Isaac Shelby, Patrick Ferguson, and Fire & Sword: The Power of a Good Story

Critical Thinking

May 28, 2024
by William Caldwell Also by this Author

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A good story spreads like glitter on a craft table: one spill and suddenly it’s everywhere. Readers picking up almost any history book about the American Revolution in the southern colonies will learn about the 1780 Battle of Kings Mountain and the plot point of British Major Patrick Ferguson threatening the Patriots of the southern backcountry. Some examples include:

In 1881, Lyman Draper wrote in his Kings Mountain & Its Heroes that “if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, he [Ferguson] would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.”[1]

In 1925, J.D. Bailey said in Commanders at Kings Mountain, “Ferguson, hearing the mutterings of the gathering storm, paroled Samuel Phillips, a relative of Colonel Shelby, with the following message: ‘That if they did not desist from their opposition to British arms he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country to waste with fire and sword.’”[2]

In 1997, John Buchanan included in The Road to Guilford Courthouse, “Deadly in intent and import, the message had been given verbally to Phillips by Ferguson: ‘If they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, he would march over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.’”[3]

In 2001, Walter Edgar described in Partisans and Redcoats, “Meanwhile, as Ferguson marched into the western frontier settlements he sent a personal message to Colonel Isaac Shelby. If the residents of the region ‘did not desist from their opposition to British arms, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.’”[4]

In 2011, Randell Jones depicted the situation in Before They Were Heroes at Kings Mountain: “He imparted to Shelby the direct and succinct message from Ferguson: ‘If they did not desist their opposition to the British arms, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword.’”[5]

In 2013, Melissa Walker explained in The Battles of Kings Mountain and Cowpens, “Ferguson paroled a Patriot prisoner on September 10, 1780, and sent him to Patriot militia commander Isaac Shelby with a message: if the backcountry men ‘did not desist their opposition to British arms,’ said Ferguson, he would ‘march over the mountains, hang their leaders and lay their country waste with fire and sword.’”[6]

It appears almost required that one cannot speak about Kings Mountain or Patrick Ferguson without including the threatening message. The summarized story follows that Ferguson, frustrated at the constant harassment by Patriot partisans in South Carolina and North Carolina in the late summer of 1780, issued a threat of destruction to anyone who continued to oppose him as he organized the Loyalist militia. Ferguson released a Patriot prisoner to convey a threat of hanging Patriot leaders, burning homes, and laying waste to their countryside with fire and sword if resistance continued. The messenger brought this warning directly to Patriot Col. Isaac Shelby deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, who began organizing the Overmountain Men to confront Ferguson.

Such villainous language and line-in-the-sand ultimatums seem more fitting for a movie than the pages of a history book. This plot point negatively shapes the reader’s perception of Patrick Ferguson for the rest of the story and inspires encouragement for the Patriots as they reply to the threat by crossing the Blue Ridge Mountains and succinctly end the saga of Kings Mountain with the justified killing of Ferguson. It is important to learn all that we can about Ferguson’s message since so much of the story is built upon this cornerstone. How do we know that Patrick Ferguson sent this threatening message? How would it change the story if Ferguson did not send the threat at all? Where is the evidence that has put “fire and sword” into our national mythology?

Portrait of Governor Isaac Shelby, c. 1820. (Kentucky Historical Society)

In 1823 a pamphlet was published by Issac Shelby.[7] By this time, Shelby had been twice the governor of Kentucky, a general of Kentucky militia in the War of 1812, and renowned leading figure of the American Revolution. Within the sixth paragraph of his pamphlet, Shelby explained the events that had befallen the Patriot cause in the southern campaign of the American Revolution in the autumn of 1780. Shelby described how British Major Patrick Ferguson proceeded with an army of Loyalist soldiers away from the main British army around Camden, South Carolina and marched northwestward into the Blue Ridge Mountains. Shelby explained:

