" Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year"
Those lines are from the first stanza of a very famous poem by Longfellow about a very famous ride to warn the American colonists of the arrival of the Tories or British during the Revolutionary War.
I know most of you have probably heard about enough from me about the Rev. War days and our Osborne kin but this story may stick with you for a while and you may find yourself telling a child or grandchild about how one of your ancestors was involved in an even more eventful ride to warn the colonists of approaching British. This story can be found by using a search engine such as Google and typing in the name “Martin Gambill”. I will tell the story here. A little background first. Remember Ephraim Osborne Jr. is my generation’s 4th greatgrandfather.
Martin Gambill will forever be remembered by the southern frontier of Southwest Virginia, western North Carolina and what would become eastern Tennessee as a man who rode farther than Revere, 100 miles in a 24 hour span, to warn settlers and gather the Virginia militias together with ones from North Carolina and what was called the Overmountain settlements to march against the mighty British army, the strongest in the world at the time, resulting in a famous victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain in South Carolina.
In 1780 our country was still at war to win our freedom though we had declared ourselves a free nation. Saying we were a free and sovereign nation in 1776 was easy but winning our freedom from the mother country was not that easy. The war went on for years. Our forefathers thought they were immune to the colonists’ problems with the British but that was not the case.
Since there were no roads in the areas we are concerned with and communications were solely dependent on word of mouth or delivered written messages, it was planned that when the British were spotted coming our direction, signal fires were to be lit on the highest mountains to show the leaders that attack was nearing. The fires obviously could not be seen in some areas so a meeting was held by Isaac Shelby, John Sevier (remember them from previous newsletters? Shelby later became KY‘s first Governor and Sevier was Tennessee’s) and others to organize the militias since George Washington’s Continental Army was fighting closer to the east coast. Scouts told the approximate size of the army of approaching Brits and it was decided the frontiersmen had no chance unless they had the militias of SW Virginia to aid their count of men.
Here is the second stanza of that Paul Revere poem. Notice they were warned by a lantern light.
He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,-
- One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm." -
A volunteer was needed at the meeting to go up into Virginia toSeven Mile Ford near Abingdon to ask William Campbell to get the Southwest Virginians’ help. There was no time to waste. Colonel Ferguson of the British army had sent word that they would cross the mountains and lay waste by fire to all that the colonists held dear and would kill all their leaders. Martin Gambill attended this meeting and volunteered for the ride to near Abingdon. The exact route of his ride is not completely clear but we know that he left from Sevier’s home between Boone and Deep Gap, North Carolina in the evening of September 18, 1780. Most roads of the period and area followed streams, so a good guess can be made of the route plus some facts still exist of where he went.
It is believed he traveled near the present US Hwy 221 and crossed the south fork of New River and on past his own home. This is in present Ashe County, North Carolina. Our Ephraim Osborne Jr. was a neighbor of his. The area was just across the New River near the Osborne Fort area I have mentioned a few times in the past. Ashe County, North Carolina adjoins that part of Virginia. He traveled on until he came out near the head of Potato Creek, just off New River, and that area was part of a large expanse of land owned by Osbornes. This was in the morning and Enoch Osborne (our Ephraim Jr’s brother) had just hitched up his plow horses to work. As Gambill came out of the New River his horse fell dead, possibly from exhaustion and the cold water of New River.
He explained to Enoch, who was captain of that area’s militia about his mission and Enoch sent him in to his house to have a bite of food while he unhitched the plow horse and put Gambill’s saddle on it. The ride was continued. Some stories tell that he lost that horse just before arriving at his destination near Seven Mile Ford and someone loaned him another.
Gambill arrived at Seven Mile Ford near Abingdon and told William Campbell who contacted his cousin Colonel Arthur Campbell and all the militias were told they would be sending men. Some of the men from Osborne’s Fort went but none were our kin that I can find.
