Drama tells story of Watauga settlers and fight for freedom

Published 11:43 am Saturday, July 4, 2015

Star Photo Actors portray early settlers in annual production of "Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals."

Star Photo
Actors portray early settlers in annual production of “Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals.”

The annual production of “Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals” highlights all of the happenings that make the area historically unique during the 18th century.

With Britian’s King George III proclaiming that no lawful settlement could occur west of the Appalachian Mountains, people who moved across the proclamation line found themselves in limbo.

Much like the people involved in the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Watauga Settlement leaders put their families’ and their own lives in danger for freedom.

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“The people who lived here were taking incredible risks,” said Sycamore Shoals State Park Director Jennifer Bauer. “They were in complete defiance of the British King. They were people of all kinds.”

These men and women were willing to take a chance for what they believed in — freedom and liberty.

“It was about having the right to a live their life in the way they saw fit within the scope of some kind of law,” Bauer said. “Throughout generations, there has been that kind of struggle and success.”

Liberty! is a representation of the people who once lived in this region and how they reached that level of freedom.

“What these people have accomplished is very unique and very special,” Bauer said. “Aside from the risks, they moved forward. They created the first democratic government on this continent where every free man had a vote in 1772 four years before the Declaration of Independence was signed.”

After this event took place, the majority rule system came to be called the Watauga Association.

Promotional materials for the production say that Theodore Roosevelt, in his Winning of the West, called the Watauga Settlement the first ‘free and independent community on the continent’ and ‘they successfully solved the difficult problem of self-government,’”

Three years later, Sycamore Shoals was the site of another major historically significant happening.

The Treaty of Sycamore Shoals aimed to have the Cherokee turn over 20 million acres to the Transylvania Land Company (TLC). The claim was not supported by surrounding revolutionary governments and the Transylvania Purchase faded from the spotlight.

Calling the settlement “the largest private real estate transaction in the history of the United States,” the play’s promoters also note that a year later, people who lived in the area became increasingly more threatened by the Cherokees.

Fort Watauga is described as being constructed at Sycamore Shoals, where the local settlers “piled into the quickly built palisade and waited for the imminent attack.”

After a two-week siege on the fort and the nearby defeat of an important Cherokee militant leader, the people of Fort Watauga held on long enough to be victorious.

Then in 1780, the revolutionary effort was failing to retain its occupancy of the south.

Needing “a shot in the arm to boost morale and encourage victory over defeat,” the organization of soldiers battled British Major Patrick Ferguson, who threatened the livelihoods of those who oppose the crown, at Sycamore Shoals on Sept. 25, 1780.

“The Overmountain Men muster during Liberty!” Bauer said. “Then they go to King’s Mountain.”

As there were too many people volunteer to be part of the Overmountain Men, some were asked to stay behind.

“This was a citizen militia,” she said. “They weren’t trained fighters. They were farmers and blacksmiths. They were people who came together for a common purpose.”

After eleven days of searching for Ferguson, the Overmountain Men defeated him and his Tory army on Oct. 7, 1780.

According to history, his entire army surrendered to the Patriot militia, and many historians recognize the Battle of Kings Mountain as the “turning point” of the Revolutionary War.

Sycamore Shoals State Park invites visitors to watch nationally significant events unfold in a two-act dramatic presentation performed inside of its reconstruction of Fort Watauga beginning Thursday, July 9.

Liberty!, in its 37th year, is the official outdoor drama of Tennessee and is traditionally held the last three weekends in July. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are available at the park each night, but seating is limited to 450. Tickets may also be purchased at thelibertydrama.com. The box office opens at 6 p.m. Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors 55 years or older, $5 for students 6 to 17 years old and children 5 and under are free. The fee for Friends of Sycamore Shoals members who can present a membership card is $6.

Additional ticket price discounts are available this year. The first night of the performance, admission will be $8 for seniors and adults and $5 for students.

A special veterans night will be held Thursday, July 16. A veteran and an escort will be admitted free of charge. Accommodations for the hearing impaired are available every Friday night.

“In addition, we also have a Williams Hearing Impaired system transmitting on 72.9 MHz during all performances for those that have a receiver and ear piece,” the release said.

Those who wish to stop by the park early can enjoy the Liberty! Dinner Theater offered Friday and Saturdays only. Dinner is served at 6 p.m. and doors open at 5:30 p.m. The dinner is available by advanced reservations only. Reservations, which can be made at thelibertydrama.com, must be made by 1 p.m. the day of the performance. Adult dinner tickets are $25. Tickets for seniors are $23 and students pay $18. Friends of Sycamore Shoals members receive a $6 discount.