At that place he [Ferguson] paroled a prisoner, (one Samuel Philips a distant connection of mine) and instructed him to inform the officers on the Western waters, that if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, and take protection under his standard, he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay their country waste with fire and sword. Philips lived near my residence, and came directly to me with this intelligence.[8]

This was the first published description of the infamous threat that birthed a stirring and increasingly popularized vision of the historical events: destruction hanging over the heads of the Patriots of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and a challenge issued which these sturdy backcountry settlers would never shrink from.[9]

If a powerful message such as this threat was sent out to the backcountry leaders, why does it not appear in any contemporary stories of the campaign? One account appearing in the Virginia Gazette of November 18, 1780 noted that Ferguson had “advanced as high up as Gilbert Town, in Rutherford County, and threatened to cross the mountains to the western waters,”[10] claiming that Ferguson’s advance was enough provocation to stir the backcountry Patriot leaders to action. This account, published just six weeks after the battle, described Ferguson’s movements as threatening but included no message of destruction. Arthur Campbell, commanding officer (and cousin/brother-in-law) of another Kings Mountain leader, recalled his understanding that it was not a threat from Patrick Ferguson that spurred the Patriots to action, but the plight of the Patriot refugees fleeing Burke County, North Carolina: “They arrived in the settlement on Watauga river, without their families, to the number of about one hundred and fifty men. Their tale was a doleful one, and tended to excite the resentment of the western militia.”[11] In examining over 300 additional statements by men who were on the 1780 campaign with Isaac Shelby, we found none that include any mention of a message or threat from Patrick Ferguson.

However, once a reader passes the 1823 publishing of Shelby’s pamphlet, references to Ferguson’s infamous message begin to appear. In September 1845, the Southern Literary Messenger of Richmond, Virginia shared an article about the Battle of Kings Mountain written by Joseph Graham. Graham had served as one of the North Carolina colonels during the Kings Mountain campaign but was called away in the last minutes before the battle commenced. Graham’s retelling of the events says this about the threatening message:

Although Col. Ferguson failed to overtake the detachment of mountain men alluded to, he took two of them prisoners, who had become separated from their comrades. In a day or two, he paroled them, and enjoined them to inform the officers on the western waters, that if they did not desist from their opposition to the British arms, and take protection, under his standard, that he would march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay the country waste with fire and sword.[12]

At last, Graham’s article gives us another version of the story that includes the threat. But being published twenty-two years after Shelby’s pamphlet and still being a word-for-word retelling of Shelby’s story calls its validity into question. Most detectives would be suspicious if two witnesses, separated by hundreds of miles and twenty-two years, wrote two nearly identical statements. What scenario is most likely: these men just happened to use the exact same forty-four words in the same order; or Graham was copying Shelby’s account because it was a good story?

But wait; there’s more. There is a source that directly contradicts Shelby’s popular version of events. Within the collected and published papers of British General Charles Cornwallis is a letter written by Patrick Ferguson explaining his plan: parole prisoners, send out a message, and convince the Patriot holdouts to rejoin the Loyalist militia. Attached to the letter is a full copy of Ferguson’s proclamation dated September 9, 1780.[13] Ferguson spent 850 words explaining how the people had been misled by the Continental Congress. He suggested that the only reason Patriot leaders still actively pursued the war was to personally gain by plundering. The final section of this proclamation (the “stick” to the previously explained “carrots”) explained what would happen to those Patriots who continued to resist:

As to those rebels who continue the waste of human blood in a war without a just object or even a reasonable pretext, whatever fate may befall them and their property, it shall be the endeavour of the King’s officers to protect their wives and familys from injury or insult and to pursue with equal vengeance those of their own party or of the enemy who shall offer any outrage or insult to the female sex or act the part of house thieves.[14]

Additional evidence of Ferguson’s intentions is in a second proclamation forwarded to General Cornwallis where Ferguson directed the Loyalists to protect property, families, and those Patriots who were peaceful:

