Jim Gambill, a former commander of the local National Guard unit, has written a play entitled “The Mountain in Us,” inspired by events of the Revolutionary War here at home in the North Carolina mountains. He will read the play during the Readers Theatre event on Friday, May 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Ashe County Arts Center in West Jefferson.
“During the Revolutionary War, the British wanted people in the mountains to join the Loyalist Militia or be burned out of their homes,” Gambill said, “so the people here decided to light signal fires on the mountaintops. Some surmised that they were lighting them all the way from Charlotte to Abingdon, Virginia, since they thought the Loyalist Militia were in Virginia, but the fires weren’t al the way lit when the Militia began coming and local soldiers were in Abingdon.” So Gambill’s ancestor, Martin Gambill, rode from Deep Gap to Abingdon to warn the William Campbell Mountain Militia.
The ride was about 100 miles, and Martin Gambill made it in about 24 hours, killing two horses along the way, but was successful in getting the mountain militia men rounded up and they were able to return to North Carolina in time to face British General Ferguson at the Battle of King’s Mountain.
Jim Gambill said he was inspired by the story of the ride, and as he researched the story he discovered fascinating information such as Col. Cleveland of Wilkes who hung Tories (British supporters) from the tree that used to be in front of the Wilkes County Courthouse (which was cut down about 20 years ago), and that Capt. William Lenoir and Martin Gambill were most likely friends.
An introduction to the play states, “Five years or so into the American Revolution, the fledgling republic was in dire straits. Believing the south held a hotbed of support from loyalist Tories, England had moved the active war to Georgia and South Carolina. Their plan was working. They quickly gained control of those states, and the British army was swelling with Tory volunteers. Cornwallis was preparing to move up through North Carolina to attack the soft underbelly of the rebellion. In an effort to stem this tide, the Continental Congress had sent their best general, Horatio Gates, with a force of regulars and militia to stop Cornwallis.”
“Our story,” Gambill writes, “is about a few people who, although not disinterested, were not part of the rebellion. They were outside the jurisdiction of both the Crown and the Continental Congress. They called themselves the Watauga Association; both sides below the mountain called them the over-mountain men. And they are about to be swept into one of those decisive moments where history turns on a dime.”
“The play is all true and based on facts and stories of history,” Gambill said. “I tried to give people a feeling of what it was like to live here then, what they had to give up and what it cost them. And how much the mountain people then are like the mountain people today.”
“The Mountain in Us” has not yet been published, but Gambill said he has been encouraged to get it published and enter it into competition. People who hear and read the play will recognize local names.
Narrator of the play as written is “Old Nancy Gambill,” wife of Martin Gambill.
Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to learn more about local history and how the actions of your ancestors framed the freedoms of today.