Tennessee Heritage: Soldiers Monument founders’ families’ assistance needed

10:18 am | October 15, 2012

In our last column, we wrote about the building of our Soldiers Monument in the courthouse square; the question then arose about the identity of the primary people involved in the project.

This led to further research about the monument, and we learned there are inscriptions on the north face of the obelisk. The one highest up on the structure says, “In memory of Mary Patton who made the powder that fought the Kings Mountain battle. Placed by her great-grandson, T.Y. Patton.”

Most Carter Countians will remember that Mary McKeehan Patton was an early settler, and according to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture:

“Mary McKeehan Patton, pioneer gunpowder manufacturer, was born in England in 1751 and immigrated with her family to Pennsylvania in the late 1760s. McKeehan served an apprenticeship, possibly under her father, David McKeehan, and learned the art of gunpowder making. In 1772 she married John Patton, an Irish immigrant, who served as a private in the Pennsylvania militia early in the American Revolution. The Pattons manufactured gunpowder in the Cumberland County region of Pennsylvania. Following the birth of two children, the couple sold their Carlisle powder mill for cash and migrated to the Overmountain region of North Carolina, now East Tennessee. With the help of family friend Andrew Taylor, they established a mill on what became known as Powder Branch, adjacent to the Taylor homeplace. Patton earned her place in history by providing over five hundred pounds of gunpowder to the 850 Overmountain Men led by Isaac Shelby and William Campbell for the battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War. Essential to the victory over Major Patrick Ferguson’s British troops was Patton’s gunpowder … On December 15, 1836, Mary Patton died and was buried in Patton-Simmons Cemetery near … [near Milligan College] The family tradition of gunpowder manufacturing continued until after the Civil War, when the powder mill was sold.”

She continued to make powder for many years, and furnished it to people as far away as South Carolina, for $1 per pound. During those years, land often sold for 50 cents up to $1 an acre and she tried to acquire new property every time she sold a load of gunpowder. It has been reported that, at the time of her death, she owned more than 3,000 acres of land!

The local chapter of the DAR is named for her, and that organization has published the following information:

“Chapter Name – Its History & Significance: Mary McKeehan Patton (1751-1836) Gunpowder Maker – Mary Patton was an early settler who came to the area presently in Carter County with her husband, John. She had learned how to make gun powder as an apprentice in England. When Nathaniel Taylor, who had married Mary’s cousin, settled in Carter County, he built a powder mill. Here Mary Patton worked making gun powder … The Overmountain Men are justly famed for their rugged strength in marching and their unrelenting courage in fighting and winning the critical battle of Kings Mountain. Yet, without the skill of a woman, their task could never have been completed. On September 24,1780, when the men departed to fight the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain, it was Mary who furnished the vital 500 pounds of gunpowder from her mill. The men planned a surprise attack on the British to prevent the British from coming across the mountains and raiding Watauga and the other settlements. The mountain men defeated the British at Kings Mountain and returned to Watauga to protect their homes and families from the British and the Indians. She continued to make powder for many years, furnishing the necessity to folks living as far away as South Carolina.”

When Mary Patton died on Dec. 15, 1836, she was buried on a hillside overlooking the beautiful hills where she had lived for 60 years. The Patton-Simmons Cemetery holds her remains, which lie under a large memorial stone erected by her descendants. The epitaph says: “One of that heroic band who established a civilization in the wilderness. She made the powder used by John Sevier’s troops in the Battle of Kings Mountain.”

Many years later, when this area was occupied during the Civil War by the Confederate Army, many devices were conceived and resorted to in order to deceive the CSA soldiers and to protect Union men. As related in the History of the TN 13th Volunteer Cavalry: “In what was known as the Patton Settlement, T.Y. Patton dug a square hole in his yard, covered it with puncheons and made a trapdoor to it. Over this he placed brush or branches of trees. Here he concealed refugees for days at a time without any one suspecting their presence.” As her great-grandson, one can see why Mr. Patton wanted to dedicate part of the Soldiers Monument to Ms. Mary. If you go there to see the inscription, you will note that is quite high off the ground, probably elevated at 12 to 15 feet.

In the north-facing box immediately below the dedication to Ms. Mary, appears the following inscription: “Built in honor of all soldiers of Carter County in all the wars from the revolution down to this date, 1912. By building committee – D.P. Wilcox, First Lieut., Company H, 2nd Tennessee Volunteer Infantry, War 1861; G.W. Emmert, First Lieut. Company H, 13th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry; J.G. Burchfield, Cpl. Company G, 13th Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry; E.C. Cass, First Sgt. Spanish-American War and C.R. Hathaway, Cpl. Company D, Third Tennessee Volunteer Infantry, Spanish-American War.”

The early readers of this column may remember that we said state and local history was best presented when covering “Who were these people and why were they doing the things they did?” So, having once learned who the primary movers behind the Soldiers Monument project were, curiosity led us to find out more about them than just their names.

In our next column, we will impart the little knowledge we have gained on these men, but at this point we have exhausted our current research, and we would have a much more interesting column next week if all readers who are related to Messrs. Wilcox, Emmert, Burchfield, Cass and/or Hathaway will furnish us with any information beyond that presented in their military service records, most of which we located. We would like to gather any personal information you may have; even just oral tradition within the family will do! Also, it is especially odd that we have been able to find very little personal information on Mr. Burchfield, as the news and committee reports indicate that he was very active in this effort.

We hope our readers can fill in the missing knowledge about the founders of our century-old Soldiers Monument … Please mail your comments to: Judge Earl R. Hendry, POB 220, Roan Mountain, TN 37687.

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