Signal Fires

Signal Beacons of Gandor used in NC mountains during the revolution?


Local folklore in and around Wilkes and Caldwell Counties in NC reveal the story of Martin Gambill. His 100-mile journey to warn the Patriots of the British invasion into the mountains is the stuff of Legends.  The story goes that the watch fires that had been placed upon the top of the mountains as an early warning system did not reach into the Watauga area where a good portion of the Liberty men resided.  Thus he volunteered to ride with the news. (1)(2)

Historical record of watch fires in the North Carolina theater of operations is spotty at best.  It will take longer to research than this author has available as of this writing.  We find evidence of similar watch fires used in the northern theaters of operation as Washington ordered them placed in the Hudson Hills in New York and the Watchung Mountains of New Jersey.  The latter of these was memorialized in a Baron Dekalb report.

In the Watchung Mountains these fires of freedom had three main purposes: “to call out the militia, to indicate the approach direction of the British and to direct the subsequent movements of the militia.” There were also instructions on their construction and placements.  Twenty-three signal pyres were constructed in the New Jersey mountainsides and manned by close to two dozen soldiers each. (3)


Later, DeKalb fought and died at the Battle of Camden, SC in the Southern Theater of Operations months before Kings Mountain. General Gates, his commanding officer at Camden, was still around Hillsborough, NC and recognized by the Patriots there as having Continental authority.  It is not a hard leap to suspect that there is some truth to the legend of these watch-fires, even if they did not look quite as stately as the fictitious Gandor beacons.

Though the record is thin on these watch fires being a part of the Southern Continental strategy, it certainly causes this author to want to dig deeper. It is not hard to fathom signal fires on the top of Table Rock, Grandmother and Grandfather Mountains and the smaller precipices further down Highway 64, or even into the Pisgah National Forest. It harkens back to the warning fires of the Peel towers in Scottish castles. (4) 


And these Patriots were most definitely of the Scots Irish heritage.

Freedom Reigns!





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