Liberty! The saga of Sycamore Shoals comes to life in outdoor drama

Published 2:03 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Star File Photo/Abby Morris-Frye  Settlers morn the loss of friends and family following an attack on the fort by Cherokee warriors.

Star File Photo/Abby Morris-Frye
Settlers morn the loss of friends and family following an attack on the fort by Cherokee warriors.

At the beginning of July people all across the country celebrate the birth of the United States, but during the last three weekends of the month Sycamore Shoals celebrates the birth of Liberty!
This year marks the 38th annual performance of Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals! The outdoor drama shares the tale of the first settlement in the region and the role its inhabitants played in shaping the history of the nation.
Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park boasts a great deal of educational programming and an on-site museum detailing the region’s history, and in particular its role in the establishment of the United States of America. That history comes to life in Liberty! which is the Official Outdoor Drama of Tennessee.
Several nationally significant events occurred at Sycamore Shoals and the Watauga settlement.
The Watauga Association, formed in 1772, was widely recognized as the first continental government that was “free and independent” of the British Crown. The Watauga Association was designed by the community leaders to provide for law and order and the right of every free man to vote.
At this location, in 1775, The Transylvania Purchase was conducted at the Watauga “Old Fields” where Judge Richard Henderson and other speculators purchased 20 million acres of land from the Cherokee. This negotiation sparked a series of Cherokee attacks on the pioneers of the Watauga and surrounding settlements. Later the purchase was voided, with ample compensation for Henderson, by the states that gained authority over the land.
Liberty! is set in front of the full-scale replica of Fort Watauga, which was used to defend the settlement against attacks from a faction of the Cherokee, led by Chief Dragging Canoe, during July of 1776. Ultimately, the settlement was successful in staving off the attack and siege of the fort.
These grounds also served as the gathering place for the Overmountain Men, who were an essential part of a broader militia that defeated Major Patrick Ferguson and his British force at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780. That event is often noted as a major turning point for the American Revolution.
The drama covers these critical points in history as well as demonstrating what life was like for the pioneers in a frontier settlement.
“There are some minor changes in the script,” said Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park Manager Jennifer Bauer. “We have some new cast members with us for the first time and we are excited to have them.”
The large cast portrays many prominent figures in local history and brings to life the names of many people long past whose names still adorn our streets and other local area designations.
For example, audience members will meet John Sevier, who went on to become the first Governor of Tennessee, as well as John Carter, and his son Landon, both of whom are reflected in the full name of the Carter Mansion, the oldest frame house in the state. Landon also lent his last name to Carter County.
The amazing strength and skills of the local pioneer women are far from neglected in the drama. Another character is Mary Patton, who learned the art of manufacturing gun powder from her father. Her assistance was crucial in the defense of the settlement during the siege. Moreover, she supplied the Overmountain Men with a minimum of 500 pounds of gunpowder for their foray into North Carolina.
We also encounter Catherine “Bonnie Kate” Sherrill, a lively lass who was caught outside the fort during the siege attack, and was rescued by Sevier, whom she later married.
While Tiptonville was the original name of Elizabethton, as part of the State of Franklin, it was later renamed for Landon’s wife, Elizabeth MacLin Carter, who also appears in the drama.
This is only a partial list of fascinating local contributors to regional and national history, and putting the play on is quite an undertaking. It features professional lighting and sound, a well-maintained amphitheater, as well as an all-volunteer cast of nearly 100 local actors in speaking and extra roles.
Liberty! will be performed at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park Thursdays through Saturdays —July 14-16, 21-23, and 28-30 — at the Fort Watauga Amphitheater.
General admission tickets range from Free for children under 5, to $5 for students 6 to 17 years, $10 for seniors 55 and up, and $12 for adults.
Tickets can be purchased online at or at the door.
First Night tickets to the opening show on Thursday, July 14th are only $8 for adults and seniors and $5.00 for students.
Veterans Night is on Thursday, July 22nd, where Veterans are formally thanked for their service during the show, and also with free admission for them and a guest.
A Dinner Theater also runs most nights of the play, where for $25 (with seniors/student discounts available), one can enjoy an all-you-can-eat, sit-down meal cooked by a prominent local chef, and be regaled with tales of the site prior to the show. The price of the ticket includes your meal and admission to the show. The Dinner Theater requires advanced reservations made at the website listed above, or by calling 423-543-5808.
“People love the dinner theaters,” Bauer said. “They come out talking about how good the food is and how much fun they had.”
A lot of the cast members help to serve the dinner, which Bauer said gives those attending the dinner a chance to interact with the characters.
The Dinner Theater will not be available on the opening night of the play (July 14) but will be available for every other night of the production, Bauer said.
While everyone hopes for nice weather for an outdoor drama, Bauer said the performances of Liberty! are a “rain or shine” event.
“If there is just a gentle rain the play goes on,” Bauer said. “If there is lightning or a storm we take a break and let that pass. I suggest people bring their rain gear.”
For more information on the drama contact Sycamore Shoals State Park at 423-543-5808 or visit the website for Liberty! at or on Facebook at

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