On this day in WNC history: With lead balls and cries of war filling the air around him, the young Josiah Brandon took part in the pivotal Battle of Kings Mountain, Oct 7, 1780. He was one of several hundred western North Carolinians fighting on this day when British Major Patrick Ferguson was killed and his force of loyalists defeated. Brandon was eighteen or younger at the time, and lived in Burke (modern McDowell County). He had fought in many Patriot engagements against the Cherokee and loyalist forces in the Carolinas before this battle, but experienced Kings Mountain in a unique way; Brandon had turned coat, and stood atop the hill with Ferguson’s forces as former comrades fired at him.
Brandon’s actions must be understood in the context of the larger war. Ferguson’s forces—the vast majority of which were northern loyalists— had defeated many of the Burke militiamen in the Sep 12 skirmish at Cane Creek, on the modern Burke/McDowell/Rutherford border, before pushing into the mountains in search of rebel leaders. Ferguson reputedly issued a polarizing threat to the overmountain settlers from Gilbertown (near modern Rutherfordton) requiring that they proclaim allegiance to the king and cease their attacks or he would “lay waste” to their country “with fire and sword.” While this message drew hundreds of backcountry fighters to ultimately pursue and kill the British commander, others made a different calculation. One of Ferguson’s lieutenants reported “the poor, deluded people of this province began to be sensible of their error, and come in [to British protection] very fast.” Brandon was reportedly enticed to flock to the British standard at the urging of his father, who was killed in the fight.
Brandon survived Kings Mountain, but was taken prisoner where he met with Major Joseph McDowell, the Burke County commander he previously fought under. McDowell apparently decided to show leniency, and within days, Brandon was serving once again in the Burke militia. Brandon’s son Lemuel later testified in his father’s pension application that he “has heard his father often speak of it with deep regret as and indiscreet act of his youth. He never kept it a secret from any person but said he had always afterwards entered the service of his country whenever a suitable occasion presented itself.” The testimonies of numerous former comrades and neighbors in his pension bear witness to his redemption in the eyes of his community.