They [the Loyalists] are strictly enjoined to offer no injury to the persons or property of those men wo have been of the rebel side who remain at home and shew a disposition for peace and submission, but to afford every protection in their power to them and to women and children of every denomination … those who by plunder and outrage disgrace the name of loyalists will be punished even to death as scoundrels who wish to continue to their country the miserys of war, to distress the women and children and other innocent people, to destroy all the property on both sides, and to retard the progress of His Majesty’s arms.[15]

From Patrick Ferguson’s own pen: no fire, no sword, no laying waste to the country, no hanging of leaders – but is this enough evidence to say that Patrick Ferguson did not issue a threat?

If every retelling of the Ferguson threat originates from Shelby’s 1823 pamphlet, and if it is Ferguson’s own copy of his proclamation that serves as the main challenge to the threat’s existence, how can the scales be tipped in favor of one over the other? Due to the unusual nature of Ferguson’s Loyalists serving in the backcountry, detached from the main British army, the communication between Ferguson and Cornwallis was detailed and frequent. These letters provide additional insight into Ferguson’s strategies while in the western Carolinas and show evidence of attempting similar lenient tactics. In Ferguson’s letter to Cornwallis on September 14, 1780 when he forwarded copies of the proclamations, he had just finished chasing and scattering the Patriot militia of Charles McDowell at the Battle of Cane Creek on the 12th. Ferguson explained that they captured seventeen prisoners there and described his next steps:

They gave themselves out for 400 but I know their numbers to a certainty to have been 220, part of whom are skulking in scatter’d partys in the mountains and part at home preparing to avail themselves of the inclosed declaration, which I found necessary to circulate by means of the men of most character and moderation among the prisoners, whom I have sent to their homes upon promise of fidelity to His Majesty’s Government. The people here have been kept in total ignorance, and the authority of your Lordship’s proclamation would work surprizing effects.[16]

Ferguson’s mention of using paroled prisoners to spread the proclamation confirms that this is the same message supposed to have been carried to Isaac Shelby by parolee Samuel Philips. This letter reveals Ferguson’s encouraging belief that some of the “scatter’d partys” were already preparing to follow his orders and give themselves up. We also learn that Ferguson hoped that bringing information to the people would have “surprizing effects,” and that multiple paroled prisoners were chosen to serve as messengers due to their character and moderation, that is, their trustworthiness to deliver the message correctly. This sounds like someone whose plan is working, not an officer frustrated at being foiled.

Elsewhere in Ferguson’s letters we see a similar pattern of trying to contact community leaders to discuss the reasons to end the rebellion. Ferguson was aware that opening communication with key leaders could sway the loyalty of entire regions. This is evidenced in Ferguson’s letter of September 19, 1780, when he explained to Cornwallis:

I have avail’d myself of Mr Cathey, who has submitted and has great influence with Macdougle’s [McDowell’s] party, to write a letter by him requiring that Macdowal will do justice to his adherents and their familys by letting them know the easy and advantagious terms upon which they may come in; and as he is said to be a man of humane and peaceable disposition and will have an opportunity of returning to his family and of putting an end to the ruinous war here, those who have submitted think that he with most of his followers will return. The rebel inhabitants here have been kept much in the dark. They are surprized at their treatment and declare that few, if any, would have gone off had we not been misrepresented.[17]

This insight into how Ferguson felt about the backcountry Patriot leaders and the positive responses he received paints a picture of someone who is attempting a velvet-glove approach to reconciliation and not the iron-fist of hangings and destruction. His proclamation dated September 9 that was copied and enclosed with his letter on September 14 was not a one-off attempt to deceive Patriots into laying down their arms, but was the shining example of his strategy to win the hearts and minds of the backcountry.

