Graham’s Fort

A Teen Saves Her Brother


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Type: Hidden History
County: Cleveland

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A modern house hidden from sight at the top of the hill nearest the map pointer, on narrow Graham’s Fort Drive, is said to contain the bones of Graham’s Fort. Please note it is surrounded by private property and cannot be seen from the road, which is part of the reason this is “Hidden History.” AmRevNC also could not confirm this is the house described in a 1998 guidebook that said the “fort” was incorporated into the current home.[1]

Mug saying, "Do Whig Out!" on a parchment scroll
Mug saying "More than a minute-man," with a drawing of a Continental officer


A Seven-Year Warrior

Col. William Graham was born in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in 1742 and moved to N.C. soon before the war. He was a Tryon County justice of the peace, and signed a petition against British excesses called the Tryon Resolves in 1775, the same year he was elected to North Carolina’s Third Provincial Congress.

As commander of the Patriot militia in Tryon County, he participated in a South Carolina campaign against Loyalists later that year.[2] In his application for a veteran’s pension decades later, Graham said he was “on continual duty” during seven years of war, conducting no personal business. He noted that he was “the oldest Colonel in the frontier parts of North Carolina”—in his mid-30s! His next campaign was against the Cherokees in 1776. Then he became responsible for selecting fort sites for protection against both Cherokees and Loyalists, and assigning militia to them on a rotating basis. Sometimes he took command at Fort McFadden west of modern Rutherfordton. He said he led regular scouting missions, collected reports from spies, and directed “Flying Camps” of soldiers where needed.

Tryon County was split in 1779, so his command was switched to the new Lincoln County. Like many militia, Graham’s units struggled with supplies, he said: “We had no camp equipment. We had no munitions of war (except) by accident. We had no commissary. We, in general, had to find ourselves everything we had.” He was part of a force that arrived at Ramsour’s Mill just after that June 1780 battle against Tories. While monitoring the British in South Carolina, his militia fought in the Patriot victory at Wofford Iron Works in August, but were driven off by the advance of Maj. Patrick Ferguson’s corps into N.C.

A Revolutionary Home Invasion

Most of this story comes from a single source written decades later.[3] Believe details with caution!

Title page of "King's Mountain and Its Heroes," 1881
Source of the Graham’s Fort story

In September 1780, the remainder of the regular Continental Army in the South was in distant Hillsborough after a bad defeat at the Battle of Camden (S.C.). The main British army was south of Charlotte, and Ferguson’s “Flying Corps” was at Gilbert Town near modern Rutherfordton. With these forces nearby, part-time Loyalist or “Tory” soldiers (“militia”) felt emboldened to attack their Patriot counterparts.

Graham was in his home with his pregnant wife Susannah, their children, two of his men, and some number of civilian neighbors. It was a large, heavily built log cabin, perhaps with wooden siding.[4] Like some other homes on the frontier, it had portholes for gun barrels, intended to protect local residents under attack from Native Americans. Now they are hiding from Loyalists.

Roughly two-dozen Tory militiamen surrounded the cabin one day that month, probably taking cover behind the tree line. Some approached the front door and called for Graham to surrender. He refused. The men stepped back, an order was given, and the Tories began to fire volleys at the cabin. After each they demanded his surrender. Frustration growing, one time they supposedly called out, “Damn you, won’t you surrender now?”

Graham continued to refuse. Finally John Burke ran up to the house and poked his gun through a crack or porthole. He aimed at Graham’s 19-year-old stepson, and soldier, William Twitty. Susannah was the widow of a Capt. Twitty who was killed serving with Daniel Boone in Kentucky. Graham adopted all eight children.

Twitty’s sister Susan, 17, saw the barrel and yanked her brother out of the way, so the bullet hit the opposite wall. Susan snuck a look out the hole and saw that Burke had not left. He was on a knee, reloading. She is said to have yelled, “Brother William, now’s your chance—shoot the rascal!” He did, and Burke fell dead of a head wound.

Susan unbolted the door and rushed out. Everyone was stunned into inaction. Before the Tories could recover and fire, she retrieved Burke’s cartridge box and gun and got back inside. She joined the fight with it. Finally, with Burke dead and four wounded, the Loyalists gave up and slinked back down the hill. Thanks in part to Susan’s quick reactions and bravery, none of those inside the home were hurt.

Graham moved everyone to an unknown location, leaving enslaved workers to maintain the farm. Eventually the Tories came back, stole his ale and clothing, and took away six of the slaves.

Family Comes First

Photo of an old handwritten document
Order granting Graham’s pension (Credit: Graham 1832)

The next month, Graham helped chase Ferguson in the Overmountain Campaign that led to the Battle of King’s Mountain (S.C.). Shortly before the battle, Graham had to return home after getting word that his wife was sick. He did not want to go, but in those days doctors were few and far between, and he was granted leave. Despite that, some veterans held it against Graham, in part because the major who took over for him was killed in the battle.

After the war he returned home to farm, built a new house on the First Broad River, and held various political positions.[5] But the war, Graham said, took everything he had. “In fact when the Revolutionary War commenced, I was wealthy. I was stout. I had a firm constitution. I have lost all. I served my Country with my strength and my fortune.” At 91, he described himself as “old and Blind, not able to support myself.”[6]

He received a pension, but died two years later, ten years after wife Susannah. Susan lived until 1825, dying at 62; the brother she saved survived King’s Mountain but died at 55.[7]

More Information

[1] Barefoot 1998.

[2] Simpson 1972.

[3] Draper 1881.

[4] Siding (“weatherboarding”): Griffin 1977.

[5] Our Hertiage 1976.

[6] Graham 1832.

[7] Griffin.