Captain James Fulkerson
  An Overmountain Citizen

Ancestors

Line of Descent:

Dirck VOLCKERTSZEN and Christine VIGNE
Volkert DIRCKS and Annetje PHILIPS
Dirck VOLKERTSON and Maria DE WITT
Volkert VOLKERTSON and Dinah VAN LIEUW
Jacobus VOLKERTSON (Capt. James Fulkerson)
Captain James Fulkerson was reportedly baptized as Jacobus VOLKERTSON on 22 Jun 1737 at either the Raritan or Readington Dutch Reformed Church in Somerset Co., NJ. However, the documentation of those facts is unclear. His family Bible showed his birthday as 22 Jun 1737, so it is likely he was baptized later. His father was Volkert Volkerse (also known by the patronymic Vokert Derrickson), born in Bushwick in 1692. His mother was Dinah Van Lieuw, born in Brooklyn on December 9, 1694, daughter of Frederick Hendrickson Van Lieuw and Dinah Jans. [Note: it's possible to find about 7 other ways to spell Van Lieuw]

James' oldest brother, Richard [Dirck], was at least 18 by the time James was born. His younger brother Abraham, baptized at the Readington Dutch Reformed Church on May 18, 1740, almost always lived near James and was the founder of one of the Missouri branches of the Fulkerson family.



North Carolina

James' father Volkert died somewhere around the Virginia-North Carolina border while moving his family southward, sometime around 1752. The family continued on to Rowan County, North Carolina and acquired property. The earliest deed, to James' older brother Frederick, was dated February 14, 1753. James went on to Surry County to start his own farm. Not long afterward, his eldest brother Richard (Dirck) was killed by Indians, leaving a widow and two boys and two girls. James reportedly sold or traded some of his property to help his sister-in-law and her children.

On March 6, 1762, James received a grant (from Lord Granville) for 261 acres on the "watery branch of the North Hyco River" (now in Caswell Co., NC). Two months later he received another "Granville grant" for 609 acres along Crooked Creek, near the North Carolina-Virginia state line.

James married Mary Van Hook near the present town of Semora, North Carolina on January 18, 1764, at the relatively late age of 27. During the next five years they had four children, Peter, Dinah, Jacob and Hannah. Hannah became the wife of Benjamin Sharp, featured later in this account. Peter was a colonel in the War of 1812. And Jacob was killed by Indians in April of 1791. Click here to see the Descendants of Captain James Fulkerson, one of the major Fulkerson branches on this site.

James bought more land in the summer of 1764 from an Andrew Ferguson, 290 acres on Stuart's Creek. [James' niece Sarah, daughter of his brother Richard, married a John Stuart.] He subsequently sold all of his other property, 408 acres on Crooked Creek to brother Abraham, and the rest of that plus his Hyco River land to his nephew Abram, the son of his deceased brother Richard. In 1767 he bought an additional 400 acres, from the "head drafts" of Stuart's Creek "beginning at a chestnut tree...then each way down the mountain for quantity."



Virginia

About 1770-1771, James and Mary moved to southwest Virginia and settled on Cove Creek, about two miles east of the Holston River, in what is now Scott County. [This location is just west of the intersection of U.S. 58 and Highway 615.] His brother Abraham, who married Jane Gibson in 1766 and already had at least two children, moved his family nearby. This would be their home for the next few years, and the surrounding land would remain in the family for many years later. James and Mary had one more son, James, in September 1771.

One of the many events leading toward American independence took place at this time and appears to be associated with James' decision to move to the Holston River area. Many North Carolina residents had engaged in a popular uprising against excessive taxes, known as the "Regulator Insurrection." It coincided with other events of the time, including the Stamp Act rebellion and the Boston Tea Party. When this movement was finally put down by the British in 1771, hundreds of North Carolina colonists moved north into the region that is now southwest Virginia and southeast Tennessee. On arrival these settlers negotiated a ten-year lease with the Cherokees for the land they occupied, and in 1772 drew up a compact of government called the "Watauga Association," mutually binding themselves to observe their own set of laws. A general committee of 13 was elected to fulfill legislative duties, and among themselves chose five members to perform executive and judicial functions. While they did not make a statement as dramatic or well-known as the Declaration of Independence, they had certainly ceased to recognize British authority.

