to forget about.”
But it shouldn’t be forgotten, Stuart said, noting she wants to tell the whole story of blacks in colonial America: slaves, yes, but also indentured servants and landowners: “True history, not made-up history.”
Her entire interview can be found online on the Facebook page for the Roadside Theater: Art in a Democracy, www.facebook.com/RoadsideTheater.
Another addition to the reenactment is a demonstration of salt-making on the pioneer by Jim Boardwine.
“Salt was an important part of life during these times,” Bogart said. “It was how they preserved their food. It was an element of survival for the settlers. It is something we take for granted today but it was very important for them.”
The Siege of Fort Watauga is one of the more popular events that is held at Sycamore Shoals park.
The Siege features around 200 reenactors to tell about the Cherokee attack on the settlement in the summer of 1776. During the actual attack, Sycamore Shoals provided shelter to an estimated 175 to 220 settlers while 300 warriors led by Cherokee War Chief Old Abram launched an attack.
“This was part of Dragging Canoe’s three-pronged attack on settlements on what would become East Tennessee,” Bogart said.
Bogart said the attack included some “high action” moments and featured some of the more popular tales of local history, including Catherine “Bonnie Kate” Sherrill’s leap over the fort wall to escape a Cherokee warrior and when Ann Robertson threw scalding water on Cherokee warriors attempting to light the fort on fire.
The battle is the highlight of both days of the reenactment, and will take place at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Bogart said each day would feature a different portion of the battle.
On Saturday, the reenactment will feature the initial assault on the fort, which will include the scene featuring Robertson’s water defense. Sunday’s action will focus on the rest of the attack, include the capture of James Cooper and Sam Moore. Cooper was killed at the fort and Moore was captured by the Cherokee to be burned at the stake.
Bogart said hundreds of people from many surrounding states travel to watch the reenactment.
“Everyone likes the excitement,” he said. “It is an opportunity for the whole family to come out and see a family-friendly event and to learn about local history. They get to see, touch and taste history and it will stay with them longer than reading it out of a history book. They will get to see a portion of history they don’t get to every day.”
The event lasts from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, May 17, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 18.
For more information on this and other events at Sycamore Shoals call the park at 543-5808 or visit the park’s website at www.sycamoreshoalstn.org.