2013-02-21 / Opinions

Search for Revolutionary War fort here recalls Wilkes families frontier history

By Kip Burke
news editor

There’s a very interesting archaeological exploration just winding up in Wilkes County – they’ve been looking for the site of a frontier fort where a small Revolutionary War battle took place just days before the battle at Kettle Creek.

Most folks don’t realize that, in 1779, Wilkes County was a heavily populated place on the wild frontier of America, and there were dozens of small forts across the area. They weren’t the big stone-walled fortresses you might think of. They were largely homesteads with tall wooden stake fences around the buildings, a place where the pioneer family and his neighbors could find protection from whoever wanted to do them harm.

My father’s family, the Colberts, were some of those pioneers, so I have a personal stake in this.

The Creeks and the Cherokees had just ceded the land to the state of Georgia a few years before, and not every member of those tribes had gotten the word. Some weren’t about to leave their ancestral land and made a living from raiding the homes of settlers.

There was also the problem of outlaws, driven from the more settled parts of the South, who also wanted to hide in the frontier and live off the hardworking frontier settlers, and they were as willing as the natives to kill anyone who resisted them plundering rural settlements.

Carr’s Fort – basically the walled compound where Captain Robert Carr’s family lived – was such a place. Located along Little Beaverdam Creek near today’s Maxwell Mill Road, Carr’s Fort was where a force of American Patriots tangled with 70 British-led American Loyalists, whom the British had threatened to kill if they didn’t fight for the king.

The fight took place just four days before the much better-known Battle of Kettle Creek, and just a few miles away, but over the 234 years since, the actual location of Carr’s Fort has been lost to history.

That’s why a team of archaeologists, led by Daniel Elliott of the Lamar Institute, Inc. has been searching the woodlands along Little Beaverdam Creek for the last two weeks, and it’s been tough going. The fort and all the buildings were made of wood, and it was burned down just after the Battle of Kettle Creek, leaving just traces in the ground. Somewhere.

For the last three weeks, the archaeologists have been searching thousands of acres with metal detectors, looking for bullets fired from muskets, or any trace that could tell them where the Carr family compound may have stood. Even if they can’t decisively find the fort site, they have located more than one Revolutionary War-era farmstead in the team’s search area, and found old roads and trails criss-crossing the area now covered with pine trees and hayfields.

That’s what is so fascinating to me, whether they ever find the fort site or not. My ancestors – and maybe yours too – were pioneers here and in other places in Georgia as Colonial America grew and expanded. My great-great-great-great grandparents bought land in Wilkes County, farmed and raised children in the dangerous frontier, and the history that these archaeologists are digging up is my history, and the history of my sons and their sons.

It’s not old, dry, book history – it’s the living flesh-and-blood history of my family and your family, and it has helped make us all what we are and who we are. It would be a shame to let it all be lost to the mists of time, and I thank God there are men like Dan Elliott who have given their lives to keep our history alive, one shovel at a time.

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