DR. MCLEAN’S KINGS MOUNTAIN MEMORIAL ADDRESS Transcribed by Barbara Kurz
(This document was transcribed by Barbara Kurz from a typewritten copy that she inherited from her grandfather, probably from a local newspaper article. Some portions of the original manuscript were missing. Dr. William McLean was responsible for placing the first monument at the Kings Mountain battleground which honored the patriots killed in the battle. The inscription on the monument was engraved by Henry Houser of York District.—MCS) The following address was delivered July 4, 1814, at the King’s Mountain Battle Ground by Dr. William McLean of Gaston (then Lincoln) County, N.C., in celebration of the erection of the first monument to the heroes who fell in the Battle, October 7, 1780.
The manuscript from which this address is printed is the property of Col. J. A. McLean, of this place. Dr. William McLean, the author of the address was Col. McLean’s grandfather. Dr. McLean was from that portion of Lincoln County which has since been cut off to form Gaston County. The address is a valuable historical document and it is to be regretted that we only have fragments of it.
Fellow Citizens—we have assembled to pay a debt of gratitude which we owe to the memory of our fellow citizens who fell in battle contending for that independence which we now enjoy. Thirty-four years have nearly rolled away since these heroes sacrificed their lives at this place to procure for their surviving friends the blessings of civil and religious liberty. This tribute of respect, my brethren, has through negligence of us, their survivors, long been withholden. Their companions in arms are fading away, and ere long will all be removed from the stage of action. At this memorable period I was numbered with the class of youth and now the lapse of years has covered my head with gray hairs and the current of time has furrowed my cheeks, teaching me that the hour is near when I with my class will no more be numbered with the living. Our venerable fathers whose wisdom and valor led to and obtained the proud victory on this mountain are chiefly gone to the place appointed for all living, and we shall see their faces no more. Let us not murmur, my brethren, that our lot of humanity is not removed from the common vicissitudes and general laws of nature. We know that there is nothing permanent beneath the sun. The vegetables and the animals, the rational and irrational part of creation are but for a season, and perhaps that magnificent orb that now sheds its glories around us may at length sink into darkness and no more awaken with its cheerful beams the sprightly voice of the morning. Let us all prepare ourselves to bow with submission to the mandates of Heaven whensoever the order may issue for the change to take place.
Although we are late in erecting this humble monument, yet the erection of it now is a proof that we have not forgotten them and that in the enjoyments of those blessings which were in part procured by their sufferings we find our hearts filled with gratitude and bound to do something which may perpetuate the memory of our benefactors. Let us, my brethren, turn back and take in a view of some of the acts of Divine Providence which led to and some of the scenes of the bloody tragedy in which we were engaged when these, our countrymen, breathed their last in the important conflict on this mountain.
The history of our country is full of instruction. In it are lessons to teach us how to guard against those evils which have assailed us and to preserve those blessings which we do enjoy. The first operation of divine providence towards our country we find in the mind of Christopher Columbus. An idea like a ray of inspiration took possession of his mind and taught him to believe that important purposes might be obtained by navigating the Western Ocean. This idea although predicated in some measure upon error was supported by divine power increased under every embarrassing circumstance which could be imposed upon it until at length it became completely subservient to the divine purpose. It served to draw forth this enormous continent from the dark abyss in which it had eternally lain into the view of an astonished world.
If time would admit we might take notice of various instruments chosen by heaven to effect the great designs of an eternal providence connected with this country and pursue the legends of the important drama through the frowns of adversity and the smiles of fortune. These agents each of them impelled by the natural impulses of their own mind, some attracted by the love of fame, some stimulated by the spirit of enterprise, others by the avidity of gain, others forced by conscientious motives to seek an asylum where they sought to worship the God of Heaven and earth according to the dictates of their own consciences. This divine wisdom and power is very conspicuous in overruling the various acts springing from these various motives and disposing of the jarring materials to harmonize and lay the foundation of another empire upon earth.
