“TRUST THE LORD BUT KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY”: BLACKPOWDER MAKERS OF POWDER BRANCH

Michael Hyder, Sr. gravestone in Powder Branch

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.       

Powder Branch

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37 Comments

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37 responses to ““TRUST THE LORD BUT KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY”: BLACKPOWDER MAKERS OF POWDER BRANCH

  1. CHRIS TAYLOR

    HUZZAH, RAMONA! EXCELLENT JOB ON RESEARCH. AND GOOD WRITING TO BOOT!THANKS, CHRIS

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    • Ramona

      Thanks so much, Chris. It was interesting to read about, especially about yours and Nat’s ancestral background.

      Like

      • John Williams

        Greetings Ramona, All, Thank you for that excellent history of Michael Hyder Sr. Great Job Ramona on your history of Michael Hyder, SR. & Mary Patton! I am John Williams and Michael Hyder Sr. was my Great, gr, gr, gr, gr, Grandfather. We will be in Carter County this Dec. 23-Dec 25, 2011 and I wanted to visit Michael Hyder’s grave in the Hyder Cemetary off Powder Branch road. However, the cemetary is surrounded by private property. Can you tell me who can give me permission to get to my ancestors’ cemetary? Thanks. John Williams

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      • Ramona

        Dear John, I will pass this comment to Nat Hyder. Perhaps he can help you.
        Merry Christmas to you and yours. Ramona

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  2. Nat Hyder

    Wow! Thanks Ramona! You did a wonderful job in research and writing. I am sure many of the family members haven’t heard this much about their history and will be very pleased.
    Nat

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    • Ramona

      I really appreciate what you have to say especially as this is your direct descendant. The book that you lent me helped ENOORMOUSLY as it gave me a good starting point. The one thing I didn’t mention in there that we talked about was that your great great great grandfather also organized the first chapter of the Masonic Lodge with 16 members held in the Hyder Cave so that cave was good for more than bat guano (chuckling here). That was cool!!!

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      • John Williams

        Ramona, Thanks for all your help towards our visit in Carter County last week ! We went to Sycamore Shoals near mid-day on Christmas Eve and enjoyed drinking in the history…looking across the shoals and imagining hundreds of militia crossing that broad Watauga River ! We had trouble locating the turn-off from Powder Branch Road to get up to the Hyder Cemetary and ran out of time. We will come back for another try!
        John Williams

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      • Ramona

        John, I’m so glad to hear from you and I will talk to Nat Hyder and maybe you both can exchange information so you can actually access the Hyder Cemetary. It is a bit tricky as I remember. We have musters at the park each month, the next one being on Jan 8-9 for Old Christmas. Each of the cabins is decorated in a theme reflecting the ethnicities of the original settlers. I do the Palatine German one LOL. If you look at theschedule of events page, maybe you can time your visit here to one of them. Our biggest is the May seige where over 200 people were holed up in the fort for 20 days, under seige by 1200 really ticked off Cherokee warriors. One of your ancestors was the scout who alerted the people of the area that the Natives were coming.
        Happy New Years to you and your family.
        R.

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      • John Williams

        Thanks Ramona, We will try to time our next trip to match up with one of the Sycamore Shoals special events! I will also program my GPS with the actual Lat. Long. for Hyder Cemetary! By the way, our two sons camped the past two nights up at Mount Rogers just north of Elizabethton in VA…following the ways of their ancesotors….had a little snow!
        John Williams

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  3. Theresa McKeehan Phelps

    I am a decendant of Mary Patton. one of her 6 daughters, Joanna, md John Williams. They had about 10 children, 3 of which md Hyders. I have known many Hyders and they are salt of the earth people.

    Like

    • Ramona

      Dear Theresa,
      Thank you for your comment. I have heard from many people descended from Mary Patton and Michael Hyder, Sr. It’s been so interesting to read about your families.

