Back some time ago when I was discussing Mary Patton, black powder maker to the Overmountain Men, I recieved a query from Linda Odom asking about Michael Hyder, Sr. who was a powder maker living at the same time as Mary Patton (actually their lives overlapped). It gave me pause and I said research for a future time.
I asked Nat Hyder who is a direct descendent about his ancestor and he let me borrow an interesting book called “Historical Remininscences of Carter County,TN” edited by Mildred Kozsuch. She compiled the history of the Watauga settlement, the Washington County district and what was to become Carter Co, including primary sources where available .She also recounted the histories of all the first families of the area, including the Hyders, Pattons and Taylors to name a few. What I was looking for was any relation between Michael Hyder and Mary Patton. I also went to the library and looked on line as well. What I found was fascinating.
The Heiders were early immigrants from the Palatine part of Germany which was caught up in a religious struggle between the Calvinists, Catholics and Lutherans. They decided to emigrate, leaving Rotterdam on August 17, 1729, and coming through the port of Philadelphia. Michael and his wife, Katherine, settled in what is now Hardy Co., West Virginia, and raised their three girls and four boys . Some stayed in that area but four of them including Michael Hyder, Sr. (by then a spelling change) migrated to North Carolina with Michael settling in Powder Branch in the Watauga Settlement, owning a total of 450 acres (will probated in 1790). Michael was a pretty busy man; he and his family were at Fort Watauga when Dragging Canoe and Old Abram made their moves in the area. He volunteered to go with the Overmountain Men to Kings Mountain but he and James Edens, Sr. were asked to stay to patrol and report on Indian movement and notified Sevier to come back when they got information somewhere outside of what is now Knoxville that 1800 natives were on the move to attack the settlements. To me, that had to be almost braver than going with the boys to hunt down Furgeson. Think about it. He and his partner were patrolling the area from Carter Co through Knoxville in the deep wilderness, picking up information about Indian movement at a time when the Cherokee were looking for blood. To shoot food or build a fire was signaling instant death at the hands of the enemy. Somehow they literally sneaked back to the Watauga Settlement, raised the alarm along the way, and got his family to safety. He fought with Sevier in all his actions and fought in and made gunpower for the men at the Battle of Musgrove’s Mill and gunpowder was made at his mill for those who went to King’s Mountain and elsewhere.
In 1760, Michael Hyder built the first black powder mill. It was pretty primitive by all accounts, looking like an old-fashioned hominy mill but it worked and Michael, Sr did very well. He and John Gourley owned the caves which were rich in bat guano and Hyder’s powder mill was very profitable. Prior to the revolution, there was very little black powder made in the colonies. Britian had a monopoly on the stuff and when they banned its import in October, 1777, prices which were dear , shot up. In the frontier when getting those supplies was well neigh impossible, it’s no wonder that there were black powder makers probably more here than elsewhere. To be a powder maker was a dirty job but absolutely vital as having shot was the difference between life and death in the frontier. It’s said that the powder from Powder Branch was of exceptional quality and word of mouth was the best advertisement. Hyder’s powder was said to be so good that “it would burn in a minute”. Traveling peddlers would take powder and sell it from horseback throughout the Carolinas. You can almost hear them say, “Man, this is good stuff!!! Why this here stuff would shoot the nubbins off a brass squirrel at 200 yards. ” Well, maybe not ! He made money; all powder makers did. Black powder sold for a dollar a pound. An acre of land was between .50 to one dollar so you can see how dear each grain was.
