Turkey Cove & Cathey’s Fort

Stopovers for Two Campaigns


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Coordinates: 35.7933, -82.0212.

Type: Stop
Tour: Overmountain
County: McDowell

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Park off Good Road to the right just before the tree line. It marks a branch feeding into the North Fork of the Catawba River, to the left of the road.

Girl in a white tee shirt with a picture and list of patriot women
Mug saying "250 Years" with scenes and a map from the Battle of Alamance


Another Wofford’s Fort

Look behind you at the North Catawba River.

Button for audio tourThe first military action of the American Revolution in this area probably took place on Thursday, July 11th, 1776.[1] Cherokees had begun raiding frontier areas like this in response to ongoing treaty violations. Part-time “militia” soldiers on patrol were attacked five miles down the river from here, to your right, where it entered the main Catawba River (now under Lake James). Captain Reuben White and a private were killed, and possibly eight men wounded, before the Cherokees were driven off with some number of casualties.

William Cathey built a home just on the other side of the North Fork from you that same year.

Look into the open fields, which fill the northeastern corner of Turkey Cove.

Three years later, Col. William Wofford purchased a 900-acre parcel including the home and Turkey Cove. Though Wofford was no longer active in the war, he had served in a 1776 campaign against the Cherokees with the South Carolina militia. (Thus he was part of the force ambushed at the Battle of the Black Hole near modern Franklin.) He moved here when his ironworks in S.C. were destroyed by the British after they captured Charleston. He farmed the cove and built a grain mill nearby.

The next spring, militia soldiers built a fort in the form of a palisade of vertical logs either surrounding the home or somewhere nearby, named for Wofford like an earlier one in S.C.[2] Logic suggests if it did not enclose the flats across the river, it was in this part of the cove next to either the river or Armstrong Creek (at the bridge on the main road) for water. A trail from Quaker Meadows (modern Morganton) ran where Good Road is today.

One soldier, Jacob Grider, said a woman named McFalls “had occasion to go a little distance from the Fort one evening (and) the Indians in ambush shot her down and stabbed her.” They then “took off her scalp down to both ears.” The soldiers went looking and found her. The next day and a half they followed the attackers, spending the night without a fire to stay hidden, but the Cherokees had scattered. Remarkably, McFalls recovered.[3]

Her husband Arthur, who was in the 1776 action downstream, confirmed the scalping. He says that later, apparently, the Cherokees attack the fort. One man is killed, a second is wounded, and McFalls has a button shot off his pants! Another man tries to ride through the warriors for help, but is driven back inside. McFalls says he then volunteered to try, and “he ran through the enemy without receiving any injury.” On his returning with reinforcements, the Cherokees withdrew.[4]

Photo of field with trees on each side and mountains in the distance
Turkey Cove (AmRevNC photograph)

The Overmountain Men

One wing of the Overmountain Men camped here in Turkey Cove on Friday, September 29, 1780, after marching over Gillespie Gap. These militia from the far side of the Appalachians were making a preemptive strike on a Loyalist army under British Maj. Patrick Ferguson near modern Rutherfordton. Ferguson, in the region to suppress Patriot activities and attract more Loyalists, had threatened to cross the mountains to attack their homes. Around 480 men under Virginia Col. William Campbell had split from the rest of the force at the gap and came down along Cox Creek, where NC 226 runs now. They then continued along Armstrong Creek and camped in the cove.

An unhappy camper is with them: Henry Gillespie, for whom the gap is named. An Irishman whose home was on the western end of the cove, two miles up Armstrong Creek[5], he was neither a Loyalist nor a Patriot. (There may have been as many “neutrals” like him as there were partisans on each side during the war.) The militia had grabbed him to try to squeeze out information about the British. They released him the next morning, apparently having learned nothing.[6]

Wofford had no information either, and indeed there is no evidence Ferguson’s forces came this far north. A wealthy man, Wofford provided the Overmountain Men with “‘an abundance of every necessary refreshment,’” according to one of them.[7]

The next day they headed down the route of Good Road toward Quaker Meadows, the rendezvous point for units headed to eventual victory at the Battle of King’s Mountain (S.C.).[8]

Cathey’s Fort

Button for audio tourContrary to most modern sources, there was a separate Cathey’s Fort near Pleasant Gardens west of today’s Marion, on the main Catawba River.[9] Named for William’s cousin George, for a few months it was the farthest-west fortification of any kind in North Carolina. The exact location is unknown.

During the 1776 Cherokee raids, in May or June, a company of militia scouts was driven out of Davidson’s Fort (near today’s Old Fort farther west) by Cherokees, and retreated to Cathey’s Fort.[10] The commander of the multi-county militia district this area was in, Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford, launched a campaign against the Cherokees in response to the raids. This was in coordination with the S.C. force Wofford served in. Upwards of 2,000 men arrived at Cathey’s Fort in August. They were moving from Quaker Meadows to Davidson’s Fort. From there Rutherford’s army rode as far west as today’s Murphy.

