Biggerstaff's Old Fields
Other names: Bickerstaff's; Biggerstaff Hanging Tree; Aaron Biggerstaff Plantation; The general area was known as Red Chimneys by the 1860's.
Trial,execution. Col.Wm. Campbell* vs. Col. Ambrose Mills, 14 Oct 1780.
Where: 35.439679,-81.826630 Biggerstaff's Tree, if 200 yd n of marker
Maps: [map notes]
- Chivous Bradley, Rutherford County NC Historian:
Trial by North Carolina Magistrates (While it has sometimes been called a court-martial, it was in fact a trial under NC law). Col. Benjamin Cleveland took the lead in the action, other American officers including Maj. Joseph McDowell, Col. Andrew Hampton, Col. Isaac Shelby and Col. John Sevier brought the complaint that some of the Tory prisoners from the Battle of Kings Mountain were robbers, house burners, parole breakers, and assassins. The Carolina field officers and captains sat as magistrates to conduct a court under North Carolina law. Some thirty-two of the prisoners were tried, convicted, and condemned to hang. Nine were actually executed by hanging that evening. They included Col. Ambrose Mills, Capt. Robert Wilson, Capt. James Chitwood, Capt. Arthur(?) Grimes, Capt. Walter Gilkey, Capt. John McFall, Lt. Thomas Lafferty, Lt. John Bibby, and Lt. Augustine Hobbs.
Historical marker located at 35.348 -81.827 The hanging tree is no longer standing but was approximately 200 yards N of the marker [Basis for location]. The unmarked graves are close by near an old rock bridge foundation. Capt. Chitwood was buried on the other side of Roberson Creek and the body of Col. Mills was later exhumed and removed to Polk County.
- NBBAS:Two P.339
- Patrick O'Kelley, RevList Post, 7 October 2005
On October 11th Colonel Campbell issued a General Order to have the men
stop “slaughtering” the prisoners. By the time the army reached Cane
Creek the men were “near starving to death.” The men ate fried green
pumpkins. The prisoners were thrown raw corn on the cob, and pumpkins.
On October 14th a trial was held at Gilbert Town. Officers had demanded
Campbell convene a court martial for prisoners who were parole breakers,
robbers, house burners, and assassins. Thirty Loyalists were condemned
to death. Nine, including Colonel Ambrose Mills, Captains Chitwood and
Wilson, were actually hanged. The rest escaped as the mountain men
drifted back to their home, and left them unguarded. Captain Carr, of
Georgia, pointed at the nine dangling Loyalists and said, “Would to God
every tree in the wilderness bore such fruit as that.”
After the departure of the militia Mrs. Martha Biggerstaff cut down the
bodies. Mrs. Mills had sat beside the body of her husband, Aaron, with
her child in her arms, all night in the rain, without even a blanket to
cover her from the weather.
- Lyman Coleman Draper, Kings Mountain and Its Heroes, pp.329-345, P.G. Thomson, 1881.
- Dykeman, Wilma, The Battle of King's Mountain 1780: With Fire Sword, pp.74-75, National Park Service, Washington DC, Reprint 1991,
Citizens along the way had also added their stories of continuing
hostilities. Shelby wrote that when he and others arrived at
Gilbert Town "they were informed by a paroled officer that he had
seen eleven patriots hung at Ninety Six a few days before, for being
Rebels. Similar cruel and unjustifiable acts had been committed before.
In the opinion of the patriots, it required retaliatory measures
to put a stop to these atrocities. A copy of the law of North Carolina
was obtained, which authorized two magistrates to summon a jury,
and forthwith to try, and, if found guilty, to execute persons who had
violated its precepts."
Since most of the North Carolina officers were also magistrates
at home, it was no problem to find a jury of 12 who qualified under
these regulations. Thirty-six of the prisoners were rounded up and
brought before the grim court. They were accused, tried, and found
ouilty of "breaking open houses, killing the men, turning the women
and children out of doors, and burning the houses." The sentence
was death. Among those sitting in judgment, it appeared that "Colonel
Cleveland was probably more active and determined than any
other officer in bringing about these severe measures."
By the time a great old oak was found and preparations for the
executions were completed, it was late at night. Pine-knot torches
were lit as the over-mountain men and their companions gathered
four deep around the condemned prisoners. Three at a time the Tories
were swung from limbs of the giant oak. After the ninth hanging,
a halt was called. Not all the patriots were ready to grant a reprieve.
One bitter Tory-hater pointed to the lim-p bodies and voiced satisfaction:
"Would to God every tree in the wilderness bore such fruit as
But the next trio, already bound for execution, were untied.
The remaining condemned men were pardoned. Those nine already
dead were left dangling from the tree. They would serve as warning
to other loyalists in the vicinity. Throughout the region that tree
became known as the Gallows Oak.
- Sherman's Calendar..., Search for biggerstaff's (several returns). To avoid long downloads, use option to "Save and view this PDF in Reader".
14 October. On the night of 14 October nine loyalists, Col. Ambrose Mills, Captain James Chitwood, Captain
Wilson, Captain Walter Gilkey, Captain Grimes, Lieutenant Lafferty, John Bibby and Augustine Hobbs, were tried
and executed at Biggerstaff’s plantation on grounds of alleged burglary, arson and murder, and which was done
at the prompting of some of the leaders with Campbell, Col. Benjamin Cleavland being among the most
prominent. As deplorable the event, It was not, nor was it seen, at the time as an isolated one and many whigs
felt they were simply acting in just retaliation for the hangings after the battle of Camden, at Augusta and
elsewhere of not so distant memory. This is mentioned not to palliate or excuse the ad hoc hangings but simply
to at least give them their due context.
GHA4 pp. 28-29, ~ (William Gordon’s, and also Otho
Williams who is quoted in the work) The
history of the rise progress and establishment
of the independence of the United States of
America, vol. IV
DKM p. 329-34, (Lyman Draper’s) King’s Mountain and
King's Mountain ,
Gilbert Town ,
Cane Creek ,
Dennard's Ford ,
Col. John Walker's Plantation
Confidence level:: See above