East Tennessee History: Major Patrick Ferguson

Published 1:04 pm Tuesday, June 9, 2020

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There are infamous villains throughout history that we love to hate. Whether it is Benedict Arnold, Judas Iscariot or Adolf Hitler, these are men who did something that was so terrible, it can never be forgiven.
Everyone needs a common enemy, and for the mountain people in east Tennessee, no one brings out the hatred and disgust more than Major Patrick Ferguson. He was the leader of British forces during the American Revolution who threatened to launch an invasion into these mountains in 1780.
His exact threat was that he would “come across the mountains, hang the leaders and lay waste the country with fire and sword.”
He had utter contempt for the people of this area and called us “dregs of mankind and barbarians.”
His arrogance showed even more right before the Battle of Kings Mountain. After entrenching with 1000 Loyalist troops on top of the mountain, he bragged that “not even God could get him off that mountain.”
As most of you know, the Battle of Kings Mountain ended with Ferguson being killed on top of Kings Mountain and the rest of his troops either captured, wounded or killed. The Overmountain Men fighting against Ferguson lost only 28 men killed.
Ferguson’s prophecy was correct in some ways when he said God couldn’t get him off that mountain. After he died, his body was not taken off that mountain but was buried up there with his troops. It is said that some of Ferguson’s troops were buried in shallow graves and wolves could be heard howling and fighting on top of the mountain for the next week as they dug up some of the bodies and ate them.
For a long time, I despised all that Major Ferguson did and stood for. I had read about the Battle of King’s Mountain and his threatening and arrogance, and I knew he could not have done anything good in his life. But there is another side to Ferguson, some people do not know.
First, Ferguson was a crack shot with a rifle, some said the best in the British Army. He often would take long shots at the enemy, and he rarely missed. This is where he changed history for the American Colonies during the American Revolution.
One day he saw a Colonial officer riding on horseback within his rifle range. He put his rifle to his shoulder to take a shot, and the officer turned and started riding away. He did not shoot. His sense of chivalry kept him from taking the shot and shooting the officer in the back.
The officer Ferguson refused to shoot in the back was a young man named General George Washington, commander of the Colonial forces.
We can only guess how the war would have ended and whether we would even be a country today if Ferguson had taken that shot. We have become what we are, in part, because Major Patrick Ferguson refused to shoot a man in the back.
Second, many people do not realize that Major Ferguson was an inventor. Ferguson’s invention became so popular that I own several of them, and I guess that most of the readers of this newspaper own at least one of them.
You see, Major Ferguson invented the breech-loading rifle. Before Ferguson, all rifles operated as a muzzle loading rifle. In other words, you placed powder and a bullet straight into the barrel of the rifle and pushed it down with a ramrod. Then the gun could be fired. A good reloader could reload a weapon in this way almost twice a minute.
Ferguson’s breech-loading rifle allowed powder and bullet to be placed in the breech of the gun where the hammer sets. In other words, he invented a rifle that could load much quicker and one that would be very similar to today’s breechloading rifles, except we use cartridges. Ferguson’s rifle could be reloaded and fired around six to ten times in a minute. That is a game changer!
Major Ferguson is a villain for almost all of us, but he did play a crucial role in this country that even lasts today. It just goes to prove that there is something good about everybody, even a villain.

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