A Reason For Treason


Due process and trial by jury were components of British law before and during the American Revolution. The corruption of those concepts by the British was mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, and then subsequently corrected in the US Constitution. Obviously, this issue was of great concern in the thirteen colonies during the Revolution. However, there are cases that seem to contradict those values that were fundamental to the Revolution. Such was the case in the accusation leveled at the “traitors” who were discovered missing on the morning of September 28, 1780 as their fellow Overmountain militiamen pursued the loyalist force under the command of Major Patrick Ferguson.

The “traitors” were James Crawford and Samuel Chambers. Crawford was born in the Shenandoah Valley around 1746. While bearing arms against another military force would be morally acceptable, James’ religious standards prohibited participating in non-military raiding, maliciously causing damage to civilian property and nearly regular loss of civilian lives. Also, the Proclamation of 1763 issued by King George, prohibited settlement west of the mountains. This put overmountain people in open rebellion, as were Crawford, Chambers, and their families. In early 1779, Crawford was accused of objecting to participate in raiding parties sent to the uplands east of the mountains to raid Tory farms.

Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis had invaded North Carolina and occupied Charlotte, ordering Major Ferguson to guard his left flank. A call to arms went out and the Overmountain Militia went in pursuit of him. Crawford and Chambers were members of that militia, but on the morning of September 28th, while camped in the gap between Roan and Yellow Mountains, they disappeared. The militia learned that Ferguson had left the area and accused the two men of warning him. The militia pursued Ferguson, who was waiting to crush them atop King’s Mountain. Early on October 7th, the militia began encircling the mountain. The plan was to apply intense fire from every side. And, that is what happened. By three o'clock that afternoon, the militia had surrounded the mountain and the shooting began. But, it ended within one hour as Ferguson was shot multiple times and killed.

During the battle, Crawford and Chambers were discovered on King’s Mountain. They were restrained and scheduled for execution. Seven days after the Battle, the infamous trials for treason occurred. Thirty-six men, including Crawford, were convicted of bearing arms against the State of North Carolina. However, since both Britain and the State of North Carolina recognized that the Overmountain Militia did not have the power to appoint and conduct a civilian court, militia commanders stopped the proceedings, but only after nine of the so-called 'worst' offenders were hanged. James Crawford's life had been spared. Even though he had been pardoned, after returning to Watauga he faced action in civil court and was ordered to sell his property and leave the area. He died some 40 years later in Alabama.


Why did I write this story you ask? Because James Crawford's oldest son, Joseph, oversaw the building of Clear Fork Baptist Church's first meeting house at Stockton Valley (now Albany). But, that's another story for a another time.

* Taken from Patriots and Tyrants by Kevan Crawford, PhD

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