Benjamin Cleveland, Patriot leader in the Revolution born in 1738 in Virginia. He settled in 1769, to North Carolina with his brother and father-in-law and settled on Roaring Creek, near Mulberry Fields in present day Wilkes County . After hearing about the Kentucky wilderness from his neighbor, Daniel Boone, in 1772 Cleveland and his friends set out for the bluegrass country on a hunting expedition. The hunting party however was attacked by a band of Cherokees near Cumberland Gap and ordered to get off their land. After regaining his strength, Cleveland returned to the Cherokee country with a band of riflemen to boldly face his attackers retrieve his stolen horses.
At the start of the American Revolution, Cleveland was appointed ensign in the Second Regiment of the North Carolina Continental forces but he declined the appointment in order to serve in the Surry County militia. Cleveland encountered the Cherokee once again as a scout and a captain in Rutherford’s campaign against the Cherokee uprisings. Away from the battlefield, in 1774 and 1775 he served as a justice in the Surry County court. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1778 and to the state Senate in 1779. When Wilkes County was formed from Surry County in 1778, Cleveland was designated head of the commission of justices and named colonel of the Wilkes militia. Leading his militia against Tory uprisings throughout the backcountry, Cleveland developed a reputation for his harsh treatment of Loyalists. On one occasion he was indicted for murder for the hanging of two Tories; he was later pardoned by the governor. Cleveland ’s forces participated in the defeat of Major Patrick Ferguson’s Redcoats at Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780 , the turning point of the war in the South. Benjamin Cleveland died at his home in October of 1806.
A NC Historical Marker may be found on NC Hwy 268 East at Chatham Street in Ronda.
FORT HAMBY is located on the north side of the Yadkin River near the mouth of Lewis Fork, about eight miles west of Wilkesboro, and 4 miles past NC 16 on US 421.
In the closing days of the Civil War, a log house in Wilkes County near Lewis Fork on the Yadkin River served as a fort for several Union army deserters. It was the staging point from which the former soldiers wreaked havoc on citizens of Wilkes, Watauga, Caldwell, and Alexander counties. Eighteen to thirty men are believed to have lived in the house that was named after its previous occupants, a group of “disreputable” women. Most of the men had been under the command of Union general George Stoneman, during his raid throughout western North Carolina. Under the leadership of a man with the surname of Wade, a deserter of the Yankee army, made headquarters at Ft. Hamby . With no system of law and order in the region after Lee’s surrender, the raids continued.
These desperados roamed the country on horseback in large numbers, living off the loot they pilfered and robbed from the people in Alexander, Caldwell, Wilkes, and Watauga counties; many suffering at their hands.
The people were enraged at the conduct of these robbers and determined to drive them out of the country or capture and destroy them. Defeated in their first attempt, the citizens were more determined than ever to burst up the robbers at Ft. Hamby .
Men from Caldwell, Alexander, Iredell, and Wilkes joined forces and shortly before day surrounded the fort and began the attack, slipping up to the kitchen and set it on fire. When Wade and his men discovered the kitchen on fire they thought the fort would be certain to catch on fire and that they would either have to surrender or be cremated in the fort.
Instead of surrendering, Wade escaped from the fort and made a break for the river. After the fort had burned to the ground a court martial was organized and the four captured robbers were tried and condemned to be shot at the stake. Wade hid in the river until late evening. He returned to the area, walked up and looked at his comrades hanging to the stakes dead. He immediately left this country and was never heard of again.
BRIGADIER GENERAL JAMES B. GORDON
The birthplace of General James B. Gordon, known as Oakland, stretched hundreds of yards south to the Yadkin, east to the Reddies River, and west toward rising hills (the area now Wilkes Regional Medical Center). Gordon was educated in the common schools and academies of this section and at Emory and Henry College . He engaged in mercantile business and was one of the most successful men in the country in his day. Gordon always took a lively interest in politics and he became the leader of his party in Wilkes County . In 1850, he was elected to represent the county in the lower house of the General Assembly.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Gordon was one of the first to answer the call, serving in the battles at Manasses, Gettsburg, Culpepper, Jack's Shop, Brandy Station, the battle at Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Petersburg , Appomattox , Hagerstown , and Brook Church. In the famous retreat from Petersburg to Appomattox when the Confederates came to Sailor's Creek, they found the bridge burned. The enemy was close behind and the Confederates were in a perious situation. The enemy was held in check by Gordon's Regiments until the bridge was rebuilt and the retreat continued. At Hagerstown , Gordon repulsed an attack that General Stuart said saved the trains of the Confederates.
General Gordon received his mortal wound during the fight at Brook Church on May 12, 1864 and died six days later. His remains were brought home and buried in the St. Paul 's Episcopal Cemetery at Wilkesboro. His last resting place is marked by a beautiful monument, and the evergreens and flowers that grow about his grave show the lasting admiration of his comrades, friends and relatives. Wilkes is glad the whole country glories in the achievement of her noble son.
