HISTORY OF THE TORY OAK TREE
For two and a half centuries the Tory Oak grew strong and stately in the center of Wilkesboro, a symbol of the revolutionary struggle that led to the founding of our county. Some leaders called this old tree the Liberty Oak, but it became famous because several enemies of the American Revolution, known as Tories, were hanged on its limbs when the tree was still young.
Revolutionary War battles raged elsewhere, but here in the hills and valleys of what was to become Wilkes County, the War for American Independence was fought mostly among colonial residents of different persuasions. One of the strongest voices for independence was that of Colonel Benjamin Cleveland, leader of the local militia. Members of the militia, sometimes known as Mountain Men, were ordinary working citizens. Tories were residents who did not side with independence and wanted to remain a British colony. Tories were ruthless in fighting the forces who favored independence. Colonel Cleveland was captured by Tories, rescued, and then captured Tories himself. Some of these Tories were brought to Wilkesborough (before it was known as Wilkesboro) and were executed by hanging from the limbs of a black oak tree. later, Colonel Cleveland led the Mountain Men to meet a part of the British regular army and helped win an important battle at Kings Mountain. Not long afterward, the British commander surrendered and the American colonies became independent. The new nation was based on the rights of citizens to a government of their own choosing.
No great Revolutionary War battles were fought in Wilkesboro. Instead of a battlefield with monuments, the Tory Oak became the proud local symbol of the successful War for American Independence and the birth of our nation. The Tory Oak reminds us of the determined patriots who did their part to win freedom and to live in a democracy. Toward the end of the aged tree's life, its image became a symbolic reminder of Wilkesboro's historic past and promising future.
Town of Wilkesboro, North Carolina
Pete M. Mann, Mayor 1995 - 1999