Over Mountain Men

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Over Mountain Men

OVER MOUNTAIN MEN. Although this term is loosely applied to other groups of American colonists beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains, it is more accurately restricted to those living in what later became Tennessee. Also known as back water men—"apparently," according to Sydney George Fisher, "because they lived beyond the sources of the eastern rivers, and on the waters which flowed into the Mississippi"—their principal settlements were along the Watauga, Nolachucky (later Nolichucky), and Holston Rivers (Struggle for American Independence, vol. 2, p. 350 n.). Principal leaders were John Sevier and Isaac Shelby. Although they are often referred to as "mountain men," Fisher points out that "very few people lived in the mountains at the time of the Revolution, and the Back Water men were merely North Carolinians, mostly of Scotch-Irish stock, who had crossed the mountains to enjoy the level and fertile lands of Tennessee, in the same way that the Virginians who followed Boone crossed the mountains into Kentucky" (ibid., vol. 2, p. 351 n.). Another misconception is that the Battle of Kings Mountain was won by the over mountain men; although their leaders, Shelby and Sevier, deserve credit for this levée en masse, their manpower contribution was only 480 out of the 1,800 or so who eventually arrived on the eve of the battle.

Aside from their part in the skirmishes leading up to this battle and in the battle itself, the over mountain men did little fighting. Sevier and Shelby showed up with some men after the Battle of Eutaw Springs (8 September 1781), but they faded back into the mountains when Greene asked them to reinforce Marion during the subsequent operations leading up to the advance on Dorchester, South Carolina, on 1 December 1781 (Ward, War of the Revolution, p. 838). William Campbell's Virginia mountain riflemen, who figured prominently at Kings Mountain and appeared in the final phases of Lafayette's maneuvering against Cornwallis in the Virginia military operations, were not over mountain men in the strict sense of the term.

SEE ALSO Kings Mountain, South Carolina; Virginia, Military Operations in.


Fisher, Sydney George. The Struggle for American Independence. 2 vols. Philadelphia and London: Lippincott, 1908.

Ward, Christopher. The War of the Revolution. Edited by John R. Alden. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1952.