Liberty! Annual drama brings local history to life

Published 10:49 am Monday, July 10, 2017

Each year, a group of dedicated actors, technicians, historic interpreters, volunteers and state park staff bring to life the long and rich history of the area in Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals.

This year marks the 39th season for the program, which has been designated as the Official Outdoor Drama of the State of Tennessee. Each year, the Fort Watauga amphitheater comes to life with the sights and sounds of the late 18th century on the colonial frontier.

Nationally significant events that helped to shape the future of our country before, during, and after the American Revolution are presented through the drama in the voices of some of the area’s earliest residents.

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In 1772 settlers on this side of the Appalachian Mountains formed the Watauga Association, which has been widely recognized as the first government on this continent that was free and independent of the British Crown by many notable individuals, including President Theodore Roosevelt.

It was designed by leaders to provide for law and order and the right of every free man to vote. Later, the area was annexed by North Carolina and became known as the Washington District, named in honor of General George Washington, who was leading the fight for American Independence at the time.

In 1775, The Transylvania Purchase took place at the Watauga “Old Fields” where Judge Richard Henderson and other land 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 a year later.

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, who opposed the sale of the land and wanted the settlers to leave. Ultimately, the settlement was successful in staving off the attack and siege of the fort.

Sycamore Shoals 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.

Liberty! tells the stories of these important days of American history as well as demonstrating the life of pioneers in a frontier settlement. Moreover, the drama helps give faces to and the history of the names we see on many of our street signs and other local area designations. For example, we meet John Sevier, who went on to become the first Governor of Tennessee. We are also introduced to 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.

While the drama introduces us to some of the community’s “Founding Fathers,” the amazing strength and skills of the local pioneer women are far from.

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, when it was part of the State of Franklin, the town 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.

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.

The season opens on Thursday, July 13. The drama is presented for nine nights each July running Thursday through Saturday July 13-15, the 20-22, and 27-29. The box office opens nightly at 6 p.m. and the show begins at 7:30 p.m.

General admission tickets range from Free for Children 5 and under; to $6.00 for Students 6 to 17 years; $11.00 for Seniors 55 and up; and $14.00 for Adults. Members of Friends of Sycamore Shoals may attend the drama any night for a reduced adult/senior admission price of $7.00.

Tickets can also be purchased online at or at the door. Concessions will also be available each night.

This year, the Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, which hosts the production, are pleased to offer special ticket pricing for opening night on July 13.

“First Night” is an exciting time for our Liberty! cast who have been working and practicing tirelessly since early April preparing for the 39th season of Liberty! On Thursday, July 13, adults and seniors can attend Liberty! for a reduced price of $9.00 per person.

New this year, the Friends group wishes to thank all of our 1st Responders for their service and dedication. On “First Night,” Thursday, July 13, First Responders and an escort will be admitted for Free.

On Thursday, July 20, Liberty! will honor veterans by offering them free admission to the show, along with an escort.