McCrumb takes readers to ‘King’s Mountain’
When Sharyn McCrumb set out to write “King’s Mountain,” she
knew that the war upon which the novel is centered wouldn’t be the only thing revolutionary about
The author of the internationally popular "Ballad" stories wanted to break new ground within a field of research that has been under study for more than 200 years.
Through the voices of Patriot militia colonel John Sevier and Tory camp follower Virginia Sal, “King’s Mountain” tells the story of a Revolutionary War battle that is little known, but credited as the turning point of the war.
In 1780, the war became personal for Sevier and other men homesteading in the Carolina mountains. Until this time, these frontiersmen had been too busy taming their wilderness farms and fighting Indians to worry about what was happening in a war from which they considered themselves far removed.
Yet a letter from an arrogant British army major threatening to burn their farms and kill their families has the opposite of its intended effect. Sevier and other militia officers, assembling an unpaid, unequipped army of Appalachian farmers, set off to find the enemy and win a battle against not only well-trained British troops, but odds that included mountain terrain, weather and worry about the women and children they will leave largely unprotected while they are gone.
For all its importance to the colonial war effort — this victory would bolster sagging forces in the North — it is a battle not widely discussed in today’s history books.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it,” McCrumb said in an interview. “I went to school in North Carolina, and half that battlefield is in North Carolina. We studied the Revolutionary War occasionally: Bunker Hill, Paul Revere, Valley Forge, everything north of Maryland — and you’d think that everyone down here had just gone to the beach while the war continued.
“Then I discovered that the thing about King’s Mountain was that it was 1780, and George Washington and the Continental Army were losing the war in the North. They were just about to quit. All of a sudden, this group of unpaid, uninvited, ill-supplied frontiersman got mad at one of the British officers. Then the war became personal, and they marched down there and stomped them into the ground. What they did is to show everyone that you could beat a British regiment. So they kept trying, and the war ended exactly a year later.”
McCrumb also discovered that the battle was personal to her and her family.
“My six-time great grandmother was first married to Robert Sevier, who was in the battle and was one of the first casualties,” McCrumb said. “So, that left her a widow with two little babies, at 29 years old. A year later, she married Jonathan Tipton, who was John Sevier’s second in command at the battle.”
It is family connections such as these that make McCrumb’s "Ballad" novels — stories that celebrate her ancestors and the mountains of the South — appealing to a vast readership, and even a readership far from her homeland. McCrumb’s novels have been translated into nearly a dozen languages and are studied in universities around the world.
“I’ve wondered about that,” McCrumb said, noting she was recently interviewed for a magazine article to be published in Paris. “It seems to me that everyone who has mountains identifies with us. That, and that there is a word for ‘hillbilly’ in every language in which there are mountains. I’ve collected them.”
McCrumb has also collected voluminous research for the novels she writes. The memoirs of Isaac Shelby, for example, filter through the storytelling of King’s Mountain. Such research, like the stories and the storytelling itself, is a penchant she inherited from her ancestors.
“I think it’s genetic because of my Scots-Irish background,” McCrumb said. “We’re big on storytelling. But also, my father was a professor, and my two great-grandfathers were preachers. Storytelling in one form or another ran through my family.”
McCrumb will spend much of the next month spinning those stories personally. A book tour for “King’s Mountain” will roughly follow the route that the frontiersmen take in the novel, with slight deviations, such as a stop in Boone for a book signing at 7 p.m. Sept. 30 at Black Bear Books in the Boone Mall.
For more information on “King’s Mountain” and Sharyn McCrumb, visit http://www.sharynmccrumb.com.