A local historical account tells this a little differently, but perhaps just from a different perspective:

"In 1770, Peter Livingston became the first settler in the Hiltons area when he established a farm on the North Fork of the Holston River at the mouth of Livingston Creek, about nine miles northeast of present-day Hiltons. With the arrival two years later of Abraham and James Fulkerson, who settled nearby at Dowell Gap, the first permanent settlement was begun."

In 1773 James and Mary moved an hour's ride away and built their final house near present day Burson's Corner in
Bursons Corner Today
Photo courtesy of Stewart Dunaway
Wahington County. They had seven more children between 1775 and 1791: John, Isaac, Frederick, Mary, Catherine, Thomas and Abram. Isaac moved west to Kentucky and then to Missouri with Daniel Boone in 1814. He built his home there with the aid of Boone Hays, Daniel's grandson [b. 1783]. Abram married Margaret Laughlin Vance, daughter of Samuel Vance. Among his sons were Colonel Samuel Vance Fulkerson and Colonel Abram Fulkerson. Several of their children, including Abram, later lived in their own houses on the extended family farm.


In 1774 the court ordered a Benjamin Logan to cut a road from James Fulkerson's place to the wagon road at George Black's. Black's fort was about twelve miles to the northeast in a settlement called Wolf Hills (so named by Daniel Boone when he was bothered by wolves living in a nearby cave). That settlement is now the city of Abingdon.

Three years later, the court ordered a study of a road from George Black's and past James Fulkerson's land to the forks in the path leading to Kentucky and the mouth of Reedy Creek . Late in 1777 the court authorized James to build the road. This road extended about twenty five miles southwest of his place to the community of Long Island [just east of where Highway 181 crosses the Holston River in modern-day Kingport, Tennessee. This "Reedy Creek Road" was the forerunner of part of modern-day US 11.]



Lieutenant, Captain, Commissioner, Justice

After Independence was declared, James was recommended to the Governor of Virginia as a "fit and proper person" to be Lieutenant of the Washington County Militia. By 1779 he continued to be given increased responsibilities in the county, as he was recommended to the governor as Captain of Militia of Washington County.

In late 1777 James served on a grand jury. In March of 1780 he was recommended to "his excellency the governor" [Thomas Jefferson] to be added to the Commission of the Peace of Washington County. An executive order came back from Jefferson, making him Justice of the Peace and also appointing him "Justice of the Oyer and Terminor' (criminal court) for Washington County, a position he held for the next four years.

From Annals of Southwest Virginia 1769-1800 [Lewis Preston Summers Abingdon, VA: Summers, 1929] in the Washington County sections of Court Records:

August 17, 1780: Ordered that Aaron VanHook be surveyor of the road from Donaldson's to the mouth of Wolf Creek in the room of Capt. Kinkhead and that John Kinkhead give him a list of the tithables. May 15, 1781 (James Fulkison present) p. 1078: Ordered that the Rev. Timothy Burgess a regular ordained Baptist minister as certified by William Smith, John Wills, William Lee, Aaron VanHook and C. have license to solemnize the Rights of Matrimony in Washington County according to Law.



The Battle of King's Mountain

The American Revolution had not affected their remote area until now, but in the summer of 1780 the British had overrun much of the Southern states and were moving northward.
Photos above courtesy of Marian Jackson
The 43-year-old James joined with hundreds of other neighbors, including his brother, Abram, son-in-law, Benjamin Sharp and Samuel Vance, a future in-law, assembled in a field south of Abingdon (see pictures at right). These "Overmountain Men" trekked to Elizabethton, North Carolina [now in Tennessee] where they rendezvoused with similar groups from the American backwoods. Then this volunteer army moved on into South Carolina, to seek out the British invaders, who were spearheaded by a company of Scots with faster-firing, breachloading rifles. An account of the campaign was published by his son-in-law Benjamin Sharp:


