The sacrifices of our ancestors and their strong desire for freedom played a critical role in our nation’s independence from Great Britain and the creation of America as a new nation.
Our region’s connection to our history is strong and has been the catalyst for years of dramatic presentations that retell the stories of those who lived in the Watauga Old Field in the late 18th century.
Outdoor drama is not new to Elizabethton; as a matter of fact, the earliest known dramatic presentation of the story of Sycamore Shoals, took place in 1922, when the people living in the communities of Elizabethton and Carter County came together to present a five-act play. Jim Bishop, one of Elizabethton’s most important leaders in historic preservation, came across the program prepared for the 1922 event, saying “Our stories have been told from one generation to the next; to our families and our children. These are stories of our ancestors, the people who were instrumental in the formation of our new country — America, with a government based on the principles of democracy and freedom! The drama presented in 1922 was the earliest known play presented here, which featured veterans from World War I.”
Ninety-six years later, we are honored to be able to carry on the 1922 tradition of presenting the story of Sycamore Shoals to guests from all over the United States and beyond, continuing in the format of an outdoor drama.
As you stand on the grounds of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, you walk on the land where historic events of monumental significance have taken place. It is here, that families came together, made their homes, formed a new government, bought and traded land from the Cherokee, and ultimately, during the American Revolution, fought for the freedom we hold so dear today.
The series of events that unfolded at Sycamore Shoals were critical to the formation of our state and our nation in the 18th century. These dramatic chapters in America's westward expansion set the tone for a number of events that helped propel the British colonies toward independence and a democratic form of government.
The concept of outdoor drama offers a very unique format in which to present a theatrical performance. Without a doubt, experiencing live theater, beside the cool waters of the Watauga River, with Fort Watauga as the backdrop to the play, is unlike any other. Theatrical lighting, professional sound, and a host of unexpected effects completely immerse the audience in the lifestyles of the late 18th century.
The skill and professionalism of our 2018 cast, composed completely of volunteers, sets the stage for an unforgettable audience experience. You will feel their joys, their sorrows, and often be on the edge of your seats as the action unfolds. “Liberty!” presents the opportunity to connect with a cast who brings the 18th century at Sycamore Shoals to life in a very engaging way.
Michael Barnett, president of Friends of Sycamore Shoals, has devoted himself to the successful production of “Liberty!”
“It is heartwarming and humbling, to see over 100 volunteers come together, beginning in January each year, to share their time with us in telling one of America’s most important stories,” he said
“My energy level is at an all-time high as “Liberty!” approaches,” Barnett said. “The people — the cast, the guests; their love and appreciation of our efforts make the entire behind the scenes work worth every minute invested. When you see that spark of inspiration and gratitude in their eye, you know your efforts have not been in vain.”
Chad Bogart, museum curatorial assistant for Sycamore Shoals is fully immersed in planning that continues throughout the year.
“The dedication of our cast is meaningful beyond words,” he said. “Our ‘Liberty!’ family represents all that is good in our world; people filled with a deep passion and commitment to do their part in making sure the sacrifices and contributions of our ancestors are remembered and honored”
The story they tell begins with the earliest days of the Watauga Settlement along the Watauga Old Fields and the arrival of long hunters and European settlers on what was Cherokee land. As two very different cultures come together west of the Proclamation Line of 1763, coupled with the effects of the American Revolution, a host of dramatic and emotionally trying events begin to unfold in their lives.
Ultimately, the Watauga Association, the first majority-rule system of American democratic government, was formed in 1772, when the settlers elected five of their number to "govern and direct for the common good of all the people." These Articles of the Watauga Association invested in those elected representatives the legislative, judicial and executive functions of their fledgling government.
It was at Sycamore Shoals in March 1775 that the largest private real estate transaction in the nation's history took place, the Transylvania Purchase. A company led by Judge Richard Henderson of North Carolina bought 20 million acres of land, stretching from the Cumberland River watershed to the Kentucky River. The Transylvania Company paid the Cherokees 2,000 pounds sterling and goods worth an additional 8,000 pounds for the land.
Prior to the deal being closed, the Cherokee, totaling more than 1,200 individuals, spent weeks in counsel at Sycamore Shoals debating the merits of the deal. Cherokee warrior Dragging Canoe was firmly against giving up the land and resisted the deal, but was overridden by Chief Little Carpenter who ignored his misgivings and signed the deed amid great ceremony and celebration.
In 1776, a year after the Transylvania Purchase, settlers constructed Fort Watauga on a private landholder’s farm. The fort became a refuge and means of protection for all of the families living along the Watauga when Dragging Canoe, aided by English agents, waged war against the pioneers, determined to drive them from the lands they felt they had purchased.
A band of warriors under Old Abram of Chilhowee laid siege to the fort for approximately three weeks, but when the settlers refused to surrender, the Cherokee gave up and departed.
The slate of leaders present at the Watauga settlement reads like a roster of state and national historical figures. The commanders included Col. John Carter, Capt. James Robertson, who would found Nashville a few years later, and Lt. John Sevier, the man who would become Tennessee's first governor.
One of the most significant events associated with Sycamore Shoals was the muster of the Overmountain Men, a militia comprised of citizens who fought and defeated a loyalist army at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
The Overmountain Men were responding to a threat sent to the settlements via British Maj. Patrick Ferguson, who was given command of the loyalist militia in the Carolinas. If the "rebels" did not cease their opposition to the crown, he threatened to "march his army over the mountains, hang the leaders and lay waste their country with fire and sword."
On Sept. 25, 1780, approximately 1,100 men gathered at Sycamore Shoals and marched in pursuit of Ferguson and his loyalists. The Overmountain Men caught up with Ferguson on Oct. 7 at Kings Mountain in South Carolina and soundly defeated the British forces with Ferguson being killed in the hour-long battle.
The victory of the Overmountain Men at Kings Mountain is considered by historians to be a turning point in the Revolutionary War. Sir Henry Clinton, commander of British forces in America, later pronounced Ferguson's defeat at Kings Mountain as "the first link in a chain of events that followed each other in regular succession until they at last ended in the total loss of America."
Years later Thomas Jefferson called the event "that memorable victory the joyful annunciation of that turn of the tide of success, which terminated the Revolutionary War with the seal of independence."
We hope you will join us for one of our nine performances this year, presented by Friends of Sycamore Shoals at the Fort Watauga amphitheater, Thursdays through Saturdays, July 12-14, 19-21, and 26-28. Gates open at 6 p.m. with the show starting at 7:30.
Tickets are $14 for adults (18 and over), $11 for seniors (55 and over), $6 for children (6-17 yrs) and those 5 and under are admitted free.
As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Liberty!” we anticipate high attendance, thus we encourage you to purchase tickets for general admission seating, in advance, by visiting www.thelibertydrama.com.
The Fort Watauga Amphitheater comfortably seats 400. Tickets can also be purchased the night of the event at the door for seats that have not been purchased in advance.
Concessions opens nightly at 6:30 p.m.
First Night tickets for tonight’s opening will be $9 for adults and seniors. First responders and a companion will be admitted free.
Veterans Night will be held on July 19 with veterans and a companion admitted free.