Little did Bishop Laud think, in the reign of Charles I, that when he was indulging in the infernal spirit of persecution which reigned in his breast, and driving many families from their own peaceful and plentiful abodes, forcing them to become the homeless children of want, of toils and of danger in this then fruitful wilderness, that the justice of God would at length avenge his diabolic machinations on his own head and his destructive schemes be converted by divine wisdom into means of establishing in the human mind those important truths, that the opinions of no set of men nor the opinions of no set of professors are the infallible criteria of truth, that divine benevolence extends to the human race and that God is the universal Father of mankind. No matter from what clime he is sprung, no matter whether an Indian or an African sun has em-browned him, no matter whether he is the polished son of polished Europe, or the tawny child of the American wilderness, he is the child of the Universal parent and entitled to all those gifts which the parent of the Universe has thought fit to bestow upon him. Here we see that the intolerant spirit of the clergy served not only to develop and more permanently establish these important truths, but it compelled many to seek from conscientious motives an asylum where they might worship God of Heaven and earth according to the dictates of their own consciences.
No sooner was the discovery of the Western Hemisphere made than it awakened in the statesmen of different countries the wicked spirit of ambition which incessantly prosecuted its project. Little did the statesmen of those days think when they were forging chains and riveting them on their fellowmen, that the rankling of those fetters would in time awaken the spirit of freedom, which would burst the shackles imposed upon it—swell again to her native dignity and walk abroad in majesty through the wilderness of America with a cap of glory on her head. Thus we see the love of fame, the spirit of enterprise, wicked ambition and the spirit of persecution all in operation and all made subservient to great design. The wisdom of providence so governed and disposed of the acts sprung from those various motives, as to make them cooperate, contrary to the intention of the agents, in laying the foundation of this empire, made them cooperate in preparing a soil, in which liberty, civil and religious, would be implanted, when, if carefully nourished they would flourish and bring forth fruit to the healing of the nations.
God had decreed our Empire in the West and as time rolled on it made every preparation for the accomplishment of it in due season. We see this empire commence and multitudes flock to its seat in quest of that civil and religious liberty which their ungrateful, though native country, had denied them. We see them flying from those wicked systems of religion which were entwined with political institutions, which infringed the imprescriptible [sic] rights of man and which were galling and oppressive. They fled to a land where they should no longer be persecuted for their thoughts or punished capitally for their opinions. They betook themselves to this world unknown – to these regions unexplored, to establish their worship where the God of nature had only been proclaimed from his works but where the Lord Jehovah had never been adored. Here they fixed their habitations and here they erected their temples. Here the rugged and uncultivated forests bowed to the industry of their new proprietors making room for their comfortable habitations.
The ferocious beasts of the desert retired and gave way to the useful and domestic animals. Briers and thorns resigned their ancient territory to golden harvests and the rich pursuits of husbandry. Towns began to spring upon our sea coast, ships to fill our bays and harbors, and the new world, like the old, to resign its empire to the superior powers of scientific men.
But the sun of prosperity was soon overcast by clouds of adversity, which brought restless days and sleepless nights to our progenitors. A conflict took place between them and the natives of the soil which caused the blood of thousand..?., their rights as free men to obtain it. They now became fully determined and relinquished these, ever committing their cause and country to the justice of that Being who doeth no wrong, by whom the cries of the injured innocence is always heard and who never refuses justice and mercy to the humble supplicant. From henceforth the sun of Independence began to shine upon these United States. In this year our enemies were almost everywhere victorious and clouds of despair hung over our country. It was now the spirit of liberty viewed with uprising concern the disastrous events, the portentous storm that was overwhelming her country. She saw her favorite plains stained with blood of her children. She saw the ranks of her defenders thin. She saw pale disease and mortifying wounds devouring them. She saw her enemies numerous, proud and victorious. She saw the pecuniary means of her children small, their armies naked and hungry, their resources scanty and hard to be obtained.
It is impossible, I think, for any man to turn his attention back to this interesting period without feeling a sympathizing concern. The purple triumph of war rolling on like an impetuous flood, the altar of slavery prepared, the chains ready to bind the victims, a priest of the synagogue of Satan ready to perform the rites and the dire God who in ages past had received the scarified freedom of Greece and Rome stood ready to receive the offering of our infant Republic. It was not that a plentiful effusion of that heaven born spirit which prompts to deeds of valor and never dying fame poured into every heart a stream which invigorated every soul. Here was the birth of the spirit of ’76 which inspired with invincible energy wherever it flew.
