At times, our family genealogy is like a mystery novel, filled with suspense, drama, and unexplained situations. For those researching the western sections of colonial North Carolina, all of these elements come into play. Emphasis placed on the Scots and Irish as the first early settlers to this area, circa 1760, seems to focus on half-truths and possibly wishful thinking. The facts prove that the Scots and the Irish were not the only ones to settle west of the Catawba River during this period. Many of these families arrived years before the 1760 decade, and their stories fill the air with part mystery and part legend.
In 1753, British rule declared boundary lines for Rowan County, North Carolina. These lines included all lands along the Yadkin River and extended westward to the Mississippi River. The western mountains of North Carolina hold a vast amount of secrets dating to the onset of the 18th-century to the American Revolutionary War. The trails linking the gorges and rivers vary from one mountain crest to another. In 1768, a new county emerged named Tryon, in honor of William Tryon, the governor of North Carolina(1765-1771). The boundary for this county includes present-day Gaston, Cleveland, Rutherford, Cherokee, Lincoln, and parts of Burke, McDowell counties. The boundary lines included sections of South Carolina such as Greenville, Chester, Laurens, Spartanburg, Union, York, and Newberry counties. To the north and west of this line were known as the Cherokee hunting lands. By 1779, Tryon ceased to exist, and the division of the county lands split into between Rutherford and Lincoln counties.
The first court held for Tryon county occurred in April 1769, and the transcriptions, documented by Ezekiel Polk, offer clues and hints for the people and the area. Polk lived near present-day Kings Mountain and later moved to Mecklenburg County. Charles McLean offered his home for Tryon County court proceedings and resided near Crowder’s Creek in present-day Gaston County. All British counties established separate parishes, and Tryon County was known as St. Thomas Parish. These occupied lands filled the valleys and mountain ranges with several different languages such as English, Irish, Scots, French, German, Cherokee, Catawba, and Shawnee.
The mysterious legends surrounding the trails and roads leading into the Broad River area fill the mind with early surnames dating to the mid-1730s and captures the wilderness frontier with clues of old mines, hidden caves, and the attractive treasure known as gold lying beneath the landscape. The Broad River begins in present-day Buncombe County and travels southeast to form Lake Lure before entering South Carolina and joining the Saluda River. The first known route through this area is the Keowee Trail, documented in 1709 by John Lawson. The name changes through the years, and various routes separate from the main trail to early settlements, Native American towns, and early family homes. Hickory Nut Gap, known to 18th-century travelers, lies in present-day Rutherford County near Chimney Rock Mountain. This area is rich in minerals, and over 27 different plant species thrive here and nowhere else in the world. One treasure remains hidden in this area known today as Hickory Nut Gorge. Lying in the darkness, away from the light of day, an 18th-century prize of gold and mystery waits for someone to discover it.
The legend states that six English men gathered enough gold near Round Top Mountain to transport the riches to Charlestown(Charleston), South Carolina, and claim their wealth. Before they were able to leave Hickory Nut Gorge, they saw Cherokee hunters in the area. Soon an attack emerged, and the men hid in a nearby cave. Five died during the battle, leaving one to escape in the night without the gold. The story states that the men built a temporary rock wall in the cave to hide the gold until the survivors could return. Unfortunately, the lone survivor returned to his home in England, and due to his injuries, he lost his eyesight. He verbally gave directions to the cave and the contents to his comrades, but they failed to locate the gold.
Over the years, the story of gold grew, and many treasure hunters faced broken dreams of wealth and riches. General Leventhorpe from the North Carolina Confederacy attempted to locate the treasure for two months. A local newspaper, Forest City Courier, published in September 1938, news of a treasure hunter equipped with a map exploring Round Top Mountain for the gold. No one has reported the finding of gold in this area, so the legend continues to grow.
The question is can we prove the story as fact? Can we accurately identify these six English men and the events that supposedly happened to them? If you have theories or more information about the story, please share these in the comments below. As with the Culper Spy Ring investigation, Piedmont Trails will begin a research study by attempting to identify these 18th-century men and the legendary story they now represent.
So much of our family history contains folklore and fascinating stories. As stated so often, Piedmont Trails encourages the preservation of these old stories, proven true or false. The stories themselves represent character and personality among our family tree branches. Enjoy your journey to the past today.
- Arthur, John Preston-History of Western North Carolina 1914 (courtesy of New River Notes)
- Barnett, Janet & Russell, Randy-Mountain Ghost Stories & Curious Tales of Western North Carolina John F. Blair Publisher Winston-Salem, NC 1988 pp.20-26
- Clark, Jeff-Meanderthals A Hiking Blog-Photo Image of Chimney Rock Mountain, North Carolina
- Huey, Charles-The North Carolina Booklet-The North Carolina Society Daughters of The Revolution Raleigh Commercial Printing Company 1916 Volume XVI No. 1
- Hunter, C.L.-Sketches of Western North Carolina The Raleigh News Steam Print, Raleigh, North Carolina 1877
- Nixon, Alfred-The History of Lincoln County-various newspaper clippings published in 1910 and republished in 1935 for historical preservation.