      Like

    • Penny Barron Wright

      Theresa, my name is Penny Wright and I am a decendant of Mary Patton. My mother, Virginia Lou Morgan, is from Unicoi county, Erwin, Tennessee in east tennessee. Her father’s side is kin to the Pattons. His name was Clarence Decatur Morgan. I am so interested in learning more about Mary Patton and our ancestors. I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear from others who are kin to us..I live in Ga.
      I sincerely hope you read this and reply.

      Like

  4. Melinda Lusk

    I enjoyed this history of the black powder making. Supposedly family lore has it that my 5th ggrandfather Robert Lusk of Carter County was also a powdermaker in those parts. Lived late 1730’s to 1801. I know the names above are all so familiar to me. Does anyone know that Robert Lusk?

    Like

    • George B. Lusk

      Melinda please contact me via email. I would like to compare notes on Robert Lusk and rest of family. George Lusk in Chula Vista, CA

      Like

      • Anonymous

        Will do. Am on vacation at present but will contact you in a week or so when I am near my genealogy stuff!!

        Like

  5. Anonymous

    My name is Jack Coffey and I own Hyder Mill. I purchased it from Milligan college while employed there as the plumber. My wife and I have been restoring it and will soon move in to it as a residence. We have been working on it for 6 years now and yes the wheel still works. Hopefully we will move in within one year.

    Like

    • Robin D'Amours

      I have just found out that Michael Hyder, Sr. is my Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather. I live in Columbia TN…and am EXTREMELY interested in my family’s beginnings in TN. I sure would love to visit my Ancestrial home.
      Is there any way I could actually see the mill?
      My contact info: robindamours@hotmail.com

      Thank you,
      Robin D’Amours

      Like

  6. John Williams

    Greetings Ramona, All, Thank you for that excellent history of Michael Hyder Sr. & Mary Patton and their vital roles in the black powder industry ! I am John Williams and Michael Hyder Sr. was my Great, gr, gr, gr, gr, Grandfather. We will be in Carter County this Dec. 23-Dec 25, 2011 and I wanted to visit Michael Hyder’s grave in the Hyder Cemetary off Powder Branch road. However, the cemetary is surrounded by private property. Can anyone tell me who can give me permission to get to my ancestors’ cemetary? Thanks. John Williams….Here is a P.S. to Michael Hyder Sr.’s history. His great grandson, Isaac Millsaps, fought and died with Davy Crockett at the Alamo. Isaac was accurately portrayed in John Wayne’s movie “Alamo” as the husband with the blind wife. Michael Hyder’s Granddaughter Trephena Millsaps Williams lost 4 of her 5 sons who fought for TN Union forces in the Civil War.

    Like

  7. Marilyn Meredith Boyd

    Thank you for your interesting comments on Powder Branch.

    Like

  8. Hi, my name is Helen Savant. My relatives going back several generations
    are buried at the McKeehan Cemetary in Powder Branch. The family name
    was Lovelace or Loveless. If anyone has any information regarding this
    family name, please contact me at richard_savant@comcast.net, thank you.

    Like

  9. John Hyder

    Ramona

    I am a direct decendant of Michael Hyder. Your article was great, and I would like to attach it to my files in Legacy and Ancestry.com, but I do not want to violate any copywrite. Would it be permissible to do this. Don’t know if you have met him but my grand son is working at Sycamore Shoals Recreation this summer, and he is loving every minute of it. My e-mail address is jhyder1@Oregonfast.net
    John Hyder

    Like

    • Ramona

      John, I remember you and yes, I have met your grandson and he’s a wonderful person and will be an asset wherever he goes. I wrote the article (and most everything on these pages “o) and you have my permission to use this or any other article I wrote . Just give me credit.
      I’m glad you enjoy this blogsite.

      Ramona Invidiato, Washington Co regiment Historian

      Like

  10. Pamela R. Davis

    Ramona,
    My cousin Elaine Glenn has worked very hard doing research and I appreciate all she had done and the hours too. You are truly a gifted person to do this and all the words cannot express what it means to us all.
    Thank you for your very hard work and for being someone who cares about our history. Your great!
    My grandpa was William Bryson Williams from Robbinsville, NC

    Like

  11. Elle

    I am a Lusk descendent and know that Robert Lusk and wife Elizabeth were also buried in the same cemetary as Michael Hyder, Sr. I have been there and have seen this cemetary. I since have researched and found they were business partners in the Black Powder business upon first settling this area and were also active in supplying goods for the Revolutionary War. At this time one cannot overlook Michael and Robert as the elder generation of these families mentioned, and their sons carried on farming and various business interests after both Michael and Robert passed circa 1801 or earlier. Samual Lusk, son of Robert Lusk for one also obtained a whiskey license and bottled and sold it in the area as did Hyders. I am told to pay land taxes. Black Powder was one of many interests they held. One of the Gourley descendents was killed in a black powder mishap at the one site and perhaps that could have made some difference. I also know that Hyders, Gourleys, Peoples, Lusks, Taylors and McKeehans all married within each other’s families in this time frame and were all very closely entwined and were known to have been together in the Beverly Manor area of Augusta county, VA. previously as well. Most were Scotch Irish descent and had traveled into this area via VA and PA. Some were English as well. Also I would like to add the above comment regarding the Hyder mill being outstripped etc seems a bit overblown, one must consider the timing of this settlement, meaning who came in first, and what was really happening here. These settlers were in the Watauga area without the King’s permission. They were busy in the making of it becoming legal to be there as well as beginning new business ventures, and a war was also happening. One must understand all these families were KIN, closely knit and lived close to each other property wise as well. They lived much like clan looking out after each other. This was a spectacular moment in history for our families who had a vision and acted on it for a new beginning.
    L. Camp

    Like

    • Diane Moore

      Dear Elle,
      You say that Mary and Michael were business partners and supplying goods to the revolutionary soldiers. Did you come across any documentation in you research to prove this? I am friends with a decendent of Mary’s, and she is looking for definitive proof of her direct involvement in the supplying of goods. Many thanks, Diane

      Like

  12. Gregory L. Hyder

    Ramona,
    I am a direct decendant of Michael Hyder, Sr. and my name is Gregory L. Hyder. I reside in Powell TN. and my grandfather was Fred B, Hyder, Sr, of Pine Crest. Is there any Hyder Family reunions? I would like to have information from anyone about the Hyder’s in Germany before coming to America?

    Like

    • Brittany Hyder

      My grandpas mom and dad was daunt Hyder and Lucille Hyder we come to Tennessee every couple year for a family reunion

      Like

    • Claudia

      I am a member of the DAR Mary Patton Chapter in Erwin, TN. We are looking for similar documentation re Mary and the powder she provided to the Overmountain Men. Members can currently join DAR under Mary’s husband John, as a patriot. But not under Mary, as no written evidence has surfaced. We only have family and local stories and legend. None the less, Mary is a hero here in East Tennessee !

      Like

  13. Stephanie (Hyder) Francisco

    Excellent article and although it is 2016 I’ve thouroughly enjoyed reading this and other articles. My maiden name is Hyder and my grandfather was Johnson Hyder.

    Like

  14. Anonymous

    hi love it

    Like

  15. Kenneth Shelton

    Ramona,
    I am a direct descendant of Michael Hyder. Your article is informative,and I would like to reference/use it in His profile on WikiTree. Would it be permissible to do this. Also, would it be possible to use the photo of the grave stone?
    Thank you,
    Kenneth

    Like

  16. Candi Summers

    ❤ Fantastic research. John and Mary Patton were my 5th great grandparents, and my grandfather lived near Powder Branch road until his death in 2012. Thank you for preserving this wonderful information.

    Like

  17. Donna Hyder-Rogers

    I am a direct descendant of Michael Hyder, I am currently the only Hyder living on the part of the original property Michael owned back pre-war. The property is on Powder Branch. I also live just down the hill from the grave which was finally dedicated 2 years ago now by the SAR and is in the National Registry. I am a member of the DAR and had to do all my research to get it. It’s pretty cool living here and knowing the history. I also know where the original mill foundation still stands just at the edge of our property. It’s amazing to be part of this family and it’s history!

    Liked by 1 person

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