The Ashe County Historical Society would like to recognize Bethany Bare as the winner of our annual scholarship. Each year, the Ashe Historical Scholarship awards a $500 scholarship to a graduating senior from Ashe County. To win the scholarship, a student must demonstrate their interest in Ashe County history by writing a short essay about a locally important person, place or event. A committee of Historical Society members then chooses the winning essay. Bethany’s winning essay about Ashe County revolutionary war hero Martin Gambill is published below in its entirety. Bethany will be attending Appalachian State in the fall to major in Applied and Public History.
The Midnight Ride of Martin Gambill
It is evident that arguably every American has been exposed to the extraordinary tale of the Boston silversmith named Paul Revere and his midnight ride in 1775 due to the famous poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” by renowned poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. As children, we Americans chant, “The British are coming, the British are coming!” with respect to Paul Revere and his seemingly daring ride. The basis of Revere’s story is known: an average Patriot mounts his horse in Lexington, Massachusetts, on the night of April 18, accompanied by two other men, to warn those in the area that the British troops were advancing their way with the goal to seize their weapons and ammunition. As a result of being warned that night, Captain John Parker and a fledgling militia made up of common American colonists armed with muskets not intended for battle met the British troops on the morning of April 19. Although they held their muskets with ignorance against the greatest military force in the world, the colonists, arguably, had an advantage at the closure at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
In comparison to Paul Revere’s twelve and a half-mile ride, that of a much lesser-known Patriot is far more substantial in regards to its length, risk, and tenacious requirements placed upon the rider himself and the horses he mounted. Martin Gambill was born in Culpeper County, Virginia, in the year 1750. Like many Virginians during the early years of the Revolution, Gambill was highly unsatisfied with the frequent British taxation and tyrant-like actions of King George III across the sea. In 1768, at age eighteen, the young Patriot joined an armed resistance group in North Carolina who called themselves “Regulators.” As a member of the Regulators, for which he traveled to present-day Rowan County, North Carolina, to enlist, young Martin Gambill was exposed early on to the meaning of the revolution that had an impact on the lives of every American colonist. However, in 1771, Gambill’s time with the Regulators came to an end when the militia was forced to flee after they were badly defeated at the Battle of Alamance. This battle is known as the final Regulation war of the American Revolution due to the remaining members being poorly equipped at the time. Though the Regulators’ journey came to an end, Martin Gambill’s was far from over.
After the dismemberment of the Regulators, Martin Gambill’s focus shifted on his wife and his home on the South Fork of the New River in present-day Chestnut Hill of Ashe County, North Carolina. During this time, it was common for Virginians to move to North Carolina in order to join or form militia groups. In 1780, five years after the initial start of the Revolutionary War and the same year General Benedict Arnold betrayed the Continental Army, British General Charles Cornwallis and his militia were stationed near present-day Charlotte, North Carolina. British Major Patrick Ferguson was given orders by General Henry Clinton to conduct a Northward march to seize control of the opposition being put forth by a group of rebels in the mountains. Ferguson sent an order to the mountain men that stated that their two hundred men would be enlisted into the British Army if they did not cease their opposition. If they refused, Ferguson threatened to advance towards the mountains with the goal of laying waste to their homes and farms.
After hearing the word of Major Ferguson’s order, Colonel Isaac Shelby of Tennessee met with various militia members, including Martin Gambill, near Deep Gap, North Carolina. There, after receiving word that Major Ferguson’s militia was advancing their way, the decision to quickly intercept Major Ferguson’s orders was made. Therefore, Martin Gambill, a Captain at the time, volunteered to carry the message of the advancing militia to the company commanders in the area in which Ferguson was targeting. Mounting his horse on September 18, 1780, Martin Gambill began his excursion in the area of present-day Deep Gap. On horseback, Gambill rode through rugged terrain through wooded trails mostly following streams. Gambill rode at full speed for hours until the morning of September 19, 1780, when his horse died of exhaustion. He arrived at the home of Captain Enoch Osborne who had just harnessed his horse to plow. After receiving the message of Ferguson’s advancement, Captain Osborne offered Gambill his horse to continue his journey. Soon after, Gambill continued the daring excursion up the north side of the New River into Virginia. After reaching Virginia near the Holston River, the horse Gambill acquired from Captain Osborne was lost to exhaustion. Gambill retrieved yet another horse though it is unknown from whom. Riding his third horse, Martin Gambill arrived at Colonel William Campbell’s home in present-day Abingdon, Virginia, just after the sun had set on September 19, 1780. For twenty-four straight hours, Captain Martin Gambill rode over one hundred miles, informing the various militia leaders and members along the way of the incoming British threat. After Colonel Campbell was rightly informed of Major Ferguson’s plans, he gathered a militia of around four hundred men, including a number of the rebel mountain men, that marched to unite with that of Colonel Ben Cleveland and Major Joseph Winston near present-day Morganton, North Carolina, first heading to Sycamore Shoals near Elizabethton, Tennessee, and then to Quaker Meadows. On October 7th, 1780, after seven days of marching, this united militia, including Martin Gambill, arrived at Kings Mountain, South Carolina, where they came face-to-face with the forces of Major Ferguson and his militia made up of mostly American Loyalists from the South. The Battle of Kings Mountain is known as a turning point in the Revolutionary War, for it was the first Patriot victory since May of that year. Thomas Jefferson declared that the battle was “the turn of the tide of success,” and much like the Battle of Trenton did in 1777, the Battle of Kings Mountain restored hope in many Patriots. Martin Gambill himself was injured in the battle, leading him to be discharged, ending his 5-year military career. The Battle of Kings Mountain was a unique one, for it was one of the few battles in the Revolutionary War in which only Americans fought, and the Patriot victory that resulted would most likely not have occurred if word of Major Ferguson’s plans had not been delivered quickly enough or at all. Therefore, based upon the remarkable and lesser-known story of Martin Gambill’s ride, one can assume that the Patriots had Gambill to thank for their victory at Kings Mountain.
After the end of the Revolutionary War, Martin Gambill spent the remainder of his life in Ashe County with his wife, Nancy Nall Gambill. Gambill and his wife raised eight children on his estate that is still owned by the Gambill family today. Martin Gambill served as the first Sheriff of Ashe County and a North Carolina State Representative. At age sixty-two, Martin Gambill, the Regulator, the Patriot, the husband, the father, and the Sheriff, passed away in November of 1812.