Samuel Doak crossed over the Appalachian Mountains to the Tennessee wilderness in 1777 and became one of the most renowned men in the history of the western frontier. He had studied at Princeton and then served on the faculty of the college, and been ordained by the energetic Hanover Presbytery of Virginia. Loving an educated ministry, the settlers of the Watauga region welcomed Doak with open arms.
Shortly after he arrived he happened upon some men who were felling trees, “Learning that he was a minister, they requested him to preach to so many of them as could be assembled immediately. He complied, using his horse for a pulpit and the shady grove for a sanctuary. They entreated the preacher to tarry long with them. He yielded to their entreaty, and this led to his permanent settlement among them.” It would be the first of seven churches he would plant in the region. Doak built schools with the same industry with which he pioneered churches. In 1783 he secured a charter for a classical school--the first literary institution of the West, which would eventually become the mighty University of Tennessee.
On this day in 1780, a few days before the famous Revolutionary War battle at Kings Mountain, the local militia had gathered at Sycamore Shoals to prepare for the engagement. Before the men marched into the pages of history, Doak was asked to speak to the men and say a prayer over them. He spoke beyond the immediate occasion and captured what some have called the “American spirit,” that broader sense of the divine destiny of the nation. It is not hard to picture the faces of these buckskinned warriors, many standing with their families, hearts stirred by the power of the pastor’s words:
“My countrymen, you are about to set out on an expedition which is full of hardships and dangers, but one in which the Almighty will attend you. The Mother country has her hands upon you, these American colonies, and takes that for which our fathers planted their homes in the wilderness—our liberty. Taxation without representation and the quartering of soldiers in the homes of our people without their consent are evidence that the Crown of England would take from its American subjects the last vestige of freedom. Your brethren across the mountains are crying the Macedonia unto your help. God forbid that you shall refuse to hear and answer their call—but the call of your brethren is not all. The enemy is marching hither to destroy your homes. Brave men, you are not unacquainted with battle. Your hands have already been taught to war and your fingers to fight. You have wrested these beautiful valleys of the Holston and Watauga from the savage hand. Will you tarry now until the other enemy carries fire and sword to your very doors? No, it shall not be. Go forth then in the strength of your manhood to the aid of your brethren, the defense of your liberty and the protection of your homes. And may the God of justice be with you and give you victory.”
And then with hats removed and heads bowed, each family huddled tightly together, the men heard Doak pray a prayer that men destined for battle would quote for generations to come. He then led them in lustily singing an old Celtic battle Psalm. With “The Sword of the Lord and Gideon” as their battle cry and the lilt of the Psalter pacing their hearts, the “Tennessee Volunteers” decisively defeated the British forces in sixty-five minutes.