Whose mountain is it, anyway?

Here’s a minor but nevertheless troubling dilemma for those of us interested in the Battle of King’s Mountain.  To apostrophe or not to apostrophe?  There seems to be no formal consensus on whether it’s “King’s Mountain” or “Kings Mountain.”

The slopes of King's Mountain, SC. Photo by yours truly

I had always used “King’s” without giving it too much thought until a reviewer for a piece I’d submitted suggested that “Kings” was in fact the proper usage.  After looking over some early accounts, I found enough apostrophes to convince me that “King’s” was legit, so I just left it in.  Maybe it was the wrong call.

A lot of primary sources leave the apostrophe in, but not all of them do.  Whig veteran James Collins called the battle “King’s Mountain” in an autobiography published many years later.  So did Banastre Tarleton in his book on the campaigns in the South.  Some veterans’ pension accounts include the apostrophe, but others omit it.  Likewise for contemporary manuscripts found in private correspondence.

Early historians and antiquarians seemed to prefer “King’s” to “Kings.”  The most detailed study of the battle is Lyman Draper’s King’s Mountain and its Heroes, published in 1881.  Draper employed the apostrophe throughout, as did his friend J. G. M. Ramsey in Annals of Tennessee.

As far as more recent authorities go, it seems to be a toss-up.  John Pancake and John Buchanan both use “King’s,” but NPS literature doesn’t.  Robert Dunkerly, who was the ranger in charge of the site, used “Kings” for his published collection of eyewitness accounts.

Adding to the confusion, the ridge on which the battle took place isn’t the only mountain in the area to bear the name.  A much larger prominence within Crowders Mountain State Park, to the northwest of the battleground, is called “King’s Pinnacle.”  It’s part of a mountain range, of which the battlefield ridge itself is a small spur.

Draper evidently considered the whole range to be one big geographical feature, and claimed that both it and nearby King’s Creek got their names from a settler named King.

King's Pinnacle, NC. From the website of Friends of Crowders Mountain

Since Draper was notoriously indefatigable in tracking down local traditions, this is probably what the folks who were living in the area during the late nineteenth century believed to be the name’s true origin, but that’s not to say that their opinion was the correct one.  Other sources claim that “King’s Pinnacle” got its name from a rock formation, so it’s possible (though very unlikely) that the big mountain’s name is unrelated to the name of the battlefield ridge and creek.

It gets even more confusing.  While searching for an online map, I ran across references to King’s Pinnacle as “Kings Pinnacle” and King’s Creek as “Kings Creek.”  This could very well initiate my long-anticipated descent into madness.

I say we have a referendum of Rev War buffs and local residents to settle this once and for all, because my head hurts.  I’ll be lobbying for “King’s,” just because if I start thinking about all those possibly-superfluous apostrophes in my master’s thesis, it’ll bug the living daylights out of me.

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4 Comments

Filed under American Revolution

4 responses to “Whose mountain is it, anyway?

  1. This inconsistency on whether to use the apostrophe or not has also perplexed me. I’m with you on using “King’s” instead of “Kings” out of respect for those who used the apostrophe in the beginning, but it is interesting to note the following passage published in “Teeny” Reid Hall’s compilation, “Battle of King’s Mountain.” Hall wrote, “the original name was possessive form (King’s) instead of the plural form (Kings) as is used today. in so far as can be ascertained the possessive form was dropped by common consent and the plural form was adopted without proper legislative action.”

    It seems that waiting for Congress to act, even in the case of a simple apostrophe, is a lost cause.

  2. Steve

    I have a somewhat related question, perhaps you might shed some light on? I am visiting the area and I’ve been trying to untangle the history of the King’s Mountain name. From what I can tell King’s Pinnacle and Crowder’s mountain are the only geological impressive “mountains” in the vicinity. I know the town of Kings Mountain, NC, where King’s Pinnacle is located, is named after the battle. Modern sources imply the battle is named after the small ridge on which it took place. I find it hard to believe that the ridge was significant enough to have even warranted a name prior to the battle; it doesn’t seem at all prominent in comparison to the surrounding geography. Is it not more likely that the battle was named after the much more significant formation (the peak of which is only 10 miles away) and only since then has the battlefield ridge acquired the name unto itself? King’s Creek, which runs near the battlefield, originates near King’s Pinnacle, which I think gives credence to Draper’s suggestion the larger overall formation is the original King’s Mountain, not the battlefield proper. To make matters more confusing, Google’s topographic map labels yet another formation “King’s Mountain”; its a small hill just south west of King’s Pinnacle on the other side of route 161, between the battlefield and the pinnacle. Any thoughts?

    • Michael Lynch

      Thanks for the comment! Your question prompted me to have a look at some contemporary Tory sources. Ferguson’s adjutant referred to the battle ridge as King’s Mountain in his journal, which indicates that people were already referring to the site by that name at the time of the battle. But another Tory who was present referred to the hill as “Little King’s Mountain,” which suggests that there might have been some differentiation between the battle ridge and the larger mountains nearby. I’d say the battlefield was already referred to by the name “King’s Mountain” in 1780, but the reference to “Little King’s Mountain” suggests that at least some contemporaries distinguished it from a true mountain, like the larger peaks in the area.

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