Behold the people now, inspired in almost miraculous manner with one spirit – the public good, the freedom of their county their only object. Justice marching before them, bravery perched upon their standards, heroism swelling their bosoms, and liberty following after. Behold them now bursting the chains of tyranny and trampling in the dust the altar and the God of Slavery. Behold them on the plains of Saratoga while prudence marked their steps, courage overleaped every difficulty. It would be tedious and time will not at present permit me to note the various achievements of the spirit of ’76 which sometimes every scheme that ingenuity could invent was laid to entrap the Americans and bring them under the British yoke. But the sons of freedom in whose bosoms the genius of liberty dwelt were too …?.. to be outwitted, too brave to be frightened and too firm to be waned into a relinquishment of their rights.
It now becoming evident that we must have recourse to arms, preparations were made for the great alternative. Everything began to assume the appearance of approaching hostility. Resolutions were entered into by the different colonies to support each other at the risk of their lives and fortunes. A General Congress was formed consisting of deputies from each of the colonies. This met on the 26th of October, 1774 in the City of Philadelphia with a view to obtain redress of grievances, or if this could not be had, to effect a general and uniform plan of conduct the better to secure American Liberty. The proceedings of this Congress were cool and deliberate. Their language breathed the spirit of loyalty. That their ideas and intentions might not be mistaken, they published a bill of rights in which they affirm that the people of these colonies owe the same allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain that those who were born within the realm and that they were entitled to all the inherent rights and liberties of natural born subjects. In the first of these are life, liberty and property, a right to the disposal of any of which they never have and they never will cede to any extrinsic sovereignty upon earth.
They also affirmed that when life, liberty and property were concerned it was essential to and inseparable from a state of freedom that a people who are governed should have a voice personally or by their representatives in enacting the laws by which they are to be governed. That the legal power of taxation grows out of representation and that it was unsafe to entrust this power to any body of men where the colonies were not represented.
They also declared that it was an inherent right in a free people to assemble peaceably, consider their grievances and petition government for redress, and that all prosecutions, proclamations or prohibitory processes were illegal. That when a free people petitioned for redress of grievances they had a right to a candid hearing and redress as far as circumstances would admit.
These articles they claim as their indisputable rights, which could not be taken away or abridged without their own consent or that of their representatives. They then proceeded to consider of several acts of parliament which had passed infringing upon their rights and declared them inconsistent with the rights and of free men, contrary to the charter of the colonies and not to be acceded to. While congress was thus exhibiting to the world their claim to the natural rights of man, they were also providing munitions of war. Concord in Massachusetts was made a place of deposit for military stores. On the 18th of April, 1775, General Gage formed an expedition to take the military stores or destroy them by surprise. This he effected and on the return of the troops via Lexington on the 19th, the first blood was spilt in that war which severed America from the British Empire. The voice of brother’s blood called aloud for vengeance. The American soil exhibited the stain and the American spirit was awakened to vengeance. The patriotism of America was now aroused and animated. Firmness and resolution marked every measure. Now it was that the glorious constellation of the thirteen states began to form which has since shone with so much brilliancy upon the Ocean.
Now it was that the ensigns of war were unfurled and at the voice of a brother’s blood calling from the ground, we mounted the tempest of war and for seven years rode on the storm. In a short time troops were collected from all quarters, and General Gage was besieged in Boston with twenty thousand men. About this time large reinforcements arrived from Britain under Howe, Burgoyne, and Clinton. On the 15th of June Gen’l Washington was appointed commander and chief of the American forces, who by his consummate skill, his dauntless fortitude, his cool prudence and unwearied perseverance, conducted this country through indescribable difficulties.
On the 4th of July, 1776, Congress published the memorable Declaration of Independence which we this day commemorate. On this day 38 years ago they declared that we must submit to and acquiesce in the necessity which denounces our separation from Great Britain and that in the future we must consider them as we do the rest of mankind—enemies in war—friends in peace. And we, therefore, the representatives of America in general congress assembled appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions:
“Do in the name and by the authority of the Colonies, solemnly publish and declare that these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states. That they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain is and ought to be totally dissolved and that as free and independent states they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other over lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”
This speech in the history of our country marks the 284 year after its discovery by Columbus and the 186th after the first effectual settlements by the English in Virginia. Hitherto our country had acted with a view toward reconciliation and had done everything in their power consistent with ? ………………………………
Thus ends the manuscript. The concluding pages are missing; it is not known where they are, but it is thought that some of the descendants of Dr. McLean may have these pages laid away.
(Copied by John D. B. McLean, Gastonia, NC, Sept. 1, 1892.)
(Information courtesy of and from: YCGHS – The Quarterly Magazine – March 2011)
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