"As well as I can remember, some time in August, in the year 1780, Col. McDowel of N. Carolina, with three or four hundred men, fled over the mountains to the settlements of Holstein and Watauga, to evade the pursuit of a British officer by the name of Ferguson, who had the command of a large detachment of British and Tories. Our militia speedily embodied, all mounted on horses, the Virginians under the command of colonel William Campbell, and the two western counties of North Carolina (now Tennessee) under the colonels Isaac Shelby and John Sevier, and as soon as they joined McDowel, he recrossed the mountains and formed a junction with Colonel Cleveland, with a fine regiment of North Carolina militia. We wore now fifteen or eighteen hundred strong , and considered ourselves equal in number, or at least a match for the enemy, and eager to bring them to Battle; but colonel McDowel, who had the command, appeared to think otherwise, for although Ferguson had retreated on our crossing of the mountains, he kept us marching and counter-marching for eight days without advancing a step towards our object. At 1ength a council of the field-officers was convened, and it was said in camp, how true I win not pretend to say, that he refused in council to proceed without a general officer to command the army, and to get rid of him, the council deputed him to general Green, at headquarters, to procure a general. Be this as it may, as soon as the council rose colonel McDowel left the camp and we saw no more of him during the expedition.

As soon as he was fairly gone the council reassembled and appointed colonel William Campbell our commander, and within one hour we were on our horses and in full pursuit of the enemy. The British still continued to retreat, and after hard marching for some time, we found progress much retarded by our footmen and weak horses that were not able to sustain the heavy duty. It was then resolved to leave the foot and weak horses under the command of captain William Neil, of Virginia, with instructions to follow as fast as his detachment could bear. Thus disencumbered we gained fast upon the enemy. I think on the seventh day of October, in the afternoon, we halted at a place called the Cow Pens, in South Carolina, fed our horses and ate a hearty meal of such provisions as we had procured, and by dark mounted our horses, marched all night and crossed the Broad River by the dawn of the day, and although it rained considerably in the morning, we never halted to refresh ourselves or our horses. About twelve o'clock it cleared off with a fine cool breeze. We were joined that day by Colonel Williams, of South Carolina, with several hundred men who informed us that they were just from the British camp, that they were posted on the top of King's Mountain, and that there was a picket-guard on the road not far ahead of us. These men were detained least they should find means to tell the enemy of our approach, and Colonel Shelby, with a select party undertook to surprise and take the picket; this he accomplished without firing a gun or giving the least alarm, and it was hailed by the army as a good omen.

We then moved on and as we approached the mountain the roll of the British drum informed us that we had something to do. No doubt the British commander thought his position was a strong one, but the plan of our attack was such as to make it the worst for him he could have chosen. The end of the mountain to our left descended gradually to a branch; in front of us the ascent was rather abrupt and to the right was a low gap through which the low road passed. The different regiments were directed by guides to the ground they were to occupy, so as to surround the eminence on which the British were encamped; Campbell's to the right, along the road; Shelby's next to the left of him; Sevier's next, and so on till last the left of Cleveland's to join the right of Campbell's, on the other side of the mountain at the road.

Thus the British major found himself attacked on all sides at once, and so situated as to receive a galling fire from all parts of our lines without doing any injury to ourselves. From this difficulty he attempted to relieve himself at the point of the bayonet, but failed in three successive charges. Cleveland, who had the farthest to go, being bothered in some swampy ground, did not occupy his position in the line until late in the engagement. A few men, drawn from the right of Campbell's regiment, occupied this vacancy; this the British commander discovered, and here he made his last powerful effort to force his way through and make his escape; but at that instant Cleveland's regiment came up in gallant style; the colonel, himself, came up by the very spot I occupied, at which time his horse had received two wounds, and he was obliged to dismount. Although fat and unwieldy, be advanced on foot with signal bravery, but was soon remounted by one of his officers, who brought him another horse. This threw the British and Tories into complete disorder, and Ferguson seeing that all was lost, determined not to survive the disgrace; he broke his sword, and spurred his horse into the thickest of our ranks, and fell covered with wounds, and shortly after his whole army surrendered with discretion. The action lasted about one hour, and for most of the time was thick and bloody.

I cannot clearly recollect the statement of our loss, given at the time, but my impression now is that it was two hundred twenty five killed, and about as many, or a few more, wounded; the loss of the enemy must have been much greater. The return of the prisoners taken was eleven hundred and thirty three, about fifteen hundred stand of arms, several baggage wagons, and all their camp equipage fell into our hands. The battle closed not far from sundown, so that we had to encamp on the ground with the dead and wounded, and pass the night among groans and lamentations."

