Last chance to catch the 43rd season of Liberty!
Published 11:58 am Monday, June 20, 2022
43rd season closes weekend of June 23 – 25
The weekend of Thursday through Saturday, June 23 – 25, is the last opportunity to catch Tennessee’s Official Outdoor Drama in 2022!
See the story of nationally significant events unfold in a dramatic presentation performed on the grounds of Sycamore Shoals with the reconstructed Fort Watauga as the backdrop. Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals is a two-act outdoor drama depicting major events that took place in the late 18th century within the Watauga Settlement now, present day Elizabethton, Tennessee.
America in the 18th century was a loose knit collection of 13 British colonies. In 1763 King George III of Great Britain and his parliament issued the Proclamation of 1763 stating that no lawful settlement could occur west of the Appalachian Mountains. This was done chiefly to protect the Cherokee Indians who had allied themselves with Great Britain during the French and Indian War and to keep a tight rein on the western colonial population. Increased taxes and continued harassment from the crown prompted a large number of families to move across the proclamation line and settle in the fertile valleys west of the mountains. By 1772 over 90 families had settled in the Watauga Valley alone.
Finding themselves outside the protection of the crown and their settlement as a haven for outlaws hiding from the authorities, the settlers saw a need for law and order. In May of 1772 deliberations were held and a governing body of 13 commissioners established a majority rule system called the Watauga Association. Theodore Roosevelt in his Winning of the West said that the Watauga Settlement was the first “free and independent community on the continent” and “they successfully solved the difficult problem of self-government.” Law and order united with the idea that every free man would have a vote came about in the Watauga Settlement a full four years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Other events of major historic significance include a major land transaction between the Cherokee and Judge Richard Henderson of the Transylvania Land Company for the purchase of a large tract of land within the Cumberland and Kentucky River valleys to be opened for settlement. The negotiations concluded on March 17, 1775 when the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals was signed by members of the Transylvania Company and the headmen of the Cherokee Nation led by peace chief Attakullakulla. In response to the Cherokee losing such a vast tract of land, Dragging Canoe, son of Attakullakulla and leader of a militant faction of Cherokees, gave a very ominous and prophetic warning to the settlers stating that a dark hung over their lands and they would find their settlement to be a “dark and bloody ground.”
The following year America found itself declaring independence from Great Britain and in the throes of a revolution. The frontier settlements were in constant fear that Dragging Canoe and the militant Cherokee may raid at any time. British Indian agents supplied arms and ammunition to the natives in hopes that they could persuade the settlers to remove from their illegal communities west of the mountains. A string of loosely guarded forts and blockhouses were built in and around the settlements to provide protection should an attack occur. Fort Watauga was constructed at Sycamore Shoals and the local settlers piled into the quickly built palisade and waited for the imminent attack.
On July 21, 1776, 300 Cherokee warriors under the command of Old Abram stormed out of the dense morning fog in a surprise attack on the fort. After an intense three-hour battle the Cherokee settled in for a two-week siege of the fort. After hearing that Dragging Canoe had been defeated at Long Island, present day Kingsport, Tenn., Old Abram and his warriors retreated and the defenders of Fort Watauga emerged scarred but victorious.
By 1780 the outcome of the revolutionary effort looked very grim. General Washington had reached a stalemate in the north and the British were methodically taking back the south. Savannah, Ga., and the major port of Charleston, S.C., had both fallen to the British, and the Americans were dealt a crushing blow at the defeat of Camden, S.C. The cause needed a shot in the arm to boost morale and encourage victory over defeat.
British Major Patrick Ferguson, who had been given command of all loyal militia in the North and South Carolina backcountry, sent a verbal warning over the mountains. He ordered the overmountain people to cease in their opposition to the crown, or he would march his army over the mountains and “lay [their] country waste with fire and sword.” The size of Ferguson’s army was unknown, so instead of waiting for his arrival and mounting a defense against unknown odds, the overmountain leaders chose to take the fight to Ferguson. The word was passed and on September 25, 1780 the frontier militia that would become known as the Overmountain Men gathered at Sycamore Shoals. So many volunteers turned out that a draft was issued for men to stay behind and protect the settlements. The next day Reverend Samuel Doak prayed with the men and beseeched them to “wield the sword of the Lord and of Gideon,” and they began their trek over the mountains in search of Ferguson.
Eleven days later on October 7, 1780 the Overmountain Men found Major Ferguson and his Tory army atop Kings Mountain just across the South Carolina Line. In a battle that lasted just over an hour Ferguson was killed and his entire army surrendered to the Patriot militia. Many historians recognize the Battle of Kings Mountain as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. Thomas Jefferson referred to the victory as the “turning of the tide of success.” The Patriot forces now had that shot in the arm that was so desperately needed. Just over a year later British forces surrendered to General Washington at Yorktown, Va., and the war was all but over.
These events reflect the rich and vast historical significance that surround Sycamore Shoals and the East Tennessee region as a whole, and the role that early settlers played in the formation of a new nation.
Mark your calendars now and join us for the last weekend of The Official Outdoor Drama of the State of Tennessee, Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals before the 43rd season ends on Saturday, June 25!
During your visit to Sycamore Shoals, please plan to visit the interpretive exhibits, shop in the Gift Shop, and take in the sights and sounds of your Tennessee State Park.
You can purchase your tickets in advance at www.thelibertydrama.com. All seating is general admission. Tickets may also be purchased on-site the night of the performance, with a maximum total seating capacity of 300 total seats. The box office opens at 6:30 p.m.; showtime at 8 p.m.
For more information, please call the park at (423) 543-5808.