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It was October 4, 1780. A patriot army of some 1,600 men made camp for the night on the banks of the Green River at a crossing that would later become known as Alexander’s Ford. The militia had traveled nearly 300 miles, with some soldiers having come from as far away as Tennessee and Virginia, in pursuit of Major Patrick Ferguson and his British army. Unbeknownst to the patriots, it would be their final rest before fighting the Redcoats in the bloody Battle of Kings Mountain.
“For many of the soldiers, Alexander’s Ford was to be the final place they lay their heads down to rest on this earth,” noted Paul Carson, Superintendent of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail (OVT). The OVT, a unit of the National Park Service, travels through Virginia, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina, retracing the route of patriot militia as they tracked down the British to Kings Mountain.
For two centuries, the events at Alexander’s Ford were barely remembered. But now the memory of the patriots’ long journey and their sacrifices for a new nation are revived and forever preserved through creation of the Bradley Nature Preserve at Alexander’s Ford. The new preserve, permanently protected by a 162-acre conservation easement, is the result of persistent efforts of Polk County, the Marjorie M. and Lawrence R. Bradley Endowment Fund of the Polk County Community Foundation and Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy.
“We couldn’t ignore the history of this place,” explained Ambrose Mills, project manager for Polk County who oversaw the preservation efforts at Alexander’s Ford. This fall—on the anniversary of the patriot encampment—Mills and Carson commemorated the conservation of Alexander’s Ford by officially certifying it as part of the OVT. More than two centuries after the American Revolution, colonial re-enactors from the Overmountain Victory Trail Association gathered with their muskets to fire a volley in celebration and honor.
Every autumn, re-enactors travel the 330-mile route of the Overmountain Men, as the original patriot militia came to be known, camping in the same locations and following the same trails and roads. The patriots marched in pursuit of Major Ferguson in retaliation for his threats to colonial settlers in the southern highlands. “Lay down your arms and swear allegiance to the King or I will march my army over the mountains, hang your leaders, and lay waste with fire and sword to your home and fields,” he warned.
In response, it was the patriot settlers that took up arms. They marched on horseback in pursuit of Ferguson, crossing both the Appalachian and Blue Ridge ranges—hence “Overmountain”— through rugged terrain and poor weather, and with limited provisions. In less than two weeks, the volunteer army reached Alexander’s Ford. Two days later, they finally caught the British troops in South Carolina, and defeated them at the infamous Battle of Kings Mountain.
The battle proved to be a decisive turning point in our young country’s fight for freedom. Thomas Jefferson later wrote, “Kings Mountain was the joyful annunciation of that turn of the tide of success which terminated the Revolutionary War with the seal of our independence.” The victory by the Overmountain men bore our nation.
But what happened at Alexander’s Ford was critical to the militia’s success at King Mountain. “While Kings Mountain was a turning point in the war, it was Alexander’s Ford that was a turning point in the march”, said Carson. “It is one of the most important places along the entire OVT.”
It was at Alexander’s Ford that General William Campbell, commander of the patriot army, made two critical decisions. With many soldiers near their breaking point, Campbell sent ahead only his best men and horses to fight the Redcoats. While this decision split his force, the soldiers who continued onward had more speed and fervor.
Also at Alexander’s Ford, Gen. Campbell received crucial intelligence—Ferguson and his troops were headed east to unite with the main British Army. The patriots then changed their course to intercept Ferguson’s men. Carson speculated on the consequences had events at Alexander’s Ford not occurred as they did. “It is possible that Kings Mountain would have never happened…and the outcome of the war may have been very different.”
The Bradley Nature Preserve at Alexander’s Ford hosts more than just history. Its verdant forests and botanical diversity make it an ecological treasure, too. Both its history and its natural bounty are now accessible for visitors to appreciate.
“This is historic and hallowed ground,” said Carson. “When you come to a place like Alexander’s Ford, and you stand on that ground and you know what happened, it’s something that’s really moving.”
The project partners worked tirelessly on the Alexander’s Ford project for more than six years. “Worthwhile experiences are seldom easy, and that is certainly true in this case,” said Tom Fanslow, CMLC’s Land Protection Director. CMLC worked with the landowner and Polk County to garner grants from three North Carolina trust funds—Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, Natural Heritage Trust Fund, and Clean Water Management Trust Fund. “That’s a record for us,” explained Fanslow. “Each funder had its own emphasis: water quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and public recreation.” Funding from these agencies was used to match a generous donation from the landowner.
