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Mary McKeehan Patton

Mary McKeehan Patton, pioneer gunpowder manufacturer, was born in England in 1751 and immigrated with her family to Pennsylvania in the late 1760s. McKeehan served an apprenticeship, possibly under her father, David McKeehan, and learned the art of gunpowder making. In 1772 she married John Patton, an Irish immigrant, who served as a private in the Pennsylvania militia early in the American Revolution.

The Pattons manufactured gunpowder in the Cumberland County region of Pennsylvania. Following the birth of two children, the couple sold their Carlisle powder mill for cash and migrated to the Overmountain region of North Carolina, now East Tennessee. With the help of family friend Andrew Taylor, they established a mill on what became known as Powder Branch, adjacent to the Taylor homeplace.

Patton earned her place in history by providing over five hundred pounds of gunpowder to the 850 Overmountain Men led by Isaac Shelby and William Campbell for the battle of Kings Mountain during the Revolutionary War. Essential to the victory over Major Patrick Ferguson's British troops was Patton's gunpowder. After the war, Patton continued to make and deliver gunpowder to local customers.

On December 15, 1836, Mary Patton died and was buried in Patton-Simmons Cemetery near Sycamore Shoals, Tennessee. The family tradition of gunpowder manufacturing continued until after the Civil War, when the powder mill was sold.

Suggested Reading

Robert A. Howard and E. Alvin Gerhardt Jr., Mary Patton: Powder Maker of the Revolution (1980).

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010