Reading the letters of Patrick Ferguson, his surviving proclamations, and considering the pattern of his other interactions with civilians across western South Carolina and North Carolina, it becomes fair to claim that Ferguson did not send a message to Isaac Shelby threatening him with “fire and sword.” So why did Shelby claim that he did in his 1823 pamphlet? There are several potential answers:

  1. When Samuel Phillips was released by Ferguson under promise to deliver the proclamation, the message was either intentionally or accidentally exaggerated into the threat that Shelby remembered.
  2. Shelby received Ferguson’s proclamation as written, knew of Ferguson’s success in recruiting thousands of Loyalist militia throughout the backcountry, and feared Ferguson would have similar success in Shelby’s own North Carolina mountains. By altering the message himself and spreading fear and anger, Shelby galvanized his Patriot militia and prevented Ferguson from swaying his neighbors to Loyalism.
  3. Ferguson lied in his letters to Cornwallis, and while claiming to spread peaceful words was really issuing threats of destruction.
  4. Shelby sat down in 1823, forty-three years after the events, and decided his story needed a little razzle-dazzle to sell the heroic aspects of his accomplishments. The worse the villain, the greater the hero.
Death of Patrick Ferguson at Kings Mountain. (Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library)

There is another possible explanation that doesn’t turn these historical actors into fibbing glory-seekers. Perhaps when Shelby received Ferguson’s proclamation, he simply did not believe it. While Ferguson was talking the good talk of peace and protection, other British officers were heavy-handedly crushing Patriot resistance in their areas of operation. To suppress Patriot leaders such as Elijah Clarke, Francis Marion, and Thomas Sumter, British and Loyalist officers like Banastre Tarleton, James Wemyss, and Thomas Brown often resorted to brutal tactics during their 1780 campaigns, tactics that could be described as “fire and sword.” Perhaps when Ferguson’s message reached Shelby in mid-September 1780, Shelby did not actually read or hear the words “fire and sword,” but looked out across the other parts of the South and chose to believe the reality instead of the promises.

We will never know how the American Revolution would have changed if Isaac Shelby had believed Patrick Ferguson’s peace offers. Shelby’s decision to paint Ferguson as the author of these threats secured in American legend an image of Ferguson as a wicked British officer leading a vengeful Loyalist army to hang Patriot leaders and lay waste to their countryside with fire and sword, despite this story (more than likely) being false. Shelby’s story shines a heroic light on the men who took up arms to challenge and defeat Ferguson, while depicting the men who followed Ferguson as villainous traitors complacent in his schemes to destroy the peaceful settlements of the Blue Ridge Mountains. This is the story that has been repeated for centuries despite its questionable validity; a story that is more folklore than truth. Despite continued efforts to prove or disprove this catalyst event of the Kings Mountain campaign, “fire & sword” will likely continue to reappear in our Revolution mythology, just like those few sparkles of craft glitter that remain no matter how many times you’ve vacuumed—but that’s the power of a good story.

 

 

[1] Lyman Draper, Kings Mountain and Its Heroes (Cincinnati: Peter G. Thompson, 1881), 169.

[2] J.D. Bailey, Commanders at Kings Mountain (Gaffney, SC: E. H. DeCamp, 1925), 97.

[3] John Buchanan, The Road to Guilford Courthouse (New York: John Wiley & Sons Publishing, 1997), 208.

[4] Walter Edgar, Partisans and Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution (New York: HarperCollins Publishing, 2001), 116.

[5] Randell Jones, Before They Were Heroes at Kings Mountain (Winston-Salem: Daniel Boone Footsteps, 2013), 378.

[6] Melissa Walker, The Battles of Kings Mountain and Cowpens: The American Revolution in the Southern Backcountry (New York: Rutledge Publishing, 2013), 75.

[7] The pamphlet was intended to settle a controversy regarding the conduct of William Campbell in the Battle of Kings Mountain, and the lack of thanks and honors bestowed on other leaders such as Isaac Shelby and John Sevier.