More than 230 years after the historic Overmountain march, a second long quest has come to a close at Alexander’s Ford. Like the Overmountain Men, CMLC and the project’s many supporters persevered to protect something important for future generations. The permanent conservation of the land will forever honor those who bravely sacrificed for our nation’s freedom. For as long as the forest grows and the river flows, the memory of the patriots’ heroism will now endure at Alexander’s Ford.
In 2011, CMLC permanently protected 162 acres at Alexander's Ford in Polk County. The Alexander's Ford property along the Green River includes more than two miles of the original roadbed traveled by the Overmountain Men, a Patriot militia who in 1780 marched hundreds of miles to fight the British at the Battle of Kings Mountain The victorious battle proved to be the turning point of the American Revolution.
Hosting far more than history alone, Alexander’s Ford is now part of the new Bradley Nature Preserve. Its verdant forests and botanical diversity make it an ecological treasure.
The process of seeking preservation of Alexander's Ford took more than six years. CMLC worked with the landowner and Polk County to garner grants from three North Carolina trust funds—Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, Natural Heritage Trust Fund, and Clean Water Management Trust Fund. This collaboration is reflective of the many assets of Alexander's Ford: water quality, historic preservation, wildlife habitat and public recreation.
In October 2011, the Overmountain Victory Trail Association (OVTA) and the National Park Service certified Alexander's Ford as part of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail. Colonial reenactors from the OVTA commenorated the newly protected part of the Trail, firing a volley from their muskets in celebration.
Like the Overmountain Men, CMLC and the project’s many supporters persevered to protect something important for future generations. The permanent conservation of the land will forever honor those who bravely sacrificed for our nation’s freedom.
CHALLENGE: Hike the Overmountain Victory Trail to the Green River
Primary Route: Hike the route of marched by the Overmountain Men to the site of their encampment on the banks of the Green River
Hiking Distance: 3.0 miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 120 feet
Trailhead: Click here to enter your address and receive turn-by-turn directions to the trailhead. GPS users may enter N35.3148, W-82.0389 in their units. Trailhead is located down a gravel driveway adjacent to Grays Chapel. Just prior to reaching the church on Grays Chapel Road, turn right onto the gravel drive and proceed 200 yards to its end at a large parking area with a picnic pavilion. If the gate is closed prior to the picnic pavilion, park adjacent to the church, making sure to not block eith driveway or road.
Hiking Directions: From the parking area, locate a metal gate and sign kiosk at the far end of the lot beyond the picnic pavilion. Hike around the gate and uphill just a few yards beyond to reach a T-intersection with a dirt roadbed. Here on the left, a metal marker indicates the original path of the Overmountain Men on their march to Kings Mountain; a closer look into the woods beyond the marker reveals an obscured roadbed. At the junction, also accompanied by a picnic table, turn left to begin walking the main trail to Alexander's Ford. At 0.2 mi., reach a junction with a narrower, gravel trail on the right. This is an ADA-accessible trail that loops back to Grays Chapel Road and can be used to extend your hike and form a small lollipop-like route on your return trip (see map). Continue straight on the roadbed, passing another picnic table and a bench on the right at 0.3 mi., and descend gradually toward the Green River. While you walk, imagine the Patriot militia that marched their calvary on this exact path more than two centuries ago in defense of our country's freedom. Pass another bench on the left at 1.1 mi. and arrive at the edge of a large grassy clearing at 1.2 mi.
Use special care here to not get lost; the path through the field is typically obvious in colder months when the grass is low. However, during spring and summer, the path is heavily obscured and the route through the clearing is not obvious. After arriving at the edge of the clearing, enter the meadow and veer left at a 45° angle, walking to the left of the two trees in the field that are slightly beyond the forest's edge, rather than between them. Reach the opposite forest edge on other end of the field in 150 yards where the roadbed resumes and again is visibly discernable. Immediately beyond in the forest the trail ends atop the bank of the Green River. Another Overmountain Victory National Hisotric Trail marker indicates the trail's terminus at a split-rail fence overlooking the river (N35.2991, W-82.0477) at 1.3 mi. It was here on these banks that the Overmountain Men made camp on the evening of October 4, 1780. It was also here they made the decision to change course and head east, as well as separate their forces and advance only the strongest militia men and horses toward their rendezvous with the British Army. In part due to these critical decisions made right here at Alexander's Ford, only a few days later the Overmountain Men would fight victoriously at the Battle of Kings Mountain, the turning point of the American Revolution.
Alternative Routes: Utilize the gravel ADA-accessible trail on your return trup to loops back to Grays Chapel Road and form a small lollipop-like route back to the parking area. This additional trail segment will add an extra 0.3 mi. to your hike.