In only an hour, the Battle of Kings Mountain turned the Revolutionary War in the Colonies’ favor. But the 1780 confrontation followed a conflict that gripped hearts and homes across the Carolinas: Should the colonists focus on their own lives or take up arms in the rebellion? If they decided to fight, which side should they take?
“These folks came over from Europe, settled in the Carolinas and got caught up in this monumental struggle: whether the colonies were going to stay loyal to the (British) crown or become independent,” playwright Bob Inman says.
The private struggles and the military ones unfold together in “Liberty Mountain,” Inman’s drama about the battle that turned the tide of the war. After a short world-premiere run last October, the play returns to King Mountain’s Joy Performance Center, opening Friday and running through July 19. Kings Mountain Little Theatre hopes to make Inman’s historical drama an annual event – the area’s answer to “The Lost Colony” or “Unto These Hills.”
Inman has written novels, plays and television movies since ending his 25-year anchorman stint on Charlotte’s WBTV (Channel 3). When the Kings Mountain troupe commissioned this latest play, Inman had personal reasons to embrace the battle’s human side. An ancestor of his, James Williams, lived in South Carolina’s Ninety Six area and led a local militia. Williams became the highest-ranking patriot to die at Kings Mountain.
So Williams has a well-deserved place in “Liberty Mountain” – a historical panorama that ranges from the court of King George III and the Continental Congress to villages in the Carolinas.
“My approach with anything I write is that all stories are about people,” Inman says. “I wanted this to be about the people who were involved – men, women and children, young and old. It portrays life in the Carolinas at the time; the stakes, which were pretty severe; and the warfare that went on – really between neighbors.”
Alongside Williams and other real-life Carolinians, such as patriot leaders John Shelby and Isaac Sevier, fictional characters flesh out Inman’s story. These include Silas Martin and his family, Scots-Irish Presbyterians who live in Northern Ireland as the play opens. Disgusted with the treatment meted out by their English rulers, the Martins flee to the Colonies, like thousands of others. Upstate South Carolina becomes their home.
“They represent so many of the families who settled the area, prospered, farmed and lived through the struggle,” Inman says. “They’re just trying to live their lives. … They (at first) don’t want anything to do with the struggle for independence. But they get caught up in it.”
As a measure of how the war’s dilemmas split the settlers, Inman points to the militias that fought at Kings Mountain: Americans made up all of them, patriot and loyalist alike. The only Briton – and the only member of a formal army – was Maj. Patrick Ferguson, who commanded the loyalists.
Ferguson, who also appears in “Liberty Mountain,” had zeroed in on the Overmountain Men in what now is east Tennessee. He issued this threat: Lay down your arms and swear allegiance to the King, or I will cross the mountains, hang your leaders and lay waste to your homes. At Kings Mountain, where the Overmountain Men took part in the battle, Ferguson’s bravado cost him his life.
“Ferguson was an excellent officer,” Inman says. “He had the loyalty of his men. He was brave. He was bold.
“But he made that one fatal mistake of riling up the Overmountain Men. If he had kept his mouth shut, he might have been all right. But he didn’t.”
This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.
Bob Inman’s play describes the struggle for freedom that led to the Battle of Kings Mountain.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday and July 3, 10-11, 17-18; 3 p.m. June 27-28 and July 4-5, 11-12, 18-19.
WHERE: Joy Performance Center, 202 S. Railroad Ave., Kings Mountain.