Documenting the American South

Doc South header logo Home
Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina
Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina
Commemorative Landscapes banner
  • Monument Name

    Tory Oaks, Wilkesboro

  • Type

    Plaque

  • Subjects

    Revolutionary War, 1775-1783

  • City

    Wilkesboro

  • County

    Wilkes

  • Description

    The Tory Oaks are living memorials to events of the American Revolution (see subject notes). The older of the two black oak trees is from a graft of the true original “Tory Oak” used in 1779 to hang five British supporters. It stands near a rear corner of the old Wilkes County Courthouse and was planted in 1914. It is also known as “Tory Oak Junior.” A short distance away is the younger of the two trees. It was planted as a sapling in 1997 on the exact spot of the original tree that had died and was removed in 1992. Bronze plaques in front of the trees and a historical story board placed by the National Park Service tell the story of the Tory Oak(s).

    Images: Tory Oak | Tory Oak Plaque (1997) | "Tory Oak Junior" | "Tory Oak Junior" plaque (1914)

  • Inscription

    1914 Plaque: “TORY OAK JUNIOR” / THIS TREE IS FROM A GRAFT OF / “THE TORY OAK” / ON WHOSE LIMBS TORIES WERE HANGED / DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION / BY / COLONEL BEN CLEVELAND AND OTHERS / PLACED BY THE RENDEZVOUS MOUNTAIN CHAPTER D.A.R.

    1997 Plaque: “THE TORY OAK” / FOR TWO AND A HALF CENTURIES THE TORY OAK GREW HERE, / A SYMBOL OF THE REVOLUTIONARY STRUGGLE THAT LED TO / THE FOUNDING OF OUR COUNTRY. IT BECAME FAMOUS BECAUSE / SEVERAL ENEMIES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, CALLED / TORIES, WERE HANGED FROM ITS LIMBS. THE ORIGINAL TREE / DIED AND IN 1997 WAS REPLACED BY THIS BLACK OAK. IT / CONTINUES TO REMIND US OF THE DETERMINED PATRIOTS / WHOSE COURAGE AND SACRIFICE WON THE FREEDOM THAT / LETS US LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY.

  • Custodian

    Wilkes County Heritage Museum

  • Dedication Date

    May 23, 1914 and 1997

  • Decade

    1910s

  • Geographic Coordinates

    36.149150 , -81.151510 View in Geobrowsemap pin

  • Supporting Sources

      Baity, Joan S. “Tory Oak,” NCPedia.org, (accessed January 4, 2017) Link

      Williams, Charles S. "Tory Oak Site Recertified," (North Wilkesboro, NC) December 13, 2010 (accessed January 4, 2017) Link

      “Daniel Boone Marker,” The Charlotte Observer, (Charlotte, NC), May 24, 1914, 13

      “Wilkes County Courthouse, Wilkesboro, N. C,” in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (PO77), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Link

  • Public Site

    Yes

  • Materials & Techniques

    Bronze plaques

  • Sponsors

    1914 Plaque: Rendezvous Mountain Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution

  • Monument Dedication and Unveiling

    The 1914 “Tory Oak Junior” plaque was presented at Confederate Memorial Day Services on May 23, 1914 that also saw the dedication of the Daniel Boone’s Trail marker. This part of the ceremony saw the long-ignored original Tory Oak and the "Tory Oak Junior" turned over to the Wilkes Valley Guards Chapter United Daughters of the Confederacy for special care and protection. Mr. H.C. Landon, general manager of the Watauga and Yadkin River Railroad, made the presentation and gave a talk on Colonel Benjamin Cleveland. Commenting on the activities of the day Landon noted that “These ceremonies are in a measure educators, for these markers or monuments excite an interest in the history of our country that nothing else can do.

  • Nickname

    The original tree was also referred to as the Cleveland Oak.

  • Subject Notes

    In 1779 two Tories, (Americans loyal to Britain) stole horses from the home of George Wilfong in neighboring Lincoln County. Captured before they could reach the safety of British lines, they were brought to Wilkes County Courthouse. Found “guilty” by Patriot leader Colonel Benjamin Cleveland, they were hanged from the limbs of the Tory Oak. In retaliation, three other Tories kidnapped Colonel Cleveland. They were hunted down by Cleveland’s brother Robert, Cleveland was freed, and the three Tories were then hanged from the same tree.

    In 1980 the original tree had the distinction of being North Carolina's "champion" black oak, with a circumference of 14 feet, a crown height of 50 feet, and an overall limb spread of 40 feet. Yet as early as 1914 it was noted as being in poor condition. The then modern tree surgery practices were used to revive the tree. It withstood the strain of three operations to remove rotten portions which were replaced with mortar. The rotting continued, however, and most of the tree was felled by heavy winds in 1989. In 1992 the National Park Service designated the Tory Oak site as a Certified Protected Site of the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail.

  • Location

    Both trees are located at the Wilkes Heritage Museum, at the corner of E. Main and Broad Street in Wilkesboro, NC. The Tory Oak Junior tree stands a few feet from the back corner of the courthouse on the east side. The replacement Tory Oak stands nearby along the back of the east side parking lot.
    The museum building was the former Wilkes County Courthouse. Memorials on the museum grounds include a Cannon Circle, Daniel Boone’s Trail marker, Time Capsule and Veterans Memorial. A Roads and Schools plaque is attached to the old courthouse wall near the entrance. One block away is the Wilkes County Confederate Memorial. Colonel Ben Cleveland Statue is in close proximity on the 100 block of North Bridge Street.

  • Landscape

    Both black oaks stand near paved sidewalks.

Know anything else about this monument that isn't mentioned here? If you have additional information on this or any other monument in our collection fill out the form at the Contact Us link in the footer. Thank you.