Davidson's Fort (Aug 1776-1796), Old Fort, NC 28762
A state militia fort used against the Cherokee and Tories. Also known as Fort Rutherford, Upper Fort or Fort Royal: For 20 years from 1756 to 1776, the settlement was the westernmost outpost of Colonial Civilization. The State of North Carolina then extended to the Mississippi River. When war was declared between the Colonials and the British, the Cherokee sided with the latter forcing the Colonials to fight enemies on two fronts. By the mid 1700’s, more settlers came up the Catawba Valley. In 1763, the British and the Cherokee nation made a treaty agreeing that the British would settle no farther west than the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains (today it would be online with the continental divide). Around 1770 Samuel Davidson purchased a boundary of land, which included the present site of Old Fort, consisting of 640 acres or one square mile. A stockade was raised upon a portion of this land (Aug 1776), A portion of General Rutherford’s men were left behind to constructed it “to guard and range the country while General Rutherford left with an expedition against the Cherokee. Samuel Davidson as the owner of hundreds of acres surrounding the area known today as Old Fort including a grist mill on Davidson’s Mill Creek, today it is simply Mill Creek.
In the April 1933 edition of the N.C. Historical and Genealogical Record, Vol. 2, Number 2, an article by Mary M. Greenlee titled, appeared with the following information: During the Revolutionary War, the Davidson family lived in Old Fort on property owned by Samuel Davidson including a grist mill. John Davidson (John Davidson (1757-1832). In a Declaration of Military Service dated 8 Aug 1832 he stated that he was born in Augusta (now Rockbridge) County on October 20th 1757; was living in Botetourt (County south of present Rockbridge County)when called into service(Lyman Chalkey,Vol II, p. 481) lived on the property for many years. There is a question as to which John Davidson this might be, stay tuned for future revisions. The article is shown on page 17 under the heading of Wheeler’s Historical Sketches of North Carolina. This reference provides an important explanation of the fort’s location. In the University of North Carolina Magazine, Volume 1, Number 4 an article appears by David L. Swain dated 1852 speaking to the stockade at the old fort built by General Griffith Rutherford in August 1776 during his Cherokee expedition. Pension applications from members of Rutherford’s militia describe their duties including construction of a fort on property owned by Samuel Davidson. Samuel Davidson was born in Ireland and traveled as an infant to America with his family. He and his brother Major William Davidson were twins. In the spring of 1784, Samuel Davidson had decided to move across the Blue Ridge and build a cabin near what is now Azalea, Indians took a bell from his grazing horse and used it to lure him to his death. His wife, baby, and servant girl fled back across the Continental Divide, down the mountain to Davidson’s Fort and safety.
In 1776, General Griffin Rutherford led a band of 2,500 militiamen in a campaign against the Cherokee, bivouacking at Davidson’s tiny Fort before crossing the Blue Ridge and into what is now Swain County. Thirty Indian towns, along with crops and stored food was attacked and destroyed by Rutherford and his men. The Cherokee never fully recovered from the devastation. Most of the tribal members fled prior to the attack, so few lives were lost on either side. In his western drive against the Cherokee Nation, Rutherford is credited with the first “scorched earth” warfare in the Americas, so tellingly employed later by General Sherman in the Civil War. He and his men burned a great number of villages and crops as they drove the Indians farther west.
In 1796 Inferior Court Minutes of Burke County refers to the fort as Samuel Davidson's Fort.
In 1871 the 2,200-acre plantation of George Samuel Franklin Davidson (son of Gen Ephraim Davidson, who was son of Col George Davidson, who was brother to Samuel Davidson) was sold for thirty thousand dollars to the Catawba Vale Land Association, two years after the Western North Carolina railroad had reached Old Fort. On Jan 25 1872 the town of Catawba Vale was chartered “The Town of Catawba Vale was quite large on paper, but small on the ground,” wrote one of the speculators in the letter to a friend up north. The legislature named the town Old Fort Feb 21, 1873, a fitting tribute to Samuel Davidson.
The Western Carolina Railway had reached Old Fort in 1869. The circuitous route of the track through the western hills to the top of the mountains at Ridgecrest was made necessary because of the lack of earthmoving machinery and by the need to keep the grade easy enough for a steam engine to pull a train of heavy cars. In March 1879, the Swannanoa Tunnel was completed and the road reached Asheville in 1880. Seven hand-dug tunnels, nine miles of track, and eleven years later, the new railroad reached Asheville. Three hundred lives were lost building the Western Carolina Railroad; nonetheless, the coming of the railroad meant economic, intellectual, and industrial opportunity from the mountain people.
Source: Mountain Gateway Museum (McDowell County, North Carolina).