Most of the men returned there on Friday, October 4, 1776, after having destroyed a dozen Cherokee towns. Lt. William Lenoir recorded in his diary, “we (crossed) the Ridge though very slippery & the horses would slip sometimes 20 or 30 feet but all got over & Campt (sic) just below Cathey’s fort & Colo. Armstrong treated with 6 gals. Brandy.”[11]

During the rest of the Revolutionary War, both Cathey’s and Wofford’s forts were used as mustering points and bases for local Patriot militia. For example, George Cathey said 150 men were stationed at his fort in 1777.[12] Capt. Thomas Lytle reported that he and 25 men split their time between Cathey’s and Davidson’s Fort “as a ranging or scouting party” against Native Americans for nine months in 1777-8.[13]

Two weeks before the Overmountain Men reached Turkey Cove, Ferguson’s Loyalist force marched along the Catawba, passing through Pleasant Gardens. A British officer, Lt. Anthony Allaire, called it “a very handsome place. I was surprised to see so beautiful a tract of land in the mountains.” He added, “This settlement is composed of the most violent Rebels I ever saw, particularly the young ladies.”[14]

What to See

Cross the road. Look up the hill to the left of the abandoned railroad trestle on the right, below the active tracks. When leaves are down, you may able to spot a stone monument above the site of Cathey’s/Wofford’s home.

The house was across the river above the flood plain (now private property).[15] By the site is a tiny stream that may have served as a water source: A 1779 surveyor’s order mentions “the Spring that said William Cathey takes for Drinking Water.”[16]

A short distance farther down the Good Road, on the right side, is a dam and pond that could be the remains of Wofford’s Mill.

Please respect the property owners’ rights by remaining close to the road.

A tree-covered riverbank in winter, with the river below and a rise in the background
Monument is barely visible between two trees in the center (AmRevNC photograph)

More Information

  • Allaire, Anthony, Diary of Lieut. Anthony Allaire (New York: New York Times, 1968) <http://archive.org/details/diaryoflieutanth0000alla>
  • Brown III, W. F., ‘Documentation Supporting the Location of Cathey’s Fort’, Undated (a)
  • Brown III, W. F., ‘Supporting Documentation for Cathey’s Fort Being Located on the Catawba River at Pleasant Gardens’, Undated (b)
  • Cathey, Boyt Henderson, Cathey Family History and Genealogy, Vol. 1 (1700-1900) (Franklin, N.C.: Genealogy Publishing Service, 1993), North Carolina Room, Haywood Co. Public Library, Vertical Files, Haywood County A-C, ‘Biography: Cathey’
  • Cathey, Col. Walter, ‘Clarifications Re: Cathey Fort’, Cathey Kith & Kin, 1987 Edition, North Carolina Room, Haywood Co. Public Library, Vertical Files, Haywood County A-C, ‘Biography: Cathey’
  • ‘Col William Hollingsworth Wofford (1728-1823)’, Find a Grave Memorial <https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/65795830/william-hollingsworth-wofford> [accessed 28 August 2020]
  • Draper, Lyman Copeland, King’s Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King’s Mountain, October 7th, 1780, and the Events Which Led to It (Cincinnati: Peter G. Thomson, Publisher, 1881) <http://archive.org/details/cu31924032752846> [accessed 31 March 2020]
  • Fossett, Mildred, History of McDowell County (Marion, N.C.: McDowell County American Revolution Bicentennial Commission Heritage Committee, 1976)
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Arthur McFalls (McFauls), W91872’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1832 <http://revwarapps.org/w9187.pdf> [accessed 28 November 2022]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Charles Baker, S31536’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1832 <http://revwarapps.org/s31536.pdf>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of George Cathey, S16699’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1833 <http://revwarapps.org/s16699.pdf> [accessed 11 March 2023]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Jacob Grider, W3980’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1836 <http://revwarapps.org/w3980.pdf>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of John Carson, S9132’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1833 <http://revwarapps.org/s9132.pdf> [accessed 28 November 2022]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Joseph Ford, S15429’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1834 <http://revwarapps.org/s15429.pdf> [accessed 28 November 2022]
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Philip Anthony, S21046’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1835 <http://revwarapps.org/s21046.pdf>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Richard Ballew, S15305’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1833 <http://revwarapps.org/s15305.pdf>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Richard Medlock (Matlock), W25701’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1832 <http://revwarapps.org/W25701.pdf>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Robert Burchfield, R1444’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1832 <http://revwarapps.org/r1444.pdf>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Samuel Blair, S3009’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1832 <http://revwarapps.org/s3009.pdf>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Stephen (Steven) Ballew, S16835’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1832 <http://revwarapps.org/s16835.pdf>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of Thomas Lyttle (Litle, Little, Lytle), S8873’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1832 <http://revwarapps.org/s8873.pdf>
  • Graves, Will, tran., ‘Pension Application of William Hamby, S1909’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1832 <http://revwarapps.org/s1909.pdf>
  • Hamilton, J. G. de Roulhac, ‘Revolutionary Diary of William Lenoir’, The Journal of Southern History, 6.2 (1940), 247–59
  • ‘History Timeline’ (Town of Old Fort, North Carolina) <http://oldfort.org/Old Fort Timeline Master.xls> [accessed 28 August 2020]
  • Johnston, Joanne, ed., McDowell County Heritage, North Carolina (Nebo, N.C.: The McDowell County Heritage Book Committee, 1992)
  • Jones, Randell, Before They Were Heroes at King’s Mountain, North Carolina/Tennessee Edition (Winston-Salem, NC: Daniel Boone Footsteps, 2011)
  • ‘Marker: N-26’, North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program <http://www.ncmarkers.com/Markers.aspx?MarkerId=N-26> [accessed 28 August 2020]
  • McDonald, James, tran., ‘Pension Application of Richard Crabtree, W8642’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters, 1834 <http://revwarapps.org/w8642.pdf>
  • McDowell, Charles, ‘File No. 95, William Cathey, 1778, 1779 (Order from Charles McDowell, Entry Officer of Claims for Lands in the County of Burke)’, 1779, State Archives of North Carolina, Record No.
  • ‘Pension Application of Thomas Lytle’, Southern Campaigns American Revolution Pension Statements & Rosters <http://revwarapps.org/s8873.pdf> [accessed 21 April 2021]
  • Suther, Steve, ‘Cathey’s Fort’, NCpedia, 2006 <https://www.ncpedia.org/catheys-fort> [accessed 28 August 2020]