[8] Isaac Shelby, “Pamphlet,” in Draper, Kings Mountain and Its Heroes, 522.

[9] While notes exist from an interview with Shelby pre-dating this pamphlet by eight years, the notes were not published until twenty-five years after the 1823 pamphlet. The story depicted in these earlier notes bears no significant differences.

[10] Draper, Kings Mountain and Its Heroes, 522.

[11] Arthur Campbell, “Kings Mountain – A Fragment,” in Draper, Kings Mountain and Its Heroes, 522.

[12] Joseph Graham, “Battle of King’s Mountain,” in Draper, Kings Mountain and Its Heroes, 546-551.

[13] Enclosed with a letter from Patrick Ferguson to Lord Cornwallis, September 14, 1780:

DECLARATION Tryon County, Gilbert Town

September 9th 1780

The experience that the deluded inhabitants of the revolted American provinces have had of the falsehoods by which the rebel leaders have artfully excited them, against their duty to God and the King and their best interests, to involve their country in blood and misery will, it is hoped, by degrees open their eyes that they may at last listen to the calm voice of reason and truth.
They have been told that Britain, the land of liberty and toleration and chief support of freedom and the Protestant religion throughout the world, was about to introduce popery and slavery among her American descendents at the very time the rebel Congress was privately forming a league with France and Spain which, had it succeeded to their wish, would have banished real liberty and true religion from the face of the earth.
They were told that the savages were to be solicited to murder and lay waste and that the British troops were to assist them in desolating the country. Now, the only Indians employ’d since the invasion of Carolina are those of Catawbaw by the rebels, and even the Cherokee nation that followed the British troops to Savannah River to revenge the burning of their towns were refused leave and sent back; and the King’s troops have exerted themselves to restrain the resentment of the loyalists and prevent bad men on both sides from aggravating the horrors of way by rapine and outrage.
They were told the King meant to enslave them at a time when He with His Parliament had by publick Act of the Constitution renounced all right of taxing American for ever and voted a restoration of all their antient rights and libertys to those Americans who should submit; but the chief rebels have industriously conceal’d and suppress’d these advantagious offers, knowing that all reasonable and honest men would gladly receive them.
They were told that all those in South Carolina who had taken protection were forced to inlist, then in fact no protected man was suffer’d, much less compell’d, to bear arms, even in the militia, until he had given proof of his sincerity.
They were told that the protected men were maltreated and plunder’d by order, when in fact the authority of the King’s officers was diligently employ’d to restrain the loyalists from retaliating the injuries that their innocent familys had suffer’d during the rebel government; and althou it is impossible at once to prevent every person amongst a numerous body of men irritated by oppression from taking their revenge, yet the good behaviour of our militia at present in Tryon County shows that the King’s officers have exerted themselves with success to prevent desolation.
In a word, the King by proclamation, and in consequence of a solemn Act of His Parliament, holds forth to every American who is disposed to return to his duty an offer of the same free and happy government he formerly enjoy’d, with an exemption from taxation and fardon for all offences; and His officers are strictly commanded to protect to the utmost of their power all men who submit and all women and children of every denomination.
Of course no man can have an interest in continuing to his country the miserys of war (particularly after its fate is decided) except those few who have either engross’d all the power or who by their extreme injustice and cruelty to individuals are become detestable to the best men of all partys, or otherwise who, having got a habit of rapine and plunder, wish to continue to rob in the confusion of the times. Under the last description are the partys lately from Georgia, Nolachuki, and some scoundrels of both sides, all of whom it is the duty and interest of every man of honest feelings to suppress and crush.
Wherefore every man that is not conscious of crimes that render him unfit to live in a state of peace in civil society has only to repair to his home and declare his submission, after which his person, his property and just rights as a freeman will be protected to the utmost until the re-establishment of civil government shall for ever fix and secure his libertys. In the mean time, should the publick service render it necessary to use his cattle, forrage or grain, the same receipts that are in the like case given to the loyalists he will receive from the British commanding officer – not waste paper like the bills of the rebel Congress, but equal to cash, insuring him of full payment in a few weeks.
As to those rebels who continue the waste of human blood in a war without a just object or even a reasonable pretext, whatever fate may befall them and their property, it shall be the endeavour of the King’s officers to protect their wives and familys from injury or insult and to pursue with equal vengeance those of their own party or of the enemy who shall offer any outrage or insult to the female sex or act the part of house thieves.