They all joined at agreed upon meeting places and made it to King’s Mountain in South Carolina after lots of marching. We kicked the Brits’ butts and killed the arrogant Colonel Ferguson. They had never faced the backwoods way of fighting. We would run up, shoot, and then retreat down the hill behind trees to reload. Different companies of our men surrounded the hill which was shaped like a shoe on top and charged it at different times so they had no clue where to fight. The British suffered 290 killed and 163 wounded and 668 taken prisoners. The good guys had 29 killed and 58 wounded.
There is a play about the ride that was written by a descendant of Martin Gambill’s. There are no horses in the play but it does mention Enoch Osborne and his horse and it mentions Ephraim Osborne as being a neighbor of Martin Gambill. Ephraim is an important character in the play but cannot be proven in records that he participated as much as the play showed. Sometimes liberties are taken to make these things more interesting. The play was filmed at the Ashe County Little Theatre and is available through the Ashe County (North Carolina) Museum of History. I have one. If you are interested here is the email address : email@example.com The play shows our Ephraim Osborne prominently as a neighbor of Gambill’s. It portrays him as a short beardy fellow and very funny. It also shows him as going to the meeting with Shelby and Sevier and going to fight at King’s Mountain. I have never found that in any research but the records of all who fought there are incomplete, so it is possible. If this is a fact then our forefather was a witness to history. At the end of the play all actors are brought out and when the one who played our Ephraim was introduced the man told about Ephraim having been alive thru the French & Indian War, the Rev. War, the War of 1812, The Seminole Wars, the Mexican War and the Civil War and that he lived to be 112. In fact he died before the Civil War and was 100. He was born Sept. 14, 1752 and died Nov. 12, 1852. My personal opinion is that Ephraim did not attend the called militia meeting with Sevier, Shelby , Lenoir, Gambill and others because he was not a militia leader. His brother Enoch was. I do not know if he fought at Kings Mountain although it is thought several of the men from Enoch Osborne’s militia did fight there while others stayed around close by to protect the home front.
I never liked history much growing up but when we have kin involved it makes it so much more interesting. See if your children or grandchildren listen when you tell them this piece of history. Better, invest the few dollars in the dvd. It will be around a long time. After familiarizing oneself with the names I mentioned above, one can understand it all fully.
About the Battle of Kings Mountain: Thomas Jefferson said it was the turn of tide of success. Over 100 yrs. later Teddy Roosevelt felt it was a major turning point of the American Revolution.
Here is a funny side story pertaining to this ride. Both my brother Bill and I have a mutual friend that we were in the Jaycees with over 30 some years ago. He always said Bill & I were the funniest guys he had ever been around. His name is Jim Gambill. He owns a realty company in Paintsville, KY and I sent him an email asking if he ever heard of Martin Gambill. He said he was a fourth grandnephew or something like that of Martin and told me about the ride, so I know he was probably telling the truth.
I told Jim that since Enoch was a brother to our fourth greatgrandfather Ephraim Osborne Jr and Martin had borrowed the plowhorse which was possibly worth $20 in 1770 and had never returned it, the best Bill & I could figure was that we probably have a nice, new John Deere tractor loaded with accessories due us by now since the value of a dollar has gone up over that many years. Plus the money for the breakfast that Martin ate. Plus the hernia that Uncle Enoch received from lifting the dead horse enough to remove the saddle to put onto the plow horse. Not to mention that, since he had spent 30 minutes in Enoch’s home with Enoch’s wife without Enoch in there and we had heard that nine months later a boy was born to Enoch that looked like a Gambill, we probably would need a big check to go along with the tractor. Jim said a check was in the mail. I think he may have thought we were kidding.
For further good reading about others who rode and gave alarm in this war there were William Dawes, who rode at the same time and place as Revere, as did Dr. Samuel Prescott. Prescott’s two brothers also warned some nearby towns in Massachusetts. And there was Israel Bissell who rode 345 miles in four days and six hours from Watertown, Massachusetts to Philadelphia and also rode a horse to death. He was a postman at the time and did it as part of his job & collected expenses for it. They can be found on the internet.
There was no poem by a famous poet such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about Martin Gambill’s ride but it was certainly a pivotal moment in our country’s history and our forefathers were part of it.
area. Doug Kretzer