The Biggerstaff Hanging Tree

​After their victory at King’s Mountain, the Overmountain Men marched their 600 Loyalist prisoners west, stopping to camp on the property of Aaron Biggerstaff, a prominent Loyalist killed in the battle. On Saturday, October 14, 1780, two officers complained to Colonel Campbell that some of the prisoners were “robbers, house-burners, parole-breakers and assassins”. North Carolina law allowed for two magistrates to summon a jury and so thirty two of the captives were tried, found guilty and sentenced to hang. 
A suitable tree was found and the condemned were hung three at a time, until nine hung from the outstretched limbs of what would come to be known as the Gallows Oak, or the Biggerstaff Hanging Tree. After the ninth, the executions were stopped and the remaining men pardoned. No one knows why the executions were stopped, some accounts say they ran out of rope, others that Colonel Isaac Shelby figured the point was made to other citizens who had Loyalist leanings, but my favorite story is the hangings were interrupted by a young boy who heard of his brother’s trial and ran as hard as he could to beg for his brother’s life since without him the family wouldn’t survive the coming winter. The men freed his brother, put them both on a horse and sent them home with a slap on the horse’s rump. 
Whichever account is true, when one of the pardoned men confided that the notoriously brutal British Cavalry officer Banastre Tarleton had been dispatched by Cornwallis to find them and would be there by morning, the Patriot army quickly decamped to stay ahead of him and left the bodies hanging from the tree. After their departure Martha Biggerstaff, widow of Aaron, and an old man who worked on the farm cut down the bodies and buried eight of them in a shallow trench (the ninth, Captain James Chitwood, was taken and buried privately by friends). In the mid 1800s four of the bodies were disinterred to make room for a bridge but they disintegrated and it’s believed the other four still lie in their graves on the property. The Hanging Tree was cut down in the late 1900s.
The hanged men were Col. Ambrose Mills, Capt. Wilson, Capt. Walter Gilkey, Capt. Arthur Grimes, Lt. Thomas Lafferty, Capt. John McFall, Lt. John Bibby, and Lt. Augustine Hobbs.


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