Thomas Jefferson commented on the battle, "I will remember the deep and grateful impression made on the minds of everyone by that memorable victory. It was the joyful enunciation of that turn in the tide of success which terminated the Revolutionary War with the Seal of Independence."

Jefferson's comment was not idle. It truly was the turning point. Before King's Mountain, troops in the north had experienced few victories and many retreats, and had been continually losing heart and deserting since 1776. Major Ferguson threatened the Overmountain communities with burning and looting their homes if they didn't declare allegiance to Britain. The presence of British troops in the South had also encouraged Loyalist Tories and some Indians to engage in guerrilla activities and other forms of terrorism against the Carolina and Virginia patriot communities. These Overmountain people, who in 1772 had formed the first independent civil government in the U.S. (the Wautaga Association, above) were not mild-mannered. Instead of preparing defenses for their communities, they headed across the mountains after Ferguson, chasing him to King's Mountain. American historian Bancroft described it this way:"The victory at King's Mountain changed the whole aspect of the War. The Tories no longer dared to rise. It fired the Patriots of the two Carolinas with fresh zeal. It encouraged the fragments of the defeated and scattered American army to seek each other and organize anew."

King's Mountain was one of the few battles the Americans actually won during the Revolution. One year later, in October 1781, the American army drove the British army into a hopeless position on a peninsula at Yorktown, Virginia, in a battle and seige that finally won America's independence from Britain.

After his return from the battle, James settled back into the business of being a farmer and landowner. Many other patriots in other communities might have reaped adulation, favor and political gains from their roles in such pivotal battles. In fact, James' role in the battle may have crucial...historians tell us that Colonel Campbell was sidelined by diarrhea during the assault on the mountain, and that James succeeded in leading the men under his command against waves of counter-attacking British soldiers who threatened the outcome of the battle. James and his neighbors knew what they'd accomplished. Had they come from a larger settlement or city their exploits might have been more deeply etched in America's memory, elevated to the same plane as Bunker Hill or Lexington and Concord -- all battles which we lost, by the way. James and his neighbors returned to their isolated Overmountain communities, not to exult in their fame but to live in the freedom which they'd helped to earn for themselves and their new nation.


LAND GRANTS


The archives of the University of Virginia Library provide us a number of documents about land grants and land titles in early Virginia, including the following for Captain James. The dates below generally correspond with the original date of the Virginia land office treasury warrant or title registration. You may click on each of the entries below to view the original document:

  In 1782 James was granted a license to build a mlll on his own spring branch in the gap in Walkers Mountain. The Washington County personal property tax list for that year showed him owning 22 horses, 44 head of cattle and seven slaves - Peg, Ellen, Bob, Sam, Zelph, Nanie and Jude.

He was still involved in the militia in 1782, or at least in supplying it, because in that fall he was paid 7 pounds and 17 shillings for sundry articles for the Powells Valley Station, which was an outpost located near the border with Kentucky. [NOTE: The records of George Rogers Clark include the name of James Fulkerson - did he also provide some supplies for the former's Ohio-Indiana-Illinois campaign during the Revolution?] In the meantime, James continued to serve as Judge of Washington County until 1784. In 1786 he was appointed bondsman for sheriff James Montgomery. In that same year, the first survey of Washington County showed him owning 190 acres on Little Moccasin Creek in the Gap of Copper Ridge, 400 acres on both sides of Abraham's Creek, and 450 acres in Caney Valley. James went on to become Sheriff of Washington County in 1789.



The Tomahawk

Captain James' son Jacob, 23 years old, was out in the brush and cane breaks in April 1791 with his brother-in-law Benjamin Sharp, looking for strayed horses and cattle. They became separated and Jacob ran into some Indians who killed him. Jacob's horse returned home riderless, with a tomahawk stuck under the saddle, which was taken to mean a warning to other settlers. Captain James kept the tomahawk and later gave it to his oldest son, Peter, asking him to hand it down through the family. Peter passed it on to his son, Frederick, and so it went, through succeeding generations. It was finally destroyed in a 1952 fire at the Missouri home of Frederick Debow Fulkerson III.. A replica was obtained and will continue to be passed down through the family. Another heirloom passed down through the family is Captain James' bible, which is currently at the Washington County Historical Society. In 1915 Kate P. Fulkerson and Katie Hurt copied the names and dates recorded therein on the front porch of the old Fulkerson-Hurt residence at Abingdon, VA. That list was copied in 1954 by Prentiss Price, and may be seen here.



