The area that would make up Avery County was sparsely settled during the American Revolution. There were early settlers in the Bright Settlement, but they were possibly gone by the time the Overmountain Men marched through the area in 1780.
The Watauga River area, in present-day Elizabethton, Tennessee, was settled in the late 1760s. These early pioneers actually leased the land from the Cherokee, since King George III made owning the land illegal.
In August 1780, British General Lord Cornwallis sent Maj. Patrick Ferguson into the mountain areas to root out the locals. Ferguson warned the Overmountain Men that if they did not lay down their arms, he would "march his army over the mountains, hang their leaders, and lay waste the country with fire and sword."
Upon receiving the message, Col. Isaac Shelby rode 40 miles (64 km) to Watauga to consult with John Sevier, and the two agreed to raise armies and cross the mountains to engage Ferguson. On September 25, 1780, several hundred frontiersmen met at Sycamore Shoals. The assembled force consisted of 240 men led by Sevier from Washington County, North Carolina (now Washington County, Tennessee) and the other counties of the Washington District; 240 from Sullivan County led by Shelby; and 400 from southwestern Virginia led by Colonel William Campbell. This main body planned to meet up with the other forces in the mountains, bringing the total number to just over 1,000 men.
On September 26, after a fiery sermon by Reverend Samuel Doak, the Overmountain Men began their long trek over the Blue Ridge, marching from Sycamore Shoals to Shelving Rock at the base of Roan Mountain, where they camped for the night. After crossing the mountain at Yellow Mountain Gap, they followed a well-worn path down Roaring Creek and then up the North Toe River Valley to Bright's settlement (in southern Avery County).
They continued on, arriving at King's Mountain, just over the South Carolina line, on October 7. The loyalists under Ferguson were positioned atop King's Mountain. Patriot forces charged the hill twice and were driven back. Reforming again, they once more charged up the hill, breaking the Loyalist lines and killing Ferguson. Loyalist casualties included 157 killed, 163 so severely wounded they were left on the field, and 698 captured. Patriot casualties were 28 killed and 62 wounded.
The rest of Lord Cornwallis's army was in Charlotte, and Patriot forces chose to return to their homes quickly, passing back through present-day Avery County. Among the wounded attempting to return home was Robert Seiver, brother to colonel (and future governor of Tennessee) John Sevier. Robert died and was buried at Bright's Cemetery in Southern Avery County.
Following the war, many Revolutionary War veterans were paid with land grants, and several of them moved into the area along the North Toe River.
Revolutionary War patriots buried in Avery County include:
- William Braswell (Off Three Mile Road)
- Martin Davenport (Bright Cemetery)
- William Davis (Off Three Mile Road)
- William Gragg (Montezuma Cemetery)
- Robert Seiver (Bright Cemetery)
- John Vance (unknown, near Mt. Carmel Church)
- William Wiseman (Off US 19E)