[14] Patrick Ferguson, “Proclamation – September 9, 1780,” in The Cornwallis Papers: The Campaigns of 1780 and 1781 in the Southern Theater of the American Revolutionary War, Volume II, Chapter 23: Correspondence between Cornwallis and Ferguson etc., ed. Ian Saberton (East Sussex: The Naval & Military Press Ltd., 2010), 150-152.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 153-155.

9 Comments

  • Great article separating the (likely) myth from primary sources.

    I researched this period of North Carolina for years and could find no primary source for Charlotte being described as a “hornet’s nest” by any primary source including Cornwallis. He wrote some things similar to that in tone but not exactly. That said, “hornet’s nest” was an accurate description of the area at the time.

    A minor point of clarification, Joseph Graham’s rank was Adjutant, Captain, or possibly Major at this time. He was severely wounded on September 26 and spent two months in the hospital. Graham became a sort of historian or assembler of narratives of the war in the 1820’s. By his own admission, everything he knew about Kings Mountain came from those that were there. There are some references in a work on him from his descendant that he gathered sources from newspapers from the era.

  • Excellent work, William Caldwell. The myths generated in the mid 19th century seemingly take on a life of their own and are repeated – even by those who ought to be more skeptical – endlessly. Wonderful to see this myth busted so thoroughly.

  • It is difficult to challenge the established story, no matter how compelling… This piece reads well and you show a moderate side to Ferguson, at least by his own writings. I would echo the prior reply, too often the local “story” stems from a 19th century piece that became gospel truth, only to be overturned in modern times. Thanks for your research.

  • I appreciate your intention and efforts to dig into the historical record and offer this new and interesting interpretation. I find it pretty convincing.

  • Kudos to Mr. Caldwell. This essay provides us with an important caveat. The many attractive stories concocted by 19th-century chroniclers divert us from paying due attention to what the primary sources tell us. I am particularly grateful for being rescued from alluding to this myth in the book I am currently writing.

  • Thank you for writing this article. I always thought that the “fire and sword” proclamation was completely out of character for Ferguson. At Monck’s Corner during the siege of Charleston, Tarleton’s troops got out of hand and abused some of the local townspeople, including women. Ferguson was outraged by the behavior of Tarelton’s men and wanted to summarily execute the British soldiers responsible. While prevented from that, he did deploy his own troops into the town to protect the civilians and restore order. It hardly seems possible that this man would go on to threaten civilians with “fire and sword” a few months later.

  • Thank you for the historiography lesson and especially for including the text of the message to Cornwallis in the notes. As someone married for almost 37 years to a crafter, I can vouch for the accuracy of the glitter analogy. That was the icing on the cake for me!

  • Excellent article. I particularly enjoy methodical investigations such as this into the facts behind a long held, much repeated, popular trope.

  • Ranger Caldwell’s article is an interesting take on the topic of Ferguson’s threat with a Loyalist PR view.

    This article shows how Ferguson presented himself to his boss, Lord Cornwallis, and disputes the tone of and the existence of Ferguson’s verbal threat to the “back water” men.

    All of Ferguson’s writings to Cornwallis show him to be a proper British officer who is watching out for his career and for posterity. Ferguson was born in the Scotland and was a British officer in a time when Scottish officers were often considered second class and overlooked for Promotion. This was only 36 years after “The 45” and highland dress was still outlawed. Much of England and most of the British Command still held distrust of the Highland Scotts.