There were other powder makers on or near Powder Creek. Josiah Clark established the second powder mill on Gap Creek and John and Mary Patton built a mill at the mouth of Powder Creek as well, adjacent to friend, Andrew Taylor’s property . Nathaniel Taylor, who had married Mary Patton’s cousin and was an intimate of theirs, fronted them the money for the mill ; the reason why Taylor did this was that John was in the Militia and was paid in Continental script which turned out to be totally worthless. They had sold their powder business in Carlisle, though, and it enabled them to make the move and give them some seed money for their new venture. The quality of powder made by the Pattons was “gourmet” and beside being a good friend, Taylor knew a good thing when he saw it. The Taylor Mill with the Pattons at the helm did extraordinarily well, mostly because of Mary Patton’s skills. In1795, General Nathaniel Taylor built A mill expressly for Mary’s personal use, increasing production, and the Taylor Mill as it was called was in continual use until right around the Civil War, long after the Hyder Mill was abandoned. Many of the sources I read claim that while black powder used during the Revolution in this area and southward came from all the mills, the bulk seemed to have been produced by Mary Patton (Durkley 2007). The only connection I was able to find between Mary Patton and Michael Hyder was that they all got their guano from the caves that Hyder owned. I also found a source that suggests that, as an experienced powder maker, the young Mary may have worked at the Hyder Mill making powder while Michael Hyder, Sr. was scouting for the protection of the area. This is a distinct possibility since her mill had not been built yet and they were just settling in. From all accounts, the Hyder Mill may have been the first but others quickly outstripped it in sophistication and length of time in service. There was no mention in any source of Michael Sr. taking on an apprentice or family member in the black powder business although he did involve his family in farming and had ownership in a grist mill. Mary Patton, though, worked longer as a powder maker and her mill was an on-going concern worked by other family members as well until the Civil War. The conclusion I drew is with Michael Hyder, blackpowder making was a necessary means to an end; with Mary Patton, powder was an end which made other things possible.
Born in England in 1751, Mary Patton learned her craft from her father, David McKeehan, and made powder under him until the family emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1760, settling near Carlisle. They continued to make black Powder there and when she married John Patton in 1772, he entered the family business as well. He was a soldier in the Cumberland Co Militia, fought in Pennsylvania during the Revolution and was a good friend of Andrew and Nathaniel Taylor. It was Taylor and Gourley, also a good friend and part owner of the bat caves, who convinced them to head for them thar hills, as I said, broke but with a skill worth literally a million dollars. John and Mary established a good working relation, he was the procurer of goods, she was the traveling salesman at times, selling the gunpowder and because she had an extraordinary eye for detail to the point of nit-picky, oversaw the operations. Unfortunately, John died early and Mary found herself having to support herself and their six children.It must have been a pretty daunting prospect but Mary was the premier chef of gunpowder and she was quite a business woman as well. Mary apprenticed her grandson, Samuel, and he assumed the position in later years that her husband had in the business. She cut out the peddlers and sold her own gunpowder , traveling herself up and down the Carolinas. Her trips earned her the respect of every man she met and she was known far and wide as a gifted reconteur and conversationalist. On her off days, she dug and sold ginseng and by the time she died, she had 1700 acres of land from investing her money in real estate. She was like the Donald Trump of the frontier!!!
“Every one killed, one enemy less; dead men don’t fight nor carry news”. (motto of the frontier)
The sources say that the gunpowder for the frontier men came from all the powder mills of Powder Branch. What distinguishes Mary Patton besides the fact that of all the very best powder made by all the mills, she was known as almost an artist in the trade and that she believed in the cause so strongly that she personally prepared 500 lbs for when the men assembled to go to the fight atKing’s Mountain and took no money for it. Gunpowder Mary, as she was known, also made powder for General Nathaniel Taylor’s troops to take with them to Mobile, Alabama, during the War of 1812 before she died at the ripe old age of 85 in 1836.
As for Michael Hyder, Sr., he was a respected member of the Watauga settlement , one of the original settlers of the area and was very politically active. He was one of the signers of the petitions to have Virginia incorporate the area as part of the state (which was ignored) and later signed the petition to have North Carolina take the Watauga Settlement as part of the state, ultimately resulting in the creation of the Washington Co. District. He also signed the petition to create the state of Franklin five years before his death. He died in 1790 and was the original ancestor to many of the families who still live in the area he settled.