[1] Battle date according to one participant, Jonathan McPeters, in an affidavit attached to Graves 1833 (“Pension Application of John Carson”). AmRevNC is grateful to Michelle Mattingly, a descendant of Catawba battle participant Joseph Ford, for pointing us to the relevant pension applications.

[2] Three veterans reported helping to build a fort at Turkey Cove after Oct./Nov. 1779 (“Pension Application of Samuel Blair”) and in Spring 1780 (Philip Anthony, Arthur McFalls).

[3] “Pension Application of Jacob Grider.”

[4] “Pension Application of Arthur McFalls (McFauls).”

[5] A Cathey genealogy (Cathey 1993) says Gillespie lived at what was “the Brinkley place” in 1953. As of March 2023, the tracts on either side of the intersection of NC 226 and 266-A have been in Brinkley hands since 1940.

[6] Draper 1881.

[7] Draper.

[8] In addition to the other footnoted sources, information for this page comes from two guidebooks; NCpedia; the online essay for the relevant North Carolina Highway Marker; and related Sight pages (see “About Sources”).

[9] Most modern sources say the two names, Cathey’s and Wofford’s, applied to the fort here. W. F. Brown III (Undated [a]) says the confusion began with a local writer in the 1950s. She assumed Cathey’s Fort (or “Station”) was named for William Cathey and became Wofford’s Fort after Wofford bought the property. Many publications since, and a state historical marker, repeat the mistake. AmRevNC is grateful to Mr. Brown for bringing this to our attention. As his document points out, the pension application of Robert Burchfield states the fort was named for Captain George “Cathie,” and was “situated on the Hill on the shore of Catawba River.” He quotes a number of applications placing Cathey’s on the Catawba proper, and several saying it was near Pleasant Gardens. Meanwhile, five applications found by AmRevNC place Wofford’s on the North Fork and/or at Turkey Cove, and several soldiers mention serving at both forts. Brown (Undated [b]) quotes a Patriot veteran (Samuel Hillis) stating that Cathey’s was about two miles downstream (east) of Buck Creek, which joins the Catawba at Pleasant Gardens.

[10] “History Timeline.”

[11] Hamilton 1940.

[12] “Pension Application of George Cathie.”

[13] “Pension Statement of Thomas Lytle.”

[14] Allaire 1968.

[15] The monument is inaccessible on private property and covered by foilage most of the year. Though its plaque was stolen and the monument was not engraved, it is identified on the NCpedia (2006) page as being for Cathey’s Fort. (AmRevNC is grateful to the property owner, Coats America, for providing access to the site.)

[16] McDowell 1779.

Gillespie Gap | Overmountain Tour | Quaker Meadows