East Tennessee Roots
- the history and genealogy of East Tennessee
East Tennessee Roots Database: 
The Revolution and 
Revolutionary Soldiers
The Revolution in What is Now East Tennessee

During the Revolution our pioneers in what is now East Tennessee had three foes to face: British, Tories, and British-sympathetic Indians. Our Revolutionary Soldiers fought against all three. 

British and Tories:
As it turned out, no organized battle against the British was fought on Tennessee soil. None. But it could have turned out differently.

Patrick Ferguson pledged he would come over the mountain and 'lay waste' to everything our pioneers held dear. The threat was clear and imminent. So in response, leaders planned, strategized, and executed the Battle of King's Mountain, in South Carolina, which was fought 07 Oct 1780. King's Mountain is considered the battle that turned the tide of the Revolution in the South. Soldiers from here and from adjacent southwest Virginia and western North Carolina played a large part. 

However, although many, many of our local troops participated in King's Mountain, that was by no means the only battle they participated in! A few of the others were: 

  • 1776 - Charleston, South Carolina
  • 1780 - Ramsour's Mill, North Carolina
  • 1780 - Charleston, South Carolina
  • Early 1781 - Mobile, then West Florida
  • 1781 - Musgrove's Mill South Carolina

We did have a small number of troublesome Tory residents, especially in the area known as 'Brown's Purchase' (around the Nolachucky River environs). These local Tories, plus some on the run from North Carolina, as well as a smattering of British troops hiding out here, were bothersome early on during the war, and the cause of several little skirmishes. Bands of 'Rangers' - local militia, including spies and scouts -took care of that problem. Those who weren't killed were dealt with by the county court: some were sent to the Continental Army and forced to enlist for 3 years, some were sent on to the Superior Court, some, if they could provide enough sureties for their good behavior, took oaths of allegiance and were released.

During the Revolution, many assorted battles and skirmishes against Indians were fought on Tennessee soil, as well as in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and elsewhere. Although there were many, many smaller expeditions, you'll find these mentioned most often:

  • Fall, 1776 - "William Christian's Campaign." In the summer of 1776 Indians had attacked all along the frontier. In response, William Christian, from Virginia, rallied about 1,800-2,000 troops, including Virginians and North Carolinians as well as our locals, marched to the 'Overhill' Cherokee towns, and destroyed them. This lasted into early 1777.

  • April, 1779 - "Evan Shelby's Chickamauga Campaign." This was by water, and against the Chickamauga. They rendezvoued at the mouth of Big Creek on Holston, went down to the Tennessee River below Chattanooga, and were gone about 6 weeks. 

  • Dec. 1780 - John Sevier's "Boyd's Creek Expedition" as it is sometimes now called. The actual battle of Boyd's Creek was fought first - but there's much more to it than that. After that battle, they waited for Col. Arthur Campbell and his Virginia troops to arrive, then continued on to destroy the Cherokee's towns once again. Some returned late January, some in February, and then they went out on....

  • March, 1781 - John Sevier's "Middlesettlements Expedition." Another campaign against the Cherokee, but this time to their settlements in North Carolina. Not as many troops went this time; they were gone a couple months.

  • 1782 - "John Sevier's Chickamauga Expedition" is not to be confused with Evan Shelby's Chickamauga Expedition, of 1779.

In many pension applications the applicant specifically confused the Boyd's Creek expedition and the Middlesettlements expedition! Sometimes they mixed them up ("we fought at Boyd's Creek in the spring of 1781"); sometimes they ran them together ("we met up at Greasy Cove and fought at Boyd's Creek"). 

If your pensioner has mixed them up in his application, here's how to tell them apart: If it's Boyd's Creek most everyone mentions most or all these events: they 'met up' near the bend of the Nolachucky and went down the valley, fought the Boyd's Creek battle and afterwards waited several days for Col. Arthur Campbell from VA to arrive, were in Chota on Christmas Day, and had one man killed (Capt. James Elliot). 

If it's the Middlesettlements expedition most everyone mentions these two events: they 'met up' in Greasy Cove and went across the mountains, and had two men killed (Bond and Davis).  

Indian Battles Before and After the Revolution:
Wars, battles, and skirmishes against Indians began before the Revolution and continued many years after. In 1774 some of our pioneers were in the battle of Point Pleasant, in now West Virginia; in 1791 some were at St. Clair's Defeat, in now Ohio.

Of special interest are the ones fought here in the late 1780s to early 1790s. These were mainly quick attacks by Indians (Cherokee and/or Chickamauga) on the most vulnerable of the white settlements, followed by militia attacks... followed by Indian attacks, then more militia attacks, in what must have seemed an endless cycle. 

There were many and complex reasons for this and the chain of events sometimes appears disconnected, but at it's heart was broken promises: Indians and whites agreed to a boundary lines. Whites broke them. Indians retailated, sometimes against innocent whites. Whites retaliated, sometimes against innocent Indians. And so on.
The grave of Revolutionary Soldier John Fox Sr., in Knox County, TN.
We have tons of data to upload on Revolutionary War soldiers, such as abstracts/transcripts of their pension applications, integrated with their vital stats, family information, pictures of their tombstone, copies of their wills, deeds, and whatever...


Meanwhile, below is a brief description of the most well-known of the battles participated in by our settlers.
Here's a few from the late 1780s:

  • Kirk Massacre (followed by young John Kirk's retaliation)
  • Gillespie's Station
  • Orchard Massacre
  • Houston's Station

And from the early 1790s:
  • Cavett's Station

Most of the white's militia action was led by John Sevier (Joseph Martin's 1788 Campaign to Lookout Mountain was an exception.)
You'll see this Tennessee Historical Marker near 
the McGhee-Tyson airport in Blount County.
Doing detailed research on these battles is difficult mainly due to the absence of most written records. Indians didn't keep any written records then. Whites settled 'South of French Broad' (where many attacks happened) didn't keep many written records either, since they were settled there illegally. Add to that, militia action by nature was quick; most times the local militia acted under no authority but their own in defense of their homes and families. All this means records are scant and research is limited and frustrating.

Newertheless, we do have a smattering of records. Perhaps the most we have concerns Joseph Martin's 1788 campaign to Lookout Mountain. And we have a few militia lists for when Governor Blount ordered out the militia himself. And there's some letters, mentions in the newspaper, things like that. 

And Other Stuff
In building the database of East Tennessee Revolutionary soldiers, we pay particular attention to those who did not receive a pension, or did not appear in the 1840 census. Here's some examples:
Robert Kyle We published his will in East Tennessee Roots, vxnx.