    Ferguson was ambitious and was pushing for promotion to Colonel in his regiment, the 71st of Foot. Ferguson was old for a British Major, Colonel Tarleton was ten years his junior. I think Ferguson was one of the older of Cornwallis’ officers.

    Remember that Ferguson’s nickname was Bulldog and two years earlier 250 men led by Ferguson attacked a 50 man outpost of Pulaski and bayoneted 45 men in their sleep taking only 5 prisoners in what was called the Little Egg Harbor Massacre.

    Ferguson issued the threat on September 10, 1780, which was only four months after Buford’s massacre at Waxhaws and was less than a month after the Southern Army was crushed at Camden and now a large British force was in Gilbert Town, just 66 miles from Sycamore Shoals. Ferguson despised the Backwater and referred to them as “damned banditti”. The language of the threat was not out of character.

    The threat was issued before Ferguson moved out north to fight McDowell at Cain Creek, not after. Shelby did not take action until the threat arrived.

    1780
    May 12 General Lincoln surrenders Charleston, SC
    May 29 Buford’s Massacre at Waxhaws
    Aug 16 Southern Patriot Army under Gates defeated by Cornwallis at Camden
    Aug 19 Shelby wins the battle of Musgrove Mill over part of Ferguson’s force and returns over
    the mountains
    Aug 29 Cornwallis to Clinton: “Ferguson is to move into Tryon County with some militia”
    Sep 01 Ferguson is ordered to “be separated from the army and act on the Frontiers with the militia”
    (From Allaire’s Diary entry of September 1st 1780)
    Sep 09 Ferguson arrives in Gilbert Town
    Sep 10 Ferguson sends a verbal threat to the “backwater Men” via Samuel Philips to Colonel Shelby
    Sep 12 Ferguson fights Burke and Rutherford County Whigs at Cain Creek
    Sep 18 The Whigs from the Cain Creek battle (160 men) arrive at Sycamore Shoals
    Sep 26 Overmountain Men leave Sycamore Shoals to catch Ferguson
    Oct 01 Ferguson sends the written threat to be posted for miles around
    Oct 07 The Battle of Kings Mountain

    There are other primary sources records that mention the threat and also we have to consider the threat sent while Ferguson was camped at Denards’s Ford on the Broad River on October 1st, 1780. This one was written and signed by Ferguson, copied out and posted at crossroads and country stores for miles around. It is much more in the tone of the threat to the “backwater” Whigs. Caldwell’s article does not mention this written threat.

    The October 1st written threat is much more how he would have talked about and to the forces that had been harassing him.

    “Denard ‘s Ford. Broad River.
    Tryon County. October 1, 1780.
    “Gentlemen : Unless you wish to be eat up by an inundation of barbarians, who
    have begun by murdering an unarmed son before the aged father, and afterwards lopped off his arms, and who by their shocking cruelties and irregularities, give the best proof of their cowardice and want of discipline: I say, if you wish to be pinioned, robbed and murdered, and see your wives and daughters in four days, abused by the dregs of mankind – in short, if you wish or deserve to live, and bear the name of me, grasp your arms in a moment and run to camp.

    “The Back Water men have crossed the mountains : McDowell, Hampden, Shelby,
    and Cleveland are at their head, so you know what you have to depend upon. If you choose to be pissed on forever and ever by a set of mongrels, say so at once, and let your women turn their backs upon you, and look out for real men to protect them.
    “ PAT FERGUSON. Major. 71st Regiment.”

    I think that this threat is how Ferguson really thought about the Whigs that had been harassing him. I also think this threat would have done more to keep the Tories at home than probably anything else.

    The high sounding report of Ferguson that is mentioned in Caldwell’s article is only in Cornwallis’ records and there is no record of it going out. A verbal threat that was sent to a Whig commander would not have been heard of by the rank and file.

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