East Tennessee artist Mary Ruden‘s statue of Mary Patton is on display at Sycamore Shoals State Park until the end of this month.
Patton and her husband operated a powder mill in the Watauga settlements. Most accounts credit her with outfitting the King’s Mountain expedition. Sycamore Shoals is an especially appropriate venue for this sculpture, since two of Patton’s big powder kettles are on exhibit there.
This is one of a series of Ruden’s works depicting historic Tennessee women. Her next subject is suffragist Lizzie Crozier French, just in time for the centennial of the Nineteenth Amendment.
I finally got to see the updated visitor center exhibit at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park. The exhibit narrative offers a pretty good crash course in the history of Tennessee’s Revolutionary frontier, using some lovely murals, audio, artifacts, and a few tableaux with life-sized figures.
You can stand eye to eye with Dragging Canoe while listening to an audio dramatization of his speech denouncing the Transylvania Purchase. He delivered these remarks in March 1775, just a short distance from where the exhibit gallery now stands.
When Cherokee warriors launched an assault on the settlements in July 1776, one prong of the assault struck Fort Watauga. Here’s Ann Robertson employing a little frontier ingenuity, using scalding water against a warrior intent on setting fire to the fort’s wall.
Of course, another important moment in the history of Sycamore Shoals came in late September 1780, when the Overmountain Men mustered there for the march that took them to King’s Mountain.
In terms of original artifacts, the highlight is this pair of kettles from Mary Patton’s gunpowder mill. Born in England, Patton lived in Pennsylvania before migrating to the Watauga region with her husband. The Pattons’ mill supplied five hundred pounds of gunpowder for the King’s Mountain expedition. I think these material links to East Tennessee’s Rev War years are pretty darn special.
If you wanted to identify one site as ground zero for Tennessee’s frontier era, Sycamore Shoals would be as good a spot as any. It’s nice to see the place get the sort of modern exhibit it deserves.