A Moravian surveying party passed through the area in 1752, and documented that a Cherokee Indian village stood in the old fields. The Cherokee translation for Mulberry Fields is "Keowee." Keowee was often used by the Cherokees as a place name during the colonial Period. During the Revolutionary War, the Mulberry Fields area was a common mustering site for the Wilkes county Militia. The Mulberry Meeting House was a common meeting place to discuss local government issues of the day.
Mulberry Fields became Wilkesboro in 1800 when the town was laid out by William Lenoir. Lenoir refused to allow the town to be named after himself. Later, following his death, the next town up the road was named for Lenoir.
In late March 1865, Union cavalry under Major General George Stoneman, commander of the Union army “ District of East Tennessee ,” marched throughout western North Carolina during one of the longest cavalry raids in history. About 5,000 men under Stoneman’s command entered North Carolina with a mission “to destroy and not to fight battles” in order to expedite the close of the Civil War.
Stoneman divided his men and sent detachments throughout the region, securing the destruction of the region’s factories, bridges and railroad lines. The army relied heavily on local citizens for food and supplies, often emptying storehouses. Stoneman’s raids in North Carolina lasted from late March until May when they assisted in the search for Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he fled the collapsed Confederacy. The men had marched more than 1,000 miles during the raid and historians credit their march with assuring the death of the Confederacy as they captured artillery pieces and took thousands of prisoners while destroying Confederate army supplies and blocking a line of possible retreat for both Lee and Johnston ’s armies.
Stoneman's troops left Boone after a successful skirmish and entered Wilkesboro on March 29, 1865 . Divided into two groups, Gillem's troops angled northeastward, parallel to the Yadkin River , toward Wilkesboro (roughly on the line of today's NC Hwy 268). Traveling without incident, they reached Holman's Ford on the Yadkin River late in the afternoon of March 29. They experienced their only real problem when they arrived at Holman's Ford. Recent rains had caused the Yadkin to overflow its banks. Thus, even as the Federals crossed the ford, the rising waters swept away an artillery piece and some valuable ammunition.
When the wing of the army under Stoneman's command reached Cub Creek it was too high to ford so he pitched his tent on the hill on the side of the creek. For several days about twenty-five thousand men camped on this site, during which time his soldiers were plundering and burning.
During the extended stay, Union troops on raids in the countryside discovered several moonshine stills and the drunken soldiers rode roughshod over the town of Wilkesboro . Angered by his men’s actions, Stoneman triedunsuccessfully to stop their recklessness. Stoneman and his men left the area and headed north toward the Virginia line.
THE TORY OAK
It is likely that the Tory Oak is one of the most historic trees in North Carolina, which grew for possibly three centuries in what is now the town of Wilkesboro . It was a vivid reminder of the stirring days of the Revolutionary period. The exact age of this famous old tree will never be known.
The Tory, occasionally referred to as the Cleveland Oak, assisted in the struggle for independence when Col. Ben Cleveland, a leader in the plight for freedom is western North Carolina, used its spreading limbs to hang at least five Tories.
In the fall of 1779, two marauding Tories plundered the Lincoln County home of George Wilfong, a Whig, and brazenly using the man's clothes line to lead off his horses. Wilfong and some others pursued the thieves and regained his horses, but the thieves escaped and headed south toward the British Lines. Before reaching safety, they were apprehended by Ben Cleveland's scouts and brought to the Wilkes County courthouse. Here, Cleveland summarily administered his justice, using Wilfong's clothes line to hang the loyalist from the limbs of the Tory Oak.
The enraged British forces sent a Captain Riddle and two men, named Reeves and Goss, to capture Cleveland . They nearly accomplished this aim, but instead found themselves taken prisoner, shortly after which they too were dangling from the beckoning branches of the Tory Oak.
For the many years afterward, the tree stood nobly as a familiar landmark. But not even the tender care and doctoring from its admirers could hold off the effects of its age. Over recent decades it withstood the strain of three operations to remove rotten portions which were replaced with concrete motor. The rotting continued however and two-thirds of the tree was felled by heavy winds in June 1989.
What strong winds in 1989 began was finished in June 1992, when a storm of hail, copious rain, and wind struck down all the lop-sided remainder of this landmark tree leaving but a splintered trunk. Hundreds came to pay their respects to the fallen tree and to gather portions of the wood for souvenirs.
In 1980, the Tory Oak was given the distinction of being North Carolina 's "champion" black oak. The Tory's circumference was 14 feet, its crown height was 50 feet, and its overall limb spread was 40 feet. However, its fate began to dwindle, in June 1989 and June 1992 violent wind storms left the old tree as only a 12 foot stump. This stump was removed in 1997 and a young oak sapling was planted and continues to remind us of the determined patriots whose courage and sacrifice won the freedom that lets us live in a democracy.
In 1992, the National Park Service designated the Tory Oak Site as a Certified Protected Site of the Overmountain Victory National Historical Trail.
If this old tree had possessed the power of speech articulation, what thrilling stories it could have told - stories of a struggling people growing into their new-found freedom, of daring, of valor, and of devotion to a cause.