The Bryson Clan, William and at least five of his sons and his brother John had moved from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas by 1765. They were farmers with their father until they were old enough to move to nearby South Carolina to start their own farms. By the time of the American Revolution they were all young adults and most were married with their own homes.
One of the brothers, James Holmes Bryson marries Sarah Countryman in the town of Ninety Six in South Carolina in 1769. Some of their children were born near King’s Mountain before finally reaching Sugarfork.After the 1773 death of her husband, the Mother-in-Law Elizabeth Countryman moves in and will remain with them until her death in 1817 at the ripe old age of 101 (some researchers give her age at 117). Their daughter Sarah will marry Thomas Gross and their daughter Ann will marry James Naille Bryson, the grandson of her dad’s brother. I am not sure what that relationship is called. Anyway, the family remained in close proximity with each other and were able to provide support as the rebellion against the British began.
Brother Andrew, who along with James Holmes are in the line descent, will marry Agnes Naille who passes away in 1796 near Ninety Six. Brothers John, William, Samuel and Daniel all spent their early adult lives in the hills of western North Carolina which remained frontier. Initially there was little fighting between Rebels and Loyalists in the southern colonies. However, the Cherokees had allied themselves with the British and had killed 37 settlers near present day Franklin. Franklin is about 20 miles from Sylva and Cullowhee, the centers of Bryson settlement. The efforts of Daniel, the youngest of William’s sons is the best documented. His story probably parallels the efforts of his brothers although this is speculative. But given the proximity of the family to these events and the informal nature of enlistments and fighting, a fair amount of inference can be assumed.
Daniel joins a group of 2,500 militia and marches through Sylva and across Cowee Mountain to present day Franklin. Cowee, the main Cherokee settlement of the region, was destroyed. Another 30-40 Cherokee towns were obliterated by the mountain militia that will later do the same to the British at Kings Mountain and Cowpens. Daniel is part of a militia unit that will fight at the Battle of Brandywine. He returns home with a case of smallpox that will sideline him until 1778. Daniel received a battlefield commission as a Captain and commanded a company of militia at Cowpens. Unfortunately, these informal ranks were never recognized after the war. The story of his pension applications to the US, North and South Carolina pension boards are beyond discussion here. He finally did receive a pension in 1818. Brother Samuel served in the North Carolina Line of the Continental Army and received a pension in 1833 at the age of 89. It appears that the Veterans Administration developed a pattern very early in its history. While serving as a militiaman in 1776 guarding the Catawba River, he would get permission each night to return to his home 14 miles away to protect his home and family from his Tory neighbors. Brothers Andrew and James Holmes performed as militia at the Battles of Kings Mountain and Cowpens but neither received pensions. It is to these two key battles that we turn our attention to.
In the fall of 1780, the victorious forces of General Cornwallis seemed unstoppable in the southern colonies. His southern strategy was largely based on the belief that the southern colonies were filled with Loyalists and that the rebels were few in number. The Loyalist forces attached to his army were not reluctant to settle old grievances with their rebel neighbors by burning their homes and destroying their farms. By 1780, British commanders announced that they would burn all rebel homes. In Georgia, patriots like the McKenneys moved their families safely out of the way and joined militia units. For the Brysons, the war was headed their way.
An 1100 man British militia unit that was strengthened by Scottish Highlanders under the command of a Major Ferguson found itself surrounded on a hill by 800 backwoods militia under the command of General Pickens. Kings Mountain is on the South Carolina border with North Carolina some 140 miles from Sylva. As news spread that Ferguson bragged that he would destroy the homes of the rebel “mongrels”, backwoods frontiersmen like the Brysons needed no further motivation. They left their homes with their rifles and joined others who had caught Ferguson on a hill that was quickly surrounded. Some of the rebel units were organized militias with commanders and some degree of structure. It is unlikely that the Brysons needed much direction. They were presented with an opportunity to revenge their grudges against the Tories, some of whom may have been neighbors. They took full advantage. From behind trees and rocks they quickly picked off the British officers. They were restrained by their officers after killing some 200 of the British led forces and did not give the Loyalists “Tarleton’s Quarter”.
Most of the Patriot militia headed home for the winter but quickly rallied in late January when it was reported that the hated Tarleton was isolated from the bulk of the British army at a place known as Cowpens. The Patriot commander, General Morgan knew his militia well. He gave them an assignment he knew they could carry out. That was to fire three rounds and then retreat. He talked to them the evening before the battle in sight of Elizabeth Countryman’s cabin. There were at least four and possibly six Brysons gathered around those campfires as well as two McKenneys with the Georgia militia. In the morning Elizabeth will join them in battle bringing water to the patriots.
As is well known, General Morgans tactics were perfect. Tarleton saw the militia apparently running away after firing a few shots. He ordered a charge only to discover that the main force of Continentals was behind a rise. The running militia quickly rejoined the fight and the battle was a rout. More than 80% of Tarleton’s force was destroyed along with Cornwallis’ southern strategy. Cornwallis will then depart for Virginia and surrender at Yorktown.
The Brysons return home and create future generations.
Elizabeth Countryman’s cabin was to the left of the road in the picture above.