The Cumberland Road

In 1775 Daniel Boone had blazed a path through Cumberland Gap to allow settler: to reach Kentucky. This path became known as part of the Wilderness Road. As more and more people used this trail, opinion developed that it would be a good idea to be able to get wagons back and forth to Kentucky. Therefore, in 1792 the Virginia Assembly passed the following act:

An act to facilitate the intercourse of the inhabitants of this Commonwealth with the State of Kentucky.

(Passed November 17, 1792)
 
Preamble Sect. 1. Whereas it is represented to the present General Assembly, that opening a waggon road from the blockhouse in the western extremity of Washington County, to the top of Cumberland Mountain, in the county of Russell [now Lee] being where the road from the state of Kentucky terminates, will be of great public utility in facilitating the intercourse from the extreme southwest parts of this state with our eastern brethren at the seaport towns, and as the same, on account to the length of the way and the many difficulties attending the opening thereof, cannot be cleared by the ordinary method prescribed for opening roads; and as this Assembly are at all times willing to contribute every encouragement to such designs as are represented to be of general utility, as far as is consistent with prudence and good economy.
 
Commisioners to view and mark a way for a road from the blockhouse in Washington to the top of Cumberland mountain. Their report to be made to the next Assembly. Sect. 2, Be it enacted, That William Tate, John Anderson, Charles Cox, Walter Preston, James Fulkerson, Thomas Berry, and Thomas Wallen, gentlemen be, and they are hereby appointed commisioners, to explore, view, and mark out the best and most eligible way for a waggon road, from the said block-house, in the county of Washington, to the top of Cumberland mountain, in the said county of Russell, and to report to the next General Assembly, their opinion, with respect to the practicability of said road, the distance between the said places, and also an estimate of the expence [sic] which would necessarily be incurred in opening a waggon road as aforesaid.



The Duc d'Orleans

In August 1797, the Fulkersons hosted the 24-year-old Louis Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, on their farm. His "Diary of Travels in America" describes his visit:

"We tarried in Abingdon to have two saddles repaired. I learned to my great surprise that the plot of land whereon we lodged, a half acre with four houses and stables, was worth 5,000 dollars. Abingdon boasts about 30 houses. The soil is rich and black. There are swamps that could be drained and would make fine meadows. We dined at Major Fulkinson's 12 miles from Abingdon. The countryside we passed through was one great forest with a few bogs and almost no houses. The major has a handsome property of 150 acres that he cleared himself. He has been settled there for 24 years. There is a copious spring near the house. He is 8 miles from the main branch of the Holston River. There is a shorter road that starts up at Captain Craig's. On a further 450 acres Fulkinson thinks he has a thousand sugar maples. This sugar is excellent. There are no others in this area, and they export very little. Everyone sees to his own supply. After dinner much forest again and few houses..."
Thirty-three years later, their guest became the King of France (1830-1848). It is said that he frequently asked American visitors to Paris, "Do they still sleep three to a bed in Tennessee?"



Postscript

Captain James died on September 6, 1798, at "five minutes after ten o'clock in the evening." He is buried on a small wooded knoll near Burson's corner, 300 yards south of the intersection of county roads 640 and 633, overlooking the spot where his home stood. About seven miles west of that point, on the location of the 260 acres he sold to his son James in 1797, the younger James' log house was still standing in 1994. The log homes of several other children
Graves of Captain James and Mary Fulkerson
Photo courtesy of Stewart Dunaway
were still seen on the farm well into the 20th century. James's youngest son, Abram, stayed on the farm after his marriage to Margaret Vance, taking care of Mary Van Hook Fulkerson until she died on 12 July 1830. They then moved to Grainger County, Tennessee, returning to the Abingdon area in 1851.


An inventory of Captain James' estate revealed, in part: