Life in the no-man’s land in the mountains of what was then North Carolina was not easy. Sometime in July of 1776, the Cherokee got restless. They weren’t too happy with the general situation anyway being as the year before, the settlers of the new frontier , siding against the British and forming the Washington District, forged an alliance with Chief Attacullaculla and many Cherokee thought the settlers asked too much. Dragging Canoe, Old Abram, Chief Raven and others who had formed an alliance with the British received a considerable cache of arms to solidify the pact and their blood was boiling. The strong young-bloods sent word that the settlers had 20 days to vacate the land and move back to the line demarcated in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 or they would be massacred. One can only guess what the settlers must have said! The Watauga settlers, anticipating an all -out attack , purchased arms and ammunition, food and supplies and hunkered down for an eventual fight. In early July, Nancy Ward, the Beloved Woman of the Cherokee , tipped off trader Isaac Thomas, who then told John Sevier who was then building a fortification near Limestone, TN. News traveled fast and before you know it, most everybody including Sevier , started piling into then Fort Caswell, now Fort Watauga. The invasion began in earnest in mid July. Some Cherokee contingents went north, but Dragging Canoe and Old Abrams with their 1200 went south on the march to Fort Caswell. Somewhere between 150 and 220 settlers were crammed inside the newly palisaded fort. The garrison consisted of around 75 men, led by Commissioner of Safety John Carter, ably assisted by James Robertson and John Sevier. On the day of the attack, the women were outside milking cows and all hell broke loose. During the initial attack which lasted about three hours, shots rained in and out and several Cherokee were able to get close enough to try to set fire to it. The women with the bucket brigade (it being a washing day) managed to keep the natives at bay when Ann Robertson (wounded three times) poured scalding wash water on them.It was obvious that the Cherokee couldn’t take the fort so they mounted a long seige. One unfortunate teen , Tom Moore, was captured and eventually burned to death. Lydia Bean was also captured but Nancy Ward exerted pressure to have her spared. After two weeks, the seige was lifted and the settlers breathed more easily.
All this was recreated this past weekend in the May Seige at historic Fort Watauga. It’s one that Randy Curde, our “press attache”, father of Sterling and man what’s in charge of pranks and frolic, announces almost from the time it’s over to the day of the event the next year on every social media site he can enter. The Washington County Regiment gears up for months to make this event the best each year, and this year may have well been the best yet.
The weather was all that one could ask for and there was no rain, an exception to the rule for this time of year. School Day for the children was on Friday and hundreds of children, ranging from Kindergarten though Middle School ages, toured the stations which included spinning and processing wool, rope making, flax processing to make linen, period weaponry, 18th century children’s games (always popular) clothing and food preparation. While this was going, a steady stream of reenactors and vendors set up in the field below the fort. The original garrison was 75 men, but there was triple that number this weekend. The line of militia seemed never ending. I pegged the number of participants to be somewhere in the vicinity of 300. It’s hard to know how many of the public wended their ways through the park and fort but four digits over two day’s time would not be an impossibility.The Brits were in the grove, as usual, the settlers were in the broiling sun and inside the fort, as usual, the natives in the native camp near the river with the poison ivy, as usual, and the longhunters had it made in the pine grove.
Saturday was electric and everywhere you cared to look was buzzing with activity. The sutler row this year was spectacular with many of them staying over from Martin’s Station last weekend. Old friends were catching up with the news from old friends and new friends were being made. Living history demos occurred everywhere, all with appreciative and respectful audiences.There was a lengthy but not boring militia meeting where the participants in the battles were briefed about the scenarios and positions over the two day’s time. On Saturday, the section of the seige which included the Bonnie Kate’s pole vault over the wall and the bucket brigade was reenacted. On Sunday, the battle included the capture and burning of Tom Moore (Sterling Curde) out in the flax patch . At 1 PM, rather than participate, I was in the audience. I wanted to see the battle unfold and boy, oh boy, was I so proud. The considerable crowd assembled outside the walls of the fort, the reenactors took their positions. Before you could say “Holy SNAP”, all heck broke loose. The Natives whooped and hollered, the men yelled, the women screamed, bandages were rolling, the native women, trilling, dragged the dead and dying to the trees, the cannon and muskets boomed and belched smoke and thunder and one’s head ping-ponging from side to side, catching all the action- better than any football game five seconds to the whistle, the game tied and the last snap in play! It was all so realistic that it was almost scary. I heard some of the kids actually got scared when they heard all the muskets going off- better than a horror flick – but for my money, maybe it brought home to the audience just how serious and life threatening the situation was for their ancestors those many years ago . It may make the young appreciate all the more what a good life those who came earlier purchased for them through their apprehensive agonies and the terrible prices they paid. After the battle, the public milled in and around the fort asking questions, complimenting all who participated and stayed to watch the auction fundraiser. That was a lot of fun and the bidding was fast and furious.
Saturday’s doings ended at 5 PM for the public, but the event really started for the reenactors. you could see everyone totally relaxed. Some rolled cartridges for the next day, others cleaned their weapons, others yet relived the excitement of the day’s events. At 6 PM, everyone assembled in the Visitor’s Center for a wonderful bar-b-que , campanionship and birthday fete for Chad Bogart and Ken Reece. Jollification in earnest started later with a concert given by the fife and drum corp in the ampitheater . Later, as everyone assembled in their camps, you could hear fiddling, singing and laughter echo all over until the wee hours.
Sunday was a duplicate of Saturday with even better weather. In the morning, after colors, Harry Jordan conducted the frontier service. I have to say it was one of the most beautiful sermons, from the heart, about being thankful. After the service and before the fight, the Regiment women hosted ( or is that hostessed) a Ladies Tea for the women of the district, with the fellows licking up the crumbs later. The battle ensued, the audiences cheered, the tales were told and the party was over. You look forward all year with anticipation , just like Christmas, and in a blip of a flash, all done. It was the best May Seige yet and I’m looking foward already to the one next year.
Thanks to Chad Bogart, Jason, Jennifer, Earl and the park staff for creating a great infrastructure for this event to go as seamlessly as it does, and to each and every member who made this so totally monumental! Also thanks to Retha Reece, Melanie and Sharli, Tim Massey for wonderful photos. In the next few days, I’ll be posting a collection of their pictures on webshots under MAY SEIGE 2012. Watch for them.